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San Francisco with Bob B - October 2001

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I was out in the Bay area a lot the fall after Bob moved in 2001. Our first official NSPN trip (do two NSPN'ers qualify as a trip?) was actually over in Oakland sometime in August. We did a Wednesday evening paddle with California Canoe and Kayak out of Jack London Square and down the length of the channel behind Alameda Island. At least it was on the water.

But we vowed to get out onto the bay. In October, I had meetings on a Friday and a Monday in Oakland, so there was nothing left to do but for Bob to get a pass from Deb and decide where to launch. Bob picked me up early on a foggy Sunday morning and we headed across the Bay Bridge, through the city and over the Golden Gate. We dropped down to the foot of the bridge on the inside at Horseshoe Bay for the putin. Bob let me paddle the Founder's Explorer festooned with signatures, wisdom and what passes for wit back east. Bob said the boat is a sure-fired conversation starter wherever he paddles. It was great to see Bob and even better to be on the water with him.

We paddled out of the cove and north up the Marin County shore under a heavy overcast. We soon reached Yellow Bluff, a local landmark of yellow clay glowing in the monochromatic texture of the shoreline. Bob noted that while it was quiet now, at the right tides a strong tidal race and overfall develops off the bluff.

We then crossed about 2.5 miles directly east to Angel Island, a state park. Bob had paddled one of his students over to the island the previous day so he could camp with friends. He wisely didn't want to paddle back solo, so we were going to pick him up and spend the day on the bay. He turned out to be a Hawaiian with a ready smile and an aloha spirit. We visited with his friends and he was patient enough to let Bob and me hike up to the lookout over the bay. Despite the haze, it was a thrilling panorama from Berkeley down the bay and across to Alcatraz, with the hills of San Francisco as a backdrop.

We pushed off and crossed Raccoon Straight over to Tiberon, home of the rich and famous. The currents in Raccoon Straight were lively, like Plum Island Sound at peak ebb. Bob's student led us across and after some experimentation got the ferry angle about right. We tucked into one of the coves between Tiberon and Belvedere (home of the really rich and famous) where Bob took him to school on strokes and boat control. We then explored a small harbor where we performed the usual stupid kayak tricks for the Sunday Brunch crowd on the deck. No bagels offered though so they didn't see our really cool stuff.

Enough of this audience. We rounded the southern tip of Belvedere Island and set a long diagonal course across Richardson Bay to Sausalito. By this time it was early afternoon and the onshore winds had started up in earnest. This happens every day for most of the year: as the entire Central Valley heats up, it creates an enormous updraft that sucks the cold Pacific air inland. Further south, it funnels the sea breezes though the hills and powers the windmill farms at Altmont Pass. Here it merely smacked us in the face and made for a hard slog across the bay. I guess we were the windmills that day.

By now, at least, the sun was out which made for cheerful slogging. We could look up and see the backlit fog curling over the Marin headlands. The spray threw up handfulls of yellow jewels that sparkled against the dark ridge. White crests slashing across the blue stretched out ahead. As we crawled closer to Sausalito, the headlands eventually blocked the wind and by the time we reached the marina, it was positively balmy in the sun. We visited the houseboat community and ended up paddling every alley and avenue, so struck were we by the endless creativity: hundreds of boats each a personal work of art. Many of them had kayaks under decks and hanging off railings, like bikes cluttering a 1950's carport.

As we exited the marina, our stomachs growling, I was getting, well, bit peckish. Time for an MPPO (Mid Paddle Pig Out). We paddled along the Sausalito waterfront until we saw a concrete ramp next to a restaurant with an outdoor deck. A welcome mat for kayaks, right? Turned out it was a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville. We pulled out, parked the boats next to the door and tromped in wearing full kayak regalia (well, we did leave the PFDs and sprayskirts in the cockpits). I guess we were special guests since without bribes or whining they immediately led us out to a waterfront table. In fact, they opened up an un-used section of the deck just for us. We stripped wetsuits and drysuits down to the waist, re-fueled, rested, and enjoyed the view over the bay.

Eventually, the sun dropped below the hills and the chill chased us back to the boats. Cold, stiff and stuffed, it was a little hard to pull the gear on again. After a few grunts and stretches, however, we stopped moaning and were on our way. The run south down the shore warmed us up for the fun at Yellow Bluff.

The tide was ebbing and hitting a shoal off the bluff. I could see what Bob was talking about earlier: a patch of 4 foot standing waves moving a whole lot faster than Plum Island Sound. I guess the Golden Gate drains an enbayment a whole lot larger than the Great Marsh. Bob and I took the roller coaster ride through the middle, but given the fading day, we didn't go back for seconds. After 13 or 14 nautical miles, we were tired campers.

As we rounded the bluff, we could see the Golden Gate up ahead under the same dark fog bank. It's an elegant piece of engineering no matter how many times you see it. And a fitting place to end a San Francisco paddle.

I've posted a few snapshots at http://www.kayakpics.com/gallery/nspn


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