Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, March 9th 1997.

back to my home page. Next and previous story in chronological order. Next in clockwise order around the bay. To see a map of this area. Pictures from this area.

Marty is in Maryland for a few weeks and I have not had a reason to go to Berkeley for some time. There was a package I left down there, the cats needed checking on, and there was a show at the Cow Palace that I wanted to go to. These things plus the possibility of furthering The Quest to circumnavigate the San Francisco Bay finally got me going this weekend. I drove down late Saturday evening, got up early, and checked out my maps. The Cow Palace is close to Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, a small park on the waterfront next to the 3COM baseball park. Just north of this park is a large Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point that might be interesting.

The State Park was closed of course. This means the parking lot was closed, but there was parking on the street and lots of joggers and fisherfolk had stepped over the decorative one meter tall fence and were using the park anyway. Why did the state bother to put in those $5000.00 welded steel gates to keep people from using the (small) parking lot between 10:00 PM and 10:00 AM? I slid the kayak right off the van, onto the fence, and down onto the jogging trail.

The tide was out and I had to cross a stretch of sharp-cornered crushed rock to get to the water. Almost all the shore in this area is landfill, and the weather hasn't had time to grind the rocks smooth yet. The water was calm and flat across The Bay, and I paddled under a few fishing piers that were part of the park. Around behind the first point was a little artificial harbor with an imported sand beach. I didn't find this interesting and turned away without bothering to hug the shoreline. Around the next (90 degree) corner there was evidence of a lot of recent construction: Two barges in the water, one with a big backhoe parked on it. A tugboat tied up to the two barges. Surrounding the equipment was the start of a forest of new concrete piers. Leading into the water from the park was a newly-bulldozed ramp in the landfill. What is going on here? It looks like someone is building an immense new pier or putting in the foundation for a building on the water. Why is the city allowing more of The Bay to be covered up? Why is it attached to the State Park? If the State Park Department has millions of dollars to "develop" the waterfront of this park, why do they claim to not have the funds to repair the broken wooden stairs at Fisk Mill Park? Behind this construction I found two attractive natural rocks sticking out of the water. Probably the only natural piece of shoreline I saw all morning. I wonder if the new construction will cover it up?

Well, I didn't expect to find natural shoreline on this trip, so I considered myself lucky and moved on to the Navy property. This was also land fill, made out of large chunks of recycled concrete in lots of different shapes. Without the Navy trying, The Bay has deposited a little sand around the concrete rocks since the land was filled. The shore here was lined with little yellow signs that said "Caution" in big letters and "No Trespassing" in smaller letters. In even smaller letters they said something else, but I couldn't read it at first. Many of the signs were knocked half way over or backlit by the sun or turned the wrong way. I was halfway around Hunters Point before I was able to read one. On the way, I saw lots of birds in the water. A horned grebe popped up out of the water next to me, close enough for me to see the bright red eyes. I saw a kingfisher dipping into the water. An osprey dove down but aborted the dive without catching anything. This scared off a flock of mud hens. Apparently none of these birds could read the yellow caution signs either. When I found one I could read (in four languages) the fine print said: "Multiple health and environmental dangers. Do not eat fish or shellfish gathered in this area". Well what did I expect paddling around a city, or around a Naval shipyard anyway?

The Navy also had a lot of older signs and most of these were so old you could barely read them. The parts that you could read threatened fines, jail terms, and confiscation of your boat if you failed to obey the parts you could not read. When I found one if THESE signs that I could read, it warned all unauthorized boats to stay 200 yards away or face the dire consequences. I don't think the Navy has built any ships here in decades, so the enforcement might be lax now. These "keep away" signs were old and in poor repair, and the "Caution Toxic" signs were much newer. The newer signs were printed so small that you had to violate the "keep away" signs to get close enough to read them. But just in case, I was sorry I had paddled right under a few of the Navy piers and decided to stay a little farther from shore.

