Tuesday, December 6, 2016

High times coming soon for coastal kayakers

The ultimate high-water experience on Tomales Bay (click on photo to enlarge) 

It’s the perfect season to go paddling and get high…..

…referring to tides along Northern California’s coast, of course. SFGate reports that Marin County is bracing for flooding Dec. 10-16 and Jan. 8-14 during the extreme high tides known as “King Tides,” when the gravitational pull of moon and sun coincide to raise the ante, waterline-wise. This generally occurs during early winter months.

It’s also a time when big storms frequently wash over the coast. Such conditions can make for an interesting kayaking trip, providing paddlers are well-prepared for water from all directions. Last January, I convinced several fools – I mean friends – to join me on Tomales Bay during a King Tide. The forecast called for "scattered showers" that turned into full-blown squalls. Following is a brief video....

Not quite as bad as it looked, really. We were close to accessible shoreline, well away from open water, and properly outfitted from head to toe along with safety gear. Appearances to the contrary, we  also were partially sheltered from wind gusts by the western hillside of the Tomales Bay. Try this kind of stunt under the Golden Gate? No way for moi.

A placid beach before the "King Tide" rolled in....
Even before we launched, we knew something was up that day. 

After two of us carried our kayaks to a wide public beach near Inverness, we returned to the parking area to meet two other paddling pals and chatted for maybe 15 minutes or so. By the time we walked back to the beach, our kayaks were precariously balanced on an island – and the beach virtually gone.

...And only a few mintues later, it was almost gone

Paddling a couple of miles toward the back bay, we watched as water rose up to  – and over the top of – private docks of bayside homes. Very impressive from our vantage point, and probably a bit disconcerting for those homeowners.

A private dock goes under, with its own bayside bench, if you don't mind sitting a foot below the waterline

That’s not to say it was all doomy gloom that day. When breaks in the storm literally created a silver lining in the clouds, the lighting effects were simply awesome.
A silver lining reveals itself amid the high tide and relentlessly stormy weather 

If you have your kayak, paddling skills and gear in order, check out the first big tides this season by consulting an online tide prediction service or a publication like Tidelog. For example, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, there will be an 8-foot swing – from a high tide of 7 feet at about 10 a..m., to a low of  minus 1.3 feet just before 5 p.m. at the Golden Gate.

While I personally wouldn’t paddle under the Gate on that day if my life depended on it – which it would, so don’t bother to look for me out there -- there are more sheltered spots between Tomales and Monterey bays from which to choose. Just plan ahead and know your limits, which might include watching a King Tide from shore – and be sure to stay high up on the beach.

© Glenn Brank, 2016