By Nancy Soares and John Lull

“The best way to study geology is by kayak” – Tsunami Ranger Capt. Tortuga

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from just above Horseshoe Cove

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from just above Horseshoe Cove

You probably don’t know this, but Capt. Tortuga and Tsunami Ranger John Lull are geologists by trade. On Monday, April 9, John and I drove from his place in El Granada on the San Francisco Peninsula to Horseshoe Cove at the base of the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge and put in for Angel Island. Our mission: study the geology of the island.

Angel Island

Angel Island

It was the first time I had ever paddled San Francisco Bay. We were blessed with some of the most halcyon weather possible: blue sky; bright, hot sun (it felt like it was about 85 degrees) flat water, and practically no current to speak of. We put in at the little marina there in the cove, paddled out past the jetty, and turned left toward Yellow Bluff. Hugging the shore for a short distance, we then set our course for a beach on the island where John wanted to examine sand samples.

Horseshoe Cove launch

Horseshoe Cove launch   

It was a peaceful, easy crossing. John pointed out landmarks and watermarks and told me about eddies and currents a paddler can take advantage of to facilitate passage around the Bay. We saw birds and sea lions. The wind was so light there were few sailboats about and a couple of the ones we did see were underway using their motors. We saw some ferries and encountered small wakes but otherwise paddling both going and coming across Raccoon Straight was uneventful. Paradise!

Tiburon in the distance

Tiburon in the distance, and behind it Mt. Tamalpais

The views were spectacular in all directions: The Gate, the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island, the little towns of Sausalito and Tiburon nestled on their hillsides looking more like towns on the Mediterranean than on the colder, grayer San Francisco Bay, and of course the stunning San Francisco skyline.

The San Francisco skyline

The San Francisco skyline

The first beach we landed on was at Camp Reynolds, an abandoned army base on the island. During the Civil War, with concern mounting over threats to the Bay Area from Confederate sympathizers and naval forces, the federal government established Camp Reynolds on Angel Island in 1863. Fears that the Confederates might slip into the Bay and attack naval installations at Mare Island and the Benicia Arsenal were never realized. After the Civil War, Camp Reynolds became an infantry camp, serving as a depot for recruits, and as a staging area for troops serving in campaigns against the Apache, Sioux, Modoc, and other Indian tribes. By 1876, this was a busy camp with over 2,000 soldiers and a chapel, bakery, blacksmith, shoemaker, laundry, barber, trading store, and photographer. Now Camp Reynolds is a quiet picnic spot where hikers and kayakers can relax and contemplate. 

Camp Reynolds

Camp Reynolds

John examined rocks and sand while I checked out the abandoned camp. Then I came back to the beach and John explained the geology of the cliffs. There were some nice examples of rock pillows formed deep below the sea millions of years ago that have now been raised up and are part of the island.

Pillow rock

Pillow basalt. Looking closely, you can see a couple of round pillows in the center of the photo.

We launched again and paddled around to the next beach, a no name beach south of Alaya Cove. I’m calling it Blueschist Beach. While John was checking out the sand at this site, I wandered off in the opposite direction beachcombing.

Blueschist Beach

Blueschist Beach

The beach was quite clean but I picked up a few bits of plastic here and there. Then I saw something that looked like a rolled up ball of tin foil. Reaching down to pick it up I discovered it was a rock. A beautiful, shiny silver rock. “Hey John,” I called, “Look what I found!” I showed him the rock and it was instant recognition. Muscovite mica pelitic schist were some of the words that came out of his mouth, but I’ll let him explain it.

Treasure trove - blueschist, green schist, and some blue sea glass

Treasure trove – blueschist, green actinolite schist, and blue sea glass

John Lull: The rocks on Angel Island are part of the extensive Franciscan subduction complex that underlies much of the California coast range. They include far-traveled basalt and pillow basalt, erupted approximately 130 million years ago at a mid-ocean spreading center several thousand kilometers away in the Pacific Ocean, deep ocean chert beds deposited on the basalt during its long journey on the Farallon Plate away from the spreading center, and thick sequences of continent-derived sandstone and shale that were deposited on the oceanic crust in the subduction trench formed just off the continent. This oceanic crustal slab and overlying sediment were carried down beneath the North American continent where most of it was consumed in the underlying mantle.

Angel Island Blueschist

Angel Island blueschist

The subduction process continued for over 150 million years and periodically some of the oceanic crust and sediment was offscraped, underplated, and accreted to the continental margin. As the accreted material built up over time, it was subjected to intense pressure and localized shearing, resulting in zones of extreme deformation and numerous faults.

