It was a difficult launch. There was a wide soup zone which made it easy to get in the boats and lined up to get through the surf. However the impact zone seemed extra wide and the waves breaking there were often quite large. As I entered the impact zone my new spray-skirt blew open and my boat filled up with water. I was using a new skirt because my old one was very tattered and patched in many places. At first I tried to snap it back on and proceed but eventually there was just too much water in the cockpit. I surfed backwards back onto the beach and pumped out my boat. Fred launched next and disappeared through the surf first, so we assumed that he had a relatively easy time. (He says otherwise). John got help launching from a surfer who said that he had been trying unsuccessfully to break through the surf all day. He wanted to see how we did it. Under the theory that my skirt blew open because I had not put it on right I was very careful this time and checked it thrice. However, as I plowed out through the surf the skirt came partway off again. I managed to spear through a large wave and saw a window in the impact zone so I paddled hard and made it out to sea anyway. This was not made easier by my water bottle, which came out from under my deck bungies, hooked over my paddle shaft on the left for a while and eventually settled down to drag on its lanyard in the water to slow me down. When John and Fred finally saw me blasting over the last few waves, they immediately turned south and started paddling away. I didnít have time to pump the water out of my cockpit for hours.
As we paddled south the surf along the Pismo Dunes looked even worse, with big waves dumping directly onto the sandy beach. There was no way we could land early on this stretch and still be able to get back off the beach. The big waves arrived in a large swell that rolled under us from the west. The angle of the swell bothered me. The prevailing swell is supposed to come from the northwest. Point Sal normally offers protection from this but not as much protection from a west swell. At one time we paddled into a thick bank of fog and lost sight of shore. This would make keeping away from the breaking waves close to shore difficult. Fortunately this turned out to be a tendril of fog sticking out of the valley at the San Louis Obispo / Santa Barbara County border. Once we passed it the air cleared up again.
Late in the day we passed Mussel Point. This point should provide some protection from a northwest swell, but Konstantin and I had noticed that it looked very rough when we paddled past. Fred wanted to try landing here before the Sun set but I held out for the known and hopefully protected Point Sal Beach. The sun went down before we even rounded Point Sal. By the evening skyglow John lead us through the offshore boomers of Point Sal and into the calm waters behind the point. Fred was wearing his prescription sunglasses and says that he rounded this point after full dark. He had the choice of wearing the glasses and paddling in the dark or taking them off and not being able to see. Another bit of poor planning: Knowing that we were launching this late we should have had night gear ready. Just inside the point here there is a large rock and it was covered with barking California sea lions. This was a big rock and they were all over the top of it, perhaps fifteen meters above the water! It must take them all day to climb that high, I wonder why they do it?
I could still see Point Sal State Beach by the skyglow and set my sights on a spot that I thought was the place Konstantin and I had camped here a year ago. When I got close to the breakers I stopped and talked to Fred. I suggested that I would land first and guide everyone else in with signals from my flashlight. I crept closer to the beach and tried to see what the waves were doing. Although this beach seemed to have a nice friendly soup zone it apparently also has a steep drop-off first. A large wave rose up over the edge of this and tried to burry the nose of my kayak in the sand. I resisted, broached (used the wave to turn my boat sideways) and braced into the wave as it broke onto me. I kept my boat upright but the wave blew out my spray-skirt and filled the cockpit with water. Then my boat rotated and surfed backwards. As usual when surfing backwards I flipped over upside down. In the dark I waited for a long time for the surf to calm down a little and then I rolled the right-side up again, a combat roll in the dark! I dragged my heavy, waterlogged boat an insufficient distance above the surf (it came loose and tried to get back out to sea by itself a little while later) and dug into my day bag for my flashlight. Another little bit of poor planning. Knowing that we were launching this late we should have had lights readily available.
John didnít want to wait and made his own successful landing behind me. The evening skyglow was still reflecting off the waves and I could see what they were doing. Using flashlight signs that I invented on the spot and which Fred figured out instantly, I signaled left-and-right that he should wait. Then when a large wave started to go under him I signaled up-and-down that he should go. Fred followed the large wave in, zoomed over the impact zone, surfed the next breaker and made a perfect landing. We had landed in the wrong part of the beach but John found a high sand dune to camp on above any fear of the high tide. I discovered something that I hate more than camping in the sand: Setting up camp in the dark on a sandy beach. Without being able to see the sand, you get it on your gear, it rubs off on your wet hands, then off onto whatever other gear you managed to keep clean. Fred suggested that there wasnít time to cook a meal and he was going to live off a few granola bars. I insisted that we boil water for a hot meal. Afterwards everyone agreed that it was welcome after a stressful day and would be fuel for the next day, which was planned to be a long hard one.