Saturday, September 5, 2009

Paddling the Gulf Islands British Columbia

Kayaking from Sidney to Portland Island and back has been the best paddling experience I've had in my life to date. A lot of that is due to the wonderful outfit that we rented our tandem from, A Paddle in the Park.

Scroll down to read more!

Pictures: (Once the slideshow is playing, you may click on it to go to the Picasa album for higher quality pictures and more control.)

August 15, 2009 - Victoria, British Columbia
Marsha picked us up at the hotel, and she had Matt already in the car. Matt told us that four days prior, he had no idea that he was going to be in Victoria. An avid kayaker, he was invited by a friend who had plenty of frequent flier miles. We had a nice drive up to Sidney, getting to know Marsha and Matt.

Paddle in the Park is an excellent choice for paddling in the Victoria area. You are right there in the gulf islands to start with, and they have great equipment, and they are very safety conscientious, and very friendly. We set out with charts provided, a paddle float, a sponge, pump, and an extra paddle. We were also given careful instructions regarding ferry crossings, and other boat traffic. Consequently we felt very confident and safe at all times.

We made our way out past Curtis Point, and back up the coast toward Swartz Bay. Along the way Kevin spotted a seal lounging just out of the water on a rock to the right, offshore. We kept our distance, and he wasn't disturbed. When we saw the ferry terminal, I realized that we were making great time, and now I understood the scale of the map, and our potential to cover a lot of territory. We made our crossing to Knapp and Pym Islands, and half way across, we saw the ferry coming from Tsawwassen. When you hear that horn, you know it means business. It's the loudest thing I've ever heard. It was the Coastal Celebration, the same ferry we had taken to arrive in Victoria. We were already out of the ferry channel, but at the time we didn't know it and expedited our paddling. We were well out of the way of the ferry, and the giant ferry, which carries cars and buses, produces almost no wake.

The islands of Knapp and Pym are quite beautiful. Our next crossing was toward Portland Island. This was uneventful, we made our way around the right of Brackman Island, and to the beach on Portland Island behind it. There are picnic tables, and we had our lunch here of tamarind almonds, peanuts, raisins, dates, carrots and orzo salad. We made spoons out of carrots to eat the orzo by biting the wide ends of the carrots. A group of eight women arrived in a variety of singles and double kayaks, and we talked a little. I helped cast off the last double since they were stuck on the beach after getting into their boat.

We saw other kayakers pass by while we ate. Finally, we got back in our double, and paddled around Portland Island. On the far side we were approaching a kelp bed when we heard a frightening gutteral sound. We didn't see what made the sound, but as we passed we saw seals peeking out of the kelp at us. I assume we heard the seal early warning system for approaching kayaker. We explored a rock garden, and then came full circle around Portland Island. There is an option to hike on the island, and we saw many hikers, by why would you when you could be paddling? :) We went past Brackman, and around it to the left, and made another crossing of open water back to Pym.

From Pym we scoped the crossing to Coal. This is very close to the ferry terminal, and we weren't sure if the 1pm to Tsawwassen had left yet. So, we made our crossing toward the red channel marker, and just short of the channel we heard the massive blast of the ferry horn. We waited on the safe side outside the channel until we saw the ferry depart, and it wasn't the ferry that was headed our way, so we went for it aiming for the shore of Coal Island. At this point we made the decision to go left around Coal Island to see where we hadn't seen before. It was along this stretch that we saw our first Bald Eagle. We stopped paddling and the current from the ebbing tide carried us past the majestic eagle, past bending giant fronds of kelp bending with the flow. Then we rounded the island to the sunny side, and found a beach. We beached, and got out to enjoy more snacks, and plan our remaining hours when we were approached by two kayakers who turned out to be Marsha and Matt.

