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Skamokawa Center in the snow

What a year it’s been, and what a month December has been!

Notable events for December include the bankruptcy and closure of Skamokawa Center, where much of our kayaking work was based, and where I have worked managing the paddle center for five years. In fact, five years is the longest I’ve ever worked for the same organization. Columbia River Kayaking, the LLC that the guides formed in 2007, is now scrambling to find ways to replace that income and hopefully keep some of our programming going in some other form.


the end of the back porch

All that snow that we were playing in back on December 20th? Well, an awful lot of it is still here. In fact, it snowed almost continually through Christmas Day, which resulted in our back porch roof collapsing under the weight of about 20 inches of snow on Christmas morning. The light-duty, almost flat roof was never intended to hold up that kind of weight. On Christmas eve, it had started to thaw and rain a little, but during the night it switched back to heavy snow. I did manage to save the front porch roof by climbing up a ladder with a snow shovel and clearing it off. Thankfully, the Subaru wagon did remarkably well in this weather. With it’s all wheel drive and studded snow tires, I was never unable to go where I needed to go. The only place I got stuck was in my own driveway, trying to break out of the deep snow that had accumulated the night before.


snow machine

My driveway is finally clear down to the pavement though, even though the rest of the land is still covered. I hiked up to the back of the land this afternoon and was still finding snow deep enough to go over the tops of my rubber boots. The heavy snow did a lot of damage to the fruit trees and shrubbery near the house, and I wanted to see how the forest had fared. There wasn’t a lot of damage up there, mostly small hemlock and spruce trees bent over and some breakage in the wild cherry and alder. My Port Orford Cedars and Redwoods will need to be dug out of the snow and propped back up again, though. I’m hoping I can save them.

There were elk tracks everywhere, and evidence of them resorting to eating the usnea lichen off of the trees wherever they could get to it. I’m sure they will be glad when this snow finally thaws away. At least one of the feral bunnies is still alive though, having holed up in the empty barn and successfully foraged under the trees.


snowy trees


***********************

Yesterday was the annual Christmas Bird Count. I was feeling a little under the weather and didn’t go out for a full day, but went out for three hours, and paddling about eight miles. There were a lot of duck hunters blasting away in one of the most likely sloughs, so I avoided that one. And there was a cold east wind blowing, too, so most of the little perching birds stayed low and out of sight. But I still managed to get 19 species, mostly waterfowl and a few raptors, and I hauled a pile of trash out of the tidal area of Welch Island. These bald eagles let me paddle right up underneath them.

Well, that’s that for 2008, there’s only a few hours left now. Here’s hoping for positive change, health and prosperity in 2009!


high tide on Welsh Island


eagles


pyranha micro 240

So, it doesn’t often snow this much in Skamokawa, but today I’ve had several inches of snow on the ground for days already, and more is predicted to arrive this afternoon. It is already about seven or eight inches deep in the pasture.

Alice and I went out to do some sledding, which usually gets done with garbage can lids at my house. When it rarely snows, you don’t own a proper sled. So we were scrutinizing the garbage cans again, when I suddenly remembered the whitewater kayaks! Perfect sledding substitute!


Alice at the top of the hill

It took a couple of passes down the driveway to get the snow nicely packed down, but then it worked very well. Too well, almost! On one pass Alice ended up under a rhododendron bush covered in snow, and on another pass she ended up in the ditch by the road, having just missed a small alder sapling.

Already being a kayaker, I knew a little better how to steer by leaning and bracing, but having no paddle, I used my bare hands for bracing, which worked alright until my last run, when I hand braced into the blackberry bushes on the side of the driveway… and then ended up flipping over at the bottom while leaning a little too hard trying to avoid the ditch.

All in good fun…and I’m still picking blackberry thorns out of my hands.


zooming downhill


at the bottom


me, going fast

In breaking with my tradition of not getting around to blog entries for days or weeks after the event, I am writing this one up the very next day!

Last year was the second annual Deception Pass Dash, a kayak race staged at Deception Pass in northern Puget Sound and last year was the first year that I volunteered to be a safety kayaker for the event.


kelp

For those who have never seen it, Deception Pass is a narrow slot of water between the mainland and the northern tip of Whidbey Island. On every tide change, the water rushes back and forth through this narrow slot, which has a small island in the middle, dividing the pass into two passageways, one much smaller one named Canoe Pass, and the larger side known as Deception Pass. There is a tall bridge connecting the mainland with Whidbey Island.


at Deception Pass

On a large tidal exchange, like those near the full or new moons, the current speed in Deception Pass can reach over 7 knots, and the turbulent water attracts kayakers from all over to play in the standing waves and whirlpools.


racers

The race was organized for the first two years by Seattle Raft and Kayak, but this year it was handed over to the Outdoor Adventure Center in Seattle for them to run. Considering the last minute change in organizational personnel, things went very smoothly.


getting ready to race

The day began with arriving at Bowman Bay, just north of the pass. Safety boaters had their meeting at 8:30 and then headed out to their various stations around the course. Racers had their meeting shortly after, and the race began at 10 AM.


