Friday, September 17, 2010

Kayaking Guadalupe River Alviso Slough Southbound from Boat Ramp

One day a long time ago, I saw the Guadalupe River filled with water, and wondered if anyone ever tried to kayak in there. That was before the Alviso marina boat ramp was built and getting into the Alviso Slough/Guadalupe River was difficult in high tide and impossible at low tide.

Everything changed with the new Alviso boat ramp. Now getting into the water at any time is a breeze. Most boat traffic head northwest, toward the bay. On this trip, my friend Dave and I, with our sons, went southeast, going further inland.

The Gudalupe River is a raging, flooding, dangerous river in the wet winter season. However, in the dry summer months, it is entirely tidal with little fresh water coming down the river. To go as far inland as possible, I chose a day when the tide was the highest of the month. On this day, it was +10.78 feet at 3:30 PM.

The newly built Alviso boat ramp had more than enough parking spaces for the biggest event. Putting in was easy and the dock was one of the cleanest and best looking I've seen.

Turning left, we were immediately greeted by the South Bay Yacht Club, and passing it, a few abandoned boats.

As we paddled onward, the waterway started to get narrower.

After the first bend, we reached the railway bridge. It just so happened that a train was passing by up ahead and I was lucky enough to capture it.

 After the railroad bridge, it was the Gold Street bridge. You can see it in the background. Around here, there must had been a thousand little black birds. As we passed by, they all flew up and circled around. It felt like we were in an Alfred Hitchcock movie!

Dave took this video of my son and I paddling leisurely along the Guadalupe River.

Now it really started to feel like an adventure. Most of this part of the Guadalupe River was still pretty open, but there were areas where it got tight enough that two kayaks could not pass through at the same time.  Once in a while, my paddle would flick up a piece of floating weed to have it land in the boat. Like I said, feeling like a real adventure!

It was around here that I felt the current really carrying us along.  It was already about 3:30 PM, high tide according to my favorite tide chart: Mobile Geographics. The water should be slack right about now since it was exactly the high tide point. However, the water was still rushing in. From another San Francisco Bay paddle, I learned that slack water in the bay is generally 1-1/2 to 2 hours following high or low tide, because it took that long to fill or drain the bay. However, in a small tidal river like the Guadalupe River, I didn't expect the lag to be much of anything. As you will see later, we learned something that day!

We reached the end. A 15 feet long floating debris field blocked the way toward Tasman bridge. There was still plenty of water depth. I stuck my entire paddle vertically into the water and couldn't reach the bottom.  There was still plenty of elbow room, although it had gotten quite narrow. We could have pushed our way through, but this being our first time, we decided to turn around. Here is a picture of my son and I, having gone as far as inland on the Guadalupe River as any boat had gone. Final destination, a few hundred feet short of Tasman bridge; you can see Tasman bridge in the background.

As we turned around, we immediately felt the pressure of the inward rushing water and the wind.  It was a challenge paddling back out - the progress was much slower than the way in. In turned out that even after 1/2 hour past high tide, water was still coming in (flooding).  I believe that the narrowness of this section of the Guadalupe River caused the water to take some time to fully flow in or out of waterway, thus the lag in the current switch after high or low tide.

Anyway, the current and the wind made the return trip difficult. The lesson learned - do this in the morning if possible to avoid the wind.  Another note is that there really weren't any places to get out of the the kayaks, say for a picnic or something, so plan on going in and come directly back out.

View Northern California Kayak Locations in a larger map

In all, the trip was a success. We were able to explore a two mile stretch of the Guadalupe River that hasn't been documented before and the trip felt like an adventure. It came complete with some excitement, amazement, some fear and soreness - a good day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kayak Lower American River

The lower American River appears to be a nice easy run, suitable for an fun trip on a kayak.

Here is a very well done video and article by the Sacramento Bee documenting a paddle down the lower American River:

A good article in the Sacramento Parent Magazine:!%20Kayaks%20Ahoy!.htm

Excellent write up on CA Creeks for the Lower American River:

Nice detailed map of the American River Parkway, with facilities located along Lower American River. Zoom in really big to see the details. Because the map has so much details, I haven't figure out how to print it out on multiple sheets of papers.  The map has too large to see on a single sheet of paper.

Another descriptive story from the Sacramento Bee:

When I do a new river for the first time, I like to follow the route that rafter take.  I do this for several reasons:

1. It guarantees that there will be plenty of raft traffic so in case of an equipment problem, help easier to get
2. I can read the description of the raft run to judge the level of difficulty
3. There is always a shuttle that takes rafters back to the starting point
4. I may have friends who don't own a kayak and would like to rent a raft to do the trip together

The River Rat offers all of the above benefits. The shuttle service is $4, but I haven't verified whether they will take someone who did not rent a raft from them:

There's even a map showing the trip. It's quite fuzzy, but it appears that:

Put-in: Sunrise Blvd
Take-out: William B. Pond Recreation Area at the end of Harrington Drive/Kingsford Road
Distance: about 8 miles


