I scheduled an open ocean rock gardening trip for this weekend. This is a risky thing to do. Not because I think the ocean is too risky to paddle but because the weather at this time of year is likely to prevent us from going out at all. I had several alternate days and figured eventually I would be able to do the trip I wanted in the coves north of Jenner. I told everyone interested in the trip that I would cancel if the swell was larger than seven or eight feet. The swell calmed down to seven feet the night before but the prediction was for it to start back up again by morning. When I woke up the swell was over ten feet. I had managed to discourage almost everyone the evening before. Unfortunately one paddler, Dave Martin, got up early and started driving down from Fort Bragg before I could call him to cancel. Maryly and I went out to Russian Gulch Beach to meet him. Instead of trying to do the trip as planned, we lead Dave down to Bodega Bay to do a trip in waters that I felt more comfortable in on a medium to large swell day. We went to Campbell Cove while Roger Lamb went to his usual launch spot on the other side of the channel. Roger was ready before everyone else so he paddled out into the ocean ahead of us.
When we made it into the water and out past the end of the jetty Roger was a small spot on the ocean that we could only see when he was on top of a wave. We paddled out to meet him and he didn't seem to know that we were coming. He paddled farther and farther to the north and I finally called out to him as he got close to Bodega Head. I told Roger that Maryly wanted to go behind Bodega Rocks and we turned to head back in that direction.
Actually, I didn't know if Maryly really wanted to go behind the rock, but I remembered that she had been sorry not to go there the last time she was out here. We went back into the bay and around the waves breaking over the reef. As it turned out, Maryly was reasonably comfortable near the breakers and in the choppy water this time. We paddled as close as we wanted to the rock and actually saw a sea lion surfing in the breakers! Roger says that he often sees sea lions doing this and that their numbers seem to be less this time of year than other times.
We went back out around the breakers again and headed for the open sea. As we passed between Bodega Head and Bodega Rock the waves rose up pretty high and made good on the NOAA report of ten foot swell. But as we paddled farther out to sea the swell calmed down again. Just because it was there we decided to paddle out and around buoy 12 about a mile offshore. This buoy has a wave powered fog horn that is a pleasure to look at and listen to. The mechanism was made out of brass and copper that had a wonderful green patina running down it from the weather and salt water. For some reason these off-shore buoys always remind me of the video game Myst. An ancient machine in a lonely location making continuous mournful, if pleasant, sounds.
We paddled back the Bodega Rocks and Bodega Head. As we started through the narrowest part three power boats zoomed through moving almost as fast as the waves! This is a place where power boats often get in trouble. The correct way to approach the harbor is to go south of buoy 12, around the south side of Bodega Rocks, and approach the jetty from behind the protection of the rocks. A kayak has a few more options and may be a safer vehicle in large waves. You can balance on the side of a wave large enough to roll over a larger more dynamically stable boat. If your kayak does roll over you can roll it back up or get back in before the next wave. Fortunately none of us, the kayakers or power boaters, had to try out any of these options.