The waves were coming from a more southern angle than usual, and breaking noisily against the north wall of the Stump Beach channel. But the south side was practically calm, and it looked like an easy access. I got in the water where it was a little shallow and it pulled out to sea from under me. My keel hit bottom and I ground to a halt. The next little wave came in and picked me up, after depositing a fair share of cold wet salt water, and I made it out to sea with no other problems. From the road farther south it looks like Fisk Mill cove and Stump beach are the same distance from the point that defines the start of Horseshoe Cove. But starting at Stump Beach did add two kilometers each way to the trip. It was after 1:00 PM before I started across Horseshoe Cove. I paddled directly to Rocky Cove and promised myself I would explore the coast from there back to Horseshoe Cove on the return trip.
Rocky Point had a big rock on the point, and two rows of rocks leading up to it. There was a channel between them that was almost navigable. The outside row of rocks had a row of large dark sea lions sleeping on it. On the return trip, the sea lions were in the water, but the tops of all these rocks were worn smooth and stained dark brown from the oil in the seal fur. When I got inside the cove, I could see cracks and little caves through the rock to the channel of water. The waves were pretty rough all the way into the beach, which was made of large (30 cm average) rounded gravel. These rocks made a wonderful throaty growling sound when the waves washed back off the beach. I landed and looked around. The shore was littered with abalone and sea urchin shells. What sand their was between the rocks was made of ground up shells. I collected a handful of polished pieces of shell for Marty.
I was pretty sure that this was the place called Rocky Point on the maps, but the next two points also had impressive rocks off of them. In case these were the real rocky point, I paddled north another two kilometers until I caught sight of the ranch above Fisherman's Bay and knew I had gone too far. It was 3:00 PM, this had turned into an 16 kilometer round trip and I was going to be late getting home. But on the trip back, I still slowed down to explore the rocky coast between Rocky Point and Horseshoe Cove. I went as close to shore as I dared, and turned to go behind one more row of submerged rocks at the start of Horseshoe Cove. These rocks were just at water level, and where far enough from the shore that the waves broke over them and lost a lot of energy.
Just as I thought I was past the last of these rocks and inside the cove, a HUGE wave broke over the rest of these rocks, (the ones I hadn't seen yet), and came at me. I started paddling parallel to it and farther into the cove, but saw that I could not paddle around the end of it in time. I turned into the wave and paddled as hard as I could. I my paddling brought me to an area of the wave that had not quite broken yet and I wondered if this was a good idea or not. When the wave hit me I raised my paddle over my head, only to feel the wave hit it a second later and pull it out of my hands. How can a wave hold this buoyant kayak under water so deeply and so long that it can reach the paddle held over a meter above the kayak? The kayak rolled over and I got tumbled into the breaking water. I had the sensation of tumbling over and over for a long time. Worse was the feeling that I was moving far and fast. This was not a good idea because I had started less then 50 meters from shore.
When the wave finally let go of me I looked up and saw that the kayak was already on the rocks upside down on the shore. Just as well that I did not stick with it. Two more of these big waves came. The next one was large enough to tumble me under again. The last one was weak enough this close to shore that I rode over it. In the relative calm, I had time for an insane thought: Since the kayak was already on shore, I would have to go there also. The insane thing is that, of course, I really didn't have any other options. Except maybe to swim 5 kilometers back to my car. My hat had blown off over the back of my head and was now hanging around my neck by its cord. The tumbling water had ripped open the Velcro pockets of my vest and removed almost everything, then closed the Velcro back again. Only two of the polished pieces of shell I picked up for Marty survived. My camera was swinging back and forth in the surf on the end of its line, and was probably responsible for the bruises on my arms. I put it back in the pocket to save me from more bruises. My sunglasses and my waterproof watch were gone forever. If the watch survived it will sit on the bottom of the cove for a long time. Beeping every day at 1:00 PM to remind the fishes to turn their radios on and listen to the Dr. Dean Edell show. I always meant to put that watch on a good safely line, but now it is too late to find the time.
