Sunday, November 16, 2008

Back in the Saddle

November 15, 2008

It has been a few weeks since my last kayak entry and my last day out on the water. This last Thursday my kayak buddy Cindy let me know about a kayak movie that was being shown at Aqua Adventures Kayak shop on Quivera Basin. I went down to see it. It was very well done. But the most interesting thing was that the filmmakers circumnavigated the South Island of New Zealand. Seeing this has re-inspired me. Since I first got my kayak last year on returning from New Zealand, and learning that long distance kayaking was something I enjoyed I have wanted to do something like this. I guess it was like back in the 80s when I took up cycling in a serious way. I had to increase my limits and abilities. So I planned and executed a two-month solo cycling trip to Ireland. I can’t say that I will do this. I don’t yet feel experienced enough. But it is a goal. But definitely something I would need a fellow kayaker to come along. Unlike cycling which is relatively safe, the sea is an unpredictable and potentially dangerous environment. Something one must be prepared for.

But with all the things going on recently (my kayak dive & taking a friend around La Jolla) I have not been able to do my weekly kayak from La Jolla to Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach and back. So I was determined to do it. In fact I thought I would plan an extended trip. I would pack food and water. Normally on my weekly trip I just take the water I will need. But, since it had been so long would I still have the stamina to make it? With that question in my mind I decided not to do this extended trip. Instead I would see that I was still in good enough shape to complete my Crystal Pier circuit.

I got up early and was at La Jolla Shores at 6 AM. The sky in the east was lightening; a cloudless Santa Ana day was in the works. A moon, just past full, was still well above the western horizon. The surf directly in front of the Lifeguard tower varied from small sets of one to two feet up to chest high. I set up my kayak and was paddling out through the surf at 0630. A gentle breeze rippled the water just outside the surf, reflecting a moon broken into a hundred pieces. The Santa Ana winds had not yet materialized.

Immediately after getting out past the surf I spotted a fin breaking the surface. Silhouetted black against the surface I could not tell what kind of dolphin or porpoise it was. But it was clear in its manner of breaking the surface that it was a mammal. I tried to intercept it to get a better look but it was too far and too fast. So I turned back west and headed out towards The Children’s Pool and open ocean. The surf along the Caves and Cliffs area was surprisingly large and Boomers and The Children’s Pool were wild. I would be traveling outside all the shallow reefs today. Passed over the La Jolla Cove kelp bed. The canopy was thick and a healthy golden color. Small fish could be seen swimming among the fronds.

Once past the breakwater at Children’s Pool I turned south to Pacific Beach. On a clear day you can see past Bird Rock and soon pick up Crystal Pier in the distance. Today it was hazy and the pier was obscured in the fog. But Ocean Beach and the headlands of Point Loma were visible. For a short time I could see the top of one of The Coronado Islands. So I pointed my bow at The OB headland and traveled south. This put me farther out from the shore than I typically go. I could hear the surfers at Marine Street, Wind & Sea, and Tourmaline Surf Park laughing and bellowing their exultation at catching the waves. Passed by a few lobster fishermen tending to their traps. And I could see numerous private fishing vessels and dive charter boats dotting the horizon.

With the haze and being further out I could not see Crystal Pier until I was directly out from it. So I just continued my heading to the Mission Bay Jetty. That was a goal I knew I could make. All the time crossing between the Pier and the Jetty I considered whether or not to attempt going into Mission Bay. Then, if I could find Quivera basin, I would haul out at Aqua Adventures and take a long rest. But I was not sure of the path to take once in Mission Bay. It had been a month or more since doing a long kayak, I decided against pushing myself that hard. Besides, I had not brought any food to eat or money to get anything at the Pub next-door. Next time?

As I approached the Jetty and was about to turn around I met up with a couple in an outrigger canoe. I asked if they knew the time. I was told that it was 0845. So I had made it all the way from La Jolla Shores to Mission Bay Jetty in 2 hours and 15 minutes. This was almost a non-stop trip. I just took a few short breaks to drink water or peel off a layer as the heat of the day increased. Here I took a longer break before turning northward for the return trip.

At times heading south, especially past Bird Rock, I had a bit of a following sea. This would give me a little push on my trip down. Going back was a different story. Not only was I tired from the long paddle down, but also I was facing into the swell. The only help I got was from the slight breeze coming up from the east-southeast. The Santa Ana winds that plague the East County and whip up the fires that are now burning in Santa Barbara, LA and Orange Counties never came up on the coast. And I was taking more frequent breaks.

Just out from Crystal Pier (was about one mile out to sea) I ran across another pod of dolphins. Again, the black fins arched above the water. This time I was able to get close enough to view them. They were headed south and I north. These were not the gray, bottlenose dolphins I usually see. These were black with a white patch down the side. According to my California Marine Life book they were Common Dolphin. Maybe not so common as this was the first sighting I had of them in my year of kayaking.

I noticed large flocks of black birds heading south in line and V formations. They were about the size of small gulls with round black bodies. Their wings were relatively short and flapped rapidly. One group flew close enough for me to get a good look. They had bright orange, short beaks and a bright orange spot on the side of their head. I have a tentitive identification on the bird now. John Moore utilizing doug Aquillard's very impressive web pages it is a Surf Scoter. I went through his Photo Gallery and I believe that it more closely resembles a Rhinocerous Auklet. The Surf Scoter is a type of duck. I am not an expert but that is it appears to be to me. I hope to add a link to his pages. I await permission.

