This trip was another wonderful trip initiated by Joan Wiener for BASK. It was called a whale-watching paddle, but we have to depend on the whales to paddle close to shore here for us to see them. Joan did the same trip last year, and I was unable to attend. Instead I read her trip report in the Bay Currents Newsletter and learned that they had seen a mother gray whale and baby swim by close to shore late in the day. I hoped that something magical like this would happen again this year.
We launched from Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes and Drakes Bay protect this beach from direct ocean swell, but there was a 20 knot wind that morning which had everyone concerned. The most attractive part of this area is the "Sculptured Beach" area south of Limantour, but then we would have to paddle back into the wind. The marine weather forecast was predicting that the wind would die down slightly in the afternoon so we decided to go for it. The waves looked intimidating from time to time but calmed down between sets and looked very accessible. I launched first and had bad timing. I ended up plowing through a large set of waves but made it with no problems, other than cold salt water blasted in my face. Paul, an excellent kayaker, launched next in a classic-looking Eskimo kayak. Later I noticed that although his boat was fabric stretched over a frame and had the classic kayak shape (including the hook in the prow), its frame was made of aluminum tubing. This made me wonder if it was a design by George Dyson, but I forgot to ask Paul. As soon as Paul got out past the breakers, he did a few Eskimo rolls to get wet and "get it over with". A little later I saw him surfing in the waves and doing his roll in the breaking water just behind a wave. This is how I know he is an excelent kayaker.
One kayaker, named Kip, said that he wanted to land on every beach and explore a little. I suggested to him that we wait for the little cave I have been in that leads to a sinkhole. I said that I would join him landing on that beach and Joan gave her blessing saying "You guys can land if you want to". So when we got close to the cave, I paddled closer to shore with Kip right behind me. I found a calm zone behind some shallow rocks and paddled within 3 meters of the beach. But when I looked behind me, Kip was several hundred meters down the bay, following the rest of the group. With no-one to share the cave with, I turned back to sea without landing. When I finally caught up, I asked him why he didn't come in for the landing, he said when nobody else looked like they were landing, he thought none of us were going to. Then he got some sunscreen in his eye and decided that the only thing to do was head straight in for a landing. We couldn't figure out what he could do for his eyes on shore that could not be done at sea. I figured someone should stay back and keep him company, so I paddled close to shore. Kip chose one of the worst places to land as far as I was concerned, a steep beach with large dumping waves. Originally I planned on just hanging out off-shore, but a window opened up so I zoomed in for a landing. As I hit the beach and stepped out onto the sand, another large wave broke behind me. I started to run around the front of the kayak to let the wave have it, but I tangled up in the paddle leash, fell down, and then got run over by the kayak when the wave came in. How embarrassing! Kip stood under a waterfall coming down the cliff and washed his eye out, then let me shove him into the surf for his launch. I waited for another calm window in the waves and made an easy launch.
I was looking forward to paddling through the arches in Resistance Point, but when we got there Joan called us all together and made us take a long detour out to sea. There was a colony of miures, those little birds that look like flying penguins, nesting on a big rock offshore from the point. Joan didn't want to disturb the birds and risk having their eggs break. She also thought that the arches looked too hairy and predicted that we would have calmer water on the trip back when the tide was higher. A few of us guys went back along the shore where the birds couldn't see us and looked into the arches. First Paul, then Kip backed into the first arch, then paddled forward across the central chamber to come out the next arch. I told Joan it was testosterone at work that made it necessary for me to follow them. It was pretty rough in there, and none of us went across the chamber and out the other side. We saved that for the return trip.
We paddled farther south to Miller Point, which has a collection of large rocks off-shore. The mild swell was rising up into huge breakers between these rocks. Joan turned and lead us towards shore before all the rough waves, behind the point, and to a beach with practically no waves. This is where we landed to stop for lunch. After lunch a few of us went for a walk to explore the beach farther south. When the tide is low enough, (it was starting to rise on us)it looks like you could walk down to Wildcat Beach from here. The sand was littered with polished pebbles: Many of them striped, some of them white quartz, a few a yellow translucent rock. Joan called these "Bolinas agates" and we each found a few favorite ones to take home.