John and the blueschist

John and the blueschist

The rocks on Angel Island are a special case in that they were subjected to high pressure-relatively low temperature ‘blueschist facies’ metamorphism. This means they must have been carried deep into the subduction zone (20-30 km beneath the surface) and underplated beneath the over-riding continent. They were later exhumed due to continued tectonic movement and returned to the surface where they are today. Most of the basalt, chert, and sandstone on Angel Island retains its original texture and can be readily identified. Pillow structure can be seen in the basalt and although the sandstone is mildly schistose, sand grains are still apparent. The blueschist minerals in most of these rocks are only visible under the microscope in thin sections cut from the rock. However, in some cases the rocks were more strongly metamorphosed, forming completely recrystallized schist and obliterating the original texture and character of the rock.

Blueschist on Angel Island

Layered blueschist on Angel Island with rock hammer for scale

There are a few outcrops of these schists on Angel Island. The most prominent blueschist outcrop is exposed on the south side of the island, just east of Perle’s Beach. A prominent band of serpentine (derived from the mantle) is also present just east of the blueschist. There is a thin band of poorly-exposed schist on the slope above the northwest shore of the island between Point Ione and Stuart Point. Pebbles of silvery quartz-muscovite schist and dark green actinolite schist can be found on the beach below.

Green schist

Sparkly crystal green schist

Nancy: While looking for blueschist we also found green actinolite schist. This stuff is amazingly beautiful and has to be seen under a microscope to really be appreciated. Regardless, it’s lovely to look at.

After Ayala Cove we headed back to the put in. It was about a 45 minute paddle each way, although John told me that there is often an ebb tide you can ride back that makes the return quicker. Still, it was a great 6 mile round trip, just enough to make you feel like you got a good work out. Our return was uneventful, and after loading up our boats and gear we drove back to John’s house for a beer and a soak in the hot tub. The best of days!  

Have you been to Angel Island? Whatcha know about blueschist? Share your story or any other comment you’d like by clicking below!



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Leading the Rangers on an adventure

Leading the Rangers on an adventure

Capt. Kuk: It has been a long progression for Nancy over the last 22 years and even though she was always capable of gaining the skills to be a Ranger, she chose to keep some separation to give Eric space. Starting with her martial arts and fancy foot work playing hacky sack, Nancy has since added the necessary kayaking skills needed to be a full Ranger. Nancy is also the keeper of the Tsunami Ranger blog started by Eric, and it continues to keep the Rangers’ stories alive.

Nancy is the first new Ranger under Captain Tortuga and she bridges the generations. There have been many stories since her first retreat and becoming a Ranger is another one. After her test the party that night was like the old days. Congratulations Nancy, it has been a long and interesting time.

Working the blow hole

Working the blow hole

Nancy Soares LTJG: Over the years I taught myself to surf and went on a couple of Tsunami Retreats. I developed fair kayaking skills, but never trained very hard until 2004 when I decided to race in the upcoming Sea Gypsy Extreme Sea Kayaking Race. After eight months going out to Pillar Point once a week regardless of conditions (gak!) by the time the race rolled around I’d developed into a pretty strong paddler. But then Eric and I moved to Oregon and Eric died and I didn’t do much paddling after that.

Slippin' into darkness... cave exploration: check!

Slippin’ into darkness… cave exploration: check!

When Jim asked me to go on the Tsunami Retreat in 2016 I was incredibly grateful to be included. I love the Rangers; they are my Sea Tribe, and I missed the camaraderie. Plus these guys probably knew Eric best of anyone and it’s comforting to be around them. And I did well. I could tell that I was being eyeballed. Oh shit, I thought, they’re going to ask me to test.

Dandy Don works a pourover

Dandy Don works a pour over 

Sure enough, next year Jim asked me to test. Of course I said yes, but 2017 was the worst year of my life health-wise. Early in the year I was hospitalized with two potentially fatal conditions. Yep. It took months to recover and then the smoke rolled into the valley and took me back down a few notches. When I headed off to the retreat for the test I felt diminished. Actually, whiny would be a good word!

Becklund works the zipper - am I up for this?

Becklund works the zipper 

I went to see my friends Connie and Andy Taylor in Elk the day before we launched. I told Connie my tale of woe and she gave me the greatest pep talk. She told me to stand up. Then she tossed me an imaginary tennis ball and said, “Slow that down!” I went into tai chi mode, dropped my weight, and put out my hand. The imaginary tennis ball slowed down. “I know you know what I mean,” Connie said smiling. “Just slow everything down, the waves, everything. You can do it.” 

All right, guys, here's what we're gonna do...

The test begins. All right, guys, here’s what we’re gonna do…

The first day when we embarked on the journey to our hidden spot I went into slow-mo. I don’t mean I was paddling slowly so much as focusing on my breath, my movements, the waves, my companions, willing everything to Just. Slow. Down. This helped, because when The Wave in the Cave happened I was calm, relaxed, and unafraid.

