Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Petaluma River: From the Source to the Sea

So technically the Petaluma isn’t really a river, it’s a tidal slough. And being a slough, it can’t really have a source, per se, so we actually started at the Petaluma Marina. Also, it doesn’t really flow to the sea, it flows into San Pablo Bay which, in turn, becomes San Francisco bay which, of course, eventually opens up into the Pacific Ocean. So while we maybe didn’t really paddle all the way to the sea, we did actually paddle all the way to the Black Point Marina which does actually sit at the mouth of the Petaluma River at San Pablo Bay. Probably ten to twelve miles all said and done.

Our trip began the way so many of our trips begin - with me driving back home to the house to get my bag of gear I left in the garage. So our plan to put on the water at 9am slowly became our reality of putting on around noon. Luckily the tide was on a solid ebb and the wind was at our back, but still we were on the water for almost three hours of fairly leisurely paddling downstream. The tide when we put on was probably between 3 and 4 feet so while we didn’t get the great view of getting on the water at a 6+ high tide, we didn’t get the mud flats view of the low tide either.

If you’re not into half marathon paddles, you can either, stop at Papas Taverna and take out, or start at Papas and continue. In our kayaks, which were definitely “touring” boats, the first leg of the journey took an hour and the remainder, from Papas to the mouth, close to two. You can, of course, make a round trip of any of the river but chances are, at some point, you’ll be fight the wind or the current.

Tom and Jeff took our two carbon kayaks from Necky, the Chatham 17 and the Looksha IV respectively. I took the Eddyline Fathom. All three boats, being plenty fast (and all three paddlers, being plenty lazy), we kept up with each other just fine. That being said, allow yourself more time if you’re in a more recreational or sit-on-top kayak.

If you’re looking for a fun, easy river with lots of birding that allows you to take advantage of some natural cheats (like wind and tide), we can highly recommend the Petaluma.

For more info on the Petaluma River, checkout:

As a side note, the three kayaks we used on our journey, the Carbon Chatham 17, the Carbon Looksha IV & the Eddyline Fathom are all now for sale at “wow” prices.

2008 Chatham 17 Carbon Demo $2695
2008 Looksha IV Carbon Demo $2695
2008 Eddyline Fathom Demo $2095

-Scotto Galbreath

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Avons on the Illinois River, Oregon

The first Illinois rafting trip since June launched November 15th. Flows were projected to be around 3500 CFS. Alas, the rain did not come and we ran the Illinois at an epically low flow of around 500 CFS. With little daylight and water, the going was slow. The pools between the rapids became ponds. Nevertheless, the Illinois NEVER disappoints. Besides, it's hard to complain when you come off the Illinios with a sunburned nose.

We camped out South Bend (approximately a 17-mile day) and got up real early on Sunday to reach take-out. Immediately we hit Prelude Rapid (which at this low flow had a rock sticking up in the airplane turn) and then Green Wall. The top drop at Green Wall was particularly interesting at this flow. Slot "b" was not even an option!

After running through Green Wall we continued for the next three miles with some great read-and-run water. We then hit Submarine Hole, which honestly just looked like rocks. Where'd the water go? Oh, yes, mostly into the undercut wall on the right. Thankfully, the slot on the left was just wide-enough for an Avon Adventurer (although somewhat deflated :)

Overall, another stellar Illinois trip. Participants on this trip included four guides for Idaho River Journeys, a few Portlander types, and the SOU Whitewater Club.

Here are two videos Alan Douglass was able to capture. The first is of Skip Volpert of IRJ running the 10' Avon dubbed "Rosie" through Green Wall. The second is of all three Avon rafts running / pushing through Submarine Hole. Enjoy!

Skip at Green Wall:

Avon Rafts through Submarine Hole:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kayaking the Caves of Mendocino

Kayaking the Caves of Mendocino

Three hours north of San Francisco is Mendocino, home to some of the coolest sea kayaking you’ve ever done.  My girlfriend Nicole and I took off for a weekend on the water early in October of 2008 and were rewarded with some of the best weather the California coast has ever seen.  

