Friday, September 19, 2008

Kayaking is the New Canoeing

I was driving to Desolation Wilderness for a day hike yesterday when I heard a new show on NPR, a series, called What's the New What?, and the show was Kayaking is the New Canoeing (listen to it by clicking on the link). That reminded me of a story.

Once I was staying at a friends house in Guerneville and I woke up early in the morning and was eyeing my friend's rowboat. Everyone was still asleep, and I was contemplating a little joy ride. Then my friend, Roger, told me he was about to take the canoe, Tippy, out to check his crayfish trap. So I proposed a race. I would get in the rowboat, and he would take the canoe, and we would see who got across the river to the buoy first. Now I was 23 at the time, and my friend was 55, so I assumed that I would win by a mile. He accepted the challenge, and we put in. I rowed with both oars with all my might, but Roger, with only one paddle, and without seaming to exert any particular effort at all literally paddled rings around me. And he was serenely smirking. I etched a fundamental rule of seamanship onto my brain, "The canoe is faster than the rowboat." Now this reminds me of another story (hang on, last one).

Fast forward eleven years, it is now 2001, and I'm 34. I'm on a paddle with my friend Marc, and my partner, Kevin. Marc and I are in a canoe, and Kevin is downstream a few hundred feet in a kayak. He is too far out of range to hear Marc and I plotting against him. The scheme that came into my brain was this. Marc and I would paddle the canoe as fast as we could, and we would come up behind the unwitting kayaker, and speed by him as such a rate that it would knock his socks off, and wow him to his core. Kevin was not paddling for speed. He was gently paddling along. On the other hand, Marc and I were pouring on the coal, driving as fast as two very fit men could push that canoe. But, we could barely catch up! Let alone speed by Kevin. So, with all our effort, we couldn't blow by the kayak, and the kayaker wasn't even racing. Aha! I etched another rule, "The kayak is faster than the canoe."

Kayak vs. Canoe

Speed - The kayak wins because it has the lower to the water closed in deck and creates less wind resistance. Canoes are usually heavier, often made out of alumnium and a lot heavier.

Tippiness - Not sure here. But the kayaker can roll with a spray skirt on and never get any (or much) water in the cockpit. The kayak has bulkheads protecting compartments that won't fill with water very easily, so tipping over is less of a problem than with a canoe that is swamped.

Cargo - You can load a lot into a canoe, but I'm going to call this one a tie. The right kayak can hold a lot in it's compartments.

Socialability - It is true that you can ship your paddles and meet your canoeing buddy in the middle for lunch. Just be careful turning around in the canoe or your sandwiches may get wet. But the canoe's edge over the kayak is only slight. When I have lunch with my kayaking companions, we usually raft up, passing bags of chips down the line. They can be very social. Also the tandem kayak is just as social as the canoe.

Transport and Storage - It is easier for one person to carry and load a kayak. Though there are fiberglass canoes that are quite light, they are still bulkier than the sleek kayak.

Cost - (based on REI's selection) The price ranges are roughly as follows. Canoe $700 - 2,700. Kayak $320 - 3,250. Per person, that's about the same. Buying a kayak is more complicated, because you have to fit the kayak to your person and your intended use much more than you would a canoe.

Conclusion: I much prefer the kayak, but both are a lot of fun. I sure wouldn't pass up a canoe to get out on the water and see some nature. The canoe can simplify getting a novice out on the water, as long as the person in the back isn't a novice, and knows the J-stroke. Always wear your life vest, and have fun!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Nina

On Wednesday, September 3, 2008, a replica of The Nina was scheduled to arrive in Vallejo, so Gary and I paddled out to see if we could find her. Sure enough, we spotted her rigging near the end of the Mare Island jetty. So we paddled up to her, and got some great pictures. To find out more about her, visit her website.

She is 93.6 feet in length with a beam of 17.3 feet. The deck length is 66 feet, she has a 7 foot draft and her displacement is 100 tons. Her sail area is 1,919 square feet. I went aboard her after she docked at the Vallejo Marina. See the schedule on her website to find out where and when you might see her. I was amazed to learn that Columbus sailed her a total of 25,000 miles. Her crew of 27 slept on deck! It is a remarkably small ship to imagine 27 people setting out on a months long voyage. When you see what they went to sea in, you can't help but respect their bravery.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Saugatuck, Michigan

This Summer, my partner and I made our way to the Midwest to visit family in Chicago and Minneapolis, and while we were there we made a little side trip to the resort town of Saugatuck, Michigan. Saugatuck is located on the Kalamazoo River where it meets Lake Michigan, and recreational kayaks are available for rent. We took one out for four hours and had a great tour. We first headed upriver, under the Blue Star Highway bridge toward Douglas, then under the Highway 196 Bridge into Silver Lake. The Kalamazoo River wends its way off to the Southeast, but we only had so much time, so we headed back toward Saugatuck to get as close as possible to the mouth of the river where it spills into Lake Michigan. The rental company doesn't allow the rec kayaks to be taken out on the lake, and that is understandable.

The boat we were in had only an aft bulkhead, and no sprayskirts. The cockpit was one big opening for both paddlers, and would have taken on water wonderfully. The life vests were cheap, and the symetrical paddles were the cheapest I've ever seen without drip guards, yet they still sufficed in propelling the kayak. The tandem kayak had no rudder, and didn't track very well. I found it was easiest to control when both paddlers were aware of a bearing and aimed for it. When my attention lapsed for even a few seconds I found we drifted off course rather quickly. When renting, you may not have a lot of options for good equipment, and I've seriously begun to consider purchasing a good folding kayak for travel. This trip was not primarily about kayaking, so it was good to get out on the water even if the equipment was very basic.

We saw many fish jumping out of the water, lots of ducks and ducklings, water lillies in the still waters of Silver Lake, and many turtles.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shared Adventures Day on the Beach

Shared Adventures Day on the Beach

On July 12, 2008, I received an email from Dean McCully, organizer for this nonprofit event. They needed volunteers for their 16th annual Day on the Beach to provide a day of beach fun for disabled people the following weekend. They needed people with battery powered drills to help assemble the platforms that allow wheelchairs to go out onto the beach. The activities include kayaking, outrigger canoeing, SCUBA diving, water floatation, and using beach wheelchairs. Sounds like a lot of fun, and it was! As soon as I saw kayaking I was hooked. I didn't know what all was involved, but I signed up via the online volunteer registration form.

By midweek, I received a call from one of the organizers, and I committed to being there on Friday morning at 9:30am at Chris Bordner Auto Body on Center St in Santa Cruz where we would be building platforms. Chris Bordner Auto Body very generously provides its parking lot for use by the volunteers to stack wood, and build frames for the weekend. If you're looking for an autobody shop, please give them a call: (831) 423-1301. I added my tool belt to the list of things to bring, recharged my drill battery, and made sure my screwdriver bits are in the case.

I left the house on Friday at 6am, and arrived in Santa Cruz by 8am. Traffic was not a problem. I grabbed a humous bagel at the Bagelry (320 Cedar St, Santa Cruz, CA). Then I headed for Bordners. Made sure to put on plenty of sunscreen, though it was cloudy, plenty of rays come through, and it could clear up. I showed up, and was put to work. Jonathan and Tom were the foremen and had been there many years in the past. Two tables were built on which lumber is laid out and frames built. The frames are transported to Cowell Beach the following day where the plywood is attached. San Lorenzo Lumber (A Division of Lumbermens) stores all of the materials each year, so shop there and support them! We worked until 3pm, and we had built 57 frames.

We were asked to show up the next morning at, gulp, 7am to load the frames and plywood onto trucks for transport to the beach. A special truck is needed, and provided by the City of Santa Cruz, that can drive on the sand without getting stuck. Another crew is on the beach to unload the frames, put them in place and attach the plywood to them. The loading went on until 10am, when I went down to the beach to join the kayaking volunteer crew.