Weapons training

Weapons training

The rest of the time I continued in slow-mo. When everyone went paddling the next day I opted to stay on the beach and rest. I stayed on the beach the second day too. Jim gave me the job of setting up a target for our knife-throwing games and I slowly and thoughtfully put together a nice big target. It took a long time to find suitable boards and driftwood and construct the target but it was a fun project and when it was done someone said it was the best target they ever had. Mission accomplished!

Go forth!

Rangers, go forth!

The test wasn’t till day four of the retreat so I continued to conserve energy. When it came time to test I felt pretty good but I still slowed everything down. Jim wanted me to lead an expedition, so after clearing it with him I chose to make Cate my second-in-command. As I explained to the team, good leaders don’t lead alone – they gather the best people they can find to advise and assist. Since I didn’t really know the area and Cate knows it well, I intended to run my intentions by her before making final decisions. Jim wanted to check out pocket beaches for abalone shells, so I set our course and off we went. Michael had a minor incident with a reef, but as Jim said at the debriefing, it wasn’t my fault. It just added spice to the day and Deb got a great photo.

TR Michael Powers works the reef. Photo by Capt. Tortuga, captioned by Michael himself.

TR Michael Powers works the reef. Photo by Capt. Tortuga, captioned by Michael himself.

We landed on beaches, played with a blow hole and a pour over, messed around in some caves, and then returned to camp for lunch. I kept the group together, made sure everyone got on and off the beaches safely, and headed back when it was time. Cate was invaluable for her experience working with groups. It was probably the most boring test ever, but that’s how I wanted it. It’s not often things are that calm during a Tsunami Retreat and I was keeping Connie’s advice in mind.

Cate in a sublime moment on the water

Cate in a sublime moment on the water

After lunch it was time to perform a rescue. Jeff volunteered to be “victim”. Deb yelled, “Swimmer!” and there he was, swimming out to sea and scrambling onto a big offshore rock. I pulled my kayak down to the water, made a quick scan and launched. I paddled up to Jeff, who was doing a great imitation of a panicked paddler who’d lost his boat, and started trying to talk him off the rock. No dice. I paddled around the rock speaking calmly but he wouldn’t budge. I realized he was going to make me get drastic. We’d had a previous conversation about an incident back in the day when Eric had threatened to throw a stranded paddler off a rock and I knew Jeff was going to make me do that very thing.

Get off that rock, you @#$%&!!!

Get off that rock, you @#$%&!!!

I grabbed my paddle and hopped out of the boat, scrambled up onto the rock and one last time tried to talk Jeff into jumping into the water and swimming back to the beach. I even threatened him. Nope. So I punched him (lightly) in the jaw and body checked him and he fell into the water. I jumped in after him and started hauling him in to the beach. I had my arm over his chest so he started acting like I was choking him. Point taken. I grabbed onto his PFD instead and side stroked in, dragging the “unconscious” body and the paddle along.   

Trigger! Rescue achieved - check!

Trigger! Rescue – check!

The coolest thing (aside from the fact I got to punch Jeff in the jaw) was that my kayak followed us in. Just like a little puppy dog, there she was, a few yards away, nose pointed toward the beach. I think it was Cate who said, “Just like Trigger!” Jeff finally “woke up” and went back to being his usual self and we swam over and corralled her. Now the Pacific Princess has a new name. Even cooler was the fact that in scrambling up the rock my dive knife had got scraped off my PFD. At first I thought I’d lost it for good, but there it was, lying right in the cockpit. Trigger had brought it home!

Hangin' with my buds... it doesn't get any better.

Fire with friends… it doesn’t get any better.

That night there was much rejoicing. Everyone said nice stuff and it felt so good. There’s nothing like being part of a team where everyone knows you, loves you, and forgives you for being a squirming hatch-blower. As Jim said, they know what I can do.  

Just chill...

Glad to be alive…

Thanks, guys, for including me and making me a Tsunami Ranger. It’s an honor and a privilege and I will be forever grateful! I love you all!  

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Tsunami Retreat 2017 Part Two – Meet Captain Tortuga! The Cutlass Passes…

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Editor’s note: A big shout out to photographer Inge Watson and Tsunami Ranger Deb Volturno for the fantastic photos! Last September I had the privilege and pleasure of joining the Surf Sirens for their 2nd annual surf camp at Hobuck Beach. Hobuck is right up there on the Makah Res at the northwestern tip of Washington […]

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As many of you know, Southern Oregon is on fire. For nearly the entire month of August, the Rogue Valley has been filled with smoke from multiple forest fires in the surrounding areas. Even the coast has been smoky because of the fire in Brookings. And like many of my fellow Oregonians, I don’t have […]

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Balance, Momentum, and Leverage: How to Get a 25’ Kayak Off A Truck By Yourself

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Naturally I was devastated when my late husband died, but one of the things that really had me exercised was how the heck I was going to get kayaks on and off the truck by myself. It might sound silly to some, but I’m short, the rack is high, and the Kevlar boats are long […]

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