McKerricher State Park to Noyo Bay, September 11th 1996.

My friend Paul Futcher who lives in Mendocino County is an avid river kayaker. He has been in the Atlantic Ocean but never in the Pacific. He has tried, without success, to get me interested in white water river kayaking. In turn, I have suggested that we go ocean kayaking, and he agreed to try it out. This gives me another chance to work on the quest to paddle the Mendocino County coast, and with a kayaking buddy to make the trip safer. I drove up late the night before, stayed in Paul's spare bedroom, and got up early with him to drive out to the coast. We took two cars so we could do a section of the coast in only one direction.

I suggested doing the section of coast down past Glass Beach and into Noyo Harbor. Rough waves prevented me from going up this coastline the last time I was in the area but NOAA was predicting only 4 foot swells this time. We left a car at the Noyo Jetty Beach and drove north to McKerricher State Park only 8 kilometers north. We got in the water on the end of a long sandy beach with mild breakers. There were several surfers in the water waiting hopefully for some bigger waves, but they were doomed to disappointment this day.

We paddled between some rocks on the point south of the beach, then went past a long stretch of coast with sandy beaches and large breaking waves. The surfers should have been down here! We were forced to stay pretty far from shore and I apologized to Paul for such a boring stretch of shore. Fortunately the coastline got rocky again and we found ourselves paddling behind the rocks close to shore. In several places huge waves rose up and broke over the first few rocks, but we found reasonably calm passage close to shore.

I told Paul that this type of exploring around the rocks and into each little cove was the type of kayaking I like best. The rocks close to shore got larger and more interesting to explore around (looking for caves) and suddenly I realized we were at Glass Beach. We landed for a few minutes to stretch and search through the glass pebbles for rare blue ones. I found a small handful of blue ones to bring back to Marty. Paul has taken his family here before, and they say the rarest thing on this beach is red glass pebbles. We didn't find any red, unless you count the translucent red piece of abalone shell that I found. Paul says this doesn't count because it is not of man-made origin. We got back in the water and continued exploring the rock strewn water near the beach. The water was very mild until you practically got out to sea, with shallow channels between hundreds of large water carved rocks. We found a few small caves, but nothing large enough to paddle into.

Around the next point was a large square cove. The shore here is all private property, part of a lumber mill. I followed the coastline, going behind every rock and poking into every dent in the shore. Paul hung back and cut across the cove unless I found something interesting, like some rough water behind a rock to paddle through. He was a little tired, and whined about how in white water river kayaking the water moves you forward without having to paddle the whole trip. Perhaps this sport really is keeping me in good shape.

Paul has a reputation of being a (good natured) whiner and complainer. He felt obligated to grouse about getting wet, saying that he can get into a river kayak on dry land, put on the spray skirt and slide into the water without getting his feet wet for an entire trip. He also said that the seat on this ocean kayak was even less comfortable than the seat in a river kayak. I turned around and adjusted mine to show him where the straps in the back slip loose, and he noticed that my feet were dangling in the water to do this. He asked "Trolling for sharks?" and didn't try to adjust his own seat. I asked Paul how he would rate some of the rough channels we paddled through. (White water kayakers have a system, Class 1 is flat calm paddling, Class 2 is starting to get fun, Class 3 is starting to get life threatening). He said we never got above Class 1.5 on this whole trip.

The next point was the last one before Noyo Harbor, and I thought the trip was over. But turning into the bay, I saw some caves in the shore near the point. I paddled into the first one and found a large echoing chamber with noisy waves breaking half way across. The water was too rough to go all the way across, but we could see light coming through a small crack in the other side. We went in this cave one at a time, with the other kayaker hanging outside and warning about large waves coming. Then we went back to the last little covelet and found the crack where the light was getting in. Way to small to paddle through.

We went on to the next cave which was separated from the first one by a short dike of rock. This was another large chamber with calmer water, even though the water was only a meter deep. We both paddled into this cave, all the way to the back where the waves broke into a smaller tunnel. This seemed to turn left and lead back to the first cave. It was almost large enough to try paddling into, but we resisted.

Beyond the next row of rock, there was another entrance to an arch that opened up into a sinkhole over our heads. This entire trip I had been looking for some interesting caves to take Paul into, and was pleased to have finally found some. These three caves were only 200 meters from where Charles Hessom and I had sat tied up in the kelp fishing! If I had known about them on that trip, I might have been tempted to drag Charles into them, but the water was a lot rougher on that day.

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