After the orientation for kayaking crew, and safety demonstration, I put on my wetsuit, PFD, and booties, and was ready for action when the kayak trips started at Noon. Here's how the kayaking activity works. There is a loading platform where there is a portable hoist that lifts the wheelchair bound out of their chairs and lowers them into their kayaks. A loading crew position the guest into the front cockpit of a tandem and make sure that they are well padded inside, with a PFD, and a spray skirt. Then the launching crew moves the kayak down beach to the edge of the water. A contact volunteer is assigned to each guest to talk to them, find out their name, introduce them to their paddler, make sure they're comfortable, and so on. The guest may or may not have a paddle themselves depending on their abilities and wishes. The paddlers gets into the rear cockpit down at the water's edge, and as soon as they're ready the launch lead (John or Shark Mark) watches the waves, and times the launch. When the lead orders the launch, the kayak is pulled by about six launch crew volunteers into the water, and off they go. Two tandems are escorted by one safety Sit-On-Top kayak. The front paddler on the safety kayak is responsible for jumping in the water if a guest goes into the water, and your one job is to get and keep the guest head out of the water. Other volunteers may help the guest either back into the tandem, or onto the deck of the safety kayak. Safety kayakers must be prepared to spend 20 minutes in the water, so must have wet suits. The landing procedure is timed by the launch lead. A tandem returning from a route waits for the signal from the lead both to make sure that a landing crew is ready, and so that the lead can time the waves. The goal is to bring the guest in on the back of the wave, not the front of the wave. This is because the kayak is less likely to broach and roll this way. As soon as the kayak is in shallow water, the landing crew have hooks that they slip through the D-rings on the kayak, and pull the kayak up the beach. The paddler gets out, and then the crew drag the kayak back up to the platform can lift the guest out of the kayak if needed.

Bill was my safety kayak companion and we took turns escorting the first pair of tandems around the bay at Cowell Beach. I was in the rear, so Bill was on point to jump in. Jerry and Bob were our tandem paddlers. The route is out to the kelp beds, then to the point off the warf, then back to the beach. It is about one mile, and takes about 20 minutes. This is repeated all day long until about 5pm, and many people rotate into the various roles. On the first trip, we saw two sea otters in the distance off of the point where the surfer statue is. The next trip, I was on the front of the safety kayak, and after that, I switched to various shore duties, mostly launching and landing. We saw a family of three sea otters right out in the middle of the bay this time. Under the warf there are scores of sea lions barking. Since safety paddling is the most fun, most people want to volunteer to do it, so you swap out to give someone else a chance. I spent the rest of the day on landing and launch crews. Each kayaking volunteer wears as many hats as needed, and goes to where they are needed based on the situation. I was often the contact person for guests about to launch, and was honored to meet and get to know a number of our guests.

We had one capsize on launch, and a very exciting rescue. We had a very heavy guest who leaned to the right. After launch, the kayak wanted to roll to the starboard. I stayed with the kayak after launch, past the soup, to hang onto the port side to stabilize things. The lead told the safety kayak to come alongside (the starboard side) and attempt to reposition the guest to center his weight. I told the paddler that I would let go and he would call me back if he needed me to steady the kayak. I was treading water closeby in case I was needed, ready to swim back to shore. Then, suddenly both the tandem and the safety kayak capsized rolling toward each other. I did as I was trained and did a scissor kick to throw myself over the hull of the tandem. I grabbed the gunwale and threw my weight backwards rolling the kayak back upright. Looking to the left I verified that the guest was still in the forward cockpit, and his head appeared to be out of the water. Since I was viewing from behind, and his PFD was riding up, I couldn't see his face to verify that he was Ok. There were two safety kayakers now in the water, and one was with the guest, and I asked if the guests head was out of the water and they confirmed that it was. Three volunteers swam and pulled the kayak back to shore. I asked the guest if he was OK, and he was calm, said he was OK, except that he was blinded by the saltwater. I told this to the launch lead when we reached shore, and he said that we'd all done exactly what we were supposed to. We got the guest back onto the platform to hoist him out of the kayak, because he was cold we decided to cut the spray skirt off of him. Unfortunately, the guest was wearing blue jeans, and a cotton hoodie; not good water wear. If you're going to be kayaking, you need to wear clothing that drains and dries quickly, so synthetic swim trunks and a synthetic fleece are perfect. We got our guest out of the kayak, wrapped in towells and blankets, and the excitement was over. Unfortunately, the guest didn't get to do the tour of the bay.

This was a tremendous event, and I plan to be back again next year. The participants enjoy the kayaking so much, that it is well worth it, even if you don't get to go into the water. I loved getting to help others do what I love to do, and share that mutual enjoyment. I encourage others to put this event on your calendar for next year, because the event is growing. More participants attend each year, and you will love every minute of it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sea Kayaking in Seattle

Sea Kayaking in Seattle

Tuesday – 6/24/2008

When my good friend from college days emailed me that he was between jobs for a short while, and now was the time for me to come up for a visit to Seattle, I jumped on the chance. I told him, if at all possible, I want to kayak in Seattle. And it is in fact, possible.

There is an outfit called Aqua Verde, and we found out all about it from their website. They have a midweek special advertised, or did, stating that if you start by 3pm, and get back by 6pm, the third hour is free. Their rate for a tandem is 2 hours for $30. So we arrived at 3pm to take advantage of the deal. There are bike racks close to the water right next to their kayak rental counter. Turns out that they had changed the deal, but hadn't changed their website, but they very kindly agreed to honor what was posted on the website, and we were grateful. Check out their website for the current deal, start by 1pm, back by 4pm, and you still get the third hour free, so the total trip is $30.

They asked if we're headed toward Lake Washington or Lake Union. If you say, Lake Washington, they give you spray skirts. It wasn't choppy at all though, and we kept the skirts open to stay cool. They outfit you with paddles and life vests, and get you in the kayak. They coach you through the process of mounting the kayak by holding the paddle behind you, with one hand holding the paddle to the coaming of the kayak, and the other hand bracing the paddle against the dock, which is level with the deck of the kayak. You just sidle over into the cockpit. Then we were off. I didn't notice the make and model of the kayak, but it was a very uncomfortable seat. Now I know how spoiled I am in my Necky Looksha Sport. There were rudder pegs, but nothing for my thighs to brace against, so it was like sitting on the floor of a canoe. This was my first time operating a rudder, and it was just fine.

We paddled around the Arboretum, and saw several blue heron, muskrats, and even a bald eagle. I did get pictures of the Bald Eagle, but they weren't National Geographic Quality. See the album for the pictures. My Dad tells me these pictures are fantastic, and I'm sure there is no bias whatsoever.

We meet Yoram, Lara, and Anjie at the mexican restaurant, Aqua Verde, and have a great meal. I would highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lake Tahoe - Emerald Bay

Summary - Paddle into Boat Camp in Emerald Bay from Meeks Bay and back. See Osprey, Bald Eagles, Western Tanagers, and Canada Geese. Hike into Desolation Wilderness to Middle Velma Lake.

June 16, 2008, Tuesday – I hit the road at 7:30am. From Vallejo, CA, I took Highway 80 to 50 to 89. I drove directly to Sugar Pine Point State Park, but found that things have changed since my guide book was written ten years ago. I didn't find any location to park at Sugar Pine that would be a reasonable haul to the water. Also, the website says, “Beach access is restricted to foot traffic only.” By the way, Sugar Pine Point is a beautiful park with a historic museum, and is definitely worth checking out arriving by car or water. You simply can't tell how nice it is from the road. So, I decided to put in at the Meeks Resort beach. I paid $7 a day times three for parking over the three days that I'd be gone. I later learned from the camp host at Boat Camp that parking at D.L. Bliss State Park is included in the price of your campsite. Although that is a shorter paddle, I would recommend doing it, because you can add miles by following the coast, or exploring after you make camp.

Getting all of my camping gear into the kayak took a little shoving, but I knew it would fit because I had done a dry run packing before I left the house. Everything fit inside the holds. The tent and Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad fit into the bow compartment, followed by the sleeping bag. In the stern, in the pointy end, I shoved a duffel bag with my clothes, then the bear canister went in and pivoted and was shoved up against the bulkhead behind my seat. Finally, a gear bag with the stove, water filter, and other gear. Everything was packed inside thick plastic garbage bags to protect them from splashes or minor leakage. Though not water tight, the closed garbage bags would add buoyancy in the event that the cargo holds became flooded.

