Our Florida Trip

We spent the very last days of February in Florida.  We stayed a couple of nights in Miami, and then joined a Sojourn bicycle trip, our first tour with them.

The adventure started with a bus ride to the Everglades Alligator Farm and then the classic air-boat tour.  I had watched some of these contraptions in a movie when I was very young, and afterwards assumed that life would eventuallly offer a ride in one.  For me, that sense of closure was worth more than the spray and the G-forces.  We got to see some wildlife, plus a very large number of captive ‘gators.   After lunch, there was a 14 mile ride at the National Park’s Royal Palm Visitor Center, then a transfer to the Playa Largo Resort and Spa, our home for two nights.

The second day began with a choice of three ways to enjoy the water and the mangroves at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park — snorkeling, a glass bottom boat, or kayaks, which we chose out of habit.  It was windy, but our course was pretty well protected.  Afterwards there was an optional 7-mile ride to the hotel.

The rest of the tour consisted mostly of pedaling along or near the Overseas Highway to Key West.  This is a beautiful trip — it turns out that the shallow water here can be as pretty as any we’ve seen in the tropics.  The physical route, unfortunately, has suffered a lot of storm damage in recent years.  Lack of repair (or in some places disruption caused by the repair process itself) sometimes required repeated highway crossing, or riding against traffic, or even guessing about the intended route.  It’s going to be really nice when they get this fixed.

The place we stayed in the middle of the Keys, at Marathon, was the Tranquility Bay Beach House Resort, a collection of stately old-fashioned white wooden structures (and a fabulous restaurant).   From there it can be a good day’s work to get to Key West — but we got a lift across the famous 7-Mile Bridge, to avoid the traffic.  There are 42 bridges in all along this route.

The ride ended at Margaritaville, where we spent the next four nights.  As often seems to happen, they decided to give us an even bigger room than the one we asked for — a two-bedroom suite with a kitchen and a big living room between the two big bedrooms-with-baths.  This added up to three big balconies looking out over the slips where the tour boats and cruise ships dock.  That’s our view below, toward the aptly-named Sunset Key.

It was raining as we arrived on our bikes, but after that the weather was gorgeous.  We had plenty of chances to walk around, not just to some tourist landmarks, but to some food joints we had ferreted out in advance — a creperie, a health-food store, markets large and small to stock our kitchen.  Some really good ice cream, too.

 

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Baltic Islands

August was an unusually briny month for us, as we spent some time first in Iceland, and then a few more days in Stockholm, and then a week and a half with a Backroads tour around the Baltic Sea.  Several stops involved islands, including chances to paddle at a couple of places.

Stockholm itself is a largely island-based concept, like Venice (“holme” is the Swedish word for “island”) — but it’s also completely navagable by foot.  At the same time, the roughly 30,000 islands in its neighboring archipelago offer a change-of-pace from museum-going.  We had made arrangements with a company called Green Trails, which offers a variety of adventures, kayaking among them.

Our guide, Ben, drove us out through Ingarö to a wildlife reserve called Björnö.  Offered our choice of double kayaks, we picked a Looksha, as presenting a smaller profile on a somewhat breezy day.  We paddled out among some reeds and around a peninsula to a nice beach, entering the scene below from the left, and then landing at a spot beyond the little shed.

This place was the childhood home of Doris Stuga, whose family farmed and fished here, and whose donation forms one of three parts of the reserve.  Posters in Swedish and English relate her story, or it’s available electronically as well.

We ate lunch here after a pleasant nature walk to another sunny beach on the other side of the isthmus that lies beyond the boats.  We picked our own lingonberries and learned about other useful plants.  We had seen several osprey just after launching  (rarer than back home in Seattle) and possibly, at a great distance, a fish eagle, a bird with a six-foot wingspan.

Islands are such an important idea in Sweden that, if yours isn’t accessible by a bridge, the government offers to get you there by boat.  That principle helps to explain the charming scene below, one of many we saw later as we set out on our cruise:

Why are so many houses painted this same dark red color?   When it became fashionable to build structures with bricks, there weren’t enough to go around — the islands, like much of the country, are composed of granite.  The next best thing, apparently, was to paint houses a color that represented brick; and there it is.

The other island we visited before the start of our cruise was Vaxholm.  The fortifications in the picture below have been there since the 1500s to defend the city of Stockholm.  The clouds are there to tempt soaring pilots.  We arrived by a combination of speedboat and ferry, for the first day of riding with our Backroads trip.

There was one more paddling opportunity on this journey:  St. Petersburg! Our ship was docked there for three days, so there’s more to read about this stop on our page about the cruise.  On the third day about a dozen of us opted for kayaking, and we were taken to a rowing club on Krestovsky Island, given a brief demonstration of technique, and put into Wavesport (formerly Perception) Horizon kayaks, which have pairs of molded-in handles fore and aft. No attention was given to fitting, and I never located any foot pegs, but the weather was good and the outing was a lot of fun anyway.

Krestovsky was an early venue for all kinds of genteel outdoor sports.  Grand residences and, later, institutions sprang up in this little group of islands to the north of Petrogradsky.  There was more history here than time for telling, but for instance we paddled under the Old Bridge, where the body of Rasputin was found after he met his sad end.  I believe that this next picture is of a palace on Kamennyy  Island:

Such is the geography of the Baltic that, even after all this, we weren’t through with Swedish islands yet — we would later call at Gotland, to explore the town of Visby, which still has its medieval wall.

 

 

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Loreto Again

In March, we returned to Loreto Bay, where our narrative began nine years ago. Leif and Susan were still there to take care of us, so on most mornings we had a chance to paddle down to Bird Rock, near the north end of Notrí, and on one day staying long enough for lunch at the Vista al Mar.  As suggested generally by the picture above, water was  calm, Alex has become enamored of the Hobie pedal craft, and the Delta 16 is happier than ever, under Leif’s management.

The birds themselves may be getting used to this routine.  The cormorants were slow to spook when we circled and the pelicans hardly seemed to care.  We conversed with the local osprey on every trip.  A Magnificent Frigate Bird flew close.

The blue-footed boobies that were becoming prevalent five years ago still fish here, but for nesting they’ve moved yet further north, up to Isla Coronado.  The sea lion we always used to see on this stretch is gone too.  Leif says that for a time the whales were thick (Blue Whales cheek-by-jowl with paddle boarders!) but that they seem to be taking a break as well.  We saw a couple of big rays, apparently among the first of the season.

Fortunately our return was well-timed to catch the local all-dolphin water ballet team’s morning practice.  I believe that they are learning to spell out the word “Nopoló,” although, like many of us, they’re still having trouble with the accent over the final vowel:

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Ha Long Bay

We were in Vietnam early in February, so we went to Ha Long Bay.

It’s easy to talk about this geology in the abstract — limestone slowly lifted, eroded by tropical moisture, maybe etched at the waterline by living creatures — but it would be hard to prepare for the magnitude.  Not only are these islands tall and thin, but they seem to go on forever. We had paddled through this kind of seascape before, in the Rock Islands of Palau, but even they cannot match the profusion seen here. Though the jewels-strewn-by-defending-dragons theory of their origin is now largely discounted, well, they’re still pretty amazing anyway.

This would be the place to look, for people who had become sea creatures. There are plenty of islands but, by the very same token, there’s not much level land. People have created places for themselves by making floating platforms of their own instead.

Typical among purposes is aquaculture.  This seems to be done on a more intimate scale than the fish farming we have seen in Puget Sound.  Here’s a fish farm where we got to see some of the “livestock” up close.

We arrived aboard a junk sailed by Eco Friendly Vietnam. They’ll arrange to have you driven to Hai Phong, where you take the hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island. They pick you up at the ferry dock and take you across town to the dock where their boat leaves for the islands.

The itinerary is flexible even after you’ve sailed.  We had thought of this as a kayak trip, but unseasonably cool weather made it more appealing just to stay aboard the junk most of the time. Excellent food offered at short intervals reinforced this habit.  We spent part of our middle day hiking, though, and  I did paddle at one spot, an island with two separate tunnel archways leading to an inner lagoon, astonishing anyplace else but fairly routine here in Ha Long Bay. We watched wild monkeys from the kayak, and a pretty little starling seemed interested in our passage.

One could imagine this buoyant lifestyle as an ages-old tradition, ready to be studied and explained, but our guide says that its origin is very different. The people afloat here are the children of urban dwellers, themselves former merchants and laborers and shopkeepers, who spent their formative years not going to school but instead hiding in caves to survive aerial bombardment, developing the subsistence strategies that we see today.  Here’s a view of a more densely populated area closer to the tourist center:

 

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Blake Island

If you look southwest from our window — along the line through Duwamish Head and then Alki Point — the next land you see is Blake Island.  That’s the piece of my shoreline exploration that I saved for last.

BlakeFromLincoln

Blake Island, and some other things, from Lincoln Park in West Seattle

The island, at one time privately owned, is now a state marine park.  It’s reachable only by boat, but affords amenities for all kinds of travelers. Popular with tourists is a commercial cruise that includes a traditional meal and a cultural program with dancing and storytelling, featuring lore from several Native American peoples, most of them hailing from north of here however. The little marina also attracts sailboats and small powerboats, and there’s a fairly lavish campground there, with pay showers.  There are more campsites, with offshore moorage, along the western shore.  And on the northwest corner of the island there are three Cascadia Marine Trail campsites. I had yet to try packing the Ikkuma for a camping trip, and an overnight stay here sounded like a good test, in preparation for bolder expeditions later.

Blake Island is a not-unreasonable distance from West Seattle, even for solo paddlers; but it’s much closer to Manchester, or, better yet, Southworth, on the Kitsap Peninsula.  And besides, it’s actually easier to find overnight parking at those places; so I rode the ferry from Fauntleroy and launched from the little street-end just north of the Southworth ferry dock, leaving the car in the big commercial lot nearby.  I paid for two days, in case I got delayed.

Southworth

For weeks I had been pondering tides and currents, wind and temperature. Ironically, by the time I tired of dithering and just set out, conditions were far from ideal.  My trip coincided pretty well with the new moon and the summer solstice, meaning big daytime tidal exchanges. Boaters are warned about a north wind against an ebb through Colvos Passage, and the breeze exceeded expectations.  There’s a current-prediction station south of the island, but I wasn’t sure how much of that current I’d see on each side. It could have been nearly two knots, during the hours that I might ordinarily travel.

So I got, for me, an unusually early start. It took only about half an hour, in fairly calm water, to reach the island’s nearest, southern point. Then as I was coming up the eastern side the waves got bigger — though they never exceeded a couple feet. I rounded the marina’s breakwater and landed on the beach to the north (there’s a little sandy area inside too if you need it).  A busy raccoon there seemed unconcerned at first but then bounded away as I bumbled about.  I paused to have a drink and call home.

Conditions improved as I paddled around the north shore toward the campground. One of the three campsites was occupied, so I took the one furthest away, closer to the point. My first acquaintance here was an excitable bird, which I took to be a killdeer. I thought at first that it was trying to get my attention to lead me away from its nest or something, but I gradually got the idea that maybe it wanted to be fed. It was trailing its wings, spreading its tail and generally looking expectant. The rules posted on the nearby kiosk clearly prohibited feeding; otherwise, we might have become very good friends.  I’m not sure that mating would have been out of the question, had I been a second killdeer.

A human eventually arrived also, a young fellow living in Austin but currently on a voyage of self-discovery.  (He had lived on the Kitsap Peninsula as a child, so this was something of a homecoming.)  I complimented him on his camp, which included a hammock and a couple of coolers for food and drink, stored beneath his picnic table.  It was not clear to me that he had arrived on the island under his own power, but there was no shortage of space so I didn’t even ask.

