Boat and Beach Camping on Tomales Bay, 2013

August 17-18, 2013

Arriving at a beach on Tomales Bay by boat and spending the night must go back to the time of the Miwok.  Inverness Yacht Club members have sailed, motored, paddled, and rowed to Kilkenny or Marshall or Heart’s Desire beaches for overnights for so long that it’s a hallowed tradition. Continue reading

Sailboat camping on Tomales Bay, Spring 2012

April 21-22, 2012

On a Saturday in April, 24 intrepid people with an average age of 24 piled into three Flying Scots loaned by the generous and gracious Tejas conglomerate and Bill Moseley, as well as an assortment kayaks furnished by the Speh, Black, Kelly, and Jay households on Saturday morning. The goal was to arrive at Marshall Beach via boat, whether by kayaking or sailing, and spend the evening.  The campers came from as near as San Francisco and Berkeley and as far away as Sweden and New York City. Roughly 1/4 of the folks in attendance were physicists, and at least seven were accomplished sailors. Only one had majored in neither science nor engineering.  The weather was flawless: warm, sunny, and clear. Boats were packed, sunblock was liberally applied, and instructions for reaching the beach were meted out. A grand weekend awaited.

Convening upon Marshall Beach, the adventurers proceeded to build a campfire, dine on kebabs, and consume libations. Vegetarians were taught to shuck oysters and much dinner was consumed. Following the evening meal, s’mores were roasted on the fire and hot chocolate made. The skies cooperated as the fog cleared and a meteor shower graced the dark orb with fireballs. Breakfast was a rather gourmet affair, involving chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup whipped cream, as well as two types of sausages. An expedition was mounted to Lairds Landing to view the buildings left by Clayton Lewis and his fellow creatives.

Returning to the dock on Sunday was frustrated by a paucity of wind, which then turned southerly, further hampering efforts to sail back. The water was unseasonably warm, so numerous pirates dove into the water, swimming between boats and delivering booty from one vessel to another while waiting for the wind to return. Innovations that occurred during the weekend include a method for chilling oysters while sailing as well as exhaustive explorations into alternative Flying Scot propulsion methods whilst becalmed.

Satisfied with the success of their soiree, the adventurers have set their sights on the Kilkenny beach overnight party in August as their next movement in the burgeoning movement of occupying Tomales Bay. If you are in need of crew on your vessel between now and August, please do not hesitate to reach out and inquire regarding the availability of these enthusiastic youngsters.

Photos here and after the jump.

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December 3, 2011

The idea for this outing came in May after getting lunch in a Korean restaurant in North Cambridge.  Elisabeth would be in San Francisco for a Kepler science conference in December, and I’d promised her oysters and sailing.  We schemed with Andy, who would be moving to California, and all decided that we’d brave whatever cold weather awaited us in seven months in the name of mollusks and sailboats.

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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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A panorama for your scrolling enjoyment.

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A Covey of Quail

I’ve been tutoring a couple in West Marin, teaching them how to use their computer, their printer, their iPod, and their camera.  Milly has taken to gardening while listening to Pandora Radio on the iPod. Richard was so inspired that he printed out a booklet of his poetry and prose and gave it to his sister for Christmas!  His latest project has been a photo of the day blog.  A recent entry was a covey of quail, perched on the boom of a Flying Scot at the Inverness Yacht Club.

Quail perched on a sailboat

I was drawn to how they’re pointing in different directions, and the blueness of the water. Way to go, Richard!

I’m off to Massachusetts for four months to finish my master’s thesis.  Here’s to more sailing on that coast!

Mudskipping Southward

Can you get from Inverness to Point Reyes Station in a sailboat with a tall mast? What are the obstacles that one might face with a 20’ aluminum tube protruding straight up from your ship? Are there any powerlines that might hinder sailing along Papermill Creek?

On Saturday morning after the Inverness Yacht Club’s October board meeting, Ned Congdon and I intended to find out empirically if a sail to Point Reyes Station from the Inverness Yacht Club was possible. A small armada began rigging two Flying Scots to navigate the narrow channels of Papermill Creek to Point Reyes Station. In the blue Club Scot were my friend Zach from Pasadena, my housemate Emily, staff commodore Mark, and me; in Ned’s boat was his sailing partner Steve and Ned’s son Aaron. Ned has been sailing into Point Reyes Station to grab lunch at Café Reyes for years, so we figured it’d be a grand opportunity to join him and learn a thing or two about sailing south through the narrow channels, as well as to verify for ourselves if such a trip could be accomplished. Our crew grabbed a spinnaker and set off toward Papermill Creek in the last bits of the rising tide and light winds, Ned hot on our heels as we turned south for Point Reyes Station.

