Paddle California 2014

by Nancy Soares on November 24, 2014

by Barbara Kossy

Editor’s note: Barbara Kossy is an artist and environmental activist. She lives in Moss Beach, California with her husband John Dixon, Tsunami Ranger and surfski paddler. She is a former president of Bay Area Sea Kayakers and has been organizing kayaking trips in Italy since 1996. See for current trips.

Thanks to Barbara Kossy, Gerard Ungerman, Charlotte Hendricks, and the Sacramento River Preservation Trust for the photos!

Paddling the Sacramento River - the group photo

Paddling the Sacramento River – the group photo

We paddled 100 miles in four days on the Sacramento River. The trip was more about time than distance.

I’ve been paddling for over 20 years and I knew I could paddle the whole thing. But I figured the best way to be sure I saw John Dixon, my surfski racing husband, over the course of the trip would be to paddle a double with him. We chose the stalwart ocean-worthy open deck Tsunami X-2 Starship.

Barbara and John paddle the staunch old X-2

Barbara and John paddle the staunch old X-2

Why this trip? We had some vacation requirements:

  • Not far, no planes. (We live just south of San Francisco.)
  • Fewer than seven days
  • Active
  • Nature
  • Warm
  • Something that fit both my competent and his elite skill set
  • Did not require buying lots of stuff

We drove up with our friend Charlotte Hendricks, kayaks car-topped, and spent the night in Redding. After a greeting, a talk, and sandwich packing, the three of us and about another 14 people launched near the Sundial Bridge, a swoosh of Calatrava that hops over the river to Turtle Bay Park in Redding.

The intrepid Charlotte Hendricks

The intrepid Charlotte Hendricks


In four days of downriver paddling I had plenty of time to think about time and rivers. The river hints at the scale of geologic time. As it cuts through the earth and carries us down, the river exposes more. Some say, and I agree, that we’re in the Anthropocene, the epoch that began when human activities started to dominate global ecosystems. There was plenty of time to view bald eagles, surf motorboat wakes, assess waterfront homes, and try to spot big fish underwater.

Swallows' nests

Swallows’ nests


  • If you want your rudder to work you need to paddle faster than the river.
  • Bald eagles are big and look kinda badass.
  • River otters and turtles have something in common. Mostly all you see is the splash.
  • When you paddle a kayak on fresh water you may not need a shower, and you don’t need to rinse your gear.
  • Take care of your skin.
Pete Rudnick taking a break

Pete Rudnick taking a break

What you get:

  • A satisfying paddle vacation.
  • Fresh water and lots of it.
  • Some guided spiritual moments on/in nature’s realm.
  • No cooking. All meals plus ample snacks provided.
  • No tedious kayak packing. Your stuff is schlepped by the staff and their trucks!
  • Friendly helpful guides.
  • Great conversation and friends on the water and around the campfire.
Gotta have the campfire

Gotta have the campfire

Back to the trip:

It’s so kinetic – bouncing down a wave train. Seeing the white water boiling cold splashes into the hot air and onto my hot skin. It’s a downhill ride. I can’t claim to know all that much about river running. I’ve rafted. But I was the one who just pulled hard and followed captain’s orders.

We paddle. There were eddies here, boils of water there, white water flumes, gravel bars shallow, and deeper water with salmon swimming to an upstream spawning and decomposing end, while we run downstream to our own end, some composing (this article?) and hors d’oeuvres.

Gotta have food - yummmm...

Gotta have food – yummmm…

Between celery sticks and hummus I chatted with Gerard Ungerman of Respectful Revolution. He is a French videographer documentarian humanitarian revolutionary. And this fellow has had his share of life roaming the asphalt rivers of the USA on his Harley, looking for the inspiring story. “Do we need inspiration and a connection with the greater powers to save our own asses?”