Got back to La Jolla Shores and sat outside the surf zone watching for the small sets. Acknowledge the surfers around me with a nod to let them know I would not interfere with them. Picked a lull in the swells, spied out a clear path between the surfers and some waders that should not have been in the surfing zone, and paddled for the shore with all the power and speed I could muster. Timed it perfectly and washed ashore without mishap. Beached my kayak and went to my car to check the time. 1130, Made the round trip from La Jolla Shores to Mission Bay Jetty in five hours including breaks. And I was not exhausted like the first time. Not bad for having taken such a long break from my weekly, long kayaks.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

First "Real" Kayak Dive

Kayak Dive Log
October 25, 2008
Launch Site: La Jolla Shores Boat Launch
Dive Site: La Jolla Cove Kelp bed
Start Time: 0825
Depth: 44
Dive Time 46

Jeff and I agreed to meet at the La Jolla shores Boat Launch at 0730. This was our first meeting and our first dive together. Today is a beautiful, Santa Ana, day. Clear blue skies and very gentle breeze. Almost no surf what-so-ever at the Boat Launch. A little higher surf up towards the Lifeguard tower north of us. I parked my car on the street and went to meet Jeff. There were half a dozen kayak fishermen preparing to launch their kayaks. A short time later Jeff approached and introduced himself.

We both got our cars and drove them onto the beach. Today the sand is packed enough to allow this. Without four-wheel drive a car can get stuck if the sand is too soft or loose. Got my kayak down off the car and started getting it and my dive gear ready to go. Jeff had already put his dive gear together. That saved a lot of time at the beach. Next time I will have my Tank, BCD, and regulator altogether and ready to go. Come to think of it, on my test dive, I had already put my gear together. That is because I had come from an aborted dive at La Jolla Cove, when my buddy had an equipment problem. Part of the reason for this dive was to further develop my kayak dive routine as I have developed my shore or boat-diving routine.

We paddled out towards La Jolla Cove Kelp bed area. I had my one piece rear zippered wetsuit on. Because I was using this wetsuit I had to have my hood on and the suit zipped up. It would be difficult for my buddy to zip up the suit while I was sitting on the kayak. This made it harder to paddle out. It puts a lot of strain on the upper arm and shoulder muscles. And with the hood on, though pulled down, my breathing was somewhat restricted. For the short paddle out to The Cove it was not too bad. But if I were to be going to some of the more distant dive sites, like Quast or God’s Rock, Scripp’s Canyon, or the far-western Kelp Bed, this would be a problem. I think I will get a wetsuit that zips up the front, say a Farmer John step-in or a one piece that zips up the front.

We stopped between the 5mph buoy and the La Jolla Reserve Buoy "A ". I had my mask, fins, gloves, and light in my goody bag secured in the forward bungy-well. My Tank assembly was secured in the rear tank well. I donned my fins, mask, and gloves. Then I got in the water and pulled the tank out of its well. Donned my tank and got it all adjusted. I retrieved my dive light and Jeff and I started our dive.

We were hoping to see some GSB and Soupfin sharks. Had a good dive and returned to the kayaks. It was somewhat surgey on the bottom. I came up within about 20 yards of our anchor position. Took a bearing and swam back to the kayaks underwater. I could see the kayaks on the surface and made my final ascent. Did not see any Soupfin or GSB on the dive.

Upon return to the boats we reversed the process and got off all out gear. The last time I did this I had to figure out the best way to get my tank and BCD back into the tank well. I bellied up over the back of the kayak and pulled the unit back into the kayak as I slid down the other side of the kayak. I did it the same way this time. Jeff suggested that next time I tie off my BCD to the kayak and then get up on the kayak facing the rear and pull it up the into the well. That seems like a good way to do it. I will try it next time.

This was a good first dive for the two of us. I will definitely do it again. I really want to go to dive sites that are too long to get to by a surface swim.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exploring with a Buddy

Guest Blogger Cindy
October 19, 2008
(Editorial comments in blue)
Our morning started out today with a meeting time of 8 a.m. at La Jolla Shores parking lot. The sun was just starting to peak through the marine layer when I arrived.

We unloaded our kayaks and gear and set toward the water. The morning was warming up, so I cast off my wind-breaker before we launched. It was going to be a beautiful morning.

We headed south toward the Marine Room restaurant. I was very pleased to see my first (Leopard) sharks in their natural habitat. Sea World and aquariums don’t really count. The water was very clear; I saw approximately 10 individual sharks. It was very exciting.

We then set toward a little beach that is only accessible by the water. We had plans of having a place to slide on the kayaks into the water. The seaweed and contours of the beach were not conducive to our endeavor. (A lot of seaweed washed up on the beach obscured the normally smooth grade of rocks. Makes for a fun slide into the water.) I did however find a partial fossil ammonite that was embedded in a rock on the beach. I always enjoy finding something special like that.

The sea caves were next on the route. Conditions were great for gliding through the Emerald Cove cave. The ocean smells great in there. The combination of the water, air and rock is wonderful. On the way just a touch south of there, I seem to have disturbed a few seals when I got a little too close to take a photo. A couple of them stared in barking at me. I scurried away quickly after securing my camera in the watertight case.

I was then a little sad to see a bobbing "dead" bird nearby. I went in a little closer to see what kind it was. To my delight it was a very small, very cute sleeping baby bird. It woke up and started peddling its little feet and raised its head. I’m not sure what kind it was, maybe a grebe or some type of loon. Anyway, it was Cute, with a capital C.

We then ventured a little further south, encountering some seals, fellow kayakers, kelp, watched some waves crash on the sea wall, water birds and too many Garibaldi to count.

All in all it was a nice excursion with great weather and water condition.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Tern for the Better

September 28, 2008

Early Sunday morning I met my friend from work at La Jolla Shores. She is an avid kayaker. She owns a couple of sit-in kayaks. But today she was trying out her friend's sit-on-top Scrambler. Though she will often launch her kayak from Mission Bay and then paddle out to the channel buoy at the mouth of Mission Bay she has not often kayaked around La Jolla, leaving from a beach with surf.

