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!

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