Sunday, June 19, 2016

Paddle over to see a Tomales Bay icon while you can

Despite appearances, the "S.S. Point Reyes" was no shipwreck -- it was going to be a fixer-upper 

“Picturesque derelict” sounds like a contradiction...

But any kayaker who’s ever paddled on Tomales Bay knows what I’m talking about. It’s a nautical hulk known as the “S.S. Point Reyes” or the “Tomales Bay shipwreck.” In fact, it’s no shipwreck at all, but an icon for the West Marin County community that became its final resting port. Just step or paddle back a bit and observe the scene, on or off the water.
A suspicious fire last February nearly destroyed the old girl

Tomales Bay rises and falls dramatically with the tides, from shimmering salty expanse to stinking mud flat. Many structures near the waterline are a bit rough and ragged but as full of character as some of their inhabitants.

Everything is precariously situated – the “Reyes” rests on a sandbar, which in turns sits atop a major fault line that at some future date could make flotsam and jetsam out of Inverness, Point Reyes Station, Marshall and all the hamlets in between.

But hey, no hurry on Tomales time.  Whether you’re on the geologic clock, checking tide tables for a kayak trip, or driving on Francis Drake Boulevard, slow down on the approach to Inverness and that strange relic just behind the general store.  Like its surroundings, the “Reyes” has for decades conveyed a sense of dignified, gradual decline – at least until recently.

Just three weeks earlier, the "Reyes" almost seemed ready to float again during a stormy high tide

Late last February, a blaze was ignited on the “Reyes” stern. Details are sketchy, but there’s evidence that some idiotic photographer was playing with fire while trying to take an artsy-fartsy night shot. Had the Inverness Volunteer Fire Department not responded promptly, the derelict might have been completely gutted.
A "fixer-upper" now beyond fixing
Like a gazillion other amateur photogs who have snapped pics of the “Reyes”, I was dismayed and outraged.

Even worse, local news outlets reported that what remained of the old fishing boat would be removed immediately by the U.S. Parks Service, which holds authority over most of the bay.

And then…nothing happened. Upon a recent visit, I was shocked the see the “Reyes” nestled in her customary mud bank behind the Inverness general store.  Apparently, the community had reacted strongly to the Park Service plan. I resisted the temptation to inquire further. (Let sleeping bureaucrats lie. Or lying bureaucrats sleep. Something like that.)

But it’s all consistent with the “Reyes” history, which is to say, it’s full of contradictory details. To begin, it’s no shipwreck.  The old girl was towed to the spot by a former owner as a “fixer-upper” project. And we know how that goes. That’s one of the few points on which everyone seems to agree.
Tattoos courtesy of graffiti artists 

How old is the “Reyes”? One online scribe declared it’s more than 100 years old; another story quotes a woman who said it was built by her father as a fishing boat in 1951.

Still another account suggests it was used as a troop shuttle in San Francisco Bay during World War II. Like its namesake community,  the “Reyes” seems to revel in a blend of fact, fiction and local lore.

The critical question, of course, is for how much longer? When I paddled up to the site earlier this month, the “Reyes” situation didn’t look very encouraging. The stern is gone, aft decking collapsed around rusting cables and pulleys.

A tenuous collection of broadside planks dangle like broken ribs. Graffiti artists have long used the “Reyes” for their canvas, though anyone who clambers aboard now is risking a broken leg, or worse.
There's still a sense of dignity amid the nautical decay

It would be tempting to say that the “Reyes” days are numbered. Depending on the tide and next major storm, that might well be true. Consider planning a paddle this summer to see this icon. But remember that in Tomales Bay, time and tide work at a pace all their own. 

Bay magic, even at low tide
Tomales Bay has long been a favorite kayaking destination of mine, and there are many other paddler attractions in addition to the “S.S. Point Reyes”. For launching spots and other info, check these posts on paddling trips from various around the bay, such as Nick’s Cove,
as well as during the off-season.
And in the same general area, a cautionary tale about dealing with tide and mud.

© 2016 Glenn Brank