So, after a brief introduction to launching through surf, we headed out through said surf. She successfully managed the surf zone and waited for me to do the same. From there we headed south to Marine Room (no Leopard sharks visible today) and then along the Cliffs. Conditions allowed us to explore and enter some of the Caves. That was fun. From there a short trip out to the Kelp bed outside The Cove and then over to Boomers. Here we had a brief visit from a Harbor Seal. Turned back toward The Shores.

Back near the Shores I heard a bird call over my head. This call is a high pitched warble. It belongs to the bird that originally made me search for a good Bird Identification web page. Looking up I pointed out the bird to my friend. She identified it a Tern. I did not get a really good look at it to identify what variety of Tern it might be. Hopefully next time I will. I see them mostly flying above me at sea. So I do not get a close look at them. And some of the most important features for a positive identification can not be seen from below. When they are flying. Leg & beak color, as well as head markings, are important. Next time. By the way, this web site has more than just sea birds. But I chose it because it has detailed descriptions of the birds as well as pictures, including pictures and descriptions from different developmental stages in each bird’s life.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Last Day of Summer

Out for my regular Sunday morning kayak. First, headed south to Marine room to view the Leopard Sharks. Visibility in the shallows not very good and saw none. But there was a huge flock of cormorants sitting in the water just past the surf. Probably 100 or more. Most were just resting. Some were diving for food and others were cleaning their feathers, looking like miniature, winged, black Dragons.

The over to the Cobblestone beach near Devil’s Slide to see if the Sea Lion carcass was still there. Surf was up just a bit, waist to chest high sets and a shore break. So I could not get up onto the beach. But I got as close as I could and could not see anything. So it was either washed out to sea or collected by the people I called last week. Over to the Caves, too surgey so I don’t go in. A quick look at the Sea Lions and then head west.

From there my long paddle to Crystal Pier. A few surfers at Horseshoe reef, Marine Street. Some others at Wind & Sea Beach, And a few more at North Bird Rock. Paddle down past Tourmaline Surf Park to Crystal Pier. Lots more surfers. But definitely not the summer crowds. The local diehards must be happy to have their breaks back, just like the divers are to have the beaches back. Mikes for finding parking at the Cove much easier. No longer have to get there at 0630 to get a decent parking place.

Saw mostly birds today. I should find a Bird Identification web site and link it to my page. I can of course recognize your basic Brown Pelican, Cormorants, and Sea Gulls. But there are a number of birds that I am not as familiar with and would like to identify. I would also like to know about their behavior and migratory patterns, if any.

Past the Grand Avenue Lifeguard station about ¼ to ½ mile past the pier. I hear the Lifeguards remind the beach goers that dog are not allowed on the beach or boardwalk after 9:00 AM. So it must be later than that. I think I left La Jolla Shores about 0730. I know I was at Starbucks buying my morning CafĂ© Mocha at 0700. I took a break here before turning back north. My first beside short pauses to get a drink of water or stop to look at some interesting sight, or pick up some trash entangled in the kelp patties. Clouds are burning off to the east. Time to put on hat, T-shirt, and sunglasses. Lone Sea Lion hunting out here with me. Came in close (10 yards) to see what I was about. Just another kayaker; swam off.

Back to The shores. Uneventful paddle back. Surf at The shores about 2 to 3 feet, made a graceful re-entry to the beach. Just a typical day today.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kayak Rental

September 9, 2008
My Nephew was visiting so I decided that I would take him kayaking. The day before kayaking with him I went down to La Jolla Shores to Avenida De La Playa and checked out all the Kayak rental places. Pretty much they all offer the same thing, two-hour Kayak Rental for $28. Included in the price is all you need for using the kayak and instruction on where you can and cannot go with the rental kayak. (More on this later.) A couple of weeks earlier I had taken my cousin kayaking. That time I had a gift certificate for two single guided tours.

So, now a comparison between just renting a kayak and taking the tour. The cost of the tour is about twice as much. With the tour you get some basic instruction on paddling with a kayak. And the tour guide brings you to many of the places of interests between La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove. The guide we were with was very knowledgeable about the La Jolla area. Going along with him for me (as a local) and my cousin as a visitor was a plus. And you are able to enter the Caves in the kayaks.

When I brought my nephew kayaking I was informed that the rental kayaks could not be brought into the Caves. The Lifeguards would fine me and it is a steep fine. However, I was still able to enter the Caves if I wished. So I asked that if we traded kayaks if my nephew could go in. I was told that was permissible. I was also not really supposed to cross the swim lane running from the Cove to the Shores in the kayak. These are both things that I do all the time in my kayak and have never been approached by a lifeguard. I was also told not to go near the area known as Devil’s Slide just south of the Marine Room. It is dangerous. That can be true when the surf is up. I don’t blame the kayak rental shops for these restrictions. I think the Lifeguards institute them for good reason. I can see that they probably do not want a whole large group of kayakers paddling across the swim area, or having to rescue groups of inexperienced kayakers from the caves and rocky beaches that are not easily accessible from shore.

So as we were about to leave the beach I asked the person from the shop If I should be back at the beach by 1130 (two hours). He said; "Give or take an hour." So we had up to three hours if we wanted. I don’t know if this was their regular routine or if it had to do it being a weekday and just past the busy summer season. With all the restrictions placed on a kayaker without a guide two hours was more than enough.

Some of the kayak places have boats with see through bottoms. My nephew used one of these. Great for when the visibility is good. Today it was not bad in the shallow areas. So first we paddled south along the Shores towards Marine Room. The water was very clear in the surf zone down to a depth of about eight to ten feet. As we went south just outside the surf zone we started seeing the Leopard Sharks. There was quite a good concentration this day. And as we got to Marine Room there were even more. So we paddled around in the area for quite sometime. Observed a NOAA boat nearby. Asked what he was doing. Told me he was checking the Leopard Shark population.