Shoved off Heading south and preparing the spinnaker

Being tailed Ned behind, chute up

Eventually, we let Ned pass us since he knew the entrance to the channel.  We tried to keep up with him without a spinnaker, then decided it was time to hoist the kite.  Alas, the pin on our pole broke, so we were faced with a dilemma: be left in Ned’s wake, or pop the chute without a pole?  Mark decided to go with the latter, so we gurgled down the bay, chasing Ned with our spinnaker flying poleless high above our boat.

Spinnaker rigging
Rigging the spinnaker

Content crew

Three Peaks
Three Peaks

The wind was blowing perfectly for our sail into the channel cut by the creek and we had an effortless downwind cruise toward White House Pool.  Motorists stopped on the side of Sir Francis Drake to watch and a coupled leaned out of the window of their house to video the two 18’ boats navigate a channel maybe 60’ wide.  Several kayakers seemed confused that sailboats were encroaching on their territory.

Thistledown scattered over the creek’s surface in the small puffs of breeze. It felt exceptionally like autumn as we drifted alongside the verdant shrubs and golden grasses of the former cow pastures. We tied up at the Green Bridge without encountering any powerlines or other deterrents to our forward progress. Thus, it has been established that it is possible to sail into town without incident. We set off to find oysters and wait for the tide to turn..  You can find the route we took to Point Reyes Station here.

Thistledown on the water
Thistledown scattering over the water

Tule rushes
Tule rushes

Stowing sails
Stowing sails

Tied up at the bridge
Tied up at the Green Bridge

Ned with the armadaAdmiral Ned posing with the armada

When we did leave Point Reyes, we had some difficulty tacking out of the narrow portion of the creek in the flaky wind, and Ned got mixed up with some willows growing on the bank.  The eastern channel proved to be rather narrow, so we put Zach on the tiller, Mark on the jib and main sheets, and me on the centerboard line as if it was controlling a third sail.  Emily’s job was to make sure nothing jammed as we hauled the board up and down during countless tacks across Papermill Creek.

Return trip
Steering along the creek

Sailing down the creek from town
Ned’s boat sailing down the channel to the bay

The ebb was so strong at this point that the creeks rushing into the channel looked like raging rivers.  We saw a family swimming through the rapids through a gap in a railroad levy.  At this point, we were focusing on navigating the channel and not getting stuck on the ground, rather than how our admiral was doing.  When we looked behind us, we saw the nose of his boat stuck in the mud.

A few tacks later Mark asked, “Where’s Ned?”  We scanned the southern horizon as we fought weatherhelm to return to the club in the strengthening wind, and I spotted the white hull of the other Scot.  “Ned’s capsized.”  “Well, there’s nothing we can do for him until we get a motorboat at the club and go back for him,” responded Mark.

We sailed on, anxious, glancing south under the sails, eager for visual updates.  “He’s back upright!”  “He’s capsized again.”  “He’s up again, but his sails are down.”  We lowered our centerboard as far as we dared in the dropping tide and raced to the club.  Mark and Zach launched the Whaler to rescue Admiral Ned, while Emily and I took our Scot out of the water and watched the rescue efforts.

The Whaler returned with Ned’s Scot in tow, containing a very broken centerboard and tiller, as well as a damp ego or three. While I was grateful for the chance to see part of Tomales Bay that I’ve never explored by boat and to prove that one can indeed sail into Point Reyes Station, we were glad that everyone had been wearing personal flotation devices, numerous people were aware of our sail plans, and that several folks in the vicinity knew how to operate a safety boat. As winter approaches, let your friends know where you’re going, pack your foul weather gear, your lifejackets, and your radios. Happy sailing!

Broken centerboard
Broken centerboard and tiller


Another casualty was my camera: as there was nothing I could eat at Café Reyes aside from butternut squash soup, the effects of protein deprivation hit rather hard and I wound up falling off the dock with my beloved Canon Digital Rebel 300D. We’ll see if it works after drying out for a week. The rest of its last photos are here.  Zach and Jim also took a few shots.

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.

In Which Team Hobie Almost Freezes To Death

In Which Team Hobie Almost Freezes to Death

by Alex Q. Sailor

(The names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty.)

