Breaking the Curse

For the past six weeks or so we’ve been cursed with contrary winds. It seems we’d plan a paddle and the wind we experience was not what was predicted. It seemed as if the wind gods were playing havoc with us. We’ve been attributing this curse to Alan, one of our paddling buddies, since he was the one that was planning the paddles. We even devised a plan where we would send Alan off in one direction hoping he would serve as a decoy so the rest of us could paddle on calm water.

On Thursday afternoon July 7 though, following a lovely paddle we gathered at the Up and Under Pub where we shared a toast and declared the that we had broken the curse.

Six of us launched from Ferry Point that morning for a paddle around Brooks Island. We paddled in the counter-clockwise direction, crossing the open water early, in the event that the wind should come up later in the day.

Paddling along the south side of the jetty we encountered quite a bit of eel grass. We had this experience on the previous paddle at this location and it seems this year there is eel grass where we don’t recall seeing it in the past. Then, having spied the remains of the dead whale, we paddled close to take a look. Jaw bones are now exposed where a month ago it looked like a freshly beached whale.

We were also amazed at the number of pelicans we saw, wheeling overhead, diving and fishing. We stopped at Barbara and Jay Vincent Park for lunch, walking to the top of a knoll where we found some rocks on which to sit.

After lunch it was back on the water. The wind had picked up a bit and we were bracing for a slog into the wind. We crossed the channel heading to Brooks Island, and admired an Osprey that was feeding it’s young on a nest on the top of the dolphin (pilings) in mid-channel. Then the wind eased up and we had a pleasant paddle back to our launch side, again mystified with the number of pelicans that were about. You can see more photos in an online gallery.

Tomales: Marconi to Chicken Ranch

June 26 seven of us launched our kayaks from Marconi Beach, not knowing quite where we’d end up for lunch. Shortly after 9:00 we launched on flat calm water, paddling across to Hearts Desire Beach where one of our fellow BASK members was assisting in an Environmental Traveling Companions kayaking event.

From Hearts Desire we noodled south east along the Point Reyes Peninsula, taking our time and exploring all the nooks and crannies and even some caves. Paddling through eel grass beds we saw hundreds of jelly fish. Since my Olympus TG5 camera is waterproof I popped it under the surface and started snapping pictures more or less at random. I was amazed I got something useable.

Then paddling on before you know it we were at Chicken Ranch Beach. It was just a few minutes after 11:00 and though it was early we decided it was lunch time. Our plan was to get an early start and then get off the water before the wind came up.

Sure enough, as we were eating lunch the wind started to build, and not as predicted. Prediction was for WSW winds 9 kts. What we had was coming straight down the bay. We launched into a stiff wind that was raising whitecaps. Fortunately we did not have a great distance to travel so we slogged it out powering straight into the wind. We were back at our launch point at 12:30, having logged 5.8 miles. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

A Week at Loon Lake

Nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 6400 feet is gorgeous lake. Loon Lake. Crystal clear water surrounded by forests, granite boulders and patches of wildflowers. Twenty eight miles of a windy road takes you off the main highway deep into the Sierra Nevada mountains not far from the Desolation Wilderness. We anticipated meeting a number of fellow kayakers, members of Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK) for a week of paddling, hiking, wildflower hunting, birdwatching and camaraderie.

We arrived on Sunday evening, June 12, dropping our boats off near the boat ramp and finding campsite 44. We parked, popped the top up on the camper and joined one of our camp buddies, Eoin, who was was preparing dinner for our cook group. The next morning I put my drone in the air to capture a photo of our campsite.

June 13 – Rubicon Trail Hike

Monday we opted to explore the north end of the lake on foot, driving to the Rubicon Trail Staging Area and making our way partly around the lake. The Rubicon Trail is widely recognized as the premiere OHV route in the United States. As hikers, we decided to stay off the jeep trail and to try to find a route that was hiker friendly. We ended up off-trail, making our way over bare rock, through thickets of trees and down through a bog. It was spectacular country but slow going as we bushwhacked. After a couple of hours we managed to cover 2.5 miles.

June 14 – Paddle – North End of Lake

Tuesday morning we were up early to fire up the Dutch Oven and cook a breakfast of mushroom and brie breakfast strada, one of our favorite camping breakfasts. With breakfast out of the way we assembled at the boat ramp. Our route took us along the eastern shore of the lake, noodling along and poking into coves and inlets, passing a small waterfall at one point. We stopped at Pleasant Campground for lunch and then continued exploring the north end of the lake.

With the wind starting to build in the afternoon, we decided to make our way back to our launch point. We covered 10 miles in the five and half hours of our adventure.

June 15 – Paddle – South End of Lake

Having explored much of the north end of the lake, today we explored some of the islands in the south end of the lake, making our way north to a lovely lunch spot on a granite spit. We had fun doing some flatwater rock gardening in a group of rocks. I even managed to get the drone in the air to capture some aerial views, something that I’ve wanted to do for some time, but usually the logistics of paddling take priority over the logistics of flying a drone.

Again, the wind came up after lunch and we made haste back to camp, hugging the shore to stay out of the brunt of the wind. We logged 6.9 miles over the course of our paddle.

June 16 – Loon Lake Trail

With two days of paddling behind us it was time for a hike. Our dog Carson had two days in the camper and it was time to give him some off-leash time. We followed the Loon Lake Trail along the east side of the lake, paralleling the route we had paddled two days before. This hike took us through some lovely forests, through glens of freshly sprouted bracken fern, over sections of bare granite rock with occasional views of the lake.

We stopped for lunch just shy of Pleasant Campground on a slab of granite with a view of the lake. There we watched the white caps on the lake and were glad we had done our paddling earlier in the week. We admired many wildflowers the trail and we covered 7.3 miles.

Please view more photos of the trip in an online gallery.

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.

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