Gerard (in front) and Lucas Ross Mertz

Gerard (in front) and Lucas Ross Mertz

While paddling we talked with Sacramento canoeist and guide Tom Biglione about writing. To honor the gravity powered journey I write:

The cool water under the October sun heated air
The flow, we go floating on water
Pulling the paddles.
A hot blue sky
Cold green water
Trees dotted with vultures arranged as black ornaments.
The eagle flies up river as we fly down.

an unspoilt riverside view

A peaceful riverside view

Tom pulled out his stage voice and sang some tunes from “Paint Your Wagon.” Russ Clark, a canoe guide from Oregon, belted a song from “Oklahoma.” John and I paddled in time. Charlotte sang and I hummed as I can’t carry a tune. I closely watch the banks for fuzzy river otter pups. I’m hoping for my own cute animal show. John’s comment is, “Lean right!” as we eddy out.

Later, we’re floating. I’m paddling. I wiggle.
He says, “Don’t do that.”
“I’m standing up.”
And I turn around slowly – full rotation – and see he’s standing upright in our kayak. 

In camp Haven says, “Hey, you two should do the Cal100!
I guffaw.

No. I hate suffering. I hate pain. And I don’t train.

Paddling a smooth stretch of river

Paddling a smooth stretch of river

The Cal100  uses the same course. Paddlers slam through the 100 miles in one day. It may be just the thing – for you.
The river changes constantly. Sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly. The river flows with gravity. It runs down to the sea, and always runs down. If you wait it still runs down to the sea. You cannot go up. Well, unless you have an engine.
Eriogonum roseum - wand buckwheat

Eriogonum roseum – wand buckwheat

The motor boats:

It’s not wilderness. There were motorized fishing boats. They could power upstream through shallows. If they went fast enough they planed and left very little wake. When one came downstream we could surf the wake if it was slower than planing speed. The Sacramento is not the Mississippi, but going back up for us human powered craft would be difficult in places and impossible in others.

The fish:

I was wearing polarized sun glasses and could see through the water’s surface glare, deep into the channel. Over the center flow I could see big fish swimming upstream. They must have been salmon or trout, but it was hard to tell since the glimpses were brief and the water murky. We were going downstream and the fish were going up. That can’t be easy. One day someone yanked a big fish from the water, hand caught. It was a big salmon, half alive, half dead, mission accomplished. In shallow side pools we saw frogs, and tadpoles (bullfrogs?) and little fingerlings zipping around under the aquatic plants. I wonder what it would be like to snorkel down river for a day.

Lucas and his big fish

Lucas and the big fish

Here’s a list of the plants and animals one might encounter:

The message:

Lucas would talk to us about the river: its history, its geology and the way it’s the hinge of a huge and important watershed. We were all thankful to be there.

You won't be doing this during the Cal100

You won’t be doing this during the Cal100

The food:

It was good. There was lots of it and it was way better than I could ever drum up after a full day of paddling. And there was beer and wine and brownies and fruit and salads and S’mores. One night we sat around the campfire and Ethan performed a sort of S’mores performance piece, gliding from warming toasting marshmallows to bits of oozing chocolate, all done just so as he delicately assembled the morsels and delivered them to us one by one. This was culinary art. Thank you thank you Haven and Ethan and all the camp and kitchen crew.

Or this - camping under the river oaks

Or this – camping under the river oaks

The camping:

We had to set up our own tents. That’s it. Given that our safari was serviced by trucks, and there were lots of us, we used campgrounds near roads. When compromise includes hot showers, I’m IN.

Your river trip will be different from mine. Maybe you’ll get into the lava formations along the Lassen stretch of the river. Maybe you’ll photograph all the native plants, or work on your paddle stroke. Or learn about geology, or the native people who lived there. If you’re reading this blog, I have the feeling you would love this river trip. And say, if you don’t have a kayak or canoe you can rent one.


This trip happened October 2 – 5, 2014
Catered paddling trip put on by the Sacramento River Preservation Trust
The California Paddlesports Council is the same organization that produces the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium.
Like this post? Then please help us out and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. And don't miss any Tsunami Rangers posts: subscribe by e-mail or subscribe by RSS. And you can leave a comment below...

{ 4 comments… click here to read or add }

Ocean Survival Swimming – Part 2

by Nancy Soares on November 3, 2014

Editor’s note: After a short break to talk about the TR retreat and the newest Ranger, we return to the subject of Ocean Survival Swimming. This essay by Eric Soares is published as is. It’s opinionated, funny, and informative. Enjoy.