My new neighbor warned me about raccoons, saying that he had been having to chase them off. He didn’t mention the deer that I would see in camp as dusk fell.  The three of them, despite their greater size, made much less commotion than the other animals, and I could easily have overlooked them myself.

Besides some gulls, the only other creature of any size on display was a heron who would greet me from the shoreline as I arose on the second day, but who did not wait around to be photographed.

There was evidence of some other wildlife, though, involved in a little mystery.  For each campsite, the park provides a critter-proof safe, about the size, shape and color of a sidewalk trash can.  I used mine mostly as an armoire, since I’d brought my food and toiletries in my own bear vault, a sturdy round container that fits in my forward hatch.  As I was stowing my gear inside the door I noticed that there seemed to be a chunk of driftwood, about the diameter of a knackwurst, standing in one of the corners.  In each of the corners, in fact.  Opening the door again later I found, in place of one of the sticks, a lot of fresh sawdust.  I believe that the standard “bear saver” has a little square hole at each corner of the floor, probably for drainage or anchoring or something.  If the holes aren’t closed in some way, then tiny, clever, persistent animals can use them for access. After I realized this, I noticed a little pile of similar sticks nearby, ready to be fed into the square holes like firewood into a stove.

From the stern of the kayak I had withdrawn the tent ingredients, now cunningly repackaged into three long narrow components to fit around the skeg housing, and with a flick of the wrist and some matching up of tabs they became shelter.  Actual bedding travels in a conical bag in the prow (no metal is stowed forward of the cockpit, where it could interfere with the use of a compass).  I breathed life into my air mattress and shook out my sleeping bag,  hung some stuff out to dry, and began contemplating an afternoon of leisure.

The park provides plenty of trails for hiking.  I took the one that I knew led over to the longhouse. One reason that I had considered putting off my trip for a few days is that, during the summer season, dinner is served there in addition to lunch.   An ideal evening might have included their baked king salmon, at least as an alternative to my freeze-dried chicken. Also, I’ve not seen the entire floorshow. But I had chosen instead to avoid the crowds and the summer heat. I poked around a bit and took advantage of the fresh water provided there.

madrona

There’s lots of beach walking to do also, and there was eventually a nice sunset. I retired soon thereafter, resolving to get underway as early in the morning as possible. It was windy during the night and I thought I even heard rain, but I arose early and was on my way home before 6:30.  The current could have been as fast as a knot by then.  At one point I crossed a boundary that spun me a little, but for the most part the surface of the water was calm.  The crossing was even quicker than on the way over.

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Fort Ward

RestorationOn two of my earlier trips I had neglected the area between Rich Passage and Restoration Point.  This left a tiny sliver unexplored at the south end of Bainbridge Island — and a chance to visit the park at the site of historic Fort Ward.

For half a century, starting in 1903, the fort stood guard at the narrow pass leading to the Bremerton shipyards and other important installations. After spending another fifty years as a state park, it is now part of the Bainbridge Island park system, and a stop on the Cascadia Marine Trail.  There are 4300 feet of shoreline, a path that can be part of a loop for hikers and joggers, a boat ramp, and campsites.

I finally got there early in June, and set out on a short trip that was notable for its wildlife encounters.  First, a seal surfaced quite near me, possibly distracted by the teeming, unattainable aquaculture in giant pens nearby.

Restoration2

Then I paddled around a rocky little point with a ruined structure where perched a good-sized Bald Eagle.  A photo from the other, sunlit side shows it to be a juvenile, despite its bulk.  That’s Blake Island, by the way, between us and Mt. Rainier.

I saw an adult perched on another structure on my way out, and on the trip back there were two, probably the parents.  They posed patiently as I paddled by, but moments later I heard a lot of loud, high-pitched chirping behind me, and then watched them being chased away by a crow.  Our northwest crows are not particularly large, but they do possess considerable self-confidence.

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Fay Bainbridge Park

I had been up the coast of Bainbridge Island as far as Murden Cove, but that left a little bit of visible shoreline.  The solution seemed to be to paddle south from Fay Bainbridge Park, near the northern end of the island, although it would mean covering some extra territory; so on May 18 I moseyed up along Sunrise Drive toward Pt. Monroe.

SurfLog The park caters to all sorts of campers, so there are plenty of facilities, including three sites meant only for boaters, bikers or hikers — and even a volleyball court. The setting is splendid as well.  Though the sky was gray for much of my visit, I was able to see both Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier (knowing just where to look).

Also on display was the largest surf log I recall ever seeing.  One would want to avoid landing at the same time as this imposing bit of driftwood.

On my way down to Murden Cove I noticed what looked like a brand-new bench at a street end just north of Skiff Point, and I resolved to stop for a picture on my return trip.  But after I landed there I got to talking with a fellow and his dog, parked in a Subaru in the little parking lot, and forgot to get out the camera.  Later research showed that there are indeed now launch sites both there at Manitou Park Blvd., and south of the cove at Yaquina Place, according to helpful information from the Kitsap Water Trails Association. I could have saved a lot of paddling if I’d known this — but I’m not sorry that I chose Fay Bainbridge anyway.

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Eagle Harbor

Bainbridge Island accounts for a good bit of the shoreline visible from our window, by dint of its ten mile north-south length. It’s one of those islands you could drive to, in theory; but from Seattle that trip would mean going south to Tacoma, then north through Bremerton and all the way up to Poulsbo, then back south over the bridge at Agate Pass. The ferry, by contrast, takes you from downtown Seattle to Eagle Harbor in about half an hour.  Once there, you can drive a few blocks to the downtown Waterfront Park — or walk, so you don’t have to bring a car at all.

Bainbridge Island downtown Waterfront Park, from Eagle Harbor

The park has a lot of attractions for boaters, with launching and nearby parking for those who trailer or hand-carry. There’s not just a restroom but a shower room too, and sometimes an outside spray for rinsing off equipment and bathers.  A boat house next door with rowing shells means that the facilities are busy at some times, in the morning and at the end of the school day, and parking could be a block away.  But the boat launch itself is in a pretty setting, right across the street from a community center. In fact, a better picture would be the one from the top of the ramp, through the graceful arch of the trees, framing convenient picnic tables etc.

I first launched here in mid-October 2016, on a trip to Blakely Harbor. I was back early the following May to paddle to Murden Cove, halfway up the island.

Washington State Ferries at rest

Eagle Harbor is where the vessels of the Washington State Ferry System gather when they’re not in use. Here’s the current gallery — I’m sure I’ve been aboard all of these at one time or another. On this trip I encountered the ferry Tacoma four times.  Snowball and I had passage aboard her coming and going, for one thing.  Then, by the time I got ready and was outbound on my way north, I saw her rounding Bill Point, the south end of the harbor, just after I started across the channel. I made it across with time to spare, but I did feel a bit rushed.  On my way back from Murden cove I waited for her just outside Wing Point instead.  A clear day like that one gives the harbor a nice mountain backdrop.

wing

 

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Port Blakely

Blakely Harbor is a pretty quiet place today, but in the 1800s this was the site of the world’s most productive sawmill. The original car ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island had its terminal here. Now there’s a park instead, its uplands unmanicured but well-designed.  I launched here yesterday for a trip around Restoration Point, seen below in the distance, toward Fort Ward.

blakelypark

There are two plausible put-in spots, and I started from the one further back in the bay, which allowed the use of wheels to get the kayak from the road nearly as far as the beach. (I donned drysuit and boots to carry the boat across a swampy little pool, and loaded it on gravel beside deeper water.)

Not only have most signs of industry faded, but some lavish residences have appeared. The dock in the picture above is just the first of several along the north shore, one of them with a boat house big enough to shelter a matching one-and-a-half-story houseboat inside.

The south shore of the bay is in some ways even grander.  I knew from the map that it was bordered by Country Club Road, so I looked for a building to match. This one seemed like a good candidate, but the small windows and adjacent rail fences suggest that it may be just the stables. Later research showed that this area is in fact called The Country Club at Seattle, a nine-hole golf course wrapping around the point and shared by the owners of the eighteen houses built there, and mostly handed down within families, since the nineteenth century.

scc

Around the point, I had a good view of Manchester but soon tired of the southerly breeze and decided to save this part of the trip for another day, starting next time at Fort Ward.  On my way back progress was easier, but when I arrived at the park I found my earlier launch site thronged by youngsters, so I landed at the official boat launch, the one shown in the first picture. So far so good; but that meant moving the boat artisanally up the dozen or so fairly steep steps to the road. On such a nice, leisurely November afternoon, it seemed nearly a pleasure.

This was not my first trip to Port Blakely. I had paddled here from Eagle Harbor about a month before and explored its inner lagoon, but had trouble then understanding how road access might work. A map like the one posted on the kiosk near the beach seems no longer available on the web. On the other hand, there is a detailed history of the area, with plenty of old photographs.

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The Distant Shore

As Seattle’s coastline became more familiar, we shifted our gaze to those farther shores that lie on the other side of Puget Sound.

puget

Here a ferry returns from one of those lands — Bremerton, or maybe Bainbridge Island –passing West Seattle on its way downtown.  In this picture Alki Point appears as just a little spit, pointing west toward Blake Island. Beyond that island lies the Kitsap Peninsula, to the north as far as Manchester and Orchard Point. Still further north the more prominent mass of Bainbridge Island hides the channel that separates them, Rich Passage.

Actually, this isn’t quite the view from our house. For composition and clarity, the photo was taken from a spot a couple of blocks north — and four hundred feet higher — revealing some detail not normally available to us from home. Still, we consider all of this to be part of our local landscape.  Who could resist taking a closer look?

The Sound can’t be much more than five miles across in most places hereabouts, certainly not a stretch for an intrepid solo paddler, but I have chosen practicality over the thrill of the “purist” approach.  I figure it will take about seven ferry trips to different launching points to cover all the visible shoreline.  The first two are already done, and are described in the next entry.

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The Kitsap Peninsula

I decided to start my examination of the distant shore at Manchester.

The big peninsula that gives Northwest Washington its odd shape, the peninsula with Mount Olympus and the famous rain forests, is the Olympic Peninsula. Protruding from it, or, perhaps more accurately, within it, is an arrowhead-shaped land mass called the Kitsap Peninsula, separated from the rest by a long narrow channel called Hood Canal. Islands flank the eastern side of the peninsula like little bits broken off from it, hiding much of it from Seattle; but a few miles are exposed to us, and this stretch of the skyline offers attractive facilities and a chance to reconnoiter some places that will be important later, like Blake Island and the southern end of Bainbridge.

One day in July I picked up the boat at Salmon Bay, put it on the car and arrived at Fauntleroy before 9:30, in time for the one of the last reverse-commute ferry sailings. Even with an intermediate stop at Vashon Island it was a quick and pleasant crossing to Southworth.

Driving north from there, following my recollection of the map I had sketched the night before, I soon arrived at Pomeroy Park. I wasn’t sure whether the Port of Manchester expects people without boat trailers to pay for parking, but I bought a ticket just in case, for $7, from a machine that takes credit cards. There are two docks, one attractive to kayakers but still high enough to require some effort getting in and out. The deck grating provides useful finger-holds.  A small adjacent beach would be an alternative.

pomeroy

I chatted a bit with a fellow who was fishing for crabs, and then paddled off to the north. The first landmark is a big pier with signs warning that it belongs to the government and to keep away. This is Orchard Point, which appears on the charts without much explanation, perhaps not to attract the attention of evil-doers. The Navy has a lot of facilities between here and Bremerton; they also had a very big ship anchored off Manchester, but there seemed to be plenty of space for me to go between.