The kayak had come to rest on a shore made out of boulders, around 1 meter in diameter each. As I swam for shore, I began to worry about getting smashed against the boulders and broken. Three more of those large waves came by before I got to shore, and I pushed into them and stayed mostly afloat. There is this wonderful feeling, totally unjustified I'm sure, that I got when my feet started to touch the boulders on the bottom under me. My hind brain was overjoyed to have its feet back on something solid again, even if for only a few seconds at a time. This gave me a burst of joy and energy every time it happened. My forebrain was predicting that my limbs would all get broken between these wonderful solid rocks if the big waves came by again. This gave me a burst of panic and dread every time my feet hit bottom. So all of us shoved for shore as fast as we could after the second set of large waves, before a third set could find me. I scrambled and slipped out of the water and made it up onto shore all in one functioning piece.
After I rested for a minute I had to scramble over a big solid rocky piece of shore to get to the kayak. I had come to shore 20 or 30 meters farther south than it did. It was all in once piece also, with the emergency kit hooked in the front and the wetsuit jacket in a drysack strapped in back. On this unseasonably warm day I had not wanted to wear the jacket, so I carried it in back the whole trip. The paddle was nowhere to be seen, but the cord was stretched tight around the next rock. I followed this cord with great hope, only to have it dashed when I found the frayed broken end of the cord jammed between two rocks. Without a paddle, I was walking back to my car. Paddling back would definitely be easier than dragging the kayak up the cliff to highway one. I have the pieces necessary to make an emergency paddle, and kayaking solo I really should have one with me. Next time I'll finish that project before I go on any long trips like this.
I walked up and down this rocky beach looking for the paddle. I had come to shore between the last two rocky points defining the edge of Horseshoe Cove. The two points created a little covelet, and had a gully going up the cliff that would make climbing easier than many other places. Just a hundred meters farther south, the water near shore was dead calm compared to where I was now, but of course I didn't exactly choose this spot. I climbed over the rocks in several places and looked down into the gaps: No paddle. From the tallest rock, I scanned the shore: No paddle.
A glint of blue the same color as my paddle handles caught my eye and gave me s surge of hope. But it turned out to be the blue plastic coating on a 12 LB diving weight. Jammed in a crack in the rock above the water line was a nice 30 LB diving weight belt plus the large blue weight that caught my eye. My favorite hypothesis is this: Someone lost these weights abalone diving here once, then someone else found them and brought them to shore. But dragging them back up the cliff was too much trouble, so they stuck them in the crack and left them here to come back for later, then never got around to it. The weights had been in the crack long enough to get half buried in dirt washing down the cliff, and in the sun long enough for the plastic coating to fade quite a bit. Every time I go diving with the belt I borrowed from Dan Leake, I hope to find another diving belt on the bottom of the ocean. I never expected to find my new belt on dry land but here it was. Since I didn't have a belt of my own, I determined to haul this one out with me, however I got out of here.
I gave up on finding the paddle and started hauling the kayak up the cliff. About half way, I kept slipping back down and getting my hands cut up on the sharp loose pieces of rock. I left the kayak there, where it would be safe from almost any wave, and went on without it. In my bus I had my vibram soled work boots, which would grip better on the rock, and I might not be quite so exhausted by then. From the top of the cliff I finally saw my paddle: A half a kilometer away and drifting slowly into Horseshoe Cove. I'll come back later and see if it makes it to shore on its own. I piled my new diving belt on a rock at the cliff edge as a marker and walked across the strip of ranch land to highway one.