With the car parked, a note on the dash telling where I was camped along with the parking pass, all my gear stowed, I pushed off into the serene blues of Lake Tahoe between Canada Geese, children building sandcastles and sun worshipers. It sure felt good to be under way! At first, the water was a turquoise, and you could see the bottom, but the lake gets deep fast and the light color is replaced by a very deep blue. The wind was very mild at 1pm, and midweek, there was very little boat traffic to be concerned about. At one point, a speedboat approached, and I put my whistle in my mouth. I mentally rehearsed the deliberate capsize (roll away from the oncoming vessel and swim down) to prepare for an impact, but the boat changed course long before there was any real danger. It was daylight, on flat water, and my kayak and life vest are red. The blades on my paddle are orange, and I'm very easy to see. If you're choosing a kayak, choose one that is a bright color!

Directly south of Meeks Bay is Rubicon Bay, and I chose to paddle from headland to headland. The coast of Rubicon Bay is lined with private residences with their own docks. There is a fair amount of boat traffic, construction, and little scenery following the coast of this bay. The southernmost headland of Rubicon Bay is a rocky cliff rising out of the lake. I saw an Osprey soaring overhead, with its distinctive markings on its underside. Rounding the rocky shore I spotted a nest high up in a snag (dead tree). As I approached the nest, I kept my eyes on it, and I could hear something in it squawking. Then I saw a Bald Eagle sitting at the edge of the nest. This is a first for me, and already the trip is a huge success. Next time, I'm bringing my binoculars. Although they are not waterproof, I'd much rather have them with me until I can afford a waterproof set.

The next big bay follows the coast of D.L. Bliss, and there is a beautiful trail along this coast. You can see the hikers high up on the cliffs behind a cable railing, then the trail follows the coast closer to the water and links up with Boat Camp. This is the Calawee Trail. I followed the coastline very closely, and this makes the trip longer, and harder to predict which point Emerald Bay is hiding behind. When you finally see a tree covered spit blending into another point directly behind, and boats disappear into the trees, there you have the entrance to Emerald Bay. The approach is beautiful with sunken boulders and logs. I glided over submerged boulders for the fun of it, and because you're well out of the way of boat traffic. Then I spotted the dock at Boat Camp, and made my way for it. Now you might think that the bay would be protected from winds as I did, but you would be wrong. In the late afternoon, the wind comes down off of the mountains to the west. The wind was refreshing, and didn't interfere with paddling, though it did blow my baseball cap off and into the water. I had to backpaddle to retrieve it, then wore it backwards from that point on.

At Boat Camp (BC) there are signs on the beach not to moor, beach, or tie up boats with a picture of a bear. I checked with the camp host, and this policy doesn't apply to kayaks. I left my hatches open, so that bears wouldn't have to damage my kayak to discover that there is no food in there. Not only did I pull my kayak well up onto the beach, but I dragged it behind a large log, and tied it up. I was worried that my skeg might catch someone's shin unless it was well out of the way.

BC is very developed. It is the same as car camping, except that cars are not allowed. However, the rangers drive around in cars, and the first thing I noticed was the large RV that the camp host lives in. BC has a few spigots to get drinking water, and pit toilets with no lighting. Each campsite has a large capacity bear box, a BBQ, a fire pit, a picnic table, and room for a tent. I had campsite 18, and though I liked it very much, there is a shed very close to it. The shed has power lines going to it, and every few minutes a noisy pump fires up inside the shed, for what purpose I don't know. This noise interfered with my enjoyment of the site, especially when it came time to sleep. Next time, I would choose a site as far from the shed as possible. Also, BC suffers from the same problem that car camp sites do, that is people come in on powered boats and bring everything from home. Well after 10pm there was noise from unrestrained kids. I resisted the urge to wake them up when I got up at sunrise.

After getting the tent up, the Therm-a-Rest inflating, the stove set up, water bottles refilled, and into clean clothes. I took some time just sitting on a big boulder next to my camp to take in the quiet of the late afternoon. A Steller's Jay was hanging around looking for a handout, I witnessed him taking winged insects in flight. Suddenly, a bright yellow bird with an orange head swooped in to chase off the Jay, followed by a mostly all yellow companion who stayed nearby in the trees. I later described this bird to my friend who identified it to me as a, "Wasted Teenager," but of course, he was kidding. It was a Western Tanager. This bird is quite a sight, and looks like a parrot in its colorfulness.

I was ready to go for a little hike. So, I headed out on the Calawee Trail that heads north along the shoreline toward D.L. Bliss. About a mile north on the trail I checked my cell phone, and discovered that I had five bars. At BC there is no reception, but from the shore of the lake, directly across, and in line of sight, from some tall buildings on the Nevada side of the lake there is perfect reception. So, I was able to call family to let them know that I was safe and sound. For me, this was an important part of my boat plan, to be able to check in and let monitors know that I was OK, since I was on a solo paddle and camping trip. I want to emphasize that there was very little risk on the trip, but there is always some danger of injury, and it is good to be able to check in and let concerned parties know you are well and having a good trip.

Back at camp I had my dinner, and as it had become dark I was surprised to see a very bright light shining up through the trees from the direction of the lake. Suddenly I remembered that this was the night before the full moon, and the moon had risen over the rim of Eagle Point. I ran down to the water to enjoy the moonrise from the beach and the dock. I finally went to bed, tired and happy, and slept very well through the night. Even in June, it gets quite cold at night, almost to freezing, so I was prepared with long underwear, fleece pajamas, wool socks, and a wool hat. My sleeping bag is good down to 20F, and I was in a Eureka Spitfire solo tent with the fly, and I was not too hot, and was never cold.

June 17, 2008, Wednesday – When I could tell the sun was up, I climbed out of bed. After coffee and oatmeal, I jumped into the wetsuit and got my kayak gear and went down to the water. I wore booties, which aren't great for trails, so in the future I'd prefer to take water shoes. When I put in, it must have been about 6:30am, and I was the only boat moving on the water. It was still as glass, and my wake was the only disturbance on the water. Also, there were Canada Geese on the water at the beach when I put in, and they were completely calm around me. It was dreamlike. I set my bearing right to Fannette Island. Now, I had been told that the best place to land the kayak on Fannette was on the north shore, but I didn't see the trail after circling the island twice. I landed and tied up on the north side when a man on a surf ski with a rowing rig passed by, and told me of a better landing spot. The landing spot and trailhead are at the southeast tip of the island. It is marked by a brown sign that forbids landing during the months while birds are nesting there (Feb. 1 - June 15). I pulled the kayak up onto the rocks and tied a line to a large piece of driftwood that I used as a toggle between two stones to prevent a large wake from taking the kayak adrift. I hike up the short trail to the teahouse and enjoyed the exclusive view.

Eagle Falls spills into Emerald Bay, and I couldn't resist paddling upstream as far as possible. It gets quite shallow, but it is well worth exploring for the cool temperatures, and serenity. I paddled right up to the lowest rapids, then rode the fast flow back out to the lake. I followed the shore very quietly, and came around a bend to catch an Osprey about two boat lengths ahead. He was perched on a rock drinking from the lake. I held still, but he took flight as my boat drifted by. I continued to paddle over submerged boulders and sunken logs with long branches that reach out to the surface of the water. As I approached the mouth of Emerald Bay, a group of 10 jet skis entered. So, the dream ends. However, as jet skiers go, they were well behaved and observed the law to slow to 15mph in the bay. I exited the bay, and explored further down the shore to the south, but not too far. I decided to get in a hike into Desolation Wilderness, and so turned back to BC.

On my way back to BC, I heard something that sounded like an Eagle calling out from the treetops on the north shore of Emerald Bay. So, I paddled closer to find a Bald Eagle high in a tree, and he was being harassed by a Steller's Jay. At one point the Jay came close enough to the Eagle that the Eagle flapped his wings and tried to bite the Jay, but missed. Finally, the Bald Eagle took flight, and I watched him disappear to the north, white tail and all.

I changed into hiking clothes, and packed a bag with plenty of food and water, map, compass, whistle, rain poncho, cell phone, jacket, and headed out to my chosen destination, Middle Velma Lake. I let the camp host know where I was heading, so that if I wasn't back by 9pm to send a search party, as I only intended a day hike. She assured me that if I wasn't back by morning, she would send one. So, er, it would be a cold night if I sprained my ankle. Actually, these trails are well traveled, even midweek, and if I need help, I could send any of dozens of trailgoers that I saw for help. I saw a lot of dogs, by the way. From BC, this hike is 6.5 miles, one way, and has an elevation gain of over 1,700 feet. I thought I was in good shape when I started, but the hike proved to be challenging, steep, but very gratifying. I took many wonderful pictures, and met many wonderful people along the route. I was stiff and tired upon returning to my camp, and very grateful for my hot dinner. Both nights, I ate Mountain House dinners for two. Oh yeah, I ate both servings, and still I lost a little weight. They sure filled me up, though. The first night I had Mountain House Pasta Primavera For Two and the second night I ate Mountain House Vegetable Lasagna For Two. You just open the pouches, pour in the right amount of hot water, stir, then seal up the resealable top. I eat right out of the pouch, so there are no dishes except your eating utensil. Then I use the empty pouch as a trash bag because it seals so tightly.