Eric crawls in through the surf after a swim

Eric crawls in through the surf after a swim 

An old mariner’s maxim. This rule is true in most boat capsizes, where sailors will be rescued by the Coast Guard or another boat. However, in some ocean kayaking situations, swimming for it is the best option because kayakers are capable of rescuing themselves – and their boats. The purpose of this article is to describe survival situations in which swimming is the most practicable option. Specific ocean swimming techniques are provided for each situation.

Swimming for it can only be considered when the paddler is prepared for swimming in the ocean. The first element of preparation centers around ATTITUDE, followed by PHYSICAL READINESS, then EQUIPMENT, and finally, BASIC SWIMMING SKILL. Let’s examine each of these prerequisites.

Many sea kayakers view their relationship with the ocean as two dimensional. They see themselves as being ON top of the water. They do not envision themselves IN the water. There is nothing wrong with this view, except that kayaks are not houseboats, barges, ferries, speedboats, or yachts. Those other boats float on top of the water, but kayaks are almost part of the water. If a three foot wave breaks against the side of a yacht, two drops of water spray the deck. If a three foot wave breaks against the side of a kayak, two feet of water wash over the deck. Big surprise, the kayaker is now IN the water.

If kayakers tip over, they are expected to execute a flawless roll. This is how it should be. But what happens when the roll is flubbed? According to the incidents reported in Matt Broze’s safety column, the usual reaction is near drowning. Simply put, most sea kayakers get in trouble because they were not prepared to be IN the water. As a first step toward in-water safety, kayakers should view kayaking as an in-water activity.

Once kayakers are thinking, “I will be in the water,” they should ensure that they are physically fit to be in the water. It requires much more energy to swim a mile than it does to paddle a mile. Thus, general fitness is a must, as is immediate food energy. Maintaining good nutrition is important. Before the day’s excursion, kayakers should drink plenty of liquid (not alcohol) and eat a hearty breakfast. While kayaking, water and snacks should be handy and consumed regularly, just as in backpacking. Kayakers should carry emergency liquid on their persons, in case of a sudden swim. Ideally, each paddler should carry a twelve ounce container of juice that has an instant carbohydrate complex mixed in. The juice supplies sugar and water, and the carbohydrate complex (available from body building outlets) supplies longlasting energy. The liquid and food energy will stave off hypothermia, and provide the energy needed for a sustained swim. Without energy, swimming is futile.

With a realistic attitude and adequate energy, the sea kayaker must now turn to equipment necessary for ocean swimming. The body must be warm and protected from the elements and from injury. John Dowd, in his book Sea Kayaking, provides good advice as to what to wear for warmth. William Sanders and Derek Hutchinson also list clothing requirements for warmth in their kayaking books. Unfortunately, Hutchinson, a very experienced paddler, asks if the advanced sea kayaker should “…paddle stinking, sweating, steaming and prickling in rubber equipment like an out-of-work frogman? Or is he to dress like a sensibly turned-out hill walker, depending more on his skill and expertise to keep dry, and meet the freezing rescue when the time comes – if ever”.

The implication is that the experienced kayaker should not wear the full wetsuit. My advice is in cold weather or in cold water, wear the full wetsuit and survive “an unlikely capsize”. Diver’s wetsuits are not comfortable but modern kayaking, windsurfing, and surfing wetsuits are. Polypropylene, fleece, or wool underclothing can be worn under the wetsuit for extra warmth. Wool sweaters and spray jackets can be worn over the wetsuit for even more protection. Dry suits (sealed at the neck and cuffs), are comfortable and warm, when worn with proper underclothing. However, dry suits are bulky to swim in, do not allow the swimmer to cool off, and are death traps should they get punctured. Someday, dry suits will be made of kevlar or some other puncture resistant material. In the meantime, do not wear them if you will be far from shore.

A neoprene hood which covers the shoulders should also be worn. The face can be protected and warmed with a wool or neoprene mask. Raw lanolin applied to the skin can help retain body heat. For hand protection, polypropylene or wool liners can be worn under neoprene or leather gloves or mitts.

