Last weekend I went kayaking with Helen Wilson and friends around Trinidad in California. They are fortunate to live in a diverse paddling environment and near some very beautiful coastline. The challenging conditions there breeds highly skilled paddlers, quickly. I'll post some pics of my trip later. For now here is a video I put together of Helen rolling and doing "stupid paddle tricks". Did you know that Helen received first place medals in individual rolling, group rolling and the distance harpoon throw in the 2008 Greenland National Kayaking Championship?
The kayak is actually a skin-on-frame version of the 14 ft PygmyArctic Tern built by Michael Morris. The construction is traditional, with steam bent ribs and a cotton canvas skin sealed with polyurethane. Michael altered the original design by lowering the deck and reducing the size of the cockpit. I found it a bit of a challenge to slip into. It wasn't built as a cheater rolling kayak but obviously rolls well.
[My GPS track: Departure from Owen Beach (green track), north on Colvos Passage, return from Wingehaven (red track), south on East Passage and Quartermaster Harbor. 27.5 nm]
Vashon Island is practically in my front yard, so I could have started this trip from home. Instead I decided to launch from Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park. Originally, I planned this trip as an overnighter around both Vashon and Maury Islands, with camping at Blake Island. But by leaving from Owen Beach and crossing into Quartermaster Harbor at Portage, I was able to shave a few miles off my original plan and make it a day trip.
The day started out overcast with patchy fog but it cleared later and warmed up to about 80 degrees. Dozens of boats were out, including the 1924 motor yacht, MV Westward.
My first stop from Owen Beach was Lisabeula, a Cascadia Marine Trail campsite maintained by the Washington Water Trails Association. It has a small grassy field and a port−a−potty. I also noticed access to a road and a small parking lot, although the campsite is reserved for people coming in on human−powered boats.
Along the northwestern shore I found the famous driftwood man of Vashon Island!
The ferry terminal serving the Southworth and Fauntleroy ferries lies on the north end of the island. There is a Mexican restaurant called La Playa located right next to the terminal. It would have been very easy for me to pull up on their boat ramp and stop for lunch and a beer, but I had packed a lunch and didn’t really want to dawdle. Maybe next time!
Wingehaven is a Cascadia Marine Trail campsite that is built on the site of a 1930s waterfront mansion. Nothing is left of the house except the stairs leading from the beach and the crumbling stone railing running along the top of the bulkhead. It’s a beautiful spot with a lush shady lawn and a bench that looks east across the passage to Mt Rainier. This would be a great place to camp, unfortunately there are no restrooms facilities, not even a port−a−potty. I ate lunch here sitting in the sand with my back resting against the warm concrete bulkhead.
Planning for currents for this trip was easy. The current in Colvos Passage always flows north. The currents in East Passage are usually weak and variable. I had to paddle against an ebb current while going south on East Passage, but by crossing at Portage I took advantage of the ebb in Quartermaster Harbor, as well as a little push from a northerly breeze.
The mysterious collection of exercise machines I saw at the east end of Portage Ave a couple years ago are still there.
I wanted to travel light so I chose not to bring any kayak wheels for the portage. I didn’t really need them anyway: I crossed the isthmus in 200 steps. Fortunately the tide was high. At low tide I would have had to carry my kayak a much longer distance over the tide flats in Quartermaster Harbor.
When I finally made it back to Owen Beach (27.5 nm later), I realized that my feet were really sore! I actually didn’t notice until I got out of my kayak and started to walk up the beach. It felt like I had a big blister on the ball of my right foot, but I didn’t. It was caused by engaging my legs against the foot board and pushing with my feet all day, to get a more effective forward stroke.
David led a group of us on mountain bikes through the streets of Paracas to the National Reserve. We entered the park off the main road and behind the gate.
“If the guard starts to yell at us, don't pay attention. Just keep going,” he said. We were trying to avoid paying the 5 soles entry fee.
Although we slipped in silently several yards away from the gatehouse the guard still spotted us. He yelled but we ignored him and continued further down the road and over a slight rise.
Then I heard a motorcycle approach from behind. The guard had chased us down. He pulled up right into the middle of our group. We stopped and David spoke to him. David explained that we were just going for a little ride. We weren't going to the museum. Plus we've been coming and paying the entrance fee every day for the past week. And Oscar said it would be OK. You know Oscar, don't you?
I think that was the gist of the discussion. It actually went on much longer than that. In the end the guard relented. This time he would let us go, probably because we were friends with Oscar (whoever he was).
We continued further up the road, and after checking to see that the guard was out of sight, turned off into the sand. David led us up a steep hill to the top of a ridge called the Cerro Colorado, then onto a carpet of red sand between the low rolling mounds along the top of the ridge.
“Stay out of sight of the gatehouse”, he said. Obviously we weren’t supposed to be up there. Our tracks scarred the pristine hills. There were signs that others had been up there recently as well, from a motorcycle and probably an ATV.
Finally we stopped at an area at the northeast end of the ridge. We had a sweeping view of the Bay of Paracas below. The sand here was littered with bones -- bleached, white, weather−worn human bones. David walked over to a pile of rags and bones lying next to a deep hole in the ground. These bones were different −− ruddy brown. They gave off the sweet, sickly smell of rotting flesh.
“This is fresh,” he said. “Within the last six months. Someone’s looted the graves. See the smaller holes? Those are test holes dug to try to located the chambers.”
