Point Reyes kayaking & camping

Date: 28-29 October, 2017

No. of days: 2

Campsite: Boat-in only Tomales beach (sand camping)

Boat launch: Inverness (Blue water kayaking)

Paddling distance: ~5.5miles one way

Activity type: Sea/ocean kayaking and camping

Point of interest: Bioluminescence experience

Camping permit: Bear Valley visitor center (Point Reyes National Seashore)

Best time to visit: April - November (April/May being the best time for bioluminescence watching)

Other Info:

Tidal information, weather and wind

Kayak rentals (Bluewater Kayaking)

Boat-in sites in Tomales bay - Map

Bio-luminescence specific guided trips

Reading NOAA charts

Tomales bay NOAA chart

Emergency VHF channels to be aware of: Channel 16 - SOS, NWR broadcast (weather updates)

Chilling out at the beach after setting up our tents

The core essence of any nature involved activity is to rekindle and tighten the bond between humans and the creation, spread tranquility and initiate inner peace. Camping goes a step beyond hiking in this venture by forcing us to spend the night amidst nature outside of man made dwellings. Combine this with hiking and we have backpacking which adds to the experience of disconnecting us from our routine lives and making space for magical experiences. To take it up a notch, think about kayaking/boating a couple of hours to a shore only accessible by boat and camping there for a night. I believe this is a truly extraordinary experience to bear for anyone looking to set sail on a new adventure. After-all our ancestors journeyed across distant rivers and seas to find new land.

I’m thankful to have been able to experience a very tiny bit of such an adventure like our ancestors did and to be able to write about it. I reserved a boat-in only camping permit a couple of months ago but hadn’t planned out this trip. This meant I was looking for friends who could join us (Shruti & I) very close to the trip date. Umesh, his wife Amrutha and my friend Rajath joined us making it a party of five in two double kayaks and a single. The first double kayak was crewed by Umesh and Amrutha, the second included my wife Shruti and I, the single kayak was solely captained by Rajath. We launched out of Inverness, CA at 11:30am after picking up the camping permit from Bear Valley visitor center on our way to Tomales bay.

Our launch site - Bluewater kayaking (Tomales bay resorts area, Inverness)

(c) Point Reyes National Seashore (National Parks Service) - Using it for visual information purposes only

Wouldn’t it be fun to carry everything you need for the entire journey in the kayak? It definitely was and packing everything onto the kayak and carefully securing it was even more fun. When kayaking, the first obstacle is to fight the waves to leave the shore behind and battle through with the wind if you were paddling into a headwind. We had about 8-10 knots of headwind coming in from the north-west. If the stars align we would have tailwind on the way back i.e. if the wind direction remained consistent throughout the trip which was our consolation at that moment. When paddling north-west from Inverness the first beach that’s clearly visible on the port side (left side) is the Heart’s desire beach, a part of Tomales Bay state park which has motorable access. Stand-up paddlers normally hang around here before heading back to Tomales bay resort launch area.

Left - Rajath, Right - Umesh & Amrutha, en-route to our campsite

Keeping the shore about a football field or two away from the kayak is a great way to cruise efficiently. It’s close enough to spot sea-life along the cliffs and far enough to be outside the swim zone (marked by the white buoys). Each stroke of the paddle gently displaced water breaking the natural silence. The birds flying around in numerous different formations joined the notes created by the waves and the water to lay out a beautiful music piece orchestrated to perfection by nature herself. At that moment my explanation to what bliss is would be to being there. We enjoyed this experience and made slow progress towards Marshall beach, our destination for the day.

Boat-in camping in Tomales bay is restricted to a select few beaches in order to protect wildlife. Beaches north west of Kilkenny beach (including Kilkenny) are open for camping. Generally people prefer camping at Marshall and Tomales beaches as they are a little more human friendly, i.e. they come with a pit toilet. Anywhere else, you are expected to carry back everything including any bio-waste you produce :-). Indian beach marks the 66% (2/3rd) in terms of distance to Marshall beach from Inverness boat launch area. The teepee that line the Indian beach shores makes this beach a good positional marker/visual locator. The teepee are easily identifiable from a good distance from shore. We were pretty happy with our progress when we passed this beach again on our port side.

