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.

Paddle Golden Gate 2020

World-class coaches in an iconic venue. That’s Paddle Golden Gate. This event happens every two years, bringing coaches from around the country and as far away as the UK. The event is hosted by California Canoe and Kayak. I signed up for all three days, February 7 through 9. Courses range from paddle strokes to boat control in tide races to rock gardening outside the Golden Gate.

On Friday it was Master Boat Control. We started in the protected waters of Horseshoe Bay working on paddle strokes for managing a kayak in dynamic water. Later we ventured out to Point Cavallo with a strong ebb creating some interesting eddies and currents. One of my classmates, Jan, captured a video that shows what we were up to. The exercise involved paddling out past the point, into the current at an unfavorable angle, and then using a sweep stroke on the downstream side to turn the boat into the current, using the minimum number of strokes. If you watch the video notice what happens to the boats as they go out past the rocks and into the current. You’ll see me in my boat at -0:38 sec, white helmet in a wooden boat.

On Sunday it was a class in rolling. We started out on the beach, progressed to the water without our boats, getting used to the water and the mechanics of rolling, and then in our boats with individualized instruction. When you see somebody that has a good roll it looks easy and effortless. But the truth is that it’s counter intuitive. When you’re upside down in the water, the first thing your mind tells you is to get your head out of the water. To roll successfully, though, your head needs to come up last. It’s not easy to reprogram your mind. I finished the class with a successful roll. It will take some practice to make it an instinctive action.

On Sunday I had signed up for a paddle to Alcatraz and Angel Island. When I arrived at Fort Baker the wind was howling with gusts to 40 knots. Our coaches suggested we assess the conditions and come up with our own plan. We students were unanimous that we would not be paddling to Alcatraz. We could barely stand on the jetty with the gusts of wind blasting us. Our plan was to stay in the protection of the harbor and practice boat control in the wind. Before we could get on the water, the Coast Guard revoked our permit. It seems they were too busy with other actions to monitor our event. Even so, we made the best of it with some land-based exercises – the main lesson being that flexibility is essential. Things don’t always happen the way you plan. It was an amazing three days with an amazing group of coaches and paddlers.

Why Drive when you can Paddle?

Thursday evening, January 23, provided an opportunity to paddle from Berkeley to Sausalito. The motivation was the monthly meeting of our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK). The meeting was being held at the Presidio Yacht Club at Fort Baker, just inside the Golden Gate Bridge. I teamed up with a fellow BASK member, Tom. We put our boats in the water at the South Sailing Basin in Berkeley. We were on the water at noon, paddled out past the defunct Hs Lordships Restaurant and headed north towards Richmond. We had flat calm water and no wind. Our plan was to paddle north to Richmond, then paddle around Brooks Island and up the shipping channel to Ferry Point where we planned to take a break.

As we approached Ferry Point we were feeling pretty good and we decided to cross the bay directly before the ebb current got strong. Anticipating the current we set a ferry angle of about 30 degrees north of our intended track and found that the angle carried us directly towards Angel Island. Mind you, we did have to paddle a bit to keep our course.

Nearing Raccoon Straight my thought was that we would pick up a current that would carry us up the Straight. I was surprised to discover that all of the water seemed to be going around Angel Island on the bay side and not moving up the Straight.

We stopped momentarily to see if we could raise some of our paddling buddies on the radio, knowing that there were more people on the water heading to the meeting. As we dallied I was watching the shoreline and noticed that we were drifting significantly with the current. We dug our paddles in the water and headed to Ayala Cove. Along the way encountering some interesting whirlpools and eddies that played with our boats turning them this way and that.

At 2:30 we landed at Ayala Cove and had a late lunch. A park ranger wandered by while we were eating lunch and informed us that there was a $5.00 fee to land a boat, something I had not been aware of on previous visits. After a leisurely lunch we were back on the water.

