Calm Between Storms

Friday, January 29. We had calm weather following a storm that wreaked havoc up and down California. Some of our best weather for kayaking happens in the winter in the calm between storms. Come spring, the weather pattern shifts to afternoon offshore winds that create choppy waves on the Bay.

Nine of us were on the water launching from the beach at Ferry Point shortly before 10 a.m. and ready to ride the flood current up the Bay. Our course took us out under the fishing pier and then to the buoy that marks the shipping channel. We had no wind and calm water. Once across the channel we headed north toward Red Rock Island, and from there up to The Brothers, two islands near Point San Pablo.

While we were heading north, a high speed ferry passed kicking up a wake that came at us broadside. I yelled “outside” to my paddling buddies as I turned my boat into the approaching wave. I received a cold, wet slap in the face as the cresting wave broke over the bow of my boat. Tom attempted to surf the wave without much success.

At The Brothers, we found a strong tide rip running between the islands. A few of us decided to play in the standing waves. You can see the disturbed water in one of the photos above.

Then it was over to Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor where we landed on the beach and had a suitably socially distanced lunch. After lunch we were back on the water. With the changing tide, we were able to ride the ebb current back to our launch site.

We all had been admiring the clouds that were off in the distance. To the west towards Mount Tamalpais we could see rain. To the east we had pillows of white cumulous clouds. Chris said the clouds reminded him of a Maxfield Parrish painting. His words inspired me to see if I could capture a photo of the clouds that might be worthy of Maxfield Parrish. I gave the clouds some added emphasis in postproduction to make the point. You view more photos here. Let me know what you think. We logged 12.6 miles over the course of the day. You can view details of our track here.

Around Angel Island

We gave a fitting send off to the year 2020 by putting our boats in the water and paddling around Angel Island on the last day of the year. The quality of light, the serene conditions and the reflections on the water prompted me to convert the images to black and white.

Four of us launched from Dunphy Park in Saualito, pushing off at 10:20, about the time for maximum flood. We paddled out to Point Knox and around the island counter-clockwise. We did feel a bit of the current as we approached Point Knox, with the current trying to push us up Racoon Strait. Once around the point though we had the current going with us and we made good time going around the island and landing at the Immigration Station.

We had a suitably social distance lunch while sitting on the ledges that were part of the historical display. You’ll note that one of our paddling buddies, Steve ended up half-way between “Acceptance” and “Rejection” in the “Realities” zone.

After lunch the current was beginning to ebb, so we had the current with us for an easy paddle down Racoon Strait. As we rounded Peninsula Point, back into Richardson Bay we hugged the shore admiring the expensive home on Belvedere Island. I was looking up at the homes on the cliff when with a crunch I found myself aground on a rock. Easy enough to get back on track, but a reminder to keep an eye on the water. Then it was across the bay back to our launch site, after some discussion about what landmark to aim for. Navigation from a low vantage point can be a challenge . We were back on the beach at 2:15, but only after breaking a paddle while landing. When getting out of the boat, I discovered that I was in a rocky hole, not a firm beach. I put my paddle down for balance, inadvertently wedging it between two rocks. Down I went and leaning on the paddle caused the shaft to snap.

So it goes. I’ve had a paddle on my shopping list for some time. Now I have an excuse to buy one. We logged 9.5 miles and I don’t recall ever having such an easy and pleasant paddle around the island. It was a very quiet day on the bay. Calm weather, and not much boat traffic. We did see a number of the usual bay residents including cormorants, gulls, pelicans and harbor seals. You can view more photos here, including both the black and white and color versions of the images above. Let me know what you think.

Middle Harbor

On December 18, we decided to launch from Encinal Boat Ramp in Alameda and paddle to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland.

We launched at 10:30 on a flood current, which meant we would be paddling against the current going towards Oakland, but with a small tidal change, the current would be minimal. In the afternoon we’d be riding the current back. I plotted the course using the BASK.org trip planner, measuring about 4.3 miles to our intended lunch location. I printed a copy of the map which I studied, looking for a landmark that would mark our turning point to paddle into the beach. Then I stuck the map in my dry box, which I keep in a hatch.

I opted to paddle my Dagger Stratos rather than my wooden Coho. Why? Because I hadn’t paddled it for awhile.

