The largest tides of the year usually take place in the winter. One of these fell on a Tuesday this year and Geoffrey Smart convinced a bunch of us to take the day off to ride the ebb down the bay. If you time your trip correctly you can get an easy ride with the strong current pulling you all the way. This is supposed to be a fun and easy trip.
The weather didn't co-operate and the sky was cold and overcast when we met at China Camp in Marin County. There was a storm arriving late in the day, but we hoped to be off the water by the time it arrived. As we shuttled most of our cars down to Horseshoe Cove I watched the water and started wondering if the storm had already arrived. There was a strong wind blowing from the south, the direction of storms. I could see whitecaps out in the bay offshore from China Camp. But everyone was game to give it a try and we launched on time.
After only a few kilometers we paused at The Sister Islands to re-group. Two paddlers decided it was too much for them and turned to follow the shore to the ferry terminal in San Rafael. They planned to get a taxi back to their car. They could not turn directly north back to China Camp because of the strong current going south. We heard from them by VHF radio and knew when they got safely to land. The rest of us paddled into the teeth of the wind and crossed San Pablo Strait to the Brother Islands and then continued south towards Red Rock Island. As we passed under the Richmond / San Rafael Bridge, the wind got stronger and stronger. Everyone had trouble paddling into the wind and got very little help from the current.
I seem destined to be a slow paddler. I used to be able to excuse myself by blaming it on my slow plastic boat. But several years ago around the Hawaiian island of Kauai when paddling the same model plastic boat as Jamie Morgan, he always pulled ahead of me. I tried taking a forward stroke class and try to practice paddling efficiently. I thought my Baidarka (skin boat) would be fast but discovered that I could barely keep up with Roger Lamb in his Coaster, which is not considered a very fast boat. I was in my Coaster this trip which should have at least been able to keep up with some of the plastic boats. But as we crossed San Pablo Strait almost everyone pulled ahead of me.
The only person behind me was Marjorie Gilford, so I slowed down a little bit to keep her company. She was nervous in the weather and appreciated someone staying with her. She didn't believe me when I told her I would be the last paddler but for her. I tried to distract her by calling her "Dr. Gilford" and asking her medical questions. "Where does the cyadic nerve run, and where do I have to pad my kayak seat to prevent my feet from going numb?" But she didn't seem to be in the mood to be distracted. Everyone else landed on Red Rock Island and we were able to catch up with them there.
Almost everyone else was discussing how to abort the trip and get back to their cars. They decided to duck around Point Richmond and call a taxi. I was ambivalent about continuing. It looked like it would be a lot of work, but I felt that it could be done. If everyone bailed out I would go along. However, Fred Cooper really wanted to continue the trip and Bob Ostertag was willing to join him. I figured why not? So the three of us launched and went around the west side of Red Rock. The remaining kayakers went around the east side and headed towards Point Richmond. Us three adventurers headed into the teeth of the wind and waves to try to find Raccoon Strait.
Through the haze we could not see Raccoon Strait or Angel Island. We headed towards the last hazy point in Tiburon that we could see and figured the island would become visible as we got closer. Strangely, the wind did not seem as strong out in the open bay as it did under the Richmond Bridge. I hypothesized that the bridge had funneled the wind down on us there and made the weather seem worse than it was. The water did have large chop on it and required that we occasionally brace to keep the kayaks upright. When I reported that to the others later, some of them were glad that they bailed when they did. But the three of us enjoyed the workout and made rapid progress across the bay.
Angel Island did eventually appear out of the haze and we turned to go down Raccoon Strait between the island and the Tiburon Peninsula. At the mouth of the strait there was a small but violent tidal rip raising up standing waves as high as 5 feet! I was able to catch several short rides on them! But this area was quickly passed and we found ourselves in calm flat water. We figured that the island was shadowing us from the wind and we would get pummeled by it again later. For most of the trip the wind had overpowered the ebb tide current, but inside the strait we could feel the current again. We could also see the water swirling around in places as it worked its way through the narrows.
The haze started to lift at this time but never got high enough to allow us to see the top of Angel Island. Ayala Cove on the northwest corner of the island looked like a half-submerged volcanic crater with seam rising out of it. We saw thousands of gulls clouding the air near the shore. The Golden Gate Bridge appeared and disappeared behind the haze. I expected to run into another tide rip on the other end of the strait but was disappointed. We were pleasantly surprised as we started across the last section of the bay to find that the wind was completely gone! We paddled from Angel Island to Yellow Bluff with mild breezes, mild chop and clearing skies! Too bad all those other guys did not join us!
Since we could not see the Golden Gate Bridge we cut across to the shore that we could see and hugged it towards Yellow Bluff. At that bluff is another infamous tidal rip and we were disappointed when we didn't see it. At first we figured that it was too late in the ebb tide and there wasn't enough current to create the "dancing water" of the T. The rocks and cliffs of the shore were covered with tens of thousands of gulls and the air was full of their cries. The herring have returned to San Francisco Bay and we figured that these gulls were here for the bounty as the tide sent down. Every once in a while a large number of them would lift off at once with a roaring sound. Fred heard another roaring noise and asked me if that sound was coming from the birds. I listened and realized that we were one point farther north than we thought and the sound was the roar of the Yellow Bluff tide rip! We were not too late to play in the rough water!
The biggest mistake I had made on this trip was forgetting that Geoffrey Smart had my clothes in the back of his truck at Horseshoe Cove. I wanted to try to get there before he caught his taxi ride back from Point Richmond, so I didn't want to spend too much time in the tide rip. After only a few rides around the merry-go-round, we turned around the last point and landed at Horseshoe Cove. All the other cars were still there, so those of us who decided to do the whole trip had found the quickest way to cross the bay! A taxi did arrive a few minutes later, but that turned out to be the two kayakers who had landed at the ferry terminal in San Rafael! The taxi from Richmond didn't arrive for another two hours! We could have spent a lot time playing in the white water if we had only known.
I gave up waiting for my clothes and had Fred drive me to my car back at China Camp where I put on my gym clothes. My wallet was with my clothes in Geoffrey's car so I had to borrow money from Fred to buy dinner and later to buy gas for my car. The missing kayakers forgot they had my stuff and decided to go to a different restaurant than the one I thought we had agreed on, so I had to go home and return for my stuff several days later.