I scheduled a surf launch practice for Sunday morning during a not-so-low low tide. I announced it on the BASK email list and Sami Iwata (who came to the Lost Coast with me recently) was planning to come out. Unfortunately, the swell at sea rose up to ten feet on Sunday morning and I had to call it off. But a few hours later, Sami called back and suggested that we go to Drakes Estero instead. We met at Johnson's Oyster Company at 10:00 AM and headed across the Estero towards the opening.
Unlike many BASK paddlers, Sami insisted on paddling close to shore and not going straight across. (This is my favorite mode of kayak travel as well). I had to talk her into coming far enough from shore to look at an oyster rack. Unfortunately, the tide was rising rapidly and the racks were already mostly awash in water. The same rising tide created currents in places that we could feel fighting against the kayaks. But the wind was starting up and canceled out the effect of the current for the trip out. When we got to the opening of the Estero, the tide was already so high that the shelf of rock I have snorkeled off of was under water. Pretty rough waves came to shore and made it impossible to see into the water off our boats.
We made a calm and easy landing on the south end of the beach and sat around for our picnic lunch. I had an experimental abalone sandwich based on a poorly remembered recipe: I placed two shelled and cleaned (but not pounded) abalone in a pot the day before. Two cups of vinegar and two cups of water were poured over them and brought to a boil. Then it simmered for four hours. This is supposed to tenderize the abalone so it can be sliced like lunch meet. The result was not tender. It has a texture (and vinegary aftertaste) that reminds me of Japanese pickled radish, but quite a bit chewier. There is an abalone taste underneath, but once I started thinking Japanese I thought it tasted like Japanese fish cake. The texture was not too bad, about the same as the bits of abalone in Chinese abalone soup. (Now I know how they prepare that). I sliced it and tried making a sandwich out of it and brought it in my lunch. Sami tried a bite and said that it tasted like chewy tuna fish. I replied that was the mayonnaise that gave that impression.
We had planned to go surfing in the waves breaking over the sand bars in the mouth of the estero. But as we walked around on the shore looking at rocks after lunch, a strong wind came up and chilled us down. I'm always more conservative when I am cold. Getting wet seemed like a foolish and uncomfortable thing to do so we decided to forgo the surfing this trip. I did have my helmet and the top of my wetsuit with me, so I could have warmed up my bravery. Sami agreed to try one scary thing before we left: To paddle out one side of the offshore sandbar and try to find a channel back in on the other side. This turned out to be a little more scary than I had planned. We had to go pretty far out into Drakes Bay, run across the gauntlet of an area where large waves sometimes broke, and had trouble finding a clear channel back in the other side where waves did not break. We almost ended up getting wet after all.
The wind came up strong and made the trip back a bit of a workout. We talked about efficient paddling strokes and Sami, who is an instructor for several kayak outfitters in the bay area, critiqued my forward stroke. I have had a paddle in my hands since I was 12 years old. The first one was two coffee can lids nailed to an old broom handle. So I always assumed that I had traversed the solution space to an efficient paddle stroke. But recently I have come to doubt the efficiency of my stroke. Like when Jamie paddled faster than me in the same make of boat in Kauai, or Max could paddle ahead of me to Pacifica when I was in a sexy Kevlar boat. I used to think the reason other BASKers could paddle faster than me was because I had a plastic boat to their fiberglass. But now I was thinking I needed to work on my paddle stroke. Sami watched my paddling on the long trip back to Johnson's Oyster Company. Apparently she feels my stroke isn't embarrassingly bad, but could use a little fine tuning. We made excellent time, working hard but feeling like we were always making progress into the wind. Of course we bought some oysters at Johnson's before we split up and went home.
We split up early enough for me to go talk to a bureaucrat, I mean a ranger, at the Point Reyes National Seashore park headquarters in nearby Bear Harbor. I had read, in a flier I got once from a ranger at the Point Reyes Lighthouse, that Limantour Estero was a marine reserve. I wanted to find out what the boundaries of this reserve were to find out if I had violated the law when I collected crab and scallops at the mouth of Drakes Estero, right where Limantour Estero ends. The bureaucrat in the green uniform (ranger) behind the desk was rude and short tempered with me. He implied that fishing was forbidden everywhere inside the National Park (I don't think this is true) but he never came out and said so. He said the offshore waters were controlled by the State and I should go read their regulations. He had never heard of the Estero de Limantour Reserve and did not have any literature on fishing regulations in the park, not even the sheet I had gotten from another ranger in the same park.
I went home and discovered that the State fishing regulations are on-line. (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/Title/d1_c4_a1.html) They are virtually identical to the dead-tree handbook that they give away, but it has an interactive index. This document lists all the marine reserves and sure enough the Estero de Limantour Reserve is mentioned and is completely inside the National Park boundaries. So which set of bureaucrats are in charge of keeping us out? My question about the boundaries is now answered, sort of. The Estero de Limantour Reserve extends to "a line drawn due north from the extreme westerly point of Limantour Spit". This puts the boundary to the east of the rocky reef I have collected crabs and scallops from. However, all the maps show this spit extending farther west, and even I vaguely recall that the mouth of Drakes Estero has moved since I started kayaking here. So this year it is legal to take crabs from the rocky reef, but next year it may not be. Or is there an Official Line drawn on a state map somewhere that freezes the boundary at the position of the spit at the time the regulations were written?
Have you ever wondered about the etymology (word for word origins) of the word "park"? I have made an interesting observation that should be of use to kayakers. I used to be confused by the illogical, interlocking and contradictory regulations about parking at various state and federal parks. I used to get upset when a ranger would not let me park a car overnight in Point Reyes while car-pooling. Or the time a ranger would not let me park my car overnight at my take-out spot unless I reserved a campground that I was not going to camp in. But now I have found a universal rule that explains all the craziness: The budget for all park systems are getting smaller and smaller every year. (As my taxes get higher and higher). They can no longer afford to hire park rangers to go out and look at the park. Instead they have the rangers check to see who is parked in the parking lots around the park. (Hence the origin of the word "Park" as in "Tomales Bay State Park(ing lot)" or "Point Reyes National Park(ing lot)"). Every evening at Point Reyes the meter maids, I mean rangers, drive around and give tickets to cars that are not associated with a camping permit. They do not have the manpower to walk into the campgrounds or patrol the beaches for people camping without a permit. They just assume that any extra cars they find are associated with illegal campers and hit you with a parking ticket. This is actually good news for kayakers. If you can find a place outside the park boundaries to leave your car, you can camp almost anywhere you want and will never be bothered by a ranger. Just don't camp too close to a parking lot.