I’ve thought about kayaking for years. Thought being the key word here: in terms of actually getting out on the water, I’ve only come as far as lunch at Sausalito’s Le Garage. So when the opportunity arose for a kayaking tour of Richardson Bay with SeaTrek senior guide Mitch Powers (photo below), I was excited—eager to see Marin from “the perspective of the water,” to use his words.
Although for advanced paddlers sea kayaking can be a year-round sport, Marin’s warm fall weather makes October an ideal kayaking month for people of all skill levels. Early mornings, when the sea is flat and empty of traffic and the only human interaction is a quick hello to floating home owners sipping coffee on their docks, kayakers can often be seen gliding over the bay.
The beauty and closeness to nature is one aspect that draws people to the sport, but the sheer physicality of it can’t be overlooked. Mitch, who has been with the company more than 12 years, tells me the six-pack abs I’ve dreamed of might just be possible with daily sessions on the water. The sit-in double kayak we take out of Schoonmaker Point Marina doesn’t look too daunting. I put on the provided windbreaker, slip into what looks like a skirt with suspenders and snap on my personal flotation device, and Mitch demonstrates how to get in the kayak without falling over: “Sit right here” (he points to the edge of the kayak), “swing your left leg in and then your right.” I mimic his actions and easily sink into the cockpit. Then he tells me to pull the back of my suspender-skirt behind me and fold it over the lip of the sit-in’s opening. I start sweating. My triceps burn. Mitch helps. I begin to reconsider how much I want the rock-hard abs and new “perspective” on Marin and I haven’t even gotten on the water. I then pull the front of the skirt forward with all my might to hook it on the front lip.
Finally I’m safely inside, protected from any water that would enter if we inadvertently flipped over. Mitch launches us off the beach and hops in the back with ease. Show-off. As we start to paddle my mind recites the mini-lesson he had given me on the beach: keep the knuckles in line with the top edge of the paddle, use the core muscles to turn the top half of the body to the left and right in sync with the paddle, dig into the top of the water, bring back the paddle, don’t splash Mitch in the face with water. Repeat.
“For an urban setting there’s actually a lot to see,” he says as we glide past pelicans and act as voyeurs a safe distance away from resting harbor seals. Mitch, who has authored a book on the history of Richardson Bay, gives me an overview of the area, pointing out the floating home journalist Paul Avery lived in that was made famous in the movie Zodiac and another home with a decommissioned train in its living room. When I ask further about one of the homes, he suggests we get closer, and we make our way through the narrow waterways between the docks and lagoons. Meanwhile Mitch, who spends most mornings paddling on these waters, also acts as a harbor seal “dad,” kindly telling passing kayakers who have gotten too close to the protected animals that legally they need to leave a safe distance from the resting seals.
His daily trips on the water have clearly paid off: his stroke is powerful, not tired like mine. After the view (and my trembling biceps) encourage us to take a rest, it’s a challenge for me to get back in the rhythm, but he easily falls into the pace.
Although SeaTrek rents top-deck kayaks to those without experience and sit-ins to kayakers who have the necessary skills or have taken the company’s full-day introductory course, stalking the water with a professional guide yields lots of insight on the area’s natural charms. And the three hour “Scenic Sausalito” guided tour, which Mitch calls “a perfect paddle for beginners,” is inexpensive at $65. SeaTrek also has a Coastal Paddle tour, which launches out of Horseshoe Cove near Cavallo Point and is designed for graduates of the one-day introductory class; participants paddle a distance of about six miles along the rugged coast, exploring sea caves and rock gardens, with a stop for lunch at Kirby Cove.
Beginners with athletic backgrounds, particularly in sports like swimming that promote above-average arm strength, have a distinct advantage when it comes to kayaking, as the constant paddling—sometimes against the current—can be exhausting. But even “couch potatoes” can get out on the water and enjoy themselves, Mitch insists. And improvements in boat technology since kayaking’s Inuit beginnings—from sealskin-covered wood frames to today’s lighter-weight and more PETA-friendly plastic, fiberglass or Kevlar—make the boats easier to handle than before.
Other area outfitters offer guided tours. Blue Waters Kayaking has shoreside facilities on Tomales Bay—one location in Inverness at the Golden Hinde Inn Marina, the other in Marshall near the Marshall store. Guides lead groups out on the bay for full-moon paddles with launches from both locations. Point Reyes Outdoors runs kayaking expeditions from Drakes Bay Oyster Company: the group kayaks into Schooner Bay, the second-largest of the five bays that make up the wildlife sanctuary Drakes Estero, and spends the day meandering through the estero—exploring the coast and possibly gliding past the tip of a bat ray fin, great and snowy egrets, leopard sharks and harbor seals; lunching on an inviting beach, perhaps taking a hike or a nap before paddling back home. Beginners should “try a half day tour,” says co-owner and Fairfax resident Mike Rudolph. “Launching out near Nick’s Cove, depending on the time of year, you’ll see fantastic wildlife, including small critters like snails, crabs and crustaceans in the inner tidal zone. For kayakers it’s easy to see because you can get up really close.” And evening paddles, especially when bioluminescence makes marine creatures emit a glow, have “been amazing, it’s like a light show underwater,” he adds. Ah, nature.
On October 25, SeaTrek’s 27th annual regatta, one of the largest in Northern California, takes place. The event is a benefit for Environmental Traveling Companions’ (ETC) accessible outdoor adventure programs for people with disabilities and inner-city youth. Paddlers start in Richardson Bay and take one of three courses, depending on the race: around Belvedere Point; or circumnavigating Angel Island through Raccoon Strait; or circumnavigating both Alcatraz and Angel islands. For more information contact Kristi Grotting at 415.474.7662, ext. 19.
Blue Waters Kayaking (Inverness)
Point Reyes Outdoors
(Point Reyes Station) 415.663.8192,