A Day (and Night) at Bracut Marsh

8 08 2011

If you paddle east from Daby island on the Eureka waterfront and around the east side of  Arcata Bay, you will come, after about an hour (at 3 knots), to  Bracut.  This “reclaimed” land at the edge of the Bay is mostly an industrial park and the former home of at least one construction supply store.  But, at the far end of this “island” between the freeway and the Bay, is 14 acres of reconstructed wetland called The Bracut Marsh Mitigation Bank.  I’m always looking for a new place to camp on the bay, so I decided on the Bracut Marsh for this last weekend.

After an early-morning paddle (I launched at sunrise to make the tide) I found the Marsh loaded with blooming wildflowers.  The many bird sounds were pleasant after the quiet of the open water.  I went straight to the tent site I had spotted on a previous visit.  After a cup of coffee I set up the tent and started to explore the area.

Inside the dike that surrounds the marsh is a tide-washed field of pickle grass with various other plants, some in bloom.  On the far side are small islands with other grasses and small trees.  On a sunny day, walking this would be great in bare feet- but it wasn’t sunny- I wore my Crocs.    I checked out the woods too, but not far, because the trails were few.

The day brightened in the afternoon with the sun poking out, and the tide was high again, so I paddled up to the mouth of Jacoby Creek about a half mile north of the Marsh and then just sat offshore in the small wind waves and enjoyed being on the water.   Then back to camp.

This camp out, I had the place to myself.  Very peaceful.  During my stay I saw two full tide cycles.  The water moves surprisingly fast on the mudflats of the bay.  The birds move with it, hunting for food on the water’s edge.  The freeway is close by, but the sound of the traffic was  not a bother.  After a brief view of the sun going down under the clouds, my sleep was undisturbed.

              The next morning started before daylight again, and I paddled the high tide two miles out to Sand Island, where I watched clouds of cormorants circle and half a dozen salmon clear the water to escape the seals.  Two more miles and I was back at the C Street dock and then back at home for coffee and a scone on the porch with Charlotte.

Mark





Camp Out at Baker Beach

29 07 2011

             After a couple of weekends of great day paddles out of Trinidad Harbor,  I decided to try a camp out on a secluded beach about a mile south of there.  So, I talked Charlotte into dropping me off with my kayak and gear at Indian Beach last Saturday morning.  I stowed my camping equipment and she left to paddle at Big Lagoon.   The day was sunny and windless, and the water was calm; the next day was supposed to bring even smaller swells.  The paddle to my beach, which Charlotte and I had landed on in the past, took about an hour (I was not used to paddling there alone- I had always been with a group).  Standing offshore, I chose my tent site and then landed in a ripple at the north end of the beach.  I fixed a cup of coffee and enjoyed being the only human in sight!

              The scene was wonderful!  Blue sky, blue water, and an empty beach.  I soaked it in.  Charlotte checked on me about noon with her VHF radio from Trinidad just to be sure that I had landed okay, then headed home.  A person showed up far away down the beach.  I took pictures and waded around in the clear water of the big tide pool in front of my camp site.  Another walker passed my camp.  I had lunch of cheese and trail mix.  By one o’clock there were people from one end of the beach to the other- most were naked and soaking up the sun.  A guy in only a T-shirt told me this was Baker Beach.

               Exploring the area on foot wasn’t easy after that, so I paddled the cove in the kayak for a while, then beached and took a nap.  Then, I sunburned my ankles just sitting around on the sand, so I suited up again and took a paddle close to shore, at high tide, up to the “slot” and back.  The fog had come in by then, but it was fun threading through the inshore rocks.   After that, and a few more photos, it was time for dinner and bed as it got dark.

              Morning was a trip.  After coffee and packing up the gear, Charlotte checked in on the VHF and  I was on the water before I knew it to meet her just offshore in the now choppy water.  We decided to go south to Little River Rock.  On the way back from a rough paddle down there, we bumped into a bunch of friends on the way past Baker Beach and back to Indian Beach.

Thanks Charlotte!   Mark





Crescent City 2/20/11

22 02 2011

Launching at Pebble Beach

As usual we met at Wilson Creek in the morning to see if a launch there would be possible or adviseable; it was not so we proceeded north to Crescent City and gathered at Pebble Beach. Conditions looked perfect and the weather was fine. There were nine paddlers in the group so it was easy to keep everyone in contact. After a short talk on the beach about the day’s plan we  launched through the small surf and proceeded out to circumnavigate Castle Rock and it’s adjoining reef just south of Point St. George.

