Sea kayaking destinations
Editor’s note: Thanks to TR Captain Deb Volturno for contributing some of the photos in this post. And thanks to everyone who participated in the Surf Sirens gathering this year. I love this group!
The third annual Surf Sirens gathering at Hobuck Beach on the Makah Reservation in Washington State was a big success this year. On the first day, Friday, September 21, sixteen women showed up for some rollicking ocean whitewater play, an impromptu rock garden paddle. It was a soft, drizzly day with relatively flat conditions but a fair amount of wind.
We paddled out from Neah Bay to Waadah Island and around to the northern side facing the San Juan de Fuca Strait. There we found some nice features: pour overs, slots, and a nifty little spot like an elevator where you paddle through a crevice as the water rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the sea.
It was cool to watch the paddlers disappear down behind the rocks and then rise again to go shooting out the back side when a good wave pushed through. I sure wish I had gotten a photo of Jo Ann Moore riding her wave; I’ve never seen anyone look so stoked!
We took a break for lunch on the rocks and then messed around some before heading back to set up camp at Hobuck and get dinner. This year I opted for a cabin. It was pricey, and I’d slept in the truck last year which is my normal M.O. but I had the feeling it was going to rain this year, and it did. It was nice to have a warm room to come back to and to hang the wet suit up to dry. I spread out the gear, ate a light dinner, and fell asleep in a comfortable bed within sound of the sea.
On Saturday, seventeen women showed up for surf kayak instruction. Eight of us (almost half!) chose to be in the short boat group, with surf kayaks, whitewater kayaks and waveskis. I chose to be in this group. I really enjoyed the long boat surf instruction I got last year, but this year I’ve been playing around with river kayaking and paddled my first Mamba, and I wanted more.
It was so much fun! The instruction was great, as always. Jameson Riser and Melinda Moree were the instructors for our group, and were really good at helping us in our attempts to master the admittedly shitty surf. However, I always maintain you can have a good time and learn stuff regardless of conditions. In fact, paddling in challenging conditions makes you that much better on nicer days.
We stayed out till we were all pretty thrashed. The waves were choppy and droppy. Before class, I watched the few board surfers out there braving the rough conditions. Boards and bodies were flying. Almost no one was getting rides. Rather than try to catch the waves on the outside I decided to spend the day playing in the aftershock. Out and in, out and in, catching a few short rides and getting dumped a fair amount. Lots of face enemas, but fun and a really good workout. Finally I was getting tired so I started waiting for something resembling a good ride before boldly springing into action. It was a good day for boat control.
That night we regrouped for another fantastic potluck – yum! The bar keeps getting raised. Everyone contributed and we had a massive spread of healthy, nourishing, and REALLY GOOD food. Barbecued ribs, yummy soups, fruit, bruschetta, salads, desserts, all kinds of delights for hungry stomachs.
Here’s what Surf Sirens Co-Founder and Tsunami Ranger Deb Volturno had to say: “Saturday was an extraordinary day for surf play! Great to see the fun and excitement with everyone out in the waves shredding it up. I think almost everyone got out for some wave time!”
Before I left, I made time to drive out to Cape Flattery and take the short hike out to the tip of the cape where I was rewarded with amazing scenery and a view of Tatoosh Island. It was great to stretch my legs after sitting in a kayak all day the day before and before the long drive to Vancouver, WA, my next stop.
I really enjoy this surf camp. I like the way it’s set up so participants can take advantage of anywhere from one to three days of instruction. Days One and Three are unofficial paddle days; some of the instructors come along and are available for questions and a little coaching but the official day for instruction happens on Saturday. That’s the day you really don’t want to miss.
When I saw at the waves Sunday morning conditions had improved drastically. The waves looked small and well-regulated and the sun was making a fitful appearance. I would have liked to have stuck around but duty calls. Last year I paddled one day, this year I paddled two days, so probably next year I’ll arrange it so I can do three. Why not make the most of the long drive? Plus it’s a beautiful place to paddle. And may I say, the cabin was totally worth it!