Friday, June 11, 2010

Awesome Places to Kayak According to Tom Stienstra

This his 2008 article, Euphoria Along the Waterfront - Kayaking Across the Bay Area, outdoor journalist Tom Stienstra talks about all things kayak. Here are his picks of great places to kayak in the San Francisco Bay Area:
  • The prettiest sunset - spring evening in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta
  • The first time spotted a peregrine falcon - in the Napa-Sonoma Marsh
  • The first time a sea otter pop up only a foot away - Elkhorn Slough
  • Irreplaceable moments - near Angel Island in San Francisco Bay and going into the calm waters of Ayala Cove, entering Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe
  • The easiest places to try kayaking - Sea Trek's beach in Sausalito, South Beach in San Francisco (and then paddling into McCovey Cove), Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing and Tomales Bay out of Inverness
  • The best spots for bird-watching - the Napa-Sonoma Marsh, the delta, Petaluma River, Suisun Marsh and lower South Bay out of Alviso
  • For wildlife - Tomales Bay seeing the elk at Pierce Ranch, Elkhorn Slough for the sea otters
  • Overall beauty - Drake's Estero at Point Reyes
  • Bay Area lakes with kayak rentals: Lake Merritt in Oakland, San Pablo Reservoir near El Sobrante, Lake Chabot near San Leandro, Lake Elizabeth in Fremont, Shadow Cliffs Lake in Pleasanton, Del Valle Reservoir near Livermore and Lake Cunningham in San Jose
Here is the full article:


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Kayaking in the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta

The California Delta is a huge body of water formed by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers: 11,000 sq. miles total area, 70 islands, and 700 miles of waterway.  I don't know about you, but I think that a body of water deserves to be explored, particularly if it has islands and marshes. Amazingly enough, outside of a few isolated references, there is a total lack of write ups about this huge area.

One of these day, I will be out there exploring the area in my inflatable kayak, but for now, I'm settling for collecting what little information other have written about it:

[1] Kayak from Discovery Bay to Orwood Resort

This is probably one of the best, if not the best, description of kayaking in the California Delta. Discovery Bay is a nice 1/2 day of exploration on its own, the waterways reminds me of the Foster City Lagoon.  Anyway, this paddle starts from Discovery Bay and ends up at a restaurant at Orwood Resort.

[2] Euphoria Along the Waterfront - Kayaking Across the Bay Area

This 2008 article by outdoor journalist Tom Stienstra mentions Suisan Marsh in the Delta as the best place for bird-watching:

[3] California Delta Chamber and Visitor's Bureau

They have a short but nice description of place to kayak in the Delta.  This is the list:

(1) Sevenmile Slough
(2) Old River
(3) Middle River
(4) Cosumnes River
(5) Mokelumne River
(6) Lost Slough
(7) Brannan Island State Park's guided canoe program

The description text is in the middle of their web page, so scroll down or search for "kayak" on the page:


Monday, June 7, 2010

Kayak groups in San Francisco Bay Area

If you like kayaking, no doubt you either (1) have a lot of friends who go kayaking with you, or (2) are looking for people to go kayaking. Something about exploring mysterious and sometimes turbulent waters calls for kayaking buddies. You never want to find yourself flipped over in a place where your screams cannot be heard (I am over-dramatizing it a bit).

If you belong to the latter group, you might find the following information useful. I am going to link to a number of kayaking groups/clubs that you can join and go kayaking with other people.

1. Kayakers' Alliance meetup group

My favorite, this group has a nice mixture of kayakers who own their own kayak and those who don't. Paddles are held in locations all over the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Many outings are done at locations where one can rent a kayak. Some events are held where there are no rentals. It started only a few months ago but has grown to become one of the most active.

2. Lodi Paddle Club meetup group
3. North Bay Kayakers meetup group
4. Northern California Kayaks - Suisun City meetup group
5. Sacramento Paddle Pushers meetup group

6. Western Sea Kayakers (WSK)

This is a "real" club in the sense that they charge a due and have meetings.

7. San Francisco Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK)

This is another "real" club in the Bay Area.

If you know or other kayaking organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area, please let me know and I will add to this list.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Grand Opening Day of Alviso Slough Boat Ramp

 The only on-water photo I can find anywhere for Alviso Slough. Hopefully, after the grand opening, there will be many more.

It's finally here. After multiple delays, the new Alviso Marina Boat Ramp is going to officially open on June 5th, 2010, and a big party it is going to be. Organizers have estimates that there will be up to 1000 people and 100 kayakers.

Here is the official flyer from Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Corteses's office. They are the ones throwing the party for the Alviso Boat Ramp grand opening:

This site has the latest information about the opening day activities and schedule. You can sign up for the kayak event and receive email updates from the organizer:

Right now it appears that the organizer is not sure when his group will paddle out on the slough. I am sure he will announce it in his email update. However, the Kayaker's Alliance is having a meetup at 1 PM on opening day to paddle the 4 miles to the bay and back:

Since few people have kayaked the Alviso Slough, we will find out the conditions as we go. I think the primary issues are:

(1) Water depth at low tide - I've heard the minimum is 1-1/2 feet to 3 feet at low tide. Will that be enough for kayaks, particularly those with a rudder or fin?
(2) Sharing the waterway with motor boats - is it wide enough at low tide?

