Rat Rock to The Sisters, March 11th 1996

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I paddled from McInnis Park to Rat Rock in San Pablo Bay one day last year, and I was interested in completing the rest of the coast to another pair of islands. On that trip, I noticed I was paddling along another park for most of the shore. This turned out to be China Camp State park, named after the colony of Chinese immigrants who used to live in the cove here. The immigrants used to fish the shallow waters of the bay for grass shrimp as an export product. Apparently there were several factors competing to close down this colony: As the bay was developed the habitat for grass shrimp dwindled, and the settlers were also hassled by one of those recurring waves of anti-immigrant racism. Sort of like the one we are having now, but a little more blatant. The buildings left behind by the settlers are now historical monuments in the park. I parked my bus behind these buildings ($3.00 for day use parking) and got my new kayak ready to go.

This was a rainy, windy, overcast morning, but since I got up early with Marty I had a few hours I could spend kayaking on my way to work. China Camp is practically on the way to work from Berkeley, so it was a good place to stop. I figured I would be paddling into the wind most of the trip, so if the weather got really bad I could just let it blow me back to my car. The tide was going out, but was due to go slack in a few hours. If I was out that long, there would be no current to hinder me on the way back.

First I paddled a few hundred meters north to circle Rat Rock. Then I paddled past the end of China Camp State Beach, and finally past a little city park that has tennis courts near the beach. All along this shore there are picnic tables on well maintained grassy parks, overlooking rocky points sandy beaches or marshy areas with birds. I would highly recommend this as a picnic spot to anyone, even if it would be a little bit of a drive to get here. But past this last park, the shore instantly turns from park land into an industrial park. There is a noisy facility that loads rock and gravel onto barges, and it was at work as I went by.

I passed The Sisters islands as I went around Point San Pedro. I had considered paddling farther and visiting the Marin Islands again. But as I came around the point I turned into the full force of the wind. I looked over several kilometers of whitecaps and decided I would rather get to work earlier than fight my way over that. So I turned back to The Sisters. These are two rocks sticking out of the water on the west side of the narrow channel connecting San Pablo Bay to San Francisco Bay. I had first seen the Sisters when exploring The Brothers, two rocks on the east side of the channel. The Sisters were covered with cormorants this morning, and I started out with the intent of giving them a wide berth. But as I went around the far side of these two rocks, I ran into a tidal rip current. The tide leaves San Pablo Bay later than the rest of San Francisco Bay, and this was probably the maximum current today through this channel. It was not a very strong tide, and the current was under 3 miles an hour according to my Tide Log. But there may be another submerged rock underwater here, because there was a small area of standing waves where the current really seemed to rip by. I turned to paddle back out of this as fast as I could, and ended up going very close past the East Sister island. The cormorants didn't seem to mind me getting so close.

The trip back to China Camp was uneventful and relaxing. After the heavy rain showers while I was unloading the kayak and getting into my wetsuit, it stopped raining for the rest of the trip. The sun came out several times from behind the clouds, which were running past quite fast in the wind. I probably could have left the wetsuit jacket behind, since I didn't even need it as a raincoat.

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Mike Higgins / higgins@monitor.net