The Pacific Ocean looked like a sheet of glass as we slipped into the water at Van Damme State Park and after just a few short paddle strokes to the north, we hit the first of over a dozen caves and arches we would see that day.  After playing around in there for a little while we headed back into the sun,  rounded the corner and began a fun little run north into the “inside passage” - a fairly protected, ever narrowing channel that dead ends into a tide pool a mile and a half or so from the beach at Van Damme.

After a little lunch and a little harassing of tide pool creatures, we slipped back into the water and south to Buckhorn Cove.  Something they’re not going to run out of anytime soon, there on the Mendocino coast, is bull kelp. And once we got through all that kelp we were able to surf a neat little wave that built via the swell pushing through a tunnel at Buckhorn.   We could see some fairly cool looking arches on the south end of the cove but were too lazy to fight the kelp to take a look and headed north again to see what we could find on the way back to the car...more of the same cool caves and tunnels.

The next day only got better.  We parked the car on the north side of the bridge and carried the boats down to the quickly flowing waters of the Big River.  Paddling past some surfers taking advantage of the wave that breaks at the mouth, we made our way around the town of Mendocino and through the dozens of tiny islands that surround the Mendocino Headlands.  We were expecting a let down after yesterday but instead were met with another typical California day on the water, you know, where each day is better than the day before.  Caves and  tunnels and arches.  Oh my!  Again, we didn’t paddle all that far, probably five miles all said and done, but the adventure and beauty and fun packed into those miles were considerably greater than the last few hundred miles before it. 

The key, we found to the Caves of Mendo, was to really hug the coast.  Fifty yards out and who knows what kind of good stuff you’ll miss.  Every time there was a little cove, be it 100 yards across or only 10 yards across, we made sure to make an exploratory probe and eight times out of ten we we’re rewarded with another neat little cave, arch or tunnel.  

And remember, there’s a considerable difference in headroom between low tide and high and a lot of these caves have yet to install proper lighting and can be a little dark so be sure to bring a headlamp and a helmet.  Also, because we often banged up against walls and skootched over rocks as the swell caused the water to rise and drop, we were glad to be in a couple of plastic kayaks and not some shiny glass yaks.

For a great guidebook on this and other classic paddle trips check out: Guide to Sea Kayaking Central & Northern California by Roger Schumann & Jan Shriner.

Posted by Scotto

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scotto and Jeff's Excellent UK Adventure

As the US Distributor for Avon riverboats, we visit the UK factory every year, where the finest rafts in the industry are built.
Here's our week in the UK: Arrive in London at 10am local time Check in to the hotel and try to stay awake for another 12 hours, utilizing the patented Clavey method of walking from pub to pub (beats jet-lag every time). Unable to stay awake any longer, we crash had no later than 9pm and expect to sleep through the night. Wake up around 3am and mumble obscenities until coffee is finally available.

Around 11 am on our second day Mark Hart, our Avon rep, picks us up. We then drive for four hours to the Welsh city by the sea, Llanelli, stopping only once for bad coffee and stale pasties. By late afternoon we arrive at the Stradey Park Hotel, which both Jeff and I can can give the big two thumbs up. After taking a brief stroll about the town we meet back at the Stradey for dinner with Mark and Huw Griffiths, the managing director of Avon Inflatables. Huw will inevitably ask the waitress the same question he asks before each dinner we've ever had with him, "What kind of meat pies do you have?" Having then stayed awake until ten, we expect a complete and full nights sleep.