Update 6/5/10:

The estimates were correct. It was a big party with about several hundred people present. There was a live band, lots of booth and free cheese burritos. Several TV stations were doing live news coverage there.

The ramp was as good as boat ramps get. Thoroughly modern with two large floating docks. Everyone who I talked to were ecstatic that a ramp like this is finally put in at Alviso Marina. One older couple told me that they used to fish two feet long sharks and sturgeons in the bay a long time ago when the old docks were operational.

The Alviso Slough was nicer than I anticipated. It was both wider and deeper than I thought. To answer my own questions:

Water depth at low tide - no problem for kayak, or motor boats for that matter. I saw several motor boats launching an hour or two past low tide with no problems.

Alviso Slough wide enough for both motor boat and kayaks - yes! No problem at all unless you are go

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are some to prove it.

 The entrance to Alviso Marina with an old beached houseboat in the background

The party at the Alviso Marina Boat Ramp opening day

The Alviso Marina probably hasn't seen so many people since it first opened

With a live band

The first kayakers paddling off the new Alviso Marina boat ramp

Here is a Mercury News article describing the grand opening:

And a KPIX TV news report:


Kayaking Alviso Slough

  The entrance to Alviso Marina with an old beached houseboat in the background

A new set of boat ramps have been installed at the Alviso Marina which will enable kayaks and small boats to enter San Francisco Bay from San Jose for the first time in 20 years. With this convenient access point, I believer there will be many kayakers interested in paddling in Alviso Slough.  However, since there hasn't been a public access point in 20 year, not much has been written about it.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the grand opening of the new boat ramps. See my post

Grand Opening Day of Alviso Slough Boat Ramp

The slough is both wide and deep, making any kayak trips a breeze. Speaking of breeze, in spring and summer afternoons, it gets quite windy here due to the thermal drafts coming from the bay. Hot air in the central valley rises, causing cool air from the coast to be sucked in. Since most of the coast is separated by mountains, with the only opening at the Golden Gate, wind blows north to south starting at about 2 PM.

However, the wind at the boat ramp is not so bad, perhaps because the Alviso Slough is protected by tall levees.  The wind is particularly diminished at low tide where the kayak is riding several feet lower still.  The further out you go, the more you will feel the head wind.

Here are the first photos of the Alviso Slough from a kayak in probably 20 years:

The first kayaks paddling off the new Alviso Marina boat ramp on opening day

My Pathfinder getting ready to go

A Chinese dragon boat in the Alviso Slough

The slough is pretty wide at low tide and wider still at high tide

Incredibly peaceful inside of the Alviso Slough

An abandoned boat - you see a few of these around Alviso

A lot of birds in Alviso Slough, from sea gulls to endangered species

The marina boat ramp in the distance

The South Bay Yacht Club is just past the Alviso Marina boat ramp

The waterway gets a little bit narrower south of the marina

Here is the official web site of the Alviso Marina. Ignore the picture of the marina. That was taken 20 years ago.

A map of the water trail from the Alviso Marina to the bay along Alviso Slough:

View Alviso Slough kayak trail to the bay in a larger map
This map is not accurate enough for navigation use and is not intended for navigation.

Here are some additional useful links that describe the Alviso Slough Trail, which is adjacent to Alviso Slough.

The last 1/2 of this site has excellent large pictures of the Alviso Slough Trail (about 10 pictures), which follows Alviso Slough:

This site describes the Alviso Slough Trail and the history of Alviso:


Friday, June 4, 2010

Kayaking Merced River in Yosemite Valley

Downstream from Yosemite Valley, the Merced River is a tough Class 3/4.  However, inside Yosemite Valley, the Merced River is very peaceful.

Peaceful waters of Merced River

Several people have written about rafting the waters of Merced River in Yosemite Valley.  Here is a very good description:$25

Here is a short but nice video showing the peaceful water and Yosemite Falls (I believe) in the background.

Rafting Merced River in Yosemite Valle - Yosemite Falls in the background.

The flow of the river is too slow to be exciting for adults, but it can be a really great paddle to do with young kids. A good water fight will make it fun for everyone. Make sure to bring water cannons.

Kayaking the Merced River in Yosemite Valley has to be one of the tops in terms of beauty in surroundings. To say Yosemite is beautiful is probably an understatement. Out-of-this-worldly Valley of the Gods is more like it. Add to it kayaking down the beautiful river running through the middle. Words probably can't describe it.

Rafting season starts in June, which also opens the river for kayaking (if you bring your own kayak). The exact date varies by the combination of water temperature, air temperature, and height of the water.  The rafting page on Yosemite's web site has more information and current status:

You can call the Curry Village Recreation Center to find out details, and a live person will actually answer:

(209) 372-4386

Here you have it, all the information you need to kayak the Meced River in Yosemite Valley.  If you go, let me know how it is because one of these days, I will make it out there, too.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kayaking Cosumnes River Preserve

About 2-1/2 hours drive outside of the San Francisco Bay Area is this little hidden garden of Eden type of a gem, not far off Highway 5. Along the drive there, you see a lot of dry farm land and you wouldn't think there is this calm river with lush green banks.  We kayaked this river briefly (for about an hour) in our inflatable kayak when we were on our way to Sacramento. That's the beauty of inflatable kayaks - you can put 2 tandem kayaks in the trunk of a car.

