by Alan Marshall
Editor’s Note: Though the Tsunami Rangers went their own wild way, the Bay Area Sea Kayakers and the Rangers have cross-pollenated. One of the founders of BASK, Penny Wells, is a friend, as is past BASK president Barbara Kossy, who is married to TR John Dixon. BASKers attended the Tsunami Sea Gypsy Race, and the Rangers wrote articles and presented slide shows at BASK meetings back in the day. It’s great to hear about this year’s annual BASK rendezvous in Mendocino, their 30th year. Much gratitude to Alan Marshall for writing up the celebration and giving us a little history.
Alan Marshall has been sea kayaking the last few decades on the most dynamic waters of the Pacific Coast he can find, from Canada to Mexico. You can find out more about him at: https://tinyurl.com/kayakalan
“Mendo” is a Feeling! Deep lasting memories develop from the annual sea kayak tribal gathering of ~100 enthusiasts held each September in Mendocino that explores the scenic open ocean coast filled with watery nooks, anchored out of the fern and redwood tree-laden Van Damme State Park campground in Northern California.
The spiritual gathering emanates a unique Feeling of Freedom, as when cold Pacific salt water awakens your senses. The week long party is filled with fathoms of ocean forays fulfilling wild sea kayak fantasies.
Many different pods loosely lead each other through spyglass sea arches, over whirlpool-laden rocky gardens, around headlands, past surging waters, through incoming surf and protected passages into secret coves and dark ocean caves to discover sea glass beaches and more. In other words: it’s F’n Fun!
Mendo is fueled by an orgy of well-prepared sea kayak-savvy mariners, pirate-like passions, handmade food, shared campsites, a swirling mix of paddling partners, can-do energy, fermented drinks, sharp barnacles, hidden caves, dynamic water, unpredictable surf and wind and chaotic swell, rock gardens, pour-overs, tidal fluctuations, kelp forests, and that effervescent California Coastal artistic buoyancy called Freedom.
30 years of wild kayak stories have spun out of these seas a few hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area along the artistic, rural isolated portion of the Mendocino coast.
Each morning an eagerness arises among the happy campers to explore the magical shorelines. Later, after a cacophony of wildly different experiences, the late afternoon sweat and sun brews into their gear, their souls, their cars and their bins. Campfire-side mysterious rosebud teas and wine and cocktails percolate stories from the old and young, and grow in latitude with hyperbole and rhyme as the coastal fog wraps their campsites. The tales bellow with the longitudinal breadth and breath of Moby Dick. They careen and crash back and forth like Pacific swell memories, as the kayakers loudly but humbly pontificate about the forced eskimo rolls, the daring rescues, the seal launches from rocky outcrops, the huge pregnant surges, and the soft smooth sandy beach landings – back to the campfire to stretch their stories even further.
Why pay taxes on multi-million dollar seaside estates when you can get on the water right in front of them for free? Idyllic ocean-front mansions – almost always without anybody visible lingering about them – dot the Mendo coast but the action is at the water’s edge where no other watercraft besides sea kayaks, except perhaps daring people on SUPs, can get to.
One of the best known most-accessible rock garden pour-overs is a place amicably nicknamed “Disney”, perhaps because of all the fun so many have had there, just under a nautical mile south of Van Damme Beach, right before Buckhorn Cove.
It’s somewhat protected from the typical NW swell by outside rock outcrops but still allows fairly consistent wave patterns to boost participants up over a wall and into calm rescue-friendly waters. But when additional SW swells also sync up – watch out! Get ready for a Disney ride!
Even experienced kayakers get knocked over by the swirling surges. Here is a young strong new paddler in the Albion area who took 3 roll attempts before he came up. Then he got knocked over again – and took another 2 attempts, finally to stay up for good. No rescue needed this time!
Tunnels, Arches, and Caves!
An endless labyrinth of tunnels, arches, and caves weave under the headlands stretching from Elk, CA, north to Cleone above Fort Bragg. Many tunnels are only accessible at low tides and low swell patterns. Most arches are easily paddled through, but some require a great deal of safety judgement.