I was wearing my neoprene booties with hard rubber soles, the farmer john of my wetsuit, my bright green flotation vest, and my dripping wet felt hat. A lot of cars drove by without slowing down and I assumed that; A) The people who recognized my outfit knew it would be wet and didn't want me to drip in their cute little 4x4 Explorers, and B) the people who didn't recognize it probably thought that the vest was some sort of gun hunting vest loaded with spare magazines and didn't want to be the next serial murder victim. I was wearing the vest partially because I feared I would need it to keep warm and partially to engender sympathy in anyone who spends a lot of time in the ocean and who would guess how it got here. It turned out to be 6 kilometers by road back to the car, and I had to walk a quarter of the way back before my sympathy trick worked. Joe Toback and his wife picked me up after making the correct inference about my getup, since Joe is also an ocean kayaker. I told them about my experience and exchanged email addresses with Joe so he could hear the end of the story. Thanks again for the ride Joe!
Fortunately, the key to my car was on the same cord as my camera, which had survived the rough water. I changed into dry clothes, boots, and started down the priority list. First thing was to drive a few miles farther away from my kayak so I could find a pay phone, call Marty and tell her I would be late. The danger is over. Then I drove back to the cliff-top and hauled the kayak the rest of the way up, gouging my fingers some more while slipping in the loose rock again. Next I went half way around Horseshoe Cove in the car and walked out to the edge of the cliff. From several different vantage points I eventually saw all of the beaches in this cove, but did not see my paddle. I scanned the water and did not see it still bobbing in the surf. The most likely beach had near vertical 100 meter cliffs where I was standing, and it was not immediately apparent if there was an easy place to get down to this beach at all. If it had been earlier in the day I would have found a way down there and walked the beach looking. But the sun set while I was squinting down at the rocks and I had to give up hope.
That was Sunday evening, and I had to drive Marty down to Berkeley so she could go to work on Monday. Monday I went to work on my way north and planned to go looking for the paddle on Tuesday morning. If the paddle was still out there, I figured no-one else would find it over a weekday. I invited my dad to come along and watch me paddle. We drove up early in the morning, around 7:00 AM, and looked from several beaches. Since I had last seen the paddle in the water, I feared that it could have drifted almost anywhere. So we stopped at Fisk Mill Cove and climbed Sentinel Rock. With dad's binoculars, I scanned all the shore I could see from up there and did not see the paddle. If we didn't find the paddle by looking from the cliffs, my plan was to get in the water at Horseshoe Cove and land on each of the beaches and look in person. I could get the kayak down to one of the Horseshoe Cove beaches on a trail I saw Sunday evening, probably made by abalone divers. From there I could paddle around the rocks to the beach with the vertical cliffs and not have to do any climbing. If it wasn't on this beach I would follow the current south into Fisk Mill cove, and then to Stump Beach if necessary. Dad would follow me in the car. But first we scanned all the beaches with the binoculars in hopes of seeing it from above.
I could see the rocky point where I had come to ground and the gully I had dragged the kayak up. Through the foreshortened view of the binoculars that "gully" looked as vertical as all the rest of the cliffs. Scanning the beach across from there I saw nothing until I was looking almost directly down. I saw a half a paper plate at the high tide line and wondered if that was one of the broken tips of my paddle. Then, in the same field of view as this plate, I saw the paddle! Even with binoculars it was difficult to see, and I had missed it on the first pass. I had been 200 meters (mostly up) from it Sunday night but could never have seen it in the poor light of dusk. It was a kilometer away from where I had landed but apparently still in one piece.
Dad pointed out a clearing around the cove where a creek was running out of the cliff. We went back to the bus, drove to this clearing, and looked down the gully that the creek had made. While dad sat at the top with a book, I scrambled down the rocks in this creek and easily made it to the beach. I walked half the length of this beach and picked up my paddle. It was still straight and still slipped apart and snapped back together at several feathering angles. It was a bit worse for the wear with lots of dings and dents everywhere. But I have my old friend back.
Dad asked me how much it would cost to replace a paddle and if it was worth all this trouble to get it back. But what was the cost of this recovery? I spent hours of quality time with my dad. We had a sunny morning exploring a beautiful stretch of shoreline. I discovered a few trails down to the beach that I can use to get a kayak into Horseshoe cove one day. I almost got to go kayaking, but decided to save that pleasure for a day when I have more time. All this would have been worth the monetary loss of the paddle, but I got that back in the bargain!