This unrelated blog has some very nice photos of the Cosumnes River Preserve:

Here is the official site of the Cosumnes River Preserve:

And here is the exact location as described by the California Kayak Put-In Index. Beware that after you click on the "View Large Maps" link, make sure to look for the green arrow by zooming out and panning around. For some reason, Google Maps doesn't always start at the correct location, but the green arrow is the correct put-in location.

Kevin T
Inflatable Kayak Report

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Best Tide Chart

My search and usage of tide charts/tables in the last few month landed me on what I consider the best tide chart on the Internet:  Mobile Geographics.  It appears to be an iPhone app, but the data can be easily accessed from any browser as well.  Here is the link to the master index:

From here, just do a page search for the location you need. Then click on the link. The resulting multi-day chart clearly shows high tide, low tide, the height, as well as sunrise and sunset. The chart format is just so much easier to read than text tables. It is simple and effective.

Kevin T
Inflatabe Kayak Report

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kayaking Stanislaus River

A good stretch of river for some easy kayaking is the section from Knights Ferry to Orange Blossom on Stanislaus River. It is all class 1 with a short class 2 section in the beginning call Russian Rapid.  Many web sites have written about this part of the river so I won't repeat them. I do want to point out that the Stanislaus River water flow varies depending on the time of year, usually with higher flows in the spring and lower in the late summer. The river is controlled by a dam higher up so there is water till late in the season (fall).

Excellent description of the river. Make sure to scroll down to see the pictures:

Good description and advice on maximum flow rate for kayaks/canoes:

Paddling Tips: There is only one short rapid (Russian rapid) just below Knights Ferry. Inadvisable in an open boat above 500 cfs, all canoes get swamped above 800cfs. This is a blind rapid with a well-marked short portage trail river left. The trail can be paddled at 1100cfs.

This is the only picture of Russian Rapid I could find:

This California Water Department site has river flow info for Stanislaus River, measured at the release point at Goodwin Dam. Use the Spill cfs for reference:

Here is a discussion about high flow leveals in this section of the river:

Happy paddling

Kevin T
Inflatable Kayak Report

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Big Island of Hawaii with An Inflatable Kayak

One of the best features of inflatable kayaks is that they collapse into a small package. Some are even small enough to fit into a suitcase to be brought onto an airplane thus suitable for traveling. I did just that a few weeks ago - brought a tandem Pathfinder kayak to the Big Island of Hawaii.

The Pathfinder fits almost perfectly into a large suitcase, the largest kind that does not require an oversize penalty fee. For example, Alaska Airlines' check in requirements are as follows:

"Each bag must weigh 50 pounds or less and have a maximum dimension of 62 linear inches (length + height + width) to avoid additional charges. "

My suitcase measured 30" x 20" x 12" which is exactly 62" total.  The kayak, 2 paddles, 2 seats, 2 foot rests, 2 fins, the foot pump, and a few other miscellaneous stuff fit in it just fine.  It cost $15 each way for a total of $30.  Unfortunately, the weight of the suitcase exceeded 50 pounds by about 8 pounds. This caused some last minute mad scramble at the airport check-in counter to swap out the heavier things for some lighter stuff from another suitcase.  The heavier things were the paddles. It was a good thing that we had another large luggage where the paddles fit.

Here is a picture of the suitcase. It doesn't seem like it, but the suitcase is very large.

The Big Island of Hawaii has no navigable rivers. Sure, you can kayak anywhere in the ocean, say launching from the beach. I had wanted to try some surf kayaking near a beach but there just didn't seem to be enough waves of the right size for that at the beaches we went to. I think Waikiki Beach would have been perfect since it supports outrigger canoe surfing, but Waikiki is not on the Big Island.

All is not lost, however. There is one can't-miss location to kayaking and it it worth it all by itself: Kealakekua Bay or otherwise known as Captain Cook's Monument.

The white monument marks the spot where the English explorer Captain Cook was killed by the locals when he first discovered the Hawaiian islands. It's kind of a long story, but the short version is that the locals first thought the sailors were gods when they arrived on their big sailing ships. However, after a few days the natives got suspicious when they found that the sailors' poop smelled bad and decided that they were not gods. A fight took place and Captain Cook was killed.

The clear water at the base of Captian Cook's monument in Kealakukua Bay offers some of the best snorkeling on the Hawaiian Islands. It just so happened that there is no real road to get to the water, so kayaking from the other end of the bay to the monument is preferred.

For the four of us, we used the Pathfinder tandem and rented a hard shell tandem kayak for $60.  There used to be a place right at the launch pier where you could rent kayaks. However, for one reason or another, the government closed it. Now, everyone must rent kayaks in town and drive the several miles to the launch pier. There is usually a person from the rental company at the pier to help lower the kayak into the water.