Approaching Castle Rock

We circled the large island counter-clockwise. The northwest side was exposed to the swell and was pretty lively sending walls of water up the steep faces of the rock. Continuing around, a few of us ventured through the short tunnel into the large cliff ringed cove on the south side of the rock. This early in the year the sea lions were few and not overly concerned with our presence.

Brent passing the cove on the south side of Castle Rock

Checking out the cave passage into the cove

Playing around the rocks on the way south

We made our way south basically rock to rock playing where we could. Our goal was to land on a beach somewhere near the Battery Point lighthouse for a break then return closer to shore. The off-shore rocks around Crescent City are an ideal playground as they are out in deep water and pretty safe to explore. Still, one has to be careful. Mike Dedman decided to enter one lively passage between reefs and do a little roll practise.

Mike comes out grinning after his combat rolling clinic

From there it was in to Battery Point to look for a soft landing among the rocks near the beach. It takes a little weaving and watching but it’s usually possible to find a guarded beach and a clean landing here in reasonable conditions. It was nice to stretch out in the sun here and have a drink, a bite, and a pee then back into the boats for a return to the put-in, this time hugging the coast a bit closer.

Breaktime

This area is still not completely familiar to us so we needed to keep an eye out for surprise breaks along the way but we had an enjoyable paddle back to Pebble Beach and then a nice surf landing to finish it. Dave showed off by pulling a couple of rolls in the soup in his new wooden boat.

Meandering back north from Battery Point

A spectacular day on the water

Winding up an excellent day on the water

I’d like to thank the eight paddlers who joined me on this little adventure. It was another marvelous day on the water in an area we don’t get to explore very often. More photos should be available on the club’s photo gallery.

Michael H. Morris





Coast Guard Tide Rip – January 30

1 02 2011

Launching at the beach just south of the County boat ramp

The plan for this paddle was to go play in the tide-rip that forms just west of the main channel by the Humboldt Bay Coast Guard Station. There are some sand-bars here that set up a nice surf break during certain tide and swell conditions. The tide situation was pretty good (though the exchange was a little bigger than ideal creating a strong current). Unfortunately a large swell had arrived, something like 15ft at 17sec, which would make the surf a bit too powerful for the introductory session I had in mind for this group.

With a launch time of 1:00 we were all on the water by 1:10, pretty remarkable!

My co-leader, Helen, and I decided we would just paddle across and show people the break area and then do a nice paddle in Humboldt Bay. It was a glorious day, a continuation of our mid-winter stretch of summer weather. After a short talk on the beach about safety and technique we crossed the main shipping channel in a fairly tight pod practising our ferry-gliding skills to take us directly across channel to the play zone. The sand-bars set up a series of breaks as the swells enter the mouth of the Bay and wrap around north. The northernmost break is the gentlest and that’s where we headed. I suggested everyone just hold position outside the rough water (one can get very close to the breaking waves and still maintain position in deep, safe water) while I entered the rip to demonstrate what things were like. When I turned around everyone had jumped right in and were playing around in the small surf with gusto. Conditions turned out to be just right here with small fairly gentle waves. People were able to surf and practise bracing and side-surfing skills which is what this spot is perfect for. I  witnessed a couple combat rolls and we did a few rescues and performed a tow to assist a paddler against the strong current. All of these were good experiences for everyone involved I think. After about 45min to an hour we’d begun to tire and the rip had changed significantly with the decreasing water depth. Some of the crowd took a breather on the beach on the far side of the channel then joined the rest of us heading back to the launch.

Getting naked and drinking beer after the adventure

Considering the swell conditions I had not expected to get people into the surf zone that day but everyone was very game and they all dove right in. People were having a good time and some were definitely pushing their skills and getting in some great practise. I was really impressed with folks. It was great to see a lot of new faces on this trip. This is a great spot to play and work on boat handling skills as long as paddlers are aware of the dangers and have practised rescue skills and go as a group. There ought to be at least one tow-system included in the group kit in case someone needs assistance fighting the strong current that can set up. A VHF radio (and knowledge of how to use it) should also be carried; the Coast Guard is right there but won’t necessarily be watching to see if you’re in trouble.

I had a great time leading this trip and introducing folks to this fun little play spot. I believe the club will be holding another trip or two out here this year so watch the calendar.