All was fine, paddling on calm waters. As we approached the port, I kept an eye out for the jetty I had noted as our turning point. We arrived at the end of the pier at the port and poked around the end thinking we’d find the park. What? No beach? I fiddled with my GPS unit trying to pull up the map on the tiny screen. Then it became clear that I had picked the wrong landmark for our turn into the park. Note to self: Carry a waterproof chart on the deck .

We backtracked and found the beach. A fine sand beach lined with palm trees. It seemed out of place with container ships to the north and south. It was 12:45 when we landed for lunch and we had worked up an appetite after six miles of paddling. We made a note that this might be a fun place to take the grandkids. There is a viewing platform you can climb to watch the tall cranes moving cargo, a nice beach at least on a high tide, and a dolphin sculpture to play on.

After lunch we were back on the water retracing our route, but sticking closer to the shore. We saw a few harbor seals and thousands of birds including cormorants and brown pelicans. We were back at our launch site at 2:45 having logged 11 miles. I was reminded why I like my wooden Coho. On a long paddle on calm water, it moves with less effort than the Stratos. Want to see more photos? Click here.

Albion River

The Mendocino Coast provides a wide range of opportunities for outdoor activities including hiking , camping and kayaking. And with a kayak, depending on your skill level and the weather conditions, you can surf, poke around in the rocks or paddle on the flat water of a number of rivers. We spent two days padding in Mendocino, September 20 and 21. On our second day, we opted for a flat water paddle on the Albion River. From our camp at Van Damme State Park we drove to the Albion River, where we paid the $10 fee and launched our boats.

We launched on low water and had the current with us paddling upriver. We planned to paddle for an hour and a half and find a takeout for lunch and an early return, thinking we might have a longer paddle back down the river with the current still flooding, pushing water up the river, and the potential for wind. As we approached our turnaround time, the river became narrow and winding. The game became “let’s paddle to the next bend,” and then “the next bend.” This went on until we reached a log across the river, blocking further progress. There we found a gravel bar and a pleasant meadow which looked like an inviting place to stop.

We pulled our boats up, ate lunch and put our boats back in the water just as the rising tide was threatening to take our boats. The gravel bar had disappeared in the 30 minutes we had been eating. We were amazed at how much tidal activity there was this far up the river.

We were happy to discover that our progress back down the river was good despite the current, and the wind did not materialize. We paddled through some old pilings, practicing boat control, and past the houseboats, some of them looking more dilapidated than they had the year before. We were back at our launch site at 2 p.m., four hours after our launch. Our paddle logged 8.5 miles, most of it in total peace and quiet save for a few birds and a river otter. You can view more photos here. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Five Depart, Three Return

August 8. The plan was to meet at China Camp, launch our kayaks, paddle out to the Marin Islands and over to the Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor for lunch, then to return after lunch.

Six of us met at China Camp, Michael, Joann, Cynthia, John, Christine and myself. I had posted an announcement that this would be a mellow paddle without the drama of wind and waves. The wind prediction at China Camp was 6 knots, based on Windy, an app I use for wind predictions. Meanwhile, the NOAA prediction for the San Francisco Bay at large was 10-15 with gusts to 25 in the afternoon. China Camp Beach is a bit protected from the wind, so it made sense that it might be windier on the Bay.

We were on the water at 10:10 and proceeded south. As we approached Point San Pedro, we were starting to feel the wind. It was a bit of a struggle rounding the point, but everybody seemed to be doing OK. Once we rounded the point conditions let up a bit, but it was clear that the Marin Islands were out of our reach given the wind. We opted to take a more direct line to Loch Lomond. Even so it was a workout. It was not the mellow paddle I had hoped for, but everybody seemed to be up to the task.

We pulled our boats up the boat ramp at Loch Lomond and found some picnic tables where we could practice social distancing while eating.

After lunch John and Cynthia decided to organize a shuttle back by hitching a ride with John’s wife, who had remained on the beach at China Camp with a good book. They were concerned about the conditions at Point San Pedro on the return paddle.

The remaining three of us put our boats back in the water and, with the wind behind us, it was a fast and easy paddle back to China Camp. Once we rounded the point, the last two miles proved to be mellow. Our track for the day covered close to eight miles. Due to a technical glitch, I only logged the paddle back from Loch Lomond to China Camp. It seems I must have hit pause on my GaiaGPS app as we launched.