Bowman Bay lauch

The race starts in Bowman Bay, goes around Deception Island, and then heads back east to the pass, under the bridge through Deception Pass, around Strawberry Island just inside the pass and then out through Canoe Pass. Before returning to Bowman Bay though, racers have to go back around Deception Island again. This course is about 6 miles, and is timed so that if you are reasonably quick, you can get around Strawberry Island at slack tide, and ride out through Canoe Pass with the ebb. If you are not so quick, you may miss that timing and end up paddling on a treadmill under the bridge, as the ebb tide builds and attempts to push you back out to to sea.




racers

Last year I was at Strawberry Island, and the only rescue that needed to be effected happened right there, when one of the racing surfskis cut to close to the rocks and snapped off his rudder, capsizing him. I rescued him and his craft, and he continued on with the race, rudderless. This year, I took that same station, since I was the only person there that had worked at that location before. But this year, there was no action in my area at all. All the surfskis stayed clear of the rocks, and our station was uneventful, but we could hear on the radio that the Deception Island station was much busier, with many capsizes and troubles out there, since there was a brisk southwest breeze and 3 to 4′ seas at the beginning of the race.


kayak and kelp

After the last racer went past, we packed up and followed him back through Canoe Pass, where there was a nice standing wave pattern building up. I stopped to play briefly and then headed out a little ways towards Deception Island to see what all the fuss was about. Another paddler who I had met there last year came along and we were both thinking the same thing: that we wanted to go out and play, but neither of us felt we should go alone. So we went together.


Canoe Pass and bridge

The seas had gotten larger since morning, and now were looking more like 4-5 feet, with stronger wind and a strong current. When we got around to the southwest side of the island, we found ourselves in an area where the waves were getting very big and close together and were interacting with the waves reflecting off of the rocky island as well. It was an exciting area to be in, and I took a lot of pictures, most of which were blurred from water on the lens. Right after I took this one, I dropped the camera in favor of the paddle, and the wave broke right in my face, shoving my kayak backwards quite a ways. What fun!


ruh-roh!

After some of that, we headed back to the bay and portaged the kayaks over the little sand spit and headed back over to Canoe Pass to see if anyone else was over there. It was just the sheriff’s deputies on the jetskis, and we played around in the standing wave for a little while, before finally heading back over to the launch to see if we could find some food. All in all, a good day, and no snow like last year!


portage

Once again, the camera was all wet and gave me another pile of almost useless, out of focus pictures. This one though, was kind of cool the way it was, so I kept it. Coming soon: a somewhat grumpy and not entirely glowing review of the Pentax Optio W60. There is a lot about it that I like, but it falls short in some significant areas.


Jonathon and the waves

PostScript:

check out the totally awesome “stern cam” video of the race at Andrew Elizaga’s blog here and some stats from the race at his blog here.

Naturally, at some point, my interests in kayaking and sawmilling would collide, and the result of this is kayak logging. Lots and lots of logs end up in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest. Some of these are pretty nice sawlogs for a small mill like mine, and every now and then some nice logs come along in a way that I can actually get at them and salvage them.


kayak and log jam

Last winter, my friend Brian and I tried to salvage some very nice cedar in the whitewater section of a nearby river. We had a pretty exciting adventure, but ended up finally losing the log. Recently he called me up with news of more logs in a lower, flatter and tidal section of the same river. Today, we geared up and went to investigate.

By the way, kayak logging, or any kind of log salvage work like this, even for someone with as much experience at it as I have, is an extremely dangerous undertaking. Logs shift and roll, saws bind and kick back and there are a thousand ways to get hurt or killed outright. Do not try this yourself! If you decide to ignore this advice and do try this yourself, don’t tell anyone that you heard about from me! My advice is to stay safely at home and read about it on other people’s blogs.


kayak accessories

There were some old growth cedar chunks stuck in this logjam, along with a really nice, straight and clear Sitka Spruce log about 80 feet long and about 32″ at the butt end. We decided that the bottom 40 feet or so would be worth saving and set to work.


kayak logging


fun with chainsaws

Unfortunately, the longest saw we had with us had only a 24″ bar on it, and this log was more like 26″ or so at the part where we needed to buck it off. In the end, I cut out sort of a window block to effectively make the log a small diameter. We eventually got it cut through and, miraculously, it did not have some hidden branch underwater pinning it in place. We finally got it loose and tied up to shore nearby. We added a couple of the old growth cedar chunks to our log raft and called it a day, visiting the shaggy cows nearby on the way back to the boat ramp.


towing the log


floating log


long spruce log

Next stop for this project will be pulling those logs up to the boat ramp, loading them on a trailer and taking them to the shop to mill up into lumber.


shaggy cow

I have been to Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands many, many times, since a friend of mine bought the old Grace Episcopal Church there many years ago. I did a lot of remodelling on the church and worked on his vintage Bluebird motorhome up there too. But I had never been to any of the other islands before.

So when I saw that Justine Curgenven of CackleTV was holding a video release party on Orcas Island for her “This is the Sea 4” movie, I decided to make the trip, and visit friends at Body Boat Blade as well.