Next we paddled over to the cliffs and caves. We explored around the area and checked out the Sea Lions. There was a group with a guide going in and out of the larger caves. Though it was very calm I did not exchange kayaks with my nephew and let him go in. If he got in trouble I might not be able to help. I asked the guide about the restriction of going across the swim lane (which many other kayakers and I do all the time without consequence). He said that since it was just the two of us it would probably not draw much attention. And if it did it would probably just amount to a verbal warning. So my nephew and I crossed the lane and went out to the kelp bed. Spent some time there and headed back to The Shores.

We still had plenty of time so we went back south to the Devil’s Slide area. Surf was very small so I headed in to the cobblestone beach. I dismounted my kayak in knee deep water and found a place to exit. Then I climbed up the steep cobblestone beach. Just as I reached the ledge at the high tide line I came upon a Sea Lion carcass. It was lying on its side, mouth open, exposing long yellowed canines. I was up wind and did not detect the scent of decay. But as I continued down the beach away from the carcass I caught the very strong odor of decay.

Got away from it and dragged my kayak up on to the shelf. Placed the seat just back from the edge, sat down in the kayak, got ready to paddle, leaned forward and did the seal slide down the rocks into the water.

Hit the water’s edge and paddled out through the small surf. What a ride! I left the beach and Sea Lion carcass behind. I wonder if SIO or Sea World is interested in knowing about Pinniped deaths? I’ll find out.

Went back to Marine Room. We still had about half an hour left so I played in the surf going in and out and practicing my surf entry and exit techniques. Sounds like work but on a hot, sunny day like this it can be a lot of fun. Meanwhile my nephew watched the swarming Leopard Sharks. Then we headed back to the boat launch.

So if you have visitors to San Diego this is something that everyone can do. It is great fun and just enough off the beaten path to be a memorable experience.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Changing Seas

A gray morning, low Marine Layer typical of the summer months in San Diego. My dive buddy could not get out this morning so I went down to La Jolla Shores to take my kayak out. I arrived just after 7:00 AM and pulled into the parking lot. The lot was nearly full but I was able to get a spot right up next to the boardwalk. School is in, it is past Labor Day, and we have the beach back to ourselves. Why is it crowded today? A kayak-fishing tournament is going on.
I took a quick look at the conditions. A northwest swell with two to four foot breakers, some wind chop and a secondary swell coming in from variable directions making for slightly confused seas. The tide was high or coming in and so there was not a long walk to the water’s edge.

I got my kayak off the roof of my car and lugged it down to the shoreline. Made a second trip back to the car and got in my shorty, put on a T-shirt and my hat. Grab my seat, life-vest, paddle and a couple of bottles of water. One day a week I like to do what I refer to as a two-bottle trip. In other words I need two bottles of water to do the trip.

Pulling my kayak into the water I saw a surfer taking a break on the sand. He was wearing a watch so I asked him the time. I entered the water just to the north of the lifeguard tower at 7:40 AM. Pushed out through the surf and headed out. I started southwards but my kayak seemed wayward. It kept pointing slightly north. Was it the swell or was my kayak letting me know which way it wanted to go? Whatever the truth I turned north. This is not my usual routine. Typically on my long paddles I like to go south. The scenery is more enticing; cliffs, caves and coves with curving cream colored beaches. And most of the time the sea-life is more interesting. Sea Lions, seals, kelp beds. But this time I headed north. The swell was approaching me and the freshening breeze was in my face. This gives the exhilarating allusion of speed. Something I would come to long for later in the day.

Many, many kayak fisherman out today for the tournament. Talked to a couple on the way towards Scripp's Pier. The further north I go the fewer kayakers were around. By the time I was out from the Glider port on the cliffs above I was all alone. About then I spotted another lone kayaker heading south towards me. We paddled in close and exchanged hellos and both remarked how we seemed to be the only kayakers out that were not fishing. Turns out, like me, this kayaker just enjoys being out at Sea, paddling. He also had a watch and I asked him the time. It was 9:00.

After that short and first rest, I continued north to Torrey Pines State Beach and the past the Golf Course on the bluffs above. It was still overcast, but the Seas had become less confused the farther north I traveled. Why this is I really do not know. Possibly I am out of the La Jolla bight, or I am just further out from shore at this point. I drive on to where Highway S1 comes down from the bluffs and parallels the beach for three-quarters of a mile and then heads up into the hills of Del Mar.

At this point I turned around. This was the furthest north that I have ever paddled. In the mist I could look south and still see the coast of La Jolla jutting out to the west. But it was not clear enough to be able to make out Scripp’s Pier. I could make out the hump of Mt. Soledad. And it was this that I used as a bearing. Here I paused and took a long break, drank plenty of water, and headed back south.

Now the swell was coming from my starboard quarter. And the wind was at my back. As I paddle I can feel the swell giving me a push as it passes me by. And with the wind at my back and blowing in nearly the same direction as I am traveling I am no longer feeling the cool breeze in my face. All this contributes to a feeling of slowed progress. No longer am I racing into the wind and swell. Instead it seems as if I am plodding along. When, in reality I may be going faster as I get a push from the swell. But the psychological damage is done. And to make matters worse the Marine Layer is burning off and the sun is starting to peek through. I take a break, drink more water and apply liberal amounts of sunscreen to my arms, face, and legs, and put on my sunglasses.

The sun coming out changes the color of the sea. Before it was a uniform gray. Now it is many colors. To my left, towards the sun, the surface is a light blue with a sheen like silver plate. And the peaks of the wavelets reflect a sequins-sparkle that blinds the eye. Away from the sun the sea is a deep blue, and directly below me a turquoise shadow that obscures whatever may be lurking there.