The government also started to require permits to land near Captain Cook's Monument. We were able to fax in the request and the permits were emailed to us. Because we weren't sure which day we were going to the monument, we were faxed a permit for each day we were in Hawaii.

A side note about the island life. We rented our kayak from a family owned business and picked it up the boat at the owner's house.  He strapped the kayak on our rental car, took our $60, and said "have a good time."  We didn't sign any papers and he didn't need a credit card deposit. It was all done by a handshake! If only we could be this trust worthy on the mainland.

Here we were getting ready to go. I brought my 12 volt Airhead pump, so to pump up the kayak, all I had to do was pop the hood of the rental car, connect the leads to the battery and start pumping.  Even the employees of the kayak rental companies were amazed at how easy it was.  Well, they were more amazed at the fact that we first drove up with 4 people in the car and only one kayak on the roof.

The paddle across the bay was extremely nice.  The water was so smooth, it felt like you are pushing on silk.  It was so blue the picture doesn't do it justice.

The Pathfinder performed very nicely, as expected. The water was extremely calm that day but there were some rolling waves. I did notice that the side of the Pathfinder is rather low by design. If I hit a wave at the right angle, some water will splash into the boat. Hey, this is Hawaii, getting wet is not a problem!

I did notice that I chose to use the one piece paddle provided by the kayak rental company. The paddles that came with the Pathfinder were terrible! There is a high degree of flex on the paddle surface, so when I pushed on the water, the paddle gives. I never was able to paddle with full strokes and I never got the satisfying feeling of kayaking that a completely solid paddle provides.

It helped to have flexibility on which day to go to Captain Cook's. We picked a day that was very calm, as noted from our hotel room when we woke up. Other days were quite bit windier, although the kayak rental people always said that any day is a good day to go.

Many kayakers have seen spinner dolphins jumping out of the water at Kealakekua Bay. We didn't see any.  Here are some videos some unrelated kayakers took. I am so jealous!

We landed at a small cove to the left of the monument, as recommended by the rental company.  The surf was a little bit rough. The hard shell kayak landed easily on some shallow rocks.  Because I didn't want to scratch or tear my inflatable, I had to look for a steeper drop off. It took a few minutes, but the Pathfinder landed OK as well. It helped that I had someone else to help spot and pull the kayak onto the rocks.

The sea life here is just amazing. I've been snorkeling in other Hawaiian islands, but the Big Island is the closest to the unspoiled Hawaii of them all.  On other parts of the Big Island, we swam with turtles and saw huge manta rays at night.  On the other hand, on another trip, we went snorkeling at the well know snorkeling site Hanauma Bay on Oahu and saw just a handful of fish.  Here at Captain Cook's, you don't have to go looking for them.  They are everywhere.  Check out this picture of the yellow tangs seen from the shore where we landed.

There must had been at least a hundred of them. You can see some underwater pictures at my write up for the DiCAPac underwater camera bag:

Because we arrived at the launch pier in the afternoon, we didn't have as much time as we wanted to spend at the monument. We has a quick picnic lunch at Captain Cook's and did some snorkeling. Before long, we noticed that the last of the other kayaks were starting to leave. Not wanting to the the only boat there, we packed up and left, too.

Part of the reason we got a late start was that the Big Island is really big. It took over an hour of driving to get from our hotel to the kayak rental place. Once we rented the kayak, we had to drive it down to the pier, about 30 minutes total. Set up took another 45 minutes as we had to wait for a large number of returning kayaks to be hauled up. Paddling across the bay is another 20 minutes.  Suffice to say, if you want to spend a lot of time at the monument, start early!

Here's a picture of my daughter and I in the Pathfinder with Captain Cook's Monument in the background.  All in all, we learned a great deal bringing the Pathfinder to Hawaii. We saved $30 overall since we only had to rent one kayak instead of two. Would I do it again? I think if we kayaked one more time on the trip, it would have definitely worth  the hassle of lugging an extra suitcase around. Why didn't we kayak another time? That's another story - a week in paradise is not quite long enough.

Interesting links about kayaking at Kealakekua Bay:

Kevin T
Inflatable Kayak Report

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Half Moon Bay Pillar Point Harbor

For a harbor protected by breakwater, Pillar Point in huge! There are two breakwaters, one inside of another. The water is totally flat and protected.  Just outside of the outer breakwater, you will encounter some rolling waves, which add its own fun. On some days, I can image that the waves can be large. The well known big wave Maverick Surf Contest is held near here. If you decide to stay inside of the breakwater, there is still plenty of space to do about an hour's worth of kayaking. It's like a medium size lake, complete with beaches. Just be careful when you land to pull your kayak way up the beach as rising tide can carry your boat away - without you.

Here is a good description of the launch location pinpointing an exact put-in:

If you are wondering what the weather or sea is like at Pillar Point, check out the web cam here:

Kevin T

Sunday, March 21, 2010

DiCAPac Waterproof Camera Case Review

I went kayaking with several people today and they all commented on my DiCAPac waterproof camera case. The concept is great - make a clear plastic bag that is triple sealed so it is waterproof at up to 30 feet! You can use it for snorkeling and maybe even scuba diving. For kayaking, the DiCAPac also works well; there is no worrying about water splashing onto the camera and ruining it. Plus, the DiCAPac bag traps air and makes the camera float so you don't have to worry about dropping it into the lake and seeing it disappear forever.