We visited and shared stories on the beach, then we all headed off together, and Marsha gave us a little tour. We passed through a rock garden that was home to a large family of seals with pups. We lingered there for a while and took many pictures. As we made our way back to Sidney, we passed under trees, and we heard a loud shriek that turned out to be a pair of herons flying over and away from us. Unfortunately, it was time to head in, and the memorable day goes into the history books as the best day paddling so far.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kayaking in San Francisco

A while back someone asked me if I knew of any rental places in San Francisco. At the time I did a search and didn't find any, but this week I saw an ad for City Kayak in the Examiner. Now, I can't wait to give them a try. :)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day on the Beach - Santa Cruz

Yesterday was the 17th Annual Day on the Beach, an event by Shared Adventures to get disabled people out on the beach to have some fun. They build platforms out of two by fours and plywood, and assemble them on the sand at Cowell's Beach in the heart of Santa Cruz. The guests can scuba, ride around the beach in a wheelchair with giant wheels, even going into the surf, they can ride in the outrigger, or even kayak. There's a band, and delicious vegetarian food, and the smiles on the faces say it all.

Kevin and I drove down on Saturday morning, no traffic, and volunteered as kayak launchers and landers. I also took Jason (7) out for a half hour tour of the pier, kelp beds, and back. We saw many seals and sea lions. The seals were jumping out of the water. We also saw pelicans diving for fish. One more odd thing, we saw a surfer with a dog on his surf board. Pretty cool!

Here are some of the best photos from last year's event from the Day on the Beach website:
(Click on the slideshow to go to Picasaweb to see the pictures better. To see all 494 pictures, go to the Day on the Beach website)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Paddling Pinole California

Summary: This is an excellent paddle for a few hours before and after a high tide. But at low tide, it isn't recommended due to mud. This paddle is great for train lovers, you see beutiful rock formations and caves, and there is minimal boat traffic within a few miles of the shore. There are great landing sites at the halfway point on a regional park.

Here is the map of the paddle:

View Larger Map

The map includes several useful placemarks describing put in and take outs, bathroom, and parking situation.

Here is a slideshow of my pictures: (To see bigger pics at your own pace, just click on the slideshow, and the Picasa album will open in a new tab/window)

It's been too long! I'd been watching the tides and the weather for a while now, and looking for new spots to put in. I used Bay Access to find this put in. But it is also on another site I use to find put ins that may be better. It is Then I scout out the area and get driving directions from Google Maps. I checked out the tides and weather using Weather Underground. I knew from the Bay Access site that the launch site is muddy at low tide, so I planned accordingly.

When I got to the Bayfront Park, I scouted the area. The first problem is that parking in the lot is limited to two hours. If you launch at the pebble beach, you have to carry the kayak 630 feet. My Necky Looksha Sport is 58 lbs, so I'm looking for shortcuts. I talked to one guy walking his dog, but another guy parked in the lot sitting in his pickup told me about the boat ramp. This led to the discovery of the free unlimited parking alongside Bayfront Park Loop Trail (see the map for the placemark and advice about parking). It's always a good idea to talk to the locals for great tips. This ramp was great for the put in, and it's such a low use place. Basically, you can drive right up the the water, gear up, then go park.

I finally parked, hopped in the kayak and I was off down Pinole Creek. It's possible to go up the creek (yes, with a paddle) when the tide is right, but with the high tide I had, there was not enough room under the bridges to go upstream. I put on my spray skirt, and headed out to San Pablo Bay. It was a gray day, and misting, but the wind was very low, and the water was very calm. There were plenty of shore birds to see. I saw a great egret spear fishing. There were gulls, mallard ducks, sandpipers, and coots. I find What Bird? to be a fun website for bird identification. You have to take notes on bird coloration etc, or take good pictures, because birds are so similar and it's sometimes hard to identify them from memory.

It was foggy, so I was glad to have my deck compass to help me keep a bearing. I aimed for formations on the coast that looked interesting, and that's how I found the rock formations that I took pictures of.

This is a great paddle for train lovers. I count myself among that group. The whole length of the shore to Point Pinole is traversed by rails, and Amtrak trains roll by every half hour or so, in both directions. I enjoyed that very much. I paddled very close to the shore/tracks to get a shot of one train heading south, and the engineer gave me a little toot-toot on his horn. Very nice!

As I rounded the first point, I'm calling it Rock Bridge Point because that's where that picture was taken, I encountered a couple fisherman. I had to watch out for two things. One of them had a line in the water, and you don't want to get snagged on that. The other fisherman was about to cast, and he was using big weights. You wouldn't want to catch that in the head. So, I made myself known to them and he said he'd wait for me to pass by before he cast. I told him I hope he catches a big one. He said, "Me too."