Two thousand years ago a rich civilization flourished in Paracas. They left a wealth of artifacts in their tombs, including pottery and textiles. They wrapped their dead in embroidered cloaks, which are among the finest examples of the art of textile making. The looters extracted these artifacts to sell on the lucrative black market for pre−Columbian art. The mummies themselves have no value to looters and are left behind. Animals probably eat or run off with the bodies, which apparently are still appetizing after sitting underground for two thousand years.
Nearby we found other objects: a scrap of textile, a fishing net, and a braid of hair. Later we found two deformed skulls. The Paracas culture practiced artificial cranial deformation.
Unfortunately, the looting of Peru’s treasures is nothing new. In fact, looters are usually the first people to discover new archeological sites. The older, weathered bones we saw were from graves that had been robbed in the early 20th century. It’s sad and ironic to think that the guards would chase down tourists like us for not paying a 5 soles entry fee, yet can't protect the park from the looting of this country’s precious archeological artifacts.
On the morning of the day we had planned to paddle around the peninsula I woke up to the sound of the wind howling. We wanted to get an early start and eat breakfast before sunrise. I could see the stars clearly. As it grew lighter, I saw a few wisps of clouds in an otherwise clear sky −− the first clear day all week. David said it was a bad sign. Wind in the morning is unusual. It could signal a paraca, a sand storm that blows with gale force winds. I could see the gusts ripple across the bay. The wind was coming from the south.
We decided to wait to see how the conditions evolved, but couldn’t wait too long. I wanted as much time as possible to complete the trip, which would take us 23 nm from Lagunillas, the little fishing port south of the peninsula where we landed the day before, up along the spectacular thousand foot tall cliffs of the west coast of the peninsula, around the north end, and across the bay back home. As far as we knew, there could be nowhere to land along the way.
[Our GPS track, UPPER ROUTE: We started just south of the northwest corner of the peninsula, rounded the point and headed east along the northern shore, then southeast across the Bay of Paracas to home.]
Juan Carlos arrived for breakfast. Even though we advised him that he should not accompany us on the trip today, he continued to support us in an advisory role. He did, after all, take two days off of work for this and was still getting paid. Yes, he said, the weather had changed. It was unusual. Yes, it could be a paraca. Hard to say. He advised that we wait and see. Unfortunately, weather reports were unavailable. We didn’t even have a barometric pressure reading.
Juan Carlos said he knew of a beach along the western part of the peninsula called Playa Los Viejos where we could put in. This would cut the trip in half, and the remaining route would be relatively protected from the south wind. We would also avoid paddling the rough passage between the peninsula and Isla San Gallán. We didn’t have a map but he knew how to get there.
We waited a couple hours longer. I watched the bay. No whitecaps. The wind had died down. By this time the whole team had joined in and the discussion went on a little longer before we finally decided to find this beach Juan Carlos was talking about. At least we could go and see what conditions were like there.
Since David and I were the only ones paddling that day, we left the kayak trailer at home and strapped two kayaks on top the SUV. Juan Carlos led the way in another truck. The route wandered through the middle of the peninsula, first west, then south, within sight of Lagunillas at the south end, then west, then north again. It was taking longer than expected and we were very low on gas. As Juan Carlos led us over and down an alarmingly steep ridge, we caught sight of the ocean and stopped at the edge of a cliff. From the top we had an impressive view of the cliffs along the coast and the clear water of the protected cove below.
I estimated it was at least 100 ft down to the water. At first I thought there was no way we were getting down there, but David found a trail. He followed it down and said it felt stable.
We unloaded the kayaks and carried them down empty. Point of no return, I thought, because there was no way we could carry the kayaks back up that cliff. Honestly I preferred taking my chances in the ocean than taking the truck back, given the real possibility of running out of gas in the middle of the desert. I happened to have my helmet with me and wore it for the climb down. Cheap insurance.
Once at the bottom we carried the kayaks further along the beach to a sandy spot. Juan Carlos and Dan helped us launch. The wind had died down considerably and we had it at our backs. That little bit of wind helped keep us cool now that we were paddling in the full sun.
To the south we could see Isla San Gallán. San Gallán is a marine reserve and enjoys a reputation as one of the finest surfing spots in Peru. It has been made famous because of an unusual long right−breaking wave that comes off the island in the west.
I didn’t see anywhere to land along the western shore. The surf would make landing and launching difficult. Even if you could find a pocket beach it would be too small to camp on, and because of the huge surrounding cliffs climbing out would be impossible.
Seabirds nested in the cliffs, mostly pelicans and Peruvian boobies. Large sections of the cliffs had collapsed into the ocean during the 2007 earthquake, destroying many nests in the process.
I was happy with the Epic 16X kayak I was paddling. It featured the same integrated rudder system and foot board as the 18X Ultra I had at home. It had a familiar feel, but the 16X is an inch wider and more maneuverable and playful −− a good all−around touring kayak.
The Epics are not without problems though. For one thing, the hard seats are uncomfortable and could use extra padding, especially along the sacral area. In Peru I stuffed a folded−over 3mm neoprene hood back there. At home I padded my seat with half inch minicell foam, which still isn’t enough to avoid some skin breakdown over my boney sacrum! I’m either going to have to pad it out more or replace the seat entirely.
For another, every time you adjust the foot brace for a new paddler, you need to adjust the rudder cables. It can be a frustrating procedure, but is not an issue if you are the only one who ever uses the kayak. There is also no way to lock the rudder in place in the center position. And in a rough following sea, the boat broaches. Maybe the rudder doesn't have enough “bite"?
Some of these problems are supposed to be solved by Epic’s new rudder system (scheduled to come out in 2009, and now overdue).
Finally, the foot board is slippery. I fixed this easily with a grippy adhesive padding (the kind used to keep furniture from sliding on hardwood floors).