I paddled past Clam Bay, skirting an array of buoys there. arriving at the beach at Manchester State Park sooner than I was expecting, and paused for a snack.  There was a selection of logs for seating, complete with a neighborly ground squirrel. Upland there was some kind of event organized for youngsters, but they seemed mostly occupied with food and games.

manchesterstate

I took a good look across Rich Passage toward Fort Ward. I had chosen this day in part for its small and well-timed tidal exchange, thinking that I might try crossing to Bainbridge Island. But exploring the other park looked like a bigger project than I wanted, so I topped off my water bottle and just headed back. I had come further than necessary already: my part of Seattle was well out of view until I was back at Clam Bay. I glimpsed a marine mammal spying on me there. I think it was probably a seal, but it didn’t wait around for introductions.  There were also many jellyfish along the way.

That first trip to Manchester took care of only a very small portion of the visible coast.  I returned just before the end of September to paddle a few miles south toward the mouth of Curly Creek, and then followed the shoreline east just a bit to an old pier where I was sure that Seattle was well hidden behind Blake Island.  Each way I kept a respectful distance from a float where a number of seals were resting and sunning themselves; but both times one of their number launched to follow me and make sure that I left their area safely.   The ship is one of several, probably idled by a shipping company’s bankruptcy, anchored near Seattle.

hanjin

Back at the Southworth ferry dock I took some time to examine the facilities there and especially the parking arrangements.  This will be the place to launch for an eventual overnight trip to Blake Island.

 

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Salmon Bay

Last winter the Moss Bay Rowing Club stopped offering storage space, so I went looking for a new home for our boat. There were waiting lists for the marinas on Lake Union, and the Port of Seattle didn’t have anything convenient, and the obvious place anyway was at the Salmon Bay Marina.

Salmon Bay is the westerly part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The name was bestowed by the Old Settlers themselves, William Bell and and the Denny brothers; later generations turned part of the tidal reach into fresh water by first draining Lake Washington through what had been Ross Creek, and then damming it up with the Ballard Locks. The pleasing result was a protected waterway that served commerce and industry and just about anybody else who enjoyed messing about in boats. One prominent example is Fisherman’s Terminal, where picturesque vessels pose for tourists between voyages.  Here’s a photo I took a couple of decades ago, looking west from the south end of the Ballard Bridge:

On old picture of Fishermen's Terminal from the south end of the Ballard Bridge.

The marina lies beyond the terminal, on the other side of the blue ship near the top center of the picture. It’s not a convenient walk from my house, but a bus goes near, and it offers a lot of advantages over South Lake Union. There’s a little lounge that is available 24 hours a day, and plenty of free parking.

By the time of the move I was already mostly car-topping the boat, and carrying it from the Moss Bay dock up to their not-inexpensive parking lot was a nuisance. At the marina though, I could back the car up to the rack and wrestle the boat directly onto the top.  After just a few weeks, access was blocked by another, bigger boat that came to dwell nearby; but by then I had bought a set of stern wheels for use on long, paved approaches, so I simply switched to a ground-level spot that would have been unthinkable before.  The boat actually hangs in a pair of slings, and it takes only a few minutes to fit the little dolly on the back and roll it out to the car.  This arrangement solves two other problems: I can get the boat from the storage area to the car without bothering anyone, even when the office is closed; and the wheels keep the stern from scraping on the ground as I put the boat on top of the car. It’s even possible to leave the wheels attached while driving to the proposed launch site, if wheels will be required there; and, so far, that has not proved unwise (I attach them by three separate means).

It’s also possible just to roll the boat down to one of the marina’s docks and launch from there.  I have already done that more times than I expected to — this is a pretty interesting part of Seattle. And by the way, many of the boats in the picture above still appear regularly here, as seen in this view from a few days ago:

fisher

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Seattle’s seacoast

There are lots of stunning destinations for paddlers in the Pacific Northwest, worth enduring long drives and frustrating ferry connections. But there’s also plenty of shoreline close to home — much of Elliott Bay is visible from my window — so I felt that I should at least become familiar with my own neighborhood.  After I finished exploring Lake Washington last year, I turned my attention to the rest of Seattle’s soggy City Limits.

Looking north toward Alki Point from the Emma Schmitz Viewpoint at Me-Kwa-Mooks Park in West Seattle.

Looking north toward Alki Point from the Emma Schmitz Viewpoint at Me-Kwa-Mooks Park in West Seattle.

Glacial geology largely determines the paddling experience here: our hills of clay and gravel tend to meet the water steeply. There aren’t any spectacular cliffs, but there aren’t a lot of  beaches either. Sediment collects at the mouths of ravines, though, and in some places it has been augmented by civil engineering.

A lot of the shoreline has been claimed by private development, but sometimes this process works to the paddler’s advantage.  The first chapter of my coastal exploration began at Golden Gardens, the beach near what was long Seattle’s northern limit. The park came into being as a way to attract visitors to the suburban real estate available uphill at Loyal Heights, but it now entices bathers and picnickers from all over.  So one day last August I launched from the beach there and paddled south.

As I had hoped, I got as far on this trip as West Point, the tip of what is now Discovery Park, a place with a markedly different sort of history.  A military base starting in the 19th Century, busy during World War II with embarking troops and even prisoners of war, this big hill began returning to civilian use in the 1970s.  There was apparently a shipyard at one time too. Today, though launching is not permitted, there are two accommodating beaches, the southerly more attractive to bathers, the northerly to birders.  Facilities are within hiking distance from either.  By the way, the name of the park is not vaguely aspirational, it’s the name of the ship commanded by George Vancouver during his exploration in 1792.

From Discovery Park I paddled eastward into Salmon Bay, toward another important government facility, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The locks themselves offer only passage, not rest; but for paddlers wishing to pause near here, there is a City park along the south shore. Launching is not advertised, but there is a little beach near the railroad bridge from which to visit the tourist attractions, such as the fish ladder, depending on how long you are willing to leave your boat.

Commodore Park, on the seaward side of the Ballard Locks.

Commodore Park, on the seaward side of the Ballard Locks.

The trip from Salmon Bay back to Golden Gardens can be made in nearly any sort of weather, as it is possible to paddle inside the Shilshole Bay Marina breakwater for much of the distance.

Later, Golden Gardens was also the put-in for one of my last city-limits trips, north to well within the relatively new City of Shoreline.  I went a couple of miles further than strictly necessary, in order to reach Richmond Beach, a bit south of Point Wells, one of my earliest Puget Sound landmarks, learned on my first sailing trip here four decades ago.  The shoreline in between is almost all railroad tracks built on fill, the one intermediate stop being Carkeek Park, the beach at the mouth of the restored Pipers Creek.  By the time I landed at Shoreline I was thinking of having Alex collect the car and come to get me, so tired I was of the north wind and mild chop; but the return trip seemed pretty easy and I was glad that I had not given up.  By the way, Carkeek Park is another of those historical Seattle oddities:  it was originally located clear across town, but moved (the name at least) when the Navy built the Sand Point Naval Air Station — itself now a city park and renamed for longtime Senator Warren G. Magnuson.

Weather was seldom an issue on these trips: without deadlines, I was free to choose only good days for my two- to four-hour paddles.  The one place where scheduling seemed more important than weather was quite near my home: for the downtown waterfront I picked a time mid-day and mid-week in late autumn, so that there would be fewer ferry crossings and no water taxi or sightseeing boats.  I paddled from Jack Block Park across the bay to the Bell Harbor Marina, seeing only one ferry sailing, then south along the shore and the north end of Harbor Island. A day with some north wind against a strong current from the recently-flooded Duwamish River gave me the roughest water I encountered during the entire project.

Bell Harbor Marina in September

A quiet Bell Harbor Marina on my first visit, in September 2015

One other leg would bring me close to the Washington State Ferries: my last, from Lincoln Park, in West Seattle, south to the border with Burien.  The ferry dock is just south of the park and I had forgotten to check the schedules, but early-afternoon traffic wasn’t hectic.  The picture below shows the ferry Cathlamet departing for Vashon Island and then Southworth; I waited and then passed, carefully, behind the Sealth, just returned from Vashon.  On my return I paddled by the empty dock, just vacated by the Sealth on a later trip.

Seattle’s southern limit intersects a wide beach at the end of Seola Beach Drive SW.  The place looks perfect for street-end water access, but it may have fallen into the cracks between the two jurisdictions.  The road is closed off with chain-link fence, and building construction is taking place.  I slid the boat onto some relatively firm ground, sat on a hatch cover, and popped open a can of apricot juice. A crow began marching toward me, as though familiar with human visitors, but then decided instead to pursue a gull who was flying off with a clam.  The compass confirmed that my Seattle project was complete, but from here I could see parts of Bainbridge and Blake Islands, and possibly part of the Kitsap Peninsula, that are also visible from by house. If this was an obvious stopping point, then there are plenty more starting points too.

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December 2015

There was possible snow in the Christmas forecast, but it didn’t turn up and in fact the drizzle ceased by mid-morning.  There was no wind, and it seemed like a merry time for paddling.

elfI saw only three other boats moving on all of Lake Union — the two kayaks that you can glimpse in the background here, and one launch motoring up the west side.

 

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Lake Washington

On days this year when tides were an obstacle, or if it was just too hot to dress for a dunk in Puget Sound, I would head for Lake Washington. At first it was merely some place I could paddle to from my slip in south Lake Union; but after a while I decided that exploring the entire shore of the big, deep lake was a reasonable goal.

MatthewsMy first trip, in early March, ended at Matthews Beach, the most familiar of destinations.  The Burke-Gilman Trail runs along the hill among those trees you can see in the picture, and we stop here frequently on our bicycles.  And when we were first shopping for kayaks we paddled a couple of Deltas here from the Sail Sand Point dock just to the south and paused on the little beach to swap boats. I used to come here to swim, decades ago.

The presence of big, shady, developed parks every few miles underscores a big contrast with Lake Union, whose character is definitely urban. As I paddled past the waterfront homes of Laurelhurst it occurred to me that a person inside one of them might have difficulty seeing how the world could be improved, much less why it would need to be.

This trip and the next two were made with extensive support from home — after I got the kayak out of the water I called Alex and she brought the car around to the park and we put the boat on top.  At this time, handling the kayak on land even once a day seemed like an imposition. On my next journey I turned south instead of north at Union Bay and got as far down the coast as Leschi, where Alex had anticipated my arrival. There wasn’t an attractive place to land, though, so we both backtracked to the more hospitable Madrona Park.

90The next time, more comfortable with logistics, I had Alex drop me off at Madrona and pick me up on the far side of the Seward Park peninsula.  Here’s a look back beneath the I-90 floating bridge — or two bridges, actually: the nearer one, with the truss, is the older, named for Lacey V. Murrow; beyond is the newer Homer H. Hadley Memorial Bridge, which carries the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway Trail across the lake.  Seen only as little white smudges from this perspective are two of the three major volcanic peaks visible from Lake Washington:  to the left, Mt. Baker (10,781 ft.) and, in the last open space on the right, Glacier Peak (10,525 ft.).

About this time I figured out how to load the boat on the car by myself without hurting it, by padding both stern and roof with dense gray foam. After that, about seven more solo outings were required to make the circuit of Lake Washington’s outer shore, all but one of those out-and-retrace.  The exception was the northernmost part:  near Matthews Beach the lake is narrow enough that a crossing to O.O. Denny Park, on the eastern shore, is irresistible.  From there a loop is easily made up to Kenmore and back down the western side.   I had thought to enter the mouth of the Sammamish River at Kenmore, but chose instead to turn north and west to land at Log Boom Park, avoiding some thick aquatic vegetation that made for slow going, requiring a sort of sword-drawing motion with every paddle stroke to avoid becoming trapped.

Most waterfront houses have docks here -- and many docks have herons. That's Renton's convenient Gene Coulon Park in the background.

Most waterfront houses have docks here — and many docks have herons. That’s Renton’s very convenient Gene Coulon Park in the background at the south end of the lake, and our third volcano, Mt. Rainier (14,410 ft.) .