Everyone did well and had a good time. Instructor Jennifer Yearly joined us this year from down California way and it was great to have her. She wasn’t in my group but I know she was appreciated. It’s wonderful that we have so many fantastic women kayak instructors who together offer us students umpteen years of combined experience.
Here’s one more comment from Deb: “I love this event, and always feel energized by the level of commitment and enthusiasm of all who participate!” I second that emotion!
Join us for the fourth annual Surf Sirens Kayak Surf Camp in 2019 coming Sept 20-22!!! You don’t want to miss it. And check us out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/177597272647770/?ref=bookmarks for photos and comments regarding this event.
By Nancy Soares and John Lull
“The best way to study geology is by kayak” – Tsunami Ranger Capt. Tortuga
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Review by Nancy Soares
Editor’s note: Susan is an adventurer, writer, educator, and speaker. Her tenacious exploration by sea kayak has fueled her stories and images of the natural world for decades. Her articles and photographs have appeared in Sea Kayaker, Canoe and Kayak, Adventures Northwest, and Figure magazines.
Magic and gratitude. That’s what comes through in Susan Marie Conrad’s sea tale of her solo kayak adventure through the Inside Passage from Anacortes, Washington to Juneau, Alaska. For people like me who love adventure and kayaking but will probably never undertake such a major endeavor, it’s wonderful to read stories like Susan’s. For one thing, there’s the mental eye candy: the beauty and mystery of the Tongass, the fjords, the wildlife, the ice. There’s the excitement: the bears, the unruly weather, the people, “learning experiences”. Susan’s book is an entertaining, enjoyable read.
But wait, there’s more! Like many who travel solo, Susan was looking for something. In a way, in all great journeys from myths and legends (think Jason and Odysseus), to modern times (think Cheryl Strayed), when people sojourn in the wilderness the outward journey inevitably parallels the inward one. This is especially true for solo journeys because the first thing such journeys do is challenge you so you get to find out what you’re really made of.
When we encounter Nature in its original state on an extended solo trip like Susan’s, we allow Nature to envelop us; we live by her rhythms and suffer pain and pleasure at her behest. We get about as close as we can get to who we are and what life is about. Susan isn’t the first person to turn to the wilderness to seek understanding and healing, but her story is unique. Two major themes that weave in and out of her narrative are magic and gratitude. Guided by the nonverbal coaching of the great teacher Nature herself, Susan learns how to take the path of least resistance:
Dealing with challenges on the water, I had learned, is about approach and perspective. Finesse and strategy, more so than brute strength and power, are the keys to managing spirited water. It’s about finding the path of least resistance, much like water itself does. – p. 108
Later she connects that lesson learned from the paddling life to the default world of modern society.
When she embarks she tells us, “If a crystal ball had appeared on the beach that day, foretelling my feelings, along with the adversity and hardship I would be encountering I would have smashed it to smithereens. Uncertainty was part of the adventure and I wasn’t about to water down the magic of it all.” Often when we seek wilderness adventure we want to shuffle off the coils of “civilization” and surrender to uncertainty because in doing so we sense we’ll find Magic. Going out becomes a form of going in, to our heritage as humans who evolved on this planet and to Mother Nature whose womb is still our home. The world becomes alive and magical. We are transformed. Susan notes that when we are solitary we don’t have to protect ourselves. This allows us to experience our true selves, if we’re willing, and thereby experience wholeness and bliss.
For example, Susan learns about pushing versus letting go. Impatient to clock some miles, she makes a judgment call to keep paddling in deteriorating conditions. Luckily she gets off the water before the shit hits the fan. But the incident engenders some soul-searching:
Why was I taking such risks and pushing so hard? If you’re trying to prove something, Susan, the only thing you’ll fucking prove is that you know how to kill yourself. I berated myself, both fearful and infuriated. Fearful that my inability to listen to my voice of reason and to relax would render me dead. Infuriated because I didn’t know why I did this, why I always felt time was of the essence and that I must always be on the go.