At sunset, I set out to hike to the cell phone spot to make calls after 9pm, and wound up hiking back to camp in the dark. The imagination starts to work against you when you have to hike a mile in total darkness. At one point, I heard a large animal crashing through the bushes to my left in a wooded area, and I'm sure it was a bear. Didn't sound like a deer, so I made little extra noise, “Hey, hey, I'm hiking here.”

June 18, 2008, Thursday – Time to paddle out and head home. I had breakfast, packed up, checked out, and put in. On my way back I accidentally overshot Meeks Resort, because I failed to spot the headland between Meets Bay and Rubicon Bay. I knew when I reached Sugar Pine Point that I had gone too far, but I landed anyway to talk to a ranger to find out about the park. There was almost no one there. Perhaps because it was so early (10:20am), but I had made the 7 mile run in two hours which means my speed was an average of 3.5 mph. Not too shabby! I backtracked to Meeks, which wasn't far, and I was very grateful to find my car still there. I packed up and very happily hit the road home.

Please feel free to comment if you have any questions.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Boat Plan: Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay Camping

Here is my email to my family with my boat plan for tomorrow's trip:

Dear Family,

Here are my plans for the next few days. I'm going on a solo kayak/camping trip to Lake Tahoe. This is a very safe, fun trip. To make it even safer, this email constitutes my boat plan. I'll email with photos and stories when I get back.

Day 1 - Tuesday 7/17
Tomorrow morning I'll drive up to SugarPine where I'll leave the Honda. I'll have lunch and put in around Noon. I'll paddle to Emerald Bay which is a short distance by water at about 7 miles. I often do trips of more than twice that distance. I'll camp at a boat only campsite on gorgeous Emerald Bay. I've got campsite #B018. There is a hike that originates from this campsite that is on the itinerary. The hike overlooks some of the route paddled. There is also Fannette Island in Emerald Bay to explore. It is a tiny island with a tea house. I'm going to bring my thermos with tea, and plan to enjoy it at the tea house. If there are other paddlers at the camp, I'll try to recruit them to join me. Motorboat traffic is restricted to 15mph on the bay, so it is very safe. I may be able to make cell phone calls from Boat Camp and Fannette Island (according to AT&T's coverage map) and will call Kevin to check in if I can.

Day 2 - Wednesday 7/18 (Full Moon)
In daylight, I plan to paddle across Lake Tahoe to Zephyr Bay, have lunch then return. This will be a round trip of 14 miles. If weather is the least bit rough, I won't do this trip, but instead will paddle close to shore along the south end of the lake, or take a hike. There are a couple of enticing trails. At night, I may take a moonlight paddle around Emerald Bay close to shore with my deck light.

Day 3 - Thursday 7/19
I will have a big breakfast of oatmeal, then break camp and paddle back to Sugarpine, have lunch, then drive home.

Here is my custom Google map of my routes.
The weather is looking very good. The wind is not getting more than 8mph lately. It's not getting below freezing, though it will be cold at night, I'll have my solo tent with fly, sleeping bag, thermals, wool hat, and will be very cozy. I will call off the trip, or any part of it, if the weather changes.

Safety Precautions
I'll wear my wetsuit in case I end up in the water (very unlikely in good conditions, and I won't go out in bad conditions).
Of course, I always wear a life vest, and know how to re-enter my kayak.
I always have a whistle with me, and this is a heavily used area with lots of other people around.
I'll have my cell phone (fully charged), and the number for Coast Guard programmed in:
U.S. Coast Guard, Tahoe City Station.............. (530) 583-4433
I'll have a Motorola VHF FM radio (can be set to channel 16 to talk directly with Coast Guard).
I'll have compass and map.
I'll have a deck light in case I'm out after dark, but will not go out on the open lake at night.
I'll call Kevin when I'm safe in camp (if I can get a signal).


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Elkhorn Slough and Santa Cruz

Highlights: Sea Lions, Sea Otters, and Kayaking with Dolphins

Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough is a protected estuary reserve located near Moss Landing. Because it's protected, and there are kayak rental shops at the Moss Landing Boat Launch, the slough sees a lot of kayakers, and the animals are used to them. Consequently, you paddle gently by with the animals doing their thing, mostly ignoring you. Your side of the bargain is not to bother them. Observe them from a distance. Sometimes they pop up right by you, and in those situations, stop paddling, and just enjoy the show.

Where and when you put in depends on the tides. There are only two choices. There is a put in at the mouth of the slough at Moss Landing Boat Launch, and the other is at Kirby (see the kayakers map) near the five mile point. The slough is about six miles in length, so to the end and back is a good paddle at about 12 miles. Since we had a high tide on May 17 at 10:30am, we put in at the mouth at around 8:45am, and let the tide help us all the way to the end. Then we turned around, took out at Kirby for lunch, then let the tide help us out from there on. If you plan with the tides, you'll cover a lot more ground and find your trip a lot more enjoyable. The wind is also an important consideration.

Moss Landing Boat Launch requires payment of fees for parking and for launching. For kayaks, this fee comes to a grand total of $8, placed in an envelope and dropped in a box. I didn't find this information before arrival, so we ended up having to drive just down the road to a store just beyond the restaurant, Whole Enchilada, to make change. They have beaches for putting in, or floating docks. I prefer the floating docs to keep my feet dry when they are available. From the put in you paddle toward the power station. Yes, there is a monster power station here that you won't see in any of my photos. While we were just putting in it let out an enormous hiss of steam into the air. That got our attention. It makes a great landmark.

To your left there is a floating dock covered in barking sea lions. The rule here is to observe the wildlife from a distance. If you paddle too close, you may cause the animals to stampede for the water, and this causes them to waste energy and exposes them to their predators. Some male sea lions can become aggressive if threatened, and they are much bigger and can swim much better than you. There are unseen sea lions on the other side of the slough, and you can hear barking from all sides, and you will probably see sea lions in the water all around you. Just steer clear and drift if one pops up right in front of you, and enjoy the peaceful encounter. They aren't dangerous, but they are very impressive. I will never forget their sounds. They grunt and bark as they quarrel amongst themselves.

You enter the slough by paddling under the Highway 1 bridge. In certain conditions the tide can create quite a current here, but we found it to be a very calm following current. At the time, we were the only ones on the water, and it was a very peaceful setting. Very shortly after entering we spotted a large group of brown pelicans on the north shore. And there were many cormorants and grebes on the water. Study the map for the off limits places. We stayed on the main channel. We talked to one group that went up Rubis Creek (at mile 2) and grounded (this was close to high tide). I recommend staying on the main channel.

On our way, in a number of places we saw sea otters. They are just about the cutest animal I've ever seen. We saw them cleaning, playing, and on our way out, we even saw them feeding. It was in the afternoon, which seems to be feeding time for everyone. We heard this clacking sound, and looking off just to our left we saw an otter on its back smashing a clam into a rock on its chest. Then he ate the contents, then dived for another. Then we heard the same clacking from the right, and there was another otter feeding. About this time we also saw pelicans diving for fish! Next time I paddle Elkhorn Slough, I will bring binoculars. It would be great to catch the sea otters with pups. They are cute enough as it is, but they keep the young on their chests, and this would be a sight to see.

The slough is great for inexperienced paddlers, but the rental places do beginners a disservice if they do not provide adequate instruction. For one thing, we saw a lot of paddlers going against the tides. On a more serious note, we heard from another pair of experienced paddlers how they had to rescue a grandfather and his granddaughter from their capsized tandem. The water is quite cold, though the day can be very warm above water. You can still get hypothermia if you are too long in the water. The girl was shivering in the water, and this is very dangerous if you don't know how to rescue yourself. They were fortunate to have a couple of experienced paddlers come to their rescue. Sit-on-tops are best for novices, and some experienced kayakers prefer them. They can't swamp, so if you tip over, you just climb back on. The drawback is that they are more easily blown about by the wind.