MedinaMy final leg was from Marsh Park, on Kirkland’s waterfront, down to Medina, where that city has its offices in a park by the water, as though it were just another mansion, with beautifully kept grounds.  By the time I closed my transit here it was mid-October: you can see the kayak parked by what is normally the bathing beach.  The official launch area is far to the left, on the other side of the building.  Along this west-facing shore south of Evergreen Point are some of the most charming structures — villas, bungalows, hunting lodges — which are probably just the boathouses for lavish dwellings higher on the slope (Bill and Melinda Gates live on this stretch of the coast).

The Sea Trails map of Seattle, in their Urban Paddling Series, plots courses and distances around the lake shore, totaling about 35 nautical miles (most of which I covered twice, though that’s still not much to brag about). Several other cities and towns border the lake, so less than half of this length is Seattle shoreline.  A larger project is Seattle’s salty western side, from north of Carkeek Park to down past Fauntleroy, which I have already begun.

And I’m not really finished with Lake Washington either — there’s more shoreline in the middle of it, where Mercer Island awaits.

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Cape Flattery

Last weekend, for the first time in maybe twenty years, I hiked out to the northwest corner of the old “lower forty-eight,” where you can see the Makah Sandstone giving way to the Pacific Ocean, bit by bit.  Here is a picture of some of the fragments; offstage to the right there’s a bigger one called Tatoosh Island, and then a much larger island named for George Vancouver.FlatteryI was in the neighborhood for the surf class given by the Northwest Outdoor Center at Hobuck Beach, around the point to the south.  Thanks to some practice in the intervening months, and this year’s more manageable surf, I was able to get my boat out through the breakers and back in to the beach several times, in fact getting dumped on only half a dozen occasions, and swimming on only one of those.

The crowd left after lunch on Sunday, but I stayed on another night, to hike and to fiddle with my camping gear.  Here’s a picture taken just as the last board surfers were emerging for the evening:Hobuck

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Seacrest Park

In March when a Seattle Port Commissioner joked about a “flotilla of kayaks” poised to oppose plans for oil exploration in the Arctic, he may have made inevitable the protests launched recently from the West Seattle shoreline.

Some of us had greeted the Polar Pioneer on its arrival, but for many paddlers today was the first opportunity to get close to the giant rig.  A well-organized protest launched from Jack Block and from Seacrest Park, a bit further up the coast.  Here’s a picture of some of the early entrants at Seacrest. (Our objective can be seen on the skyline beyond the water taxi dock.)

Seacrest

Jack Block was the center of land-based demonstrations and a close-by launch site for some beginners.  There were lots of boats at Seacrest, including rentals from the local Alki Kayak Tours and other operators; loaners carefully matched with borrowers; paddlers who hailed from at least as far as Oregon; and services like valet unloading organized by Greenpeace and other organizations. Here’s a picture of some of the kayaks parked at Seacrest:Boats on the grass at Seacrest awaiting launch time.

The two groups met north of Terminal 5 to unfurl some banners and chant some slogans before proceeding into the West Waterway for a better look.  The object of our attention can be seen in the right third of this picture:paddles

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The Polar Pioneer

Yesterday the Polar Pioneer, the massive drill rig that Shell plans to use to explore for oil in the Arctic, arrived in Elliott Bay, and we were there to meet it.A dozen kayativists await the Polar Pioneer off Duwamish Head in Seatle.The reception wasn’t entirely cordial, for many question the necessity, or the safety, of Arctic drilling, and the legitimacy of the operation at Terminal 5 in the heart of Seattle’s waterfront.

As the vessel proceeded south we were joined by a number of other paddlers, including a big traditional canoe with representatives of both the Duwamish and the Lummi tribes, the latter fighting their own battle against construction of a coal port they see as threatening the health of the Salish Sea.DragonboatThis was a gathering of rapid responders — a bigger flotilla is expected May 16, and protests on land after that.

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Jack Block Park

Though my trip along the Duwamish River ended in the tidal zone, our “sea” kayak still hadn’t seen a lot of salt water. Back when we were shopping for our first boats we had paddled the western shore of Elliott Bay, but only as far south as what is now Jack Block Park.  The distance from there to Terminal 105 represented a gap in our explorations that would be temptingly easy to fill.

So a week or two later, on May Day, I set out for West Seattle.  Though it’s fifteen acres in size, Jack Block Park is scarcely noticeable from Harbor Avenue, because of the way that it is nestled within the Port’s Terminal 5 — there’s just a driveway that crosses the bike path and some railroad tracks and then turns out of sight.  After some distance there’s a long-term parking lot near clean, modern facilities.  It’s another drive, or walk along well-maintained paths, to the beach and similar facilities, opened to the public in 2011.  The area had been a wood-treating plant and then a Superfund site, its hazardous sediment now capped with nice-sized pebbles.

Since I was planning to begin and end in the same spot, I tried out the idea of handling the boat entirely by myself.  Having to move the car after freeing up the boat is a nuisance, and my choice of low tide didn’t make the carry any shorter, but there were no real problems.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had also chosen a day with a north wind, which got started earlier than expected.  Inside the West Waterway though the chop diminished and I paddled along happily amid the tugboat traffic there.  One barge, nudged along by a couple of tugs, bore shipping containers, a crane and some other equipment, and, at the top of the stack, another boat that might have looked fairly good-sized anywhere else.

I paddled beyond T-105 and then turned east past the south end of Harbor Island, once only a spot in the mouth of the Duwamish for trading ships to dump their ballast but now the heart of the City’s working waterfront. There’s a marina at the south end.  The bike route runs very close to here and in fact I paddled right out underneath the fishing pier where we often stop, into the East Waterway.

LelaJoy

Visible from here are a number of landmarks familiar to Seattle tourists, but probably in an unexpected order.

I moved respectfully aside for the boat coming straight toward us, the Olympic tug Lela Joy, and then watched her tie up to the left of the picture and behind.  After a bit I turned around and retraced my journey, getting, for the day, four really good looks at the underside of the West Seattle Bridge.

*                     *                  *

There’s another reason for interest in Jack Block Park.  It’s in the eye of the storm of protest over oil exploration in the Arctic.  Shell Oil plans to base its drilling rigs at Terminal 5 during the winter season.  The arrangement with the Port of Seattle drew fire from environmental groups and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has suggested that permit conditions may not have been met.  Citizen protests, including a kayak flotilla, are expected.  The Stranger describes the situation in this article.

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Two Faces of the Duwamish River

The winter in Seattle was good for paddling and by Spring I had already explored much of the area that could be reached from South Lake Union without portage, including some of the western shore of Lake Washington, north and south from Montlake.

So one Tuesday in April we loaded the Ikkuma on the car from its berth on Lake Union for the very first time and Alex dropped me off at a spot in South Park called simply Duwamish Waterway, promising to pick me up later if I rang.

I wanted to see if I could get a ways upstream first.  An earlier start would have made this part of the trip quicker:  high water in Elliott Bay slows the river’s current.  Nonetheless, a couple of hours later I found myself four miles south at Codiga Park on the eastern shore, which I figured would make a good place to stop and have lunch.The beach at the foot of Codiga Park viewed from upstream.This view downstream was taken during a bicycle trip a few days later, from one of the three wooden shelters standing on the other side of the river.  The land is a former dairy farm that escaped development and has been enhanced as wildlife habitat.  It’s a fitting place for sea creatures, since a side channel has been excavated to make a safe place for juvenile salmon.  More visible to human visitors are the ospreys that have claimed the nesting platforms provided high above, the occasional great blue heron, and the crows that meet on the beach every day to discuss current events.

Above this point, past a golf course and a couple of casinos, at Fort Dent, now a Tukwila city park devoted largely to soccer, the river loses its name to the longer Green River and enters a complex and fascinating hydrological history. The fort was at the confluence with the Black River, which was the outlet of Lake Washington before the lake level was lowered by the Montlake Cut.  The Cedar River, which had emptied into the Black, now flows directly into the lake.  In the nineteenth century, this stretch of the Green would have been called the White River; but following a major flood in 1906 the White no longer joins the Green, finding its way instead to the Puyallup, which flows to Commencement Bay in Tacoma.  The original inhabitants may have considered the Cedar-Black-Duwamish to be the one river into which the others flowed.

I may try someday to make my way further upstream, and Codiga Park would be a fine starting place, boasting a good parking lot and dependable sanitation. The Green River Trail, at least, is navigable all the way to Kent, with bus and even railroad stops along the way, and we have seen much of the river from our bicycles.

It was on the way back downstream that I had many of my wildlife encounters, including a Bald Eagle who swooped down to the riverbank and then back up to his perch as I passed, and my first Canada Goslings this year.  In the morning I had not been surprised to see three little bunnies amid the brambles near the water.  We glimpse them on the upland side, mostly near the big USPS facility, descendants doubtless of pet-store stock liberated at King County’s Cecil Moses Park.

Neither the bunnies nor the brambles are native.  The Himalayan blackberries that carpet much of this area, though now virtually iconic, are considered invasive as well, and the work of conservation groups largely involves grubbing them out and replacing them with indigenous plant species.  The luscious fat berries in August and September will be missed, but I agree that there’s no point in having a patch of these more than a dozen feet wide anywhere.  You’re not going to get the berries in the middle no matter how much you want them.

Cecil Moses Park is a popular stop on the trail for its plumbing and I paused there on both legs of my journey, landing the second time on the east bank at the end of the footbridge.  Paddlers are not expected here though and mud may render both options undesirable.

The trip downstream was quicker despite a little headwind.  I floated by my launch site and then another three miles or so, down to Terminal 105, a  nicely landscaped park provided by the Port of Seattle with a little overlook and a hand-carry launch site.  Along the way the river began to look more urban overall, though official landing spots become if anything more frequent.View of the Duwamish downstream from South ParkHere’s a view of the new South Park Bridge.  The old one was deemed unsafe several years ago and for a while the neighborhood was hard to get to by car, but the bridge was eventually replaced.  Within its arch we see the First Avenue Bridge too, carrying State Route 99, just closing.  Both spans would open for the fishing boat Ocean Storm,  whose crew waved as we passed.

One other site on the western shore is worthy of mention.  Where Terminal 107 should be, there is a park instead, saved when construction revealed important human artifacts.  There are trees, grass, nice beaches and, across the street, the Longhouse and Cultural Center of the Duwamish Tribe,  from whose great leader Sealth the city of Seattle gets its name.  Not to mention a lot of its real estate.

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Polar Plunge

GasworksArctic air gripped much of North America starting last week.  For many that meant snow or thundershowers, but here in Seattle, on the edge of the Gulf Stream, we saw weather that was bright and sunny.  It was colder than we expect it to be in November, but for us that means barely freezing.

I walked over to Lake Union and got out my new kayak. Its only prior trip had been from the Northwest Outdoor Center across the lake to the Moss Bay Rowing Club.  Now, on a chilly Thursday, I had the big urban lake pretty much to myself.  I encountered three other kayakers and one single shell, and chatted with the captain of a Duck half-full of tourists launching at the Sunnyside Street End; but on the whole there were more seaplanes than boats.

With no other errands, there was time to take a few pictures.  Above is the new kayak, with Gasworks Park across the lake to the north.  Below, a view of a few nearby neighbors, featuring the blue sky that can’t last for long.hulls

Once you’re committed to wearing a dry suit, cooler temperatures are a blessing.  You need to dress for the water anyway, so winter just matches the air to your wardrobe.  I was warm when I launched so I started out with half-finger gloves, but switched to the waterproof kind halfway across. As the afternoon warmed, there were fewer options:  I paddled slower, and dampened my cap.  In Loreto of course we adjusted our temperature by wearing progressively less, the practical limit being sun protection.  That’s not going to be a problem for a while.

