Out the Gate with BASK

On Saturday, December 7, I joined fellow BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) members for a paddle “Out the Gate,” meaning a paddle out from the relatively protected waters on San Francisco Bay , out under the Golden Gate Bridge onto the Pacific Ocean. Tides and currents under the Golden Gate Bridge can be a challenge, not to mention the wind. This is not a place for novice paddlers, but for those that have the skill and knowledge of the risks, it is an awesome adventure.

Our launch point was Horseshoe Bay on the Marin Headlands, and with 27 paddlers we were quiet a fleet. We formed small pods of two to three paddlers, using a buddy system, and those again formed into two larger groups; those that wanted to play in the rocks and waves; an activity referred to as rock gardening; and those that were more interested in paddling in the calmer waters away from the rocks. I chose the latter group, since I don’t think my wooden boat will fare well bashing into rocks.

We launched our kayaks at 9:45 am and paddled along Marin Headlands. There is plenty to see along the headlands; sheer cliffs come down to the water, and in some places it’s easy to paddle along the cliff watching for sea stars and birds.  There were also plenty of harbor seals and a few sea lions.

Paddling a little further out the gate, we began to feel the ocean swell. One moment I’ll be up in the air looking down at the waves crashing on the rocks, the next moment, in the trough of a wave looking up at the back of the wave that just passed.

We paddled about four miles out to Point Bonita. Our plan was to land on a beach for lunch, but it seems there was a fierce wind blowing offshore,  straight out the Golden Gate. We were faced with the challenge of paddling into a strong headwind. Rather than dally around we decided to head back to Kirby Cove, a relatively protected cove.

It was a bit of a slog back to Kirby Cove and we hugged the coast as much as possible to try to get some protection from the wind.  Once on the beach, we broke our our lunches, eventually climbing back into our boats to paddle back to our launch point. If the water in the photos looks calm, it’s  because when I’m paddling hard, I want to keep both hands on the paddle. Putting the paddle down long enough to take a photo could have dire consequences.

You can view a track log of our paddle here.

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Paddle on Estero Americano

On Saturday, November 18, we launched our boats near Valley Ford for a paddle on Estero Americano. The Estero is a creek that meanders through the the low rolling coastal hills of Sonoma County ending at the Pacific Ocean. The property along the estero is all private farms and ranches, and with no public access, so there are very few people. The estero is also a popular place for bird watching also.  There were 13 of us on the paddle. A paddle organized through BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers). We launched our boats at the bridge near Valley Ford and paddled five and a half miles to the ocean where we landed and had lunch. Joining us on the beach were four fellow BASK members that paddled on the coast side, from Dillon Beach and landing in the surf on the beach. There is a sandbar across the mouth of the estero so that the water from the estero does not actually drain into the ocean, although when conditions are right the estero will breach the sandbar and connecting the estero to the ocean.  In addition to the photos above, you can find additional photos here and you can view a track log that show a map or our paddle here.

BASK Skills Clinic Camping Trip

Our final exercise in the 2017 BASK Skills Clinic was an overnight kayak camping trip on Tomales Bay. We gathered a Miller Boat Launch on the East side of Tomales Bay, loaded our camping gear into our boats and paddled to Marshall Beach where we set up camp; a distance of three miles.

Part of the exercise was to learn what it takes to plan and execute a kayak expedition. Once we had set up camp we were off on a treasure hunt, using our navigational skills to locate clues that led us on a four mile treasure around the bay, were we finally found our  treasure; patches to sew on our PFDs indicating we had graduated and chocolate.

I the evening the students hosted a feast for all the BASK campers; coordinators, volunteers and students, with tamales, tacos, Spanish Rice and following a campfire, we launched our boats again, in the pitch dark to to look for bioluminescence. Quite an experience to dip your paddle into the inky black water and see sparkles and ripples of light. Here’s a link to some additional photos.

