Everything changes, and to both survive and thrive, adaptation is imperative. In 2020, Covid 19 brought changes to the Tsunami Rangers, not least in that for the first time in over 30 years, we didn’t hold our annual retreat. That was a bummer, but we adapted. In 2021 a fully vaccinated Ranger crew met in Ft. Bragg on the Mendocino coast for a new version of the gathering.
Jedi Jeff Laxier graciously offered his place at Dolphin Isle as a headquarters, and we rendesvoused on Monday, October 11. Scott Becklund and I were the first to show up. After greeting each other and sharing a few obligatory shots of tequila we got to work helping Jeff transform the Liquid Fusion kayak business yard into a Tsunami retreat campsite and party place. As the afternoon progressed, Dandy Don Kiesling, Vice Admiral Jim Kakuk and his lovely lady Patti Sinclair, and Admiral Tsunami Shaman Michael Powers and Steven El Rey King trickled in. By evening the group was complete.
It was SO good to be together. Hugs, kisses, joyful cries of delight, smiling, laughing… We lit a fire, Scott whipped out some killer tri tip, everyone offered something to eat or drink to share, and we settled down to a Tsunami celebration that couldn’t be beat, eating and drinking and story telling into the night.
Captain Deb wasn’t able to join us and Cate Hawthorne was doing her own boogie, but we phoned Deb on a boisterous group call and Cate showed up later with a secret ingredient for our meals that was over the top delicious. It was magic.
On Tuesday we went for a leisurely paddle up the Noyo River, conveniently situated right next to our headquarters. The river was teeming with life. Over the five days we camped there we saw seals, vultures, kingfishers, mergansers, mallards, ravens, jays, a teal, a number of birds I couldn’t put a name to, and an active family of otters that provided entertainment every day. The first night I heard strange huffing noises and slapping, splashing sounds coming from the river bank. Turns out it was a pair of fornicating seals, and every night thereafter while it was still dark the sound of seal love could be heard breaking the silence of early morning.
On Wednesday we went to Russian Gulch. Conditions were sporty. Jim and Patty and friend Susan Watson went up on the bluffs for a hike and took some photos. I stayed in the cove to practice rolling the Tsunami X-15. I’ve got the left and right roll down in my whitewater boat, but I’ve only successfully rolled the X-15 once, and practicing that skill was a priority.
Everyone else headed south, staying inside and playing in the rock gardens. After about an hour I was wiped out, so I landed, rinsed my gear, set it on a driftwood log to dry, and lay face down in the sand in the warm sun to do absolutely nothing. Heaven! Eventually the team returned and we headed back to camp to resume the feasting. Here’s El Rey’s log of Day Two:
Steven El Rey King: On day two, Jedi Jeff led Don, Scott, Michael and me out in the gorgeous sun and high winds of the Russian Gulch rock garden playgrounds. We had hoped to enter the cave complex to the north but the surf was too big to safely enter this time. Feeling the strong pounding surf we made our way south with Jeff picking fun spots to slice through some tight slots. As always Jeff would demonstrate exquisite timing and then gracefully sail over to a rock with a very large smile. Following him, we all made it through.
We came to a Cave of Wonders that was bumpy and fun, which led us into another set of rock gardens that are the mana of Ranger dreams. Playing as a team we made our way in, out, up, over and occasionally all the way over! Slowly we moved out into a more open area with a nice set of waves, beautiful surfing waves that allowed to us fulfill our yearning for a surf session.
We surfed with glee and after a while landed on the beach and toasted the moment with a wee bit of tequila. We found several abalone shells of various sizes which put a smile on our faces. Then we packed it up and headed back through the same gardens, now with a bit more surf and wind which kept us attentive. Upon sailing onto the calm beach under the bridge we thanked Jedi Jeff for a fantastic day at mystical Russian Gulch.
On Thursday Michael, El Rey, Jim, and Patti left us, but Scott, Don, Jeff and I paddled down the river about a mile into the harbor to investigate the rock gardens there. First we went south. The waves were big. The guys did a great job surfing in and around the rocks. I took one wave around a giant monolith without incident but after bashing my hull and flipping into the rocks in about three feet of water on the next one I decided discretion is indeed the better part of valor and backed off.