The sea was teaching me patience – and I still had much to learn. – pp. 116 – 117
Over and over the theme of gratitude punctuates the narrative: to friends and well-wishers, to the sea and to Nature for the support and the lessons, and for a sense of budding faith in herself and in something else out there. After her close shave, gratitude and magic come together in a moment of transformation on the water:
I began to have strange sensations in my body, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I choked back tears that came out of nowhere. I thought about the extreme fortune I’d had over the two-week journey thus far, and how I had come to an uneasy truce with these waters.
Suddenly I felt that I was part of a much bigger thing; that this unfolding trip was a part of a much bigger thing. Perhaps more expansive than just myself in a kayak on the Inside Passage, I sensed a timelessness about it, an internal feeling of free-floating like something magical was carrying me through on this adventure, a feeling that I thought I could ride into eternity. I felt profoundly protected, as if angels were watching over me. Tears slid down my face and mixed with the sea water on my cheeks. Layers of selfishness were washed away and replaced with a heightened sense of gratitude, humility, and awe. – p. 118
That’s pretty big stuff. But even catharsis is just part of this book. It’s also interesting to read about Susan’s prep work for the expedition: how she puts together her food, how she trains, what she uses for gear. She had the great good fortune to be coached by her mentor Jim Chester, and to be able to use Jim’s charts, annotated by himself as well as Audrey Sutherland over previous journeys. The campground chores and the navigation requirements provide a structure, an anchor that grounds Susan in the mechanical universe as she explores her inner world.
After reading Susan’s story, I hiked up the mountain behind my house. As I walked it began to rain. Hard. My socks were too thick for my shoes and I thought I might feel the pain shortly. Then I thought about Susan putting one paddle blade in front of the other kind of like my feet pacing one in front of the other. Even though my little two-hour hike was nothing compared to just one day of her trip I thought, I’m not turning around. I’m going to finish this hike no matter how hard it rains, because it’s what I set out to do. I need this hike. I’m not cold, I don’t mind getting wet, and if my foot hurts I’ll turn around. Lo and behold, my sock didn’t bother me and even though I got wet through, my house was nice and warm when I came home and I was happy. That very day some of the lessons from Susan’s experience applied to my everyday life. Courage. Determination. Commitment. And yes, you’ll be protected and it will be all right. We can dance in the rain.
In the end, Susan rises to what she calls the “biggest challenge for all humans”, that of becoming comfortable with the conditions of the mind in the face of unfolding reality. On the sea, as she points out, this could mean the difference between life and death. In fact, this could mean the difference between life and death on land as well. Regardless, we all know how unfolding reality throws nasty curve balls. The layers of civilization and technology belonging to the 21st century make us feel safe, although we’re really not any safer in the urban jungle, perhaps even less so. When we peel those layers away to where there’s no interface between us and Nature, we can start reconnecting with our sanity, and with the world, our true mother, which is immeasurably comforting. So I like the way Susan’s story takes her individual journey and makes it relevant to the reader on many levels. I think Inside is magic, and I’m no end grateful I got to read and review it. Check it out!
You can purchase Inside by Susan Marie Conrad by going to https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Womans-Journey-Through-Passage/dp/1935347578/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479492233&sr=8-1&keywords=Inside+by+susan+marie+conrad
by Barbara Kossy and Nancy Soares
Editor’s note: Thanks so much to Barbara Kossy for her thoughts on this topic and for the great photos of Elba. And thanks to her and to everyone I’ve paddled with at Pillar Point for all the great memories!
