Full Moon on the SF Bay, October 15th, 1997.

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Every Wednesday evening after work there is an informal meeting of BASK people to paddle in the San Francisco Bay. Every other week they plan to paddle from Point Molate Beach and the inbetween weeks they paddle out from the Emeryville Marina, so you have to contact them first to find out where to go. I was going to be in the Bay Area, so I called Sid Wolf and found out they were meeting at 5:00 PM on this Wednesday. Since I had a 4:00 PM meeting I told them not to wait for me. Sure enough the meeting ran later and later and I finally made it to the Emeryville Marina after 7:00 PM. The "regular crowd" was just returning as I set up my equipment. I talked to Sid about the conditions and decided to do a solo paddle by moonlight. The harvest moon (the first full moon of fall) was just rising and would cast plenty of light to paddle by.

I paddled out of the marina and hugged the shore around the end of the artificial point. I crossed over past the end until I got to the corner and looked back down the far side of the marina. On the far corner there was a Chinese restaurant and a few people fishing off the shore. I didn't notice the fishermen until I started back and tangled myself in one of the fishing lines. Sid had told me that the boats in this neighborhood have to stay inside the harbor channel because of shallow water. So I paddled diagonally out towards a set of channel markers. I watched a few sailboats motoring down the channel into the harbor. I waited at the red marker until the channel was clear then dashed accross to the green marker. Then I felt perfectly safe paddling accross the emty water towards the Berkeley Marina.

Paddling out across the bay I was ringed by city lights in almost all directions. The light came towards me at a shallow angle and the dark sky reflected a dark clear circle of water around me. This created the illusion that I was paddling in the bottom of a hole or dent in the water. From the Berkeley/Emeryville shore came the quiet roar of cars on Highway 80/880/580. From the south came the sound of cars on the Bay Bridge crossing over to Yerba Bueno Island. I considered paddling to that bay island. Unless you count driving accross the Bay Bridge through that island inumerable times, I have never been to Yerba Bueno.

With the beautiful moonlight to navigate by, I figured I could paddle accross to Berkeley, out to the end of the long Berkeley Pier and back. This pier once ran kilometers out into the bay to get to water deep enough to run the ferries. A trolly ran down the length of the pier to bring people to and from the shore. These days it is apparently cheeper to dredge channels in the mud to get boats closer to shore. None of the ferry boats come to Berkeley at all any more, you have to go to Oakland to catch one.

Only the first short section of the old Berkeley Pier is paved and maintained now, as a public park and fishing pier. This section is well lit and I could see if from a distance. As I got closer I could see the old abandoned sections of the pier farther and farther out into the bay and turned to follow them. I felt perfectly safe kilometers out into the bay here, because no-one in a powered boat would risk getting so close to all the old pier-posts jutting up out of the water here. Big sections of the pier were missing, with just a few piles sticking out of the water, and other sections still had the tattered remains of the cross-beams between the piers. I would see a large section of this ahead of me and think "Well that must be the end". But when I got past it I would see some more scattered posts and another section far off in the moonlight and have to paddle another kilometer or two out into the bay.

Far off accross the bay I could see the Golden Gate Bridge which had a row of flashing red lights close to the water. One of these lights separated from the rest and rose up into the air as I traveled forward. This turned out to be the warning light for the end of the pier at last, almost five kilometers from shore! I paddled around the end and started back down towards Berkeley.

With the lights in front of me the trip back to the maintained section of the pier seemed to take much less time than the tirp out. I was soon looking up at the fishermen and strollers on the pier. I stopped and let an eddy current from the rising tide push me slowly away from the pier as I studdied the distant shoreline through binoculars. I could not recognize the entrance to the Emeryvile Marina. Against the bright lights of the Richmond Bridge I could not even find the red-and- green lights of the channel markers I had paddled through an hour ago. I headed for my best guess at the harbor entrance and paddled back across the shallows. As I got closer the channel markers separated from the bridge to my right and I adjusted my course when I could see where the entrance really was.

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Mike Higgins / higgins@monitor.net