I got a phone call from a new BASK member, Corinna, who saw my name in the newsletter too late to join us on the recent Dillon Beach surf launch practice. Since she lived in Santa Rosa I told her that I often do this at the nearby Salmon Creek Beach and we agreed to meet there on Sunday morning. Another BASK member, Frank, gave me a call. I often see him at BASK meetings but do not recall paddling with him unless we have been together at some large group paddle like the Mendocino Campout. He decided to drive up from San Francisco to join us. We all met in the parking lot at Salmon Creek Beach, suited up, and trudged over the dune to the beach.
NOAA was reporting large waves offshore this morning, a 10 foot swell. But the Scripps Institute California Swell Model was predicting much smaller waves close to shore. I expected the wide offshore sand shelf at Salmon Creek to break the large waves and make the near shore area mild. Unfortunately, the weather seems to have changed the shape of that sand shelf recently. There wasn't the usual mild area close to shore. It looked like there was a mild shallow area south of where the trail comes out, but we didn't feel like dragging the boats that far at first. The big waves were breaking far from shore, but then the water remained several meters deep (despite the low tide). Waves reformed and broke over a steep drop just off the edge of the sandy beach and made it difficult to get a boat out at the start. It was not the conditions I would recommend for a beginner like Corinna, but she plowed out over the breakers on her first try. I jumped into the water with my boat to follow her out, but then dithered about getting our boats close enough together to give more instruction. The water was reasonably calm to me between the far break and the dumping waves of the shore, but I feared that one of us would get surfed into the other.
Carena was fearless getting out into the surf but soon got rolled out of her boat. It went to shore without her and she followed after. I came in for a landing to talk to her and found out that she had no kayak training and hadn't even read up on it like I did several years ago. I gave here the talk about bracing and side surfing and then went out into the soup to demonstrate and came back in for another landing. Carena got back in the water and let the current carry her a little farther south to the soupy area that looked like the shallow shelf I had expected. She managed to get several side surfing rides. She walked back to tell Frank and I that it really was easier just a hundred meters down the beach and we should follow her down there.
Frank has a large heavy sit-inside fiberglass boat, so I offered my little Frenzy kayak to him. He walked out to look at conditions, watch me catch my first ride, then walked back to drag the Frenzy out when he was convinced he would feel like getting in the water. He did fairly well in it for a while but got rolled out of it and swam to shore without the boat about the time Carena came to tell us about the milder section of beach. The reason that our section of beach was rougher was probably because of a rip current running out to sea. When Frank swam to shore the Frenzy got caught in this. The waves tried to push it towards shore but the current was pushing out. The boat ended up hovering ten meters from shore, just the other side of the close dumping waves. He swam back out to get the boat and spent a long time rolling around in the water with it, trying to get back in to paddle it to shore. I had just come to shore after spending a long time in the water doing the same thing with my boat and I was a little tired. After I caught my breath I paddled my boat back over the waves with the intention of going to help him, or to just pull the boat ashore.
Just as I got in the water Frank finally got in the boat with the paddle in his hand and turned it to make a landing. So I kept going and went fifty meters or so from shore to try and catch a surfing ride. A large set of waves came in and knocked me out of my boat. I almost caught the first of these waves, but it hit with such force that I bounced halfway out of the seat. I tried to hold onto the brace with one hand and the boat with the other, but the boat rotated under my grasp and I slipped out. I really need to get thigh straps that work, or a seat belt that doesn't break, or a sit-inside kayak that I can't get bounced out of.
The next few waves were close behind and large. I held onto the paddle for a while and then the toggle on the nose of the boat. Several times I rolled the boat back upright but the waves kept knocking it over again. Several times I got to the point where I was tired enough to give up and swim the boat to shore. Then the waves would calm down and I would summon the energy to roll the boat upright and clamor back in again. Then the paddle would be out of reach at the end of the leash, or tangled under the boat and I would get rolled out again or surfed backwards out of control. One last extreme effort and I got everything to work at once. I turned the boat to shore and easily rode over the last break onto the beach. I discovered that the effort had taken a lot out of me and I had to lie down for a rest, practically dizzy from exhaustion. Perhaps I should not have skipped breakfast four hours ago.
After I had rested long enough to feel like getting wet again, everyone else was ready to quit. Frank suggested going on a calm paddle in Tomales Bay. He and Carena dragged their boats back across the beach to the dune trail. I decided that I would rather paddle my boat back up the beach instead of dragging it, so I hit the waves again. This time everything worked right on the first try. I launched over the dumpy breakers close to shore, paddled out into the choppy area, climbed over the big breakers when they came through, crabbed up the beach keeping pace with my companions, and came in for a controlled landing at the spot closest to the trail through the dunes to our cars.