Mendo Madness

Each year our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), takes an extended weekend in Mendocino to do what we do best, eat food and paddle. Some members say we are an eating club with a kayaking disorder. Nevertheless, the event is great fun in a beautiful location with great camaraderie and fellowship. We headed to Mendocino on Wednesday September 18 making our way to Van Damme State Park. The next morning we were on the beach at Van Damme with our boats ready to get on the water. There was a good swell running and a number of paddlers opted to go hiking or paddle on calm water rather than deal with the wave energy being displayed on the coast. Joann and I took up the invitation to follow some of the more experienced paddlers who were offering a “Newbie Paddle,” for those new to the Mendocino coast.

This gave us some exposure to the rocky coast and we got to feel what it’s like to play in the rocks with waves with water surging this way and that and waves crashing on rocks. Mind you we stayed clear of the really active water. See my previous post Through the Washing Machine for more about that.

The next day, September 20, we opted for some quiet water after our rather adventuresome day on the coast. We joined a group of paddlers for a paddle on the Big River. The round trip paddle up the river and back was 11 miles and we were back in camp mid-afternoon to drink beer and soak up the sun.

Friday evening marks Bourbon and Brine, a social event with bar tenders concocting some unique mixed drinks. I had a Storm Cag with rum, ginger liqueur, Averna and orange juice. Joann had a Sea Palm with Gin, lemon juice, elderflower liqueur , celery bitters and a sprig of sea palm. Nathan and Krista, two club members hosted the event. Nathan outdid himself with his creativity as a mix master.

With most of these folks wishing to get on the water in the morning without suffering hangovers, drinking was done with moderation. I for one, did not want to find myself sloshing about in the waves suffering the after effects of alcohol.

Saturday night marked the club potluck dinner. With some 70 or so kaykers in camp it was an amazing feast.

Sunday was another flat water paddle on the Albion River. Our journey took us up the river past several houseboats, stopping to was river otters at play. We had a quiet paddle on smooth calm water. The paddle up and back covered six miles

You can view more photos of the BASK Mendo Madness activities here.

Island Hopping on San Francisco Bay

Our BASK Thursday Paddle on September 5 took us past three islands. Launching from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor, we paddled out between The Brothers Islands. East Brother is an old light station that now serves as a Bed and Breakfast Inn.

There are 48 islands in San Francisco Bay. Alameda Island is the largest, followed by Angel Island, Treasure Island and Alcatraz. Only one of the islands is privately owned. That is Red Rock Island, our lunch stop for today’s paddle.

The island is owned by Brock Durning who inherited it from his father Mack Durning. Mack tried to sell the island in 2012 for $22 million. But a few months later he slashed the price to $9 million. He died before it sold. There are no services on the island and developing it could be a nightmare. The island is split among three counties — Marin, San Francisco and Contra Costa.

Legend has it that pirates hid treasure on the island, though it’s never been discovered. In the early 1800s, Russian fur traders used the island as a camp for hunting otters.

We normally land on the lee side of the island facing the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, although this day the wind was down so we paddled around the island and landed on a small beach on the windward side. We noted a flag pole on top of the island with a very tattered stars and stripes flying. There is no trail to the top and there are steep cliffs on all sides of the island.

After lunch we launched our boats again and paddled back to the yacht harbor, passing close to the ruins of America’s last whaling station, closed in 1971. There is not much left of it now save for a few pilings. We logged 6.8 miles on our paddle with favorable wind and currents. One needs to be mindful of wind, currents and ship traffic including ferries that zip across the bay.

More photos from the trip are available here and a map showing the track of our paddle is show below.

Dead Fish Polo

Kayaker flinging the Dead Fish

The object of this game is to pick up the “dead fish” without using your hands and toss it. Who wants to touch a dead fish?

The other kayakers then scramble for the “fish” and repeat the process. In this case the “dead fish” is a pair of socks tied together with a tennis ball in each toe. Sounds like an easy game. Right? Let me tell you, picking up the “dead fish” with your paddle is a challenge. It’s a great game for practicing boat control. Forward stroke, back stroke, draw stroke, sweep strokes, bracing, leaned turns. It all comes into play in this game. And then trying flinging the thing without capsizing a tippy boat.

This was a week ago. While most of the Bay Area was sweltering in a heat wave. I headed for Tomales Bay to join a few of my BASK paddling buddies. We launched from Marconi Cove Put in, just east of Marshall and paddled across the bay to Marshall Beach, taking our time to explore the coast. Calm weather and quite warm. I don’t recall when the last time I paddled with just a t-shirt and swim suit; not my usual “dress for immersion” gear. Too hot for dry suits or wet suits.

After lunch we got back in our boats and had a friendly game of Dead Fish Polo.

Over the course of the day we paddled 6.4 miles. Here’s a map showing the track of our paddle. Click on the map for more details about the track.