I started the search for waterproof camera equipment with waterproof cameras.  I already have several digital cameras so I was looking for one that I would mostly use for kayaking or occasionally for snorkeling. A camera for this purpose would have to be relatively inexpensive, maybe around $100 or $125 dollars. I was also open to the idea of a nice camera that I would use for everyday shots but can also be used in water. For this I was roughly willing to pay up to $200.  However, I researched the top waterproof cameras but none has all the features that I wanted.

I wanted a waterproof camera that is
  1. Reasonably priced - for something that will be submerged in water and has a high risk of being damaged, I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars and sudden find it with water damage
  2. Takes good pictures - the lower priced ones don't take good pictures according to Amazon reviews.  The one costing three hundred dollars takes good pictures, but it costs three hundred dollars. It is also bulking.
  3. Guarantee to be waterproof - reviews have said that the camera companies are not willing to replace damaged waterproof cameras, probably because they operate in dangerous environment for electronic equipment - underwater.  Some of these underwater cameras require an annual replacement of the waterproof seal which cost about $50 - too much ongoing expense.
  4. Waterproof depth - the lower cost camera are only waterproof to 10 feet, which doesn't have enough margin of error to make me feel comfortable
The FujiFilm Finepix Z33WP

This is the cheapest camera of the bunch, but the reviewers say that it doesn't take good pictures. This the equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera. I guess that if I wanted a marginal point-and-shoot camera, I might fork out around a hundred dollars for this, but I wanted to have a good camera.  A huge turn off was that the video capture take a few seconds to start after you press the button. A few seconds may sound like a small number, but in reality, it is the difference between actually capturing the moment or missing it.  Another big minus is that it is only waterproof to 10 feet. This means that if I accidentally drop it in the pool and it sinks to the bottom, I can kiss my $120 good buy.

Olympus Stylus Tough 8000

What I've read about in the reviews of the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 says that it is slow. I've had an Olympus digital camera before, and yes, the shutter delay is huge.  It was impossible to take kid pictures with it because I never ended up taking a picture with the kid in it! By the time the camera shoots, the kid has moved away.

Pentax Optio W80

The issues with the Pentax Optio W80 is that it has no built-in image stabilization, which is pretty much a standard feature in modern cameras.  Without it, you would need to hold the camera really still to take a picture or have it come out fuzzy. For a $175 camera, you would expect to have image stabilization.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1

With a camera at this price range, the photo quality is getting in the good range. However, for an expensive camera, the waterproof depth is only 10 feet.  That is not practical at all. According to the specification, if I go snorkeling and I want to dive down to take a close look at a coral, this camera will start leaking!

Canon PowerShot D10

Finally, the Canon PowerShot D10 is the Cadillac of the bunch. It has good picture quality and is waterproof to 33 feet. The reviews are mostly positive. However, it is bulky - not something that can fit into the pant pocket inconspicuously. And it's expensive.  Did I mention that it's expensive? 

Back to the DiCAPac waterproof camera bag

So here I am, without a good choice for a camera that can be used around or in the water.  Out of a whim, I decided to search for a camera bag that is waterproof, and I found the DiCAPac. The name is really awful but the quality of the case is good. I use it with an old Sony camera and it is working well. I tested splashing water onto it with no problems.  I tested trying to squeeze the air out of the bag after it's been sealed and no air leaked out. I assume this mean no water will leak in.

There are a few annoying issues with using the DiCAPac camera case.
  1.  While it is easy to push buttons through the clear plastic , it is really hard to turn dials. My Sony camera has a dial for changing functions, and it takes a lot of effort to change from photos to video. This is not a deal-breaker, just a minor annoyance.
  2. When I turn on the camera, I have to be careful to make sure the camera lens come out directly into the lens area in the bag.  If the lens is stuck, the camera will retract the lens and turn itself off. This can translate into a lost moment.
  3. When taking a picture, I have to make sure that the camera is fitted in the center of the DiCAPac. If it is not in the center, either the flash will get blocked or the camera will take a picture with dark corners, like shooting from inside of a tunnel. See the photo below for an example of this - note the lower left hand corner. Avoiding the dark corners takes some practice. I have gotten a system where I pinch the left side of the bag to make sure the camera is not too far the left.  This could be a problem if I wanted a passerby to take a picture of me.
Despite the issues, the DiCAPac appears to be a workable solution, especially given that it is very inexpensive and has a waterproof depth of 33 feet. By putting an old camera into this waterproof bag, I won't be too saddened if somehow the bag leaked and I damaged the camera. In the mean time, I am still waiting for that ultimate waterproof camera that is inexpensive, takes great pictures, and is waterproof beyond what I can reasonably dive.

