But before we meet up with Cujo …
Our plan launching outa Bruno’s is a crossing to Pt. San Pablo Harbor, the harbor on the east side of the bay. The ebb’s a steep one tonight, all our hangouts on the west bay inaccessible due to exposed mud. Pt. San Pablo Harbor has an accessible kayak dock, going there a no-brainer.
Sucking water away from familiar beaches isn’t all the ebb’s noteworthy for this evening. It’s also created speedy currents that could sweep us away from the harbor, if we paddle our normal diagonal course across the bay.
To adjust for the strong ebbing current, we forego the diagonal for a different approach: from Bruno’s, we intend to head toward The Sisters and the shipping channel, hang a sharp right and let the fast ebb carry us to Pt. San Pablo Harbor.
Fifteen minutes into the paddle, we’re temporarily diverted from our course. A quarter mile offshore from Party Beach, we spot a large barge carrying a tall crane close to shore. A tug stands at the ready behind and to one side of the barge. We have to investigate. Of course we do.
Here’s the short of it: the equipment and materials on the barge apparently are being used to repair a small, brokendown dock—a private dock—on the west end of Party Beach. The dock belongs to a well-heeled compound on the hill above (homestead to the owners of the nearby quarry?).
We do a Sherlock Holmes, deduce there’s nothing to see, move on. We reach the shipping channel and, indeed, the ebb sweeps us straight to Pt. San Pablo, lickety-split. A free ride.
We’d planned to take out at the harbor before dark. But our unanticipated side trip to the barge added a half-hour to our crossing.
Dark it is when we near Pt. San Pablo. The cold air’s crystal clear, the lights from San Francisco, 11 miles to the south, jump out at us. A boat load of lights, to be exact. Those twinkling lights extract themselves from the cityscape, deposit themselves a quarter mile south of us, speed our way.
We have deck lights on our boats, but … they’re not on, weren’t turned on at Bruno’s, the sun still up and us anticipating landing in early dusk at the harbor.
There’s a good, it’s not all bad. I’ve got my headlamp on, put fresh batteries in 2 days ago. I flash a bright, blinding beam at Cujo’s shiny snout, startle him. He slows his mad charge, glides to a stop next to us. His innards are humming, a low growl, but he doesn’t move.
“How many of you are out there?” says a voice from Cujo’s flank.
“Just two boats,” I say over the growl to someone I imagine is Cujo’s handler.
“Be careful,” says the handler, pauses, adds, “Happy holidays.” He loosens the leash, and Cujo, the Vallejo ferry, slowly pulls away from us, picking up speed, disappearing into the distance.
I figure we were lucky, Cujo not yet having fed, not a single passenger visible in his belly. He could’ve feasted on us, but he didn’t.
We continue on to Pt. San Pablo Harbor, to the kayak dock. To our dismay, the dock’s no better at low tide than our west-bay takeouts, 3 inches of water nestled against the dock’s outer edge.
During the course of our meal under the harbor’s big tent, we watch the bay disappear, thick, brown mud replacing it. An extra hour beyond our typical stay, that’s how long we wait for the bay’s return. It doesn’t.
Forty feet of squishy mud separates our boats from the channel leading outa the harbor. “We can do this,” says Don’t Follow Don. He leans over the dock’s edge, runs his hand over the mud’s surface. “This mud’s slippery. Let’s shove off.”
Don’t Follow Don knows mud. We shove off, slide over the mud like ice skates in a rink, return to Bruno’s without incident.
In the words of Cujo’s handler, “Happy Holidays.”
Date: Thurseve, 17 December 2020.
Distance: Seven point eight nautical miles.
Speed: One point two knots.
Time: Six point four hours.
Spray factor: None.
Dessert: Pumpkin cake.