Sunday, December 22, 2019

That other, more peaceful paddling season

Holiday decorations adorn trees over a Lake Natoma bayou

If you missed Winter Solstice, it occurred here at 8:19 p.m. on Dec. 21...

...and it’s easy to overlook the shortest daylight period of the year. Yet it’s auspicious for several reasons, not the least of which is that it officially kicks off my Other Paddling Season. No big sales at Macy’s or one-hour specials on Amazon to commemorate this season, but it's special all the same. 

By December, many kayakers have packed away their paddles, but they are missing a great opportunity to discover peace and quiet on the water. (Or salt water thrills, more on that later.) Northern California has dozens of lakes that are just right for gentle winter paddling. Mine happens to be Lake Natoma, near the town of Folsom.

"Is that mallard crashing our holiday party again this year?" (Click on photo to spot the culprit more easily)
And so I made the pilgrimage to Natoma last Saturday to usher in the Winter Solstice.  It was a gray day with mild temps and no rain – a perfect Solstice paddle. No crowds on the water or in the parking lot. But neither dull nor dreary, as it turned out -- a day of quiet surprises. 

First, I discovered that someone had decorated a bayou’s overhanging trees with bright holiday ornaments. Kudos to the paddling decorator, whoever you are. Next was the wildlife viewing. Birds and other critters are much calmer (and so am I) without some yahoo toting a boom box on his kayak or paddleboard. Ever heard of earbuds, bub?
Just say your "I do's" quietly and don't scare the fish away
And then there are those unexpected sights: A wedding party photo shoot just below the Folsom bridge, and just above a couple of guys who were fishing. I don’t think either one was angling to catch the bouquet. Back at the launch, a tiny Indian shrine featuring the Hindu Ganesha, god of beginnings. Well, we are close to Jan. 1, though I doubt Hindus solemnly honor New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.
A season for Hindu traditions, too
(A cautiionary note: Even on the calmest lake, some common sense must prevail in cooler weather and water. Always wear a PFD and dress as if you expect to dunk yourself.) 

But if  all this sounds just a little too tranquil for endorphin addicts, there’s hope on the still-low horizon in the next two months. The Other Season features some of the greatest  high tides of the year, also known as king tides. (See the California King Tides Project.)

In 2020, these super tides occur around the weekends of Jan. 10 and Feb. 8. (Check specific times and places at this online tide predictor.) Let’s take a couple of my fave paddling destinations for example. On Saturday, Jan. 11 in Sausalito, a high tide of 6.6 feet at 11:21 a.m. will drop more than 7 feet by that same evening. It’s a great chance to see Sausalito’s houseboat neighborhood go high, then dry.

At Elkhorn Slough in Monterey County, high tides of more than 6 feet will prevail between 9:15 and 10:44 a.m. between Friday, January 10, and Sunday the 12th.  This is also migrating waterfowl season, so paddlers will have great opportunities to explore side channels usually too muddy to navigate.
King tide floods private dock in Tomales Bay, 2016  
In Marin County, king tides of more than 6 feet will prevail the same weekend from about 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. around the Inverness area, opening wide areas of Tomales Bay.

On these high notes, may the wind always be at your back and tides always run in your favor this New Year. Here’s to safe paddling and new adventures on the water! 

© Glenn Brank 2019

And remember, a little touch of Other Season weather is just bonus water for paddlers