Left - Posing in front of my tent, Right - Playing "Exploding Kittens" inside Umesh's tent

By 2:30pm (~3hrs of paddling) we reached a large beach with a few tents already pitched on its shores. Our assumption was that we had reached Marshalls and our plan was to take a quick break and continue on to Tomales beach for the night. We had switched our camping plans from Marshall to Tomales beach as people at the kayak rental counter had informed us about bioluminescence being visible north of tomales beach and we did not want to paddle a lot post sundown to witness it.

I was surprised when I learnt that we were already at Tomales beach and had passed Marshalls a while ago. Marshall beach was relatively smaller when seen from the kayak in comparison to Tomales. As soon as we hit land, the movie “Cast Away” tumbled into my mind; I was probably very happy from within, to step foot onto dry land although I was a bit disappointed that paddling was over for the day (especially since we initially thought this was Marshall beach). To prevent from falling sick or worse being a victim to hypothermia, we quickly changed into dry clothes and started pitching out our tents. Although the weatherman predicted sun and warm temperatures of ~14 degrees celsius, it turned out to be more like ~8 degrees celsius and a whole lot of fog, not to mention winds.

Left - Our tent and our kayaks, Right - Group photo at Tomales beach!

Thanks to Shruti’s friend, we had the card game “Exploding Kittens” with us which we had borrowed from them and fortunately had brought it along on this trip. Don’t judge me, I know; it's backpacking and there is a very limited amount of stuff we can pack-in on a kayak but trust me, this game is worth the weight. We had a bunch of fun playing and snacking followed by a nice peaceful stroll along the beach. Witnessing bioluminescence required a ~1hr kayak journey after dark but I wasn’t very sure about my navigation skills especially without being able to spot geographical features. Missing Marshall beach altogether in broad daylight on our way to the camp did not help with my confidence either. I stalled my decision about going back out into the water to later, post dinner. Instant noodles and corn soup was the menu for dinner. Since there is no potable water on any of the beaches, we had to also carry-in all the water we consumed for both cooking and drinking. This meant that we had to ration our supplies carefully. The last thing that anyone would want is to end up without any water to drink. After carefully cooking food and having a scrumptious dinner I decided to snuggle into my tent for the night. 8:00pm seemed to be a great time to go to bed.

View of Hog and Duck island as seen from Tomales beach

None of us ventured into the bay that night since the fog had rolled in and it was impossible to see beyond a few feet. Visibility was pretty poor. We did not get to see bioluminescence, however we had a relaxing sleep that night. At dawn the fog still persisted but was much less thick. I was able to see the cliffs lining the bay and was good enough for safe navigation. By 8:00am we were all up, finished our limited breakfast that consisted of tea & biscuits and started bringing down our tents. We had to be back by 11:30am since ours was a 24hr rental, assuming 3 hrs of paddling that would put us at a 8:30am departure time from the Tomales beach. It was freezing cold so changing back into water clothes was a challenge and we took our own sweet time doing it. It was a little over 9am by the time we kayaked out.

Little did I know that the adventure was far from over. By the time we paddled past Marshall beach, my paddle broke in two. My heart skipped a couple of beats but thanks to Shruti’s quick assurance, we continued our return journey with “one-and-a-half” paddles. This slowed us down reducing our cruising speed significantly. Return journey always feels short, more or less like a time-lapse capture. Indian beach went by, hearts desire beach followed and slowly we were making great progress to our boat launch area. Land that seemed just around the corner never came. Water does play a very deceptive role when it comes to distances which reminds me of mountaineering a lot where you see a feature but it takes forever to get to or get past it. At 11:45pm we reached the launch site. We were welcomed by the wonderful staff from Blue water kayaking. We also got to hear one of the people there play a bagpiper which made me feel like I was bringing in my naval squadron back home after a successful tour at sea. It was a spectacular finish to our kayaking and camping trip. I now look forward to another trip specifically to witness and experience the natural phenomenon of bioluminescence.

Top left - Morning tea, Top center - Getting ready (packing), Top right - Snacking after we got to the campsite, Bottom - Our beach camping site shared by other groups