Before long the sun has completely burned away any trace of cloud in the sky. The sun is beating on my legs and arms. And the salt is now drying and encrusting my face. I take a drink and wash the salt off my face, which refreshes me. But the worst is the seeming slowness of my progression south. When I stop to rest I turn my kayak to face northwest. This accomplishes two things. I am not facing into the sun and I again can feel the breeze in may face. It’s hard but I must turn around and continue on.

I am now nearing Scripp’s Pier once again. This is a milestone in the journey and I know when I reach there I will be almost home. As I near it I feel I am returning to civilization. More kayakers are appearing and there are surfers just south of the pier. Upon reaching the pier I take a long break in the shadow of the deck above. Between the pier pilings the swell lifts me up and down and moves me back and fourth. This is nice. And I look down the pier towards the beach and it seems like a cool green tunnel. I just want to sit here forever. But I know I must drive on.
Leaving the shade of the pier I paddle my last leg back to the Shores. I paddle for the surfing zone checkered flag to make my exit. Lots of surfers waiting for that wave. I, on the other hand, am looking for the break between sets. I watch the swell. A couple of surfers catch some good sized waves into the beach. Now my approach is clear and it is the lull between sets. I commit and am in to the beach without mishap. Another beautiful day out on the sea.

I made specific mention of time in the entry. The reason for that is I wanted to figure my average speed. I left at 0740 and made it back to La Jolla Shores by 1130. So, three hours and fifty minutes was my time. I checked the distance traveled on my Thomas Bros. It worked out to about 12 miles. Estimating my breaks at being about twenty minutes (conservative). My entire trip was about 3hrs.10 mins. And my average speed about 3.5 mph.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Where to Launch Kayaks

What follows is a compilation of the responses that Steve obtained from his question about launching kayaks.

I recently asked the list a couple questions concerning places to launch a kayak from in/around La Jolla ……. Below are summaries of the responses. Some responses were posted to the list, but are repeated below for completeness.Thanks for all your input.Steve

I have been launching off Marine Street beach for a decade. A bit dicey sometimes because of the shore break, but doable.
And Wind and Sea isn't much of a problem, either. Just shore breaks.
San Diego Municipal Code § 63.20.9 limits the launching of all boats (except for non-motorized inflatables) from beach areas within the city limits. Avenida de la Playa is the only designated public launch area on any beach directly adjacent to the Pacific.
I've launched kayaks from the area north of Scripps Pier before withoutany trouble. The waves can be a bit bigger up there, though :)
Q: So where do all those wave skis @ Mission Beach get launched from?A: Mission Bay is not a "beach immediately adjacent to the Pacific." Not only does Mission Bay have a number of actual launch ramps, but there are different rules on launching from the beach.For more information on boating regulations in San Diego, start at:
Not only can you launch from the boat ramp at LJS, but you may also launch and land your kayak in the surfing zone just north of the lifeguard tower. I know this to be true because I actually asked a lifeguard about it. Now, during the summer at 11:00 am the lifeguards move the surfing zone (north of the checkered flag) north about 100 yards to give the swimmers more room. The surf is usually bigger the further north you go and so coming back in can be tricky. Both because of the size of the surf (more likely to get spilled) and the number of surfers.
I often launch from just north of the lifeguard tower because I think it is easier to launch my kayak and not have to move my car from the boat launch. And then when I land I can just bring my kayak right back to my car in the parking lot. Sometimes, if the surf comes up, or I don't make it back before 11:00 am I will land down at the boat launch and walk my kayak up to the parking lot in knee deep water. The lifeguards have never said anything to me about doing this. But you do have to watch out for little kids playing in the ankle slappers.
It's not LJ, and it's not open in the summer, but there is a boat launch area in south Encinitas near Restaurant Row, and I have launched my kayak at Pillbox - sorry, I mean Fletcher Cove, in Solana Beach before also.
Honestly I don't know the 'rules' but the only thing lifeguards seem to care about when I talk to them is that I go out through surfers and not swimmers. A sit on top kayak in many ways is close to being a surfboard, and in fact sometimes that is what I do with it! So far I have gone out OB on the Dog Beach side, Marine St. and Mission Bay. The main thing I think is that there aren't people (swimmers) being endangered in any way – that’s what the lifeguards care about from what I can tell. I can also tell you, being a spear fisherman, that TONS of spearos go out Marine St. beach with kayaks and inflatables (no motor). It is possible that the letter of the law would make it illegal to go out these other beaches but that seems pretty draconian to me, especially since I could claim that a sit on top kayak was also a surfboard. Heck if they gave me a hard time that’s what I would do anyway - buy a longboard, strap some gear to it and paddle out to the kelp to get some food. Let me know if you find any hard 'rules' on this one!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Whale Tale

On a clear day in early March I set out from La Jolla Shores westward towards the outer kelp bed northwest of The Children’s Pool. The sea is glassy smooth and the swell is almost non-existent. A gentle breeze occasionally brushes my face as I paddle past the ankle-slappers. It is overcast; typical for this time of the morning so the sea is a slate gray color, reflecting the clouds. One of those days when the quiet of the ocean makes you want to sit still and enjoy a bit of solitude.

I probably took a side tour over towards the Caves prior to heading west out to sea. I typically do this on calm days as it is fun to travel in and out of the coves and caves. When I am about one half to a quarter mile away from the kelp beds I start to see the many kayak fishermen that often congregate there. I also spot a few small motor craft at least one of which is displaying a dive flag. A couple of commercial Urchin fishermen are also out this morning.