Finally, we met a kayaker who swore by QCC Kayaks in Wisconsin. He and his kayaking partner were so happy with their kevlar kayaks from QCC, that I decided to at least check them out. Apparently they satisfaction guaranteed, and free shipping (in both directions if needed).

Santa Cruz

The idea for the Santa Cruz paddle came from the book Adventure Kayaking by Michael Jeneid. I highly recommend this book for good reading, and great trips. I bought it from Amazon to inspire me to take trips in my area, and it deserves the five star rating. I have read it cover to cover, and I intend to do as many of the trips as I can.

To avoid the traffic and fees of the harbor, I decided to reverse the route and we put in at Seacliff State Beach. This meant the added fun of a surf launch in the morning. Here is a great video on how to properly do a surf launch. When we got to the beach at 7am, the park was closed. As the park opens at 8am, and there were no envelopes for payment of fees, we took the risk of getting ticketed.

As we were getting the kayaks ready, Kevin saw a dolphin right off the shore. It was so foggy, you couldn't see very far. So, we got the kayaks down to the water's edge, and reviewed the put in procedure. I was to go in first, and a few passersby stopped to watch us. How I love an audience. While I was putting on my spray skirt, I saw Kevin bouncing around in the soup without his spray skirt on, and a wave pushed him right up against me, and over I went. Did I mention that the tide was coming in? So, with the comedy show over, we both powered out through the mild surf, and relaxed beyond the breakers, and finally put our spray skirts on firmly. About this time I noticed that my water bottle that had been under the foredeck webbing was lost to the sea. In the future, I will put my spray skirt on further up from the surf, and with my bow pointing into the waves rather than parallel, which was a mistake that I made. Then I'll do a chimp walk down to the water. I had to pump a fair amount of water out of the cockpit, so be sure to have that spray skirt on before you do a surf launch. I will also tether my water bottle in the future!

There is a shipwreck here, and in the fog it was ominous. We paddled over it to have a look, but not too close. The sea was very calm. Then we turned northward and paddled slowly along the coast and talked about things to do differently next time we do a surf launch. That was when we spotted a pod of dolphins just a little further out to sea from us. In the lead was a group of about four dolphins, followed by at leat two more a little further back. You could hear the blows of their breathing as they surfaced. This was the highlight of that day for sure!

We kept paddling until we hit the kelp beds off of Capitola, and here we turned around. The Adventure Paddling book recommends a paddle from the yacht harbor down to Seacliff and back, but due to a number of factors, we decided on a much shorter paddle. We wanted to have the luxury of a hot shower after our paddle, so we didn't check out of the hotel before we set out. I was also concerned about the truck getting ticketed, or even towed. Also, we were tired from the day before.

To make up for our awkward launch, our take out was flawless! We both rode waves expertly onto the shore and hopped out and pulled our kayaks up the beach.


This trip took a lot of planning! But all in all, it was very easy. We stayed at the America's Best Value Inn in Watsonville, and we would both do it again. You can read the review I wrote for the hotel. What website did I use to find the hotel? of course! From Watsonville, it is a 15 minute drive to Elkhorn Slough, and the same distance from Santa Cruz. There is so much to do and see in Santa Cruz, that when you're not paddling you can be walking up and down the Pacific Garden Mall, exploring the nightlife, walking along the beaches, checking out campus, soaking at the Well Within or Kiva, or hanging out at Cafe Pergolisi.

I got the tides from Saltwater Tides and kept my eye closely on the weather. I was sure to bring paper maps of California, Santa Cruz and Watsonville, which made it easy to get around. I brough a cable to lock the kayaks together to deter theft, and locked the Thule racks in the down position when leaving them for the day. All the gear stowed neatly in the bed of the pickup and traveled well under a bungee net from Kragen.

I highly recommend either location! Have a great (and safe) time!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Kayaking Clearlake

Last night I got this crazy urge to kayak Clearlake. I've often heard about this lake, but had never been there, that is, until today. I checked out the weather and that looked good. So, I started by searching for public boat ramps, and considered what routes I might like to take. I found a great website resource, AnglerNet (pun!), and chose a boat ramp in the lower lake to put in at. I Googled the directions to the put in, and expected about a 2 hour drive.

On my way, I stopped at Safeway to get a sandwich for the trip. I love to have plenty of food with me, and if it had been calm I would have eaten my lunch while drifting on the water, but that was not to be.

It took a little bit longer than the expected two hours. The road is a winding one, and I go a little slower in my Honda Civic with the kayak on top. The Thule rack is very stable, and I can go full speed without any vibration or noise. The kayak is just as secure and tight when I arrive as when I left. When we first bought the kayaks I bought some foam hull cradles, and I put these on the Thule rack between the load stops, and this is working perfectly.

As I approached Clearlake, I saw a sign saying, "The Biggest Lake in California." Perhaps Tahoe doesn't count because it is shared with Nevada. I didn't really see the lake until I pulled into the boat ramp area. You take Highway 29, to Highway 53, then turn left at Ballpark Ave. Very easy. It is a very nice put in. The first three lanes on the right are dedicated to car top launches, so I had plenty of room. There are several good toilets with flushing toilets and sinks with push button cold water. There are lots of picnic tables, and a lawn space. Best of all, there's plenty of free parking.

I got the kayak all set up. I put hands in the water and decided it was warm enough, no wetsuit needed today. But definitely need the spray skirt and skeg due to wind. I had myself half of the sandwich and a granola bar, and was fueled up for the trip. I put in at about 11:30am.

My intent had been to make it as far as Buckingham Park, but the route that I actually took was dictated by the wind and the waves. The farthest I made it was the point defined by Edgewater Drive. I monitored the wind before I left on WunderMap, and it did show some wind. Also, a lot can change during the two hour drive, and wind generally gets stronger as the day goes on. After putting in, the first thing I did was cross the lower lake to see some rock formations at the water line (one of the pictures in the slideshow shows them). At that time the wind was coming gently out of the West and there were no waves to speak of. I was having a pretty blissful time of it.

Then I paddled north, and rounded the point of Bay Tree Lane. At this point I felt a strong wind in my face, and there were pretty good waves coming at me head on. I set my bearing for the point at Edgewater Drive and struck out to cross the bay described by Point Lakeview Road. This was a bow slapping good time! I made the crossing in about an hour, and found it exhilarating. I even took some pictures. The big mountain in the background is Mt. Konocti, a volcano! Rather than continue to Buckingham Park, I decided it was too rough to go on, and I turned around.

Now I had a problem. To do the same line as I had come by in reverse was too dangerous. Waves kept hitting me from the left at an angle. The waves washed over the side and over my spray skirt. They also tried to broach me (turn the kayak parallel to the wave), and tip me over. Suddenly, my adrenaline was pumping, and I needed a plan. I decided to paddle perpendicularly away from the waves behind me. In this way, I rode the wind and the waves into the shore closest. My reasoning was that I can follow the shore, and if I capsize, at least I will be close to shore. The waves were coming often and close together. One wave would lift my stern and put my bow underwater! Yes, I did have several cups of water in the forward compartment. As some of the larger waves overtook me I paddled faster and was able to rush down their face and make excellent time. But eventually, they would pass me up, and leave me behind. As I got close to shore the waves were worse (in the shallow water waves are bigger), and following the shore would put me parallel to the waves, and I would probably capsize. I needed a new plan. I decided to tack.

To get home, I had to paddle upwind, diagonally over the oncoming waves until I was on a line where the waves and wind at my stern would take me somewhere I wanted to go. At first I did a small tack and then came back close to shore, but you are vulnerable when you are turning about, so I eventually did the one big tack that you can see on the route. I almost crossed the lower lake to the East side, but just as I was lined up with the put in, I turned right, and kept the wind and waves to my stern all the way in.

It was a relief to come back into the boat launch area, and I had the other half of my sandwich, and another granola bar, and plenty of water. It was now 3pm. This wasn't the paddle I expected, but that's the adventure part. I am definitely coming back! Now that I'm writing the blog, and looking at my route, I realize there's a lot more lake to explore! Another time I'd like to explore the island and the waterways in the south tip of the lake, and try some other put ins to see other parts of this very large lake. Some serene conditions next time would be appreciated!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

First Time Kayaker's Story

On April 25, 2008, I posted about a trip I took my friend Mark on. He wanted to contribute a blog post about the trip, and I'm glad to have it. Enjoy:

This BLOG entry relates my first time experiencing kayaking. My name is Mark and my good friend Shamus Thornton is an avid kayaker and he encouraged me to try the sport. Both Shamus and I live in the Bay Area city of Vallejo, which is situated on the north shore of San Pablo Bay (about 30 minutes outside of San Francisco). As I live near the water, taking up kayaking “seemed like a natural choice”.