BASK Skills Clinic Day 10

September 2 found me on the water again with fellow BASK Skills Clinic students and our amazing crew of instructors. With a heat wave baking the San Francisco Bay Area, playing on (and in) the water was the place to be. Following our intro day and four weekends of skills training, this was an optional day.  We opted to spend the morning practicing paddle strokes and rescues. I typically wear a dry suit when paddling on the Bay, since the typical weather pattern is a cool wind and cool water. With temperatures approaching 100 degrees though, I opted to wear my short Farmer John and a t-shirt. Along with the spray skirt and PDF I was quite comfortable in the boat, and in the water. After spending the morning on drills, somebody suggested we paddle to Treasure Island, and off we went. Here’s a link to our track if you want to see our route. We have one more adventure left in the skills clinic; that’s an overnight kayak camping trip on September 23. Stay tuned.

BASK Skills Clinic Day 6

 

Today marked our third weekend and day six of our BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) skills clinic. The amount of information the instructors and coordinators have packed into the clinic is amazing and almost overwhelming. A great experience to be learning from some very skilled instructors and volunteers. Today, the eight students broke into two pods of four paddlers. Each group of four students was accompanied by four instructors. Our assignment was to prepare a float plan to paddle from McNears Beach to Point San Pablo. With the prediction for light winds in the morning and a flood current, we formulated a plan to paddle out to The Sisters, two rocks just off of McNears Beach, assess the wind and current conditions there and then set a course for The Brothers Light House, which would angle us into the wind and current with the expectation that our true course would be towards our destination. At that point the wind was blowing more than we expected, but a survey of the group indicated that the consensus was to follow through with our plan. As we made our way across the Bay though, it became apparent that the wind and current were setting us back and we decided to abandon our plan and return to McNears Beach.  The wind and current had set us well north into San Pablo Bay, and we were now continuing to struggle into the wind and current. With some paddlers starting to tire,  tow ropes were put into service to tow the tired paddlers, and we broke into two groups of four paddlers. Four of us managed to paddle to China Camp, not too far from our original launch point,  and four hitched a ride on a police boat back to our point of origin. One of the lesson I learned from this experience was the importance of good communications. From the use of handheld VHS radios, to paddle signals and hand signals. A tiring day. Four hours of constant paddling into the wind and current without event a break for a snack bar. To stop paddling, even for a moment, would mean loosing ground against the wind and current. You can see a track and stats for our paddle here.

Gray Day on the Bay

There were just two of us today, Danny and myself, for the BASK Thursday Lunch Paddle.  We launched from China Camp State Park Beach in a light rain with little wind, and headed south around Point San Pedro, past the quarry, paddling inside the pilings to avoid the stronger incoming current  further out.  We ended up at a little beach just off of San Pedro Road near the brick kilns. There we found a couple chairs and a table and broke our our lunches. A cool breeze and the overcast created a bit of a chill, so we were happy to get back in our boats to paddle back to our launch point. Back on the beach we were intrigued by a couple of guys that were arranging pebbles in various locations and taking photographs of them; reminiscent of an Andy Goldsworthy installation.  You can follow a track of our paddle here and more photos here.

Wind in the Rigging

Being a sea kayak, my boat doesn’t have much rigging, just a few deck lines. And today as we rounded Brooks Island a gust of wind hit, creating a howling sound as it raced over the deck. Earlier, at our appointed time of 10:30 the five of us were contemplating the weather. Small craft warnings (isn’t a kayak a small craft?), steady wind of 17 knots with gusts to 25. We decided we’d launch at Ferry Point and paddle along the Richmond waterfront, protected from the northwest wind. With the wind at our backs we paddled up the shipping channel, and across to Brooks Island where we followed the shore. We rounded brooks Island, and it became clear that we had two options, paddle back to the Richmond waterfront against a strong wind, or paddle along the south side of Brooks Island and the breakwater hoping to find a little protection from the wind. Paddling along Brooks Island was a chore, but not too intimidating. We eyed several beaches hoping for a place to stop for lunch, but Brooks Island being a nature reserve, is off limits to visitors, so we continued paddling. After rounding the jetty we headed for fellow kayaker’s house in Brickyard cove, having lunch on Gordon’s new deck, overlooking the yacht harbor.  As we were finishing lunch we noticed that one of our boats had taken off on adventure of it’s own, so we promptly jumped back in our boats, rounded up the rogue boat and paddled back to our launch point. Overall we paddled seven miles, starting out with a wind which eased up a bit as the day went on. More photos here and you can view a track of our paddle here.