Yellow Bluff

Thursday, July 18 found me on the water gain with my BASK paddling buddies. Our launch site was the public boat ramp in Sausalito. Anticipating heavy traffic on the commute across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge I decided to get an early start, and to my surprise the traffic was light. I was way ahead of schedule.

The plan was to paddle to Angel Island. When I stepped out of the car though, I got caught by a gust of wind that nearly blew me off my feet. Not good conditions for paddling to the island. I decided I’d wait until my buddies showed up before unloading my boat. At 10 am there were four of us on the boat ramp, discussing plan “B,” which was to hug the Sausalito shoreline and paddle out to Yellow Bluff.

At 10:30 we were on the water, paddling north along the shore. We paddled past the yacht harbor, under the piers of The Spinnaker Restaurant, and passed the ferry dock. Once passed the Trident Restaurant we had a bit of a slog straight into a brisk wind, but only for about 20 minutes when we found ourselves in fairly protected water.

Yellow Bluffs is a popular spot for kayakers who want to play in some dynamic water. The tide, current, wind and swell can make for some lumpy water. Not a good spot for beginners, but fun for those that want to practice some more advanced skills. Conditions today were just moderately bumpy.

When I’m paddling in lumpy water, I’m not taking pictures. It’s time to keep both hands on the paddle. We paddled past the Bluff and on towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Then it was time to turn around and head for a little beach just north of Yellow Bluff where we landed for lunch. We found an abandoned kayak on the beach. Full of water and gravel.

Our return trip was a breeze, literally, since we had the wind behind us pushing us along. Paddling back past the tug boat Owatonna. Want to live on a tug boat? This one is for sale and outfitted for four people as a live-aboard. Then it was back to the boat launch. We were off the water at 2 pm, having paddled 6 miles. You can see more photos here and you can view a track of our paddle here.

Llafranc and Kayaking

On Friday, June 15 our walk took us from Begur to Llafranc, hiking along rugged cliffs and past small fishing hamlets. There were white caps on the Mediterranean with a strong wind blowing out of the north east and waves crashing on the rocks and beaches. We had hoped to rent kayaks and paddle out of Llafranc the next day, Saturday.

As it turned out the wind let on Saturday and the sea was calmer. We rented kayaks and paddled out of Llafranc, past the town of Calella de Palafrugell and on the Cap Roig. There we turned around and headed back. We had a very pleasant paddle, even with a five foot swell running and sending waves crashing on rocks and beaches. The lumpy water had us feeling like we were on a coastal paddle along the California coast. The outfitter commented that it was extremely rare to have such rough water.

By evening when we dined along the waterfront the the water on the harbor in Llafranc was looking flat calm.

Martinez Paddle

Paddling on the Carquinez Straights

On Saturday April 13 I managed to join two paddling buddies, Don and Jackie for a paddle on the Carquinez Straights, a tidal straight that connects the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers with San Francisco Bay. Being tidal one needs to pay attention to the tides and currents. We launched in the morning and rode the flood current up the straights and turned around about the time the current was changing, so that we were riding the current back down the river also. Our launch point was the Martinez Marina, and from there we paddled east, under the Benicia-Martinez bridges and past several oil refineries with their piers for tankers, keeping our eyes open for shipping traffic, since ships can travel up the river to Stockton and Sacramento. A number of sea lions were holding court in some of the piers and making their presence know with their barking. We also saw a few Osprey, Canadian Geese and numerous shore birds. We stopped at a couple of small beaches, one of which was covered with shards of glass and pottery.

Our paddle covered about 9.5 miles. You can view a track of our course here.

Up the Creek

Jumping into the middle of the thread of posts about our desert trip, here’s an on-the-water adventure from yesterday’s paddle with my fellow BASK members.

February 21. We gathered at Buck’s Landing in San Rafael for a paddle up Gallinas Creek. With the prediction of wind and a very high tide, exploring one of the sloughs around the Bay made sense. Many of the tidal sloughs are only accessible by kayak with high tides.

Six of us were ready to launch at 10:45 AM, and after a brief safety talk and a radio check we were on the water. Radios weren’t really called for on this paddle, but since we have them it’s good to make sure they are working. As we paddled up the creek we were entertained by shore birds; avocets, herons, egrets and a variety of other shore birds. At one point we decided to explore a side channel that headed off in the direction of the Marin Civic Center and that took us as far as a culvert under a bridge that was not navigable. Returning to the main channel we continued up the creek to Highway 101. There the creek disappears in dark tunnel under the road. Pitch Black. One of our intrepid paddlers disappeared into the darkness, followed by another. Half-way though the tunnel it makes a turn, and once around the bend, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon the six of us were on the west side of the highway, looking up at a road sign that read “Marin Co. Civic Center Next Exit.”

Somehow, with the narrow creek we managed to get our boats turned around to head back through the tunnel. Then it was back down the creek to Santa Margarita Island Preserve where we stopped for lunch and took a short walk around the island. Our adventure covered a little over seven miles. You can view more photos here and a map of our route here