We continued up Raccoon Straight to Point Stewart, a point that’s noted for some wave action on ebb currents. It was quiet today. By this time the ebb current was kicking us along and we were logging eight knots, making for a quick crossing to Sausalito. The ebb at Yellow Bluff was kicking up some wave action so we stopped to play in the waves. The last time I was here it was a white-knuckle experience where I found myself paddling for my life, or at least that was what it felt like. Today it was not so energetic and I manged to grab my camera and take a few photos of Tom in some white water. It was 4:30 when we landed at the yacht club. There we met a number of other paddlers who were coming to the meeting by boat and we watched the sky go ablaze with color as the sun set. Our journey covered about 13.5 nautical miles. More photos are available 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.

Halloween Paddle

Thursday, October 31, found me on the water again paddling with several of my BASK buddies. One of the members of the group, Steve, decided to embellish the map of our track. See the image below.

We launched from Point San Pablo Harbor. Point San Pablo is at the north end of San Francisco Bay, separating San Francisco Bay from San Pablo Bay. It’s also on the route for ships going up the Sacramento River. Once on the water we headed for deeper water out towards the shipping channel hoping to hitch a ride on the flood tide. At Point Pinole Regional Shoreline we found a beach where we landed for lunch.

We paddled in near-perfect conditions with little wind and smooth water. After lunch we gathered around to sing Happy Birthday to two members celebrating October birthdays, Susan and Jen.

On our return with the current still flooding we paddled closer to shore, taking advantage of an eddy to carry us back in the direction from which we came. Over the course of our paddle we covered 9.4 miles.

Back on the beach we put put our boats on our cars, changed out of our dry suits into our street clothes and gathered up at Nobilis restaurant for snacks and drinks. Point San Pablo Harbor is a sleepy little yacht harbor with a funky collection of houseboats and public art. While not on most people’s tourist roster, it’s worth the visit, even without a boat.

You can view more photos here and view the track and stats here.

Paddlepalooza

What happens when you have 53 paddlers from three kayaking clubs point their boats towards Angel Island? It’s a Paddlepalooza! Saturday, October 26, we were on the Horseshoe Bay dock at 9:30 AM for a safety talk. Horseshoe Bay is just inside the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a popular launch site for kayaking. On Saturday the currents were favorable for a paddle around Angel Island, riding the flood towards Angel Island and after lunch riding the ebb back. A critical part of kayaking on San Francisco Bay is paying attention to the tides and currents. Following the safety talk we broke into eight pods. We were advised by Vessel Traffic Control and the Coast Guard that if we were to paddle in pods with good separation between the pods we would minimize the impact on shipping traffic and other recreational boaters.

Once we were on the water it was off to Angel Island at a leisurely pace, going around the island in the clockwise direction. While on the water we got to mix it up with members of other clubs. The three clubs involved were Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), Western Sea Kayakers (WSK) and Sacramento Sea Kayakers (SAK).

Our lunch destination was Quarry Beach, a protected beach on the southeast side of the Island. After lunch we assembled into new pods for another opportunity to make new friends, and we headed back rounding Point Blunt, the southern most point on the Island, and hugging the shore until we reached Point Knox. Then it was time to cross the open water back towards our launch point. On the crossing we found ourselves paddling into a headwind with enough wind to kick up a few waves, but with the ebb current we made good time on the crossing.

Things got more exciting as we approached Yellow Bluffs. This spot is famous for kicking up some wild water on the ebb, and true to form it was exploding today. Our strategy was to paddle north around the rough water, but this is not what happened. We stopped for one of our pod members who was having having trouble with his boat. By the time we got going again, we discovered that we were being sucked right into the rough water. It was a wild ride. I was too busy holding onto my paddle to even think about taking photos. I found myself surfing down waves, getting knocked left and right, and somehow I managed to stay in my boat. Paddle forward, surf the wave and keep paddling. Against the ebb it was slow progress. Eventually I made it to smooth water closer to shore where a number of paddlers were holding position while we regrouped.

My wife Joann managed to stay in her boat in the rough water also. Two paddlers capsized. One of them ended up riding the ebb current out towards the Golden Gate before eventually being picked up by a fishing boat.

The water at Yellow Bluff is a popular place for more experienced paddlers to play. Having “played” in it briefly I can see it would be fun to go back with some more experienced paddlers to improve my boat handling skills.

I did take more photos on the paddle. You can view those here. I also had a GoPro on my helmet. So stay tuned for some video footage. We logged 10.6 miles over the course of the day. You can see the map of our route above, or here.

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.