Maryly planned a kayaking birthday for herself and invited a bunch of people in BASK to come spend the weekend at my house. At first a bunch of people were interested in going on a paddle out of Stillwater Cove. After 18 people signed up, Maryly started telling people that the trip was full. (Fortunately not all of those 18 were planning to crash at my house). Then as the day approached a series of storms came in and whipped the ocean into a frenzy. A few days before the weekend the swell was as high as 23 feet at the Bodega Buoy! When December 1st arrived the ocean calmed down to only 12 foot swell. Only 3 other hearty souls (besides Maryly and I) showed up. John Somers, Jenning Gee and Jamie Morgan. They drove up the evening before and stayed at my house to get an early start in the morning.
But looking the evening before at the forecasts for wind in the morning convinced us to sleep in late. Instead of getting our early start we stayed up late talking and soaking in the hot tub, slept in late and took our time with a large breakfast. Maryly says that an important lesson she has learned from me is to always go and look at the water. Despite the current conditions or forecasts, when you actually show up at the beach and look for yourself you often discover that things are not as bad as they sound. This was true on this day as well. It had rained all night long with strong wind shaking the house. But when we arrived at Stillwater Cove the wind and rain stopped. The 12 foot swell was difficult to see because the ocean was choppy. It looked like launching at Stillwater was possible and the deep water channel there would let you paddle out to sea. There was a raging river where the creek normally disappeared into the sand and we would have to ford this to get to a good launch spot on the remaining beach.
However, Maryly decided not to launch. Rather than leave our birthday girl on the beach the rest of us agreed to go with her to several other nearby beaches. First we went to Fisk Mill Cove where there is a lookout on top of Sentinel Rock. From up there we looked (straight) down at the waves breaking on the rough beach where Sid Taylor and I both broke our boats one day earlier this year. Then we walked down to the beach and looked at the waves from down on the ground. Any way you looked at this beach it was a bad place to try to land or launch on this day.
Next we went to Stump Beach to look at the launch possibilities. We happened to arrive an hour before one of the lowest tides of the winter and I had never seen the water so low on this beach. There were tons of bull kelp piled a half a meter thick all the way up the beach and against the cliff. We figured that the 23 foot swell a few days ago had ripped up the kelp beds and thrown them this far above the water. Without doing an extensive search we found a few dead animals littered amongst the kelp; a large octopus, a pelican, and a sea lion. Stump Beach had a long soup zone so it looked like a kayaker could get out into the water and have quite a bit of fun here getting tossed back and forth in the waves. But at the mouth of the channel leading to this beach, the waves were rising up and breaking with terrible force. We did not think it would be possible to paddle out into the ocean from here.
The early winter sunset convinced us to leave the beaches before dark. The evening festivities included stopping at my house to dry some of our clothes out, doing some yoga exercises, soaking in the hot tub, going out for a fantastic dinner at the nearby Sizzling Tandoor restaurant, and more soaking in the hot tub.
When a bunch of people were interested in paddling with Maryly this weekend and she had to turn people down, she told them to join us instead for a paddle in Bodega Bay on Sunday. The five of us got up reasonably early, had another big breakfast and drove down to Bodega to meet any other hearty souls who might show up. Nobody did. The wind and rain had not been as bad Saturday night as it had been on Friday night, but the swell had picked up to 17 feet with a forecast to get as high as 23 feet again with 20 knot winds. We should have taken the opportunity to go paddling out of Shelter Cove the day before!
As we were driving down to Bodega, we pulled off at Duncans Landing to look at the huge waves breaking through the Crack in the Hogback. While we were there, a dark wall of clouds approached us from out at sea. It was a squall line, with strong wind and pounding rain! The water on the other side of this line was white with mist beaten off the water by the rain and the clouds blocked out the light from the sky as they roared over us. We ducked back into our cars and continued on to Bodega Bay.
