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.

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.

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

Monterey to Lover’s Point

BASK members landing at Lover’s Point Beach. Pacific Grove

With a three day weekend last weekend, Monday being a holiday, honoring Martin Luther King Jr., we decided to join our fellow BASK members for a weekend trip to Monterey. On Saturday morning we congregated on the Municipal Beach for a safety talk after which we launched our boats for a paddle to Lover’s Point Beach in Pacific Grove. Our paddle took us out past the harbor. We passed hundreds of Sea Lions on the breakwater and a number of sea otters on our way out towards Lover’s Point. We paddled past the Monterey Bay aquarium and around Point Cabrillo where we kept our distance from the crashing surf. Turning into Lover’s Point Beach we found the beach quite protected from the swell which made for easy landing. The clear, turquoise water at Lover’s Point Beach reminded me of something out of the Mediterranean

Lost in the Fog

On Thursday January 10, I joined my BASK paddling buddies for the weekly Thursday Lunch Paddle. We congregated at the northeast end Loch Lomond Marina where there’s a small beach that provides a serviceable launch site when the tide isn’t too high.


Paddling in the fog. BASK Thursday Lunch Paddle on 1/10/19.

When I arrived at 9:15 everybody was in a huddle discussing the fog. Boats were still on car tops and it looked doubtful whether we would get on the water. Our original plan was to paddle across the bay from our launch site. Given we would be crossing shipping lanes and ferry traffic, and with the challenge of navigating in the fog, we opted to paddle along the coast keeping the land in sight. We paddled along the shore, paddling under the Richmond San Rafael Bridge and then past San Quentin State Prison to a little beach that is a frequent launch site for windsurfers. After lunch we retraced our route, but for the last mile or so we decided to follow a compass course that would take us directly back to the marina. There was a point in the last leg where we were out of site of any landmarks, surrounded by fog. It was an eerie feeling to be paddling in the fog without any visual reference point. It wasn’t too long though when out of the fog loomed the entrance to Loch Lomond Marina. We were back on the beach by 3 pm having paddled 9.5 miles. You can view the track of our paddle here.