Barbara: There’s an obsession with bucket lists, bagging peaks, hiking every mile of a trail, crossing a continent, as if life were quantifiable, and the only things worth doing are those we’ve never done. When I started kayaking I wanted to paddle everywhere, every mile of shore and every crossing. I’d get frustrated paddling the same old routes in San Francisco Bay, even with its more than 275 miles of shoreline. I wanted every trip to be a fresh exploration.
Nancy: The advantages of paddling the same place over and again are huge. The place is always the same, but the experience is always different. Whether it’s an exotic destination like the Island of Elba or somewhere close by, it’s good to get to know at least one spot on our water planet really well. For me, it’s partly a safety issue: I feel safe at Pillar Point because even though my worst crashes and most startling experiences have happened there, I survived. Consequently I know all the bail outs, and because I’ve been there in all conditions I feel like just about anything could happen and I’d be able to deal.
I started kayaking with Eric, and where he went I went, which at that time was mostly Pillar Point in Half Moon Bay and Sniveler’s in Moss Beach. It was all surf and rock gardens, and I didn’t know how to handle either. I just wanted to live to see another day. Paddling the same place over and over, I got to know Pillar Point particularly well, and got to be a better paddler. But when Barbara started kayaking she took off for foreign shores, travelling to the island of Elba where she met Gaudenzio.
Barbara: Gaudenzio—when we first met in 1996 I saw him as remote, handsome, married, and aloof. And my Italian was rudimentary. I thought he was a snob. I was wrong. How could I have known we’d be friends for 19 years? He later told me he had been shy, not wanting to bother me because he didn’t speak English and he didn’t want to embarrass himself.
They said, “Gaudenzio will take you around and show you the island by land and sea.” Oh no, I thought. This will be bad. But it was the start of an enduring working relationship. I explained how Americans like to have maps and have a pre-trip briefing, and he showed me how to debone a grilled sardine. He taught me the Italian for spray skirt, paraspruzzi, and demonstrated his expertise at predicting squirrelly Mediterranean weather.
Flash forward two decades and dogs were bigger breeds. The chandlery sold mostly clothing and there was new gelato place that was really local and organic and great. As I walked the embarcadero road by the harbor in Marciana Marina on Elba, I was sure I was on a Star Trek holodeck. The sun warmed sea washed beach stones.
Twisted tamarisk trees lined the street, the same fruit and veggie vendor opened her shop. Aldo, from the fancy restaurant up the street now managed the hotel dining room. The same, but different.
Nancy: Back in California, the last time I was at Pillar Point, I introduced my partner, Robert, to kayak surfing. I thought Pillar Point would be a great place for Robert to experience more active conditions. I felt comfortable taking him there since the harbor makes for a safe spot to launch and land, the jetty provides protection on the paddle out as well as a fun place to ride the swell, and the lagoon provides a safe place to encounter waves and currents, reef and rocks. And then there’s surfing, which can happen any number of places depending on the day.
Barbara: Half Moon Bay isn’t half of anything.
For the past 18 years I’ve done most of my paddling in one ever changing place, Half Moon Bay. When I first moved here I’d head off on solo adventures to Drake’s Estero, Tomales Bay, Monterey Bay, Elkhorn Slough. Eventually, I moved my kayak to the waterfront Half Moon Bay Yacht Club. Car topping was no longer required. I became lazy. I dove deeper into my local waters.
Launching regularly from the same beach I met local paddlers and we developed a regular weekend paddle. We explored the same waters every week, learning the reef configurations in high and low tides, in calm and not so calm conditions, in fog and rarely heat, through bird migrations and feeding frenzies, red tides, and jelly fish blooms. Sometimes the adventure of the day was the expanse of the connection with my paddling companions through recountings of divorces, romantic interludes, investment opportunities, baby’s first steps, empty nests and addiction recovery.
