The next weekend of the novice clinic started out at a place called Chicken Ranch Beach on Tomales Bay. We did more T-rescue practice, navigation exercises, and a few short paddles across and up the bay and back. This was another camping weekend and in the afternoon we all drove down to the Olema campground for the evening. This brought us half way to Bolinas where we met the following morning for the Surf Launch Day.
The Novice Clinic is planned months in advance and the lead instructors knew what conditions to expect, at least in the case of the tides. The tide was flooding into the Bolinas Lagoon creating a strong current. The novices were instructed to tip the upstream edge of their boat up as they crossed the edge of the current and to ferry their boat (point the bow at an angle upstream) to travel straight across. I was assigned to wait downstream in and eddy and rescue any novices who's boats flipped over when hitting the current. This only happened once and I was able to quickly empty water out of her boat with a T-rescue and get her back in. The novices were working pretty hard to fight the current across the mouth of the lagoon. Some of them set a ferry angle too far to the right and practically stood still in he current working as hard as they could. When Master Instructor Penny Wells went across she made it look easy. She put on her best "demo mode" forward stroke and calmly paddled across the current without seeming to be trying at all.
Once on the other side we landed and started carrying our boats down the beach a ways to the area where we would practice getting in and out of the ocean through surf. Actually paddling out the mouth of the lagoon and along the shore would require surf skills that the novices did not have yet. Out of sympathy for them most of us instructors carried out boats as well until we were all hot and tired. Then a few of the instructors took pity on the slower novices and went back to help. Finally we had all the people and boats arrayed down Stinson Beach and we split up into groups.
We had almost enough instructors for a one-to-one ratio. I was paired up with Master Instructor John Dixon and three novices. John had us all jump in the ocean and play in the waves for a while to get comfortable with the water. Then we took the novices out one at a time and held their boats sideways to the wave while they learned to lean into a wave and brace into it. After everyone had a chance to get comfortable with this our group paddled out through the surf and down the beach to do a surf landing.
John went to shore first and stood with a paddle in his hand. When the waves looked good for a landing he raised the paddle high. This was the signal for the next novice to paddle for shore. They had been instructed to try and paddle behind a large breaking wave, and to broach and brace into a wave that broke behind them or on them. The first two novices made it OK. The last one was nervous about the surf and when she saw the signal she quickly started paddling but jumped in pain on the first stroke on her right side. She said that she felt something "move" in her shoulder. She rested out a few signals to proceed and I told her that she did not have to land if she did not feel up to it. But on the third repetition of the come-ashore signal she decided to start in and made a successful landing.
Once on the beach she described her shoulder pains to John and he decided to have her walk back down the beach. Jan Sommers had walked up the beach and she volunteered to paddle the extra boat back to the lagoon. We put the injured kayaker back in her boat and John towed her across and back to her car. When she got home and went to see her doctor about the shoulder, an X-ray showed a crack in the collar bone! She had actually pulled the bone apart with the strength of that one paddle stroke!
I waited out at sea and didn't find this out until later. John and the other two uninjured novices launched back out over the waves. Then we paddled back to near the mouth of the lagoon. Once there we discovered that the lowering tide had almost exposed a shallow shelf of sand with gentle breakers washing over it. We set our remaining two novices to trolling back and forth in this. Because it was so shallow it was a non-threatening location for them to practice moving up and down a beach in rough water. After a while the water got so shallow that there wasn't enough of it left to paddle in. However, it was about time to head back.
Now that the novices had their surf instruction, nobody was required to carry their boats back! Everyone got back in their boats and we launched out over the waves then turned back into the mouth of the lagoon. It was not a great time to be entering the lagoon. The waves were not too big but the tide was still roaring out of the lagoon creating a current to slow us and dancing water in places. In fact the conditions were similar to a the time I got knocked out of my boat and spent a miserable quarter hour trying to swim with the waves pushing me in and the current pushing me out. That experience convinced me to buy a sit-inside boat and learn to roll so I would never have to spend time outside my boat in surf again.
One of the novices, one of the ones John and I were instructing, got knocked over in this rough water and had to exit from his boat. He was in that miserable location where the waves push one way and the current the other and I did not think that we could get him back in his boat right there. So I threw him one end of my tow rope and tried to tow him out to calmer water. I had trouble tying a loop on my end of the rope and it took too long for me to get organized for this. By the time I started towing I think the current had already pushed us out past the impact zone. A couple other instructors came over to help and they decided it was time to get the guy back in his boat. While I struggled with pulling in my tow line, Eric Lee performed a T-rescue with the swamped boat and the swimmer slithered back inside. He slithered back into his boat so fast that everyone exclaimed how well he did that. His answer was "I've had a LOT of practice". Then we all paddled back into the mouth of the lagoon, fought our way across the current to the other side and landed for the end of a busy day.