Michael H. Morris

ps In all the excitement out there I failed to take any action photos. If anyone has any from the day (Marcella) please add them to this blog.MHM





Stone Lagoon Solstice Eclipse Paddle

22 12 2010

I don’t have any pictures to share for this trip but I don’t think they would do the paddle justice anyway so I’ll just write a little.

My hopes for this paddle were not exactly sky high as the weather forcast all week looked pretty grim. Still, skies were clear when I left Eureka around 7:00pm. I thought “Hey, we might pull this off after all!” Upon arrival at Stone Lagoon the cloud cover had moved in again and hopes had receeded but two paddlers were already unloading their boats so I guess the show was on regardless. More folks showed up and by  the time eight boats were on the water the sky was clear, the stars were atwinklin’, and the full moon was shining bright. During the crossing to the south end of the spit a stiff wind picked up from the SE. It must have been pretty substantial considering the short fetch because there were breaking wind waves and surfable waves, all in our direction of travel though so it just pushed us along.

The level of the lagoon was very high and my only fear for the trip was a breach in the spit. Upon arrival at the beach it was clear that high-tide waves were washing into the lagoon but there was at least a 3′ berm at the low spot on the spit. After landing we set up near the bluff at the south end of the spit. We built a fire against a perfect hearth stone. A few of us had brought tinder and a good supply of firewood (with so much rain I didn’t think we could rely on the flammability of the driftwood) and with the liberal application of some “napalm-in-a-tube” that Ed had brought and some leftover paddle shavings we soon had a roaring blaze going. Out came the chairs, tables, wine, beer, peanuts, and so forth and we settled into the eclipse count-down.

I had been led to believe that “things” would start happening around 9:30 or so but that mark came and went and there appeared no change in the brilliant full moon overhead. We continued to drink. 10:15 came around and still nothing! I was beginning to think this whole eclipse thing was going to be a bust. Then the cloud cover came in, the moon disappeared, and a light rain began to fall. Still the fire burned; still we valiantly drank on. Just to the south (from where the weather was coming from) it looked like the clouds were ending. At around 10:30 the sky once again cleared and there hung the moon with a dark bite out of it. A cheer went up. It was really happening. We continued to drink. As the fire roared we watched the moon slowly but steadily darken into a red disk. Just as there was but a sliver of still lit moon left to be shadowed the clouds once again closed in and we decided to pack it up and head for home.  We loaded the rest of the logs on the fire and left it to burn out on its’ own, a solstice pyre. The trip back across the lagoon was extraordinarily dark without the moon shining. About halfway along the skies once again cleared and there was the fully eclipsed moon surrounded by the dazzling show of now bright stars. By the time we got to the parking area the moon had begun to come out of eclipse with a bright crescent of light showing along one edge. It was a little after 1:00am. What a night.

Thank you so much to those of you who joined me on this outing: Helen, Georgianna, Celine, Mike, Maria, Ed, and JR. That was literally a once in a lifetime experience and it truly exceeded all my expectations for the evening.

Michael H. Morris





TAKS Trinidad 2010

27 10 2010

The fifth annual Traditional Arctic Kayak Symposium was held in Trinidad California over the weekend of October 15-17 this year. Helen Wilson and I were able to convince the organizer, John Peterson, that our area was a perfect venue for such an event. With camping and flat water at Big Lagoon and safe access to the various open coast features around Trinidad it seemed a good match. Many traditional paddling gatherings and symposiums emphasize rolling in calm flat water almost exclusively. The purpose of TAKS as I see it is to display the relevance of “traditional” skills and equipment to everyday paddling.

Gathering for a safety talk before friday mornings paddle

Friday the 15th began with many of us gathering at the campground at Big Lagoon. After the usual greetings and reaquaintances we headed to Trinidad for a paddle. The ocean was moderate and three people decided to launch at State beach. One made it out after a struggle, one was rejected and decided to launch at the protected site instead, and one was rejected but made it out on his second try. All three were surprised at what a difficult beach it was to launch from (yeah, we know). Gathering up at the beach by the boat ramp we all then headed south to explore the rocks and shoreline in the protected waters of Trinidad Harbor. Conditions were superb as the Head cast it’s swell shadow well south. We were able to rock garden with ease and a few folks messed with the pourovers and slots.

messing around at the split rock

 As we moved south it was obvious that past the protection of the Head conditions were considerably more challenging with waves exploding on the off-shore rocks and coastline beyond Baker Beach. Most of the group pulled ashore there for a break and snack.

