sunsets, and smiles
a couple of beautiful October days
boating with Jeff and Cate
After teaching at the Lumpy Waters Symposium in early
October, my friends Jeff and Cate stopped by the
Cape Falcon barn for a visit. I checked the swell,
the weather, and the river levels, none optimal, but
all doable. I think we could have some fun. We
loaded up the boats and the fishing and crabbing gear before settling
in for an evening of beer and good cheer.
Owners of Liquid Fusion
in Mendocino, California, Jeff and Cate are
among my favorite
people. Jeff is an expert kayaker in every sense,
whether it's Class V whitewater in a
creekboat, twenty-foot waves in a surf kayak, or
threading the cliffs and caves of the Pacific coast in a sea
kayak, Jeff can definately throw down. In fact,
when I need to improve my whitewater game, Jeff is the guy
I go to. Affable yet firm, Jeff instantly zeros
in on what you are doing wrong and corrects it. Cate is the
other half of the Liquid Fusion team. Teacher,
psychologist, athlete, avid naturalist, mushroom
expert, whitewater/sea/surf kayaker, and heck of a nice
We sucked down some french roast at dawn and checked the swell
report. Reports said 6ft @ 11 seconds and falling,
consistent with the trend of the last few days. 6@11 is no
joke on an unprotected beach break. It means taking a 10 foot
wall of cold water in the face if you get hit by a set wave. A
beating like that is on the upper end of what you can safely take
without risking possible injury. Doable, but not
fun. I glanced at the actual buoy reports which were
reading 8.6 feet at 12.9 seconds offshore, and 6 @10 on the
columbia bar. That should have been a flag for me but I
assumed the outer reading was a buoy glitch because it was inconsistent
with the overall trend.
Cate and Leann decided to go salmon fishing in the
Adirondack Guide Boat on the bay, and Jeff and I would
brave the Pacific in search of the mighty Dungeness
crab. The only problem, Jeff's truck was
dead! and Leanns jumper cables were broken! So
after a perplexing and extremely frustrating 3 hours, we finally
got rolling down to the beach.
Jeff and I rolled up to see set waves rolling in that looked less than
inviting. These looked a lot bigger than the
report. We'd find a line,
pretend to follow it, only to watch a twelve-foot clean up set
sweep through in an avalanche of thundering foam. "It's
like this," I said
absently as we stared down at the ocean "we absolutely need to
not get hit by one of those." Jeff nodded. We
finally decided we could hit certain line, and carried the boats
down to the water.
The shorebreak was pretty burly, but aside from that,
punching out was surprisingly merciful and we snuck out through a rip
that thankfully held. I baited the traps and we
dropped them just outside of the surf zone on a rising
tide. We were a little busy paddling to get photos of
We headed North to kill some time, exploring the stunning
coastline off Neah-Kah-Nie mountain from a greater distance than I
would have liked. Some of the best sea caves
and slots on the Pacific coast of the United States are cut into the
rock here, and when the swell is down, it is one of the
coolest playgrounds for experienced sea kayakers.
We crossed over and tucked in behind Cape Falcon which knocked down the
We played around this blowhole...
...and made an inadvisable pass through the tip of Cape Falcon before
heading back to check the crab traps.
Rounding the corner of Neah-Kah-Nie headland we paddled over to the
trap buoys, I commented on how it still seemed pretty
big. Assuming that we were moving through some set waves we
paddled over to the traps which should have been well outside of the
surf zone on a rising tide and a falling swell...
... when Jeff yelled "OUTSIDE!" and we saw an actual
loading up on the horizon. Not wasting the time to
turn his boat Jeff backpaddled and I paddled forward as we crested
three of fifteen foot set waves and then stopped paddling to look back
and see the monster set sweep one buoy and then detonate on top of the
"We were just sitting right there." Jeff said.
My mistake was immediately clear to me. I'd made an
assumption that the offshore buoy report was wrong given the overall
swell trend, and hadn't considered the possiblility that a
short, but powerful secondary swell might be moving
through. Nothing in any of the reports indicated
that. Yet here it was, and thinking about the speed
of the swell and the distance to the offshore buoy, that 8.6 @
12.9 should be on top of us right about... NOW.
This was not what I was hoping for. I lost my need to be a
big water hero a long time ago, and I'd much rather Jeff
and I were exploring sea caves and surfing seven foot
peelers. Instead we sat well offshore and I started a clock
which revealed the sets pulsing at an almost exact five minute
interval. "I'll wait out here as long as it takes." I
said (even though we'd run out of water and I was dying of
thirst) "I'm not taking that on the head."
Meanwhile we both marveled at the beauty, the perfect curve and
sweep of those terrible set waves.