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Into the surf

The north coast of the Olympic Peninsula, from Washington 112

The Straight of Juan de Fuca, near Bullman Creek

Our life at Loreto Bay had lulled us to some extent. Sure, there were exotic-looking destinations, but they were reached across water that, at least if you arose early enough, was pretty placid. Northwest Washington offers conditions that, if they don’t exactly raise the stakes, at least change the odds when it comes to traveling. The water is cold enough to kill you by itself, and there are places where it moves really fast or gets really big.  I decided to explore some of these possibilities, with the help of my friends at the Northwest Outdoor Center.

My first trip with them was to Deception Pass, where a group of us practiced playing in the tidal currents and nearby eddies.  Then, last weekend, I drove out to Hobuck Beach, on the Makah Reservation south of Cape Flattery, to learn about dealing with surf.

The setup is perfect. The beach is sandy and gradual, the campground above is comfortable and now boasts of some modern amenities, and the experience, both in the camp and in the water, was well orchestrated. I have now had a little success at surfing. As for heading out through the waves, I now understand the problem well enough that I may not just be stupefied the next time I punch through a wave that’s taller than I am.

A surf log and a long stretch of gradual sandy beach, south of Cape Flattery

Hobuck Beach

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We become anadromous

SLU

Five years ago when we bought our kayaks we needed a place to keep them while we were getting ready to move to Mexico.   Seattle of course offered a number of options, but some were either distant or inaccessible.  We could see the Bell Street Marina from our window, for instance, an easy walk up the waterfront; but getting the boats there, and then in and out of the water, would have been difficult.  Other spots that allowed storage did not always provide easy launching.

But after the end of the summer season, temporary spaces opened up at the Moss Bay Rowing Club, which is located, not on Moss Bay in Kirkland as one might expect, but at the south end of Lake Union. Though we got our Eddyline Fathom at Alki Kayak Tours in West Seattle, it was at Moss Bay that it was baptized, joining the Delta 16 that we had ordered first. We only needed the slips until the end of October, when we left for Loreto, expecting that the boats would spend the rest of their days on the Sea of Cortés.

It turns out though that we are back in Seattle, and the Fathom has come with us, returning to its fresh water origins just like a salmon would, or steelhead.  It has waited long enough to secure a permanent, year-round berth within a few feet of the water.  It’s an easy walk from our digs, or one can make part of the journey on the famous South Lake Union Trolley.

Who can live in Seattle and not consider buying a houseboat?

Who can live in Seattle and not consider buying a houseboat?

There’s plenty of paddling to do locally, admiring the ingenuity of house-boat dwellers, dodging seaplanes and racers, stopping in to eat at shoreside cafés — and all of Lake Washington can be reached without any barrier.   And, temptingly, Puget Sound, the Salish Sea, and ultimately the Pacific Ocean are just beyond locks or portage.

 

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La primavera

Warming temperatures have us thinking of heading north for a while. I had the blue boat in the water and thought that I should take a turn around the point and paddle through the lagoon one last time.

On the way I saw two boobies posing. They looked so small that I thought they might be youngsters; but I guess that if you’re standing beside a brown pelican the scale could be deceptive. If there aren’t booby babies yet there will be soon — the nesting area on the northeast side of the point is noisy with either hatchlings or the promise thereof.

The birds were very patient with me as I floated by taking photographs — especially considering that the current kept pushing my boat toward them. Alas, I had been adjusting the camera’s resolution for taking movies, so my wildlife pictures are scarcely more than thumbnails. But it’s a pretty setting.Boobies at Punta Nopoló

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Ensenada Blanca

Repairs and improvements to the Transpeninsular Highway are delaying traffic south of Loreto, but this was a Sunday and the weather was supposed to be good until noon, and so Leif, Susan, Travis and I made the trip down to Ensenada Blanca. As Leif says, it’s never like you expect, but the wildlife turned out for us and it turned out to be a really good day. The season has arrived when cloud cover is not unwelcome here.
Since wind was forecast early, we decided not to chance heading down the coast to the south, but instead struck out to look at the little islands between the bay and Isla Danzante. We started with the one to the north of Isla Pardo, which had been a birder’s disappointment when Leif and I were here in February 2012, but which clearly sees a lot of bird traffic. Today it boasted not just the usual collection of gulls, pelicans and frigate birds, but a big new colony of Blue-footed Boobies.BirdIsland
It seems to me that I have seen a name for this island, perhaps Isla Segunda. That is the southern end of Isla del Carmen in the distance beyond.
We circled Isla Tijeras as well, then returned to the coast to have lunch on the beach north of Ensenada Blanca. Besides all the birds, and some rays who were also doing a little flying, we saw a sea lion and a distant whale, and Leif and Travis, in the double kayak, paced a pod of dolphins for some distance.
By the way, it used to be that you reached Ensenada Blanca by leaving the road at the sign for the Parque Nacional and then just not turning onto any side streets as you drove through Ligüi; but no longer will the offical at the gate erected by the timeshare simply wave you through. Instead, bear left at the tiny church to arrive at the other end of the same parking lot, near the north end of the beach.

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San Bruno again

A couple of weeks ago I paddled over to Isla Coronado with John and Ruth and we spent some time exploring the trail system and chatting with tourists.  This was my first time launching from Punto el Bajo, north of La Picazón,  and it gave me the idea that I might return and do some exploring on my own.  Day before yesterday I went back and paddled north up the coast to San Bruno.

We had driven there by car a year before, January 10, 2013, to explore northward toward San Juanico; but though the others had returned since, I had never seen any of the coast in between.The beach south of the arroyo at San Bruno

I chose a good day, as the water was glassy for nearly eight hours. I set off at 9:30 and landed for lunch at about noon, at the south end of the bay, away from the fish camp where we parked last time. A panga had arrived at about the same time I did, and I saw no reason to intrude. It’s a longer beach than I remembered, with fancifully-eroded rocks at the near end to provide an interesting landing and then furniture.

There were plenty of other sea creatures about. On my way north I saw several sets of little fins circling in the water, and on the return some of them showed themselves to be large rays, jumping into the air and landing with a loud smack (they’re perfectly capable of entering the water smoothly, so they must have been up to something else). There were sea lions, both in the water near me and hauled out on the rocks, and near the end of my return there were dolphins, moving northwest from Isla Coronado. They were hunting, not showing off, so though I can now truthfully say that I have some dolphin pictures, I can also truthfully say that they are not noteworthy.

The landscape, though, I think is impressive. Islands tend to provide the focus for us here, and our peninsular beaches are often just places to launch from, but I saw a lot of very pretty territory and landed in a couple of nice spots. From the sea it is apparent that some kind of strata are tilted up, from north to south, and then eroded by the water washing off the mountains from west to east; and then some other pattern creates perfect slots or arrays of hoodoos, and right down to the waterline where you can get at them.
Costal geology
Along the rocks and the beaches there were birds by the thousand, mostly pelicans and seemingly motionless. Would nesting be so quiet? Maybe they were waiting for the rays or the mammals to leave, or just celebrating some avian holiday (there were plenty of them fishing in the morning, but almost none in the afternoon). In some pictures that I took the shores are lined with shining white heads.

It was about as much paddling as I want to do in a day, about fifteen statute miles without counting any of the detours, but I think that I can now claim, in addition to a couple of islands and some other bits, all of the coastline from Juncalito northward nearly to Punta Mercenarios.Near Punta el Bajo
This is an overview of our trip. The beach at San Bruno is just around the last little dark headland, this side of the more distant point.

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La acción de las gracias

From the Vista al Mar

A Leisurely Look at Isla del Carmen

Well it seemed like time to give thanks and so Leif and Susan and John and Ruth and I paddled down to the Vista al Mar, at Notrí, just over an hour from our beach.  The weather was perfect too, though there were some little swells left over from recent winds.  I ordered my usual fish tacos, and the other fellows had the near-obligatory clams (linguistically-challenged neighbors insist on calling this place The Clam Shack).  We had passed at least one clam diver on our trip down, and while we were there a second emerged from the water with two more big bags of the famous bivalves.  The ladies had eggs, as it still seemed pretty breakfasty when we arrived.

This was the first trip here for all of us this season and I didn’t recognize the friendly young servers, but the view, at least beyond the immediate landscaping, was familiar.  Ruth and John are kinder to their boats than we are and landed them on a sandier beach slightly further south, a gift from the autumn storms.

So thankful were we that it was a while before we remembered that the morning calm would not last forever.  On our way back, a school of little fish jumped right across Ruth’s foredeck, making a terrible racket.  Then, they did it again.  At Bird Rock we counted, among the cormorants, four Blue-footed Boobies.  There is a colony of boobies now on the big rock at Nopoló, just below where the ravens had their nest last year.

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North from Nopoló

The big storms this autumn rearranged the landscape around Loreto. Though it is again possible to drive from the Mission to the Zaragosa neighborhood, the level space in the arroyo San Telmo where the market was held is simply gone — the tianguis has moved to a spot on the highway to the north.

South from Nopoló, the rocky skyline wasn’t in much danger.  Water would flow around the big headlands, not over them.  But to the north, between our beach and Loreto, the level and mostly walkable land is a different story.  This morning I paddled up to La Salinita to see what the shoreline looks like now.  The answer is, every beach that had a lowland behind it was an inlet, some quite impressive in size.

El Tular, the first big arroyo north of old ruined pier, provides a good example.  We have written of this watercourse before, first on January 18, 2010, in “Earlier Posts”, and again on a page with its own name, “El Tular”. Those notes show a low spot in the beach, suitable for wading.  A lower tide may mean more dry land, but today’s picture is of a creek instead of a beach:

TwoLar There are in fact two distinct mouths, and  stretching seaward from the familiar snag is a bar that runs at least a hundred yards out to sea, possibly offering a surprise to boaters used to running up and down this coast.

Further north a ruined signpost has long marked an intersection where three roads came together at the beach.  The low shore just north of there is now a lagoon and the intersection itself is about all that is left of the roads.  And again, between the southern two of the three sets of palapas at La Salinita, a low but usually passable spot has become an inlet.

No more bicycling into town along this route.  But the news is not all bad.  The local wildlife has recognized this change as an opportunity.  Besides the usual birds I saw what may have been a Belted Kingfisher, and an osprey followed me around for a while.  On my excursion into El Tular I met an eel about a yard long but  without memorable markings .  At first glance a lot of beach has been destroyed, but actually there’s probably more coastline than there was before — it just has a more convoluted shape.

 

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Bird Rock

angelfish

It was overcast today but calm and I paddled the blue boat southward for a while, landing now and again to see if I could perfect the adjustment of the seat back.  At one point there was a flurry of little fish at the surface and I mistook it for rain.  Here is a picture of the phenomenon from the viewpoint of two King Angelfish (Holocanthus passer).  There were also a couple of snapper who would have backed them up, but who didn’t want to be photographed.

The tide was out but I stayed close to the shore and eventually came to the rock we have been calling Bird Rock, near the shore just a bit north of Notrí.  The birds seemed mostly to be elsewhere, and I circled the rock counter-clockwise and crossed inside one of its little satellites.  All was quiet until the last moment, but  cormorants are a tough crowd and I dipped a paddle blade to demonstrate a totally unnecessary running draw and one of them launched and then the rest of them did too.  I paddled over to the shore and took a picture of the little rock and its neighbors.BirdRock

That’s Isla del Carmen on the left, with the distant Isla Monserrat beyond its southern tip; and then the little rocks, and then Isla Danzante and then the coast by Puerto Escondido.

I loafed on the way back, too.  The local sea lion was working harder than I was — I heard him a long time before seeing him.  The breeze picked up a little bit and then calmed back down.  The water got glassier and then I noticed little splashes on the surface.  This time it really was rain — I took off my hat to make sure.  Typically, it was just a few drops.  The forecast probability for today had been zero.