lunch at Baker Beach

roll instruction in the harbor

We meandered our way back to the launch beach where Cheri Perry, Turner Wilson, Dan Segal, and Dubside lead groups in on-water roll instruction. By late afternoon everyone was pretty much ready to relax and head back to the campground to prepare for the pot-luck dinner. After a typically spectacular meal with way too much food we all gathered around the fire for the evening’s presentations. Dan Segal is a founder along with one of our other guest instructors, Turner Wilson, of the Walden Pond Scum, a group of traditional paddling enthusiasts and trainers and is a member of  the QAJAQUSA board of directors. He gave a wonderful talk and slideshow chronicling the path kayaking has taken from its Inuit origins to the recreational activity it is today. Mike Livingston, who drove out from Idaho for the event, is a native Alaskan and told of his involvement in the Culture Camps he has helped lead in many of the towns of his homeland. The camps are held to promote and preserve the cultural heritage and skills of the native Alaskans and include workshops on boat-building, food gathering and preparation, dancing, story-telling and more. Mike’s personal involvement in all this made for a wonderful talk.

Rolling Demo

Saturday the 16th the typically relaxed and fluid schedule began at the Trinidad pier with a group participation roll demo. Many of us watched from the excellent vantage of the pier where Turner called out rolls and kept up a patter. The rest of the crowd watched and participated on the water lead by Dan, Cheri , and Dubside. Dan and Andrew Elizaga demonstrated an assisted skinboat rescue which is a little more involved than a typical assisted rescue with higher volume bulk-headed boats.

the gallery on the pier

 A group of experienced paddlers looking for a little more adventure traveled north around the Head and played around Green Rock. I led a smaller group out around Flat Iron rock and then in to College Cove. Turner and Cheri, after some more roll instruction in the harbor, would meet us there shortly with more paddlers for lunch and then some instruction on surf technique. The Green Rock group also stopped in.

lunch at College Cove

 After the lunch break and before heading into the small surf Cheri and Turner gave a very good explanation of Greenland paddle use and how the technique differs from that of a Euro blade. I saw a number of light bulbs going off over people’s heads. Following some surf play we all headed back to Trinidad and then the campground to clean up and get ready for dinner at the Six River’s Brewery in Mckinleyville. Some idiot (okay, it was me) thought this would be a great venue for the group dinner and evening presentation. Unfortunately, it happened to be the night of the first game of the NLCS between the Giants and Phillies. The place was packed and unbelieveably noisy. Dinner was fine though and thankfully the game ended before Mitch Polling began preparing his talk. Still, the room was loud enough that he had to shout to be heard. About half-way through his talk the band started up with drums and thumping bass. Mitch gamely pressed on. Even with the distraction it was a wonderful presentation and slide show. Mitch grew up in a small Alaskan village where the last of the Baidarka builders still held on to their traditions and skills. It was heartbreaking to then hear how this town and its people, boats, and history were obliterated by the ’64 quake and tsunami. Only one traditional boat survived as it had been loaned out and was elsewhere at the time. Mitch has a wealth of knowledge of the history and boat-building culture of the area and it was a real privilege to have him come down from his home in Washington to speak.

boat building discussion at camp

Sunday morning is usually a matter of winding down, breaking camp, and saying good-byes. The schedule had “boat-building discussion” listed though and this ended up carrying through the morning and into the afternoon. With numerous skin-boats layed out at the campground Dan, Turner, Cheri, Wolfgang Brinck, and John Peterson all took part in an enthusiastic and detailed description of various aspects of these crafts and the paddles used to propel them. I know I learned a few things I will incorporate into my next builds/rebuilds. Once the last holdouts were drinking beer out of martini glasses around the campfire TAKS had pretty much come to an end.

I would like to thank all those who took it on themselves to help out at TAKS in various ways. I know Damon and Mike led some folks up the coast. Georgianna and Bruce did the same. Simeon and Marcia loaned a screen for the presentations. It was a lot of fun showing off our paddling paradise to people and I think everyone was pretty impressed if not envious. My feeling is that TAKS Trinidad was a success with a turnout of over 30 registrants. I think we put on a pretty good show and likewise, it was an honor to have TAKS take place here on our turf.

Michael H. Morris





ENC Club Paddle Sep 25, 2010

28 09 2010

Hosted by Ed S. and Mark L.