Searching the horizon I spot a small geyser of water vapor break the flat ocean surface. Only one animal can make such a large spout of water. It must be a Gray Whale that has just surfaced for a breath of air. I watch the area to spot it again and see if I can determine its direction and aspect. A short time later it surfaces and blows once more. This time it is a little more to left of where I first saw it . It must be headed south. I point my kayak in a southwesterly heading, hoping that I will be able to head it off and get a good look. I probably have about a quarter mile to go. I start my drive towards it picking up as much speed as I can muster. In the seven months I have been kayaking this is the first sighting I have had of anything bigger than Sea Lions or Dolphins.

The Whale continues to surface at regular intervals allowing me to adjust course and speed to intercept it. I continue to paddle for a few more minutes. I should be very close now. But the whale has not surfaced for some time. I stop my kayak and listen. There is not a sound to be heard except a couple of kayak fishermen that also spotted the whale and are wondering where it has gone. Suddenly, behind me I hear the unmistakable sound of a whale breaking the surface and expelling a breath and taking in another. Quickly, I turn my kayak, a little nervous that a Gray Whale has just surfaced an unknown distance behind my small craft. And there, not more than a bus length over my shoulder is a 25 to 30 foot Gray Whale. He has not dived but is sitting on the edge of the kelp, eyeing me. His head is just above the water and the rest of his body lies just below the surface. He is on his side and floating in one place, as curious about me as I am about him. The dive boat that was nearby has also seen him and is motoring slowly in my direction. He stays just long enough for them to get a glimpse and he dives.

He did not surface again within sight of any of us. The dive boat approached me and I chatted with them a bit about our close encounter with this leviathan of the deep. To be this close to something that could swat you out of the water but is obviously so gentle and curious about you is really an exceptional experience.

It a Whale of a tale, but it's all true. I swear by my tattoo.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kayak Test Dive

July 6, 2008; My Aussie dive buddy, Glenn J., and I met at La Jolla Cove for a dive out at the Kelp/Rockpile area to the Northwest of the Ecological Preserve marker buoy. Just before putting on our tanks Glenn developed an equipment problem that would keep him from diving. We started to get out of our gear and were about to head over to our favorite eateries when I had a brilliant idea. I would utilize this opportunity to do a Kayak Test Dive. If he would act as surface support for me while I loaded, launched and dived from my kayak I would treat him to lunch.

Staying in our wetsuits we drove over to Marine Room Restaurant where I could launch my kayak and do a shallow dive. Parking on the street we checked out conditions. They were divable and the tide was low enough for there to be some beach exposed at Marine Room. Glenn and I carried the kayak down to the beach. No reason to be self-sufficient having a buddy along to help carry the kayak down. I loaded all the gear into my kayak, set up the anchoring system a grabbed my dive flag and water bottles. Glenn got in his free diving gear and snorkeled out past the surf as I paddled out to the 5-mph. buoy. Glenn hung on to my kayak for a short tow out. Towing a diver, even one that is steamlined, creates a bit of drag, especially when fully loaded with dive gear. He had to swim back under his own power.

I anchored and put my BCD in the water. I used a piece of line to secure it to the kayak while I got in. One thing that I learned at this stage was that having a wetsuit that zips up the front would be a good idea. Paddling out with a 7mm wetsuit completely zipped up is a minor problem. The thick rubber creates a lot of resistance for paddling. Having it down around your waist and zipping it up at the site is better. Zipping up a rear entry one-piece wetsuit on a kayak with out getting in the cold Southern Cal water is tough. Donning my snorkel gear I slid into the water. Slid into the BCD and adjusted the straps, checked all systems and started down the anchor line.

I kept the dive short and shallow, not wanting Glenn to have to wait too long on the surface. Surfaced and swam back to the kayak. I took off my tank and considered how best to put it up in the tank well. While in the water I tried to slide it up onto the kayak and into the well from the back. This did not work, as I could not get the kayak low enough in the water or lift my BCD/tank high enough. So then I bellied up onto the kayak and faced around backward and grabbed it by the tank valve and slid it right up. This was Glenn’s idea. I was able to do this without any assistance from him. That was one of the things I wanted to see. What I could do on my own? Though I usually dive with a buddy I believe that you must be prepared and capable of operating alone in case something happens where you are separated from your buddy.

The anchor was in sand so there was no problem pulling it up. Had it been in the reef there was a chance that it could get caught in the rocks. And this illustrates why you might want to use a line and reel system to get back to your anchor. You could check the anchor before surfacing or bring it up with you. This would avoid the possible necessity of having to go back down to get the anchor up. Especially important if you did a deep dive and are close to a decompression situation. It also might be a good idea for my to get something to wind my anchor line onto. For a shallow anchor where I only have about 25 of line this is not an issue. But if I had a long anchor line I would want something to keep the line organized and untangled.

So I learned quite a bit on this Kayak Test Dive. And I am now ready to go diving once again from my kayak.

Prepaing to Dive

After many months of practice and just plain fun paddling around La Jolla and Pacific Beach I decided that it was time to prepare to dive from my kayak. I checked out a few websites dedicated to the sport of kayak diving. Here are a couple I found….KAYAK DIVING & FISHING, Surfing, Exploring, and Play! & kayak diving. No reason to completely reinvent the wheel. Might as well learn from the experiences of others. In fact, this is one of the purposes in creating this blog.

One of the first problems to address is what to do with your kayak while you are off of it diving. On the websites I visited there were a number of different solutions. First was actually towing the kayak with you as you dive. And the other is to anchor the kayak. I chose to go for anchoring the kayak. Here is why.

In San Diego, and most of California we have Macrocystis Kelp. If you are not familiar with this type of Kelp here is a brief (layman’s) description of the plant. The Kelp plant is attached to the bottom (or other solid structure) by means of a holdfast. This loosely resembles a root system of a tree growing in a mangrove. From the holdfast long strands of rubbery "vines" extend up through the water column to reach the surface and then lay across the surface. Depending on the density of the kelp bed there may or may not be channels of open water between the kelp plants. So, if you were to use the technique of towing your kayak while diving in Kelp this could lead to some very severe entanglement problems.

