I had scouted out the town of Bolinas the week before, while driving home up Hwy. 1 from a Marin County trip. I've heard a rumor that the citizens of the town of Bolinas would rather their fair town would NOT be on the map, and they remove any sign that the county puts on Hwy. 1 indicating how you get there. But I had my Thomas Bros. map, and was able to get there without a sign. The Brothers Thomas failed me when it came to the street map, however. The town has a grid of named streets on the map, but I failed to notice that half of them are drawn with dotted lines. This apparently means dirt road. Few of the roads had street signs, those that did were hand lettered ones by locals, and many of the streets are not even passable at all! It took me quite a while to find a path to the road that paralleled "Agate Beach Park", only to discover that the road used to be 50 meters ABOVE the beach on the cliff top. Used to be, that is, before cliff erosion removed half of the road. There is no way to get there from here. So back into warren of un-labeled dirt roads to find the other end of town where there is a large paved parking lot for the beach.
The beach is the southernmost tip of a large marine wildlife preserve maintained by some Federal Department that can afford to pave even parking lots! Golly! Just like the big city! The beach is weird, with a soft gray stone that has been worn flat at the low tide line by the waves, and extends way out to sea. The waves break over this continuous reef several times before making it to shore, so the waves are mild, but I may have to break through several layers of breakers to get out if I launch from here. Another strange feature of this beach is that this flat gray layer of rock has these rusty white stones imbedded in it that stick up out of the aggregate. Some of them look like plaster casts of human arms and feet, others like pieces of dinosaur bones. It would be fun to take a kid here and have them "identify" what each rock looks like.
When I actually arrived at Bolinas at about 8:30am with intent to launch, I got lost even on the paved side of downtown, and ended up on a street that dead-ended... in the ocean! It was a small park with a boat ramp (gate locked shut so only pedestrians could use it) just outside the mouth of the Bolinas Lagoon. There was a homeless person sleeping on the beach 100 meters from the ramp, a few meters from the highest waves. My TideLog said that the water would be a meeter higher by noon, but perhaps he will get up before his sleeping bag gets wet. (He was gone when I came back). So I parked the bus and walked through the first breakers and jumped on the kayak. A big wave started to break in front of me, but by leaning WAY back, I cleared it and LEAPED over the top without getting a face full of water!
It was a dark day with the radio promising scattered showers and a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. An earthquake had just set off tidal waves in Japan, but I figured with a top speed of 600 miles/hour, I didn't have to worry about that. (On the way home, they said that if there was a problem, it wouldn't hit any part of California before 3:00pm). It stopped raining when I got to town, and I was disappointed, as I had never been out on the ocean in the rain before, and was curious what it would be like. I had intended to go north so the wind and waves would help me home, but discovered that the wind was blowing almost due north. So I headed south to "have been by" the shore between Stinson and here, even though it was a large boring sandy beach.
There was a long low point sticking out into the ocean way past Stinson beach, and I wondered if that was Bonito point. But the clouds opened up above it and a beam of sunlight came down and illuminated a huge structure in the middle of it: Sutro Tower. I was seeing most of San Francisco from Bolinas Bay! The beam of sunlight marched up the coast, and I was looking forward to having it shine on me, but it turned inland and faded away before it came this far north. The wind got stronger and stronger until the whitecaps told me it was exceeding 20 miles an hour. I was determined to have been by the shore here, so I kept going with the prow of by kayak spraying water in my face. By watching the parallax of Stinson beach trees against the hills behind them I could tell that I was making steady progress. But when it started raining again, I decided that I was close enough to the life guard tower to claim that I had been by this part of the shore. Turning around, the wind and waves did in fact make the trip back short and easy. I was pleased that my felt hat cast such a large rain shadow on my shoulders that parts of the wetsuit never were. (Wet, that is).
I base a lot of my assumptions about the wind around here from some data I got from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) several years ago. They have machines all over the country that record the wind speed, direction, rainfall, visibility, ... dozens of weather facts recorded once every hour. You can order the data from them even in IBM PC compatible format! I got the most recent 5 years of data on wind speed and direction from San Francisco (the closest station) and did some analysis. With measurements once an hour, there is enough data to ask questions like, what is the normal wind speed and direction on an August afternoon? It turns out that the wind speed is a square wave: it's usually calm in the morning, and around noon it suddenly comes up and stays steady until just after sunset, then its calm again through the night and morning. Of course, around here it's almost always blowing in off the ocean. In summer, the average afternoon wind speed is much higher than in winter! I guess this makes sense if you think that the sun shining on the land is the driving force here, and there's more sun in the summer. Of course, winter storms have much stronger winds, but they are lost in the large number of average days.
But on this day, with the wind blowing very strongly from the south instead of the normal west, I started to see another potential interpretation of my data. When you average a vector quantity, vectors pointing in several directions can cancel out. So a 40mph wind going out to sea half of the time combined with a 50mph wind going inland will average to a 10mph wind coming off the ocean. Sitting out there in choppy water in a rising wind (this is called reality) I could not remember if my program had averaged the absolute value of wind speed or the vector wind speed. The worrisome thing is, although the data arrived as absolute speed separate from direction, I do remember combining them into the vector speed so that I could draw little arrows on the bar graph to indicate average direction. I had BOTH kinds of speed available to me and could have used either one. So I'd better go look at that program again before I spend more time out here in the winter.
When I got back to the boat ramp, the waves were crashing directly into it and were much higher than when I left. I determined to try and surf in, and not bail out this time. I rode in behind a big wave, and then my worst wave fears all came true at once: The first wave hit the beach and left me too far from shore to jump out, the returning water slowed me down to a complete stop, the inevitable larger-than-the-last wave broke behind me and picked up the tail of the kayak until its nose struck bottom. Instead of jumping, I held onto my paddle-cum-rudder to try and keep facing forward, and leaned backwards as hard as I could. The wave tipped the kayak farther and farther forward until I swear I was standing vertical, but then the buoyancy took over and we rose up over the breakers and slid up the beach onto the concrete boat ramp. No problem. Perhaps these waves are not as scary as I thought, and I should just try to ride them all in!