This was a combo club paddle and participation in the Annual Coastal Cleanup Day.  Location:  The Eel River Delta, with launch from the Pedrazazini Boat Ramp on Cock Robin Island Road. It was one of those confusing, warm and sunny mornings where we had to shed a couple of layers before actually getting onto the water.  So counting the extra last minute changes in attire, the launch was actually at 10:15am.  With barely a riffle on the water, this small but dedicated crew set out on their mission. 

Heading towards the ocean, the group combed the north bank picking up bits of metal, glass and plastic.  Marna & Sandy got right to it and hit the beach to free an old car tire from the sand while Mark and Carlo guarded the shore. 

 

We did hit one snag when we realized that the fossilized car skeletons embedded in the bank could not be plucked out with Marna’s hand held trash picker upper.  Fortunately before an emergency dozer call was placed, the local clean up organizer pulled up in a boat and noted that the cars had been there for several decades.   We asked where we could obtain more trash bags and were told to look for a boy on Crab Park Beach with a “red cow-dog” (hybrid?).  He then suggested that we cover both sides of the river, to which we agreed and thus changed the course of our paddle–we would not make it to the other side of Cock Robin Island on this day.

 

So while the group snacked and chatted on the beach, Charlotte and Gary, armed with his smoking-pipe, decided to do a trash bag run.  A light attempt at paddling against the wind to locate said person with trash bags and possible mythological creature was however cancelled before it turned into an odyssey.

On the return trip we covered the portion of Cock Robin Island adjacent to the boat ramp which was pretty clean. Back on land Sandy documented our trash findings on a “data sheet” and Marna received top honors for the most collected cigarette butts.  

After loading our gear, we all jumped into our kayak ladened cars and followed Marna to the Loleta Bakery.  The parade into town looked staged as we rhythmically pulled into adjoining parking slots on the main street. 

 

We all piled into the bakery, then looked at each other and grinned when Marna announced that she didn’t really want to get anything just wanted to come here.  So we all bought bread, well except for those guys that slipped off to the Loleta Cheese Factory.  Story has it that the group then set off for the Eel River Brewery.  

 Seriously though, this area where the Eel River branches into sloughs and empties into the ocean is exceptionally beautiful.  Vibrant with wildlife, splashes could be seen throughout the trip as birds dove, seals slapped and fishes flapped. — Charlyfish





Paddling Opportunities in Lassen Volcanic National Park

24 09 2010

On Labor Day, Teri and I left for an extended car camping trip. We spent one week in Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California.  As we were on a two-week car camping trip, we traveled with a large cargo box on the roof of our car which precluded carrying a boat.  So, I didn’t get to paddle on this trip, but I was able to identify a few lakes that offer nice paddling opportunities within a beautiful national park. Lassen Volcanic National Park has over 200 lakes.  Most are pretty small, but there are a few large enough that provide paddling opportunities.

Summit Lake

Summit Lake is located in the middle of the park. It’s a relatively small lake, about 40 acres in size with a one-mile-long shoreline. It is bordered by mixed conifer forests with campgrounds immediately north and south of the lake – easy walking distance. Launching requires a short carry from the campgrounds to the lake.

Butte Lake

Butte Lake is in the northeastern corner of the park.  It’s a medium size lake, about 300 acres in size with a three-mile-long shoreline. There is a small boat ramp and campground at the lake. Cinder Cone volcano can be seen in the background in the photo, above.

Butte Lake from the top of Cinder Cone.

Visible in the upper right hand corner of this photo, Butte Lake was formed by a large lava flow from Cinder Cone that last erupted about 360 years ago. In some areas the flows come right down to the edge of the water.

Painted Dunes

Volcanic ash from Cinder Cone is high in iron and magnesium, giving the Painted Dunes some pretty awesome colors. This really is a remarkable landscape.

Top of Cinder Cone

The photo above is a panorama of the top of Cinder Cone with Mt. Lassen in background. Trails actually lead into the crater. No launch points here!

Mt. Lassen

No discussion about this park would be complete without at least one short of Mt. Lassen. At 10,457 feet, Mt. Lassen last erupted in 1915. It lost about 5,000 feet in height during the eruption.

Secret paddling lake

The photo above is my favorite, secret paddling lake, but that’s another story. As you might suspect, getting your boat to the water is quite a chore.