The squall blew past and when we got to Campbell Cove the Sun was shining. The cove and the mouth of the jetty were practically dead calm and there were not many whitecaps outside in the bay. We took down our kayaks and got dressed to go paddling. Jenning was in my Coaster and I was getting re-aquatinted with my Necky Narpa. The last time I paddled in this boat was in Baja loaded with camping gear. I was surprised that I could still remember the difference when the boat felt incredibly buoyant and high out of the water.
At the base of the outer break of the jetty there is a low spot in the rocks. I have dragged my sit-on-top kayak over this low spot to avoid paddling in against an ebbing tide. The tide was so high today that Jamie, John, and then Maryly were able to wait for a wave to break through this gap and then paddle their kayaks out the shortcut. Jenning didnít want to risk my fiberglass boat there so the two of us paddled the long way out the jetty. Along the way waves occasionally broke and washed over the top of the breakwater! At the mouth of the jetty waves rose up and broke around the end, giving me a side-surf ride. Jenning stayed in the center of the channel and avoided this sort of fun. Out in the bay we turned into the waves coming from the west and paddled to catch up with our friends.
Jenning was uncomfortable in the waves and wanted to turn back. I called Maryly over and she tried to talk Jenning into hanging around in the rough conditions for just 15 minutes or so. But after a few more minutes Jenning had enough and turned around. In my maneuverable Coaster she turned quickly and started making tracks back to the jetty before Maryly and I could get our long boats to turn. Maryly and I cut close to the mouth of the jetty and turned in while Jenning made a wider turn. The wind and waves blew her past the entrance but Jamie paddled over and talked her back against the wind. He directed her to paddle up close to the breakwater to try to get out of the wind behind it.
The wind was really blowing strong across the jetty and there wasnít much shelter behind the breakwater. I paddled slowly and held position until Jenning caught up with me. Maryly took off up the channel and ducked under the protection of Bodega Head. We saw her talking to some fishermen when we got closer. One of the fishermen had snagged a cormorant with his fishing line and had been unable to get it free. Maryly had tried to catch the bird and untangle it but of course it had attacked her. I was surprised at how close the bird let me get and considered trying to untangle it myself. But Maryly and the fisherman shouted out to cut the line and being the only man nearby with a knife this is what I did. The bird immediately dove into the water and disappeared. I hope that the hook comes out on its own soon.
Jenning offered to return my Coaster to me but I wanted to get some experience with my Narpa kayak. First I practiced a few rolls to make sure I could get this boat back up easily. Rather than go the long way out the jetty Jamie went through the shortcut gap in the breakwater. The tide was going out and this gap was not under water any more. Jamie grounded on a rock and had to wait for a wave to come and bring enough water to paddle the rest of the way out. Then the water dropped about a meter and I had to wait a long time before two large waves came and lubricated my passage through the gap.
We paddled across the bay and through some rough choppy waves to get behind the Bodega Rocks. We were able to get very close to the rocks and hang out in a relatively calm area. On the outer side of these rocks we could see the 17 foot swell rising up and breaking. In the calm inside water, dozens of sea lions rose up to stare and bark at us. We wondered if these guys were stuck in the water, waiting for conditions to calm down enough for them to land and rest on the rock.
We worked our way across the rough bay and over to the end of Bodega Head. John and Jamie hung out close to the cliff and caught a few surfing rides. They turned back and went along the shore while I tried to surf the wind and waves directly back to the mouth of the jetty. The skeg on my boat was jammed, and with no-one to help me push it down I had trouble getting the kayak to point down the waves. Another squall line came in as I approached the mouth of the jetty. The strong wind and rising waves held my boat sideways and I side surfed past the breakwater and then sprinted inside to find a place out of the wind.
I waited for John and Jamie to paddle around the breakwater to join me but John appeared inside the jetty! He had waited for a big wave to provide enough water to surf through the gap at the base of the breakwater. He said that Jamie was getting banged around outside and would have to go the long way around. But while John and I were practicing rolls and rescues, Jamie suddenly appeared inside the jetty and beat both of us back to the beach!