Although I have had some background in “adventure travel” (great white shark cage diving, elephant safaris in Thailand, bush safari in the Masai Mara, etc), I must admit that I was a bit intimidated by the prospects of kayaking. Climbing into what appeared to be a small and unstable watercraft had given a little reason to pause. However, my friend Shamus is very knowledgeable and passionate in regards to the sport of kayaking. His emphasis was on safety and he was very thorough in preparation of our outing. With Shamus as a guide, my concerns subsided.

And the day that we chose for kayaking could not have been better. The wind was calm, the sun was bright, and the air was clear. We started a little after 10 AM (morning I was told is the ideal to kayak as the water and winds are generally calmer). We set out near downtown Vallejo across from the historic Navy base (first on the West Coast) of Mare Island. Though I had seen this stretch of water many times before (I can see it from the window of my house), it was an entirely new perspective from a kayak. While in a kayak, one feels very connected with both the water and the environment. And as a “human powered” craft, kayaks leave little (no) impact on the environment.

Kayaking can be a little rigorous at times (I learned a lot about “currents and tides” that day), but the experience is also serene and tranquil. Kayaking is a great way to enjoy nature, but without causing damage or impact. Needless to say, my first kayaking trip will not be my last!

Monday, May 5, 2008

People Paddle Fundraiser for AIDS

On Sunday, May 4, 2008, 200 kayakers hit the water at Pier 40 in San Francisco and paddled from there to McCovey Cove and beyond (route map) to raise money for AIDS services in an event called, People Paddle for AIDS. The event was hosted by Healing Waters, and kayaks were provided at discounted rental rates by City Kayak. There were a great many first time kayakers out there, getting advice and instruction from those of us with a little experience, and I hope they were bitten by the bug. Time to go kayak shopping!

I signed up for this event after I learned about if from the events listings in Sea Kayaker magazine. It was so easy to register online. A $25 registration fee was required, then you have to start gathering sponsors. You can pick one of many organizations to raise funds for, and I chose New Leaf Services. This is an organization that has helped people I know, and I felt very strongly about working to raise money for them. People Paddle provides the website that your donors can visit to make donations, and that was extremely convenient. There is no minimum amount you must raise, but I set myself a goal of $500. All I had to do was email all my potential donors with my pitch and the link for my personalized donation page. I automatically received credit for the donations that were made at my donation page. I asked for $10 donation, because I was going for volume. But many of my friends surprised me with generous donations of two times, five times, and ten times that! Thank you so much! I exceeded my goal, raising over $800.

The day of the event came, and I had to get my kayak to San Francisco, into the water, and then park my car. How would it all work out? I arrived at the event, and all of the volunteers were wonderful. I can't praise them enough. Two young ladies picked up my kayak from my car and offered to take it down to the dock for me while I parked my car. Parking was not a problem on Sunday. I parked about two and a half blocks away on Townsend Street. It was close, and free, and there was plenty of parking along the street. After registering, signing some releases and waivers, I was given my whistle, safety instructions, and off I went down to my kayak and into the water.

At the dock I met Angela and Robert, tandem renters. Angela had some experience, but I think this was Robert's first time. They were very nice, though Robert wanted to know what was the purpose of the big squirt gun looking thing in the webbing on the foredeck of my kayak. Ha, ha! He'd have his eye on me to make sure I didn't use my bailing pump to soak him when his back was turned. Me? No, I wouldn't do that, now would I?

When I went to get into my kayak, another volunteer appeared to steady my kayak as I got in. Now, I'm used to getting in without help, with onlookers. Aware that I'm being watched, I always say a little prayer that I don't mess it up. The volunteers made it easy for me to save face. I offered to help another kayaker get into his little whitewater kayak from the dock, and he said, "No thank you, I'm on the US team." My bad.

When in the water I made friends with a number of kayakers, one of whom was Leeman, in his inflatable kayak. His had hard plastic bow and aft, and doesn't look like the cheesy cheap inflatables, though it is not expensive ($300 new) and he spoke highly of it. I have looked into inflatables such as his for my Honda Civic, but elected to get the roof rack instead, and continue to use my polyethylene Necky Looksha Sport. Turned out Leeman had a hole in his bow and was taking on water. Good thing it was inflatable and didn't sink. Patching the hole is a minor repair, so he'll be back on the water in no time.

The conditions were actually a little rough. There was some wind coming from the Southwest, and it was a little gusty at times. There were swells, but luckily no chop. The paddle was under way by 10:30am, and it was a fun group. Imagine paddling as part of a mass of 200 kayakers for a good cause. It was a great group, and a lot of fun. When we reached McCovey Cove, you get a great view of AT&T Park. There a fireboat started its pumps, and fired all hoses into the air. It was quite a sight!

At Lefty O'Doul Drawbridge, the tide was high and rising. You had to lean forward or back to travel under it. The safety volunteers warned, "Watch your head!" There was some concern that if we don't make the trip to the end of Mission Creek and back quickly enough, we might not make it back under the bridge. So, I hurried. We paddled past the house boats where some people came out to ask what was going on. Its not every day you see two hundred kayaks in your backyard.

I turned around at the end of the creek, under the freeway, and paddled back to Pier 40 without incident. At Lefty bridge a photographer was waiting for me, and I paddle my best, and gave him a big smile. That was John Han, Reporter Photographer of Check out his pictures on their site.

Back at the pier, I was second to return, and as I sidled up, a volunteer rushed over to steady my kayak as I got out. Best volunteers ever! Another volunteer helped me carry my boat up the ramp, then I went and got my car and loaded up myself.

It was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about kayaking for their first time to do it at an event like this. You will get a lot of help in all respects, and it will be a very gratifying experience. If you are experienced, you will also enjoy helping others, and sharing the experience of doing a good thing for a good cause. There is another People Paddle event coming up for the environment, so check it out!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Norm's Bait Shop to the Golden Bear

Yesterday, I took my friend Mark out for his first paddle. As you can tell from the pictures, we had a pretty ideal experience, and I hope that he's hooked for life. :)

Based on the tides, I recommended that we be in the water on our way around 10am. This took advantage of the outgoing tide to get us to the strait (at the mouth of the Napa River). Then we paddled to the Golden Bear. The Golden Bear is the California Maritime Academy's training ship, and it is a beauty. It is docked near the two bridge spans (was three for a while) that cross the strait. That was the plan anyway, but water was still moving out of the strait well after low tide at 10:57am. Ah, but I have read that this can happen. It is important to understand the difference between tides and currents. Even though at noon, one hour after the low tide, you would expect the flood to have started, and by the rule of twelfths we would have theoretically had a helping tide taking us toward the bridges. Instead, we had a 1 knot current ebbing against us. That's not a strong tide, and we easily paddled against it to get to the prize, but it is interesting to note that there may be exceptions to what you would expect from the tide table alone. That's why you want to check a chart!

We turned around at the Golden Bear, and then the current coming out of the Carquinez Strait pushed us back along to the Napa River mouth again. This was a lot nicer than paddling. Once we turned into the river, the tide was behind us again (in our favor).

The winds were minimal. Most of the time it was very still, and we were grateful for the cooling breeze. The wind did come out of the West, so it was a cross breeze as we paddled up the Napa River. So, we put down our skegs, and this helped us keep on straight lines. The weather was warmer, if not hot! Especially when you consider that we're dressed for the possibility of ending up in the water.

Here's a Google Map of the route:

View Larger Map
I used Google My Maps to create the line, and it gave me a distance of 2.86 miles each way. I'd say we did 6 miles, because we followed the coast more closely than the line shows. Good job for your first paddle, Mark!

