Crescent City Solo Kayak Adventure

by Nancy Soares on July 4, 2016

Editor’s note: This is my second solo kayak trip ever. It was way cool. I decided to write it in the third person. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Hey, I found a sea cave!

I found a sea cave! There are seals on the rocks through the mist on the other side.

She started out on a hot, sunny morning. The drive to the coast was lovely. Cloudless blue sky and tall green forests, a winding road. Missing her companion, no music, quiet, reflective, open. Letting the energy pass through and watching the ten thousand things stream toward her.

She arrived at the beach and found a place to put in. The low tide was just turning. The beach was flat, the waves were as flat as they ever are on the Northern California coast, and the fog was in, caressing the land’s edge and hanging densely offshore. It was hot inland and that means fog on the coast. She couldn’t see the stacks and rocks she wanted to explore offshore, but she could hear the voices of many seals and sea lions through the fog.

The north end

The north end

She strolled along the beach, wondering if the fog would lift. The sun burned through the marine layer but couldn’t actually be seen except for a spot in the sky where the fog resolved into an orb brighter than the surrounding grayness. Two guys in fishing kayaks took off over the small surf and disappeared into the mist. Well, she decided, I might as well go out. She walked back to the truck, donned her wetsuit, and pulled the X-15 off the rack and down to the beach.

Woman of the Sea

Woman of the Sea

She paddled toward the north end of the bay since that was nearest. Bluffs, a little rock garden, a bit of surf rolling in and a flat cove nestled under the headland. Some nice rock formations. She turned south and west and paddled toward a sea stack that caught her interest as a result of its shape. It looked like a woman rising out of the sea, looking west, her right shoulder out of the water and her long thick hair pulled back. She named the rock Woman of the Sea. She continued to paddle toward a giant sea stack, actually a small island, where all the ruckus was coming from.

One of the many rocks surrounding the island

One of the many rocks surrounding the island

Sea stacks, reefs, and rock formations surrounded the island, making for a cool labyrinth to paddle through. It turned out the area was an operating rookery. Seals and sea lions draped all over the rocks. They were everywhere, lounging, playing, rolling, diving, and swimming and it seemed like every one of them was vocalizing. They looked at her curiously. Many slid off their perches as she passed and some followed her. They blew through their nostrils like little whales off her stern as she wound through the rocks. It’s all very well to stay 100 yards (or whatever it is) away from marine mammals but they will follow you.

In the labyrinth

In the labyrinth

She thought how much her partner would have loved this. Why had he, as he said, gone into “self-destruct mode”? Why did she have to keep someone she loved at arm’s length? Healthy boundaries, but it was rough. She really did love him, and they’d had some wonderful times together. She let it go, opened her heart, and paddled on. Weaving through the rocks, wishing she knew the names of all the sea birds.

Hundreds of small black and white sea birds surrounded this rock. Cormorants as well.

Hundreds of small black and white sea birds surrounded this rock. Cormorants as well.

Of course there were cormorants, oystercatchers, and gulls (who knows all those gulls?) but there were many, many others as well. Their voices filled the air with a crackling sound, like fat frying. As she approached the north end of the island she saw what looked like caves, but when she got closer she realized there was a seal or sea lion on every rock. It wouldn’t do to get too close. Another time.

Approaching the island from the north

Approaching the island from the north

She paddled around the inside of the island, avoiding wildlife as best she could. Several enormous big daddy sea lions roared with great booming voices, but it seemed as though they were just establishing presence rather than threatening. Still, she was careful to point her bow away from them and find the most open path.

Big Daddy Sea Lion

Big Daddy Sea Lion, right in the middle of the photo. Let’s not get too close!

There were hundreds, maybe thousands of furry animals, large and small, and nearly every available rocky space was occupied. Leaving the rookery she approached some interesting formations to the south that loomed out of the fog.

More caves

More caves to the south

But looking back toward the rookery she saw what looked like more sea caves. Leaving the exploration of the southern end of the bay for another time, she paddled toward them. The entrances were guarded by posses of marine life, but she was able to get close enough to see they were worth investigating when their guardians had departed later in the year.

Another tantalizing cave

Another tantalizing cave

Happy with the discovery of caves, she meandered back toward the put in. She’d been out for about 2 1/2 hours and although the fog had stayed pretty dense for most of the paddle, from time to time it would lift and she could see the shore and the many rock formations that surrounded the little bay on the outside. She surfed a tiny, smoothly rolling wave onto the sand and got the boat back on the truck. It was warm, so she wrapped her towel around her waist and wore her bathing suit home. It was a great little paddle – mild but really interesting. Slowly her knowledge of the Crescent City kayaking environs was growing.

But she still missed her buddy.

Do you have a favorite paddle spot around Crescent City? Please tell us about it by clicking below!


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By Tsunami Ranger John Lull

Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a multi-part series, Greatest Hits “And Misses” of the Tsunami Rangers. In this post, TR John Lull gives us his “Greatest Hit”. 

paddled like hell up the face, barely making it over, only to be confronted by another wave, and another, until I finally broke free

Eric Soares breaking the wave barrier… “I paddled like hell up the face, barely making it over, only to be confronted by another wave, and another, until I finally broke free.”

Greatest Hit: On a late Summer afternoon way back in the early ‘90s, I pulled into a coastal coffee shop for a double espresso on my way to a Tsunami Ranger multi-day kayak camping trip on the southern Oregon coast. Our general plan was to launch the next morning and paddle several miles south to a secluded cove near “Dreamer Island” and set up camp. Several people in the shop were discussing the strong wind blowing out of the northwest. I overheard the following comment: “I sure wouldn’t want to be out on a boat today”. My thought was these people don’t know anything about the seaworthiness of a kayak, so what do they know? At least that’s what I tried to believe. Once back in the car I started to worry that my boat might blow off the car rack as I headed to our rendezvous. I was hoping the wind would die by the next morning. Wishful thinking.