Around 9 am on a Saturday in December, I was talking with the yacht club port captain on the phone when there was a knock at the sliding glass door. I looked out to see John “Danger” Jones, wearing a motorcycle jacket with his nose red from the cold. He waddled in wearing four pairs of pants and planted himself in front of the fireplace. “It’s… really… cold… out… there,” he managed. I did what any reasonable person would do when faced with a frozen motorcyclist: I shoved a mug of tea in his hands until he thawed out enough to speak. “Want to get breakfast?”

The morning was calm but the tide was high, so we elected to head out to the club and see if the wind would build. “We could always go for a motorcycle ride,” he offered, “but I’d rather go sailing.” At the club, there was enough wind to merit sailing, so we started rigging his boat, a Hobie 18. I had checked the daytime tides and knew we were fine until at least sunset in terms of having water.

Eventually we headed off the dock into the wild blue yonder of Tomales Bay. We headed north-northwest, pausing once to admire Heart’s Desire Beach, and again to look at the abandoned Coast Miwok dwellings and artists’ colony at Lairds Landing, then continued on towards our goal: Hog Island, eight miles up the bay from the club. The wind had been building throughout the day, so John and I traded who was on the trapeze wire and who was controlling the tiller. I had him close his eyes so he could practice “feeling” the boat while steering. Fortunately, no one died. John mentioned how much he loves sailing on this bay and how special it was, despite having lived all over. We both established that we return home from sailing with faces sore from smiling so much.

We put ashore on the island’s northwestern edge along a conveniently-located beach that pointed right into the wind. We trudged ashore, tied up the boat, and scrambled up a shallow cliff into the trees, feeling not unlike characters from a Swallows & Amazons book. The first thing we noticed about the island is that it had gone to the birds: the ground was white from droppings, almost as if it was covered in a layer of snow. On Duck Island, Hog’s companion to the south, the trees were full of cormorants sunning their black wings in the sun. Strange plants that looked like hollyhocks grew in gaps between dying eucalyptus and cypress trees, and wild onions poked their way through the leaf- and guano-covered ground.

We ran down the hill to the boat, noticing the tide had gone out a significant amount in the half hour we’d been on the island. Untying the boat from a fallen tree, we found what looked like a scapula for some sort of sea mammal, a lobster claw, crab parts, and a femur. A flotilla of kayaks approached the island but didn’t land. We pushed off, me getting my feet wetter in the process, and turned south.

The sun set as Marshall Beach appeared to our right. We were still five miles from the club, at the same point where we turned around a few weeks ago an hour before sunset, which had resulted in landing at the club an hour after sunset in the dark November night. As the sun slipped behind the hills to the west, the wind disappeared and the tide continued to rush out of the bay, changing in height almost eight feet in as many hours. We floundered, becalmed, as the stars came out and the bay fell silent. The sky turned from periwinkle to velvet blue, the last tinges of orange disappearing from the clear western sky.

I asked John if he thought we should try to hail the the fire department via radio. He said we’d be fine. I stewed, starting to get cold. After the commodore’s lecture three weeks prior on the importance of carrying safety gear while sailing in winter, I had charged my radio and brought it along on this sail. Ignoring John, I finally called the Coast Guard on the emergency frequency but made John do the talking. They asked us if we had flares (no) or a cell phone (no). Tut tut. We said we’d try to land in Marshall. Except there was no wind to guide us into the marina. So we drifted south, slowly against the falling tide as the boat started quivering from the tidal swells. We tried paddling with the daggerboards, though I eventually gave up because my hands were getting too cold to hold the blades.

Could we land in Marshall? I thought we might be able to dock at the boatworks, but then there were the 14 miles of road between us and the yacht club where my car was, along with the keys for John’s motorcycle. We could try hitchhiking home to Point Reyes, but then we’d have the problem of my car being at the yacht club and the boat being in Marshall, and no way to get to either. John offered to run from wherever we landed back to the club. “It’ll only take me an hour!”

Eventually the wind picked up to a few knots from the south and we made the either astoundingly brilliant or incredibly stupid decision to sail the remaining four or so miles back to the yacht club. We told the Coast Guard over the radio what our plans were, and John was rather optimistic about our arriving at the club at a reasonable hour. The Coast Guard told us that they had talked to the Inverness Volunteer Fire Department and that the fire department couldn’t send anyone out because the tide was too low. Jolly good! Another repeat of three weeks ago, complete with slogging through the mud! Except we were miles further north than we were last time when the night fell! And it’s 10˚F colder than last time! We told the Coast Guard we’d call them when we got back to the dock. The last thing I wanted was them sending a boat out from Bodega Bay to “rescue” us from our own stupidity.