Here are some underwater picture I took with a Sony DSC-P200 enclosed in my DiCAPac case at Kealakekua Bay (also known as Captain Cook's Monument) on the Big Island of Hawaii. The pictures have gone through some color and sharpness adjustments using a photo editor.

In the following picture, notice that a part of the DiCAPac was blocking the lens. This happens quite often. I have learned to pinch the DiCAPac bag on the left side of the camera to sort of center the camera in the bag. This works pretty well when I was taking pictures in a leisurely manner, however, when I needed to move quickly, I usually forget to center the camera in the DiCAPac.

On my trip, I pretty much had the camera in the DiCAPac whenever I go near water, be it on a kayak, on the beach or in a pool.

When the DiCAPac is taken out of the water, some water droplets remain on the lens cover. It makes some weird fogging effect and sometimes I had to repeat several shots in order to get one without the droplet.  Here is an example of the droplet on the DiCAPac:

Another issue is when I ask someone else to take a picture of us, I have to teach the person to pinch the DiCAPac bag in the correct places to center the camera.

You may be wondering if the camera ever got wet inside the DiCAPac. The answer in no. I didn't feel any sort of dampness at all when I remove the camera from the DiCAPac after being underwater. I took care each night to keep the DiCAPac open all night to make sure there is no accumulation of moisture.

With all its shortcomings, the DiCAPac has been a good investment. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a mediocre underwater camera, I just put my regular digital camera in the DiCAPac. Without it, I would not have been able to capture some amazing moments.

Kevin T
Inflatable Kayak Report

Friday, March 19, 2010

12V Electric Pumps for Inflatable Kayaks

The one inconvenient thing about inflatable kayaks is the inflation of the kayak.  Since I bought my kayaks last summer, I have bought multiple electric air pumps to help ease the trouble.  Each inflatable kayak came with its own foot pump, but since I have 6 inflatable kayaks, it would be impossible to pump them all up manually, even though I tried.

Please note that none of the kayaks come with any suggestions on which electric pump I should buy. In fact, Sea Eagle customer service reps even told me that they do not recommend using any electric pump. Using one would void the warranty, yikes! 

There are several kinds of 12 volt car electric pumps out there. 
  • The standard automotive pump  - really high pressure but low volume, mainly used to pump up car tires. The 40 - 50 PSI put out by this kind of pump is too much and you risk blowing the seams of your kayak.
  • High volume pump - pressure is low but put out a lot of air volume, very safe for inflatable kayaks but takes relatively long to fill the chambers and cannot completely fill it
  • High pressure, high volume pump - able to fill the chambers without topping off; ideal for inflatable kayaks

Here is the chronological description of my adventure with kayak electric air pumps:

Automotive 12 Volt Tire Pump

I started with a standard 12 volt electric pump for car tires. However, I soon found out that even though they can generate lots of pressure, they are notoriously slow.  The one I had would take 10 minutes just to pump up a medium size pool float!  It would take a long time to pump up a kayak.

Coghlan's 12V High Volume Electric Pump

I then bought a Coghlan's high volume 12V electric pump.

While it does pump out good volume of air, unfortunately, due to the limited power going through the 12V socket (cigarette lighter), this pump does not fully inflate the kayaks.  I had to finish each one of the kayak using a foot pump. As you can imagine, there is a lot of inserting this nozzle, that nozzle, stepping up and down on the pump, etc, and by the time I am done, I would have worked up a good sweat and back ache. Because the 12V socket is usually in the center of the car, I had to buy several 12V cord extensions such as this one, which are almost as expensive as the pump.

With the Sea Eagle 330, this is as far as I have gone with electric pumps. Since the maximum pressure that the Coghlan's 12V pump put out is not enough to fully inflate the kayak, I figure it would be safe to use on the Sea Eagle 330 without blowing the seams.

Kwik Tek Airhead High Pressure High Volume 12V Electric Air Pump - Bingo!

I did some more web search for high pressure, high volume 12 volt pumps and found the Kwik Tek Airhead.  I hesitated initially because the pump needs to be connected directly to the car battery, instead of through the 12V socket. After failing the previous pumps, I had no choice but to finally decide to try the Kwik Tek Airhead. 

The Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure high volume air pump connects directly to the car battery with a set of alligator clips which means I had to open the hood each time.  As it turned out, it wasn't so bad, and in fact was easier.  The battery being in the front of the car allows me to use just the cord that came with the pump.  The extra power that came through the cord directly allowed the motor to be much stronger.

I bought the first Airhead pump online and it came with one section of the hose bent at a 45 degree angle.  I tried to straighten it but could not.  This particular pump did not have enough pressure to pump up my kayaks to my satisfaction. I was guessing that the 45 degree bend may have been blocking the airflow, so I returned it and bought another one of the same.  The second one did not have the bend, and it worked great, able to pump up my kayaks quickly and effortlessly.  The lesson: Kwik Tek have some quality control issues. Make sure you don't get stuck with one that has a bend to the hose!

My Pathfinder kayaks needed 2.2 PSI of pressure for the side chambers and 1.5 PSI for the floor.  I found that the Kwik Tek Airhead pumps out just about 2 PSI, not enough pressure to make the walls super hard like they are supposed to be.  However, it's hardly noticeable and I don't believe it affects the performance of the kayak in any way. If I wanted, I could top it off with my foot pump, but most of the time, I just go out with the walls slightly soft.