To protect yourself from the sun, wear a crushable jungle hat with neck cord. The jungle hat can be worn over the helmet and scuba hood, if necessary. Sun cream with a sun protection factor of 15 or more should be applied to exposed skin. Glacier glasses or ski goggles with a strap can be worn for eye protection against the sun.

Other equipment that will aid a swimmer include a watch, diver’s compass, floating survival knife, signal gear (flares at least), and a personal flotation device (PFD). The PFD should not be worn just to keep your head above water should you become unconscious. It should help you float when you need to float and not impede you when you need to swim. The ideal PFD can be inflated orally or with a CO2 cartridge. Diver’s buoyancy compensators are the best PFD’s, although they are expensive. Optional swimming gear includes Audrey Sutherland’s finsmasksnorkel (FIMS), nose and ear plugs, and swimming goggles. This gear will aid the swimmer in any survival situation.

Eric demonsrates his frog outfit

Eric demonstrates his frog outfit

The photograph shows a sea kayaker completely outfitted for survival swimming. In addition to resembling an extraterrestrial being, the kayaker is prepared to swim two miles in 45 degrees air temperature against a 15 knot wind, in 50 degrees water temperature. He is wearing winterweight polypropylene underwear, socks, and glove liners beneath his surfing wetsuit, booties, and rosin-coated neoprene mitts. His head is protected by his shoulder length neoprene hood, crash helmet, jungle hat, and neoprene mask. His buoyancy compensator is half inflated and contains flares, a chemical light, a pemmican bar, and a signal mirror. He is also wearing a diver’s wrist compass, watch, survival knife, and a half filled water flask. This paddler has the right equipment for average ocean conditions. He would adjust his equipment to paddle in tropical or polar conditions.

Once attitude, physical readiness, and equipment needs are met, sea kayakers must make sure that they possess the basic swimming skills. Amazingly, due probably to the on-top-of-the-water attitude mentioned earlier, many sea kayakers are lousy swimmers. Some people may feebly argue that swimming expertise and stamina are not needed in a river with the shore so close, but no sane person can state that swimming skills are unnecessary in the ocean, with the shoreline on the horizon. Basic swimming skills are a must.

The basic swimming skills that paddlers must master in a pool before learning ocean survival swimming techniques are:

  • float on back for five minutes without flotation (to recuperate)
  • tread water for 30 minutes (to eat, think, plan, observe, navigate, recuperate)
  • in 14 minutes, swim 500 meters of side stroke. Repeat for the other three basic strokes (breast stroke, crawl, and back stroke) (to have a swimming style for varied situations)
  • in 14 minutes, swim 300 meters of side stroke, kick only. Repeat for the other three strokes (to possess a swimming kick for varied situations)
  • in 14 minutes, swim 300 meters of side stroke, arm stroke only. Repeat for the other strokes (to possess an arm stroke for varied situations)
  • swim 1 mile in 45 minutes (to build stamina)
  • swim 25 meters underwater in three breaths (to build lung power, to swim under obstacles)
  • do five underwater forward rolls in one breath. Repeat, doing backward rolls (to master turbulence)

At this point you may be wondering, “How do I master these so-called ‘basic’ swimming skills?” The answer is training in a swimming program. You must begin and maintain a swimming regimen. This program can be taught and coached by you. All you need is a book on swimming and a pool. Swimming books can be found in libraries and bookstores. Most cities have pools and times for lap swimming. If you elect to train yourself, the following progressive schedule is recommended:

  • learn and practice the four basic swimming strokes. Emphasize form. Practice kicks and arm strokes until you master the elements. Practice each until you are tired. Work for distance
  • once the strokes are mastered, practice until you can comfortably swim the 14 minute 300 and 500 meter swims. Rest by floating and treading water; do not hold the side of the pool or stand up
  • once the basic distances are achieved, graduate to swimming 1,000 meters in 30 minutes. Again, rest by floating or treading water
  • after swimming 1,000 meters becomes easy, swim a full mile in 45 minutes. Remember to float or tread water to rest
  • your final workout will consist of swimming a mile, alternating among strokes. After the mile, practice swimming 25 meters underwater. Practice forward and backward rolls – plus whatever else you wish

When the final workout becomes routine, you will be more than ready to handle calm seas and lakes, and you will be ready to learn ocean survival swimming.