We had a wonderful trip and I hope to get back to Lassen NP with my boat. The lakes are relatively small, but the setting is quite spectacular. Campgrounds have good facilities that include running water, and both flush toilets and “long drops” as the New Zealanders call them. While we didn’t make it to Juniper Lake which is located in the southeastern corner of the park, I’ve heard that it’s quite nice and is one of the largest lakes in the park.

More information about Lassen Volcanic National Park at http://www.nps.gov/lavo/

Greg Bundros





Tomales Bay to Monterey

24 09 2010

As much as I love the North Coast, a change of scene is always intriguing. With that thought in mind,  I added a few days to a mid-September Bay Area family reunion to ply some different waters.

My first destination was Tomales Bay, the long, narrow inlet that almost cleaves the Point Reyes Peninsula from the Marin County mainland. Since the San Andreas Fault runs up the middle of the bay, someday the two landforms might actually separate. Indeed, during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the peninsula moved 20 feet to the northwest.

I drove the winding back roads from Petaluma to Miller County Park, a few miles north of Marshall on Highway 1 on the bay’s eastern shore. The park is a popular launch site for local boaters, so it pays to arrive before 10 a.m. on weekends. After paying the $5 parking fee, I launched next to the concrete boat ramp and paddled north past Hog Island toward the bay’s mouth.

Tomales Bay is 12 miles long, one mile wide and shallow. For the first hour to two into a flood tide boaters might scoop mud and eelgrass with their paddle strokes until the water level rises. Like Humboldt Bay, shellfish companies grow oysters in mesh sacks in the bay’s shallows. The Olympia oyster, the only oyster native to California, has been almost entirely decimated by the invasive whelk snail, which drills into the oyster and sucks out its flesh. The bay is hemmed by rolling oak woodlands and the open grasslands of dairy and beef ranches. The lands on all sides of the bay are under the protection of federal, state or county agencies.

The Point Reyes shoreline from Tomales Bay.

The day was sunny and illuminated scores of lions mane jellyfish the size of dinner plates and smaller, translucent moon jellyfish drifting in the tide. I decided to postpone rolling, even though I was starting to get warm. I stopped at a pocket beach on the Point Reyes shore, marked with prints of racoon and shore birds and lazed on the white sand, enjoying the heat after our cool gray summer in Humboldt. Occasionally, boaters might see some of the tule elk herd that was reintroduced to the Point Reyes National Seashore in 1978.

I continued toward the mouth of the bay but did not venture out since I was alone and sans helmet. During the Explore North Coast trip to Tomales Bay in July, a few of us played in the surf off Sand Point. Sand bars there create nice waves in the right conditions, but the seas can also turn ugly. The day before we arrived, three sport fishermen drowned at the mouth.

Other than the entrance, Tomales Bay is generally a safe paddle for all skill levels. The main hazards are getting stranded in the shallows of the southern portion of the bay and strong afternoon winds that can whip up whitecaps and wind waves. The water temperature averages 65 degrees, so immersion wear is recommended. Several local kayak companies offer tours and rentals, including Blue Waters, which has locations on both sides of the bay at Marshall and Inverness, and Point Reyes Outdoor, with an office in Point Reyes Station.

After a quick ride back to Miller County Park on the flood tide, I did a few rolls (after checking for jellies) and loaded up. By then it was early afternoon and the weekend parade of hikers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, tourists, locals, foodies  and others from the population centers of Marin County and San Francisco was in full swing. Weekday excursions are always quieter in this locale.

The next day I followed Highway 1 through San Francisco on my way to Elkhorn Slough, near Moss Landing. Elkhorn Slough is reminiscent of Humboldt County sloughs, but features wildlife that we don’t have: namely, white pelicans and sea otters. The entrance to the slough is on the west side of Highway 1 25 miles south of Santa Cruz. Look for the smokestacks of the PG&E power plant as Moss Landing approaches. A large pottery business and a yacht club mark the entrance to the public parking for Elkhorn Slough. A parking fee machine is next to the restrooms and the launch is a few steps away. Monterey Bay Kayaks has a small store and rental business nearby. Launch in the harbor, paddle south briefly and then east under the highway bridge to enter the slough.

Almost immediately the furry heads of otters appear in the tide as they lie on their backs and use rocks to hammer away at various crustaceans. Otters eat 25 percent of their body weight every day and favor clams, crabs, abalone and other small marine creatures. Farther in, white and brown pelicans congregate on the shore. White pelicans are larger than their brown cousins and don’t dive for fish, but dip their bills while floating. More than 340 other bird species live or visit the slough, so birders have much to observe. Since Elkhorn Slough is a fragile ecosystem, boaters are not allowed on the mudflats or marsh.