For the conditions most likely to be encountered in Southern California, I think anchoring is the best solution. At sites without kelp towing may be an option. However, doing this will restrict your freedom depending on how long you tow line is. Another option, which I have yet to explore, is to have a line and reel similar to what one might use while diving a wreck. This would have two benefits. You could tie it off to your anchor line and therefore make it easy to find your way back to your kayak. And it would also allow you to know if something was happening to your kayak on the surface while you are diving.

So I went to the local kayak shop and purchased myself an anchor. The sales person sold me an anchor with fold up blades. It weighs 3 lb. I also bought a dive flag, some wooden dowels and found some closed cell foam packing material. I attached the dive flag to the wooden dowel (4 feet) and glued on the closed cell foam. I put this in one of the scuppers to let people know that there is a diver below and that this is not a derelict vessel. After testing the flag set up I found that I must waterproof the wooden dowel or use plastic for the pole.

I took my kayak out in to Mission Bay to test the anchor. At the time there was a slight incoming tide and so a bit of a current to test the holding power of the anchor. There was little to no wind pushing against me while sitting in the kayak. The bottom of Mission Bay in this area is flat and muddy. There are no rocks or other features that the anchor can lodge in. I anchored next to a marker buoy so I could determine if I was drifting at all. Within a few minutes it was obvious that the anchor was not sufficiently holding me in place. This was frustrating. So now I had to figure out what I could do to solve this problem.

Being cheap (or frugal) I did not really want to purchase a new anchor. Besides, this one might work just fine in a rocky reef where there are bottom features it can hook onto. So what I did was to get one of my extra Zeagle™ weight pouches and a carabiner. I put a few soft weights in the pouch and shot it down the anchor line after the anchor. I tested this system in the ocean, with swells and currents and wind. It held me in place just fine, even with me sitting on the kayak and all the wind resistance that creates. And if I wish, I can swim to the anchor line and detach the weight pouch prior to surfacing. That way I avoid having to pull up a heavier anchor.

That problem solved now I wanted to practice loading my dive gear onto my kayak. I went to La Jolla Shores and brought my dive gear and kayak to the sand on the boat launch. Being by myself I had to leave the gear on the beach while I parked the car. That was a little nerve racking. But when I am really going to be diving I will have a buddy with me and one can stay with the equipment while the other parks the car.

I took the kayak loaded with all my dive gear and went paddling out. The dive gear does add quite a lot of weight and drag. Even though I am able to paddle my kayak from La Jolla to Pacific Beach and back I wonder how far I can paddle with a full load. I know I can do it from LJS to Scripp’s Canyon dive site, having done that many years ago. And I am in better shape now.

My Scrambler XL has a tank well in the rear for the tank BCD set up. My kayak has bungies going across the tank well. I did flip the kayak in the surf zone and found that they would hold. However, there is a chance that the bungy could come loose from the kayak and dump my gear. I think I will get some more secure straps. For my mask, fins and other peripheral dive gear I like to put it all in a goody bag and stow it up in the front equipment well. That way it is together and will not be floating away from me while driving out or coming back through the surf. I did notice one very significant benefit to having the dive gear in the kayak. When coming back through the surf I am tail-end heavy. This extra weight in the back makes it easier to get in through the surf to the beach without tripping the kayak.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Extending the Limits

The next time I took my kayak out I paddled over to the Children’s Pool (a.k.a. Casa Cove). That was not too bad of a trip. Being late fall the swell can come up. And on this day I would say that it was about four feet. Coming up on the reef just east of the Children’s Pool Breakwater I had to pay close attention to the swell. The shallow reefs in this area come very close to the surface in spots. And a large swell can turn from being a boil over the rocks to a breaking wave without much warning. These changeable conditions made it necessary to keep a watchful eye on my surroundings. On days like this with a swell you need to stay on the outside.

One week later (12/17/07) I headed North along La Jolla Shores towards Scripp’s Pier. It was a clear, clam day with the swell down to one or two feet. Just south of the pier I ran into a small pod of dolphins playing just outside the surf zone. They were traveling in a northerly direction and I continued to follow them. Found myself north of the pier in the area of Scripp’s Canyon. This is the site where I first dived from a kayak back in 1994. Soon the dolphins disappeared. They probably stayed where the baitfish were, that they often feed on. I continued on past the Torrey Pines Gliderport as far north as Torrey Pines Golf Course. Round trip about 6 miles.

Over the next few months I would stretch my trips a little further each time. First out to the Kelp Bed west of Children’s Pool. A very popular place for the many kayak fishermen I see out there all the time. By mid January I was kayaking as far as Marine Street beach and back. In February I was reaching as far as Bird Rock. Sometimes on the way south if the sea was flat calm I would paddle among the many caves down below The Coast Walk east of La Jolla Cove. On a calm day I’ll paddle in and out amongst the caves, testing my maneuvering skills at close quarters. Or I will watch the Sea Lions playing in the water or sunning themselves on the rocks.

Another thing to do on the way west and south is to stop in at The Children’s Pool and watch the Harbor Seals splashing in the pool, or resting on the beach. It has been sometime since I have dived at this site. But I have many great memories of my close encounter with these creatures. These very curious and even affectionate animals have often approached me. Though we are able to use the beach to dive I hope to use my kayak to access sites off this area without disturbing the seals on the beach or those who think it is their job to protect them. And there are many sites in this area that I would like to dive that are a very long swim from the shore.

