The tides and current can be murderous. The fog is legendary. And then there’s that suspension bridge. When you put them together on the wrong day paddling a kayak from the San Francisco Bay out into the Pacific Ocean to Point Bonita could be a recipe for disaster. With some careful planning, however, the recipe turns into delight. Delight is what a couple of buddies and I had on a recent overcast Saturday morning.
By the numbers we paddled about 8 miles from Fort Baker to Bird rock, just past Point Bonita, and back. The tide was only about a foot and the wind was under 5 miles an hour, just right for some unique views of the Marin coast, the bridge, and the gate to the mighty San Francisco Bay.
The headlands have a few extra secrets to reveal from three feet above the water surface. The most obvious is being up close and personal with seals and anything else that swims or flies by. The big rocks that look small from the bridge or the viewing parking lot make an impression. Although the natural topography and wildlife are exciting, our paddle started with the overwhelming size and scope of manmade objects.
One of the overwhelming impressions driving or walking over the bridge is the height and size of the two towers. Paddling next to the north tower and under the roadway accentuated this effect and left me feeling small and insignificant. The numbers don’t really do the experience justice. My kayak is 17 feet long and sitting inside I’m about 3 feet above the surface of the water. At 746 feet tall and 8,981 feet long, it is imposing to look at when sailing by, but paddling next to the tower with a base of 33ft by 54ft and a load of 61,500 tons is a humbling experience. Feeling like an ant next to the tower and the realization that the force of the current and the immoveable steel structure reminded me who was going to pay the price of a slip up or collision.
The low slow pace of paddling had other benefits including seeing the unseeable. Before the construction of the bridge the northern side of the bay was protected by Fort Baker. Pill boxes and other defensive reinforcements for ammunition and various generations of artillery were placed throughout the hill and positioned to stop an unknown enemy from entering California’s best sheltered port. Unseen by pedestrians and motorists, a low placed artillery casement remains behind the north tower, on view for slow moving, hand powered boats and a reminder of days when the safety of the Western coast of the United States was protected by short range, manually loaded and non-guided ordinance (see the video above).
It seemed fitting that two of the three kayaks on our Saturday morning trip were wooden.
Being right on the water made for a few interesting low angle pictures of the Point Bonita Lighthouse as you can see.
When I started kayaking over 20 years ago, I never dreamed I would have some of the experiences I’ve been privileged to participate in central California. From paddling with grey and humpback whales, to being completely surrounded by a pack of dolphins and seals to paddling under the Golden Gate Bridge, I count myself one lucky fella.