Paddling with new friends
While at the beach, waiting for some no-show kayak clients, I chanced to meet Whitney, a grizzled old-timer with an inflatable kayak. Since I was partially blocking his access I helped him carry his boat to the water. Whitney is a very sociable character, so it was no surprise to me that he contacted me later and arranged a social gathering at the Captains’ Club. There I met Ryc and Marc. Marc is a fisherman: that is the main focus of his kayaking. I have to say it is great fun to catch fish from a kayak.
Ryc is a do-it-yourselfer. He built his own kayak, a skin-on-wood-frame Inuit-style boat. All had tales to tell, properly lubricated with cold draft beer. By the end of our session we had arranged to go for a paddle together a couple of days hence.
When the day came, Mark had to send his regrets, as he had caught a nasty bug. The rest of us met at Ryc’s camp.
I picked up Whitney at his house, and we headed to the rendezvous. Following the coast to the north of San Carlos, once you get past the hotels and gated waterfront communities, the pavement ends. The dirt road takes you to La Manga, a community of fishermen’s houses and shacks. Here you can buy shells, or things made of shells, or eat fresh seafood at one of several little restaurants. We pass through the village escorted by dogs and children on bikes.
Eventually La Manga peters out, and the road cuts into the desert until it rejoins the coast at La Manga Dos. Instead of driving into this cluster of mostly abandoned shacks, we follow the shore behind a dune that runs parallel to a long, curved beach. There, in the shelter of the dune is a modern-day version of a hobo camp. We are greeted by a big dog, who is too shy to be friendly, and too gentle to be intimidating.
We pull up among a loose group of trailers, and get out to introduce ourselves. This is the winter camp of Ryc and Mona, and a few of their friends. In the shade of a big mesquite tree is the kitchen and dining area. Ryc and Mona bring their matching Cape Falcon home-made kayaks, and prepare to drag them over the dune to the beach. Whitney and I take one of my double kayaks to the boat launching beach at La Mange Dos. After unloading the boat, I leave Whitney with the boat and follow Rick’s van to the Soggy Peso. We leave my boat and trailer there, and return to La Manga Dos. Ryc drops me off and heads back to his camp, a scant half-kilometre away. He and Mona will paddle over to our launching point, as it is on the way.
From our launch point we could see the long, crescent-shaped beach backed by its dune, and the tiny figures of Ryc and Mona as they slid their boats into the waves. The cloudless sky was deep blue, the sea slightly darker, flecked with whitecaps. The forecast was for light, SW winds. The forecast was wrong. The breeze was building quickly from the NW, which would push us along, as we headed roughly east. As the day progressed, those waves would turn into swells. This was not to be some idyllic cruise over a glassy sea. Nor was it dangerously rough, but definitely sporting. I started to assemble our gear.
I am supposed to be a professional. Then why is it that I brought the wrong two half-paddles? We had one good paddle, but the other one was two female halves, which don’t mate together. It was not a disaster, because I can use one half-paddle, like a canoe paddle. but there was another solution. I opened the front hatch, and pulled out a three-part mast and a sail. By the time we had the sailing rig all assembled, Ryc and Mona were idling just off the beach. The wind was whistling through the rigging as we launched directly into it. as soon as we got around the point, we hoisted the sail and we were off.
It was a pleasure to watch Ryc and Mona paddle their light, nimble craft through the waves, and we had to luff up the sail once in a while to keep from getting too far ahead. We dashed along, heading for the string of islands collectively known as Deer island.
There were a few birds flying about; some blue-footed boobies and a couple of yellow-legged gulls. These birds are so common here that I paid them little heed. But something caught my attention off to the right. I saw two peregrine falcons, most likely a nesting pair. The smaller female was flying high over her mate, who stooped down to the water’s surface and snatched something osprey-style. As it rose from the water, I could see it was carrying a small grebe. The eared grebe is a common sight on the winter sea. In fact they seemed unusually abundant this year. This one must have never seen the falcon’s approach, as they are pretty quick to dive at the first sign of danger. The falcon carried his heavy load towards Deer Island, while his mate followed from high above.
Soon we were approaching Deer Island, and cut between two rocks to the shelter of the leeward side. The strong breeze and bumpy sea was left behind and, after dropping the sail, we slowly paddled the calm, clear water, ducking between emergent rocks, and poking our bows into various caves and coves. Rounding a small point we found our predator, standing on a cardon cactus, and plucking feathers from his well-earned meal.
We continued gunkholing for a while longer, then, moving away from the shelter of the island, we hoisted the sail and made a dash for shore.
We landed in front of the Sunset Grill, and pulled the boats above the reach of the waves. I went to the truck and got a set of wheels that Whitney uses for his boat, and after setting them up under my sturdy work-horse of a kayak, we easily wheeled it up the beach. With the boats safely nearby, it was time for a beer.
We sat in the sun, partly out of the wind, at the Soggy Peso, and drank to our new-found friendship and to a fun and successful paddle in the lovely winter sea.