Around Angel Island

April 6. A paddle around Angel Island is always a great adventure. Our original plan was to paddle out the Golden Gate, but with a prediction for a sizeable swell, we opted to stay in the bay. Seven of us were on the beach at Ferry Point ready to get on the water at 10:30. Our plan was to paddle around the Island and find a spot for lunch. We had calm water and very little wind.

Since this paddle involves crossing shipping lanes, we kept our eyes open for ships, gathering at buoy #8 to make sure we had everybody together. One thing interesting about buoys and similar features is that as the current flows around the buoy, there is a spot on the downstream side where you can basically park your boat and escape the current.

After we gathered up we paddled to the island, compensating for the ebb current with a ferry angle that would keep us close to our intended destination. As we approached the island, we discussed breaking into two pods, one to stop at the immigration station and the second to paddle around the island in a clockwise direction. We left one paddler on the beach, the remaining six of us paddled around the island returning to the immigration station about an hour and a half later.

Back at the Immigration Station we landed and broke our our lunches. After lunch it was back on the water for the paddle back to our launch point. A very pleasant day on the water. We logged 12.1 miles over the course of the day. More photos are available in my online gallery

Gone Paddling

I can’t seem to keep up with my own adventures. To get current here are three kayak trips I’d like to share: February 4, from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor, March 17 Windsurfer to Loch Lomond, and March 22 Loch Lomond to some islands.

Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor

On February 4 five of us launched Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor. The idea was to cover some miles as training for a club event we call the Gonzo, an endurance paddle that visits 15 islands in the Bay. Depending on the route you take, this can be 40 miles. No way am I going to paddle that distance, but I did want to stretch my endurance a bit so I joined this training paddle. Our plan was to paddle between The Brothers, then to an island near the San Rafael Bridge which will remain unnamed, then between the Marin Islands, through The Sisters and back. Our plans changed a bit after we reached the Marin Islands. It became clear that going for The Sisters would put us at a strong disadvantage with the current and wind to make it back to our launch. Just getting back to The Brothers took some effort as the current was starting to build. We managed to cover 9.8 miles with a moving speed of 3.8 mph. Check out more photos in my online gallery.

Windsurfer to Loch Lomond

On March 17 five of us launched from Windsurfer Beach. Our original plan was to paddle on Tomales Bay, but the predicted wind did not bode well for that paddle. My wife and I got an early start with the plan to beat the traffic across the Richmond San Rafael Bridge with a stop at the Bovine Bakery for breakfast. We were already on the road when the call was made to cancel the original plan. With a few quick phone calls we were able to formulate a plan “B” to launch from Windsurfer Beach. No Bovine Bakery, but we did find Rustic Bakery which also has a delectable selection of goods, so that suited us for breakfast. We logged a healthy 8.3 miles with a moving speed of 3.2 mph. Check out more photos in my online gallery.

Loch Lomond and Islands

On March 22 eight of us gathered at Loch Lomond Marina for a paddle around several islands. Since our route included crossing shipping channels and dealing with currents, we had a briefing to discuss the route. Once on the water we paddled out to the Marin Islands. We found some very shallow water on the way to the islands, barely six inches of water in places. If the tide had been any lower we would not have been able to paddle this route. From the Marin Islands we headed to the island near the San Rafael Bridge that will remain unnamed, and from there it was back to our launch point. We logged 8.9 miles with a moving speed of 3.4 mph. Check out more photos in my online gallery.

Seven Celebrate Seventy

A friend of mine retired recently and he asked me if kayaking was a suitable sport for seniors. I’ll answer that question with a report on a recent paddle. On February 10, seven of us launched our kayaks from Windsurfer Beach, a little beach not far from the Larkspur Landing Ferry Terminal. The youngster in our group was celebrating his 70th birthday. The beach was a bit rocky given the tide, and it’s a short carry down the bank from the road.

We were on the water at 10:00 a.m. on February 10. The current was ebbing for our time on the water, with maximum ebb a little less than one knot at 11:40 a.m. at Point San Quentin. That meant we would be paddling upstream in the morning. We had a calm, sunny, beautiful day. We paddled out around Point San Quentin and turned north under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Then it was north to the Marin Islands. The islands are part of the Marin Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1992, named after a Coast Miwok man known as Chief Marin. Access to the islands is restricted, so we rounded the bigger of the two islands and headed west for Loch Lomond Marina.

We landed on the boat ramp and immediately moved our boats off the ramp so that we wouldn’t interfere with any boaters. No cake today, but plenty of chocolate treats including those provided by the birthday boy, Steve. After lunch we were back on the water making a direct line to Point San Quentin. The current was with us going back.