Then I made a line for the pier at Point Pinole. This was much like a boring crossing, but the trains kept coming and going for entertainment, and it isn't too far. It's cool as you approach the pier, there are the snags of an old pier jutting from the water. You can observe the current against these, and they're fun to paddle between. I headed under the new pier, and rounded the point. The course changes from West to South as you skim past the shore of Point Pinole Regional Park/Shoreline. Here I saw a sea lion, but as soon as he saw me see him, he dipped and disappeared. It was a nice sighting though.

I noticed that the current was moving nicely past the point, and this made me think about the return trip which would be against that current. I pondered the rule of twelves. Since high tide was at 10am, I put in at 9:45am, then as I delayed my return, the flood would be approaching maximum flow against me. So, I decided not to dawdle too long. This turned out to be a good decision as you will see later on (in avoiding a muddy landing).
  • Rule of twelves: During the first hour after high tide, 1/12 of the tidal water volume will drain (ebb). Second hour = 2/12. Third and fourth hour =3/12 each. Fifth hour = 2/12. Sixth hour=1/12. The same applies in reverse (flood).

I decided to land for lunch, then return. I was able to find my exact lunch spot on the satellite map provided by Google, because there were brick building ruins at the spot, and a readily identifiable ruined embankment wall in a semicircular shape just north up the beach. Can you find it? It's good to be observant of things that will show up on the satellite view for later identification.

It was a gorgeous beach, but still cold and rainy. As soon as I wasn't paddling, my body started to cool off. Though I was dry and wearing a farmer john wetsuit, and topped that with a neoprene kayaking shirt and life vest. I was fine while moving, but not for sitting still. My thermos with coffee was waiting for me back at the car, and I could hear it calling. If I were stuck there, I would have changed into my thermals and dry set of clothes in my dry bag. I finished up my lunch while walking up and down the beach taking pictures. Then I jumped back in the kayak and headed back. Now the only time I was ever in any danger of tipping over was while putting on my spray skirt while on the sea. I should have put on my skirt before pushing off.

Like a horse returning to the barn, I always seem to go faster on the way back. You've already seen all the sights and now you're retracing your steps so why not? There is another reason why I paddled for speed, and that is I was now going against the flood current, and the wind. It was a light wind, but now it was in my face rather than to my back. So, the faster you paddle the less work you end up doing because you're in the stream for the shortest time fighting the current and wind. When I passed the pier again, there were three fishermen headed out on it. They all were watching me. I was paddling much faster than they were walking, and I got a kick out of speeding under and past the pier.

It was so foggy that I couldn't see any landmarks to identify Bayfront Park. So, in so many words, I didn't know which way I was going. You can follow the shore, but that is a much longer route. So, I used my compass. The compass, by the way, was a Winter Solstice present from my partner, and a wonderful gift! I had noted that my bearing out to the pier was due West. You can see this in my picture. So, all I had to do was maintain a bearing of due East. When I approached close enough to the shore at that bearing, I could make out the parking lot of the park right in front of me. However, mud peninsulas and rock jetties which had been underwater before started to appear.

I headed for the boat ramp first. When I got to the boat ramp, I found it was now blocked by a wall of mud (see the picture). So, there was no way I was climbing out through that mess. A local on the bridge suggested I explore upstream, so I thought I would give it a look. However, in hindsight, I think he was trying to get me stuck in the mud upstream. The tide was on the way out, and the water in the stream was getting shallower fast. I paddled upstream a few hundred feet, until the end in fact, but now the water was so low that things were scraping my hull. So, I turned around and sped out. Check out the slideshow to see what was left of Pinole Creek when I left, and that was two hours before the low tide.

I found a pebble beach which I had identified during my scouting. It was 630 feet from the parking lot, but it was not muddy. I went and moved the car, picked up my gear, picked up my kayak, and by then the tide had really gone out. If I had arrived half an hour later, I would have had to slog through at least 100 feet of mud. I don't like mud.

Back at the car, having changed into my thermals, wool socks and dry clothes, I enjoyed my coffee, cupping my hands around the ceramic mug that I brought for just that purpose. I really enjoyed this trip even though the weather was gray and drizzly. I get a thrill from just getting out on the water in a new place. There is so much time spent in preperation, packing, transportation, cleaning and stowing, but it is all part of the ritual that I love.