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.
April 1. Our adventure today includes a paddle on Tomales Bay followed by a party at Heidrun Meadery to celebrate David’s birthday. Seven of us were on the beach at Marconi Cove ready to get on the water at 10:00. We launched on a low tide and paddled across the bay to the Point Reyes Peninsula and then north paddling in flat calm without a breath of air. Temperatures were predicted for mid-70s so I opted to leave my dry suit behind. The calm water gave us a view of thousands of jellyfish just below the surface.
I stuck my waterproof Olympus TG-5 under the surface of the water and snapped a bunch of photos hoping my might capture some of the moon jellies. Low and behold, I actually captured a few images that were worth saving.
Once across the bay we paddled north along the peninsula landing at Tomales Beach for an early lunch. Then it was back to our launch site. Our paddle was just shy of eight miles. You can view the track of our paddle below or click here to see more details. We were in no hurry, but anxious to go taste some wine.
We packed up or kayaking gear and drove the short distance to the Heidrun Meadery for a wine tasting with wines made from honey. These are sparking wines made with the Champagne method. Who knew there could be so many flavors of mead, with the flavors based on the source of the honey. Buckwheat, sage and wildflowers were among the flavors we tasted. Once we were lubricated with bubbly we broke out the cake.
Since we were all sufficiently vaccinated we opted to enjoy the camaraderie sans masks. The last time I was without a mask in this large a group was March 14, 2020, when we had a party to celebrate my birthday. Plenty more photos to share. Go here to see them.
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.
March 5 marked my 70th birthday. So what do I do on my birthday? I go paddling with friends. What better way to celebrate than being outdoors in the fresh air, doing something active with the camaraderie of good friends. I volunteered to be the trip initiator, and after reviewing the tides and currents with some knowledgeable fellow paddlers, I opted to plan the paddle from Emeryville to Point Isabel. With a strong ebb sucking water out of the bay for most of the day, paddling along the east shore of the bay would avoid strong currents. The announcement I posted on the BASK club bulletin board read “Thursday Paddle: Cake and Champagne.”
We met at the the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina and, contrary to the signs that said “Paid Parking” and the a warning that parking might be an issue, we were able to park close to the boat ramp for free. It seems the signs are out of date.
We were lucky enough to have our good friends Danny and Susan show up with a double that they had just acquired; a very long boat. It took four people to get it on the water.
After a safety talk and radio check we were on the water at 10:30. We had calm water and overcast skies when we launched, with a prediction for winds of 8 knots with gusts to 12 knots in the afternoon.
Our paddle took us north along the east shore of San Francisco Bay. As we approached the Berkeley Marina, we were beginning to feel the effects of the wind as wind waves kicked up a bit. Everybody seemed to be comfortable with the conditions so we paddled on, past Berkeley, past the Albany Bulb and on to Point Isabel. The landing at Point Isabel only accommodates one boat at a time on a rocky beach, so we took turns bringing our boats in.
As we were breaking out the cupcakes and champagne, who should show up but our paddling buddy Tom, on a bike, decked out in a PFD and spray skirt. The best way to explain this is to share Tom’s post from the club message board:
At breakfast this morning, Ellen is perusing Buzz and says “Oh, Treve’s having a birthday pedal today to have cake and champagne at Point Isabel. He says you have to wear a PFD and spray skirt to attend.” She caught me at “cake”, and I replied “When will they be at Point Isabel?” The answer, “probably around noon.”
Now I’ve never ridden my bike wearing a PFD and spray skirt, but Treve’s an interesting fella and might know something I don’t about this.
So I got OTB [on the bike] around 11:15 and had a smooth pedal down to the bay and along the bay trail, no ferry angle needed. Approaching Point Isabel I am astonished to see Treve and his buddies not on bikes, but paddling kayaks! Huh?
Oh well, at least they did let me have one of Joann’s homemade cupcakes and a sip of bubbly.
How was it pedaling with PFD and spray skirt? Not recommended, but if you do, best to secure the grab loop to a buckle on your PFD to prevent tangling (thanks, Susan, for the tip). I didn’t attempt a roll.
Happy birthday, Treve! And it was great to see Danny and Susan on Danny’s Thursday paddle. As it should be.
After lunch it was back in the boats for the return trip to Emeryville. The wind which had been threatening to build moderated a bit, and we found ourselves riding a bit of chop heading back around the Albany Bulb and into Berkeley. As we approached the Berkeley Marina we opted to duck inside the marina. It seems Susan’s legs were going numb from sitting in the back cockpit of the double. Susan swapped places with Steve and we were back on the water. From Berkeley it was an easy paddle back to the Emeryville boat ramp, returning at 3:15. Our paddle covered 9.9 miles. Not a bad day for a 70 year old. You can view more stats on the tracklog here and more photos here.
On Thursday, January 2, I managed to get on the water with a few of my BASK kayaking friends. We launched from Horseshoe Bay just under the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge and paddled out the gate to Point Diablo. We were feeling a bit of swell with 10 foot waves on 18 second intervals. For most of the paddle this simply meant riding up one side of the wave and down the other side, like going over gently rolling hills. We could see the waves slamming into the exposed coast with quite a bit of force. Inside of Point Diablo we were somewhat protected, and we managed to poke along the coast fairly close to the rocks.
While poking around the rocks near Point Diablo we managed to collect quite a bit of floating debris: empty bottles, plastic bags, blocks of foam flotation, and even a tarp. Later, on the return to our launch, Alan found a Christmas tree.
With a high surf advisory we were concerned whether we’d be able to land at Kirby Cove for lunch, but the cove was protected enough that surf wasn’t a real issue. Even so, I managed to dump my boat when launching off the beach after lunch.