Back at the beach, I drifted in as far as I could on some long but shallow waves, but the tide was still way out.  As I unpacked the boat a familiar figure appeared.  It was Chaly, whom I had not seen in probably a year.  He has been busy in town, learning about working on cars.  Don Jorge was there too (in the old days you never saw them together, because they took turns looking after the shack) and they were preparing to barbecue some fish for a guest.  Jorge told me that he had worked out a deal with the homeowners association about facilities to store kayaks on the beach.  I told him that I had just renewed my contract with the hotel, but that this was very good news for everyone.

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In the Lagoon

Our friend Laura was visiting from Portland this last week and there was one calm day that looked good for a little paddling.  We decided to try out the idea of renting kayaks from the hotel (currently called the Loreto Baja Golf Resort & Spa).

We were outfitted at the front desk.  The rate is ten dollars an hour for a single, but they gave us a break on the price, maybe because we’re neighbors.  Down at the beach, our bright yellow Lifetime “Daylight” eight-footers were waiting.  We loafed around the Point, enjoying the considerable maneuverability of these half-length boats, and then drifted into the lagoon.

There were finally fish to look at in the quiet water there, mostlLaura as touristy little pintanos, and plenty of crabs.  The birds put on a better show, with a couple kinds of herons and an egret or two.  We paddled around the big mangrove island and the wind came up, so we thought about beaching by the golf course and walking back, but we rounded the point successfully again.

Pulling my boat back up the beach was harder than I expected, so I unscrewed the little plug in its transom and sure enough, a fair amount of water poured out into the sand.  But for a trip this length it’s not much of an issue.

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Picnic

It’s been windy for a long time, so with a nice day predicted I took the Delta 16 off the newly-repaired kayak rack by the hotel and set off around the point.  I didn’t get far before encountering Paul and Donna and their friends Lyle and Laurel.  They said they were going for a picnic and asked me if I had a lunch and, thinking of the power bar in my dry bag, I said yes.  We paddled down the coast for a bit, landed on a beach with good-sized smooth rocks, and sat and talked for a while.  After lunch I went a bit farther south by myself while the others returned home.

Just as we were leaving the lunch stop, the local ravens flew over, discussing some nesting material that they had found.  I had met them on the beach before I launched, sorting through some tourist debris among the lounge chairs.  I left them a couple of almonds to think about while I fiddled with the boat; they accepted one but left the other lying in the sand.  They clearly have more important matters to consider.  At the end of the day, though, after I got back home, they flew directly over our house on their way to their roosting spot.

The weather stayed perfect all day.  I didn’t see a single jelly fish — this is good news for the people who will soon consider snorkeling again.  We did see a lot of the usual sorts of fish, and here is a picture of a Gulf Sunstar, probably Heliaster kubiniji, from the place where I turned around, the big cove north of Notrí.

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San Bruno

In 1684, even before the first successful California mission was built at Loreto, the Jesuits for a time had a toehold on the peninsula, at San Bruno, a dozen miles to the north.  A settlement still exists there.

From the military checkpoint on Highway 1, a road best suited to 4-wheel drive vehicles heads down to a wide beach in a little bay with a fish camp.  John had space atop his car for my kayak, so he and I and Leif and Susan set out from there today to have a look at the shoreline to the north.

Turning left out of the little bay, one first encounters the mouth of a river that leaves shallow sediment a good distance out to sea.  Then there are several pretty little sandy beaches and some warm-up cliffs, and then a sizeable bay just south of Punta El Mangle.

The beach here is remarkable for having had a hotel built on it, and maybe a private house in addition. Word is that it was active for a time in the 1960s, but now it’s just an architectural curiosity.  Another point of curiosity is, where does the road end up that leads uphill from the hotel?  Because this would be another excellent place to launch, the reason being the proximity to the cliffs and sea caves to the north.One of the big sea caves north of Punta Mangle

The cliffs stretch from there to Punta Mercenarios, at the south end of Ensenada San Juanico, toward which we paddled.  After about two and a half hours  we turned around, the breeze having picked up a bit, and went back to the ex-hotel and ate lunch on the ruined steps.  Another party was lodged on a little beach to the north, at the mouth of a ravine that also looks very interesting on the map.

While we ate, a small troupe of dolphins performed, leaping for a while in the middle of the bay maybe half a mile off shore.  We would actually pass them again later on our trip south, but by then they were even further out to sea.

Wind was never much of a factor on the way back, but there were swells to a couple feet, serving to clean my foredeck thoroughly.  At least these were organized and not from an inconvenient direction.  The trip back seemed much longer, and I was glad to see our little cove again, much shallower now at low tide.  Fishermen returned just as we landed, and had to work to get their panga across a prominent bar.  They had red snapper and John bought one and had it filleted to take home.Our departure beach as we found it in the morning

The fishermen brought a lot of pelicans back with them too, and we had seen several Blue-footed Boobies during our trip.  And just as we landed, I saw a little brown turtle embarking, as though turning the beach over to us..

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Isla Danzante at Year’s End

Leif and Susan and I, and their son Travis, paddled and/or pedaled to Danzante today, after a leisurely start from Ensenada Blanca.

Leif claimed that the local dolphins have been seen cruising down the west side of the island regularly at ten in the morning.  We hoped to find them, and if not then at least to have lunch and do a little hiking.

The forecast was for a second day of relative calm between two blustery periods, and when we went down to look at the water from our own beach at 7:30 we were convinced.  And conditions were still placid two hours later when we set forth, but as we left the little bay the wind became noticeable.  We pressed on and had a fairly pleasant crossing to one of the beaches at the south end of Danzante.  A group from Tofino Expeditions landed there at about the same time with similar ideas — but unlike us, they actually did the hike.  They had come from Loreto and were well into a multi-day trip.We set out again after lunch.

We were still worried about the wind and the way that the forecast didn’t seem to match up.  My friends were particularly skeptical since they had paddled down to Notrí the day before and hadn’t seen the predicted improvement then either.  We launched from our lunch stop with the idea that we would head for port unless unless things looked better.  They did; so we paddled lazily north for a while, looked toward Puerto Escondido, and then headed south.

Conditions seemed pretty manageable until we got past the south end of Danzante, but soon we had to admit that we were dealing with waves coming from two different directions behind us, and wind from another.  In their attempts to remain upright, our craft chose three different courses toward the peninsula; but after about 45 minutes of toil we met up again and rounded the point at the north end of the little bay (about as far left as you can see on the distant shore in the picture above).   There was some discussion about how glad we were to have made this trip.  Susan and Travis had gotten a pretty good look at the promised dolphins when we first approached the island;  Leif had been lagging behind, and I even more so.

I think that in the future we may wait for a longer window of supposedly good weather before setting out across open water.  Also, the tour groups are religious about getting to their destinations before one o’clock; and while we may not agree with all tenets of their faith, well, those guys were probably a lot happier hiking than we were paddling.

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Midday at the Oasis

This looked like a good day to paddle to Loreto, with diminishing wind predicted and partly sunny skies.  There was some swell as I launched but the water became nearly glassy as I passed the airport.  The big spit at the mouth  of the arroyo is mostly gone, taken away by Hurricane Paul.  This palm tree appeared in its place, though.  After my lunch at the Oasis these birds posed for me, looking as much like a chow line as anything.  No cutting in line.

Still no wind on my journey home, but there were now waves out of the northeast, left over from some earlier event.  With a push by them, or maybe just the inspiration to paddle harder to stay on course, the return trip took about 45 minutes less.

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Old Friends

Sea lion napping

Siesta. Photo by Susan Simcox.

There’s been more paddling than usual in the last week or two since our friend Gail has been here and Leif and Susan have taken her under their wing so to speak and introduced her to their foot-propelled kayaks. We paddled or pedaled down to the Vista al Mar on Tuesday and though we didn’t see much wildlife on the trip south, on our way back we did encounter the big sea lion, who has been scarce recently. He was having his afternoon nap, just as Leif has described him, sleeping on his back but with one flipper prominently raised, lifting his head twice a minute to breathe. Our three boats gathered near and we watched him until he woke, whereupon he snorted a bit and dived, but didn’t seem inclined to hasten off. He sounded a couple times to check for fish but it was the humans who eventually turned for home. We heard him speaking again a short time later, but believe that his remarks were intended for another sea lion and probably concerned his claim on that particular volume of water.

Nearer to Punta Nopoló I spotted one of our local raven pair and was lucky to see her returning to her nest, on a ledge near a big bare spot on the east-facing cliff. Though we have been on speaking terms for several years they never mentioned their address. They have at least one youngster and I suspect two; the time they have been spending among the palapas down at the beach must be regarded as work and not play, or at least not all play.

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Bahía Magdalena

Gray whale at Magdalena BayOur location here on the Sea of Cortez puts the Pacific Ocean not far off; and today we motored across the peninsula to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos  to visit the gray whales who come there to bear their young.  I had always assumed that whales would find pangas full of tourists intrusive at such a time, but it appears that the babies are curious and the moms enjoy showing them off, or maybe teaching them some elementary lessons about the world.  Thus it was that we came to to be able to touch a large cetacean in the wild for the first time.

For their part, the humans involved are very well organized. The boats wait like taxis in a rank and a well-spoken agent matches passengers with their captains. Food and sanitation are available before or after the trip and though neither is free there are probably few complaints. No special clothing is required, though some insulation is a good idea because the boats travel rapidly on their way out and back. Decorative life jackets are provided.

In the big area at the north end of Magdalena Bay, we probably competed with about eight other boats, but there were plenty of whales to go around. We quickly found our first baby, who seemed to be glad to see us and in fact wanted to be sure to be petted by each person aboard the boat.  Another youngster had a different idea of play, pushing our panga along through the water, first from the starboard side and then the port, while we enjoyed our new role as bath toy.  Mothers dote from nearby, or sometimes enjoy interacting themselves.  It is an interesting feeling to realize that you have the attention of someone who weighs forty tons.  The males, who are somewhat smaller, wait further offshore during this time.

The babies, who are about sixteen feet at birth, the length of our kayaks back in Loreto, are as playful as any mammals at this age.  Good sportsmanship is exhibited by all, remembering that in the other, Atlantic, ocean their species was totally wiped out by ours, and that in the western Pacific only a small fraction of their population survives. At the height of their slaughter grays were apparently quite belligerent toward whalers.  Is today’s goodwill gesture on their part at all purposeful?  One would like to take a whale to lunch, but a closeup glimpse of their baleens reminds us that some cultural differences are likely to remain.

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Isla Danzante

Danzante isn’t the biggest island in the Marine National Park, but it’s popular for its rugged good looks and its accessibility. Our friends Leif and Susan, paddling out for a look from the beach near the new timeshare development, happened upon it almost by accident — it’s that close. So when Leif said that he was willing to try camping as part of a trip around Danzante, I scarcely hesitated.

We watched the weather forecast until we saw two days in a row that looked good, then headed to the Park office for a permit. Since we would be approaching the island from the south, efficiency suggested camping at the north end, helping to equalize the distance for the two days. A beach on the western side, away from the fetch across the Sea of Cortés, seemed sensible. We asked for the famous Caleta Luna de Miel, Honeymoon Cove, and there was no objection. That was Friday. Sunday night we loaded kayaks atop Leif’s car and Monday morning shortly after eight he and I paddled out from Ensenada Blanca (the one south of Ligüi), breezed by a couple of the little islands (Isla Las Tijeras, Isla Primera), and soon we were gliding along Danzante’s steep eastern coast. Reaching Bahía Honda with plenty of time on our hands, we would stop for an early lunch. But it was here that we were passed by a big pod of dolphins. We saw at least a dozen of them east of us, traveling rapidly south, but there were a couple of smaller groups, and a pair of the sleek creatures passed between us and the shore, causing the surface of the bay to boil with frightened fish.

