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 It belongs to the bird that originally made me search for a good Bird Identification web page.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: http://www.sandiego.gov/lifeguards/safety/boatreg.shtml
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.