Once around the point we paddled back to our launch site passing San Quentin State Prison, the oldest prison in California. We logged 8.3 miles on an unseasonably warm day. Of course, part of the drill is getting the boats off the beach and on top of our cars–a total body workout. Not bad for seven septuagenarians.

Check out more photos in my online gallery.

Morro Bay

The central coast of California is not an area with which I have much familiarity, so when a fellow BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) member announced a trip to Morro Bay we signed up, eager to paddle with knowledgeable friends. On January 6 we strapped our kayaks on top of our camper and hit the road. We had a campsite reserved at Morro Bay State Park.

No camping trip is complete without firing up the Dutch Oven. So one morning we cooked up a Hash Brown Crusted Quiche, one of our favorite recipes. Mind you, this fed us well for at least a couple of breakfasts.

Our launch site was about half a mile away at the kayak launch next to the Kayak Shack. Eight of us launched and paddled around the Morro Bay State Marine Preserve and up into Los Osos Creek. We paddled until we could go no further. We were hoping that we could connect with a channel that would take us to Chorro Creek, but that effort was futile. We observed plenty of bird life along the paddle. You can tell from the track that we spent a fair amount of time exploring the estuary. We logged 10.7 miles.

The following day, January 8, we were back on the water paddling to the south end of the bay and up Shark Inlet. When we ran out of water we turned around and paddled north along the sand dunes, stopping on the dunes for lunch. After lunch we continued north exploring the main channel out to the ocean and came back along the waterfront of Morro Bay, watching sea lions and sea otters. We logged 9.6 miles.

After two days of paddling we decided it was time to exercise our legs and explore Montaña de Oro State Park. We enjoyed the walk along the bluffs. There were some powerful waves crashing on the rocks, not a good day to be in a kayak on the coast.

I was surprised to find California Poppies already blooming in early January. After a very pleasant hike we decided a late lunch was in order. Tognazzini’s was recommended by several of our fellow kayakers, so that was our destination. We split an order of whole crab, which was delicious. After lunch we discovered that there are two Tognazzini’s. Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant and Tognazzini’s Dockside Too. Tognazzini’s Dockside Too was playing live music. After lunch it was back to camp with a nice walk along the boardwalk and a view of the sunset from the top of the hill. You can view more photos online.

Starting the Year with a Splash

On January 2 I was on the water with fellow BASK members (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) for a paddle around Angel Island. Eleven of us assembled at Horseshoe Bay near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. After a brief safety talk and a radio check, we were on the water at 10 a.m. We were looking to take advantage of the strong currents associated with the king tide. Our plan was to head south into the shipping channel to pick up the “express lane,” the flooding current for a ride to the island.

Paddling into the bay we crossed a well-defined eddy line, the line separating the still water from the fast-moving current. Once we were onboard, it was s smooth ride to the island. We poked around the rocks near Point Blunt and landed at China Cove for lunch, hauling our boats up off what little beach was left to keep them secure from the rising tide.

After lunch we were back on the water. With a high tide of 7.4 feet, an afternoon low tide of -1.9 feet, and slack water at 12:40 p.m., we were looking for a fast ride back through Raccoon Strait. What we didn’t expect was some rough and turbulent water at the west end of Ayala Cove. We encountered a tide race just off the point with whirlpools, eddies and chaotic waves. The chaos resulted in collisions, capsizes, lost paddles and hats, and a bloody head wound. Four of our paddlers ended up in the water. Mind you these are experienced paddlers. While we were facilitating rescues, a few harbor porpoise were cavorting about.

I’m not sure how I managed to stay in my boat in the chaos. Crossing the turbulent water was like being in a washing machine. No chance for photos here. My hands were busy bracing with the paddle. I did capture a photo of one of our paddlers being assisted getting back in his boat. With everybody back in their boats, we made a quick stop on the island for first aid. Then it was time to finish our return trip.

A few of us rode through the tide rip at Yellow Bluff and made our way back to our launch; another pod stayed clear of the rip, riding the express lane in the deeper water before turning into Horseshoe Bay.

You can see more photos in my online gallery. Over the course of the paddle we logged 10.6 miles with an average speed of 3.6 mph. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Kayaking Baja

In early December we managed to get our kayaks out on the Sea of Cortez for a couple of paddles. We had traveled to Baja as part of a caravan of 11 campers on a trip led by Bob Wohlers and the Off-Road Safety Academy. Our first opportunity to paddle was at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. We spent two nights camped on the beach, which afforded us one day to kayak. We had calm water and no wind. We paddled from our campsite on the beach out around an outcropping of rocks and to the point at the northeast end of the bay. We saw numerous birds including Frigate birds, but not much other marine life. Coming back from the point we noodled along the shore poking into all the little inlets we could find.