There was breeze and noticeable swell as we rounded the north end and we kept well away from the rocks, but we found smooth paddling after that. We went to check out our beach and found a group preparing their lunch there. After talking with them a bit we got back in the boats and set off to explore our part of the coast, stopping for a while on the spit that separates the big northern headland from the rest of the island.

The saddle near the north end of Danzante

Looking north. On the far right you can see some of the island's east coast. To the left of the point, if you look closely, you can see Punta Nopoló. We could have paddled from home!

There was a small group from Tofino Expeditions on the spit with their guide Sergio and we chatted for a bit and Leif headed up the coast to have a look at the hill. Around four o’clock we drifted back to our campsite. There are three coves in this fine bay, and ours, the northernmost, DZ-15 on the map, is the coziest. It’s the perfect size for honeymooning all right but the beach lacks privacy — there’s nothing to hide behind. The stunning setting attracts boaters and we shared the cove with a trimaran; but they were good neighbors and on our way out Leif talked with the skipper for some time about fishing. Here is the Google Maps version of our cove.

From the hill above Honeymoon Cove.

Caleta Luna de Miel. Our campsite is on the shore this side of the sailboat.

Camping was a success, but cooking without Alex did not go as well as I had remembered. Freeze-dried food has come a long way, but it’s most useful in a camp where fresh water is available. We carried all our water with us, and so it would have been no less efficient to carry canned food instead and heat it. Also, we have decided that if we are going to be able to make an early start we may need to eat a cold breakfast, allowing us to pack the cooking gear away the night before. For a really long trip we may try to desalinate seawater along the way and freeze-dried food might again become essential.

One other note on accessibility:  before retiring we walked up the nearby hill and were able to call home by cell phone to talk to our mates and get a weather update.  Later, in the middle of the night after the half moon had set, I visited the shoreline and was rewarded with a view of a seemingly limitless number of phosphorescent creatures among the rocks.

We had beautiful weather on Tuesday, inviting us to spend time on a couple of Danzante’s other beaches.  We joined in a discussion with two gulls, two vultures and a heron about who would get to eat a fairly large fish with a yellow tail and a green stripe on its side.  We saw ospreys, on the nest or lugging surprisingly large fish through the air.  We watched as a panga delivered two kayaks, several boards, camping equipment and a guide to a spot at the mouth of a nice little canyon. As we left the island on our way back south the breeze came up and there was some chop; but we slowed nonetheless at each of the three small islands on the way.  The last of these, Isla Pardo on the map, is a bit further down the coast and we had not really looked at it on the way outbound.

From there, deciding that we had some energy left, we aimed for a beach still farther south on the peninsula, and landed for another snack and more exploration of coastline and caves.  From that beach,  Ensenada Blanca is just around the corner and we had plenty of time to cruise by the new development, land, talk with some tourists, rinse and load the boats, drive home, and get the kayaks back on their storage rack by the hotel before dark.

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Isla de Pascua

It was a bit out of our way, but while we were on the subject of islands we decided to make a trip to Rapa Nui, the world’s most isolated inhabited place. In this world of jet travel it still took us four days to get there from our home in Mexico, only increasing our admiration for those Polynesian seafarers who preceded us. To lessen our hardship, we stayed at the Explora hotel.

Besides the usual south-seas rest-and-relaxation, visitors may find views of not one but two fascinating older cultures. And though it figures prominently in the current discussion of environmental “Collapse,” well, the island’s uninhabitable parts, the cliffs and rocky coasts, are still as striking a sight as they must have been fifteen hundred years ago, and before. People and livestock may have cleared the land, and the birds who once thronged here may have reconsidered, but to a sea creature the water is still spectacularly clear and the waves come from a long, long way off.

Ovahe

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Isla Coronados

With a predicted stretch of good weather this last week, all was in place for our first paddling journey to a nearby national park island, Isla Coronados. We left Nopoló around nine, which is not early by local standards but pretty good for us; and just as well because it was fully four hours later that we reached La Picazón, south of Punta El Bajo. Following a splendid lunch it was another hour and a half direct to Ensenada Blanca where we spent two nights.

Our objective

Set Deck Compass on “N”

This late in the day, we were lucky to arrive without battling some wind.

The beach was empty but there were six sailboats in the bay, joined later by one little power boat. Many came ashore for their evening meal, but they returned to their vessels by six and I think that we had the island to ourselves that first night — except for the birds.

After surveying the beach we moved our boats to a campsite further north.

We were tired, and a little chilly when wet (it is December after all) but all our gear worked well, including our new extra-long three person (REI Three Quarter Dome Plus) tent and Alex’s new ultralight inflatable Thermarest. As on our last camping trip we cooked eggs for breakfast, this time two days in a row, and we had fresh fruit and/or vegetables both days.

The moon shone half and though darkness came early, the white sand soon seemed to begin to glow. Getting around camp at night was easy even without a light. There are palapas for day use but we chose to cook near our camp. The volcanic geology presents one minor drawback — there are no rocks with flat tops.

On our middle day we had hoped to paddle around the island, but we didn’t get started until eleven and by the time we got to the landmark rock on the north coast, two-foot waves were testing our commitment. We exchanged cheerful banter with a boatful of divers and then soon turned back, eventually landing at the spot marked CD-04, Norte de Bahía Honda, and having a nice lunch on the pleasant beach there. On our way across the cove a sea lion came to check us out. I looked just in time to see him dive; but the water was so clear I could watch him swim away well below the surface.

Our shade system
During the day it was warm enough that we gave our new tarp its first field test, putting our paddles to work as supports. I will write more about this fiendishly clever device elsewhere. See if you can find our tent in the picture of the beach below.

The beaches at Ensenada Blanca

By the way, though the island is widely referred to locally as “Coronado” it appears in some older sources as “Coronados.”  It could be that it was named for a royal couple, or there could simply be confusion with a group of islands in California Alta. We can see the island from our house, but the distance is over 13 miles as the crow flies. On the return trip, longer because we explored more of the coast, we stopped for lunch at the Hotel Oasis, at the end of the Loreto malecón.

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Las Olas

The forecast today was for winds at 35 kph and swells to 2.5 meters, so we opted for a leisurely walk along the beach.
Surf's up!
It’s been breezy for a week or more, except for one day when we paddled down to the Vista al Mar. But this afternoon promised to be spectacular visually, so we decided to admire it from a distance. There was even surf in the lagoon!

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Rays again

We got to the beach just too late to see the dolphins, but we paddled south in their direction anyway, having no other goal. Sea and sky were placid and I took pictures of some schools of fish to try out the new camera. We were most of the way to Notrí and thinking of turning back when Alex spotted the commotion, apparently between Danzante and Puerto Escondido, big creatures jumping well clear of the water and splashing back down audibly — and heading in our direction. They didn’t seem like the dolphins though, there were just a few, at least three, maybe four visible at once. I was trying to get the salt water off the camera lens, ready to take pictures in the air again, but before I finished they were past us. They were closer than they looked because they were smaller than we imagined — big rays though, this time probably sting rays, not like the devil ray we watched in June. It was amazing how long they seemed to stay in the air. It really does look like they’re flying. It must seem like that to them too — they keep flapping their wings as they slice through the air.

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La Salinita

We paddled a bit yesterday for the first time in a couple of months, having been away for part of the summer. The day was mild and it was calm in the morning, so we set out toward the north just after ten o’clock. The wind didn’t come up until nearly two, and by then we had spent a little time afloat with our new waterproof camera.
The first developed beach south of Loreto is La Salinita

From Loreto’s big arroyo south for miles, the coastline is beachy. The international airport occupies a large portion of this flat area, but starting near the southeast corner of the airport there is a long string of shelters, beginning with three distinct clumps of palapas. The center of these clumps, where the accompanying photo was taken, has a pit toilet just across the road. I suspect that the rectangular shelters further south were built earlier: there is a toilet vault there which has been sealed.

These are not the most picturesque beaches in the area and are not popular campsites for kayaks, but they see a lot of day use, not surprising since they are accessible from town. We see them as often by bicycle as by boat. The road becomes impassible, depending on the tide and your mood, before or after the last shelter — inland “shortcuts” connect all the way to the arroyo just north of Nopoló however, and some lead out to the highway.

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Heat Lightning

Last night just as we were getting ready to turn out the light to go to sleep, Alex called me outside to see the eastern sky lighted up. On the other side of Isla del Carmen, and for most of its length, lightning flashed continuously — that is, before a strike dissipated a new one began at another spot. We climbed to our roof and watched for a while, and then went downstairs to look at the big orange blob on the weather map. The mainland, from Guaymas to Guamuchi, was getting a pounding. Our view was filtered by clouds and it was a long ways off — we never heard any thunder despite the obvious violence of the storm.

For us it meant wind and we were glad of that for the time being, because the regular Loreto breeze had weeks before stopped being good for much except shifting dust around. We had begun to sleep downstairs, started using ceiling fans all the time, and gradually become less formal in our attire (clothing being a nuisance because first insulating and then ultimately a problem even to remove, requiring a wetsuit technique no matter what its composition or intended fit). We brought some things inside that we thought might later be blown around, shut some doors, propped some others open, and went to bed.

We’ll know better next time which items are likely to make noise; we ended up with most doors and windows tightly latched. The result was a kitchen even warmer in the morning than usual. It’s been hot! Overnight lows in the 90s (F) mean that no amount of ventilation does much good.

Except for detaching some of our bougainvilleas (as high now as our second-floor pergola) the storm did no apparent damage. It also left no moisture here, but there’s probably some on the way.

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Frigate Birds

Last Sunday Alex stayed home but I thought that I might go and see if it be possible to get one of the kayaks to the beach single-handed and then put it away again. The answer is “probably,” though it is difficult to keep passers-by from helping. Next time I think I may try the lower of the two boats — harder to doff and don the cover, but easier to get the boat back into the rack.

Having gone to this much trouble I saw that a little paddling was in order, so I nudged the boat into the afternoon chop and headed around the point. As I entered the outer lagoon a magnificent frigate bird flew nearly overhead, maybe eight feet above. It banked left, dipped its beak three times in the space of about twenty yards, then continued left to head back the way it had come, passing me again at low altitude.

Now it’s not unusual hereabouts to see a frigate bird, or at least not rare — they tend to spend their afternoons circling above the lake at the golf course. But like many of the other locals they seem to have a lot of time on their hands, and I have seldom seen them actually feeding. Lots of other interesting things they do for sure. I have seen one descend steeply in what must be a deep stall, tail down, little forward motion, and they’re famous for a dive with fluttering wings. Maybe these maneuvers are social somehow; they can’t be intended to scare the fish.

I described the bird as magnificent, but that’s part of its name — to distinguish it from the merely “great” frigatebird, which has a wingspan of only, yes only, seven feet. These guys are large, and this had escaped my notice only because we don’t usually see them up close. They are sea birds, but they don’t swim; what little perching they do is done inland.

Many of the birds here are easy to cozy up to. Pelicans tolerate kayakers and nearly trust snorkelers; cormorants, though nervous, often don’t bother flying away; herons and egrets will pretty much go on about their business unless they feel they are being stalked; you can walk right up to a vulture; gulls will walk right up to you, if you’re near the snack bar. But frigate birds, well, not being a golfer, I had never seen one this close.