These Mendocino rock outcrops are formed by the intersection of three tectonic plates called the “Triple Junction” where the American Plate, Pacific Plate and the Gorda Plate meet right at Cape Mendocino.
Per the USGS, they are: “Undivided Mesozoic volcanic and metavolcanic rocks, andesite and rhyolite flow rocks, greenstone, volcanic breccia and other pyroclastic rocks, in part strongly metamorphosed. They include volcanic rocks of Franciscan Complex: basaltic pillow lava, diabase, greenstone, and minor pyroclastic rocks.”
Each year, a massive Saturday evening pot luck assembles to challenge the culinary savvy.
A decade ago or so, Tim Yarish went into the forest to gather fresh mushrooms for a reduction sauce that still lingers on my tongue.
This year (2023) Mary Ann Furda created a locally-sourced salad made out of sea palm gathered right at Mendo, then added apples from her backyard and locally gathered raspberries for a delightful salad vinaigrette.
Bourbon and Brine
Another tradition started by the colorful duo Nathan and Krista is the annual Friday night Bourbon & Brine where volunteer bartenders dress up in crazy outfits and serve up wildly intoxicating concoctions.
Near Death Experience
Per Nathan… Imagine a 23-second period creeping up on you. Imagine getting slammed by a swell so large you come out of your boat and then lose it! Not floats away slowly pushed by the wind, but suddenly completely gone! Broken and flooded? A drowned boat due to blown hatch covers? Back in 2017, N of Albion, this scenario unfolded and a 1.5 mile carry-rescue was undertaken. Hypothermia started to set in and the victim initially refused all thermal help. A blanket and goo pack back at shore helped revive her. She had lost her keys and wallet and felt shame for putting herself and the group at risk. But she survived and bought another boat shortly afterwards to get back on the water.
What would a sea kayak gathering be without a host of characters with pirate souls and big smiles?
- Liz Hymans, who was one of the first women to guide rafts down the Grand Canyon, has swooned the masses with her deep husky seductive voice at many parties.
- A kayaker named Dante blew the sounds of his faith through a Ram’s Horn at this year’s potluck.
- Kim Patterson, who has attended over a dozen Mendos, shares how she still applies lessons from famed instructor Roger Schumann.
- Priscilla Schlott recalls hanging around one evening with the Neptune’s Rangers after they rescued a fisherman – who gave them an abalone – but they couldn’t figure out how to open it, so it was torched and cooked on the campfire
- Doug Huft spoke of a womb-like experience just S of Van Damme and N of Disney where there is a “narrow elevator” to get into a birth canal type cove with a fresh waterfall and a pleasant envelope of ferns.
Tiki Torch Parades
September 2023 was the 30-year anniversary of the Mendo event. It was started by Ken Mannshardt (aka the Mayor of Mendo). For a number of years the events, perhaps some of the wildest ones, were held out of Russian Gulch State Park, just N of the town of Mendocino. Per Dave Littlejohn who helped orchestrate them: Beach side “Burning Man” like dance parties with spectacular hooting and hollering, fueled by homemade fireworks (with natural element, lighter fluid, and stainless steel containers) sparkled through the night along with torched kayaker effigies.
Special Shoutout to Don’t Follow Don!
How did Don Barch get his nickname: “Don’t Follow Don!”? Legend has it that he has a special knack for timing huge incoming swells at various ocean features so that HE makes it through to safety, while OTHERS less skilled and aware right behind him might get wiped out! Kudos to Don – a master installer of solar panels – for having made every single one of the Mendo events: all 30 years!!
It’s A Feeling
A new young couple Eric and Nadia got engaged in a sea tunnel at this year’s Mendo! Just think of what could happen to your future if you make it next year! Join BASK.org !
Mendo! It’s a Feeling!
To become a member of BASK and join the revelry or read the full history of Mendo, go to https://www.bask.org/ The article can be found at https://www.bask.org/mendo-madness/ but it’s behind the BASK.org firewall, so you must become a member to read it.
Please write your questions or comments about this article in the comments section below. Don’t forget to click the box if you want to be notified of responses to your comment. Thanks again to Alan Marshall for providing a window into this rockin’ annual BASK gathering and Mendo’s Big 30!