Sunday, January 31, 2010

Berkeley to Treasure Island

Summary: Easy access, great parking, a great sandy beach put in (near high tide), very little boat traffic, many options for exploring. Don't try to put in or take out at low tide due to long mud flat. I covered over 10 miles!

Paddle Map: (Click on the map to interact with it.)

View Berkeley to Treasure Island in a larger map

Pictures: (To see bigger pics at your own pace, and to read the captions, just click on the slideshow once it's playing. The Picasa album will open in a new tab/window)

The Story: I commute past this spot every weekday, and I've long wanted to explore this coastline from the water. Once Kevin and I were exploring the bike trail that parallels the frontage road, and it was then that I scouted out this parking and sandy put in. I much prefer the sandy beach put in. It's very safe, and you can rock yourself into the water after you get your spray skirt on. By the way, don't miss the Kite Festival that we stumbled onto.
So, from Highway 80, exit at University and head for the water. Then turn left onto the frontage road. The parking's on the right. There's a rocky slope between the car and the beach, but it's no big deal to carry your kayak over it and back. From the car to the beach, there is also a bike path to cross with care. It's used by joggers, bicycles, kids on roller skates, people with dogs, strollers, etc.
I put in and paddle toward the point created by Powell St Marina Park. This is a nice park to explore on foot, by the way, it's not bike friendly. As I passed the park there were many families, and the kids love to wave at the kayaker. That was fun. :) Yes, I always wave back.
I paddled into the bay created at the Nimitz Freeway junction, but there were hundreds of shorebirds at rest, and I honored the rule not to disturb. Each morning as I whizz by, I see the interesting channels through the shore, and I wanted to explore them. But since there were so many birds that are not usually there, I put it off. The wildlife on this trip was amazing by the way (all birds).
I paddled by the radio towers, and to the foot of the new bay bridge. I have some great pictures of the new bridge. It looks really great from the water. Check out the pictures, and read the captions to find out about the buoy that revealed the speed of the current. The current increases the closer you get to Treasure Island's yacht harbor.
About then, I started to worry about low tide, and getting stuck on the mud flat, so I made a straight shot back to the car. This was a long crossing, but really magical. There was almost no wind, or a slight wind was at my back. The sun was warm, but not hot. The water was glassy, and the sky filled with towering cumulus clouds. This made for amazing reflections. My favorite thing this day were the reflections of the clouds on the water. Check out the pictures, and please let me know if you'd ever like to join me on a paddle.

The Wildlife: On this trip, I saw:
American Coot - I love the way the fly just above the water with their feet running on the top of the water making a funny sound.
Cormorants - I saw these swimming with their bodies submerged, diving and hunting. I also saw them roosting, some with wings spread, a fine sight! They spook very easily. I kept my distance, but a group flew away at my presence.
Curlew - I saw an entire row of these guys on a wire. I stayed back not to disturb them, but they're identifiable by their curved bills.
Snowy Egret - This is in the first picture near the sunken house in the foreground. They are somewhat approachable. You can get close enough for a picture with zoom. You can tell when they're getting nervous when they start to turn their head back and forth. That's time to back off, and they'll settle down.
Brown Pelican - This guy is on top of the sunken house in the background. He was occasionally nodding his head and exposing his orange throat. Are these mating colors?
Buffelhead Duck - I saw quite a few of these males.

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.

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.