China Beach Evening Paddle, May 21st 1997.

Jamie Morgan, who I paddled around Kauai with recently, lives in San Francisco and suggested this evening paddle. I arranged my schedule to run a bunch of errands down through Marin County so I could show up at China Beach by 6:00 PM on this Wednesday evening. This trip was announced by email and not in the BASK newsletter, so only a few other paddlers heard about it and only one other, Peter, showed up in the China Beach parking lot. Jamie chose China Beach over nearby Baker Beach because the waves would be milder for take off and landing. The danger at China Beach is bureaucratic: The rangers may come by and lock the gates, requiring us to carry our boats up the hill and toss them over a two meter fence.

We launched with no problems and paddled northwest towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Jamie claimed that there was a strong eddy current here and we should have an easy paddle. The eddy would swing us out and around, then the flood tide would start and pull us along the Lands End area back to the beach. But then he told us that the low tide was an hour ago, which confused me: The eddy current should be strongest during the maximum ebb tide, which should have been around an hour before the low tide. If we were there when the flood tide started, the eddy would be going in the opposite direction from our intended course. However, Peter and I deferred to the local expert and followed him to the bridge and out behind the south tower pylon.

Here we discovered a strong wind blowing into The Bay, at least 20 knots by my measure. If there was any current it was totally overwhelmed by the wind. We hid behind the pylon for a few minutes then turned into the teeth of it and headed out to sea. Jamie told us that after a few minutes we would find the eddy current and the wind should die down. It never happened. Jamie admitted later that perhaps we should have done this trip an hour earlier to catch the eddy. We worked hard to fight the wind and managed to complete a big circle out and back towards Lands End. Peter and I ribbed Jamie about promising an easy eddy paddle and delivering a workout instead. We had hopes of going around the Lands End lighthouse, south to the sea lion rocks and paddling back along the coast. However, the flood tide started before we got to the light house. The water rose up into some large standing waves, perhaps two meters tall. We rode back to shore as soon as it started getting scary. Then the waves helped push us the short distance back to China Beach.

Jamie immediately went to get his car and drove home in his wetsuit (to prepare dinner for us all). Peter and I changed first and were still up in the parking lot with our cars when the ranger arrived, shortly after 9:00 PM. Peter convinced him to wait for us to get out boats, and the ranger roared off in his cop-car. We drove straight down, got out boats, and came back up and the ranger was back waiting by the gate to chain it shut.

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All text and images Copyright © 1997 by Mike Higgins / contact