Lost Beach, May 26th to 29th 2006.

Dave Littlejohn and Dörte Mann suggested that we do an open ocean paddle over the Memorial Day Weekend, so I suggested Lost Beach. Jerry Albright had removed all the parts to his driftwood fired hot tub for repair and I was interested in trying to build my own version. We made vague plans to go to a lake in the Sierras if the ocean was too rough, but driving up there and back would be such a bummer that we stuck with the ocean. The swell was predicted to be under 7 feet and becoming less over the whole weekend. I arranged to leave a car at Fort Ross State Park for the weekend so we would have a safe place to launch and land no matter what the swell did. What I didn’t count on was the wind. It was blowing at 20 knots when we launched noonish on Friday. There was some hope that it would die down by Monday when we would be paddling back. On Friday it was blowing our way and we quickly made it to Lost Beach. After setting up our tents we went for a walk to look at the old tub site and the hiking trail down to this section of the Sonoma Lost Coast. I took a handful of rounded beach pebbles up above the worst part of the trail and spelled out a message in the trail: “MH à” but nobody ever noticed it. We looked at the location that Jerry used to build his hot tub and decided to try a new location. In the widest sandy portion of Lost Beach, right next to where we normally camp, a new creek had sprung up. I assume that this was caused by something that the CalTrans engineers had done while fixing Highway One 300 feet over our heads. This new creek had started eroding a lot of the beach away in the last year or so. It had more than enough water in it and some pools that were easier to get to above the beach. Unfortunately this creek had eroded even more of the sand out of the middle of Lost Beach since I was last there in February. All the sand that I had planned to dig a hot tub into was gone and even the new 50 foot hose I brought was not able to reach a sandy spot to set up a tub. Instead we built our tub between two driftwood logs imbedded in the gravel creek bed where there used to be 6 feet of sand. We imported buckets full of sand to line the resulting hole to protect our tarp from some of the sharp edges.

Rather than try to engineer some new hot tub heater design I stuck with Jerry’s old tried and true design. A garden hose siphoned water from a pool 15 feet above the beach and brought water pressure down to us. This went through a valve and 6 feet of aluminum tubing, then 25 feet of copper tubing wound in a 9 inch coil. Another 6 feet of aluminum tubing then went straight to the tarp/tub. We built a big driftwood fire around and inside the coil and ran water through it. If we turned the valve down low, the water spent more time in the coil and came out hotter. Too hot and it would start boiling and spitting like an espresso machine! Too much flow and the water would come out almost as cold as it went in. As we started filling the tub/tarp we wanted it to fill fast so we had the temperature turned down. The siphon hose sucked up a pollywog out of the creek which survived the trip down the hose, through the fire in the coil, out into the tub and swam around for a while! We turned the flow down to heat the water up more even thought that meant taking longer to fill the tub. We started filling around 4:00 PM and it was full enough and hot enough to get in well before sunset at 8:30.

We, or at least I, stayed in the tub for hours. After Dave and Dörte left I stopped feeding the fire. I moved under the output tubing as the fire cooled off, and then played with the flow to try to stay warm. If I plugged up the output tube and waited a few seconds then the water warmed up hot in the coil and came out hot for a short while. Eventually it started to rain a little bit and I jumped out to put on my clothes before they got wetter than I was.

Saturday the wind blew all day and we did not feel like fighting it to go kayaking. We did a little more engineering, building rock walls on both sided of the coil to make it easier to hold driftwood close to the coil and to help reflect heat back. Of course we also spent some time collecting firewood for the evening soak. Dörte built a sun dial on the beach and calibrated it every hour. But most of the day we lazed about reading books. We left the tub full of cool water all day to hold the tarp down in the wind. At 4:00 PM we started the fire again. We let the hot water flow in the top of the tub and siphoned the cold water out of the bottom with a piece of old copper pipe that Jerry had left behind. Leaving the water still for several hours we could carefully stick our hands into the tub and feel the thermo-cline where the hot water floated above the colder water below. When the thermo-cline got close to the bottom we removed the siphon hose and let the hot water accumulate.

That evening Fred Cooper and Mary Ann Furda hiked in to join us. They arrived just before sunset as the first three of us were getting into the tub. Fred and Mary Ann first set up their tents and cooked themselves a quick meal. When they started heading our way we put the siphon hose back in to remove more cool water from the bottom and make room for two more people in the tub. We had made the tub small so it would fill fast, so it was a bit of a squeeze to fit all of us in. By digging more dirt out between the logs or moving the logs down on the other end we could probably make a bigger tub if more friends show up next time.

Sunday the wind blew all day again. We almost got into our kayaks to do some rock gardening. If one of us had been motivated the other two kayakers probably would have joined in. Instead we lazed around on the beach reading all day again. We stuck Fred and Mary Ann with the task of gathering enough firewood, since they had enjoyed it the evening before without having to work to help set it up.

Jerry’s old location for the hot tub was close enough to the water that you can jump out, run into the waves at high tide, and jump back in again. This new location is a bit far from the water and over some rough gravel that you don’t want to cut your feet on. But as we were getting ready to jump in Sunday evening, Dörte dunked in the cold ocean first. To uphold the macho reputation of us tough guys, I ran into the ocean as well but could not talk anyone else into joining me before getting into the tub.

Monday morning dawned warm sunny and windless. We hid the parts of the hot tub in a secret place so it would be there for next time. Fred and Mary Ann had to leave early to get to other appointments. Us three kayakers also packed up our tents and gear and got ready to go paddling. With calm air and water we turned south to go rock gardening in the coves near Jenner. This turned out to be a nice day with swell small enough to allow us to go into most of the caves arches and washovers all the way down past Russian Gulch Beach. We stopped on a sunny beach in one of the coves for lunch.

When we paddled back out from behind the protection of that cove we discovered to our horror that the wind had come back! Now we had to paddle 4 miles back to the campground and 3 miles past that to get to our car! From the reports later I found that the wind was blowing 18 knots in our face as we started and grew to 24 knots by the time we got to Fort Ross Cove. We had only one large rock to hide behind for a break at the half way point. I was concerned that the wind waves would be breaking over the Fort Ross Reef and force us to go way out to sea and around. But as we approached the reef the waves calmed down completely. We paddled over the reef looking down at the dark shallow water. I tried to sound the reef with my paddle but the tide was high and I missed the shallowest part. Then on the up-wind side of the reef the waves rose back up again to make our last mile or so more difficult. Dave predicted we were only making one mile an hour against the wind, but when I added it up afterwards we averaged almost 2 miles an hour into the wind. A difficult slog of a paddle but something to be proud of afterwards.

All text and images Copyright © 2006 by Mike Higgins / contact