On the way back we all approached Point Resistance together. One at a time people went in, but didn't go through and out the other side. Joan went in, turned around, and came right back out. I waited my turn, but Paul sat in the middle of the cathedral ahead of me and didn't leave. Finally he waved me to come in and join him, then we both sat in there and enjoyed the view until a large set of waves came in. As the first big wave came in between the two arms of the point it was compressed into a very steep breaking wave. We both managed to brace and keep from being knocked over, but I was surfed farther back and behind Paul. Since I was facing north by this time I started paddling towards the exit and out from behind Paul. Before I got very far the next wave came in and broke earlier and steeper than the first one. I managed to brace into it, got surfed way back towards the back of the cave, then tossed towards the north exit when the wave crashed into the back and reflected back. Since I was moving towards the exit I quickly decided to go for it and started paddling out this way. The water sloshed back and forth mightily a few more times and all the little side channels and cracks roared and sprayed water at me. I ducked my head as I was pushed sideways towards the sloping roof of the exit cave. But I soon found myself outside and safe.
During all this I had a vague impression of seeing Paul out the corner of my left eye behind me. I turned to see how he was doing and saw his kayak upside down in the exit cave. He tried once to roll up and failed, then came up a second time for a breath of air. I started to get the sinking feeling I was going to have to go back in there and help, when he tried again and rolled back up. The first thing he said when he came out was "Sorry about that" and when he explained later, he was apologizing for almost knocking my head off with the end if his kayak when that second wave hit. I was too busy bracing at the time to even notice. "Never Paddle Alone" my foot. I would have been safer by myself in there!
After that, Joan would have nothing to do with Resistance Point. She lead half of the kayakers the long way around the nesting birds rather than risk it. I went back to enjoy the view between the arms and sat just out from the place the big waves broke. Another large breaking set came through and this time I was correctly positioned to avoid them. I decided that things should be calm inside again for a while. I told Paul what I was doing, paddled into the central chamber and back out the north cave again. Paul and Kip went outside the point, but close enough to shore not to bother the birds. Taking this route we ended up far ahead of Joan and the rest of the kayakers.
Since we were so far ahead, we stopped to land at the cave leading to the sinkhole. All three of us landed a little south of it where the breakers didn't look too bad. The tide was high so climbing around the last rock to get into this cave was a little exciting. Inside the sinkhole, the topology was very different from the last time I looked in there. The large sand berm with the flat campsite on top of it had been washed out by the winter storms and there was a much smaller sandy beach inside. No way to camp in here now until the waves piled the sand back up again. The beach here was pretty dumpy and possibly difficult to launch from unless you timed the large sets of waves right. All three of us managed to do this, however, and paddled back out to sea with no problems.
The wind had in fact died down even more than predicted. We had an easy paddle back to Limantour Beach. Here we found that the high tide created less of a soup zone, with waves breaking close to shore. Most of us made pretty good landings, except for Joan. I didn't see the details but she had sand on her face when I came in for my landing behind her. Joan says that she has lost her confidence around waves, froze up, and failed to brace properly. Over coffee and snacks in town afterwards, we discussed what to do about this. Joan does not know how to roll her kayak, and plans on doing a wet exit and paddle-float rescue if her boat gets tipped over. I told her that I thought going out there in a sit-inside without a roll made her very brave: I would never consider it. However, if she had a "bomb proof roll" she would gain some of her confidence back. I think helping Joan regain her confidence should be a top priority in BASK. If it deteriorates farther the club will miss out on all the great trips (like this one) that Joan initiates!
As we were carrying all our equipment back up to the parking lot, we met a park ranger coming down to the beach. At first he assumed that we had been paddling in Limantour Estero and was upset. This is because the Estero is closed for the seal pupping season. When we told him where we had actually been he was impressed. Even more pleased to hear that Joan had made us give the nesting miuers a wide berth. Unfortunately we did not see any migrating whales on the whole trip.