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Tomales Bay

Started: 2018-08-27 21:02:39

Submitted: 2018-08-28 00:04:03

Visibility: World-readable

15 July 2018: In which the intrepid narrator kayaks on Tomales Bay on his last full day in San Francisco

After my final week working on App Engine in San Francisco, I spent the weekend knocking the last things off my todo list. I wanted to kayak in Drakes Estero, but the conditions were poor: the tides were low in the morning, and the wind would kick up in the afternoon. So I settled on a guided tour of Tomales Bay with Blue Waters Kayaking on Sunday, 15 July -- on what turned out to be my last full day in San Francisco.

I drove through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge under gray skies, arriving at the dock at Miller Park, along the east side of the bay, shortly before the designated time of 10:00.

Kayaks lined up to launch on Tomales Bay
Kayaks lined up to launch on Tomales Bay

The rest of the tour group arrived and our guides gave us our gear and gave us basic kayak paddling instructions. (I knew at least enough to be dangerous, having taken an all-day intro kayak class two weeks earlier.) At the guides' instructions, we introduced ourselves by demonstrating our favorite stretch for the group to do.

As the only solo member in the tour group, I got my own solo kayak. (I neglected to record the details of the boat, but it was the shortest boat in the group.) As we sat on the beach to adjust the foot-operated rudder pedals, I realized that my pedals would work ok at first, then stick because I'd run them out to the end of the track, and the only way I could unstick them was to reach down and tug sharply on the pedal -- a move that would be impossible on the water. I decided to give up on the pedal and steer my boat entirely by paddle.

Kayaks launch from Tomales Bay
Kayaks launch from Tomales Bay

We paddled north in the bay, past the posts marking the oyster beds in the bay, keeping an eye to the water in hopes of seeing sea life in the water. On the east side of the bay, though, I saw mostly sea grass, which threatened to tangle my paddle. I struggled to keep my boat going in the right direction: without a rudder it tended to turn easily, and I'd have to use large sweeping strokes to get my boat pointed back in the right direction -- at which point it'd point the other direction; the net result was that I felt like I was paddling a zig-zag course across the bay. I tried to remember what I learned about controlling my boat with the paddle alone (and hoping my kayak instructor would be pleased that I was using the paddle alone and not the rudder; the morning was perfectly calm), and using broad sweeping strokes combined with leaning just enough to get the curvature of the boat to enhance the turn.

Kayak tour on Tomales bay
Kayak tour on Tomales bay

We turned to cross the channel running along the bay, used intermittently by motor boats heading in or out from marinas in the bay, and reached the shallow water around Pita Beach, on the eastern side of Tomales Point. In the water I spotted big brown jellyfish, almost a foot across -- Pacific sea nettles -- puffing along just below the surface, trailing their tentacles and arms behind them. Our guide cautioned that these jellyfish stung, so we didn't want to touch them. I tried to get pictures of the jellyfish, but my phone (protected in a waterproof plastic sleeve) only recorded blurry shapes in the water. (These were the same kind of jellyfish I saw swarming in great numbers while visiting Monterey Bay Aquarium in June.)

Jaeger kayaking on Tomales Bay
Jaeger kayaking on Tomales Bay

We paddled north, along the land, fighting against the tidal current from the incoming tide. The current made forward progress tough -- it would pull me backwards if I wasn't paddling forwards. We paddled our way along the shore and eventually landed at a small beach for lunch. (I think it was Jacks Beach, or somewhere in the vicinity, though I didn't bring a map or a chart or otherwise record my position to confirm.)

Kayak tour launches from beach on Tomales Bay
Kayak tour launches from beach on Tomales Bay

After lunch on the beach, we returned to the water and headed back to the launch. This time the current was pulling us in the right direction. We ran out of time to see Hog Island in any detail, though we could see, in the distance, seals hauled out onto the island, enjoying the relative warmth of the air (though still overcast) over the water.

Kayak tour crosses Tomales Bay
Kayak tour crosses Tomales Bay

We returned to the dock and went ashore using the boat ramp, which was conveniently less muddy than the beach. I enjoyed my time on the water -- and I was especially happy to have seen the jellyfish swimming in the bay. I left the dock and headed back home to San Francisco, for one last time before leaving.

Jaeger's Golden Gate Bridge tattoo with the bridge itself
Jaeger's Golden Gate Bridge tattoo with the bridge itself

(On my way back I stopped by Baker Beach to get a picture of my Golden Gate Bridge tattoo with the bridge itself, photographed from the same angle. Then I stopped by Spire, a fantastic stack of Monterey cypress logs towering a hundred feet into the sky in the Presidio, flanked by the Monterey cypress grove that inspired the sculpture; and tried (and failed) to find parking in the Richmond to get a burrito before abandoning the idea and returning home.)

Andy Goldsworthy's Spire flanked by Monterey cypress trees
Andy Goldsworthy's Spire flanked by Monterey cypress trees
class? uh... what class? .... but dad, it's a _net startup!_
- Scott J. Galvin, 19 November 1999