It got colder. We had thumb wars and bounced our feet on the trampoline to try to regain feeling in our digits. I saw Eskimos making igloos on the eastern side of the bay. I wondered if I had the radio frequency for an icebreaking ship.

A waning gibbous peach-colored moon rose above the eastern hills as various winter constellations climbed disturbingly higher and higher into the sky. We pulled closer to the club and were able to resolve the Golden Hinde Inn & Marina to our right. Suddenly, a bajillion candle power beam of light swept from what had to be the yacht club towards our sail. A few minutes later, the light focused on our sail. At least someone knew we were out here and was looking for us. Shame on us for ruining their Saturday evening!

The ghostly figure with the searchlight shone it along the dock, showing us precisely how much water remained at the dock (not any). We headed as far south as we dared where there were a few more inches of water and struck the ground. I wrangled up the daggerboards as John flopped over the side like a dead fish and started pushing the boat. “This mud is warm!” he called from the water. “It feels great!” I groaned as the boat ground to a halt in the mud, 50 feet from the dock. I gingerly hopped over the starboard side, fell up to my knees in the mud, and started pushing toward the dock.

The figure on the dock resolved itself into a certain former fire chief (who else would own a blinding electric flashlight?) who did not look entirely pleased to see us.
“I should have known it was you two,” he called out as we shoved the boat through the last 30′ of mud to the dock. Good thing my sheepish expression was invisible in the dark. John clearly felt no remorse for hauling the former chief out to the club in the dark to babysit two stupid Hobie 18 sailors in the middle of a Saturday night.
“I am so glad to see you!” John hopped up on the dock to tie the boat off and face whatever verbal onslaught was to come. I cringed as I clambered onto the wooden boards of the float.
“Watch out; there are some icy patches up there,” the former fire chief advised. So much for following the safety lecture from last month.
“Do you know what time it is?” continued the firefighter, sounding not entirely irate. I ran for the clubhouse, not wanting to know either the extent of his displeasure or the answer to this question. My thoughts were on the shower and rinsing off my boots so I didn’t make too much of a mess.

I glanced at the clock in my car and the tidetable on my phone. It was 9:30; low tide of -1.34 feet had been at 9:13. We had been out in the dark for over four hours after sunset at 4:00.

The shower was painful. I couldn’t keep my feet or hands in for more than a few seconds before they’d be horribly painful. Eventually I struggled out of my wetsuit and tried to regain feeling in my appendages, but one pinkie toe reluctantly stayed a virulent shade of purple. I started shivering and heard John fumble into the bathroom next door. A few minutes later I heard him emerge and he offered to get me my dry shoes from the car. Eventually, I stumbled out into the clubhouse to see a barefoot John, already changed and apparently not wanting to shower.
“Where are your shoes?” I inquired, shivering uncontrollably.
“I only had that one pair.”
“What… ? You’re joking,” I shook my head. “What are you going to do for footwear?”
“I’ll just go barefoot back to the boat to finish taking the sails down.”
“The dock’s icy! And for riding back 90 miles home on your motorcycle tomorrow?”
“Well, I’ll just have cold feet in wet sneakers. I did it all summer.”
“While riding for an hour and a half? It’s December!”

The former fire chief called the Coast Guard and told him that we were “safe”. Walking out to the end of the dock, I noticed a patch of ice where I had washed off my boots not 20 minutes ago. John’s sail was jammed at the top of the mast and there was no way to get it down in the dark, so we gave up, secured the boat to the dock, and drove back to Point Reyes.

Sunday morning dawned dark and cloudy, with quite a lot of wind. The anemometer in Marshall indicated wind gusts to 30 mph, so perhaps John’s sail was not doing so well out in the building storm. I drove into San Francisco to help a friend with a baking competition and John straddled his motorcycle to drive back to the club to put his boat away. The port captain reported that John wanted to go out single-handing in the stiff breeze preceding the coming storm, but she put her foot down and said under no circumstances he was allowed out by himself in the wind. Snow was forecast for John’s town tonight, so perhaps either freezing his feet off or getting waylaid by more ice and rain would serve him right for his contributing to my losing nerve endings in my toes.

Since then, we’ve gone sailing a few times and we’ve yet to a) invoke either the Coast Guard or the Fire Department; b) return to the dock after sunset; or c) wade through unholy amounts of mud on the way back to the IYC. Perhaps one of us has learned his or her lesson, though I’ll let you know if John’s Holy Grail of sailing out of the mouth of Tomales Bay in a catamaran ever comes to fruition.