It takes about an hour on the ferry to get from Anacortes to Ocras Island, stopping along the way at Lopez and Shaw Islands.


ferry bow


ferry ramp at Lopez Island


ferry bollard

I got to Ocras Island right at dusk and had a good stroke of luck in stumbling across the kayak shop by accident while I was looking for the film venue. Justine and her boyfriend Barry were there, playing with wigs.


Justine, Barry and the wigs


Sucia Island geology

After the video event, we all went back to Shawna and Leon’s place for the night, and the next day decided to take a short paddling trip out to Matia and Sucia Islands, part of a Washington State Marine Park. I have long looked at these islands on the nautical charts, and it was a treat to actually paddle around them. The geology of these islands leaves beautifully sculpted edges all around. I took a lot of pictures, but most did not turn out so well; the lens was constantly wet and salty.


beach on Matia Island


starfish

We had lunch on a beach on Matia and then headed back to Orcas by way of Sucia, making a trip of about 10 nautical miles. It was a beautiful day, but it was also Election Day, and we were all wondering a little bit how things were going with that.


the gang


Leon


Sucia Island reflections

I went to Djuna’s yoga class in town after the paddling trip, and then we all headed over to an Election Day party nearby, in a very high end home, with a fantastic kitchen, and a big screen TV to watch the Election returns on. At 8:15 or so, McCain conceded, and it was finally over.

The last time I was away from home on Election Day was 1984, and this year, it was a much happier experience where I was at. Normally, I don’t get too excited one way or another about elections. I don’t have TV, so I had not seen Obama speak before, except for catching his appearance on Letterman in passing. But I have to say that I was really impressed by his acceptance speech. Let’s hope that things start turning in a new direction now.


happy day

Back in Anacortes the next day, we ran across this gentleman standing on a street corner with this sign, and we circled the block to come back around and get his picture.

Yet another kayaking symposium!

In early October, I traveled south to Mendocino, CA to attend the Traditional Arctic Kayaking Symposium. I had never been to this one, since it is usually held much further south, in San Simeon. Initially, I was not planning on attending this one either; it has been a busy year of travelling around and attending kayaking symposiums, and I was thinking I would just stay closer to home that weekend. But when I realized that Maligiaq Padilla, seven time Greenland national champion would be there, along with Cheri Perry and her partner Turner Wilson, I decided that if there was any year to travel south to this event, this would be the year. Once I had promised to transport Cheri and Turner’s qajaqs from Ginni’s farm where they had been left in August, after the LoCo Roundup, then I was committed.


Norsaq and deck lines

I got down to Van Damme State Park Friday around noon and checked in to my campsite, but due to some unforseen circumstances, there were a number of venue glitches. There was a abalone divers’ convention at Van Damme park where TAKS was supposed to be held, so most of the TAKS folks ended up camping at another campsite down the road. It took a while to find everyone, and I finally ran across them at Big River, which turned out to be a great site for almost everything.


Beach at Big River


Rainy potluck dinner

A potluck dinner was planned for that evening at the new campsite. A drysuit would have been the perfect attire, since it literally poured down rain for most of the evening.


Cheri and storm roll technique

The next day was rolling instruction, strokes instruction and a coastal paddle trip. I would have liked to go along on the coastal trip, but what I really wanted was to get some rolling coaching. Usually I am teaching at symposiums, and never have a chance to actually get any coaching for myself. I spent the morning in Turner’s qajaq, working on norsaq and hand rolls with Helen and Maligiaq. I had developed some bad habits that I wanted to get rid of. In the afternoon I got back in Turner’s qajaq again and worked with Cheri on improving my storm roll.

Rolling in a tight fitting Greenland style qajaq is pretty different from rolling a conventional manufactured kayak. I realized how inflexible I really am!


Dubside and Cheri, rolling

One big treat on Saturday was watching Maligiaq go through the rolling list in Cheri’s “cheater” rolling qajaq. He makes it look so easy! And not only that, but he brought a real sealskin tuiliq with him from Greenland. It is a thing of beauty, and smells wonderful, at least to my nose. I’m sure others might disagree.


Maligiaq and the sealskin tuiliq

Helen got to try on the tuiliq with the cheater qajaq for awhile as well.


Helen and sealskin

Here’s a couple of video clips of Maligiaq rolling.





Here’s one of Helen rolling Cheri’s qajaq and wearing the sealskin tuiliq.



Turner and Cheri’s qajaqs attracted a lot of attention. Cheri’s qajaq was built as a close copy of a competition rolling qajaq that Maligiaq had built years before. There are a lot of details about this qajaq that are interesting to builders and competition rolling afficionados. The “isserfik”, or the deck beam that supports the rear of the cockpit coaming, is fastened to the gunwales at the bottom, rather than the top, and the coaming “floats” with the skin, so that when you lean back, the coaming has some give to it, and gives you a little extra layback. The ribs from the seat area down past where your feet go were only partial ribs, not going all the way across the bottom of the qajaq, making it much easier to slide your feet into. This would not be a strong enough construction technique for a general purpose qajaq, though.