The Navy wasn't building any new ships here, but there was still a huge crane and several large boats that had cranes all over them. As I was paddling behind one of these boats, the water started to act wierd around me. Several long slow swells picked me up. These could not have been wakes because I had not seen any boats go by. The water started to swirl around me and stir mud up off the bottom. Water rose up in some places like an upwelling and visibly slipped back down and sideways, pushing my kayak with it. Not knowing what was going on, I felt a little chill of fear. I started flailing around in my head for a hypothesis to explain all this. Was there a creek or a storm drain between the Navy piers that emptied here? But San Francisco doesn't have any creeks with enough volume to explain all this and it hadn't rained recently enough for storm runoff. Perhaps the Navy has a submarine here that was about to break the surface next to me. The hatch would open and an officer with a machine gun would arrest me for violating the 200 yard distance from their docks. But that was ridiculous: submarines don't run beneath the surface when they don't have to and certainly not in the shipyard. And a submarine is just a little bit of overkill for enforcing a no-float zone.

Across the front of the next dock the water rose up in cute little ten centimeter tall standing waves which started breaking noisily! A tidal rip current! I had just witnessed the tide turning and that's what all the strange behavior of the water was about! The noisy waves calmed down into just a ripple over the tidal current coming in. For the rest of my trip out I had to fight that flood current pushing me back. I hadn't even looked at the TideLog when I left this morning, figuring I was far inside a large bay. I never would have guessed that a noticeable current like this would come so far around from the mouth of The Bay, but here it was.

When I finally passed the end of the Navy property I found some more fishermen on the end of a spit of landfill. They were just setting up and I wondered if they came here because the fish were more active when the tide was running. Or perhaps they wait for an incoming tide so that the water will be flowing towards, instead of from, the toxic hazards in the naval shipyard. But there were people fishing from the State Park on the other side who were now downstream from the Navy. When I fish, I'm going to do it a lot farther away from such a heavily developed area.

I paddled into the teeth of the tidal current when I came around the corner of the Port of San Francisco docks. I decided to keep paddling into it until I ran out of time. If I made it past this area now I wouldn't have to come by again when there might be boats here. Paddling hard enough to work up a sweat, I made slow but steady progress. Past the first large dock there is a little channel called Isalis Creek Channel that goes under a few roads and all the way up to Highway 101. I went part-way down this and it looked like it would have several places to put a kayak back in the water for the next leg of The Quest to Circumnavigate The Bay. I turned back. The tide helped pull me back around Hunters Point. This should have been an easy paddle but it felt exhilarating to paddle past the long docks and get an extra boost of speed. As a result I ended up working just as hard with the tide as I did against it.

Today was my nephew Todd's birthday and he was celebrating it over at Jeremy's house. I had offered to take them boogie boarding in the low tide late this same afternoon. So after the show at the Cow Palace I drove north to keep that appointment. I was running a little late so I called from Petaluma and asked Ralph if the boys were still interested in surfing. He told me that they were already in their wetsuits. They were jumping the gun in several ways, since they had to wait for Todd's mom to arrive and drive them to the beach anyway. But I arranged to drive straight to the beach and meet them there. The timing worked out well and we arrived at the entrance to Salmon Creek Beach at exactly the same time from two different directions.

With the rush to get here I didn't have time to go pick up my smaller kayak or a second wetsuit for Ralph. He helped me carry the longer kayak out to the beach and back. I put on my full wetsuit with jacket, booties, gloves, and helmet. The boys were bare footed with no gloves or hood, as usual. I figured that I wouldn't get much kayaking done, but if the boys were going to be in the water at least one adult should be dressed for a rescue. With all that neoprene on I called myself the "Designated Diver". I paddled back and forth on patrol 50 meters or less from shore and caught a few good rides in the surf. The boys thought the water was a little too soupy and not exiting enough for them. Jeremy got cold, and with a strong afternoon wind blowing he was unable to get warm in the water or out. Because of this we left earlier than I planned and in all we spent only an hour in the water this time.


Next story in clockwize order. Next and previous story in chronological order. Or back to my home page.
Mike Higgins / higgins@monitor.net