Back and forth. Back and forth.

A Coast Guard helicopter’s flying back and forth over Richardson Bay the last 45 minutes of our return paddle from Full Moon Beach to Schoonmaker. Flying low, skimming over the tops of sailboat masts anchored in the bay. A bright, white searchlight shattering the dark.

“Whatcha think’s goin’ on?” I shout over my shoulder, Gandalf sitting in the rear cockpit of our double.

“Dunno,” says he, “but it’s gotta be serious.” The helicopter’s arcing a low turn over Tiburon on its way back to the bay, blasting the upscale mansions on the bluff with its bright searchlight. The roar of its engines gotta be less than soothing to the sleepers below.

The helicopter buzzes over us at least five times, lighting us up, blasting our eardrums. But we can’t complain, don’t live in a mansion on the bluff.

I’m not complaining, but the repeated passes over us does trigger a minor bout of paranoia in me. 

The first half of our outing, paddling from Schoonmaker to Full Moon Beach, we encounter a bit of wind. Nothing nasty, but enough spray’s blown off the end of my paddle to give me a good soaking.

I strip down to my birthday suit on Full Moon Beach. The warm sun still up, I linger a spell, stretch, let the air dry me off. I’m not saying the passing Larkspur ferry slows down, or that I’m the reason, but that thought does burrow into my brain, takes up residence.

About that paranoia. “D’ya suppose there’s an ordinance against wearing nothing but your birthday suit on a Tiburon beach within shouting distance of a passenger ferry?” I ask myself.

“Could be,” my answer, “times being what they are.”

Within a minute of paddling into Schoonmaker, the helicopter hovers just outside the harbor entrance, hangs there, doesn’t fly away, its searchlight stirring up the water. 

The bright light shows no interest in me, doesn’t track us as we drag the double across the beach to our parked cars. My paranoia’s put to rest before we reach the parking lot.

Halfway across the beach, we spot a shadow pulling a canoe off a truck and dragging it to the beach. We pause, watch the shadow push the green canoe over the sand toward us.

“D’ya know what’s goin’ on?” I shout at the shadow, pointing at the hovering helicopter.

Truth to tell, neither Gandalf nor I are entirely sure of what the shadow says, the noise of the helicopter’s engines drowning out his words. What he might’ve expressed is concern for a missing harbor resident, last seen pulling up an anchor chain on the bow of his boat.

The shadow’s in his canoe, paddling outta the harbor toward the white light before we can ask him to repeat himself, speak louder.

While we unpack our double, load up our cars, a red Southern Marin Paramedic van pulls into the lot, parks next to us. Two fellows climb outta the van, head for the dock that runs out to the harbor entrance.

“D’ya know what’s happening?” Gandalf says before they disappear down the dock.

“Nope,” says the one.

“Don’t even know why we’re here,” says the other.

Ten minutes later, our gear packed away, the double car-topped, the two paramedics walk back to their van. “Didcha learn anything?” I say.

“Nope” is their answer, short and sweet. They climb into the van, drive away, in no hurry. A minute later, the helicopter flies off into the night. The shadow in the green canoe? We don’t know where he is.

We learn nothing more until Sunday. Sadly, a local newspaper reports the drowning of a man in Richardson Bay Thursday evening. He fell off his boat, both his body and the anchor chain missing.


Date: Thurseve, 15 April 2021.

Distance: Nine point seven nautical miles.

Speed: One point seven knots.

Time: Five point seven five hours.

Spray factor: Enough.

Dessert: See’s candies.