We logged 6.6 miles and had a very pleasant paddle. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Our second opportunity to paddle was on December 10. Anticipating wind we were anxious to get on the water early, launching at 9:45 AM.

We spent the better part of two hours paddling along the beach, around the headlands and back. Sure enough, on the way back the wind came up, as you can see from the whitecaps in one of the photos. Fortunately, we only had to contend with the wind for the short distance back to our camp.

Here’s a short video captured with my GoPro camera while paddling.

Picture Perfect Day

I have yet to master the art of capturing photos from a kayak. When I come back from a paddle, I’m often disappointed by how few of the photos meet my expectations. Invariably the photos are out of focus, blurry or have the wrong exposure. It’s a challenge to hold the camera steady with one hand while bobbing around in a tippy boat and holding onto the paddle with my free hand. And then the composition is always changing. I’ll see a potential opportunity forming and by the time I can get the camera in position the scene changes. Then while I’m trying to snap photos my paddling buddies are continuing on their journey. Time to put the paddle back in the water and catch up. And I’m always trying to position myself within the pod to take advantage of the light and composition. Glare on on the viewfinder is another issue, which means I’m more likely to just point and shoot and hope I get something. I like to capture candid moments on the water, water dripping off the paddle blades and the play of light and reflections and clouds. And then there’s the risk of getting water drops on the lens, or worse yet, a smudge of sunblock.

So this past week I decided it was time to master the art of kayaking photography. I use an Olympus TG-5 and on Thursday, November 4, I was determined to see if I couldn’t improve on the quality of the images.

Our launch site was Point Isabel on the east side of San Francisco Bay. One of my paddling buddies suggested this put-in since it is a short drive and I can just sort of fall out of bed and be there. I pulled out of my driveway at 9:02 and parked at the launch site at 9:13. A welcome change from the previous week when I spent two ours getting to our launch site. Our paddle took us to the north end of the jetty on Brooks Island. We had calm water, no wind, and dramatic clouds against a blue sky. Great conditions for photography, with the water offering nice patterns and reflections.

We could see the skyline of San Francisco peeking through the clouds in the distance. We kept our distance going past Bird Rock so as not to disturb the birds.

We were paddling on a high tide, 6.8 feet at 11:40, and as we paddled along we noticed that there appeared to be gaps in the jetty. The tide was so high that it was flooding over the jetty with enough clearance to float our boats. You can see David, riding a little bit of a tide rip over the rocks. We paddled over the jetty and back and continued on to Ferry Point where we stopped for lunch. Then it was back on the water for the return trip. We paddled across the shipping channel and along the inside of the jetty to avoid any shipping traffic. We were back on the beach at Point Isabel at 2:00 having logged 8.5 miles. You can take a closer look at our track here or on the map below. On uploading the photos to my computer, I found that that I had some 424 images! Quite a chore to sort through. But I discovered that the habits I had developed for land-based landscape and architectural photography were hindering my ability to capture photos from a kayak. On land I tend to use a small aperture to maintain a good depth of field. On the water a wider aperture and a high shutter speed seem to work best. I was quite happy with a number of the images. Of the 424 images I captured, I marked 44 as keepers. You can view those photos here. Overall it was a picture perfect day.

Don’t Walk the Boat

Drakes Estero is one of my favorite places to paddle. It’s an estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore and designated as part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness. A beautiful spot to paddle with lots to see. It’s closed March 1st to June 30th when harbor seals are birthing and, given the shallow water in some places, you want to pick a time when you’ll have enough water to paddle over the sandbars. This past week, on October 28, the timing seemed promising.

The first challenge was getting to our launch site. It’s 54 miles from my house to the launch site. During the morning rush hour it can be a challenge. I left my house at 7:40 and arrived at our launch site two hours later. Traffic was backed up crossing the San Rafael Bridge due to fog. As you can see, once we were on the water the fog had cleared and we had flat calm.

I’m including a screen shot of the tide graph, since we were hoping for a enough water to keep from walking our boats across a sandbar. High tide was 7:03 at 4.28 ft. Low tide was 11:17 at 3.71 ft.

