Marshall Beach Boat Camping in November

November 12-13, 2011

The blue brig

Autumn continued, warm and dry.  The tides were in our favor one weekend, so a bunch of us piled into a Flying Scot and sailed up to a beach as two compatriots kayaked up the bay to join us.

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Marshall Beach Campout

As the newly-installed secretary of the Inverness Yacht Club, trying to keep board meetings short is one of my priorities, especially when the tides after the meeting are high enough to launch a boat!

I reserved the aging Flying Scot Banshee with the intention of sailing up to Marshall Beach with the ebb tide one afternoon in mid-February, camping overnight, and sailing back down on the flood tide the next day. If the winter wind failed to materialize, at least we’d be drifting in the right direction thanks to the tide! We rigged Banshee after the February yacht club board meeting, stowed sleeping bags and provisions in the front of the hull, and prepared to make tracks for the beach. We borrowed one of the club spinnakers–a lightweight, almost parachute-like sail–wondering if it’d be useful on the return trip the next day.

The wind was light, but filled in a bit as we launched from the club and headed north and upwind. While the southern end of the bay was still, the area around Marshall was abuzz with winter activity: numerous seals, huge flocks of birds, several kayaks, a trimaran, and a 30′ cabin cruiser that had anchored at Lairds Landing.

We arrived at Marshall Beach just as the sun was setting and went about setting up camp in a grove of cypress trees. Aside from two kayakers camping further down the beach, we had the place to ourselves. Before the fog rolled in, the stars came out and we were treated to a stunning view of Mars surrounded by crystal clear winter constellations. In the morning we awoke to a brightening blanket of fog… and to find our breakfast had been stolen by ringed bandits (or in local parlance, “raccoons”). (Note for next time: a locking cooler in the boat would probably keep them away. And put the permits on the outside of the tent so that the park ranger doesn’t wake you up at 8:30 am.)

In the daylight, Marshall Beach has a lot to offer: a fallen cypress tree to climb on over the still bay, bright orange torch lilies, and access to Lairds Landing, the former home of the Coast Miwok as well as artist Clayton Lewis. Our grove of cypress trees were decorated with spider webs glistening in the morning dew. A trail takes you to the top of the ridge, providing panoramic views of both the ocean and Tomales Bay.

After losing our breakfast to the raccoons (can you tell I’m still bitter?), we faced a long lazy return sail to the club, though the rising tide helped move us in the right direction. Around Indian Beach we finally had a few knots of breeze behind us, so we hoisted the spinnaker and gained a bit more speed as the tide turned slack and began to ebb. Some curious seals poked their heads out of the water and followed us back to Inverness as we admired the verdant hills, blossoming acacia trees, and thinning clouds.

It’s easy enough to camp out on Tomales Bay—permits from the Park Service are $15 for up to six people for one evening, and you can change the date of the permit once. The day of your expedition, pick up your camping and fire permits from the Bear Valley Visitor Center, pack your boat with your friends, and head off. With daytime temperatures in the 60s and the night bringing the mercury down to the mid-40s, now is a great time to be taking full advantage of this glorious bay. Winter affords us a time of year devoid of tourist activity, so it’s the perfect opportunity to explore a new trail, an old beach, or test your outdoor cooking skills.