2010 Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium Report By Tom Bergh, Maine Island Kayak Co
It’s the first day of the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium’s BCU 4 Star Sea Leader Training. The tsunami from the massive Chilean 8.8 Richter earthquake is scheduled to arrive at the Golden Gate Bridge at 1326 today. Its amplitude has been raised from 2.5 to 3.5 feet at 1100. There’s no report on its period but one of the 4 Star Leader Training candidates has computed a wave propagation of hundreds of miles per hour based on the latitude differences from mid coast Chili to San Fran.
Our 10 paddlers were nervous about going outside the Golden Gate Bridge this morning, mostly because of reading last year’s article about the challenges those students experienced trying to return back up under the Bridge against a strong ebb tide; it took over an hour to get the whole group up 100 ft to slower waters. Now we are bouncing around under the Bridge as this year’s candidates are guiding an eyes-closed paddler through the bumpy water off Lime Point using only voice and sound.
Today the seas outside are a mild 9’ every 13 seconds, winds forecast SE 19-25 kn, water temp a comfy 58 F. Max ebb today will be at 1651 @ 5.9 kn – several hours from now. The sun has broken out which helps with the decision-making. Yesterday afternoon was punctuated with a 15 minute blow that obliterated all views with a driving hail and created the most extreme conditions organizer, Sean Morley, had seen at the small Yellow Bluff race around the corner. So our paddlers are edgy even without the demands of this course.
Gordon Brown from the Island of Skye in Scotland, and I are overseeing this year’s 4 Star Sea Leader training. We’ve asked the group of sea kayak leader trainees to decide what we should do about this Tsunami warning. As a first step the group has decided to return into the relative safety of San Francisco Bay with plenty of time before the Tsunami is scheduled to hit. It’s only a 10 minute paddle from the tidal streams of the North tower to the GGSKS headquarters at Fort Baker beach so we paddle over for lunch. We land at 1240 and spend 10+ minutes wondering what to do. The 4 Star Team, hungry, needing to pee, and under serious time pressure from the approaching Tsunami shuffles around, not sure what to do, even how to decide what to do. It’s a solid group of folks but few know each other. We notice that the neighboring USCG station has launched all 3 of their 47’ boats. The VHF radio is surprisingly quiet about any great danger. Other Symposium paddlers are sitting on the beach apparently without any worry. Our paddlers figure that the risk of a large wave is probably low, but that the exposure if a large tsunami rolled in would be very high. Some of our paddlers express concern.
None of us has any direct Tsunami experience. Gordon’s brother suffered through the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami on the island of Sri Lanka. Gordon and I would both like to be out in deep water in our kayaks. But the trainees don’t agree with this option and decide to carry all boats up onto the flat parade grounds of Fort Baker, a mere 10’ above the ebbing sea level. Do we tie the boats up? One paddler wants to climb high into the hills, another notes the heights of the old WW II fortifications. Some plot their running route if we see any big wave come up under the Golden Gate Bridge.
It’s now 1330. No huge tsunami has roared up under the bridge, we think we see some largish standing waves, but otherwise nothing happens! Nada. Later we hear that three 8 ft swells traveled well up inside against the ebb to Angel Island. Actually a lot happened, but it was personal to each of our 4 Star candidates. The best trainings have real challenges, people and conditions. Over this two day course in the wonderful swirling, coursing and breaking waves of this second GGSKS, all our paddlers are visibly maturing into more responsible paddlers. Several recite that the focus on guiding others improves their personal paddling performance. As the mind engages outside oneself, our spontaneous, creative, effective performance improves. It was rewarding for us, and invaluable to this 4 Star Team.
The whole GGSKS event offers this level of real world paddling. It’s not for beginners, but a superb training ground for the intermediate. The last two events have had outside swell ranges from five to nineteen feet, periods thirteen to eighteen seconds, tidal streams up to nearly six knots, warm rains, rich fogs and gorgeous sunny days. It’s a great group of paddlers out here, charged up and ready for the first rate set of coaches.
Courses include Rock Gardens, Combat Rescues, Riding the Tides, Advanced Boat Control, Practical Navigation, Coastal Nav and Tidal Planning, Traditional Paddling, Incident Management, Surf Zone, Forward Stroke and a smattering of ACA and BCU offerings. On Saturday night we all moved to San Fran’s Fishermans Wharf to listen to Freya Hoffmeister’s presentation of her 11 month, 8500 mile solo paddle around Australia, completed in December; she’s a force to be reckoned with. Other evening shows included Paddling California rivers and coast, a new surf video, Colorado’s Grey and Desolation Canyons by kayak, and the wonders of Newfoundland and Scotland.
You should seriously consider attending this first rate event in the future. Of all the Symposia I’ve attended, the GGSKS is one of the best in fun, beauty, conditions, coaches and community. The venue and sea state keep a paddler alive and aware. All paddlers and coaches bunk at the Marin Headlands National Park hostel, converted from a War II barracks. Coyotes cried and turkeys gobbled each evening from the redwood covered hills above the beautiful meadow-ed valley. The put-in is protected, basic and just feet from real tidal currents….and all the while we gaze out at majestic San Francisco perched on its hills. Alcatraz is a short paddle away. Pt Bonita with its booming rock gardens has plenty of action even for the Big Bad Dogs amongst us. Sign up early or you will miss out as the event hosted 100 paddlers. Next year is scheduled for Feb 18-20 with later ebb so we can spend more time outside the Golden Gate Bridge. Come paddle the beauty of San Francisco Bay next winter; it is the real deal.
Links for your interest:
San Francisco Bay Entrance chart http://sailvector.com/1823/San-Francisco-Entrance
San Fran Bay entrance Buoy 46026 http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=46026
Golden Gate Bridge tidal chart http://www.mobilegeographics.com:81/locations/5545.html?y=2010&m=2&d=27
Tom Bergh founded Maine Island Kayak Co in 1986, lives on Peaks Island off Portland, ME, is a L4Sea coach, and been able to paddle many boats in many seas. He organizes the NE Intermediate Rough Water Symposium.