Wind in the Gate

Friday, August 7, three of us met at Horseshoe Bay near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge with a plan to paddle to Point Bonita and back. These paddles are locally referred to as OTG (out the gate). Predicted conditions looked good since we’d be paddling out on slack water (no current), and riding back in on the afternoon flood. Wind was predicted to be 6 to 8 knots from the south in the morning, with 15 to 20 knots in the afternoon.

We were on the water at 10:35, with the wind blowing from the south, but a bit fresher than we expected. Nevertheless, we decided to peek around Lime Point, the point under the north end of the bridge, to see what was in store for us. Once around the point conditions were favorable and, while we found ourselves paddling into the wind, we opted to continue along the coast.

About halfway to Point Bonita was Point Diablo, the reckoning point for the day’s paddle. Inside the point the water was calm and protected, outside you can catch the full brunt of the wind and waves. I paddled a short distance beyond the point and decided that battling three- to four-foot waves with a 15 knot headwind was not the best plan. We made the unanimous decision to paddle back to Kirby Cove for lunch.

Kirby Cove was quite protected from the day’s wind and waves, so we had an easy landing. We hauled our boats up the beach wary of the rising tide and broke out our lunches. We found a log about 12 feet long that gave us the proper social distancing. After lunch we returned to our boats just as the waves were starting to lap at them. Back on the water it was an easy return paddle, although we did find an eddy under the bridge that was moving counter to the incoming current. You can see Eoin and Michael just inside the tide line of the eddy in the photo below.

I opted to paddle outside the eddy. We were back on the beach shortly after 1 p.m., having completed a very pleasant paddle covering 4.5 miles. I’ve included a map that shows the track of our paddle. I’ve been enjoying using Gaia GPS as my method for tracking activities on and off the water. The phone app synchronizes with the online service, which I find convenient. You’ll note that I am wearing a GoPro camera on my helmet. One of these days I may actually post some footage.

San Francisco Waterfront

On Thursday, July 31, I had the opportunity to go paddling. I connected up with fellow BASK member Eoin and we arranged to meet at the Emeryville Marina. Given the tides and weather prediction, I thought a paddle around Treasure Island with a landing on a little beach on Yerba Buena Island would be in order. A round trip of nine miles or so. It was gloomy as we put our boats in the water at 10 a.m. The last few paddles I’ve done, I’ve left my GoPro camera at home. This time I thought I’d try to capture some video as well as stills. I find the best way to manage the GoPro is to wear it on a helmet, hence the helmet you see in the photos.

We paddled out of the Emeryville Marina and made our way west across the bay to Treasure Island, paddling into a steady wind of 8 to 10 knots. Slack water was at 10:30, so we had no current to contend with on the crossing. As we rounded the northwest corner of Treasure Island, Eoin suggested we make our way to San Francisco, landing at Pier 1 1/2, a public pier. We were making good time and, with the weather starting to clear, the San Francisco waterfront looked inviting. It was about 12:30 when we pulled our boats out of the water onto the pier. We had our lunch with appropriate social distancing and took a stroll along the Embarcadero checking out the Ferry Building and the Gandhi sculpture just south of the Ferry Building. After lunch we put our boats back in the water. The dock is rather high so Eoin steadied my boat while I lowered myself in, and then I rafted up along Eoin’s boat to give it more stability. Getting into the boats seemed easier than getting out onto the high pier.

Back on the water, we decided to paddle along the water front, checking out the the lagoon at the Exploratorium. Interesting enough, you can paddle under the pier at the Exploratorium into a lagoon.

Having explored the waterfront it was time to head back across the bay, and the current was now giving a bit of an assist pushing us north. You can see from the track on the map below that the current carried us a bit north of our westbound track. After leaving the waterfront we started to pick up the steady wind through the Golden Gate. We found the water a bit lumpy with two- to three-foot wind waves following the predominant wind with an additional set of waves coming from the north, which created some bouncy water. Once we were back around Treasure Island it was a straight downwind run and the waves settled into a consistent pattern. It was about 3:30 when we pulled our boats out of the water. I logged 15.8 miles, including our walk along the waterfront. An excellent day on the water.

Paddle from Emeryville to San Francisco

Threading the Needle

On July 13 it was time to get back on the water. We had a six week hiatus while playing grandparents and dealing with the challenges of social distancing and staying-at-home. With a prediction for afternoon winds we decided to get an early start. China Camp State Park was our chosen launch site and we were on the water at 9:40.