A sea otter enjoys its lunch.

An anomaly of Elkhorn Slough is a gun club situated next to the highway and the peaceful wildlife refuge. Even though shooters can’t fire over the water, I found it hard to enjoy the scenery with dozens of high-powered rounds going off. Once the barrage started, I headed back to the launch site. Again, a weekday would probably make for a quieter trip. Elkhorn Slough is suitable for most paddlers but afternoon winds can make the return trip difficult. There is an alternate launch site at Kirby Park, five miles east of the highway on Elkhorn Rd. (off Dolan Rd., south of the power plant). From there, boaters can travel west to enjoy the wildlife, and then, with proper timing, return with the wind and tide. Like Tomales Bay, the water is cold so immersion wear is recommended. Ebb tides can sometimes create standing waves and rough water under the Highway 1 bridge. Fishing boats and pleasure craft are numerous at the harbor entrance.

The next day I continued south to Monterey Bay. Earlier in the summer there were numerous sightings of blue and humpback whales in the bay, a rare occurrence. I was hoping some  had lingered. To launch, follow the signs toward the waterfront and turn right at Monterey Bay Kayaks (693 Del Monte Ave.). The city owns the lot outside the store and there’s a fee for parking, but the folks at MBK will let you launch, use the restroom and wash your gear at their facility for no charge. There’s a short carry to the beach, or you can use MBK’s boat trailers.

The launch is a sheltered beach nestled behind the breakwater. During the summer it can be crowded with swimmers. There is always a raucous crowd of sea lions on the breakwater and in the sea around it. Generally, they ignore boaters but it’s wise to keep some distance.

Sea lions romp and rest on the Monterey Bay breakwater.

The waters of Monterey Bay are clearer than our home waters and allow great views of kelp, jellyfish, starfish, anemones and other sea life. Otters can be seen preening in the kelp beds. I saw several Caspian terns standing on the kelp, all in a row, looking like a queue at a movie. The kelp, while essential to the local wildlife, can make for slow going for paddlers. Once past the waterfront hotels, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, there are several small beaches that make convenient rest or lunch stops. I continued to the end of the peninsula, hoping to find some surf and the elusive whales. Alas, what I found were 15 or 20 fishing boats trawling just off the point making further progress dicey.

I returned to the beach, washed my gear at MBK and headed for an afternoon at the aquarium. Since it was a weekday after Labor Day, it wasn’t as crowded as other times I’ve visited and I was soon completely absorbed by the incredible diversity of life that exists below our hulls.

Damon Maguire





Whales Head and Port Orford

21 09 2010

Heading out from Whales Head

A few of us went up to the Oregon Coast a day before the club paddle at Port Orford.  Our plan was to paddle out of Whales Head which is located about six miles north of Brookings.  Whales Head and the coast line to the north offers some incredible paddling with numerous caves, arches,coves, and pocket beaches to explore.  On Friday the weather had been clear and sunny, but by Saturday morning’s launch Whale’s Head was shrouded in fog limiting our visibility.  It made us think about Michael Powell’s recent article in SeaKayaker Magazine.  His story detailed  the perils of his solo paddle along this same  stretch of coastline in dense fog and some nasty ocean conditions.

While it was foggy we were able to see well enough to paddle our way north.  We were a little bit surprised because the sea conditions were busier than forecasted.  Busy seas can make it difficult to cross over the transition zones into and through the arches protecting the small coves with their sheer walls.  We were able to explore a number of the inside areas including one place that had a good size waterfall coming off of a  steep cliff.   It was kind of fun to get a morning shower paddling through the waterfall. 

On our surf landing back at Whales Head Marcia Tauber  got the ride of the day.  She caught a wave and rode it  around a rock formation and into the little beach lagoon behind the main beach.  Talk about threading the needle. Very cool!!

We all had a great time and are looking forward to a return trip.  On our next adventure at Whales Head we will  be sure not to miss Michael Morris’s discovery of bacon topped cream filled maple bars at Ray’s in Brookings.  I feel my cholesterol going up just typing about these gems.

Mike Zeppegno

Foggy Day at Whales Head

Taking a Break as the Sun Makes an Appearance

The Whales Head Gang Not to be Confused with the Hole in the Wall Gang