Sunday, August 25, 2013

Kayak Camping in Tomales Bay

This past weekend a group of our friends planned a kayak camping trip to Tomales Bay. Despite daunting logistics, we managed to transport 24 kayakers the 2.5 miles from Marshall, across Tomales Bay, to Tomales Beach. We arranged to meet Saturday morning at Blue Waters Kayaking in the town of Marshall on Tomales Bay's east shore. The weather was surprisingly calm and warm despite a small craft advisory along the open coast due to offshore winds.

A calm start to the day on Tomales Bay

Once we all arrived, we packed up our stuff and completely filled the Blue Water motorboat with gear and supplies. I was worried we might sink the boat, but the boat driver was very accommodating so we loaded him down with all the essential (and non-essential) gear! In order to feel like I was pulling my own weight, we loaded our kayak with a few small bags to share the burden.

Motorboat support, courtesy of Blue Water Kayaking. This was only part of the way through the packing.

The staff pulled out our 12 kayaks and briefed us on proper kayaking technique, which apparently involves synchronized holding of the paddle over your head.

Now, hold the paddle over your head and make a right angle with your arms...

From the pier, Tomales Beach looked like a long ways away.  Just as we cast off, a light breeze picked up and produced some wind chop which we had to negotiate. I steered our boat straight across the Bay so that we could head up along the west shore with some shelter from the wind and waves.

Anne and Mike, Tomales Bay pirates, attempting to sink our kayak.

Easy going on the west side out of the wind.

We passed Marshall Beach along the way but continued onwards to Tomales Beach. I didn't time it exactly, but it seemed like it took a little over an hour to make it over to our camping spot. The combination of the wind and the incoming tide slowed us down a bit.

Success! Laying claim to Tomales Beach

Our gear and supplies were waiting for us on the beach when we arrived. We pulled the kayaks ashore above the high tide line and set up our tents, which was followed by much napping and lounging on the beach. The weather continued to improve and stayed calm the rest of the day.

We had some great weather and the sun persisted into the early evening. I grabbed my camera and took some shots. It was very peaceful and quiet. The nearest road is over a half mile away and only boat-in camping is allowed.

Small sandy point at the north end of Tomales Beach

View across the Bay

Not a bad view!

The crew played some football, frisbee, and even a game of Settlers of Catan before assembling for dinner. Tacos and burritos were on the menu, including tortillas, tomatoes, beans, avocados, onions, mushrooms, cheese, salsa, and hot sauce. Oh, and of course, soy chorizo (which tastes better than it sounds)!

Anne and Mike during the Great Mushroom/Onion Cook-off of 2013

And THAT is what soy chorizo looks like...

Allison and I went for a walk up the hill and got a nice vantage point to the cove just to the north of our beach. We saw a lone kayak heading back towards the shore just as it was getting dark.

Lone kayaker on Tomales Bay at sunset with Hog Island in the background

The weather stayed clear and although we couldn't quite see the sunset we got a nice display of clouds and fog in the evening light.

We waited until it got dark and then started the fire. Jonas had thought of just about everything and dessert consisted of pineapple skewers and smores.

Roasting pineapple skewers over the very hot fire

After some time around the fire, we were ready for the main act of the evening - bioluminescent dinoflagellates - or, glow-in-the-dark algae! Apparently during certain times of the year, these plankton are concentrated in the shallow waters of Tomales Bay. As we paddled out into the darkness we saw this magic in action. The plankton produce flickers of light when they are disturbed so every paddle stroke seemed to produce hundreds of tiny sparkles in the water. We could even see the paths of fish under the boat as they darted through the eelgrass, illuminated by the plankton. It was quite an experience and definitely one of the coolest natural phenomena we had ever observed.

The next morning we awoke to a foggy wet bay as the sun tried to push through and burn off the fog.

After a breakfast of eggs, mangoes, and croissants, we packed up our gear and readied the boats for the paddle back.

Mike and Sam getting ready for the paddle back to Marshall

Low tide shoreline along Tomales Beach

With the wind at our backs (and improved paddling technique) we made short work of the paddle back, covering the 2.5 miles in under an hour. After a short wait back in Marshall, the motorboat arrived with our gear and we were on our way! We headed north along Highway 1 and spotted Tomales Beach across the Bay.

Tomales Beach viewed from Highway 1 across the Bay

It was just about lunchtime so we headed inland to Santa Rosa and hit up the Russian River brewery. A fine way to end the weekend!