Day three. Wake up at 4am. Mumble obscenities. Wait for breakfast. Regret trying the off-colored sausage. Drink about 18 cups of coffee waiting for Jeff to wake up (bastard). Then, late morning, we head over to the Avon factory for some negotiations based on the exchange rates of the dollar , the British pound and the Euro. When you're talking money with the Welsh, sometimes temperatures can start to rise and words can start to get a little loud. When this happens Jeff and I fall back on our tried and true fail safe strategy - badmouth the French. This always brings the Avon guys back to the table with a new affinity toward us regardless of pricing.

Once we get the meetings out of the way, we take our annual tour of the Avon factory to see all of our boats that are being built as well as all the cool boats being built for the Ministry of Defence. There's not a lot they can't build right there at the factory. The place is clean, organized and efficient. And even though there's a fair amount of solvents and glue used in assembling inflatables, not a whiff of fumes anywhere in the building. I'm not real good at judging the size of things, but by my best guess, the Avon factory is probably about a million square feet. Maybe more. After our tear-filled goodbyes and promises to write, we get back in the car for the four hour drive back to Londontown, Once back at the hotel, we throw our bags back into our rooms and head out for a Clavey Pub, Curry, and Crawl. Sleep through the night (finally). 

Day Four is filled with free museums and expensive gifts for the family. It doesn't really matter what you buy, when the value of the dollar is half the value of the pound, all gifts are expensive. After the culture and the cavalcade of gifts, we head back to the pubs for a healthy meal and a beer. Maybe two. Three beers at the most, I swear (ask Scotto about the cider too). Mmmm...sleep.

Five in-flight movies and ten hours later we're back in California...totally unable to sleep.

Here's some fun facts about the Avon factory in Wales:
  • Avon is on of the largest employers in the town of Llanelli (which God only knows how, is pronounced Klen-etyl-ee).
  • Avon builds whitewater rafts alongside all the boats they build for the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Special Forces.
  • All negotiations and meetings come to a screeching halt at 10:30 sharp for morning tea time.
  • The local beer is Double Dragon "The National Ale of Wales" and is the best way to wash down a Welsh meat pie.
  • Avon has the single best ventilation system of any boat factory in the world.
  • The average Avon employee has been with the factory for 22 years.
  • The sun only comes out twice a year, turning Avon employees' pasty white skin to an uncomfortable burn in the time it takes them to run from their cares to the protection of the factory.
  • Sticking with the bacon and avoiding the sausage is the best move at the Hotel's breakfast bar.

To see more photos of the Avon factory, visit

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The surf is UP - What to do with it?

Rain, rain, and rain. That's the weather forecast for much of the Pacific Northwest in the next 10 days. What's that mean for boating? Look for the Illinois River in Southern Oregon, up 3000 CFS three days ago. Check out the Smith River in Northern California, up 12,000 CFS two days ago. When it rains, the rare coastal runs are where it's at. The little-known "Lobster Creek" into the Rogue River or "10-mile Creek" into the South Fork of the Eel become top destinations. Of course, "top" does not mean popular.

In Southern Oregon, a few great little-known runs include the Applegate (tributary to the Rogue), Carberry Creek (trib to the Applegate, first raft descent last year, III-IV+), and Grave's Creek (put-in creek for the Rogue, various runs between II-V).

Moving north towards Portland, don't miss the "Miracle Mile" on the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette (it's harder to run than say ten times fast, V), the Santiam always is running due to dam releases but the extra rain pads the flow, and the Clackamas is a great fallback. Moving up the Columbia Gorge you'll hit some bizarre weather but some even crazier rivers. The White Salmon, Washougal, Wind, and Hood make some of the best whitewater around.

For Northern California, look at every tributary for the Klamath. The Scott River (IV-V) , Indian Creek (II-III (P)), Elk Creek (III-IV), Clear Creek (various sections, II-V), and the Cal-Salmon (IV+) are some great places to begin your topo investigation. Recently, the McCloud (into the Sacramento, III/IV) had releases. For a weekend adventure, pair it up with the Box Canyon of the Sacramento (class IV).

It's raining. It's boating season. Surf is UP!

Surfin' it up on the White Salmon: