Noyo Harbor, June 30th 1996.

We tried to get an early start on Sunday morning, and failed again. We did get up early, but there were lots of things to do. Sean was interested in seeing if anything had eaten the abalone guts during the night. When we found them untouched, I decided to go back with a shovel and bury them. Sean insisted on coming along to "help", and shouted back to his mom "Were going to bury the abalone guts!" at the top of his voice from the creek at 8:00 AM in the morning. Now everyone in the camp knows what we are up to. Never try to keep secrets with a three year old around. We had breakfast and finished breaking camp and loading the cars before we left, so it was around 10:00 AM again before we got to the water.

The plan was for Charles to join me in a kayak this time. If the waves had been calmer, we would have paddled from the Noyo harbor 4 kilometers north to Glass Beach to meet everyone else. But the waves were still high, around 8 feet, and again I would not be able to do the type of exploring I enjoy most. Instead, we planned a safe paddle around the small circular Noyo Bay in Fort Bragg, and a fishing expedition for me. Charles wore my old 3 mm wetsuit, which seems to fit him quite well. He has never been in a kayak or the ocean, but the public beach at the entrance to the harbor is quite protected and had very mild waves. I gave Charles some verbal lessons in the beach and then we easily got in the water.

I turned and started to go north along the beach near the breakers, but Charles headed farther out into the middle of the bay. I assume he was nervous about being close to the breakers, and I certainly understand. I was nervous near shore for a long time myself. I tried to lead Charles over to the north side of the bay where there were a few rocks to paddle around. Some pretty scary waves made it into the bay, turned, and crashed into the rocky north shore. Without saying anything, Charles stayed much farther from shore than I did, and never followed me around the shoreward side of any rocks. I was amused that his force of will was enough to keep both of us way from shore and away from lots of potential danger.

We headed out into the middle of the bay and straight out towards the open ocean. I'm not sure if we really got out of the protection of the bay, but we did get into some reasonably large swells. I told Charles that I was interested in going in through the channel to the harbor. We crossed the middle of the bay while no boats were going in or out, then went down the south side of the bay. The north side of the opening is a rock breakwater. The south side of the opening is a solid concrete wall. When Marty and I had eaten dinner at "The Wharf" Friday night, we walked out to the beach afterwards. I had seen some large swells go through the channel, and they looked very interesting. The concrete wall sort of quietly sliced the swells in half without breaking them, and you could see light shining through the water as the wave ran along the wall. Marty thought it was pretty, I thought it would be fun to try and ride a wave in along the wall (and it was pretty). So when Charles and I got to the harbor opening, I traveled inches from the concrete wall hoping but failing to catch a ride. Charles went in closer to the center of the channel.

We paddled up the harbor, which is just the last kilometer of the Noyo river, but is deep enough and calm enough for harboring large ocean going fishing boats. There are lots of boats tied up on the south side of the river, and lots of fisheries and restaurants on the north side. Several of the boats were for sale, and at least one was abandoned and sunk in place. The harbor continued around the first bend of the river, but we turned back and headed out into the bay again. The trip out the channel on the south side was a lot rougher than the trip in, but there were a lot of boats going in and out this time.

I had to land for a minute and run back to the car to get my bait, which I had forgotten to take out of the picnic cooler. Then we paddled back to the north side of the bay. I tied up to a strand of kelp between two rocks. The rock towards sea from me was mostly submerged, and large waves would break over it. The breakers always calmed down before the got to me. Charles paddled back and forth around me as I dropped my line into a gap between the kelp and sat down to wait. There is a big difference between this passive kind of fishing, and the active job of looking for an abalone. Even though the abalone cannot run away from me, there is something satisfying about searching and finding them. Fishing from the surface like this, I feel at odds. I am assuming that there are fish below me, and that they will try to take my bait. What if there are no fish there? How long should I wait here doing nothing? Perhaps I should try spear fishing instead, at least you have something to do! After about 15 minutes, something seemed to pull on my line. I thought that was a reasonable period of time to wait, but there was nothing on the line when I pulled it up. Even my bait was still on the hook. I talked to Charles about how long we should wait here, but I had forgotten my watch and there was no way to reliably measure the passage of time.

After another 15 or 20 minutes, I felt another pull on the line and started reeling it up. Charles predicted that I had caught 8 pounds of kelp on my line. This was true, because I had hooked a rock cod, and it had swam around some kelp while trying to get away. But the kelp and the fish came up high enough to reach, and I pulled a 30 cm rock cod into the kayak. This surprised the heck out of Charles who had confidently expected that I would catch nothing today. I decided to quit while I was ahead, and we turned back to shore. It was around 11:30, and we were just about on time to drive to meet everyone else at Glass Beach for another picnic lunch.

Glass Beach is an interesting beach practically in down town Fort Bragg. At one time it was a municipal dump, where all the garbage from the town was dumped over a short cliff into the ocean. This practice has long been stopped, but an interesting thing happened at the beach: Almost everything dumped in the ocean has corroded or washed away. The only thing that survived is all the glass that was included in the garbage. And this glass has been broken into small pieces and ground into smooth pebbles by the waves. Several entire beaches are covered with nothing but these glass pebbles. It has become a tourist attraction, and people come to sit on the glass beach and sift through it for pieces of blue glass. Everyone leaves with a pocket full of interesting shapes, some made by melting the glass in the bottom of campfires on the beach over the years. I assume that this constant trickle of pieces leaving the beach will eventually remove all the glass from the beach again. Marty, who spent more time on the beach than I did, says this is going to take a long, long time.

The picnic lunch was held in the parking lot, because everyone but Charles and I had already had enough of the hot day at the beach. Paul had gone diving for abalone, but didn't find any legal sized ones. He says the water here would be very pretty for snorkeling in, but the large waves had made the visibility a little murky today. I walked down to get a look at the glass beach. Looking out to sea, there was a calm zone behind some rocks that would have allowed easy access for a kayak. Even with 8 foot waves, I could have paddled the kayak in here from Noyo Harbor. Next time I will do that. We put my fish on ice and drove back to the bay area through some very hot weather. When we got back to Berkeley, I gutted and cleaned my fish and grilled it on the barbecue with some of the leftover vegetables and corn from the camping supplies. There was enough fish for 4 people to have a half a serving (our downstairs neighbors joined us for dinner). If I had to catch a real meal this way, I'll have to plan on caching a lot of them, or getting something bigger next time.

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