Turner's qajaq


Isserfik


Cheri's qajaq, masik

No Greenland qajaq symposium would be complete without a ropes setup for qajaasaarneq moves. Dubside did a ropes demo in the parking lot at Big River, and then the kids climbed on to play, too.


Dubside

Here’s one who was watching Dubside carefully…


Watching Dubside

Saturday night we all went into Fort Bragg for a nice dinner, and while we were waiting for them to be ready for our huge group, the qajaasaarneq ropes got setup again next to the restaurant and Dubside and some kids were at it again.


Qajaasaarneq

Sunday morning there weren’t very many people willing to get wet, I guess, and there were only a few of us on the water. Cheri, Turner, Dubside and Maligiaq were out goofing around and helping a few of us work on rolls. While Helen was getting world class coaching for the under-the-hull sculling roll, Cheri was helping me work out the front deck sculling roll, which I had never gotten before. I did manage to hit it once with Cheri’s coaching.

Maligiaq showed us the new rolls that will be added to the list next year, and I was glad to see that I already knew how to do one of them and quickly figured out one of the others.

We also dragged out the harpoon to play with, and I asked Maligiaq to look at my harpoon setup and critique it. Much to my surprise, a few of the key measurements were actually right where they were supposed to be.


Turner throwing the harpoon


Turner throwing the harpoon

I don’t know if I will make it all the way down to San Simeon next fall for TAKS, but if it ever comes back up north again, I will be there for sure.


Maligiaq goofing around

OK, so I am catching up on these blog entries. This one is only about a month old now….

The West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium is held every September in Port Townsend, WA, at Fort Worden State Park. This year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the event.

I went to my first WCSKS back in 2004, at the end of my first year working as a kayak guide. I took a few classes that year, including a couple of classes that introduced me to the Greenland paddle, which I have been using almost every paddling day since then.

The next year, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to afford to go, until I was invited to teach a few beginner’s classes at WCSKS by Ginni, who was doing the instructor organizing back then. I have been coaching at WCSKS every year since. This year I actually had several repeat students who had taken other classes from me in previous years.

WCSKS is a large event, sponsored by TAPS, the Trade Association of Paddlesports, and includes a beach full of demo kayaks from many manufacturers, on water instruction, retail spaces and awesome evening programs including pieces of the Reel Paddling Film Festival.

I didn’t take many pictures while I was there, but I did get some shots of the rolling demo, and the cardboard kayak race, and I got a bunch of short video clips of the rolling demo, too.

Dubside is famous for making rolling look easy and fun. In the past he has rolled giant sit on tops, rolled with lit incense in one hand and a brick in the other, and rolled up with his trademark “air sculling” roll. This year, he climbed into this giant rubber raft, and attempted to roll it. It didn’t work out so well…


Dubside in the raft





One of the rolls in the Greenland tradition is a hand roll with a brick in the rolling hand. Leon Somme, from Body Boat Blade does all the rolls with the dreaded “Euro” paddle, rather than a Greenland stick. They set Leon up with a giant chunk of cinder block for the brick roll, but it didn’t slow him down a bit.


Leon getting ready for the



In the last few years, Shawna Franklin of Body Boat Blade, and Cathy Miller of South Sound Kayak have entered the demo in a NDK Triton double kayak


Kathy and Shawna rolling the double



Mckinley Rodriguez made herself famous last year for rolling with a bowling ball, and for rolling the cardboard kayak she was racing.


Mckinley



This year the cardboard kayak race had five entries, and the SSTIKS crew built a very sleek looking craft, which was easily paddled to victory by Mckinley. It wasn’t even close!


Start of the cardboard kayak race


Mckinley and the winning cardboard kayak

And of course, egged on by the crowd, she proceeded to roll her craft several times until it starting getting soggy and not holding it’s shape anymore. Marna, of the Humboldt Honeys team also rolled her cardboard craft several times, but the paddler who was paddling what was essentially a square cardboard raft had quite a bit more trouble pulling off a roll. In fact, it took some work to get it capsized in the first place.


Mckinley rolling the cardboard kayak


Not to be outdone, Marna rolls her cardboard kayak too


This one was way harder to roll...


Mckinley and the winning cardboard kayak

This event took place all the way back in AUGUST, and I’m just now getting around to writing it up! That should say something about how busy the last few months have been, or I guess it could say something about how disorganized I am as well….

I’m going to try and catch up a bunch of entries this week.

Last year was the first annual Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup ever. It is the brainchild of Ginni Callahan, and it is held on her property, Slow Boat Farm on Puget Island, WA. This event combines a BCU skills symposium with a weekend of classes and tours for all levels of kayaking. This year, we were the event where the new BCU standards were rolled out for the West Coast of North America. We had coaches and paddlers from as far away as England, the Netherlands, Denmark and New York.

