This is the one area that I have probably spent the most time paddling, and October 9th is just the most recent one. October 9th is when most of the description comes from, but I'm combining other trips this time. The first time I tried out my new kayak, I put it in the Russian River at the Jenner boat ramp. The original plan was just to try it out in calm water, but the water was so calm that being in a wetsuit seemed way overkill. So when I got to the mouth of the river, I just kept on going out to sea. This was no problem for me, but it upset the harbor seals sleeping just inside the mouth of the river. Half of them jumped back in the water as I went by, so I resolved never to go out this way again. When I came back in I wiped out on Jenner Beach north of Goat Rock, to save the seals the stress of seeing me paddle, and slid the kayak over the narrow spit to the river.
Going north from the Goat Rock parking lot, I have to paddle past the long sandy beach between Goat Rock and the mouth of the Russian River. Just north of the river there is a rock garden: A huge area with lots of rocks sticking up out of the water. It's usually pretty calm in there and fun to paddle around and between all the rocks. Every once in a while a large wave somehow manages to come through but they don't break until near the shore so it has never been a problem. The last big rock in this area has a warren of caves going through it. There are at least five entrances (three of those come together inside). One of the entrances has a row of jagged teeth in it so I've never been tempted to go through that way. I have been tempted to go through some of the other caves but the last time the tide was right, there were a hundred Gray Pelicans basking in the sun on one side of the rock. Even going way around the rock, so far I was in danger of getting caught in the breakers, a bunch of these pelicans got too nervous about me and flew off. If I suddenly popped out one of the caves near them the rest would be sure to take off. No, I'm not scared to go in that cave, I just don't want to bother the birds! That's the ticket!
After passing this rock, there are two nice little coves with a rocky point between them. The point has places where the water surges through, and one of these is a crack with a little tiny sandy beach at the end of it. The water looks like it turns and goes back out there, and it looks deep enough not to get caught in the breakers, so I paddled in. Sure enough, just after I get too close to the beach for comfort, I can make a 90 degree turn and paddle straight out to sea through another wide crack! While I'm at the corner there, there are rock walls towering over me almost on all sides, with the water surging all around.
One of the rocks north of Jenner has a crack in the back side of it that is almost wide enough to kayak through. Actually it is more than wide enough but it has a shelf of rock on the right hand (shore) side. This shelft was above water on the troughs of the waves this morning. This rock is very close to shore, and besides the crack, there is no way closer to shore to get around it. I watched it from the south side and thought that I could get through there if I waited for a large wave. I went out to the sea side of the rock and looked past it, it looked like there was fairly calm water where I could pause out of the large waves. I came back to the crack and waited for a large wave, then started forward just behind it. I was apparently premature, since when I started forward behind that wave, the water pulled rapidly and deeply back OUT of the crack. This is a bad sign, as it means there is another LARGER wave following the low trough. With the water out of the crack the shelf was exposed again and I could not proceed. Sure enough the large wave came surging behind me and we started through the crack again. Unfortunately the rock shelf caused the wave to rotate seaward and pull the kayak close to the rock on the way up, then roll it over on the way down. I was thrown over to the right, and tumbled underwater.
I could not tell which way was up and had time to wonder why my life vest didn't seem to be pulling in any particular direction. Once before, out of the kayak while trying to land in heavy breakers, I was impressed that the pull of the life vest was strong enough to lift my head above the breakers faster than the water rose. Soon I knew which way was up because I came up underneath the upside-down kayak. My thought at the moment was: "It figures". I pushed the kayak out of the way, back in the direction we came in, and got my head above water. I noticed that I still had the paddle in my hands and started wondering how I pushed the kayak so far, because it was at the limit of the cord attaching it to the paddle and thus to me. I swam to the kayak and had trouble holding onto it upside down in the next wave. I groped underneath and grabbed one of the seat straps and saw another large wave coming. With my left hand holding the strap underwater and one hand over the keel (still upside down) I started to ride the wave back into the crack. I began to wonder if I would be better off without the kayak pulling me back in there but my weight allowed it to ride over the top before we got very far. I got it turned over and pulled myself into it: Facing the wrong way. I paddled a few strokes anyway, since the stern was pointing out. There were no more large waves coming so I turned myself around and then turned the kayak around.
My hat had been ripped off in the water and I could see it sliding in and out of the crack like a jellyfish. I've had this hat a long time and the more weather-beaten and disreputable it looks, the stronger my attachment for it becomes. (That scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones reaches back under the falling wall to grab his hat, that's not hyperbole). I considered abandoning it rather than go through the crack paddling one handed while reaching for the hat. But while I caught by breath it came most of the way back out by myself. I was able to get close enough to scoop it up. I paddled out from between the rocks and noticed that it took a long time for my breathing to return to normal.
Then I realized that I had also been wearing my sun glasses and they were lost forever. I had put them on without a neck strap just to look through an arch into the sun's reflection a few minutes ago and forgotten to put them away. The trip back with the sun in my eyes was going to be uncomfortable without them. This was a nice pair of "fisherman's" sunglasses that were polarized. They really let you see in glare better and they cast a bright purple sheen on some objects. Many times I've looked at a puddle or a car windshield and said "Ooooh! Pretty!" and caused Marty to do a doubltake.After failing to see what I'm exclaiming at, she figures out it's the glasses, and either asks to borrow them to see the pretty, or stalks away in disgust. Past the next little cove there is a cliff that has a cave in it. The cave seems to split just inside and go right and left. Despite my recent troubles, I backed in here to see where it went. In the southern direction, it closed down and didn't go anywhere. To the north was a very high arch which was just wide enough to paddle through, which I did without incident. Around the next point is Russian Gulch, which has mild waves and is another easy place to get in and out of the water.
This trip, when I got back to Goat Rock, there were 3 power boats running back and forth a lot closer to the shore that I was. I wondered if it was a Coast Guard search for a missing surfer. But when I got to the Arched Rock, one of these boats was just outside the land-facing mouth of the arch, fishing! They were friendly and asked me about currents inside the arch. I recommended that they not follow my example and not try going through it in their vehicle! One other time that I came in for a landing at Goat Rock, a surfer told me that I was very brave going out in the ocean like that. Later, I thought of a good snappy answer: "Your mother probably thinks surfing in between those rocks out there is pretty hazardous also!". But at the time, I just said something noncommittal. He said that just a few weeks ago, a kayaker was capsized by a great (mumble mumble) near here. I though he said "big wave" and said that was no surprise, I have been capsized by waves before. "No, I said Great White Shark". I started asking questions, like was she hurt, and was her kayak damaged, and did she make it to shore on her own power, but he backpedaled, saying that he had just heard about it from another surfer. This convinced me that he was just repeating an urban myth, but much later I learned that the incident actually did happen.