An Exploratory Paddle down the Estero

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Idyllic launch where Estero Americano meanders along ranches below Valley Ford

Over the weekend I made an exploratory paddle down Estero Americano to the coast. The tides are in a similar phase as the dates of our planned Expedition, so I wanted to make a trial run to see what the CCA students might expect in terms of timing and conditions as we begin to plan our voyage. With minimal preparation or provisions, it took me just under 2 hours to paddle a yellow 12′ plastic kayak about 6 miles one way without stopping. For the first leg, the narrow slough winds through grazing meadows and marsh, rife with ring-necked duck, egret and coot.

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I chased a flock of ring-necked duck to the open water

Before opening up to a broad channel where I first encountered a light but steady headwind, the water was a still, copper brown from agricultural run-off. The open chop revealed floating stands of kelp and sea weed, indicating the beginnings of a tidal surge from the sea after early rains. Sea gulls, hawks and heron displaced the ducks and the water took on the frothier, oxygenated blue-green of the sea. About half a mile from the coast I heard the roar of a beach break, bucked a weak tidal flow, and encountered frolicking otter and curious sea lion.

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first glimpse of the beach break along the Pacific, where the Estero drains at high tide

I beached the boat about 1/4 mile from the mouth where Estero Americano seasonally drains to the Pacific and hiked to scout the shoreline for natural shelter from wind and wave. My tide log showed that the six and a half foot high tide had just peaked, but waves were still washing over the dunes into the brackish waters of the Estero. I spent about an hour exploring the dunes and climbing rocky cliffs to get a glimpse of the shoreline before the fog rolled in, signaling my departure. With a slight tailwind, I paddled back to the launch in about an hour and a half, despite my muscle fatigue and the enclosing fog.

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