My Dad was house sitting for some friends of his who own a house on the waterfront in Vallejo. This house is built on piers over the water looking across the end of the Napa River to Mare Island, across the Carquinez Strait, with a peek of a view of the San Pablo Bay. Dad used to do a lot of rowing in a dingy in these waters, so I offered to bring two kayaks down with me so we could paddle together.
I stayed in Berkeley Wednesday night, then dropped Marty off at work around 8:00 AM and made it to Vallejo by 8:30. We slid the kayaks down behind the house, then under the house on some slippery gravel. The ground didn't slope much into the water, but I gave one kayak a nudge and it slid all the way under the house and threatened to make it into the water and drift away. I convinced dad to put on a wetsuit, but he only pulled it up over his waist. I definitely insisted on a flotation vest and a hat to keep the sun off. Dad started first, and with my hat and my vest on in my old 3 meter kayak, I wondered if he would be mistaken for me!
We went northeast for a few hundred meters, so we could admire the other houses on the waterfront and so we could get to the narrowest point of the river here. Then we crossed over to the Mare Island shore. The tide was going out, with the peak ebb current not expected until 11:00 AM. But we could really feel the current pulling us sideways as we crossed the center of the strait. On the other side, we paddled down along and under the Coast Guard dock that sits right on the southeast corner of Mare Island. I had my marine radio with me, but it was inside the kayak under one of the hatches. However, for most of this trip we were in hailing distance of the Coast Guard. If we got in trouble, a radio would not be necessary since shouting would probably be just as effective!
Inside the Coast Guard's harbor, there was a pretty stretch of shore with sandy beaches and several great blue herons. We tried to paddle closer to shore but soon discovered that this beach has very shallow muddy shores. We had to pole our kayaks out to deeper water before we could proceed. We paddled around an old rotting wooden breakwater and across to an old navy pier. The pier was a very popular place for swallows to build their nests.
Around the tip of this pier, we had a view of most of San Pablo Bay, and a very long breakwater pointing southwest from the end of Mare Island. To find any more coastline, we would have to paddle kilometers down this breakwater and back. Dad decided that he wanted to turn back here, which was about what I had planned. I tried to talk him into landing at an enticing looking beach at the base of the pier we had just come around, but he didn't want to go to the base of the pier just to have to come back out to go back around.
We did find a shortcut under the pier near the end and cut straight back across the Mare Island Strait towards another old Navy pier on the mainland. Dad used to walk out this pier and fish off it, until someone built a bonfire on it and burned it down. Now the Navy has put up fences and declared it off limits even though the first half was concrete and still sound. As we paddled across the strait towards this pier, we felt the current pushing us sideways again. I worried about dad, fearing we could get pulled out into the really strong current going down the center of the Carquinez Strait. Across that strait I could see some tidal rip currents, so we might have been pushing the time of the maximum ebb current. However, we made it across with no problems.
We paddled down the pier and across in front of some more houses. As we paddled past these houses, the "Jet Cat Express" went by. This is a commuter ferry that runs across San Pablo Bay and all the way to San Francisco. As it came up even with the Coast Guard station, it really turned on the jets and roared around the corner heading down the Carquinez Straits. When we got back to the house dad is staying at, I suggested to dad that he should stop a short distance from shore, rotate his feet out in water a half a meter deep or so, and stand up from there. I know that his knees get very painful when he sits for a while, and this maneuver would give him time to stretch his legs. He asked me to show him, so I landed first.
As I was pulling my kayak out of the water, the wake from the Jet Cat Express hit the shallow water in front of the houses. It made a long train of noisy breakers that were surprisingly high, some perhaps half a meter. They made enough noise that dad and I could barely hear each other shouting. The water in front of these houses is very shallow, so these breakers started a hundred meters or more from shore. Dad had time to turn around, point his prow into them, and paddle out to slightly deeper water. I watched from shore, and considered joining in the fun. But I figured they would all be gone before I could get my kayak turned around and back into the water.
We had an early lunch in the house and while we were eating, the Navy blew up some obsolete bombs in the south end of Mare Island. Apparently these were stored in an armory here for years, and were now too old and dangerous to ship them to another location. The Navy is moving out of Mare Island, and so they are blowing up all the unused "ordinance" that they can't leave behind or take with them. We would hear, or rather feel, one of these bombs go off, then look out across the water and see the plume of black smoke rising from the end of the island. It looked like they were setting them off near that small enticing beach that I could not talk dad into landing at.
Farther up the Mare Island Strait there were three boats being disassembled for scrap metal. One of them was an aircraft carrier. These are the last ships remaining from the "moth ball fleet" the Navy used to keep here. When I was a kid, I got a kick out of looking down at all the boats and submarines stored here, whenever we drove over the nearby bridge on highway 37. Now there were only three boats left, and soon they would be torn apart and used for scrap. Dad and I decided to paddle up there on Sunday to paddle around an aircraft carrier, but the weather turned bad on us and we had to abort the trip.