Yak Back to Back: Corkscrew and Elkhorn Sloughs

We’ve been slackin’ on our yakin’ so we decided that we would spend this entire weekend in our boats. The biggest benefit being, that while living in an apartment, navigating two 12 foot boats through the living room, the kitchen, and down a flight of stairs takes some amount of work. For a day of enjoyment this is a small price to pay, but with two days…what kitchen?

Part One: Corkscrew Slough

california; corkscrew slough; redwood city; Sharon Sharon checks out the view befor heading into the slough.

Sharon checks out the view befor heading into the slough.

california; corkscrew slough; Luke; redwood city Luke rests his arms and has a snack.

Luke rests his arms and has a snack.

For our first excursion we’ve decided to head to Redwood City and revisit an old haunt. The public ramp at the Redwood City Marina provides multiple options on where to go. There are a few sloughs to explore and heading into the Bay is always an option. With some navigation, ahem a GPS, one can even find the South Bay wreck, the hulk of a vessel sunk by the U.S. Navy in the middle of the bay.

We decided instead to go the route of the Corkscrew Slough. Having done the loop in a clockwise direction on one of our first Kayaking trips, we opted for the counterclockwise. This was a good choice as the outgoing tide worked to our advantage, I think.

california; corkscrew slough; people; redwood city The row team did laps in the waters near the docks.

The row team did laps in the waters near the docks.

After paying our $5 launch fee, and using the bathrooms operated by a sailing club, we launched our boat and headed West down the Redwood City Creek, which is here a wide channel resembling a river more than a creek. Multiple rowing reams were working on their synchronized paddling and the sailing club seemed to be giving a group of children sailing lessons but as we headed down Smith Slough and Steinberger Slough we soon left them all behind.

bird; california; corkscrew slough; redwood city; Wildlife Loved this guys haircut. I couldn

Loved this guys haircut. I couldn’t pull it off.

The sloughs wind through the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and Bair Island Ecological Reserve. As such, the area is teeming with many species of birds. I swear that one day I will learn them by their names, however, as Shakespeare once said, “would a rose by any other name not smell as sweet.” We simply marveled at their beauty.

From Steinberger Slough, we headed into Corkscrew Slough, named after its meandering path. It resembles a corkscrew on a map. The creatures we were most anxious to see here were the harbor seals and half way through our journey we were a bit distraught to not have spotted these amusing creatures.

california; corkscrew slough; redwood city; Sharon Even though there was a lot of water running, we both bottomed out on the run. Nothing serious though.

Even though there was a lot of water running, we both bottomed out on the run. Nothing serious though.

Some way down the slough we were in for a bit of a surprise. Hearing rushing water, we spotted a dam. I can’t say for certain what the purpose of this may have been, but I can only guess it is to keep the water levels higher in the wetlands. The narrow opening in the dam created quite the current. Pulling off on the shore, I took the opportunity to empty my bladder and scope out the obstacle. There appeared to be a drop of a couple of feet, though I may be exaggerating a bit. Either the dam was not here on our previous trip or we came through at higher tide when the drop would have been deeper under water.

Paddling back away from shore and aiming my kayak toward the middle of the opening I went full speed ahead. Going through was even more fun than it looked from a distance. Closer up one could see a wall of water welling up after the drop. Giving it a “wohoo” for good measure, I made it through and turned around to watch Sharon take her turn. THUD, her boat seemed to hit bottom and she got quite a splash of water.

california; corkscrew slough; redwood city; sealifewaterlife; Wildlife Lots of these guys playing around us as we floated carefully past, trying not to hit them with our paddles.

Lots of these guys playing around us as we floated carefully past, trying not to hit them with our paddles.

Paddling a bit more, we finally spotted what we were really after. The colorful harbor seals were sunning themselves on the banks and many of them jumped into the water as we came by. They can be extremely curious and come up very close to the boats. Another kayaker, heading in the opposite direction was also enjoying their company. New to the area, he was awed by how amazing this place was and how close to home. The wetlands not only protect our shores from floods and serve as a natural filter for the water flowing back out to the bay, but are also a habitat for a plethora of animals and an outright wonderful place to spend a day. These are all reason why protecting them is so essential.

Corkscrew Slough empties back into Redwood City Creek where the water is a bit more turbulent and the currents can be much stronger. On many trips paddling this area can be quite a challenge but I think we made it right around low tide where there wasn’t much of a current at all. Also, quite surprisingly, the wind was very still.

california; corkscrew slough; redwood city This ship from Hong Kong was docked. Wish we has seen some action as they tethered.

This ship from Hong Kong was docked. Wish we has seen some action as they tethered.