The work for setting up and organizing this event started weeks before (months actually!) with menu planning, BCU organizing, mowing pastures, setting up camping and cooking facilities, finishing out the office and installing the broadband internet, putting up the canopies, grocery shopping, setting up the composting toilets, etc etc…


Leon with the frog goggles

Two coaches were brought over from across the pond for this event, Phil Hadley and Ed Christian. Just so folks don’t get the wrong idea about British BCU guys, here’s Phil hefting a Greenlandic seal hunting harpoon, and Ed, partying down in a sit on top kayak.


Phil Hadley and the harpoon


BCU coach Ed Christian on a sit on top

These guys were awesome coaches, and we had a great time with Ed as one of our coaching class leaders, and Phil teaching canoeing skills and running assessments. Phil particularly thought it was very funny that we had brought him over from England to teach North Americans how to use canoes, a North American craft. Lots of jokes were made about the 1776 revolution…

The week started on Saturday and Sunday with the coach update and fun with canoes. The new BCU 2 star award involves basic competency with canoes, something that had not been required before. On Monday, I took the Foundation Safety and Rescue Training, which replaced the old Canoe Safety Test. This was a pre-requisite for the level one coach training that would take up the next four days for me and eight of my comrades.


Amanda in the whitewater boat

We spent some time in the classroom, which was the converted chicken coop at the farm, talking about coaching techniques and cramming our heads full of acronyms of all kinds. The rest of the time was spent practicing skills, such as using throw bags for rescuing swimmers, playing all kinds of games in kayaks, practicing rescuing various kinds of kayaks, assessing different venues for teaching, and practicing coaching each other in various paddling skills, in all kinds of craft including whitewater kayaks and canoes.

On Friday, the last day of our coaching training, we were presented with a half dozen or so real students, recruited from the local clubs and other places, and given the task of running a brief coaching session with them.

In the evenings we ate fantastic dinners cooked by Dave and others, and played silly games like this one pictured below, where two people stand on upturned buckets and try to pull each other off with a rope strung between them. Phil was pretty much the undisputed champion of this activity.


Leon and Phil on the buckets

On Saturday, I had a couple of classes to teach, rather than taking them myself. I taught two balance bracing classes, which is the trick of laying on your back on the water, while still in your kayak, to put it as simply as I can. This trick is a gateway to rolling a kayak, and the young lady pictured below was a super fast learner and quickly mastered the balance brace and went on to quickly learn a basic rolling technique as well.


rolling lessons



Saturday afternoon, we held the second annual “sticks and stones” Greenland rolling competition. Last year we had five competitors, this year we had seven, including Cheri Perry from the east coast, who pretty much swept the field clean and left most of us in the dust, points-wise. But I moved up a few points from last year and had a couple of new rolls since last year as well.


sticks and stones


Cheri Perry with the stone

Sunday was the last day of nine days in a row, and I took the opportunity to take a 3 star canoeing class from Phil. I learned more about canoe handling than I ever would have imagined. All in all, it was a fantastic nine days, and I am already looking forward to next year’s event, August 17-23rd, 2009. Hope to see you there!


Phil and the canoe poles

It happened at last! Columbia River Kayaking’s first ever Oregon Coastal expedition finished up successfully last Thursday when we all landed safely on the beach at Pacific City, Oregon, over 60 nautical miles from where we had started on Monday morning in Seaside.

Columbia River Kayaking has had this trip in the calendar two years running, but this year we finally got some people who were willing to trust us with their lives on the open coast signed up for the trip, and we were able to make it happen. Our friends from SSTIKS, Marcel and Jenny came along, and also Dave G and Bruce from the Portland area signed up as well, giving us a full trip.


kayaker

On Sunday night, Ginni and her partner Dave and I headed down to Seaside, Oregon in the Ford truck, stuffed full of gear and carrying a full complement of NDK Explorer kayaks on the roof rack. We set up camp at the Circle Creek Campground, met a few of our clients and then Ginni and Jen and Bruce took off to set up the vehicle shuttle: one car and kayak trailer in Pacific City and a car in Oceanside, about half way, just in case.

In the meantime, while resorting and repacking my gear, I discovered that my radio battery was nearly dead. I had gone out of my way to get extra batteries for the camera, the GPS and my headlamp, but I had totally forgotten to stick the VHF in the charger before we left. Doh! Dave pulled out spare batteries though, and for a minute, I thought I was saved, until I tried to put one in my radio. Apparently, the spares were for the previous model of ICOM radio and would not fit in the new, floating radios that we all had now. In the morning, we called Englund Marine in Astoria, put three new batteries on the debit card and Ginni arranged for a friend to pick them up and deliver them to us at our campsite that evening. Whew!

We slept poorly, to the sound of trucks on the highway nearby, and got up early in the morning to start getting ready. It took two trips with the truck to get all the people and gear down to the beach in Seaside, and then a taxi to get people back from where the vehicles had to be parked for the duration of the trip. The BCU joke is that a shuttle is always a five star trip. No joke!


packing boats in Seaside

I had never camped out of a kayak before, let alone for four days, and I had packed an awful lot more gear than I ever would have considered for a backpacking trip. I had even gone to REI a week before to find a sleeping bag that would compress into a smaller package than the giant one that I already had. Boy am I glad I did that! The Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina bag that I bought was well worth the price. It is plenty warm and, when compressed, it fits into an extra small NRS drybag.

