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Kayaking the Caves of Mendocino

Three hours north of San Francisco is Mendocino, home to some of the coolest sea kayaking you’ve ever done.  My girlfriend Nicole and I took off for a weekend on the water early in October of 2008 and were rewarded with some of the best weather the California coast has ever seen.

The Pacific Ocean looked like a sheet of glass as we slipped into the water at Van Damme State Park and after just a few short paddle strokes to the north, we hit the first of over a dozen caves and arches we would see that day.  After playing around in there for a little while we headed back into the sun,  rounded the corner and began a fun little run north into the “inside passage” – a fairly protected, ever narrowing channel that dead ends into a tide pool a mile and a half or so from the beach at Van Damme.

After a little lunch and a little harassing of tide pool creatures, we slipped back into the water and south to Buckhorn Cove.  Something they’re not going to run out of anytime soon, there on the Mendocino coast, is bull kelp. And once we got through all that kelp we were able to surf a neat little wave that built via the swell pushing through a tunnel at Buckhorn.   We could see some fairly cool looking arches on the south end of the cove but were too lazy to fight the kelp to take a look and headed north again to see what we could find on the way back to the car…more of the same cool caves and tunnels.

The next day only got better.  We parked the car on the north side of the bridge and carried the boats down to the quickly flowing waters of the Big River.  Paddling past some surfers taking advantage of the wave that breaks at the mouth, we made our way around the town of Mendocino and through the dozens of tiny islands that surround the Mendocino Headlands.  We were expecting a let down after yesterday but instead were met with another typical California day on the water, you know, where each day is better than the day before.  Caves and  tunnels and arches.  Oh my!  Again, we didn’t paddle all that far, probably five miles all said and done, but the adventure and beauty and fun packed into those miles were considerably greater than the last few hundred miles before it.

The key, we found to the Caves of Mendo, was to really hug the coast.  Fifty yards out and who knows what kind of good stuff you’ll miss.  Every time there was a little cove, be it 100 yards across or only 10 yards across, we made sure to make an exploratory probe and eight times out of ten we we’re rewarded with another neat little cave, arch or tunnel.

And remember, there’s a considerable difference in headroom between low tide and high and a lot of these caves have yet to install proper lighting and can be a little dark so be sure to bring a headlamp and a helmet.  Also, because we often banged up against walls and skootched over rocks as the swell caused the water to rise and drop, we were glad to be in a couple of plastic kayaks and not some shiny glass yaks.

Posted by Scotto

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