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Goat Rock ArchCalifornia Coastal Kayaking:
Goat Rock Arch By Moonlight

By Mike Higgins
All Photos by author

I had been baby-sitting contractors in Berkeley, finishing homework so I could turn it in Friday, and trying to get some work done. As a result, had not been in the kayak for over a week. I would be busy all day Friday, and then leaving early Saturday morning, so still no time to kayak... unless... I had been curious to go kayaking at night, and there was a full moon a few nights before. I chose to drive home from work by going to Bodega Bay and up Hwy 1 to Jenner.

I stopped at Goat Rock and watched the waves. They were not as calm as I have seen them, but I've certainly been out in worse. I went the rest of the way home and put on my wetsuit. I drove back out to goat rock and got ready to go.

I brought with me a Navy surplus flashlight: "an electric torch or lantern of sufficient brightness to prevent collision", which I tied to the kayak with some parachute cord. It looked like I could detect the large waves by the bright white breakers they made against the parking lot rocks when they came around behind Goat Rock. I waited for a stretch with no white breakers there, and started out.

Goat Rock ArchThere are two underwater rocks just off shore here, and the first one sneaked up on me: I saw it for a second just ahead and to the left, and splashed myself in the face with the paddle turning to go around it. With a full moon high in the sky, this was of course a high tide, and this first rock was probably safely under all but the deepest troughs. The second rock was showing bright white in the moonlight, and was easy to avoid.

The sky was beautiful, and Goat Rock was well lit. I could only see the moon if I tilted my head way back to look under the brim of my hat. Paddling away from Goat Rock, I remembered an urban myth told to me by a surfer here at goat rock: That a kayaker had been capsized by a Great White shark not long ago. I began to wonder if the Jaws movies were correct about sharks being active at night. Damn them for making me worry about this now!

The constellation Orion was rising behind the shore cliffs when I left, and as I approached the arched rock, a bright green shooting star shot past the rock and out to sea. Too bad I don't believe in good (or bad) omens.

Goat Rock Arch at nightThe water between Goat Rock and the arch is shallow, or at least something makes for big waves there, and this was true again tonight. But tonight, the waves were kind of slow... They seemed to sit out there for a long time before they finally rose up under me. It is difficult to imagine how so much water (probably only about 4 or 5 foot swells) can just pick itself up like that.

Closer to the arched rock, the waves got a bit smaller. I went around the seaward side of the rock watching what the waves did against the prow. It looked like the waves were facing a little more westerly, so they would be less symmetrical than I've seen (they usually go around both sides of the prow of the rock and meet in the middle of the arch). If I'm going through, the way to go tonight is from the other side and back through towards shore.

Pelicans over Goat Rock ArchI sat behind the rock and watched the waves break around the corner for a minute. When I first got there, there was a deep trough pulling the water way down around the seaward side of the arch, but I saw nothing like that now. I must have just missed seeing a train of large waves.

I drifted closer and closer, until I figured I might as well go for it. As usual (I've been through this arch many times) it seems really dangerous for the first half, but after I get under the middle, I feel I can relax and that all the scary parts are over. I pulled out my flashlight and tried to illuminate the bottom of the arch. The flashlight put a dull fuzzy yellow spot on the rock, but I couldn't see any detail. The indirect moonlight had lit up the white foamy water all the way under the arch, and I had absolutely no problem seeing where I was going.

As I came out into the direct moonlight again, I saw a hundred dark shapes fly past the moon. Damn! I had disturbed the pelicans sleeping on the arched rock, and they had taken wing.

It was gorgeous watching these big winged shapes (I could only see black silhouettes) turning around and around the rock. One would pass directly between me and the Moon now and again and I could see the shadow pass over me. But I am afraid that disturbing them at night may cause some to get disoriented and get into trouble they would not have found without my help.

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Mike Higgins, Intrepid KayakerAs I paddled away, the number of them in the air decreased, so I hope they all found a spot to land again. In the moonlight, the guano coated top of the rock should look as bright as any airport landing strip. I went back to Goat Rock and followed the edge of it back to the beach. I did not see any breakers along the parking lot, so I headed in almost right away. As I suspected, not being able to see the waves made them less frightening instead of more. I missed riding a few small ones, and then a medium sized one came in and I rode up onto the beach. A perfect landing!

Mike Higgins publishes his kayak journal online and recently completed paddling every inch of the coast of California from Oregon to the Mexican Border. You can read all about it and view great pictures of his travels and of Goat Rock Arch on his site at Kayaker.Net.

For guidance in outfitting your kayak with appropriate lighting and night paddling techniques, see our article on this site: "Kayak Lights & Kayak Lighting Techniques For Dawn, Dusk & Night Paddling" By Tom Holtey

For a selection of kayak lights, visit Tom's Top Kayaker Shop right here at TopKayaker.Net

Related Article: We Steer By The Stars & Toward The Fire By Jo Hu
Join a two mile paddle in the dark for an evening of good food, friends, and night fishing on Kapapa Island of Oahu's windward coastline.

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