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El Regreso

Like I said, conditions were fine for our rest stop, and as we slid back into the water to head for home the breeze seemed quite refreshing. The water had some texture now but was still quite clear and we were making fairly good time. Gradually the waves began to demand attention, and Alex remarked that she could see whitecaps. They never got to be the scary kind, with spray blown off the top, and they weren’t really numerous, either. It was more glistening than menacing, but the waves did get bigger and bigger and they weren’t coming from a very convenient direction, either. Then, as often seems to happen, near the mouth of the arroyo, the water seemed to calm a bit — I considered mentioning it. Then slowly, as often happens next, the waves got bigger again, the wind became quite strong, and we were struggling, not so much to keep upright, but certainly to keep pointed in the right direction. Skegs didn’t seem to help. I don’t think we ever saw waves as high as a meter, but they were close together and a bit confused. Alex, ahead and to my left, looked back to ask if I was okay. I said that I was but was thinking of veering a bit toward shore, in case there was some shelter afforded by the point — or in case I found it convenient at some point to swim. She in fact turned in behind me, and we persevered for a time. I remember at least once looking back and seeing her, but not her boat — this was no longer the day we had chosen.

Alex was the first to notice that we weren’t actually getting anywhere, and I saw her turn to get following waves to take her boat to shore. I was not disposed to leave her — or to keep paddling, for that matter — so I aimed for her spot on the beach. We were back to Loreto Bay now — just not to our end of it — and before us was a nice patch of sand that we sometimes walk along.

Neither of us made it all the way without capsizing. Alex at least had her feet out for landing before she was swamped. I got turned sideways in a couple feet of water and shortly was groping the sand. We were glad to stop paddling for a bit.

Reconnaissance assured us that just beyond the dunes lay the golf course. After some careful planning Alex began organizing our gear while I set off for home on foot. I was there in twenty minutes and quickly found the racks for the car top. It was only about three quarters of an hour after leaving her that I sighted Alex again, down at the end of the road that leads past the two new Homex model units. We got the cross-bars and then the boats themselves atop the car, and then spent a long time trying to remember the clever ways we had invented eight months earlier to fasten down our load. Our car has its own web page, by the way; see http://www.mwenda.com/Snowball .

We were soon back home, then showered and drying out. Sometime before sunset the wind died down a bit, suggesting that if we had waited long enough we could have completed our journey without the “auto” rescue. Sometimes we are equipped to risk an unexpected night out, but in this case it didn’t seem to make much sense. We are glad that our fairly urban surroundings make it possible to have adventures like this, especially considering the wildlife we met on our trip, without usually having too much at stake.

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Los Tiburones

The forecast was good for today and we had a nice early start. Walking down to the beach with our gear we saw Chaly talking to somebody and when we caught up to him he asked us if we could see the shark. Sure enough, there was something like a fin fifty meters off shore. Chaly said that he had already been out in the red canoe for a look.

It took half an hour for our boats to get freed up and down to the shore but we set off in what we guessed was the right direction, and it wasn’t long before I saw fins circling. The biggest fin seemed disappointingly rounded, but there were plenty of them. They seemed to be moving in opposite directions but I realized that there was only one fish circling, just a very long one. Alex had joined me by now and the shark, keeping some distance, swam in an arc across our bows and then headed back as to strike Alex amidships. I was starting to get a little concerned, and probably she was too. There was nothing threatening about the creature’s manner, but its length seemed to become more and more significant as the distance diminished. Nearing, it turned slightly to pass behind Alex’s kayak; light-colored spots and considerable width gave away its identity. We knew that it was a whale shark, an example of the world’s largest fish, and someone we had long wanted to meet.

We kept up for a while, admiring the scale of the creature’s grace, trying to stay out of the way without losing sight. Another kayak launched meanwhile, paused to say hello, and then went in for a closer look. We let the pair monopolize our new friend’s company until it remembered a prior engagement and headed back to deeper water.

But by then we had made another discovery. With everyone distracted, another set of smaller fins overtook Alex on her starboard side and turned in front of her. This one had wings! Just four feet wide by my guess, this was a devil ray, from both its expression and its feeding habits, not unlike those of the whale shark. We imagined it to be a manta ray, but they are mostly ocean-going and are much larger except when very young. Thurston’s, or bentfin devil ray is another guess. They breed in the Sea of Cortez in the spring.

Our day was complete, but we had just arrived. We thought we should pick a direction so we headed toward Loreto. We still have Isla Coronados in our sights and have been looking for stopping places along the way. As we passed the disused boat ramp a pair of the local security guards motioned us in to warn us of the shark danger, but we we able to tell them that we had seen the chracters in question and that they were not dangerous. While conversing with them there (taking slightly longer in Spanish) we noticed a dark colored heron standing calmly off to the left, with yellow around its eye but not readiily identifiable with my field guide.

We paddled up to our favorite palapas south of the airport. Our kayaks are now always equipped with camp stools, so we sat in the shade for quite a while and drank canned fruit juice. We thought that we would wait for it to laten up a bit so that we could tell for sure what it would be like to paddle in the heat of the day. By the time we got back into our boats again a breeze from the east had made itself felt. And thus begins the rest of the story of our day.

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Wind Creatures

We may need to become wind creatures as well. We’ve scarcely been paddling since our practice camping trip, spending a lot of time on land instead, biking, puttering in the garden, testing out the hammocks. We have been waiting for the right string of days for an island trip, easy on the heat but light on the wind and waves. The accessibility of forecast information has helped us avoid some disappointments but it may also have kept us home on some days that would have been okay, watching the little red dot that is our current selves, riding up and down the graph of the daily tides, hoping for waves no more than two tenths of a meter, or at least periods greater than four seconds.

We swim anyway, though, feeling that there’s less at stake or that it’s easier to back out. We went down to the beach today, for instance, in 20 kph winds but a tide well above average. There were little gust marks on the surface, clearly audible from below as they moved past. We drifted easily away from the beach but had to work a little when it was time to come back. Water was cold in spots, with shimmering boundaries like heat waves. Didn’t see any new kinds of creatures, but I saw the tiniest pintanos I ever have, maybe an inch long but with all the detail of their larger brothers.

Our last trip out together was six days before, and it was a lot more eventful. We had waded in as usual with the intention of going out toward the point and then returning when tired or cold, but we ended up swimming all the way around and into the lagoon and emerging on the easy beach there. I saw lots of rays of two different kinds, and scissortail damselfish out by the point.. On recent trips we had for the first time met a beautiful zebra moray, and Alex had seen an octopus and a slate pencil urchin that impressed her a lot.

Today I received a reminder from Greenpeace that the International Whaling Commission is meeting in Morocco in coming weeks and considering lifting its ban on commercial whaling. I sent a donation. The next time I meet a whale I want to be able to look it in the eye.

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New Moon

Actually it was some time after the new moon before we got down to the beach again; but even at five in the evening, hours before the high tide, there was still plenty of water above the rocks around the point. We swam, instead of taking the boats out, thinking that this would count as the day’s exercise.

Still on the flood this late in the day, the sea hadn’t been warmed the way it was at Juncalito; and so as usual this time of year one is left wishing for a bit of neoprene — we were in shorts and shirts. The clip that means to hold my snorkel to my mask had broken during a year of careless storage, but I just slipped the tube under the strap and waded in.

Wildlife appeared immediately. Alex, swimming ahead, says that she saw a dozen rays during our half hour or so. I saw only probably the first one, who met me coming in the opposite direction, possibly flushed by her. Its body was the size of a dessert plate and I saw no markings, so I wondered if it could be a young electric ray. Most of the ones we see in deeper water are target-like.

We both also saw a moray eel, but otherwise the cast was much as usual: wrasses, Cortez damselfish, the gregarious pintanos, but in far greater numbers than usual. I got out to towel off and shiver a bit but Alex swam some more. In the summer, when the water and the air are both hot, I may not even bother to bring a towel, but it was welcome today, if only for making the feet ready for the sandals. We walked home and eventually cooked dinner. By eight o’clock it still wasn’t completely dark.

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Juncalito

We finally got around to going camping with our new equipment. We had spent some time sorting things out, waiting for the right conditions, occasionally paddling with guests or just idly floating. But this Thursday we toted a bunch of gear down to the beach, packed our kayaks as never before, and set of for Juncalito, something like six miles to the south.

We had considered using the beach north of our home as our testing ground. We knew that it had palapas and primitive sanitation, and if things went seriously wrong it would have been within something like walking distance. We had also thought about the beaches next to our two favorite restaurants, but Alex wanted cooking to be a serious part of our adventure. More than one person suggested Juncalito, and said that we would probably have the beach to ourselves this time of year. Apparently it is a big gathering place during Semana Santa, but lonelier after the first of May when the heat becomes serious, as indeed it did.

We had tried looking at the little village from the road, but hadn’t gotten past the assortment of houses. From the sea, approaching from the north, the expanse of beach is more obvious. There are four palapas (and five trash cans); we took the spot furthest east, near the point. This is a beach that people drive on, and early in the evening we had a chance to help some people whose truck was stuck in the sand on their way over to the next little cove, where there was a boat moored in the shallows that lead out to the nearby isleta (Mestiza on the map).

By the time we arrived, about three in the afternoon, the water in the shallow bay was already body-temperature and the sand so hot that you couldn’t run on it — or even act casual if it got inside your sandals. We are thinking that for the next few months the limiting factor on kayak travel may be shade, not distance, food or water. I have a vision of a tarp that we could erect using four paddles — or we may try to get a tent with a fly that could be used by itself. I carried two and a half gallons of water by the way, ahead of my feet in the Fathom’s cockpit, and augmented as it was by water bottles, canned drinks and moisture-bearing food it might have lasted us through a second day at the same camp.

Juncalitanos are known to be a fun-loving group and there was music late into the evening, and then some sort of event that had police and soldiers nosing about. I hope that we weren’t trying too hard not to look suspicious. After sunset the sky became clear, and then dark, and then full of stars, and ultimately the Milky Way was visible. You can see the Loreto lighthouse from the middle of the beach, and the sweep of the airport beacon. The moon was at its third quarter and did not rise until I was asleep.

We fried eggs in the morning, proving our ability to transport delicate and somewhat perishable food and to fit enough of it into our new cookware. The camping that we had organized for ourselves in the past had been during backpacking trips, where both weight and size seemed critical. We again have an MSR white-gas stove like the one that I started out with and later gave away — except that this one is a lot quieter. Our cookset is bigger than my old stainless set, and we foresee carrying more pieces at a time. There was plenty of empty space in the boats despite our bringing just about everything we could imagine for one or more days, and they didn’t seem to notice the extra weight much either, except when being moved about on the beach fully loaded.

With another easy day facing us, we arose at our leisure, chatted with some local paddlers out for their morning stroll, and launched at a time calculated to make sure that the Vista al Mar would be open before we could possibly arrive. We first paddled toward town to see if we could spot our new friends, and then, at Alex’s suggestion, out to and around the little island. We saw a lot of fish, and then, just at the end of the shallowest bit (Alex backed up once), a pair of neophyte paddlers with questions about equipment. We had plenty of time to linger over lunch and make it back to Nopoló before Chaly left for the day, as he was waiting for a late-afternoon customer to return.

The water was glassy for most of our trip, the biggest swells being from the wake of a cabin cruiser that passed well outside of us. We saw a lot of fellow sea life, including a sea lion or two, several rays, and big groups of yard-long fish hunting near the surface, their arcing fins cutting the water like sharks in the cartoons. Our new friend from Juncalito was out fishing in his kayak the last time we saw him, and he was looking for roosterfish, so maybe that’s what these are.

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More Cetaceans

The moon is full tonight but we waited too late to watch its rise so we will go down to the beach tomorrow instead.

A week ago Thursday we went out paddling, on a day that was supposed to be calm. Without a destination, we paddled directly into the waves for an hour, and were on the point of turning around and running for shore when we saw our local dolphins, moving from north to south in front of us, right where we would have been if we hadn’t stopped for a drink and a snack. They seemed businesslike and not playful, and were soon well away toward Danzante. But then ahead and to our right, maybe toward Los Cardones on Isla Carmen, we saw a bigger commotion, with no apparent direction to it. Others reported seeing whales in our area that day, but we can only daydream.

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