We were on the water at 11 AM and back on the beach at 2:30, having covered 5.7 miles. I was happy to get on the water again after being holed up with a cold for the previous 10 days. You can view more photos here and view the track of the paddle here.
Thursday, December 5, we had a lull between storms which gave us the opportunity to go paddling. We joined a few of our Bay Area Sea Kayaker (BASK) friends and launched from Ferry Point in Richmond. Our plan was to circumnavigate Brooks Island with a lunch stop along the way. From Ferry Point we headed southwest around the end of the breakwater that protects the Richmond harbor.
Once around the breakwater we headed east, passing Brooks Island, watching the harbor seals that were resting at Bird Rock and continuing to the Albany Bulb. We had hoped to land at a little beach on the Albany Bulb, but the tide was so low that there was no beach, only rocks. We decided to check Point Isabel, a short distance away, but before we got there we found a little pocket beach we dubbed Twin Towers Beach. There we landed and broke out our lunches.
Back on the water we headed towards the Richmond waterfront, paddling past the Red Oak Victory. The quiet water and soft lighting with clouds made for some interesting lighting effects for photography.
At one point I was mesmerized by the pattern of ripples forming behind the boat in front of me. Like dropping a pebble in a pond creating radiating concentric rings, each dip of the paddle would create such a pattern, with the rings drifting off behind the boat and alternating on the left and right; the rings expanding and merging together. It seems the still water and the particular quality of light created a dance. It was a subtle effect and not something I could capture with the camera.
As we neared Ferry Point on our return we speculated about the graffiti which reads “KEEPS” on the old Terminal One building. It seems this piece of real estate is destined to become luxury condominiums. Our paddle covered 8.8 miles. Please feel free to explore more photos here. Fellow BASK members will appreciate the gallery since I made a point of capturing “portraits” of paddlers, taking advantage of the soft light which I find ideal for this kind of photography. You can also view the track log here.
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.
Thursday, September 12 I was supposed to have a photo shoot for a client, but the shoot was cancelled. My backup plan was to manage some desperately needed home repairs. My wife had a different plan. She said “let’s go paddling on Drakes Estero.”
So at 10 am we were on the beach at Drakes Estero along with several fellow BASK friends, looking a flat calm and with warm weather. I didn’t even opt for a dry suit or a paddling jacket.
Drakes Estero is an estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore about 50 miles north of San Francisco. Named after Sir Francis Drake, who may have anchored in adjacent Drakes Bay during his explorations. The estero was also famous for oyster farming up until recently when the oyster farm was shut down. Congress declared the Estero a wilderness and oyster farming is not consistent with the management of the wilderness. See my previous posting about the book The Oyster War.
In any event we had a lovely paddle, paddling out to a small beach we have dubbed Sunset Beach, having a leisurely lunch and paddling back. Logging about 8 miles overall.
The object of this game is to pick up the “dead fish” without using your hands and toss it. Who wants to touch a dead fish?
The other kayakers then scramble for the “fish” and repeat the process. In this case the “dead fish” is a pair of socks tied together with a tennis ball in each toe. Sounds like an easy game. Right? Let me tell you, picking up the “dead fish” with your paddle is a challenge. It’s a great game for practicing boat control. Forward stroke, back stroke, draw stroke, sweep strokes, bracing, leaned turns. It all comes into play in this game. And then trying flinging the thing without capsizing a tippy boat.
This was a week ago. While most of the Bay Area was sweltering in a heat wave. I headed for Tomales Bay to join a few of my BASK paddling buddies. We launched from Marconi Cove Put in, just east of Marshall and paddled across the bay to Marshall Beach, taking our time to explore the coast. Calm weather and quite warm. I don’t recall when the last time I paddled with just a t-shirt and swim suit; not my usual “dress for immersion” gear. Too hot for dry suits or wet suits.
After lunch we got back in our boats and had a friendly game of Dead Fish Polo.
Over the course of the day we paddled 6.4 miles. Here’s a map showing the track of our paddle. Click on the map for more details about the track.
Thursday, July 18 found me on the water gain with my BASK paddling buddies. Our launch site was the public boat ramp in Sausalito. Anticipating heavy traffic on the commute across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge I decided to get an early start, and to my surprise the traffic was light. I was way ahead of schedule.
The plan was to paddle to Angel Island. When I stepped out of the car though, I got caught by a gust of wind that nearly blew me off my feet. Not good conditions for paddling to the island. I decided I’d wait until my buddies showed up before unloading my boat. At 10 am there were four of us on the boat ramp, discussing plan “B,” which was to hug the Sausalito shoreline and paddle out to Yellow Bluff.
At 10:30 we were on the water, paddling north along the shore. We paddled past the yacht harbor, under the piers of The Spinnaker Restaurant, and passed the ferry dock. Once passed the Trident Restaurant we had a bit of a slog straight into a brisk wind, but only for about 20 minutes when we found ourselves in fairly protected water.
Yellow Bluffs is a popular spot for kayakers who want to play in some dynamic water. The tide, current, wind and swell can make for some lumpy water. Not a good spot for beginners, but fun for those that want to practice some more advanced skills. Conditions today were just moderately bumpy.
When I’m paddling in lumpy water, I’m not taking pictures. It’s time to keep both hands on the paddle. We paddled past the Bluff and on towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Then it was time to turn around and head for a little beach just north of Yellow Bluff where we landed for lunch. We found an abandoned kayak on the beach. Full of water and gravel.
Our return trip was a breeze, literally, since we had the wind behind us pushing us along. Paddling back past the tug boat Owatonna. Want to live on a tug boat? This one is for sale and outfitted for four people as a live-aboard. Then it was back to the boat launch. We were off the water at 2 pm, having paddled 6 miles. You can see more photos here and you can view a track of our paddle here.