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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