We watched that for a good half hour before sprinting in to grab our
first trap. Pulling it to the surface, and then
paddling like mad to get outside, with the crab trap loaded with crabs on
the foredeck, buoy trailing behind.
ackward, but I didn't want to spend one second longer than I had
to in the impact zone. We sorted out the trap,
and collected our single big crab, throwing the small ones
back. We'd left the traps down too long and the crabs
had eaten all the bait and headed out. Our next trap
was further in, and we didn't waste a moment in it's
retrieval. Even more dismally, the salmon
carcass in this trap had been stripped to a skeleton and it contained
no big crabs at all. We thought long and hard before going
for the final trap. I convinced myself that it must
be full of big crabs and we went for it, going deep and just
squeaking back out in time. This was the saddest trap
of all, no salmon carcass at all and one door of the trap hanging
open in a crime scene that bespoke of sea lion involvement.
Six hours, one crab.
Dehydrated and demoralized, we had the unenviable task of heading back
in through the surf. I borrowed this photo from Jeffs
camera (taken a day earlier). Take this photo,
double the size of the wave, and instead of a gentle
spiller, picture a nice big hollow tube. This
is what the set waves looked like. A direct hit
from one of those would feel like a car accident and the resulting
foamball would take your paddle, twist your spine into positions
it was never meant to be in, all the while doing it's best to
force feed you salt water. Not my idea of a good time.
We sprinted in on the back of a set and escaped
the bombs firing off on the outer sand bars, surfing as much as
we could to make ground quickly. Jeff
was ahead of me and made it free and clear, I'd missed the wave
he surfed in and the reform from the first wave of the next big set was
now bearing down on
me. With an 'oh shit' feeling in my stomach,
I felt myself lifting up the face of a ten-foot curling
shorebreak that was about to go nuclear in about a foot and a half of
Praying for a miracle (while fully expecting to be pasted onto the
seafloor) I leaned all the way back, the F1 plunged
down the wave, pearled, skipped off the sand, and
breached back up to the surface! I shot forward at mach speed
just as the whole massive foampile exploded behind me with a
Jeff later said, "I looked back and saw you grinning like
crazy as you surfed at me in front of this big wall of
whitewater." You bet I was.
Back on the beach.
The girls came down to meet us and we showed them our one
Skunked on salmon fishing, they'd headed out to the park and
found this king bolete.
They also picked a bunch of fresh wild huckleberries.
We lit the woodstove, cooked up the crab, sauteed the
mushroom, and broiled some salmon I pulled from the
freezer. Not quite the day we were hoping for, but
there were good spirits all around, we had a great dinner.
...and an even better sunset.
The next morning we decided to head out for some less life-threatening
adventure, scraping down the North Fork Nehalem at low
flows, running rapids and fishing for salmon. I
opened up the toy shed and invited everyone to grab whatever fit their
fancy. Leann got the inflatable, I took my
Jefe, Cate grabbed the CFS, and Jeff grabbed the Jackson
Rocker, which upon inverting issued forth a clattering of beer
bottles from the stern. "Um, yeah," I
said, "I've been meaning to clean that
out". Then we noticed on beer was still
full. The day was already off to a good start.
We loaded up the boats and the poles...
...and stuffed four people in the front of my monsterous blue chevy.
A couple miles later we launched at the fish
hatchery. A lot of people lose spinners into the
trees here, and I'm all too happy to collect them while I ignore
sour looks from the fishermen.
Despite the nearly un-boatable flows, the North Fork is gorgeous
this time of year.
This section of the river contains a fun gorge of five tightly spaced
class III rapids.
Adding fishing poles to the mix increases the difficulty and adds some
spice to what would otherwise just be a pretty but scrape-y run.
Cate styles the gorge section.
Leann, (the river ninja) represents in the Aire Lynx.
Past the bouncy section we stopped at the deep holes to flip
spinners, hoping to entice a strike from a salmon.
Who needs a boat?
I'll occasionally throw a cast from the boat, which often results
in a snag on the bottom, though sometimes results in a
fish. Then things get really exciting.
After six hours on the water we finally caught a couple
fish. One native coho, which we released, and
this nice hatchery fish. Unfortunately, I
caught both fish, which is not what I was hoping
Too soon the day was over and they had to head back to Mendocino.
I filleted the fish and sent it on the long drive home with Jeff and
...and put the carcass in the freezer for crab bait.
Thier visit was great but I couldn't help feeling cheated by the lack
of crustaceans, so the next day I headed out alone in much
smaller, but much nastier seas. In the rain,
intermittent whiteout fog, and 25 knot crosswind I collected a
bounty of dungeness crabs, went to the park and found two big
king bolete mushrooms, and drove home.
"This is for humiliating me in front of my friends!" I said
as I dropped the creepy-crawlies into boiling salt water.
Then we ate them.
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