What to Bring
Here's the list of items that I told Mark to bring for his first paddle, and in hindsight, he seemed well equiped. Though he noted that he was very warm, this was due to being prepared for an unplanned trip into the water, so that is to be expected. For our beautiful weather in the high 60s F, here are the items I asked Mark to bring:
  1. Wear a long sleeved shirt of synthetic quick-dry fabric.
  2. Baseball cap or wide brimmed hat.
  3. Sunglasses
  4. Put on sunscreen before you dress (face, ears, under your chin, back of neck, and backs of hands.
  5. Wear water-shoes or Teva-like sandals that can get wet.
  6. Bring a towel and a complete change of dry clothes. These go in a dry bag that goes in your cargo hold just in case.
  7. If you have a wetsuit, bring it. I'll wear mine.
  8. If you have gloves (bicycling, workout, neoprene) that you don't mind getting wet (they will) then bring them to ward off blisters.
  9. Bottle of water and snacks. We can buy lunch at Glen Cove, but it's nice to have snacks with you, too.
To help me plan the trip, I grabbed the tides from:

Tides for Vallejo, Mare Island Strait starting with April 24, 2008.

Day        High      Tide  Height   Sunrise    Moon  Time      % Moon
/Low Time Feet Sunset Visible

Th 24 High 3:32 AM 5.5 6:20 AM Set 8:39 AM 89
24 Low 10:57 AM -0.3 7:54 PM
24 High 6:12 PM 4.0
24 Low 10:36 PM 2.7

I didn't check a chart for the currents, though this would have been prudent. This route is right in my backyard, and is very well know to me. But a chart probably would have shown the Carquinez Strait current.

Weather (Always check the weather!) 4/24/2008:

A mainly sunny sky. High 67F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph.

Barometer was steady. Falling could indicate a storm coming. We were prepared to scrap the trip for another day if the wind picked up.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book Review: The New Kayak Shop

Title: The New Kayak Shop
Author: Chris Kulczycki
ISBN-10: 0071357866

I picked this book up out of curiosity, but once I started reading, I was hooked. For the most part, this book succeeds in making all the steps involved in building a plywood kayak understandable to someone like me, who does not have woodworking skills. Even if you don't plan to build one, you will be tempted to do so once you learn how easy it is. When you see how beautiful the wooden kayaks look, you will want one out of sheer envy. And you will fantasize about the cachet of saying that you built it yourself. Chris also writes about the effect that woodworking has on him, and you will want to try it to know that level of relaxation and satisfaction.

There are some terms that the author takes for granted that you will know, but there's no harm in doing your own research for the few items that you don't understand. Some terms are used before they are defined. I'll help you out with one. The "stems" are the ends of the kayak. The bow and stern are the stems. Some tools may be unfamiliar, but you can look them up. For instance, I had no idea what a spokeshave was.

The most exciting feature of the book is that it actually contains the complete plans for building three different designs of wooden plywood kayak. The bill of materials needed are also provided. Now, Chris doesn't recommend you build from the plans in the book alone, in fact he says you're fool if you do, but you could! The benefits of buying the plans are that they are easier to read, templates for some of the parts are provided that you can trace onto your plywood, and you get to call for help if you've paid for the plans. Chris' company, Chesapeake Light Craft, sells the plans, and also sells complete kits, precut, for you to build. A tantalizing option!

In addition to learning about building a kayak, you will also learn many facets of kayak design and trade offs that occur for different characteristics. These boats are beautiful and exciting, and you get the feeling that the wooden kayaks have a soul, and that they are alive. If you are building your own kayak, please comment here, I would love to find out how it goes for you. If I start to build my own, believe me, I will write about it here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Book Review: Complete Sea Kayak Touring

Title: Complete Sea Kayak Touring (paperback, 2nd Ed.)
Author: Jonathan Hanson
ISBN-10: 0071461280

I read this book cover to cover and did not want to put it down. I was very disappointed when it seemed to end suddenly and the next pages were additional resources in the appendix. The title is accurate. This is a complete guide to Sea Kayak Touring. Everything in the book is useful for any sea kayaker, but it is of particular value to those who are planning to spend one or more nights on a sea kayak trip. All topics I can imagine are well covered from equipment, clothing, technique, rescues, provisioning, packing, seamanship, navigation, repair, customization, storage, rack and travel, camping... You name it!

The author has decades of experience as a sea kayaker and professional guide, and this gives great credibility to his advice and opinions. His trips, which range from the Arctic Circle to Baja California, have provided him with a repertoire of anecdotes that he sprinkles throughout the text. I found myself laughing out loud at some of these stories, and reading them to others.

Jon gives you both sides to every controversy, and admits to his own biases, sometimes very humorously. You'll come away with both sides and armed with the facts to make your own decisions, such as, "Should I buy a kayak with a rudder, a skeg or neither?" There are many such areas of sea kayaking that can confuse the beginner. You will come away with confidence in your knowledge to evaluate the alternatives out there.

The book has a strong commitment to safety. Sometimes it may seem excessively so, but you can decide for yourself how many parachute flares to carry on your expedition. Jon makes the recommendations. Certainly, if you are in the arctic waters yourself far from any help, all of the recommended equipment will be of some comfort to you. Jon provides you the criteria to evaluate what equipment you will need in what situation.

Another very appealing feature of Jon's writing is his sensitivity toward wildlife, and low impact camping. He advises appropriate behavior when paddling with sea mammals, and in responsible camp, and fire site selection.

Although I borrowed this book from the library, I now want it on my shelf for future reference. This book is a must read and also a must have. So, I'm adding it to my wishlist.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate with various retailers on the internet, so I may make a commission on the purchase of certain items that I recommend.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tomales Bay II - April 12, 2008

Yesterday a group of four of us met up at 9am, loaded our kayaks into a RAM 2500, and drove from Vallejo to Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay. We were in the water by 10:45am. The paddle was planned to let the tides work for us. The high tide was at 4:35am, with the low tide at 12:22pm, with the following high tide at 7:31pm (these are for the mouth of Tomales Bay). This lets the tide take us out. From the iWindsurf site, we know that the wind tends to pick up in the early afternoon in a southerly direction, meaning that the tide will turn, and the wind will be at our backs for the return trip (yes!). I like to plan my paddles this way, so that you go out with the tide, turn around during the slack (or close to it) then let the tide bring you back. Sometimes currents lag behind the tides, so you have to know your location, and charts can help you figure this out.

Be sure to check out the public Picasa album for this trip! Just click on the embedded slide show below. I didn't get pictures of the leopard shark I saw in the shallows, or the river otter we saw running on the beach, or the Tule Elk that we saw on the ridges of Tomales Point, but I did get lots of great pics of the bay, and a starfish.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Websites for Wind and Water Temperature

Here are a couple of tremendously useful websites for planning your kayaking trip. When deciding whether you should do your trip, you need to consider the wind conditions, and what they are likely to do. If the wind is below 10 mph, then it should be a good day paddling. But if the pressure (barometer) is decreasing, then a storm might be coming in, so look carefully at the forecast. Wind conditions are usually calmest very early in the morning, with wind speed increasing throughout the day. Once you've decided it is time to go out, you now need to decide how to dress. Dress for the water temperature. This can be tricky to figure out, but I found a website with a great marine forecast. If you have your own resources, perhaps better or also useful, please share them in the comments. While you are out on the water, you can monitor weather conditions on the VHF weather band.

Winds is a website for windsurfers, but they maintain wind meters in many locations and offer free memberships. You can monitor the real time wind speed of your destination before you go. Any weather website will give you the winds for the nearest city or town to your put in, but iWindsurf measures the wind at the water, so it is much more useful. Always check the barometer and if it is dropping, then a storm may be coming in.

Water Temperature
I found water temperatures hard to find until I found the Weather Underground. Search for a large city near your put in if the small town closest isn't available. Look for the marine forecast link. This will tell you the water temperature if available. If you can't find the water temp for your exact area, look for some readings around your area, and guesstimate. The idea is to be prepared to perform a self rescue in water of that temperature. The amount of time a person can survive in cold water depends on a number of factors, so don't trust any published tables (one of which I link to in an earlier post). It depends on your body fat, how accustomed you are to cold water, how you react to shock, your mental state of mind, your swimming ability, and many other factors. I personally wear a farmer john wetsuit whenever the water is below 60, even in hot weather. You can peel it down to your waist if you want, then put your PFD back on. But this means you'll have to perform your self rescue with a cold upper body. Only zip the wetsuit back up if you can do so safely. Consider that if you capsized, the conditions that caused you to flip might make it unsafe for you to take off your PFD to zip your wetsuit back up. I always paddle with my wetsuit zipped up, and with my PFD on snugly.