As mentioned before, basic swimming skill can be learned without help. However, swimming is learned much more rapidly through competent instruction. The Red Cross, YWCA, YMCA, colleges, and communities often offer inexpensive swimming lessons. Check these out. Also, you may wish to join a Masters swimming club and swim laps with others. Basic swimming is an excellent way to maintain fitness, and it complements paddling by strengthening upper body muscles and increasing endurance.

We hope you have enjoyed the Four Prerequisites to Ocean Swimming. The next part in this series will explicate Ocean Swimming Training: Studying the Waves, Body Surfing, and and Open Ocean Swimming. We welcome your comments!

Like this post? Then please help us out and share it on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. And don't miss any Tsunami Rangers posts: subscribe by e-mail or subscribe by RSS. And you can leave a comment below...

{ 7 comments… click here to read or add }

Tsunami Ranger Retreat 2014: A New Ranger!

October 12, 2014

ShareCaptain Kuk: When Eric and I first came up with the idea of a kayaking team in 1984 we wanted to have a system for rating the skills of the paddlers that we planned on inviting to join us. Eric proposed that we use naval ranking. Having been in the U.S. Navy he was familiar [...]

5 comments Read the Full Article

Ocean Survival Swimming – A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to Staying Alive in the Water

September 22, 2014

ShareEditor’s Note: One from the archives: Eric Soares wrote this essay illustrating the Tsunami Rangers’ approach to sea kayaking emphasizing ocean swimming as a key skill for sea kayakers. We’ll publish his thesis in five parts. This first part is the outline for Ocean Survival Swimming. Note that Eric refers to buoyancy compensators instead of [...]

6 comments Read the Full Article

California’s Lost Coast – Extreme Hiking in Southern Humboldt County

September 1, 2014

ShareIn June, my son Nick and I hiked the Lost Coast of Northern California. It’s an extreme hike – there’s no trail for much of the way – and it took us four days and three nights. We started at Shelter Cove and hiked north to the mouth of the Mattole River. Most people start [...]

2 comments Read the Full Article

Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave Terms

August 11, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: Thanks to Michael Powers, Eric Soares, and Jim Kakuk for these fabulous photos. One of the cool things about the Tsunami Rangers is the lexicon they invented to describe the marine environment. Some of these terms have probably become mainstream, but just for fun I thought I’d reproduce the Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave [...]

6 comments Read the Full Article

Up a Hot Creek With a Paddle – Sea Kayaking in the Oregon Desert

July 21, 2014

ShareOn a cloudy day in April we headed east. Clear sailing until five hours out and a pronghorn played chicken with the truck so I had to cross into the opposite lane and take my foot off the gas so it could pass on the right and run in front of the truck at 60 [...]

3 comments Read the Full Article

Reef Madness 2014 – Sea Kayaking Mayhem Strikes Again!

June 30, 2014

Shareby Ed Anderson Editor’s note: Thanks so much for this post to Ed Anderson who always does such an amazing job as Master of Ceremonies and Paddler Extraordinaire at Reef Madness. And thanks too to Lars Howlett and Jim Kakuk for all the great photos. Paddle. Party. Piracy. That’s a perfect day! Sunday June 8th [...]

3 comments Read the Full Article

Put Yourself in the Picture! – The Armchair Sea Kayaker

June 9, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: This is one of the topics Eric had lined up for 2012. Some of the featured pictures he picked out himself and he specifically suggested that you “Put YOURSELF in the picture”. I can’t look at a painting of a seascape without evaluating it in terms of my kayak. Could I survive in [...]

15 comments Read the Full Article

Fitness for Sea Kayakers – Hips

May 19, 2014

ShareHave you ever exited your kayak after a long paddle to find your first steps stiff and awkward until you find your “land legs”? When we kayak our hips are mostly stationary at about a 90-degree angle. Apart from getting in and out of the boat there’s not a lot of movement in those joints. [...]

7 comments Read the Full Article