Dreamer Island on a flat day - yeah, right!

Dreamer Island on a flat day – yeah, right!

The next day eight of us began packing kayaks on a windswept beach. That’s right, the wind didn’t die; if anything it increased in strength. The damp sand was blowing waist-high, sandblasting our kayaks and gear while the waves roared out on the ocean and the sky was full of mist. Not a good sign. Dave Whalen produced a weather radio and we listened to a description of the conditions (which we could very well see for ourselves): NW wind to 35 knots with stronger gusts; seas 10 to 12 feet. A passing tourist eyed us warily and finally shook her head telling us we were out of our minds. Inwardly I couldn’t help but agree, but then again we’d be getting a free ride going downwind. What could possibly go wrong? So of course no one voiced the idea of aborting the mission.

It gets windy there...real windy.

It gets windy there…real windy.

It was true that we could run with the wind once out at sea but first we had some obstacles to overcome. After crossing the lagoon, we would have to transport heavily loaded kayaks fifty yards through the sandstorm across the beach, launch into a substantial surf zone, and get past the rocky gauntlet to the south where we could see huge waves crashing in a welter of whitewater over and through the jagged rocks. Worst of all, we would have to perform these tasks in howling wind with little or no chance of communication once on the water.

After floating our kayaks across the lagoon, we stumbled our way across the beach with the kayaks, took a breather, and stared out at the raging maelstrom in front of us. The surf zone stretched out a long distance with several rows of large breakers. Foam was flying everywhere off the tops of the waves. We discussed two strategies. The first was to fight our way straight out through the surf until we reached the open sea, then turn south and paddle around the rocky point. The second was to stay inside the surf zone, in the “soup,” working our way south, then look for a sneak route through the rocks and out to sea. We decided on the latter because it would be easier to deal with any problems close to shore where we could land quickly. We launched one by one in a predetermined order. Eric Soares and Michael Powers were paddling Tsunami X-2’s (double washdeck kayaks) single-handedly; Jim Kakuk and Bill Collins were on an X-2 together; Bonnie Brill, Dave Whalen, and James Brooks were paddling X-1’s (single washdeck kayaks), and I was paddling my nimble Mariner Coaster. The order swiftly turned to chaos once we were on the water. There is something about strong wind and breaking waves that foil the best laid plans. In 35-knot winds you have to be able to take care of yourself.

Wind-sculpted sand dunes

The wind-sculpted sand dunes

After launching into the surf I realized that, as usual, the waves were even larger and more powerful than they looked from on shore. I followed Eric and Bonnie along shore, fielding the breakers as best I could. Bonnie capsized and swam a couple of times but valiantly remounted her kayak and continued on. Eric and I stayed with her and provided moral support as the rest of the group passed us by. Luckily I only had to roll once; not my favorite activity in a heavily-laden sea kayak in the wind and surf. Jim, Bill, and James continued on south toward the rocks and breakers. Dave paddled a bit farther out into the surf, blew south, entered the rocks, and we lost sight of him. Michael disappeared altogether. We didn’t see him again until evening when we found out he had simply decided to get the hell out of the surf zone by paddling straight out to sea (the option we had decided against doing), so he was on his own.

Even though we’d lost sight of the others, Eric, Bonnie, and I stayed together until we saw that Jim, Bill, and James had landed on the beach just inside of the rocks. We soon joined them, thinking this might be our campsite for the night, and had a pow-wow regarding what to do next. There were two narrow passageways out through the rocks. The only problem was the interaction of strong surge-induced currents, vicious wind, and most of all, the large unpredictable waves crashing through. Then we saw Dave standing high on a bluff to the south, waving to us and giving us the thumbs up sign. If he could make it, so could we!

Pounding surf

Pounding surf… and rocks. All in a days’ work for the Tsunami Rangers.

Eric and Bonnie went first. I launched right after them. Eric paused and was trying to decide between the two passages when a huge wave closed out and crashed through the left passage. That made my decision easy. I headed for the right passage. I heard Eric yell at Bonnie to follow me. As I fought my way out, climbing up and over progressively larger walls of water, I realized this would be a very bad scene if one of these foaming monsters decided to break. Just then I looked up about fifteen feet to the crest of a huge curling breaker. It was starting to break just to my left so I angled right and paddled like hell up the face, barely making it over, only to be confronted by another wave, and another, until I finally broke free.

Now out on the open sea, I breathed a sigh of relief. All that was left was to clear the point in over-steepened, chaotic twelve foot seas, then ride the wind south to our destination. A sudden thought occurred to me: What about Bonnie, Eric, and the rest? They were right behind me and had to break the same wave barriers I did. I looked back and to my relief saw they had made it out, but soon lost sight of them as I returned my attention to the task at hand. I finally turned downwind and rode the waves past the end of the point. I still remember the exhilarating sensation of surfing those huge seas downwind with the spray flying against the backdrop of high rocky cliffs to the east, sea stacks ahead, and the wild open ocean to the west. It’s something you have to experience to appreciate.

All's well that ends well... a typical Tsunami camp at peace

All’s well that ends well… a typical Tsunami camp at peace

After rounding the point, I spotted Dave in the relatively protected waters on the lee side. We all regrouped there, except Michael who had continued on his own to our destination (or so we hoped at the time), then flew south with the wind. Thus began a week of kayaking, camping, and revelry.

Feel free to add your own greatest “hit” or “miss” in the comments below!


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...

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