Suisun City - Peytonia Slough

On April 10, 2008, I paddled solo on Peytonia Slough, part of an ecological preserve, and then east into Hill Slough. You put in at the boat ramp in Suisun City, and there are a certain number of free parking spaces for vehicles without trailers. If you don't get one of these, then you pay $5. There are restrooms at the boat ramp, and plenty of floating docks to put in from.

Surprisingly, the entire route was navigable at low tide. I think it would be interesting to do this paddle again with the tide reaching the high point at the end of Hill Slough, then come out of it after slack when the water is ebbing.

I saw more wildlife on this trip than I had on any before. I took pictures of some of the creatures, including some of a sloat crossing the slough. Unfortunately, the sloat pics are blurry, but recognizable. I also saw muskrat, but wasn't able to get pictures. This is the first time I've seen a sloat or a muskrat with my own eyes. Often during the paddle, I would round a bend and hear a splash on the far shore. Turtles could spot me for a hundred feet, and immediately drop in the water. I did get some good pics of one turtle before he dropped off of the bank.

Toward the end of the route I was in the flight path for Travis Air Force Base (click on the image above to see the dotted red line that traces the route). Check it out with Google Earth, and you will see what I mean. The end of Hill Slough it right in the flight path. The big jets were coming in for landing every ten minutes at one point. I could see the landing gear come down. On one jet, I saw the refueling tube sticking out the back. These jets caused me to turn around due to the noise.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

How to Install a Thule Roof Rack on a '97 Honda Civic

This turned out to be more fun than I planned (meaning it was a little harder that I thought it was going to be). That may be due to the choice of model or manufacturer, but I'll get into that. I own a Thule xSporter rack that is on my partner's Ford pickup. It works great, but that truck is often not around when I want to go on a solo paddle. So, I researched what rack options were available to me. Naturally I started at REI, because I'm often there, and they have great service for these things. Perhaps they even install racks, I don't know, I didn't ask. I wanted to install it myself. Now my hands are very sore, but I'm getting ahead of the story.

Since I already own a Thule, I started with their fit guide (like a small phone book), which is on a table at the REI store in Berkeley that I go to. You search for your model of car, and it will tell you the exact Thule parts you need for your vehicle. Yes, they have a rack for my car that is recommended for kayaks (the load limit is 130 pounds and should be enough for two kayaks). They have two options, fancy or simple. By fancy, I mean they have Aero load bars that are oval and are kind of cool, and simple means plain square black load bars. Since it is a '97 Honda, I'm just looking for the minimum investment to get my kayak to the water. The simple configuration is about $310 (plus tax). I think the fancy setup was $50 more, and maybe would have been easier to install. Anybody out there tried to install an Aero roof rack on a car with a fit kit? I'd love to hear from you.

I also decided to check out at least one option, so I priced the same setup from Yakima. I was very please that for the same $310, Yakima would throw in a faring for no extra charge (a $60 value, Thule charges $65 for a similar faring). For a while, my mind was made up, when a friend told me that the Yakima is made in China, and I might try to buy American Made. With a little research, I found on the Thule About page this statement, "From this decision grew the strategy to design and manufacture products in the USA for the US market." So, based on this statement, I decided to say bye to the faring, and go with Thule.

You can also access the fit guides for both Thule and Yakima on the Internet. You can probably find them at the respective websites, but I go to REI's, click on kayaking, then click on car racks. From there, the links for either Thule or Yakima are on the left.

I ordered everything I needed from REI, and waited for the rack to be delivered to my local REI store (no shipping costs this way). I picked it up yesterday and guess what. At least it isn't made in China. The feet are made in the U.S.A., but the fit kit and load stops are made in Sweden, and the lock tumblers are made in Belgium. I couldn't find any indication of where the load bars were made. So, at least I sent a little business to countrymen, but not as much as I wanted.

It took me about three hours to assemble and install the rack on my Honda. The hardest part was clamping the feet onto the load bars. It takes sheer strength, and I just had to keep at it, applying my body wait through my thumbs to get the clamps to click closed. My thumbs are painfully sore today. I did get the rack onto the car, and today drove a distance with it. The fit kit ties the feet pedestals which sit on the roof, to the door frame. The fit kit clamps are so snug, that the doors close right over them. When I shake the rack to test it, the whole car moves on the shocks. It is that solid. I have complete confidence putting my kayak up there.

There are a lot of options for kayak mounting like rollers and cradles, but they add another $160 (and up) to the price. I opted for a set of 4 load stops for $50. We use these on the xSporter, and they keep the kayaks from moving side to side on the racks. Plus, you can strap right through the load stops, which means a very snug tie up.

Tomorrow, I'll put the kayak up there and take it to the water, to start getting my money's worth from the rack. Can't wait! I'll post some pictures later. Gotta wash the car first.

Added May 10, 2008: WARNING My thumb on my right hand still hurts from clamping the feet onto the load bars. DO NOT use your hand as shown in the instructions. It requires too much force. The easy way to do this without injuring yourself is to use the fit clip and screw to pull the unit together until it clicks, but first you have to pivot the female bolt inside the unit. Twisting the screw through the fit clip will compress the unit around the load bar and click it into place. I only discovered this when installing on the car, but you can just as easily do this in the assembly area before you go out to the car. Inside the foot, the screw goes into a female bolt that is on a pivot. The bolt must be pivoted into the proper direction so that the screw may pass through the fit clip at the proper angle. Without the fit clip, insert the screw into the bolt and pivot it. Then remove the screw and put the fit clip on. Then reinsert the screw to ensure the proper angle. Now tighten the screw until the unit clicks into place around the load bar.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lake Berryessa

We did this wonderful paddle in the Summer (July 7, 2007). We headed out early in the morning to the put in. I found the put-in using Google. Just search for, "Lake Berryessa boat ramp". I like to find a public ramp that we can use for free. I also use Wikimapia for satellite imagery, because it let's me use more of my screen for displaying satellite images than Google Maps does. But Google Maps generates driving directions very easily, so I use both.

We woke up a little on the early side, and had a big breakfast. It's always a good idea to fuel up as much as you can before you hit the road. We packed food for the boats, and got all of the kayakingThule Xsporter Truck Rack gear together.

We put the Thule rack on the truck. Since the rack is worth over $500, and it's easy to put on, we only put it on when we need it. It takes us about 10 minutes to put the rack on the truck. Then we put the rack cross bars in the up position, and load up the kayaks. We bring the rack key along so that once we've unloaded the kayaks for the paddle, we lower the posts, and lock them into the down position.

It's a nice drive to Lake Berryessa from Vallejo, just under an hour, and very pretty. There is a boat ramp at Capell Cove, and it's free to use. We didn't use the boat ramp or floating dock though, because there is a nice beach put-in that we prefer. Vehicles with trailers line up to use the ramp, and by using the beach, we stay out of their way. We prefer nosing the kayak into the lake, getting in, then shoving off. The picture on the left shows you where Capell Cove is, and the following picture zooms in on the parking lot. The beach is just below the red arrow on the picture. Incidentally, the red arrow shows where the vehicles with trailers line up.

From here we paddled out to the lake, which is fresh water, and very large, with lots of coves to explore. I highly recommend carrying a map. We were able to identify the various branches of the lake, and wouldn't have had any idea where we were going without the map. Though we could have followed the shoreline back to the boat ramp, it can get a little confusing if you didn't pay attention on the way out.

This picture shows the route that we took. There are a great many motorboats on the lake, especially in Summer. We saw many other kayakers, too, and they were good company.

There is a cove along the way where we stopped for lunch, and we also practiced our self rescues. We'd dump out of our kayaks, then pull ourselves up behind the cockpit, and straddle the kayak facing the bow. Then scoot forward until your butt is over the seat, then you sit yourself down, then bring the legs in. We did this a few times each. Then you use the pump and/or sponge to get the water out of the cockpit. This was good for our kayaks because they're use to salt water, and the fresh water really is a lot nicer. When it dries you don't have that powdery salt all over everything.

This picture is taken at the beach where we stopped to have lunch. It's in a little cove, so there is no boat traffic close to shore, so it is a sheltered place to practice rescues. In Summer, the water, at least the top layer, is quite warm and pleasant to take a spill in.

Here's Kevin just off shore.

That's my Necky Looksha on shore.