On one particularly clear day in March I was paddling down towards Bird Rock. That was my farthest trip on the kayak so far . Out of the light haze to the south a long structure appeared. As I paddled towards it I realized that it was Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach. Wow! Could I make it there? I felt good and not too tired. I thought if I just take it slow. I paddled past Bird Rock, past the surfers at Tourmaline Surfing Park, and on past Palisades Park, and on until I was finally at Crystal Pier. At the pier I took a rest for a while, drank some water and mentally prepared for the long trip back. Taking a line of site heading on the point of Bird Rock I navigated back to La Jolla. By the time I reached Marine Street I was definitely feeling tired. But once I turned the corner at Children’s Pool and La Jolla Shores came in sight the swell was at my back and giving me a nice push just when I needed it. After what I estimate was a four or five hour trip I made it back to shore. Hopping out of my kayak in the surf my legs turned to rubber and would not support me. For the next month I would try do this long paddle once a week.

On April 13 I once again paddle down to Crystal Pier. It was an unusually calm day and I did not have to fight any swell or current. When I got to the Pier I took my usual break. There was a large pod of dolphins swimming just out past all the surfers waiting for the next set of waves. I followed them south a bit. Before long I noticed I could see the Mission Bay Jetty. Could I make this? I thought I could and started my trek across the ocean surface. In less than half an hour I was there. After another rest I turned back north towards La Jolla. While taking my heading I noticed that the Lois Ann was out at the Yukon dive site. I was really feeling good and rested. I knew I could make it. And I began the paddle out. I must have got my second wind. I was not just taking a leisurely slow paddle to the site. I was driving out there at a good clip. I was just a quarter mile out when the Lois Ann pulled up anchored and motored off. But there was another dive boat out there. I visited them for awhile, had a snack, and headed back to La Jolla. Round trip time 6 hours, including breaks. How far was this I really do not know. But it was at least 12 miles. My longest trip. But it was not the last time I would do this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

First Trip 9/23/07

On Sunday,September 23rd, 2007 I purchased my "new" Scrambler XL kayak. And I was excited about getting out on it. I bought a few essential pieces of gear such as a paddle. The sales person asked if I needed a Personal Floatation Device. I said that I did not. My intention was that I would be using it only for diving and therefore would be in a full 7mm wetsuit. There is no way that you could possibly sink while wearing this. It was then that I was informed that the United States Coast Guard (an organization of which I was once enlisted) considers a kayak a vessel. Therefore everyone on board must have a PFD even if they are not actually wearing it. So I bought the least expensive PFD that is Coast Guard certified.

I drove down to La Jolla Shores and launched my kayak for the first time. Paddling out through the surf was exhilarating. The cold, salt water splashing your face as you drive through the surf, rushing over your legs. I then made a course over to the Cliffs just to the east of La Jolla Cove. From there I went west out to the first marker buoy of the La Jolla Preserve. Then I steered a course back to the beach. I did not want to over do it the first day.

As I neared the shore I paused just outside the surf. Now was the real test. Could I get back in without spilling the kayak in the surf? I watched the surf for a lull and went for it. Paddling quickly towards the shore I noticed my rear end being pushed out from behind me. Paddling and trying to correct my angle to the surf turn the kayak back perpendicular to the wave. Over I went in a wash of salt spray. Something that I would have to work on. And something I still work on, sticking the landing.

Little did I know that I would enjoy this so much that I would be out paddling nearly every weekend for the next year. I had created a monster. And each time out I would push my limits just a little further.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Kayaking?

I have been Scuba diving in since I was a 'teen in the early '70's. Over the years I have had the chance to dive with many interesting people both here in San Diego and while traveling to exotic destinations. Through the years my diving frequency has waxed and waned depending on what I was doing in my life. But it has always been an important avocation in my life. Since about 1992 I have been diving on a regular basis. I do between 50 to 100+ dives per year.

In 1994 I had a couple of dive buddies with kayaks that were set up for diving. They were kind enough and patient enough to introduce me to this new adventure. My first experience was a success and great learning experience. My buddy Andy K. and I loaded up the kayaks at the boat launch at La Jolla Shores, Ca. We then paddled north beyond Scripp's Pier and out to the dive site of Scripp's Canyon. Even though this was my first time on a kayak with full dive gear I had no problem staying balanced a top the kayak and never once tipped over.

Securing our kayaks we donned our dive gear and headed into the Canyon. After a very nice dive we returned to the kayaks. At that time I was diving in an integrated BCD called an ATPAC, one of the first integrated BCDs. I easily secured my BCD and tank in the tank well and proceeded to climb aboard my kayak. This is when I ran into my first problem. Getting the kayak balanced in the water was not as easy as balancing it on the beach. I would sit on top trying to get stable for thirty seconds and then flip the kayak. I continued to try to stay atop. Soon I was becoming exhausted. Andy, being more experienced, took my kayak and I took his. I was able to stay atop it and we paddled back. I learned later that having my weight still in my BCD raised my center of gravity enough to make me unstable. From then On I would remove the weight and put it down low in the kayak while paddling. From then on with the lower center of gravity I had no problem.

Time passes and buddies move on. I did more kayak diving in 1995 but that was it for many years. Then in 2007 I took a trip to New Zealand. It was here that I again did some kayaking. And as soon as I returned from my trip I started my search for a kayak to dive from. I found myself a used Scrambler XL that was nicely equipped for diving. And for one year now I have been practicing my kayaking skills and increasing my stamina by slowly increasing the length of my kayak trips, and working on the problems specific to diving from a kayak.

Recently I did my very first kayak dive test dive. It was another success. Using our local diving website I put a call our for others interested in kayak diving. I have found quite a few people interested in joining me. And now it just remains for us to get together and start on this new adventure.

I hope that this will let us reach dives sties along the shores of San Diego that are not easily accessible from the shore.