Saturday June 11, 2011
The original plan was to launch from Natural Bridges and downwind to the Pleasure Point area. But the wind was up early and blowing 20-30 mph at launch time. So we scratched that plan and launched from Cowell's Beach at the Santa Cruz Wharf. In addition to it being much less windy, at least for the first five minutes in the lee of the half-mile wharf, it was good practice for the Pier to Pier race.
The paddle from the beach to the first Coast Guard buoy was a delightful tour past the relaxed tourists on the wharf and the frenzied barking of the sea lions that have taken over the eastside boat dock. But conditions turned quickly as we made our way into the wind stream.
The thing about downwinders is that, so far, I haven't really experienced one. Not the one that I envisioned anyway. One imagines a straight coastline and paddling down it in a straight line, with the wind blowing straight behind you. That is probably the "mind downwinding" equivalent of "mind surfing". In my very brief experience doing downwinders the coastline is rarely straight and the wind (and the seas the wind blows up) are never lined up neatly behind you. And as was the case today, the wind and the seas were at a 45-degree angle to the shoreline, or blowing offshore, that is from the opposite side of the aforementioned wind direction, or sometimes even (miracles of miracles) right in my desired direction of travel.
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I battled this sideways chop and wind that blew up whitecaps all around until I'd had enough. That's when I paddled truly downwind and into a rolling but relatively calm kelp bed off Blacks Point. The bad about that was the backwash coming off the point. It quickly became evident that I had to resume paddling in choppy seas or else hit the beach. So I slogged on through the messy and anything but smooth potato patch between Blacks and Pleasure Point.
Fortunately there was no real ground swell of note today so I could take this "low road" strategy. Even still, I had to head back out to sea to avoid the breakers off Little Windansea and Sewer Peak because by now I was too far inside to guarantee my course's wavelessness. I was paddling in thick kelp but surprisingly this went well. With a strong wind at your back you can pretty much sail right across the seaweed. And that's when the real fun began.
Just past Sewers, with the wind directly at my back, I could set a straight line course direct to the Capitola Pier. I had a good feeling of speed as I jetted across the kelp patches and open spots of ocean. When I quickly arrived off Privates the wind went offshore for the next mile or so to the Pier. But it was a good run and a good experience.
I fell off twice today. Once in a pitching sea when side chop surprised me by how steeply (and quickly) it put my board up on a rail, and the other when some kelp finally took me down. But that's not bad considering all the times I could have fallen off, and I learned a lot from today's practice.
Our original plan was to stay clear of the kelp beds by paddling outside them. But for me that was too much work and too much confused seas and white caps. If the wind had been less brisk it would have been a different story.
We paddled back to the takeout at Privates where we'd parked the shuttle vehicles. Andy's wife Nancy and the kids, Bobby and Jilly were there playing in the shorebreak and paddling Andy's Uli board.
The next paddle is scheduled for next Saturday. Route undecided.