Three blue IKEA bags filled with gear went down to the beach with me, and I was pretty skeptical that I would ever fit it all in the kayak. But twenty minutes later, it was all in there, even the IKEA bags, all rolled up, and I was ready to start the trip. Can I say here that I absolutely LOVE the blue tarp bags from IKEA? It makes the perfect tote for wet kayaking gear.


it all fit in there!

I usually paddle an NDK Romany, a much shorter and lower volume kayak than the Explorer, and the Explorer was going to take some getting used to. My Romany has a hard fiberglass seat that I’ve become pretty fond of, and the foam seat and different backband felt pretty foreign at first. When I hopped in the kayak at the edge of the sea, and started to get ready to approach the surf, I realized that I had forgotten to adjust the footpegs, so I had to stop and fiddle with those. I got them right and pushed off towards the surf zone, but I was still adjusting things and trying to get the seat and backband to be comfortable when I realized, too late, that a good sized wave was just about to break right on top of me. I had no time to brace or try to punch through, and I got capsized and pushed right back towards the beach. I managed to roll up and head on out, and that was the only time during the week that I capsized, during the first sixty seconds of the trip! Apologies to Jenny, who was not encouraged by watching this.

The surf zone at this part of Seaside is pretty wide and it took some paddling to get far enough out where we could safely wait for the others. Ginni and I used the VHF radios to talk back and forth about the launching that was in progress. I got one round of communication out of my radio and then the battery died, mid transmission. A short time later, I realized that the GPS batteries that I was hoping were still good for another day also died. Live and learn…


Tillamook Head

Once we were all at sea, we headed south around Tillmook Head and pulled out for lunch at Cannon Beach, and then continued on south after lunch to Cape Falcon, where we hoped to be able to camp at Oswald West State Park. I tried trolling for salmon in front of Cannon Beach with the handline, but the drag of the gear was slowing me down enough to make me fall behind the group, so I gave it up after a while.

We landed on the beach at Oswald West around 5 PM, after 16.7 nautical miles of travel that day, and one of crew who had camped there before set out to find out where or if we could camp. The park had been closed recently due to some trees falling in the campground, and we weren’t certain what we would be allowed to do. Dave G came back without having found anyone, and so we went ahead and set up camp at the top of the trail to the beach and hung things up to dry, and the other Dave set up the kitchen and made dinner.


camp

Oswald West has a beautiful little protected beach called Short Sands by the surfers, who flock there in droves. We had a nice evening sitting and watching the sunset, and then got a decent night sleep.


Short Sands beach


surfer

In the morning, we were sitting around eating breakfast at a somewhat leisurely pace, with tents still standing and gear all over the place, when the park ranger came into view and headed right over to our table. Boy, he was not happy with us! We were camped in the day use area, and even though Dave G tried to tell him that he had actually been told to camp there once before, he was not having any of it. He gave us 30 minutes to clear out or he would be back with the ticket book and hand out $97 tickets for illegal camping to all of us. No need to tell us twice!


coffee and kayak

With coffee and bowls of oatmeal in hand, we broke camp and moved the boats and gear down to the beach in record time and when the ranger came back, there was hardly a trace of our illegal camp. When he saw how fast we had cleared out, he mellowed somewhat. We moved on down to the beach, packed the boats and got on the water for the start of our second day.


we're going out there!


surf launch

Today’s plan was to head south as usual and pull into the mouth of the Nehalem River for lunch and then cross back out to sea and head on to Tillamook Bay, where we would cross another river bar and camp in Garibaldi, a few miles inside the entrance to the bay. But the weather report was calling for 2-3 foot wind waves on top of 7 foot swell, and the tide was still somewhat low when we arrived at the “NR” buoy at the mouth of the Nehalem River at 11:20 after over two hours of paddling. The bar was closed out completely with breaking waves, some of them kind of large. We decided to eat lunch at sea and continue on to Tillamook, hoping that the entrance there would be more passable, since it is deeper.


Nehalem River Buoy


Nehalem River Buoy

This resulted in some creative solutions for pee breaks, and one member of the party getting temporarily seasick when he had to sit still in the swell. Fortunately he bounced right back when he was underway again, and we headed on towards Tillamook Bay, with our fingers crossed.

We arrived at the green number one buoy off of Tillamook Bay at 1:15 and, as we were approaching from the north, the bar there did not look much better than Nehalem had. When we got all the way to the buoy, though, and sat to watch the entrance for a while, we could see that it wasn’t completely closed out. Ginni called the coast guard tower on the VHF and they gave us some more detail and told us that there was a way in, and that we would be OK to cross. A half an hour later we were in the bay, and pulling up on the beach for a real lunch, after 13.9 nautical miles and four and a half hours of continuous kayaking.


Rough Bar


lunch at last!

