Saturday, September 6, 2014

Boat Supported Downwinder Trips with the Barbary Ghost

Paddling upwind is a great workout.  It's also a great way to improve your efficiency and technique:  shorter strokes, higher cadence, etc.  In addition, it makes you a smarter paddler because you are always looking for little ways to cheat the wind by looking for little wind breaks like maybe a breakwater, a little point, or even a boat.  The reward at the end of an upwind paddle is a well-deserved downwind paddle.  I figure this is paying your dues; you work hard and then you play hard.

All of that is great, don't get me wrong, but there is NOTHING like a downwind paddle.  To have a good downwind run you need a buddy or two to go with you and you need to set up a shuttle.  Here's how that works:

  1. Find a good day and time by checking the forecasts.  Hopefully, this day and time will be during the weekend.
  2. Find a friend named Ward Figge who also wants to go at the exact same date and time.
  3. Meet at Spot "z" (the take out)
  4. Load all gear in and on car one.
  5. Drive car one to spot "y" (the put in)
  6. Hope for good conditions (both wind speed and direction)
  7. Downwind to spot "z" and load gear in and on car two.
  8. Drive car 2 up to spot "y" and pick up car one.
  9. Load some gear into car one and drive away.
  10. Meet your buddy Ward at Cafe Reyes for a Farallon pizza and a Scrimshaw.
For this to work, you need all of the things.  Oh, you also need a ROAD!  Okay, there are alternatives like shuttle services (if you are lucky enough to live in Hood River or Maui), or loving spouses who can both drop off and pick up but don't push your luck with this one, trust me - use only in case of emergency.

The best option by far is downwinder by boat.  This solution comes with some additional cost but eliminates so many problems and is so much fun, it's worth every penny.  Not only does the boat replace the cars and all the wasted time driving around, it can also get you into places that are just not accessible by land.  Most importantly, the boat can set you up for a run of nearly any length and in the best direction.  This is a huge advantage.

I met a guy named Drew Testwuide last year who runs the charter boat Barbary Ghost out of Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael, CA.  In addition to being a super nice guy, he is a very competent boat captain who has really dialed in his weekday afternoon downwinders (called "Windy Wednesdays") and his longer, more intense weekend excursions (called "SUP Safaris").  His boat is equipped with racks for up to six SUP boards of any length and the routes and number of runs are customizable based on the conditions and who's on board.  The boat offers plenty of cabin space if you want to stay out of the wind and warm up, or up top if you want to look around.  There's also a fridge, changing area, and restroom (head). 

To have the best experience on a SUP Safari I recommend at least a couple years of paddling experience, an advanced SUP class like SUP 201, and a little rough water paddling experience.  Some surfing skills come in handy because  you will be moving around on the board a lot, changing direction, and bracing.

Disclaimer:  Drew is a friend of mine and a valuable resource for downwind lovers in the bay area. Drew trusts my paddling and coaching skills enough to let me come along as a guide/coach from time to time on his SUP excursions. 

Here is a typical SUP Safari:

  1. Register online and then meet at Loch Lomond Marina at a specific time. 
  2. Load board, paddle, PFD, and change of clothes on the Barbary Ghost.  Niko (the dog) will usually great you with a friendly bark but will not offer much help loading, though he will fetch your paddle if you happen to drop it off the dock!
  3. Once everyone is loaded, we have a pre-trip safety talk and also discuss the route(s).
  4. Drew motors the Barbary Ghost out into San Francisco Bay looking for the best wind and the best route (which includes a safe place to splash boards and then pick up at the end of the run).
  5. Everyone goes in one at a time and waits for the last person to launch.
  6. And they're off!  Everyone goes at their own pace.  The goal is to catch as many glides as possible, even linking one glide into the next.  Keep the board the planing as long as possible.
  7. During the run, Drew is shadowing the group, monitoring three VHF channels (14, 16, and 72), communicating with the guide, taking pictures, and preparing for the pick up.
  8. At the pick up, people and boards are loaded, smiles are smiled, fists are bumped, and tales are told.  Snacks are snacked and drinks are drank as the boat goes back upwind for another run or two!
  9. At the end of the last run, everyone changes into dry clothes and goes up top to see the sunset and have a snack and a drink while enjoying a trip down San Francisco Bay back to Loch Lomond.  We have fun recounting the best runs, the best falls, and the best glides.  For me, the ride back is a peaceful, relaxed, slightly exhausted feeling of gratitude and thankfulness with just a hint of sadness that it's over.  A bit like the last day of a wonderful vacation.
It sure beats driving doesn't it?  Check out some of the pictures from our last SUP Safari.  The wind was not that great on this day but we were lucky enough to have a pro photographer on board!  

Game plans are discussed shortly after leaving the marina on a warm August 30th.
Drew and Niko try to activate their wind-making super twin powers.
Gail is a strong paddler and is stoked to be on her first DW run!
Though not much wind here, it served a good warm-up.
I'm feeling a little bummed by the lack of wind from the Richmond Bridge to the Marin Islands. :(
Change of Plans:  We re-load and prepare to go on a wind hunt.  It's out there somewhere and we are going to find it.

The Barbary Ghost makes her way from the Marin Islands in search of wind.  Point Blunt Angel Island is our destination.
We head to Angel Island.  Drew, Gail, and I look for the best location to splash boards.
Captain Drew takes a close look at the cove before dropping anchor.
Eureka! We've found it!
Nice little waves starting to organize just off the beach.
I had to dig really deep to catch anything in this section.
Boat wakes from the Ghost work too! Beautiful San Francisco in the background.
I think Gail is enjoying herself.
Yeah, I'm laughing right before I take a swim.
There ever elusive cross-tail low brace caught on camera!
The group makes their way down the eastern shore of Angel Island where the Ghost awaits...
At Loch Lomond, we savor the final moments of the trip just as the sun sets.  Already planning the next adventure on the Barbary Ghost.