I made the mistake of looking at the wave data this morning. It was very good: 3 to 5 foot swells with little wind. I had to get up early to drive my bus to the shop (mechanical problems with the front end) and could not go kayaking. It stayed clear and calm outside all day while I was working and could not get away. Finally after 6:00pm I headed for the beach. It was still sunny at home and starting to get windy, but the fog was already coming up the Russian River valley. The fog turned into a low overcast at sea, with great visibility near the water and no wind to speak of. I went to Goat Rock to explore some rocks close to shore that I have always paddled around in rougher weather.
I put the full wetsuit and jacket on, in case I got dunked while getting through the breakers, in case I miscalculated going around a rock, and because I figured that wind at home would soon come up at sea. But the waves were mild and I got in the water with no problems. Instead of going out to the tip of Goat Rock, I paddled south parallel to the beach through the middle of the area usually full of breakers and surfers. A few surfers had moved to the southern most end of Goat Rock Beach, where there were meager breakers a short distance out. They waved at me as I went by. This turned into a great trip, an unexplored area close to home. The mild waves allowed me to paddle behind almost every rock, sometimes within 10 meters of the beach and much closer around the points. There are a lot of big rocks just off shore between Goat Rock and Shell Beach, and it was a fun rock garden to paddle around in. The point that blocks off the south end of Goat Rock Beach had several caves through it, too small to paddle through in any weather. I had observed this area from the cliffs some time ago while hiking on the Kortum trail, and it had looked interesting.
I have always ignored Shell Beach as a place to launch from or land at, since it is a rocky area with usually rough surf. Just a place to turn around at on other trips. But this trip, I came upon Shell Beach BEHIND most of those rocks, and a landing was easy. I landed just to add the spot to my list of beaches. There was a very sheltered spot behind some of the rocks that looks like it might be navigable even in rougher waves. I also landed because I had been seriously overheating in the jacket, dunking my arms in the water and trying to get some of it to run down inside the suit. On the beach, I took off the jacket to cool down, and decided to do the return trip without it. I would be going farther out to sea, taking fewer chances, and working harder to zoom back faster. I had gotten in the water at 7:00pm. With all the time spent exploring the rocks and dodging waves, it was 8:00pm already and a half an hour until sunset. I got back in the water and went just a little farther south to go behind the last few rocks before the rock garden ended. The last big rock is one that Marty had noticed from the road once: it emitted a geyser of spray as we drove by. I've watched it several times since, from the road and from the water, and it is always doing this. Getting real close this time, I could see the deep cracks in the seaward side that trap the water as waves come in, jetting spray straight up meters above the top of the rock.
I headed back, and was surprised how long it took to get back past Shell Beach, after "just a few more rocks". Instead of going way out to sea, I went just outside the outer row of rocks. This still gave me a nice view of the cliffs and the Kortum Trail area, and I got to travel close to a big rock every so often. There were bluish stripes in the sky in places, and I kept hoping the sun would peak out. A few vague areas turned orange, but the overcast was too thick to make the sunset noticeable. When I got close to Goat Rock, I headed out to go through the arched rock again. Sea gulls came out to meet me as I approached and flew around me calling. The waves were so mild, I could travel along the outside of the rock only a few meters away. As I turned the corner to go into the arch, a row of brown pelicans watched me from the top edge of the rock. I slowed down and enjoyed the view of the rock. I drifted into the middle of the arch and stopped there to enjoy the craggy surroundings and to look up at the arch. I spun the kayak around in the center and let the waves push me back and forth through the arch. I didn't even think about taking the camera out. It was not bright enough for it, but I knew that it could not do this fantastic view any justice. The only thing that could record a glimmer of how wonderful it felt to be there would have been an Omnimax camera mounted on my head. As I went in and lingered inside the arch, the gulls were still spinning around the rock and calling. When I finally came out the other side, the gulls were replaced by a large number of pelicans. I'm not sure if I scared them off their perch, or if these were new arrivals to land for the night. It was still bright enough for them to see where they were flying, so I didn't feel guilty about disturbing them like I did one time here at night. I was probably inside the arch during sunset, and there was still an hour of scheduled dusk. I spun around outside the arch and enjoyed the craggy rock, tilting my head back to watch the birds fly over.
I eventually headed back to shore, going close to the beach where breakers usually keep me away. I came at my landing spot at a sharp angle, expecting a large wave to break and push me sideways up the beach. Instead, a medium wave surprised me, broke, and started to tip the kayak over. But before it could finish tipping over, the kayak hit bottom while traveling sideways! This I never expected. I was dumped out on the sand and figured the kayak would catch the wave and slam into me. Fortunately, the returning water and shallow beach trapped the kayak where it was. I untangled myself from the safety line and got out of the way before the next wave pushed the kayak ashore. I suppose this is a good landing by definition, since my face never got wet, but in this mild weather it sure could have been a better landing!