Goat Rock Arch, February 3, 1996.

back to my home page. Next and previous story in chronological order. Next in south to north order. To see a map of this area. Pictures from this area.

There have been a series of storms hitting the coast for the last few weeks. Between each storm, there would be a day or two of beautiful sunny weather. Of course the waves take a few days to calm down after a storm, so about the time the water would be calm for kayaking, the next storm hits and churns the swells up again. And on the few times when the waves were calm on a nice morning, I was always in Berkeley without my kayak, or up too late the night before. It is especially frustrating to have perfect kayaking conditions, but have a 2:00 PM meeting at work get postponed to 8:00 PM, then run until after 1:00 am, drive two hours to get home, and have no hope of getting up early to go kayaking. On Friday the weather reports said the weekend would be cold but clear with no rain until Monday. The swells at Bodega on Friday night were only 3 feet tall (smooth as glass) and since it was almost a full moon, I was tempted to go out late at night. But it was starting to get overcast, and the moon disappeared. On Saturday, the swells were back up to 5 feet, with a prediction of higher waves the rest of the day and the weekend. It looked like the weather would be worse than predicted. (Sure enough a big storm did hit Saturday evening). On Saturday morning I figured I had better get my kayaking in right away, or I would miss my chance for another week.

When I got to the Goat Rock parking lot, there were 3 large scary waves going by, and it looked like I would not be able to go. Where were the 5 foot waves I was promised? But when I got ready to go, the water was calm and I paddled right out, climbing over a few large ones that came up too late to stop me. I went around the back side of Goat Rock to look at the surfers I had seen as I arrived. I had been thinking of paddling north to the mouth of the Russian River and letting the flood waters push me out to some of the farthest rocks offshore here. But there was a strong wind from the northeast, and I didn't want to go far and risk having to fight my way back through this wind. So I turned around and headed towards the big arched rock. As I turned, I saw a western grebe just 10 meters away from me. I turned my kayak towards him in the hope that seeing my kayak end on would make me look smaller. Grebes are diving birds, and from this close, I got a good look at his technique as he dove away from me: They seem to jump completely up out of the water as they dive, but it's more complicated than that. They jump up, forward, and arch their backs at the same time. The result is that they seem to turn themselves into a little arch over the water, with their beak and feet just out of the water for an instant. Because of the forward push during the jump, the arch is rotating forwards and they spin smoothly into the water.

As I paddled towards the big arched rock, the wind pushed me farther out to sea. I arrived near the outer tip of the rock instead of heading straight for the arch. I turned and headed back towards shore and discovered that the wind was much stronger here. It was a lot of work to paddle into this wind and it took several minutes to get back far enough to turn through the arch. When I did the combination of the wind and current pulled me past the arch too soon, and I had to turn back for a second pass. This time I went closer to the rock and made it through the arch. But it was a lot of work and the wind didn't seem to help blow me through. I turned and went back through, and it was not any easier in that direction. I guess the water was so choppy that I had to work hard no matter which way I was facing. So this trip through the arch was more of an endurance exercise with no time to enjoy the view.

The strong wind made me decide to head back, so I turned closer to shore and back towards the beach. By paddling at an angle to the wind I was able to crab sideways along the shore making slow progress. When I got back to Goat Rock the wind died down a little but was still blowing lots of spray over the backs of the waves as they broke. Close to shore, three large scary waves arrived and started to break around me. The spray blasting backwards from them blew into my face, blinding me and stinging my eyes with the salt. This could make landing especially scary. After the last of these large waves I started paddling hard for shore. I could stay close to the parking lot, where the waves are milder, but a big wave at this high tide would break all the way over the beach here onto the rocks at the corner of the parking lot. If I stay away from this, the waves rise up higher and will slam me down on the beach. I plotted a course mid-way between the rocks and a hard place and kept paddling strong and steady for shore. A small wave went by and broke in front of me, but I failed to catch it. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the first of another set of large scary waves breaking far behind me. I started paddling for all I was worth, and managed to catch the next small wave as it was breaking. This wave (probably one that would have really scared me last year) gave me a nice ride most of the way up the beach. When the keel hit bottom, I fell out on the seaward side and tangled in the safety line. I untangled and ran a few steps south to get away from the kayak before the big wave hit. When that wave arrived, the breakers went all the way across the sand to peter out against the cliff. I had to sit on the kayak to keep it from being taken back out by the wash from the next two big waves. Then the water calmed down again and the ocean looked safe to kayak out into again. But not today.

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