We wanted to go through Deepwater Slough on the way back, but the water levels were just too low. So low in fact that I’m pretty sure that the Great Scenery out of Honk Kong, a cargo ship, seemed to be sitting on the mud, with the marking on its hull indicating that it would not be possible to depart for hours.

We made it back to the dock as the small sail boats were being taken out of the water and loading our kayaks back onto the Jeep we made our way home.

Day one: Success!

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Part Two: Elkhorn Slough

bird; california; elkhorn slough; monterey; Wildlife This guys can be pesky if you stop for a picnic. Protect your food.

This guys can be pesky if you stop for a picnic. Protect your food.

For our second day, we headed Northwest towards Monterey Bay and the first place we had ever kayaked (OK besides the brief trial at REI’s Paddle Fest in Santa Rosa), Elkhorn Slough. I still remember that day after months of research and calling almost every retailer in the area, I finally found a place which carried the Wilderness Systems Tusnami 125 and 120 (and in colors that we liked). Stonie, my Tsunami 125 for the red sandstone the color reminds me of, and Limie (guess what color that one is).

That first trip we spent most of the morning at Monterey Bay Kayaks getting outfitted so that our time on the water was short and did not do this majestic place justice. Elkhorn Slough winds from PLACE towards the Pacific ocean through Elkhorn Slough Preserve, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and Sanctuary and Moss Landing State Wildlife Area, touching Kirby Park along the way. This was our put-in. No fees here but there is a concrete ramp with a floating dock and a port-a-potty, though not the most pleasant one.

bird; california; elkhorn slough; monterey; Wildlife Pelicans are common in the area and are easy to spot.

Pelicans are common in the area and are easy to spot.

bird; california; elkhorn slough; monterey; Wildlife This guy was a real punk!

This guy was a real punk!

Again we headed out with an outgoing tide which likely made the outbound paddling a bit easier. The temperature was much cooler and the ocean wind even colder so wind-breakers were in order, but the sun was shining brightly. A wonderful day to be on the water and the many other kayakers out seemed to think so as well.

Surrounded by protected lands, this area is also home to an abundance of bird-life. We saw pelicans diving for fish. Quite a spectacular sight, though one to make you weary when having to pass through their hunting ground. There were white egrets and many others, including one of my personal favorites, the Great Blue Heron.

california; elkhorn slough; monterey; sealifewaterlife; Wildlife So many Sea Lions line the shores in places that their calls can be distracting.

So many Sea Lions line the shores in places that their calls can be distracting.

california; elkhorn slough; monterey This pier is set aside for Sea Lions. the smell is awful.

This pier is set aside for Sea Lions. the smell is awful.

Also present were harbor seals and sea lions. The latter are larger than the harbor seals and with a much smaller assortment of colors. They seals seemed to have some pups while the sea lions crowded onto one of the docks in Moss Landing by the dozens. They don’t seem to be keen on sharing as we saw some trying to prevent others from getting onto the dock. “Enough is enough, can’t you see this dock is full. Go somewhere else.” seemed to be the sentiment.

This was our first encounter with sea otters. To this point the closest we had gotten was attending the Sea Otter Classic at Fort Ord [now] National Monument, but this by name only. These little guys are a joy to observe, surfacing every few minutes with fish in hand. You could even hear them crunching on their meals. The seagulls, being a bunch of crooks, attempted to steal a fish right out of the paws of one of them, but the otter wouldn’t have it.

I made up my mind before we left that I would make it out onto the ocean on this trip and so I did. Doing so was quite an adrenaline rush. As I paddled out through the harbor, Sharon made the smarter move and turned around. I’m sure to the seasoned sea kayakers out there this is just the way things are, but to me the swells, increasing in size, were quite a thrill and I’m thankful for my boat’s incredible stability. The biggest challenge was turning around to get back into the harbor. I waited until just after passing the crest of one wave and spun my boat around as quickly as possible, hoping to avoid being capsized by the next one. Success!

california; elkhorn slough; monterey An inlet provided us a lunch spot just before heading fo rhte ocean.

An inlet provided us a lunch spot just before heading fo rhte ocean.

Back in the safety of still water, we made our way to the beach for a snack. Inside the harbor a large group of otters was congregated near shore. Giving them their room, we went around and landed near a group of seagulls. They nudged closer and closer, hoping for a handout, but they must have not known who they were dealing with. We were back in the water before they could get too feisty.

The proximity to no less than two kayak rental shops, there were swarms of paddlers. This really is a great place to try out the sport. Otters, seals, sea lions, birds galore, the cool ocean winds, and beautiful surroundings. We headed upstream back towards the car, now with the wind at our backs which helped more than the outgoing tide hurt. If anything, navigation was now easier because the shallow points were now dry(ish) land.

Day two: Success! Can’t wait for the next chance to be back out on the water. Maybe the San Pablo Reservoir to visit with the Great Blue Herons.

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