Keeping a Distance

We were glad to get on the water March 21st. The stay-at-home order suggests that outdoor activities such as hiking and bicycling are essential – as long as you practice social distancing. So Saturday we decided some outdoor activity was in order.

It felt a little weird going out since we’ve become hyper-sensitive to the health risks of the coronavirus. Walking the dog, I find myself making an inventory of everything I touch. Has another person touched that tennis ball? Can I get in and out of the dog park without touching the gate? Go home and wash hands!

Is it OK to drive the short distance from home to the kayak launch site at Ferry Point? I see advice to put the kayak away and not even think about paddling until the order is lifted. After weighing the risks, we loaded up the kayaks and drove to Ferry Point.

Ferry Point is along the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline, part of the East Bay Regional Park District. When we arrived at 10 a.m., the gate to the parking lot was locked. We parked on the street and carried our boats down to the deserted beach. On the water, we followed a freighter and two tugboats out the channel.

Out on the bay, our plan was to cut west across the shipping channel and then head north to Red Rock Island. We ended up paddling parallel to the channel while the tugs maneuvered the ship as they went north and then made a U-turn to join the shipping channel going south. Normally there are ferries zipping by on the Vallejo to San Francisco run, but no ferries today.

Once the shipping channel was clear, we headed for Red Rock. We had calm water and a bit of a boost from the current on the tail end of the flood. Slack water was predicted for 1 p.m., although we were mindful that current and tide predictions can be off by an hour or more in this part of the bay. We circled the island once, and then decided to land on a tiny beach on the southwest side of the island.

We had the island to ourselves. San Francisco was visible in the distance, some eight miles away. All around the Bay people were holed up in their homes under the order to stay at home. It seemed odd and liberating to be alone at the island, free of the anxieties that are plaguing the world. It also felt a bit odd to be paddling without our fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK). Our paddling experiences are often quite social.

Calm water prevailed on our return trip. As we passed the channel marker buoy #7 at 1:00 p.m., we noted that there was no noticeable current, so it seems the tide and current predictions were accurate for this time and location.

Our paddle covered just over seven miles, and we were back around 2 p.m. We were in no rush to land our boats, so we paddled along the Richmond waterfront a bit, and took some time to refine our boat handling skills.

When we landed on the beach at the end of the paddle, we noticed that the parking lot was open and quite busy. A few people were on the the beach, walking dogs and fishing. Most seemed to be practicing social distancing.

Stay safe and check out this link for more photos.

May 11. 2020. Just to follow up, I received a message through our local kayaking club, BASK, that the owner of the island wants to make it clear that the island is private property and landing on the island constitutes trespassing. Along the coast of California all beaches below the mean high tide line are, by law, public beaches. This applies along the open coast, but not inside San Francisco Bay. The shore of San Francisco Bay is neither governed by the California Coastal Act, nor the rules that govern navigable inland waters. According to a representative from BCDC, if you are standing on wet sand you are legal. Above that you are trespassing.

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.