So, this is where I am right now. Whenever I inflate the kayaks, I open the hood of the car, turn on the engine, and press the On button of the Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure, high volume pump and let it run for a minute or two, then the chamber is filled.  I am happy with the solution now as I can get the kayak ready in a few minutes without a lot of back pain and sweat. I hope you readers take my lessons learned. If your kayak needs high pressure (less than 2.2 PSI), and go straight to the Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure, high volume pump. It will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Kevin T

Saturday, March 13, 2010

San Francisco Bay Area Kayak Put-In Locations

The San Francisco Bay Area is probably one of the most diverse places to kayak. You get the San Francisco Bay, of course, but you also get all of the coast on the ocean side, then there are the numerous lakes spread out in the South Bay, East Bay, and the North Bay. The Sierras is just an hour or two drive away and there await multiple rivers for some incredible white water kayaking.

Whether you rent or own a kayak, prefer ocean or river, live here or just vacationing, the following are excellent resources for finding out where to kayak in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

1. The California Boat Launch Ramp and Put-in Index

This Google Maps add-on shows exactly where you can go kayaking, down to the very last foot in put-in location in the map section. Because the map is zoom-able, it is very easy to find a place to put in in any given area or to check out the actual spot using satellite view. Some of these put-in locations have kayak/canoe and equipment rentals and guided tours, which should be accordingly describe in the description. This map is being continuously updated (slowly). If it only had a user rating section, it would be perfect! If you find a new place to kayak in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, don't forget to add it to the list.  Actually, it's for all of California, so add new put-ins accordingly.

2. San Francisco Bay Kayak and Canoe put-ins

This site is similar to the above but is for the San Francisco Bay Area only. The technology is a bit older so you can't zoom in, but the database is shared with the above. This one might still have a few place that #1 doesn't, but over time I think all of the put-in locations will be migrated over to #1site.

3. California Creeks

If you like river kayaking or canoeing, this is the site for you! It lists more than 165 river sections for various classes of rapids. The detailed description and the large clear photos are superb! This is a must go spot if you are planning a river kayak trip to a new run.

4. California Department of Water Resources
If you plan any sort of river kayaking trip, you need to visit this site. It provides all the critical flow details of major rivers, include current and historical data. Based on those, you can sort of judge a river's level remotely. I haven't totally figured out how to read the tables yet. If anyone is an expert and is willing to show me, please let me know.

5. Fishing Notes - Shows Lake Water Temperature

This site has an automated system to estimate the water temperature of a large number of lakes.  As far as I can tell, the estimates are pretty accurate. It makes a difference when choosing a lake for kayaking that includes diving in for a quick swim:

This is it for now. I will continue to update this list as I gather new information. 

Kevin T

Saturday, March 6, 2010


I guess you can call me an inflatable kayak-aholic. I currently own a total of 6 inflatable kayaks and over time, I have owned 7 inflatable kayaks. The motivation for starting this blog came from not being able to easily find information about inflatable kayaks or finding information that is recent.

I currently own the following kayaks, none of which is really anything fancy or overly expensive. They are good, sturdy, solid performing inflatable kayaks that can go down Class 3 rivers, cross a lake with ease, go in a bay or calm ocean waters, and most of all, allow the kids to dive into the water in the middle of a lake (and then climb out, and then dive in again, and so on).

So the following are my inflatable kayaks. Some readers will be disappointed that these are nothing fancy, not ones that cost thousands of dollars. I've already warned you about that. I am just an everyday happy-go-lucky guy who happens to love water sports, have two young kids that I want to spend time with, and what better way to do it than inflatable kayaks?

Here's my collection:

1. Red Star Pathfinder II tandem kayak
2. Red Star Pathfinder II tandem kayak
3. Red Star Pathfinder I solo kayak
4. Sea Eagle 330 tandem kayak
5. Stearns IK-95 solo kayak
6. Stearns IK-95 solo kayak

If you count all the seats, you will see that these kayaks can fit a total of 9 people. There is a reason why I own so many kayaks. I found that kayaking is a new sport for most people. My wife, kids and I always enjoy kayaking with other families. Renting a kayak costs $20 - $40 per hour. Considering that a Pathfinder II tandem kayak costs around $300, it is well worth buying instead of renting, even if it means having extra kayaks for guest families!!

In this blog, I will eventually review all of the kayaks I own, and compare them against each other. I will also chronicle the struggles I had with finding the exactly right equipment such as electric pumps, paddles, and waterproof camera cases (yes, waterproof camera case!!). Instead of doing a chronological description of what happened, because of laziness I will just describe what I am going through currently, and have flashbacks of earlier experiences, kind of like the TV show "Lost". I have always told my wife that I was lost watching "Lost", and that's why I don't watch it anymore. I hope it doesn't happen to you, but the beauty of a blog is that you can pick and choose what you want to read at any time.

Kevin T
Inflatable Kayak Report