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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!