As we moved further south I saw the huge waves crashing out at Chicken Point. Jeff remarked that some of the faces were 17 to 19 feet, and they were rolling right into the cliffs. Jeff and Don were in their element but I told Scott I was out and he agreed to accompany me to the north side.
We paddled across in a big arc to Noyo beach, landed, and had a snack. Soon Jeff and Don joined us with tales of being buried at the Point, but I know they had fun. After a short break on the beach we messed around in the sheltered rock gardens on the north side and I got to watch, learn, and take some photos of the guys.
They’re so good at navigating those tight squeezes where’s there’s no run out. There was one great moment when Scott and I were watching Don take one of the bigger waves and it was carrying him at speed into the boneyard. Scott started yelling, “Pull out, pull out!” Next thing Don comes bursting through the white water at the top of the wave toward us like he’s flying. Beautiful. When we came back to camp we practiced rolls in the river at the take out.
That night the four of us had one last party around the fire, finishing up the remains of the food and drink (an estimable quantity) and reveling in the afterglow of our first post-Covid team adventure. It was a great retreat. For the most part, Tsunami retreats have always involved packing up the boats and paddling to a remote location where we stay and play away from the Herberts. But the times they are a-changing. One of the factors in a Tsunami retreat is that the date is set and we go regardless of conditions.
The last three years in Mendo were gnarly. In 2016 they were so bad that those of us coming from the north ended up towing two guests and slogging against wind, swell, and current. In 2017 conditions were good but our put in and take out had challenges, and in 2018 the wind was so bad we actually broke camp after one night and moved down the coast to a small protected pocket beach. We ended up hanging out playing beach games and partying. Not bad, but still… That year too we discovered that someone had built a staircase down to the beach from the bluffs at our habitual site. We were no longer private and we were ready for other options. In 2019 six of us went to Baja which was a whole other set of circs, and then in 2020 Covid blew up.
Some of us are retired, but some are still working and have families and it’s not easy to get time off. Some of us are getting older and not always up for the rough stuff. Plus we’re scattered from Port Angeles, Washington to the San Francisco Bay Area so it’s hard to coordinate travel arrangements. This year is the first time we’ve seen Dandy Don since 2017.
Dolphin Isle offers a lot of good options. The river is perfect for easy paddles and wildlife observation. The area around Noyo Harbor offers great play features and rock gardens, especially on rough days, and it’s a quick mile down the river. We also have the option to drive a short distance to any number of put ins where we can launch to explore caves and play spots up and down the coast.
There’s a ton of hiking and other activities for those who want to take a break, and we have a cooking set up that blows away our little camp stoves. We had a chef’s kitchen and a full bar. We had flush toilets and hot showers. We had picnic benches. We could bring a lot more food and camping gear, and we did. The only thing any of us mentioned missing was the “theater”, the stellar view from our beach at Thunder Cove, especially in the evening around the camp fire. But we could still look up at the brilliant stars and fall asleep to the sound of surf at night.
I don’t know what the future holds for the Tsunami retreats, but I know Dolphin Isle is an awesome option and we owe Jedi Jeff a lot of gratitude for offering his space and putting this event together. Everyone had a wonderful time. The big, windy conditions offered challenge for those who wanted it, and everyone else got to do their own thing.
And bonus! there was more variety and quantity in cuisine than ever before, and I’m just gonna say that a hot shower at the end of the day is a welcome luxury. Tsunami Retreat 2.0 was a smashing success and I’m already looking forward to the next one!
Thanks again to Jedi Jeff for the place and to everyone else for their time in making this retreat memorable. Thanks to friends Patti and Susan for assisting with provisions and food prep. Thanks to our mate Cate for contributing the most wonderful, delicious, beautiful ********* I’ve ever tasted (it’s a secret). Thanks to photographers Michael Powers, Jim Kakuk, and Steven King for the fab photos. And thanks to the team for coming together once again for a week of revelry on and off the water. The Tsunami Rangers are still rocking and rolling!
For questions and comments, please contact us below. Thanks!