Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Halfway Round Alameda in a Kayak

A week or so back I paddled halfway round Alameda, an island off the coast of Oakland.  People paddle all the way around the island occasionally, a trip of about 15 miles.  A complete circumnavigation is something that can be done in about four of five hours and is a good way to kill a Saturday when you figure in drive time to get to the launch point and a stop at a restaurant afterwards. 
I don't often do these kinds of paddles because they take up too much time.  Usually I drive the half mile to the boat ramp closest to my house and put the boat in the water for a short, less than an hour paddle.  The truth is that I don't much care for paddling any amount of distance.  Distance paddling is quite frankly boring.  It is like driving on the interstate across Nebraska.  Lovely, but unvarying views.  It can be done if one works oneself into a trance.  I much prefer playing around in waves, a little surfing, some rolling and just enough paddling to get warm.  Then back to the car.  But the bay has no surf, just short waves and when there are waves, there is also an unpleasant amount of wind.  Tribulation exceeds excitation.
The trick when trying to paddle somewhere solo is to get oneself locked into some sort of no-return situation where one has to finish the trip or might as well finish the trip when the temptation is to turn back after half an hour and go somewhere for a beer or a cup of coffee. 
This is how it was on this paddle.  My plan was to endure paddling for an hour and then turning back for a total time on the water of about two hours rather than doing the usual turn around after 20 minutes which would have me back at the boat ramp in under an hour. 
The view at the Grand Avenue boat ramp in Alameda.  The nose of my kayak is visible in the foreground. Beyond that, the estuary which in this region goes by the name of Oakland inner harbor. The white ship in the background is one of the coastguard cutters tied up to the pier on Coastguard Island.  To the left lies Oakland Middle Harbor and the Bay.
As it turned out, I was ready to turn back after half an hour of paddling but hung on and kept going down the estuary and in the general direction of San Francisco bay.

A nice purple boat house about two miles down the estuary.

Some more boat houses.  Jack London used to tie up the Snark somewhere around here before he took off for Hawaii.
The Snark on the estuary.
 Having paddled two miles, I would normally turn back without having wasted too much time and gotten some exercise and taken in some of the sights.  Unlike the scenery on land, the scenery on the water is always changing due to the mobile nature of the nautical bricabrac that floats in the water.
A tug tied up to a barge.  The big white thing behind it is one of the floating dry docks at Bay Ship.  Off to the right, the iconic cranes of Oakland's container port, images of which turn up on tee shirts.

The SF to Oakland ferry passing by a scrap metal carrier.  The soundtrack here is of big chunks of metal being dropped into the metal hold of the ship, creating much clanking.

 And here, in case you never read the country of origin labels on the stuff you buy is a picture of where your stuff comes from (China) and how it gets here (in containers) on top of a big ship.  Most of the ships are black (American President Lines) but sometimes also blue (Maersk). 
Returning to the journey, at this point I was about 45 minutes into the trip.  This would have been a good time to turn back.  I could have been back at the boat ramp in another 45 minutes and would not have done too much damage to the day.  Instead I kept going forward since I could see the channel marker at the end of the estuary, just another mile or so off.  Also, at this point I considered the option of paddling around the tip of the island over to where my shop is, taking the kayak out there and riding my bike home.  More paddling but I wouldn't have to look at all the same stuff I looked at going out.  And so I went.
I did it.  I paddled out into the bay and rounded the corner of the island.  Off to the left, newly installed steel pilings to prevent toxic trash from decades past from washing into the bay.  The VA intends to build a hospital here on top of the toxic soil so the deal is to bulldoze about six feet of untoxic soil over the top of the toxic soil and that's that.  When it rains, water moves in a downward direction so the toxins move down or sideways, but not up.  Anyway, that's what they claim and their lawyers approve.

The view west across the bay, about two miles distant the bay bridge and beyond that, the red lead primer painted Golden Gate Bridge. At water level, decommissioned warehouses where cargo used to be unloaded the old-fashioned way by longshoremen. Now the warehouses are home to restaurants and circus troupes.

The end is in sight.  The structure ahead is in line with one of the disused runways of the former Alameda Naval Airstation.  Runway lights were mounted atop this structure.  Now it is used mostly by aquatic birds.  Gulls, cormorants and on this day, one great blue heron. Visible in back and to the left, the Shop, where the aquatic portion of my journey ends.
So that was it.  For he last part of the journey I had the wind in my back, wind out of the north with me heading south, then for the last mile, the wind off my left flank as I headed east. 
Total mileage according to google maps, 7.6.  Elapsed time, roughly 2 hours.  After that, four miles home on my bicycle.
Since I don't get out in the kayak all that much, I was pleasantly exhausted, with my mind empty of thought, a wonderful state to be in, but came at the cost of spending two hours in a kayak.