Our plan was to paddle south around Point San Pablo, check the wind and water and round the Marin Islands if conditions looked good. We were paddling on an ebb so we would have the current with us going south, and the wind with us on the return. Once we were on the water two small islands, The Sisters, looked inviting so we set course for the islands thinking we might “thread the needle,” passing through a narrow slot in the west Sister called Grendel’s Needle. Once we were through the slot, we headed back to Point San Pablo. We found that on crossing back we were experiencing the full fetch of the wind blowing from the southwest, giving us some steep wind waves up to three feet with a few whitecaps slapping us; not a place for an inexperienced paddler, but we found the challenge invigorating.

As we rounded the point, we left the rough water behind. I find when I’m paddling in challenging conditions I’m intent on keeping my hands on the paddle and practicing boat control. Putting the paddle down to take photos is not an option.

We took a quick reconnoiter of the Marin Islands and decided that rather than slog into the wind, we’d turn into a little beach near McNear Brick & Block, a brickyard that was established by George P. McNear and his son Erskine in 1898 which still operates today. You can see the chimneys of the brick works in one of the photos.

Once we landed, we pulled our boats out of the water and dipped into our lunches for a mid-morning snack. With the wind building though, we decided that it was prudent to get back on the water to begin our journey back around the point.

We were back at our launch point at noon. We finished our lunch and went back on the water to practice boat control drills and rescues. My Eskimo roll needs more practice.

Our paddle covered six miles, and we were glad to be off the water as we watched whitecaps build in the afternoon.

Out of Boat Experience

April 1, 2020. It’s a bit more challenging to go paddling these days with the stay-at-home order. How do we manage to get some “essential” outdoor recreation while minimizing the risk associated with the coronavirus? On our paddle today, we did our best to practice social distancing. Three of us launched from the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina. While we are used to helping each other get the boats off the cars, today it was every person on their own getting the boat on the water.

We had the boat ramp to ourselves. The marina was very quiet. Once we were on the water, it was no problem to maintain a good distance. We paddled from Emeryville, north past the Berkeley Marina, out to the end of the Albany Bulb, and then to the Albany Beach. We landed at the south end of the beach away from the few dog walkers and beachgoers, keeping a good distance between us as we landed.

We maintained our distancing while we ate lunch. After lunch the prediction was for the wind to come up, and as wind ripples started to form we were anxious to get back on the water. As we approached Emeryville, we could see the wind ruffling the water on Ashby Shoal, so we went to check it out.

On the shoal we had just a few inches of water, so I decided to climb out of my boat and pose for a photo. There are not many places in the middle of San Francisco Bay where you can get out of your boat on a low tide. Low tide was 0.2 feet at 1 p.m. As we were heading into the Marina, we passed a solo kayaker with a cute dog dressed up in a mermaid outfit. We had very little traffic on the bay with few commercial or pleasure craft, just a paddle boarder and a couple of kayakers. Our paddle covered 8.5 miles. The wind remained light through the course of our paddle. You can view more photos here and see more details about our track here.

Buy Nothing Day Paddle

Friday, November 29, the day after Thanksgiving is often referred to as Black Friday. I prefer to spend the day outdoors. This year we (my wife and I) joined a few of our paddling buddies for a “Buy Nothing Day” paddle. If you look up “Buy Nothing Day” in Wikipedia you’ll find it’s described as “an international day of protest against consumerism,” and one of the activities listed for the day is a “Buy Nothing Day paddle along the San Francisco waterfront… promoted by the Bay Area Sea Kayakers to kayak along the notoriously consumptive San Francisco waterfront.” Nine of us gathered at the beach at Crissy Field.

After a safety talk and radio check we paddled along the waterfront, and then across the bay to Yerba Buena Island. We were hoping to have lunch on a little beach on the Southwest corner of the Island, but with the extreme high tide there was no beach. We opted to go around the island, passing under the eastern span of the Bay Bridge and paddling into Clipper Cove.

There we found just enough beach to land and have lunch. After lunch we retraced out route, being wary of shipping traffic, ferries and pleasure boats.

On the return trip it looked like the weather might close in on us with dark clouds gathering and the wind picking up. Fortunately we had a strong ebb current moving us along and the wind didn’t last.

I managed to capture some video of the paddle with a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet. With some effort I’ve condensed over an hours worth of video down to three minutes.

Over the course of the day we covered 13 miles. You can view more photos here and see more details about the route here.