Kayaking the Elk Coast

I am a sea kayaker.
I know I must be, because it says so on my card. Of course, that speaks more to my ability at a computer than with a paddle. Heck, you could call me a professional kayaker, because if you pay me a dollar, I promise I’ll go kayaking tomorrow! I figure kayakers are like kayaks. Some are lean and fast, some are wide and stable, some look great just sitting on the water, but don’t paddle worth beans. I fit in there somewhere. But while I claim the title, I realize there are some paddlers who are head and shoulders above the rest. I’m sure you’ve probably paddled with some in you local waters.
It was the story of one of these, Steve Sinclair, that piqued my interest in the
Elk coast of California.

Force 10 Kayak tours was started by Steve Sinclair and offers tours of the Elk coast in double kayaks. I thought this would be a nice way to get to see the area, especially since my girl friend, Kristi, was going and isn’t much of a paddler. Better a guide paddle her around and why not me too!

The day before our tour, I went to check out their boats to see what shape they were in. The Seaward Passats looked in good condition, so we were on. That day we looked down the cliffs to the water of Elk Cove, which looked completely tame. There seemed hardly a ripple, although looking from that height can be deceiving. At 6:30 the morning of the paddle, Kristi decided staying in bed was a better option, but I told her she had her own personal guide waiting for her, or at least her money, so she decided to come.

At the Force 10 shop we met James and Mike, our guides and got outfitted with full wet suits. The trail that led to the put in was just across the street, so they loaded the boats on large two-wheeled carts for the 1/3 mile or so portage down the cliff. Nice to have guides.

On the way down, James mentioned that there was another group of kayakers already on the water and casually asked if I had ever heard of the Tsunami Rangers! Turns out they had chosen the Elk coast for their annual meeting and paddle and were out plying the same water we would be in.
At the bottom of the cliff, they used a lagoon to ferry the boats closer to the shore to avoid dragging the carts through the sand and we met them at the beach. We were ready to start our adventure.

There was a small two-foot shore break making our launch just a little interesting in the +20ft kayaks. As we paddled out you could tell the water was quite different than the day before. Mike said the forecast called for gale force winds to start coming in later in the day. Now, a little way off shore we were plowing over and through steepening 3 & 4 footers and I was wondering what I may have gotten poor Kristi into! For me, at the front of a boat with a Greenland style bow was quite a different experience. I was becoming ‘one’ with the ocean and having a good time doing it. The boats were very stable, though and from the beginning James and Mike showed they knew how to handle them. A little ways out and the swells were of a more rolling nature.

We paddled through a giant arch choked with bulbous kelp making it hard to plant a paddle blade. On the other side was calm water once used as a loading area for logs going on to ships. Despite the fog that came and went, it was beautiful scenery.
We passed through rock sluices; more arches and headed for some caves. One cave, barely big enough for one kayak at a time, became a spit when a decent sized swell came in, making for a misty experience. We went through several caves, one with three entrances, one with barely enough room to swing a paddle, but all very exciting.

After the cave areas, we headed out to the edge of the more protected water where you could see a rambunctious ocean trying to get in.

We started on the trek home in the large swells near the outer water. Our put in was an increasingly foggy, rocky site occasionally completely obscured by the large swells. James and I took advantage of some of them, surfing to quite a lead over Mike and Kristi. It seemed to put the question of the benefit of riding swells to a rest.

Kristi thought the large swells were easier to deal with than the smaller steeper ones we were dealing with earlier, but I wondered what the large swell was doing back at our put in. Luckily, the giant rock by the shore where we were to land afforded a break to the larger swells. That is, if we decided to make use of it!

James asked me if I was up to surfing in through the large waves that were coming in on the far side of the rock. I had already suggested that a sadly underused method of landing was the ‘wet exit and walk in’ landing method. But we were all pretty much wet from head to toe and I could see that Mike and Kristi would be able to make a reasonable landing in the lee of the rock. If James thought surfing a +20ft kayak with 1/8 of a ton in the front cockpit was a good idea, who was I to argue! Our first attempt was a bust, but we had a plan. I would help to keep us straight and get in the wave and then just lean back to keep the bow up. I set the self-timer on my camera to 10 seconds and when James said to paddle I hit the button. He screamed we were in it and we were hurtling down the face of the wave. I could barely glimpse my camera as it reached 10 and took the picture. Two seconds later we were broached in a wall of white water. I planted a brace and fought to keep the boat upright. It seemed a lost cause, but then I think my blade hit the ground and with another push we were back up straight. Except, I had lost my guide!!! James was out of the boat and hanging on to the back! I decided the best idea with more waves coming in was to wet exit as well and we pulled the waterlogged boat up to shore.

We turned the boat over and got most the water out and headed over to make sure Kristi and Mike landed without problems. Mission accomplished. I was exhausted and just sat down to enjoy the great experience. Now to get the boats back on the carts and up the hill.
Nice to have guides!
Kristi and I went up ahead to wait at the shop. My only regret, and it is a deep one, when James and Mike made it up to the shop, they said the Tsunami Rangers had just landed! They said they got to watch one of them pitch–pole into shore. I suggested that was a standard maneuver for Tsunami Rangers—to cartwheel on to the sand to avoid embarrassment in the dumping two-footers!! I missed seeing them in action, but waited for a couple of them to come up.

They came to the Force 10 shop to use their carts to haul up their boats. Mike, who was impressed with my camera holder made me show it to one of the Rangers who had the same camera as I. I got to take a photo of a Tsunami Ranger boat and get my picture taken with an actual Tsunami Ranger and then I figured I’d made a big enough fool of myself and left them alone.

I left Elk with a Force 10 tee-shirt and another entry for my “Incredible Day” kayaking list.

Mark Sanders