We sighted mola mola, blue whales, Pacific whitesided dolphin, porpoises, sea otters, Steller’s sea lions, California sea lions, fur seals, minke whales, and humpback whales. Swimming pile worms, dense flotillas of jelly fish, comb jellies, leopard sharks, bat rays. Rare birds including brown booby, horned puffin, and there was the day a hummingbird buzzed by a mile off shore. Flocks of shearwaters, common murre dads with their chicks, diving brown pelicans, so many birds. Mining the depths of familiarity.
Nancy: I love the expansiveness of Barbara’s experience both in Elba and at Pillar Point. She’s paddled both places extensively and gotten to know them well. She’s also formed a cadre of kayakers with whom to paddle. My own kayaking experience has been more circumscribed. I’ve always paddled close to shore and mostly in active conditions and so I’ve never seen the whales or the mola mola at Pillar Point, although I’ve encountered plenty of seals, birds, and once even a surfing porpoise inside Mushroom Rock.
This, for me, is a typical day at Pillar Point: the launch is always easy at the Yacht Club. Then there’s a nice little warm up paddling to the spit, where you can portage to the lagoon, or around the jetty to the same spot. Along the jetty I like to stay as close to the rocks as I can, allowing the swell to sweep me up and down and get a feel for the ocean. At the Point, I like to stop and observe the conditions for a while, usually just hanging off the end of the jetty. Where is the break? Are there surfers or other kayakers? How exposed is the reef?
After some observation, I decide what to do. Even when the surfing is poor I’ll usually try to catch a wave or two just for the hell of it. Finding the break is always interesting because it changes all day long. For example, last time there was no surfing to be had in the normal spot, but waves are always breaking somewhere and we were able to catch some little ones inside the reef. After a while it switched around and we moved over to the new spot and caught a few more. It was a perfect beginning experience for Robert: small waves close to shore and not too shallow but not too deep. (Robert’s still dealing with mild shark phobia.)
Another thing I like to do is get up close to the rocks. It’s fun to get right up to Mushroom Rock, point the boat’s bow into the rock and practice holding position as the waves wrap around the column. There’s also the nefarious Slot, where you can practice running in and out if you’re brave, or if conditions are too gnarly, just point your bow out to sea and hold position. You can paddle all over the reef, practice breaking the wave barrier, and practice take-offs and landings on the beach. The beach is great for taking a break and having a snack. You can also paddle around the Point to Ross’s Cove, where you can find more surfing, in addition to the Boneyard (a place to avoid). Around the corner is also Flat Rock, where there’s still more surfing, and a big channel through the middle of the rock you can paddle through from end to end. Click on the above link to see the Neptune’s Rangers adventures at Flat Rock in fine video form and some great photos of Mushroom Rock and surfing.
Back when I was prepping for the Sea Gypsy Race my buddy Denise and I went out to Pillar Point at least once a week for eight months straight. We went out regardless of conditions; we didn’t even bother to check them. Our philosophy was that we didn’t know what it would be like the day of the race and we had to be prepared for anything. One time conditions were so rough we could barely stay in the kayak. We spent about 45 minutes swimming around by Mushroom Rock, repeatedly flipping the Tsunami X-3 and scrambling back in. I thought a lot about sharks that day. Another time it was so windy we had to paddle bent nearly double, paddles held flat to reduce wind resistance as we thrashed our way back across the harbor to the Yacht Club. Wind, waves, kelp beds, rocks, surf, and wildlife, Pillar Point has it all!
Both Barbara and I have learned to love the practice of kayaking the same place again and again. Barbara spreads it around by going to the Mediterranean each year and is rewarded by getting to know amazing people, making friends wherever she goes. She also gets to know the wildlife really well. I on the other hand have kept closer to home, and my circle of paddling partners is small, but over time I’ve come to know Pillar Point intimately. That place literally taught me almost everything I know about sea kayaking, and I’ll never get tired of going back.
Here’s a webcam for Half Moon Bay with a view of the harbor and over the breakwater to the ocean.
I know some of you have great Pillar Point stories. Please share your adventure below!