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.


Anonymous said...

Are you going to blog about where people in downtown SF can rent kayaks? It would be fun to paddle past Pier 39.

Shamus Thornton said...

Unfortunately, I don't know of, and couldn't find anyone who rents kayaks out of San Francisco. Pier 39 is so busy with shipping traffic, that I wouldn't recommend it for someone new to kayaking. That's probably why there aren't any. Your closest kayak rentals would be Sea Trek in Sausalito, and I recommend California Canoe and Kayak in Oakland. For your first time, I recommend taking a guided tour or a class. They're especially helpful at California Canoe and Kayak.