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.

Point San Pablo to Bullhead Flat

On the morning of March 1, six of us gathered at the beach at Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor with a plan to paddle across the bay to Bullhead Flat, a destination in China Camp State Park. Since currents, wind and shipping traffic are concerns, we spent some time discussing the plan before launching our boats. With a slight flood we expected the current to push us north, up the bay, so we set a ferry angle taking us more directly across the shipping channel with the current carrying us towards our destination.

We were on the water at 10:00. David turned his radio to channel 14 to notify Vessel Traffic Control (VTC) that a pod of six kayakers would be crossing the shipping channel. He was not able to raise VTC. We paddled on until we were outside of Point San Pablo and I was able to contact VTC on my radio. I reported our location, our destination and the estimated time for our arrival across the shipping lanes. The red buoy marks the starboard (right) side of the shipping lane.

Once across we headed for The Sisters, a couple of islands off of Point San Pedro. Several of us decided to “thread Grendel’s Needle,” a gap in the rocks on the westernmost Sister. We had calm water paddling through the needle. With a stronger current and wind, there can be quite a surge of water.

We were a bit hesitant to paddle the needle since there was a flock of cormorants on top of the island, and we try our best to not disturb the birds when we are paddling. From The Sisters, we paddled north past McNears Beach, past the China Camp Village beach, and on to Bullhead Flat. There we pulled our boats out of the water and found a picnic table to use as we broke out our lunches.

After lunch, it was back on the water for the return trip. The current was now ebbing a bit, so we had the current working with us as we crossed the bay. Again, we set a ferry angle to compensate for the current. The gathering clouds caught my attention on the return paddle, and I thought they made for a lovely photo composition with the kayaks. I’ve posted an online gallery with more photos. You can see a track of our paddle below. We logged 8.3 miles with a very pleasant day on the bay

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.

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.

Angel Island 03/02/21

March 2, 2021. After returning from my desert sojourn visiting family and exploring the Eastern Sierra, it was time to get back on the water. This paddle took us from Ferry Point in Richmond and out around Angel Island with a stop at the West Garrison for brunch. We then continued around the island and back to our launch site.

A side note here about WordPress. I’ve had reports from those that subscribe and get the email version that the photos are distorted in the email, so I’m experimenting with different gallery settings. The photos above are presented in a Tiled Gallery format. Those below use the straight Gallery format. Please let me know if one of these formats works better.

West Garrison is on the west side of the island facing the Golden Gate Bridge. It was originally called Camp Reynolds, which was established in 1863 as concerns mounted over threats to the Bay Area from Confederate sympathizers and naval forces.

We were on the water at 8:30 a.m. which is early for us. We wanted to take advantage of the tides and currents. Our plan was to paddle to Ayala Cove for a stop but when we got to the West Garrison the water was flat calm and the beach looked inviting so we stopped and pulled out our snacks. You can see our boats on the beach with some pilings and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. We were again on the water at 11:00 and back at our launch site shortly after noon, logging 11 miles and paddling on placid waters for the whole trip. Our trip leader, Jenn, looked quite spiffy in her new boat, black with a sparkling metal-flake finish, yellow trim and deck lines, and matching outfit. I’ve posted additional photos including some artistic representations of a couple of images. Click here to view.

Here’s the track of our paddle.

I’ve posted a number of blog entries about paddling to Angel Island. You can find additional posts by searching for “Angel Island” in the search box.

Surfing Ashby Shoal

January 7. Our intent was to enjoy a quiet paddle from Barbara and Jay Vincent Park in Richmond to Emeryville and back. We were on the water at 10:20 with an ebbing tide. It was a calm day with very little wind and no wave action. As we approached Emeryville, though, we could see waves breaking on Ashby Shoal.

We decided to go check it out. Once we got there we decided to play in the surf. I didn’t have much luck riding the waves. I just couldn’t get the momentum to get a good ride, but I did get in some bracing practice as the boat broached. One of our gang ended up out of his boat, and we proved that the T-rescue is an efficient way to get somebody back in the boat.

