Visit Bodega Buoy 46013 on Yerba Buena Island, January 13th 2002.

NOAA (the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) and the NDBC (the National Data Buoy Center) manage a chain of weather buoys around the United States. One of these is the Bodega Buoy, so called because it is moored 30 miles offshore from Bodega Bay. When I want to see what the weather is like out at sea near me, I go and look on the WEB at the data coming in from this robot weather station. Every hour this buoy reports wind speed and direction, wave height and period, air pressure, air temperature and water temperature. The WEB page has a graph option that shows the last 48 hours of data so I can look at the trends and make my own forecasts. I depend on the data from this buoy to make my kayaking in local waters safer.

So I noticed when the Bodega Buoy stopped reporting in December of 2001. I switched to using the nearby San Francisco Buoy, but when the Bodega Buoy did not come back after a month, I followed all the links to the monthly status reports and finally discovered what had happened to my favorite buoy. It had come adrift in big seas! The good news was that it had been recovered and towed to port and was scheduled to be re-deployed (with no date on that yet). There was no more information about it, but I figured who else would “recover” a lost buoy but the Coast Guard? And where has it been taken to port? It had to be somewhere nearby. I have occasionally entertained the idea of paddling out to visit the Bodega Buoy, but 30 miles offshore is a bit of a long paddle with no place to stop for a rest before spending the next day paddling back. But if it was in port somewhere nearby, I could paddle out to it and thank it personally for all the good data.

I called the Coast Guard and eventually was put in touch with someone at the Yerba Buena Buoy Tender dock. He told me that Buoy 46013 (the official number of the Bodega Buoy) was in fact “berthed” on Yerba Buena Island. He chuckled at my wish to thank the buoy and wish it a speedy recovery. Sure, he said, you can come out and see it. But I got this message on voice mail and never talked to the man in person. I never made an appointment to see the buoy. I scheduled a BASK trip to go thank the buoy and while I was there, paddle around Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Lots of people contacted me and said that they were interested in this six mile paddle.

Hallmark Cards claims that they have a card for EVERY occasion. I looked through the “Get Well Soon” section at a local drug store. The ones that joked about “your doctor” didn’t seem to fit. The religious ones were definitely out. (I’m sure the cardinals in the Vatican have definitely determined that robots do NOT have souls). But then I found a card with a picture of C3PO, the human cyborg relations ‘droid’ from the Star Wars movies. He was saying “Oh Dear! I hate to see you suffer!” On the inside of the card, he said: “I hope you are fully operational again soon!” WOW! The perfect card for the occasion of a broken robot weather station! Inside the card I wrote another note that said: “To the Bodega Buoy 46013, one of our favorite local robot weather stations, from some of your friends at BASK”.

When we started arriving at the Coast Guard station on Yerba Buena Island, we discovered that the Coast Guard is on high alert status. The road leading to the gate has concrete barriers that force you to zig and zag. The gate is closed and there is someone manning the check point. If you want to get in you have to be on “Official Business”. Even when we showed the Get Well Soon card to the guard, his poker face didn’t crack the slightest bit. I had hoped to get permission to see the buoy, duct tape the card onto the hull, and launch from their boat ramp. Zero out of three so far. All this ridiculous security was put in place because of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Personally I think this is totally overboard. This does not make us safer, instead it makes foolish people think that “something is being done”. Something is being done alright. A lot of foolish barriers, needlessly locked gates, and hidden information. I’d rather live in an open society and take my chances with terrorists. The terrorists are probably cackling with glee in their caves. They only managed to kill thousands of people in New York directly. But indirectly they have managed to get us to put millions of ourselves in a prison of excessive security measures.

I parked at a wide spot in the road within sight of the check point so the guard could keep an eye on us, in case we tried to make a dash for the gate. I flagged down all the BASKers that arrived so we didn’t bother the guard one at a time. As everyone arrived I made them sign the Get Well Soon card, instead of having them sign a wavier. After waiting until ten minutes after the appointed time, we headed off to the north end of Treasure Island to a public ramp. Looking at the tides, this was probably a safer place to launch. The tide would be ebbing the whole time we were on the water and if it got strong it would be pushing us back to our cars on the final leg of the circumnavigation.

We launched and started up the west side of Treasure Island. This is an artificial island built starting in 1936 for the Golden Gate International Exposition in1939 (read more history of the island in It was supposed to be an airport but was leased to the Navy in 1941 during World War II. In 1993 the Navy decided to return the island to civilian use. Treasure Island is attached to a natural island called Yerba Buena Island by a narrow isthmus that is just wide enough for the road. The San Francisco Bay Bridge touches down on Yerba Buena Island and provides access to both islands now. The man-made Treasure Island looks like a breakwater, a pile of rocks in a row, from the water. When we paddled to the natural Yerba Buena Island the shoreline became much more attractive. I tried to filter out all the man made structures and imagine what it must have been like to paddle in The Bay before it was developed.

Around the south end of Yerba Buena there is a little beach that I have stopped on for lunch before. The cliff above this beach is slumping down and the beach is smaller than before. My companions, 12 of us all told, decided to wait until we got to the cove between the two islands where a larger beach would be a better place for lunch.

Between us and lunch was the Coast Guard station as we came around to the west side of Yerba Buena, I saw a buoy tied up on a pier! But it was the wrong shape. This turned out to be the California Buoy number 46059 which is normally anchored 600 miles offshore! It had also come adrift and been towed back to shore. The Point Arena Buoy number 46014 has also broken loose from its anchor and is still reporting data while it drifts north. It seems like hard times for the moored buoy program. Finally I saw a 3 meter discus buoy hauled up on the pier with the number 46013 on it! The object of my desire!

Buoy 46013 was parked high and dry out of the water, tilted over at an angle by its keel. The wind speed meters on its booms were spinning in the breeze. I took several pictures of the buoy and had my picture taken in front of it. Way up on top of the pier and at low tide we were unable to get closer than several meters to it. We could have paddled underneath the pier that it was on. Nobody at the “heightened security” base noticed that we were there.

We paddled around to the cove and landed for lunch. While there Fred Cooper amused us by towing a foam block close to beach, climbing out of his kayak onto it, and paddling it to shore. Just for the hell of it! Bob Haxo had to go rescue Fred’s boat from drifting away. After lunch Fred tried to jump into the water on the foam block and it split in half. He and Bob towed the two halves to the nearby dock to let them dispose of it. This foam was probably escaped flotation from the docks, and they might even re-use it.

The trip around the rest of the unnatural shoreline of Treasure Island was uneventful until we came within sight of our landing spot. Fred noisily practiced his roll. Not to be out-done, several other people demonstrated their Eskimo roll. I shouted out Roger’s Rule, that you should do 6 rolls on every trip to keep in practice. We all (those of us who were foolish enough to get wet and cold) managed to do our 6, shouting out the numbers as we went. After the first three, I had a no-fat ice cream headache from the cold water. But when it goes away, it feels so good! Konstantin Gortinski was on this trip but had already landed when the rolling frenzy started. He said that he felt The Bay is too polluted to risk rolling in it.

All text and images Copyright © 2002 by Mike Higgins / contact