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.

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