Part of our group stayed out of the surf zone, and we had a lesson in radio communication. Susan called Steve to find out what was going on. Steve was with me, standing by while I assisted Alan. Steve’s radio was off. He heard the call coming on my radio and tried to respond thinking his radio was on. I was busy helping Alan get back in his boat. Susan’s radio went dead before we were able to respond. The lesson here is to keep your radio charged and remember to turn it on if you want to communicate. After we got Alan back in his boat, it was a quick paddle into the Emeryville boat ramp where we found a little park for a socially distanced lunch.

After lunch it was back on the water for our paddle back to Richmond, with a short stop while Sharon pulled out her bird guide to identify birds. We logged 11.4 miles over the course of the paddle. More photos are available here.

Five Depart, Three Return

August 8. The plan was to meet at China Camp, launch our kayaks, paddle out to the Marin Islands and over to the Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor for lunch, then to return after lunch.

Six of us met at China Camp, Michael, Joann, Cynthia, John, Christine and myself. I had posted an announcement that this would be a mellow paddle without the drama of wind and waves. The wind prediction at China Camp was 6 knots, based on Windy, an app I use for wind predictions. Meanwhile, the NOAA prediction for the San Francisco Bay at large was 10-15 with gusts to 25 in the afternoon. China Camp Beach is a bit protected from the wind, so it made sense that it might be windier on the Bay.

We were on the water at 10:10 and proceeded south. As we approached Point San Pedro, we were starting to feel the wind. It was a bit of a struggle rounding the point, but everybody seemed to be doing OK. Once we rounded the point conditions let up a bit, but it was clear that the Marin Islands were out of our reach given the wind. We opted to take a more direct line to Loch Lomond. Even so it was a workout. It was not the mellow paddle I had hoped for, but everybody seemed to be up to the task.

We pulled our boats up the boat ramp at Loch Lomond and found some picnic tables where we could practice social distancing while eating.

After lunch John and Cynthia decided to organize a shuttle back by hitching a ride with John’s wife, who had remained on the beach at China Camp with a good book. They were concerned about the conditions at Point San Pedro on the return paddle.

The remaining three of us put our boats back in the water and, with the wind behind us, it was a fast and easy paddle back to China Camp. Once we rounded the point, the last two miles proved to be mellow. Our track for the day covered close to eight miles. Due to a technical glitch, I only logged the paddle back from Loch Lomond to China Camp. It seems I must have hit pause on my GaiaGPS app as we launched.

Threading the Needle

On July 13 it was time to get back on the water. We had a six week hiatus while playing grandparents and dealing with the challenges of social distancing and staying-at-home. With a prediction for afternoon winds we decided to get an early start. China Camp State Park was our chosen launch site and we were on the water at 9:40.

Our plan was to paddle south around Point San Pablo, check the wind and water and round the Marin Islands if conditions looked good. We were paddling on an ebb so we would have the current with us going south, and the wind with us on the return. Once we were on the water two small islands, The Sisters, looked inviting so we set course for the islands thinking we might “thread the needle,” passing through a narrow slot in the west Sister called Grendel’s Needle. Once we were through the slot, we headed back to Point San Pablo. We found that on crossing back we were experiencing the full fetch of the wind blowing from the southwest, giving us some steep wind waves up to three feet with a few whitecaps slapping us; not a place for an inexperienced paddler, but we found the challenge invigorating.

As we rounded the point, we left the rough water behind. I find when I’m paddling in challenging conditions I’m intent on keeping my hands on the paddle and practicing boat control. Putting the paddle down to take photos is not an option.

We took a quick reconnoiter of the Marin Islands and decided that rather than slog into the wind, we’d turn into a little beach near McNear Brick & Block, a brickyard that was established by George P. McNear and his son Erskine in 1898 which still operates today. You can see the chimneys of the brick works in one of the photos.

Once we landed, we pulled our boats out of the water and dipped into our lunches for a mid-morning snack. With the wind building though, we decided that it was prudent to get back on the water to begin our journey back around the point.

We were back at our launch point at noon. We finished our lunch and went back on the water to practice boat control drills and rescues. My Eskimo roll needs more practice.

Our paddle covered six miles, and we were glad to be off the water as we watched whitecaps build in the afternoon.

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.

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