After a real lunch on solid ground, we paddled on into the marina at Garibaldi, making our daily distance 15.8 nautical miles. We discovered that the campground we planned to stay at, the Old Mill Resort, had its own boat ramp, and that we would be able to camp right next to it. We also found running water, free hot showers and even a coin-op laundry. This place turned out to be a much better camping spot for us than I had thought it would be when we scouted it in advance. We had a fantastic pasta and salad dinner and hit the hay pretty hard.


Old Mill Campground, Garibaldi

The next morning we headed back out towards the entrance, hoping to find our path free of breaking waves. We got out near the bar and called the Coast Guard again, who told us that the bar was better than the day before and we were free to go. A couple of minutes later though, he came back on and asked me a series of questions about radios, GPS units, flares and trip plans, and then gave us the OK to leave.


Crossing Tillamook Bar, outbound

It was an exciting crossing, and we were often out of sight of each other in the troughs of the waves and swell, but we got out without incident and made our way southwest to the “TR” buoy, and then headed south. We made good time and we landed in the surf at Oceanside at 11:15, three hours after checking in with the Tillamook CG tower and 11.4 nautical miles from the Garibaldi campground.


Three Arches, Oceanside

We had a long, restful lunch at Oceanside, got back on the water at 1 PM and pointed our kayaks at the westward tip of Cape Lookout to the south. This leg of the trip was probably the hardest one for me. I ate too big of a lunch, and it took over two hours to stop feeling sluggish and slow. Eventually though, we made it to the tip of the cape, where, just like all the other capes and headlands, the water was confused and choppy, with lots of clapotis and turbulence, and localized wind.

Cape Lookout is a very impressive feature on the coast. It sticks out into the ocean almost two miles and must be close to 1000 feet high, with rugged, vertical cliffs. In the very end of the cape is a huge cave, maybe a couple hundred feet wide and close to a hundred feet tall. I wish that I had come away with some better pictures of that. I stayed outside with one of the clients and watched the others go in. They were tiny little specks compared to the size of the cave.


Black Rockfish!

When we came around the tip of the cape, the wind died down somewhat and our campsite beach was visible now a couple of miles in front of us. I pulled out the handline to fish, while most of the rest of the groups headed towards the beach. Within a few minutes I had caught a black rockfish (Sebastes Melanops), and a few minutes later Dave G and Bruce joined me to do some cliffside exploring and fishing. It was maybe the best part of the trip for me, poking along the edges of the cliffs and kelp beds, checking out the seabirds perched on the cliffs, and hoping to catch another fish. We probably spent close to an hour working our way east towards the beach. I finally gave up the fishing when I kept snagging up on the kelp and we headed on towards the beach, checking out a cool basalt archway and marvelling at the scale and texture of the cliffs.


columnar and pillow basalt


kelp

When we got close to the surf zone, I decided that I didn’t want the spiny rockfish fins and fishing lures bouncing around inside the kayak and against my drysuit, so I put the fishing gear back in the day hatch and tied the rockfish to the deck with my contact tow line. I got a couple of fun rides to the beach and was finally on solid ground again, after a day’s travel that was measured at 21.6 nautical miles by the GPS.


me in the surf


kayakers on the beach

This was the most beautiful campsite we’d had yet. When we do this trip again, it would be nice to spend a couple of days here, surfing and fishing and exploring the cliffs. I cleaned and cut up the rockfish and Dave put it in the soup for dinner, which was delicious. After dinner, we sat and listened to the weather report for the next day, which was the most benign report we’d had yet, calling for moderate wind and only 3 foot swell.


listening to the weather report

I went to bed while it was still light out. The next morning there were otter tracks all around our campsite and up and down the beach. We had a hearty breakfast and got packed and launched for our last day of paddling. Now that we were so close to the end, neatness in packing didn’t seem to matter as much any more, and as long as it could be made to fit in the kayaks, that was good enough.


otter tracks


morning kayaker

We started out exploring the cliffs in more detail and poking into caves and arches like this one that Jenny is in. After some time exploring like this, we finally headed south towards Haystack Rock next to Pacific City, where vehicles were waiting, and food and beers at the Pelican Pub. Today’s trip would be our shortest day, and we landed at Pacific City at noon, in the smallest surf of the whole trip, after rounding Cape Kiwanda in some of the biggest, most confused seas of the trip. The mileage today was 9.3 nautical miles, making the trip total come out to 63.3 nm.


Jenny in the cave

It was a long carry across a busy beach, in soft sand to the parking lot, where we spent quite a while unpacking and cleaning boats, and some of us went over to the hotel room that Dave G had rented for hot showers. Some of the gang went back to pick up the other cars in Seaside and Oceanside and brought them back to where we were waiting. Once we were all packed up and the boats were loaded up, we walked over to the Pelican Pub and had our last meal as a group, complete with appetizers and pints.


finished, Pacific City

It took almost two hours to get everyone back to the truck in Seaside, where Dave and Ginni and I loaded up the kayaks (again!) and finally headed home.

All in all, the trip was a great success, and we are hoping to do it again next year, and are already looking south to the next stretch of coastline.


expedition competed, Pacific City


at sea...

