We met at Crissy Field in San Francisco and headed out into the bay. The South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge is 300 meters from the shore. The plan was to get far enough from shore that we didn't have to work hard across the strong ebb current (over 5 knots today) to get to the tower. When we arrived the concrete base of the tower was plowing into the current like a boat going upstream. Water swirls around the back and creates a small pocket of water where you can rest a few boats. This is another reason for making this trip invitation-only: If too many people came there would not be room for all of them in the eddy. There were only five people this time and it seemed a bit crowded at times.
The game to play here was to let the current take you downstream a ways and try to get back to the safety of the eddy behind the tower. When the ocean swell is large this is supposed to be relatively easy because waves rise up in the swirling water. You can surf back up to the tower on days like that! Unfortunately we had a day with mild swells so the surfing was not good. Every once in a while a wave would give me a shove back towards the tower, but most of the time it was just a lot of work paddling back! The current created turbulent swirls of water that swung back and forth making this difficult. Sometimes the current would turn sideways and I would have to work hard to point my boat in the direction I wanted it to go. This would waste energy and I would loose ground and have to work harder to start moving forward again.
If you loose it there is an alternative to getting washed out to the Farralon Islands. If you turn south and paddle towards Baker Beach across the current you will eventually find an eddy current that runs back up the beach to The Bridge again. None of us had to resort to this. Since there was no surf, we all ferried across the current right under the bridge. By pointing your boat upstream you can slip it sideways across a strong current like this. Penny Wells and Don Fleming crossed over to look at the shore then came back again. With no waves to surf in the rest of us decided to ferry across and explore the shore down to Baker Beach and back. Penny and Don followed us and crossed the current three times.
We paddled along the rough rocky shore from The Bridge ducking behind rocks and daring the ocean to send us larger waves. When we felt we had gone far enough we turned back and let the eddy current pull us towards the bridge again. We had been a little concerned that it would be too difficult to paddle against the current around the south end of the bridge. Another worry would be waves breaking into the shallow water and preventing us from paddling in the calmer water between the rocks. But on this day we had no problems paddling against the current and into the next eddy on the other side.
But before heading home, John Somers and I ferried back across the water to the south tower again to see if things had calmed down any. I found some waves ripping up the south side and managed to ride them half way up the side of the tower. Then by working hard I was able to make it the rest of the way upstream and drift back down the other side. Now I can say I paddled around the south tower near maximum ebb! John saw another paddler near the tower as we started across but we could not see him anywhere. We were a little concerned that the easiest way to disappear that fast was to fall over and get washed out to sea. But the next day we ran into Steve at Horseshoe cove who says he had ferried across the length of the bridge and back and we had probably seen him on his way back.
Then John and I had to ferry back across and upstream into the eddy. We caught up with everyone else about the time they were landing back at Crissy Field. Penny stated that this trip had been just about the right amount of exercise. Then we retired to the Cliff House bar for hot drinks and snacks with a view of the waves breaking around Seal Rocks.