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.

Hearts Desire to Pelican Point

July 15, 10:00 AM. We were climbing in our boats at Hearts Desire Beach. Four of us. Hearts Desire is a lovely beach on the Point Reyes Peninsula, part of the California State Park system. I chose Hearts Desire as our launch point because the weather prediction was for wind on Tomales Bay. Hearts Desire and the west side of Tomales Bay is protected from the prevailing wind, so it provides a good launch site when the launch sites on the east side of the bay are windy.

We were launching on a low tide, and while some beaches can be muddy at low tide, we found firm sand. Paddling north along the bay we stayed close to shore. We saw racoons foraging along the shore as well as Great Blue Herons, egrets and osprey. Overhead we had pelicans reeling about and, in the water, jellyfish. With the low water, the eelgrass would occasionally grace our our boats.

Our intended lunch stop was Tomales Beach about three miles from our launch site. When we got there we decided to continue on to a more secluded beach. There were a handful of campers on Tomales Beach. We landed at a beach just south of Pelican Point. True to it’s name, we saw several White Pelicans on the point and opted to land far enough south so as not to disturb them.

After lunch we returned to our boats. We were back at our launch site at 2:30, having logged 9.2 miles. You can see more details about the track here. A beautiful day on Tomales Bay, one of my favorite places to paddle. You can see more photos here.

Boat in a Bag

How about a kayak that you can check as airline baggage for that remote expedition? I’ve been intrigued with the idea for some time, and when the opportunity came up to try out TRAK kayaks I signed up. So Saturday, June 26, my wife Joann and I grabbed our paddles and PFDs and drove to the Antioch Marina where we met Kathy Bunton of Delta Kayak Adventures. Kathy walked us through the process of assembling the kayak. It’s quite an ingenious system. The frame is aluminum tubing that unfolds and snaps onto the ribs.

The frames are color coded, with the bow sections being blue and the stern red. You slide the frame into the skin, and then you attach three hydraulic jacks that put tension on the frame. You can see Kathy adjusting the tension on the keel jack. You can also use the keel jack to adjust the rocker. With a few pumps, the bow and stern come up to give the boat some rocker. Release the tension and the keel goes flat. You can adjust the rocker while you are paddling; I was surprised to see how sensitive the boat was to the rocker adjustment.

Once we had our boats together, foot pegs adjusted, and the float bags in place, we paddled around the marina a bit to get a feel for the boats. Then it was out onto the San Joaquin River, around Point Antioch and into into Corteva Wetland Preserve. There we found some calm water and I asked Kathy to take a photo of the two of us in the TRAK boats with Mount Diablo in the background. We paddled up a few of the waterways in the preserve where we watched river otters, racoons, herons, ducks and turtles. Then it was time to head back to the marina.

Back out on the river, we had a good ebb current pushing the water to the west and a good breeze blowing from the west kicking up a few waves and even creating a few white caps. I ventured out into the rough water playing with the current and the waves a bit to see how the boat handled. Overall I was impressed with the performance. It felt more like a hard shell kayak that I expected and I like the way it edged. The hard chine felt a lot like the Pygmy Ronan I often paddle. Out in the wind and current, the boat did tend to weathercock a bit, but with a bit of practice I think it would handle well. While we didn’t cover any real distance, we did manage to log a little over three miles, and to get the feel for the boats on flat water and lumpy water with some wind. It was a fun and adventuresome paddle.

You can view more photos here. And take a closer look at the track of the paddle here.

Intro to Rock Gardening

It’s time to get caught up on a few of my recent adventures. The past two months have been quite busy providing photographic services to my architectural clients and caring for a family member that is recovering from a hip replacement. That in itself has been an adventure worth writing about, so stay tuned.

Before that, though, I’m going to turn back the clock to May 15 when I had the opportunity to join a few fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASKers) for a paddle out the Golden Gate. The plan was to paddle out for an introduction to “Rock Gardening.” Most of us have had some experience paddling around rocks, so this was somewhat of a refresher course. You’ll notice that we are all “dressed for immersion,” as well as wearing helmets and paddling plastic boats. It’s better to scrape a plastic boat on the rocks and barnacles than a fiberglass boat.

Once on the water, we poked along the coast inside the bridge to get a feel for the rhythm of the waves. Then we paddled out around Lime Point and under the bridge. Our leader Jan pointed out a number of features suitable for testing our skill and timing at navigating the rocks. It’s all about timing. Time the wave right and you can experience the thrill. Time it wrong and you can end up in the water.