Last Wednesday, Ginni and I took a trip down the northern part of the Oregon coast, doing some reconnaissance for Columbia River Kayaking’s upcoming coastal expedition. The original plan was to start out in the morning at the entrance to Tillamook Bay, put in the kayaks and paddle 20 miles or so south to Cape Lookout State Park, which will be one of our campsites on the expedition.


Cape Meares

We spent the night camped out at Revolution Gardens in Nehalem, home to Brian of Cape Falcon Kayak and his land partner Ginger. We borrowed his Toyota truck the next morning and shuttled it down to Cape Lookout and then headed back up to Tillamook Bay with the car and the kayaks. But when we got to the north jetty at Tillamook Bay, the wind was blowing hard out of the north, and the sea was covered in large whitecaps. We listened to the weather report on the VHF, and NOAA was calling for winds between 17 and 20, climbing to 25 later in the day with gusts to 30 knots. Wind waves were out of the NNW at 6-7 feet, with a west swell of 4 feet at 10 seconds. It felt like it was already blowing harder than 20, and it was only 11 AM.

I have spent some time on the ocean in powerboats, and a little time near the ocean in my kayak, but these conditions were right up against my comfort and experience level. Neither of us were feeling at the top of our game, and if we put in here, we would be pretty much committed to the 20 mile trip down to the truck, or we would have to hitchhike to the truck from wherever we decided to bail out short of that.

So we decided to start driving south, do some research on camping spots and potential bail-out options and wait and see if an opportunity presented itself to get out on the water. We had a good time driving around finding little beaches and plugging waypoints into the GPS unit. When we got to Oceanside, conditions looked more favorable for launching, and now we were only 8 miles or so from the truck, so if something went wrong, it was less of a commitment to reach the park.


Oceanside

So we got on our gear and packed the boats, being careful not to forget the keys to the truck, and got on the water at 3 PM. The Goldfish crackers I bought in memory of Tom, who was a big fan of them.


Goldfish crackers


find the paddler...

The wind was still quite strong and the wind waves and swell were pretty much as predicted, but I found that I was not as uncomfortable out there as I had anticipated that I would be. The wind and current were at our backs and we made pretty good time towards Cape Lookout. We got lots of good rides on wind waves and the GPS said that I hit a breakneck 11.2 mph on one of these waves.


getting a drink

I did not get seasick; I usually don’t, but I did discover the limits of having your drinks in a day hatch in seas like this. With waves constantly breaking over the deck of the boat, I really didn’t want to open my day hatch for fear of it filling with water. I finally had to stop and get a drink though, as I was starting to feel a little woozy and dehydrated. I set myself up so I could watch the oncoming waves while I had my day hatch open. I downed a whole bottle of grapefruit juice in a minute or so, and immediately started feeling much better.


me on the sea...

When we were a mile or so from the waypoint I had put in the GPS earlier at the Cape Lookout parking lot, we decided to practice some rescues, so we each capsized and did a re-enter and roll and then a T-resuce on each other. Damn, that ocean is cold!


rescue practice at sea

Now it was time to get ashore, and this is the part that I have the least experience with: surf landings. I have played in the small stuff here and there, and have been rolled around and roughed up a bit by the surf, but what we were looking at now was several sizes larger and rougher looking than anything I had been in before. We slipped in sideways to the shore to get inside of a rough outside break and then Ginni went on ahead and disappeared behind the waves. I came along behind much more slowly, trying NOT to surf as many of the waves as I could, letting them pass underneath me instead. Eventually though, I got into the zone where the waves were breaking very close to each other, and I got caught by surprise by one that towered over my head for a moment, just before it caught my boat and rolled me upside down towards the beach, in spite of my best efforts at bracing to seaward.

The last time I played in the surf, I was reminded that I needed to wait a bit before rolling up, and so I tried to stay curled up on my front deck while the surf shook me and tossed my kayak around. The water got a hold of my paddle a little bit and pulled me part of the way out of my cockpit, but I stayed in and when things calmed down a few seconds later, I scooted myself back into the cockpit and rolled back up again…just in time to get hammered by the next wave!

This time though, I was able to low brace hard to seaward, and I didn’t get rolled upside down, although I was completely underneath a big pile of foamy water. After a few smaller rides and some well braced side surfing, I finally arrived at the beach, where the next challenge was to avoid crashing sideways into the tourists, smiling and wading knee deep in the water, blissfully unaware of the damage my kayak could do to them if we were to collide.

Obviously, I got no pictures of all of this! When I got to shore, my pump that was stowed under the deck lines was all tangled up, and my chart case was wadded into a ball at the rear of my front deck, but I was otherwise unscathed. Ginni had gotten beaten up worse though; the surf tried to pull her helmet off and wrenched her neck around in the process. She was sore, and declared it to be the worst beating she remembers getting in the surf. I was glad I got it easier than that!


after the surf landing...we survived!

We spent the next half hour or so cleaning up, rinsing gear, changing into dry clothes and loading up the truck. And snacking on goldfish crackers, too, before heading north, to return Brian’s truck and head home. What a day!

The expedition starts next Monday morning, and we won’t be landing on that beach again if we can help it!