We found the sandbar shortly before 11:00. If we hadn’t been distracted watching birds, we could have avoided the walk by skirting west around the bar. Approaching the beach, we began to feel the wave action from the ocean as waves entered the mouth of the estuary; we paddled through kelp beds and clear water feeling the gentle action of the dissipating offshore swell. Offshore a good swell was pounding the beach with rows of breaking waves.

Once across the bar, we climbed back in our boats and paddled to Sunshine Beach were we had a leisurely lunch. You can see the beach in the distance beyond the Janie’s wooden boat.

After lunch we paddled over to the inside of the Drakes Beach spit where one of our group had split off to admire the surf.

It is unusual to be on a paddle with three wooden boats, all built by their owners. Then it was back on the water for a pleasant paddle back to our launch site. As usual, what started as a calm day ended up with some wind, but not enough to hinder our progress. Over the course of the day we logged 8.3 miles and we saw dozens of harbor seals, pelicans, shore birds and even a couple of leopard sharks. You can take a closer look at our track here or below. If you click on the map, a satellite view shows the sandbars and channels in more detail. You can also view more photos here.

Mendo Madness 2021

Each year our kayaking club, BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) takes over a number of camping sites at Van Damme State Park for a week of camping and kayaking.

This year’s adventure started Sunday morning, September 12. With our kayaks on top of our camper we hit the road. Before we got very far we discovered that our camping reservations didn’t start until Monday. What to do for Sunday night? We pulled off the road to consider the options and Joann booked us a night at the Seagull Inn. Hey, I’m not going to complain about breakfast being served.

After breakfast we drove the short distance north to Russian Gulch. The prediction was for high surf, but the beach at Russian Gulch is quite protected, so getting on the water was not a problem. In poking around the cove though, we decided it was too rough to venture out. After a very pleasant paddle on the cove we checked into our campsite. That’s our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper with the kayas on top parked next to the trees.

In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven. Here’s Joann serving up Hash Brown Crusted Goat Cheese and Scallion Quiche. Yum! With rough water predicted on the coast we opted for a paddle on the Big River, and we found a few BASK members happy to join us. We logged 12 miles paddling up the river and back. A very pleasant paddle in an enchanted forest.

Wednesday, September 15, we put on our hiking boots and hiked up Fern Canyon to the Pygmy Forest. Another enchanting trail up a canyon lined with ferns and redwoods. The hike in itself is worthy of a separate blog post so stay tuned.

On Thursday with the conditions on the coast continuing to look daunting, we opted to paddle on the Albion River. We managed to pull together a group of eight people to paddle up the river. That brings us to Friday, our last day in Mendocino and it was time to paddle the coast. Conditions were much calmer than earlier in the week so we launched from Van Damme Beach and poked around a few rocks and paddled through a few caves. Hard to condense a week’s worth of adventures into one short blog post so stay tuned. I’ll be posting separate stories with more details. You can view more photos of our adventures here.

Wind and Chocolate

August 5. I had planned a paddle that would originate from Ferry Point going to Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor. When I arrived at the parking lot at 9:15 I was surprised to see that none of my paddling buddies had unloaded their boats. The boats were still on cartops. Everyone was concerned with the wind. After a quick consultation we decided on an alternate plan, to launch from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor and paddle to Point Pinole for lunch. Our thinking was that this might be more sheltered from the wind.

Eight of us were on the water at 10:40, paddling in some wind and chop with the wind and waves coming at us on the stern quarter. This was a good exercise in boat control, since my boat, a Pygmy Ronan, was tending to weather cock and I was constantly correcting for the wind. At noon we were breaking out lunch at Point Pinole, having traversed the 4.2 miles in an hour and 20 minutes.

During lunch Steve broke out a stash of chocolate. Mind you this was no ordinarily chocolate. A well-known Napa Valley restaurant is apparently about to launch their own chocolate brand. Steve managed to get his hands on some samples. We had a treat tasting five flights of chocolate starting with milk chocolate and moving on to some amazing 85% dark chocolate.

We were back on the water at 1 p.m., slogging into a headwind and choppy water. Our strategy was to head towards Riviera de Garbage, and hopefully find some protection from the wind in the wind shadow of the land. At 2:45, we found the boat ramp at Riviera de Garbage and stopped for a welcome break. It had taken us an hour and 45 minutes to cover the three miles. On the crossing we were entertained by pelicans fishing, dive-bombing for fish quite close to our boats. My efforts to photograph them were unsuccessful. From Riviera it was an easy paddle back to our launch site landing at 3:40.

Everybody agreed that the paddle was a good workout and we were back on the beach without an incident. We logged 9.8 miles over the course of our paddle. You can view more details on my GAIA GPS account, and you can view more photos here.

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