Expedition Clinic Tomales Weekend, March 26th through 29th 1999.


Every year BASK has a clinic on how to plan for a kayaking Expedition. I tried to take this the year before but had schedule conflicts. This year I was able to attend the classes and then the weekend camping trip. The trip this year was across Tomales Bay. I was a little concerned because Tomales Bay is overcrowded with kayaks on weekends these days. But on Saturday morning when we arrived with our equipment the bay was windy and choppy. All the weekend tourist kayakers stayed away and we practically had the whole bay to ourselves.

We launched from Marconi Cove and tried to paddle directly across the bay to Hearts Desire Beach. With the wind this required pointing the boats a little north of straight across. We over-corrected for the wind and landed at Indian Beach north of Hearts Desire. There we found four kayakers, part of a kayak instructors class being taught by Marcy of Pacific Current Kayaks. Marcy had loaded us a small portable toilet for the wilderness beaches. Finding her on the water like this allowed us to nosily thank her and embarrass her in front of her students. A portable toilet is an issue in Tomales Bay because increased use by kayakers has been blamed for sewage pollution. The National Parks Department has started requiring permits and portable toilets to camp in the wilderness area.

We paddled into a strong north wind by hugging the shore and trying to find wind shadows behind the points. Despite what should have been an extra effort we soon made it to our first destination at Marshal Beach. This beach, across from the town of Marshal, is a popular kayak campsite that I stayed at once before. We would spend the night here.

The food was split up so that each person prepared one entrée for everyone else for one meal. My contribution was a teriyaki vegetable dish made mostly from dehydrated ingredients. Mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and bell peppers dehydrate and come back reasonably well. Onions can be kept for long periods of time fresh. This allows you to present an interesting meal far from civilization in the middle of an expedition. Since this was a short trip, I brought some of the ingredients fresh and others dehydrated to demonstrate the principal. I brought soy sauce and Mirin (Japanese cooking wine) in Nalgene bottles to simmer the vegetables in and make a Teriyaki sauce (thickened with corn starch).

Recently, while experimenting with my dehydrator, I tried drying extra firm tofu. The resulting leathery strips never re-hydrated properly and had a very chewy texture. I joked that they had the same texture as abalone, and then started thinking about it seriously. Perhaps if cooked right it would pass for fake abalone. I brought some of this with me on the expedition and used it in the second batch. The result was not right: The chewy pieces of tofu squeaked between your teeth in a way that real abalone never does.

The next morning we had pancakes and syrup for breakfast then headed north. The air and the water were a lot calmer than the morning before and we had a pleasant time. We landed at a place named "Swing Beach" to check things out. This is another popular camping beach because the campsites are well protected from the wind. Because of this we expected the beach, in our original planning, to be full of motor boaters or other kayakers but it was empty! Penny decided that we should camp here rather than the exposed Avila Beach we were heading towards. This allowed a few tired paddlers to stop and rest for the afternoon while they guarded our campsite. The rest of us continued on to the mouth of the bay.

We landed on Avila Beach just before the fastest part of the ebbing current started. The water was pouring out of the bay and seemed to drop quite a bit around the first rocks at the narrowest part. We walked past the rapids and out along the rocky point to where the waves broke directly on the rocks beside us. Tide pooling in-between the rocks I found a treasure: A square copper nail about 10 cm long! It was presumably used (a long time ago) in the construction of a wooden ship. The ship was wrecked and pieces drifted ashore. Between the waves and the rocks the wooden piece was ground away exposing the metal nail. The soft metal was being ground up between the rocks until I found it. It has a beautiful copper-blue patina on all the flat surfaces with the red-copper color showing through on all the edges where it has been ground down.

I might not have had my head pointing down at the right time to find this treasure if I had not been collecting mussels for an appetizer. Ellen Stephaniak and I collected a small number of mussels, as many as we could fit in all the pockets of our PFD's and paddle jackets. It was enough for everyone to have a few to taste and to get a taste of hunting and gathering on an expedition. We just steamed them before dinner and ate them in their own juices.

When we started back to our kayaks, Paul Hunchinson found a baby harbor seal being tossed in the surf of the rocky beach. Everyone told him he should leave it in the water, but he picked it up in his PFD and took it up to the sandy part of the beach. This didn't look like it was above the high tide line, so he wanted to move the seal again. We didn't want him to move it again, but he insisted on carrying it to Avila Beach. Later when we were half way back to Swing Beach Paul disappeared for a while and we saw him land on a spit near a colony of harbor seals. We suspect that he went back and carried the baby seal across to the colony. But he refuses to admit that he violated several marine mammal laws.

On the way back to dinner I told Penny Wells about the large moonsnail shell I found here several weeks ago. Penny is the person most responsible for me becoming obsessed with finding shells and bones on the beach. She has been a collector for a long time and has infected me with the bug. So I knew that she would be jealous of the shell I had found. We paddled slowly back to dinner and looked through the clear water at beds of eel grass Penny says that these grass beds are exactly the right place to look for moon snails but we never saw a live one. I found a few old pieces of shells but none in as good condition as the one I found on my last trip here.

Dinner was spicy Indian food (Tasty Bites from Trader Joes) over couscous. Breakfast the next morning was cold serial with milk (powdered “Milk Man” re-hydrated the night before to improve its flavor). The sky was overcast and threatening to rain so we got a reasonably early start. We paddled out into the middle of the bay and landed on Hog Island for a lesson in navigation. We were supposed to read the chart and plot a compass bearing to take us back to Marconi Cove. Penny suggested that we follow that bearing exactly and see where we hit the land. Almost everyone cheated on this and adjusted their course to go straight to our destination. Penny and I followed our compass and let the wind from the west blow us to the left and came to beach way short of the next point.

We all got back together around the point and worked our way down the coast in front of all the houses. Two people came out on their deck and waved back when Casey and I waved at them. Then they went back into their house, came out with a megaphone and shouted something at us. We couldn't understand what they said so most of us waved back and kept going. Paul zoomed over under their deck to ask them to repeat it but they retreated inside their house, shut the door and turned out their lights. Paul asked their next door neighbor if she heard what they said. The neighbor said they probably shouted "Go away!" because there are too many kayakers on this bay. On that note we paddled around the last corner and landed to pack up and go home.


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All text and images Copyright © 1999 by Mike Higgins / contact