Brooks Island, April 14th 1996.


I read an article in the East Bay Express several months ago titled "One Man, One Island" about a guy who lives as a resident park ranger on an island in San Francisco Bay. The island is a regional park and a bird sanctuary with 7 miles of hiking trails on it. You have to get a permit from the regional parks department before you can visit the island. This all sounds interesting, but the funny thing was the location of the island: A little north of the Berkeley Marina near Red Rock Island. I had recently explored Red Rock Island and did not know that there was another island nearby, especially a large one! The article did go on to say that the island was visible from highway 80, but most people assumed it was just another hill on the shoreline. I had seen this "hill" from Red Rock Island and made the same mistake. I tried to look the island up in my maps, but it falls between the cracks in the Thomas Brothers maps, and is too small to rate a name in the Bay Area road maps. This is another reason why I did not know it existed. Once its existence had been pointed out to me, I could pick it out when driving across the Richmond Bridge or on highway 80 north of the University Avenue exit. A couple times I had considered paddling this area, but had gone off in another direction. It would have been fun to have discovered the island myself by paddling into it!

On this day I was not organized enough to get a permit to visit Brooks Island, but I could still paddle around it without permission. I took my new kayak to Keller Beach in Point Richmond and paddled south around an old burned out railroad pier. The last time I launched off of Keller Beach I explored Red Rock Island on foot and was out a long time. Then I went shopping at the hardware store on my way home and Marty started to worry. She drove out to Point Richmond, then up and down the coast looking for me on the water. When we got back in contact, she described some "lots" that she saw for sale that were wide enough for a house, but only a few meters across between the road and the water. They were expensive lots, because you were supposed to build most of your house over the water. I paddled past this real estate development trick and looked at some of the large expensive houses built there. One of them was for sale, is anybody out there interested?

I paddled past some large berths in the Richmond Harbor, and then poked my nose into the harbor channel. Almost the whole time I had been paddling, the coast was behind a long breakwater. This breakwater eventually turned into a sandy spit that ran the rest of the way to Brooks Island. I cut across to this spit, but did not approach closer than 50 meters. There is a row of buoys at this distance asking everyone to stay away because it is a bird sanctuary. This time of year there are a lot of birds nesting everywhere, and they deserve some privacy. I paddled around the corner of the island and past the house where the resident ranger lives. Beyond this was a tree filled with egrets, and another tree with three great blue herons roosting in it. Around the next point there was a large rounded rock isolated from the rest of the island. This rock was covered with cormorants. When I started out this morning I passed a bunch of Canadian geese swimming in the bay. Everywhere I passed on the island had Canadian geese poking their long necks up to watch me paddle by. As I made it to the back side of the spit, one pair of these geese took off and flew right over the prow of my kayak.

Back along the spit I stopped to talk to another sit-on-top kayaker who was "lapping the island" in the opposite direction to me. Then I passed two sit-inside kayakers also going in the opposite direction. I paddled back along the man-made breakwater that extended the spit past the harbor. Without large ships and barges to paddle past, the trip back seemed much longer than the trip out. Eventually I made it around the end of the breakwater. The breeze was starting to pick up, and a large number of sailboats were heading out from the Richmond Marina to take advantage of the wind. They were going out along the breakwater and I had to cut across everyone else's path. I paddled hard to get across the channel without getting in the way. Then I had a calm and easy paddle back to Keller Beach.


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All text and images Copyright © 1996 by Mike Higgins / contact