Gonzo 12 Island Paddle, March 9th 2008.

After Gordon Schanck berated me for not doing a Gonzo Paddle this year, I studied the tides looking for another chance to do this. I found a day when I was possible, but would be more work than normal. Gordon thought it was too much work and was uninterested in joining me. He referred to this as the Maxi Gonzo after his Mini Gonzo several weeks before. I did a practice paddle the previous day to get in shape. Then to continue my training program, I went to a big party in Oakland, stayed up late, drank too much, went to bed late, and got up early to do a 35 mile paddle. Isnít this the way professional athletes do training?

I figured on doing the Gonzo this year by myself. I told everyone that the tides were not ideal and the distance would be extra long. Dave Littlejohn offered to come with me, and I appreciated the company. I assumed that he was only coming along because he was my friend and was supporting me even though he thought I was crazy. Of course Dave is the person who once said that he could not resist doing anything that had Gonzo in the name: His macho pride required that he do it! Then to my surprise, three other people showed up for the Maxi Gonzo: Paula Hubbard, Richard Pieper, and Dennis Holton. Maybe Iím not crazy after all. Or perhaps we all are!

Because the tides were not ideal I had decided to circumnavigate the bay backwards from the ďnormalĒ Gonzo. Instead of waiting for a flood to pull us up Raccoon Strait, we launched while it was still ebbing out the bay. We paddled into this ebb around the south side of Alcatraz Island (1 down) then continued west to Treasure Island (2). As we approached Treasure, there was a lingering eddy current from the ebb that was still going south. I have heard that this is part of the complex behavior of The Bay and it makes me think that it would have been easy to duck south a few more miles and bag another island (Yerba Buena). But I resisted and continued with The Plan.

Heading north from Treasure Island I had a prediction of strong currents over the South Hampton Shoal. We didnít actually get very close to the beacon but the direct path to the end of the Brooks Island (3) breakwater probably benefited from the flood current that was starting. Next we came around the west side of Red Rock Island (4) and stopped there for a few minutes to land and take a pee break.

Last year Dave and Fred Cooper invented the rule that you had to touch each island or you could not count it. The first place that this was a problem was ferrying between the west and east Brother Islands (5 and 6) with a strong current. We touched the West Brother first and ferried across to hide in the slack water in front of the East Brother and touch the shore there. I started paddling out between the two islands, expecting the strong current to pull me rapidly north when suddenly the water stood up in four foot standing waves from a ferry wake! I managed to turn my boat around and catch a short surfing ride in them before almost running into my friends coming out from behind the island.

We paddled across the San Pablo Strait towards The Sister Islands (7 and 8). We pointed at Point San Pedro and noticed that the flood current was setting us strongly to the right. It turned out to be difficult to paddle fast enough to the left to prevent being washed past the East Sister Island. Once behind this one it was easy to hop to the West Sister island and then up along the shore north of the point.

We rounded Rat Rock (island number 9) and stopped at China Camp for a lunch break. We had made excellent time and the flood tide was still going north past us. In previous years the winter rains had always made the ebb tide start early, but we had an hour before the flood stopped. After a half an hour lazing about I became antsy and convinced my friends to launch early for the return. My logic was this: If the flood is still running it will be difficult getting around Point San Pedro, but there should be an eddy current cycling around the Marin Islands. This eddy should make it easier to get to these islands. I guess this strategy worked because we went straight to the tip of the West Marin Island (10) then ducked into calm water behind the East Marin Island (11).

From the Marin Islands we had a long haul far from shore to get to Angel Island. For some reason Dennis stayed close to shore and ended up far from the rest of us until we all made it to Bluff Point and the start of Raccoon Strait together. I feared a strong rip current here that would require hugging the shore to prevent us from being pulled across the top of Angel Island. But it really was a pretty mild day for tides on The Bay and we saw no dancing water. I paddled diagonally across the strait so that I could touch the tip of Point Stuart on Angel Island (island number 12).

On the way down Raccoon Strait we ran into a bunch of other BASK kayakers. Dave Harry was visiting the area and wanted to paddle with some friends. However, he didnít want to do a paddle as arduous as The Gonzo and had done his own trip from Horseshoe Cove out around Angel Island. There were standing waves off Point Stuart so Dave and Dave and Rich Luibrand spent some time surfing against the current. Then we paddled across to Yellow Bluff where the standing waves were not nearly as good as the ones at Point Stuart, so we just ducked into Horseshoe Cove and the end of a long tiring day.

The kitchen at the Princeton Yacht Club closes at some early hour and we had little hope that they would still be serving dinner for us. Fortunately Maryly Snow was on Dave Harryís paddle, she had not stopped for surfing the standing waves and landed early. She ran up to the Yacht Club and told them that a large group of hungry kayakers were arriving soon and convinced the cook to hang around a little longer. Maryly walked the parking lot taking down orders and brining them up to the bar so our hamburgers were almost ready before we were. The cook (a very attractive young woman very attractively dressed for an evening out) ran out the door later. We cheered our appreciation to her before the door banged shut.

All text and images Copyright © 2008 by Mike Higgins / contact