Since paddling in the rocks requires keeping both hands on the paddle, I did not take many photos. I did have a GoPro camera on my helmet and I captured some video including a few frames where I ended up going for a swim. Fortunately my paddling companions were well practiced at rescues and they had me back in my boat in no time. I had been thinking it had been quite some time since I had practiced a rescue, so I guess you could say I got my wish. A fun day on the water. More photos available here.

San Pablo to Pinole

March 25. Our adventure today takes us from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor to Point Pinole for a lunch stop and then back to our launch. Eight of us were on the beach next to the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor at 10:00 ready to get on the water. Our paddle north felt like a bit of a slog. We were hoping to have the tail end of the flood helping, but our progress seemed to suggest we were experiencing a bit of an ebb.

We decided to head further out into the main channel to get out of any eddy that might be working against us. You can see the jog in our course on the map below. Needless to say we did not pick up any speed. We landed on the beach just south of Point Pinole at 11:30 and moved the boats up the beach out of the tide zone.

After a suitably socially distanced lunch we were back on the water at 12:20 and back at our launch point at 1:30. It took us an 90 minutes to cover the 4.25 miles to Point Pinole and 70 minutes to make the trip back. It felt like a quick trip back after the our paddle out. We logged 8.6 miles.

Another glorious day on the bay paddling with friends under blue skies with calm water. You can see more photos here. And view more of the track on my GiaGPS account here.

Chipps Island

March 16. Today’s paddle takes us from Pittsburg, out around Chipps Island, with a lunch stop at McAvoy Yacht Harbor before returning to our launch point.

Six of us were on the boat ramp ready to launch at 11:00. Again, our paddle plan was to take advantage of the currents. We headed out across Suisun Bay with some discussion about a proper ferry angle to correct for the current that was carrying us west—the point being to set a course that would carry us directly to Spoonbill Creek rather than pointing the boat there and ending up downstream. The current was quite evident when we stopped mid-channel to chat with a fisherman. You can see on the map below that our actual track was an arc across the bay as we made adjustments to our course. The little blip in the arc marks our encounter with the fishing boat. Once in the creek we found a good current pushing us up the creek.

We paddled past past various derelict structures. I always find these fascinating, and worthy subjects for photography. We also found a few sunken boats.

Once around the island we paddled back across the bay. We opted for a point that carried us east of the entrance to McAvoy Yacht Harbor and poked around the shore until we found the the sign showing the way to the harbor. We were looking for the Bay Point Regional Shoreline which promised picnic tables. We didn’t find the park from the water, so we landed on the boat ramp and found a suitable spot for our socially distanced lunch.

On our return trip after lunch we had a fast ride with the current passing the Pittsburg Power Plant. Off in the distance we could see the faint outline of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains. Look closely over Alan’s shoulder in the photo above. We were back at the boat ramp at 4 PM.

We logged 14 miles over the course of our paddle. You can view a larger map and more details on my Gaiagps account here. I’ve posted a gallery that includes more photos here.

Four Islands

March 11. Another glorious day on the Bay. Seven of us launched our kayaks from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor in San Rafael. Our paddle plan included an 11 AM departure to coordinate our paddle with the tides, pushing a little bit against the current paddling out past Point San Pedro and riding the current home. We launched under a blue sky with dramatic clouds on the horizon and calm water. From Loch Lomond we paddled to the Marin Islands, passing between the two Islands and then heading North East to The Sisters where we paddled through the slot called Grendel’s Needle. We found a little bit of turbulence where the current coming at us through the slot was constricted. A few power stokes and a forward bow rudder gave us a bit boat control practice and took us safely through the needle.

From The Sisters we paddled over to China Camp where a part of our group that opted to bypass The Sisters were already spatially distanced and eating lunch at picnic tables.

After lunch we were back on the water and we had a quick ride back to our launch site. As we were ready to launch I handed my camera to Alan, one of our paddling buddies, and asked him to take a photo of Joann and me with our boats. The longer boat is a Pygmy Coho built in 1999. The shorter Pygmy Ronan was built in 2017. Too often I’m the one that’s missing from the photos.

Over the course of the day we averaged a little under 3 mph on our way to China Camp, and a fast ride back getting up to 5 mph when we were riding the current. Our course covered 9 miles.

There was some discussion on the water and by email after the paddle regarding tidal predictions which don’t always match the published tide and current tables. Always good to paddle with friends that can temper the predictions with local knowledge. Please view additional photos here and to take a closer look at our track go here.

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