Kayak Tacoma but don’t be an idiot

Ruston Way

Idiot’s Rule. Jane’s Addiction said so. This doesn’t mean you should be an idiot.

There seems to be an epidemic of idiocy down at Owen Beach at Point Defiance. Too often, inexperienced folks wander north on Owen Beach toward the Point, on foot or in a kayak, and they have no clue what they are doing. Beach walkers wrap the corner at low tide and then get stranded by high tide before they can make it back. Greenhorn kayakers get spun out and swallowed up by a wicked convergence zone of currents that can stoke up without warning at any time.

Does the beach needs more signs? Or maybe even just more parking lot signs? Something. Anything. There is a lot of ignorance down there and it needs to be reined in. Our local firemen rescue victims of their own stupidity from the sea cliffs too often. Fishermen assist terrified and/or capsized kayakers off Point Defiance too often (it happened again yesterday). It all seems relatively preventable.

Perhaps renting kayaks to people with no experience in the water would be more appropriate along Ruston Way? A kayak newbie has no business paddling Owen Beach. You have a ferry dock on one side and deadly currents on the other. Of course, the drop-in spot seems nice and safe, leading these people to think they have it all under control. After a few minutes of doing circles in front of the family BBQ’s and sunbathers, new paddlers build up false confidence and set off on a course toward 2 potentially hazardous situations.

The ferry dock is a pretty obvious hazard. Even these people can see that. So they often head north instead, toward the scenic point. The convergence zone of currents means a couple things: there is an abundance of attractive marine life and the water is very, very, very unpredictable. All it takes is one seal or dolphin sighting and the inexperienced paddler can’t resist wrapping the corner. This is where the game of Russian Roulette begins.

First and foremost, if you’re inexperienced and paddling near Owen Beach, STAY AS CLOSE TO SHORE AS POSSIBLE AT ALL TIMES. In a kayak, this means 5 or 10 feet from shore, tops. Any further out than that could spell D-R-O-W-N-I-N-G if something goes haywire and the currents are in a mood.

Don’t be the next grown person to end up trembling in the arms of a fisherman. Know your limits and practice paddling somewhere else before you subject yourself to the temptations of Point Defiance.

Downtown Tacoma via Puyallup River

If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what it would be like to take a kayak down the Puyallup River. Your ship has come in. This article and subsequent video should provide everything you need to know when taking this safe, fun journey through the wilds of Pierce County. You can park cars behind the Puyallup Fred Meyer on River Road and drop boats in the water under the bridge to Hwy 167. There is a nice sandy beach under the bridge, perfect for this sort of thing.

We left the other car at The Dock building on Dock Street in downtown Tacoma and it took us about 4 hours to connect the dots. 2 1/2 hours of the trip is like riding an escalator – very relaxing and calm. The last hour and a half did involve a pretty good paddle, but only because of the way we timed the tide. Surprisingly, when the tide is coming in, Commencement Bay actually backs up into what appears to be the last mile of the Puyallup River. So we were effectively paddling upcurrent and downstream at the same time for awhile, even though that really doesn’t make sense until you’re there.

You loop around the Simpson Lumber Mill (the one with the smokestacks and giant sawdust piles in the middle of the port – this is a site to behold if you’ve never been close to it) and cut across Commencement Bay to Dock Street.

I highly recommend this for anyone with a kayak in the Tacoma area. It’s just too easy and convenient to pass up. The river level is high right now because of all the warm temps and mountain runoff; I assume this is key to the whole operation. Obviously, if the water level is low, the conditions will change drastically, and you may end up carrying boats over sandbars in spots.

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO of what we encountered. Good luck, and please drop us a line if you try it.

Into the Tacoman summer

The Tacoman summer is much like an Indian Summer, but with more kayaks and cooler temperatures. Tonight should be the night. By now, the concept of Wednesdays on the Water on Ruston Way has sunk in with the masses, and they cannot resist the temptation to head down and get involved. As per the last 3 weeks, the weather should be a huge question mark, only revealing itself at the time of said event this evening. I’m guessing it will be “nice” but there are certainly no guarantees.

If you are interested in bringing your kayak(s) down, I recommend parking just south/east of Harbor Lights and dropping in below the prominent staircase. The scuba divers built a staircase down by the Lobster Shop that works well also, but you have to carry the boats much further if you do that. The scuba stairs are a couple hundred yards from parking, whereas the Harbor Lights-area steps are right across the street from ample parking.

The sailboats have been coming out around 7, so we might get started a little later than usual. Last week we were ready to go before the sailboats even made it across, and they’re the real reason for going out after all.

So let’s just 6:30pm. Tacoma, that means YOU. If you have any shred of community in that skeleton of yours, bring it down to the Tacoma waterfront tonight for great views, dining, dog-walking and swimming. I know you’ve been dying for the weather to nicen up so that you can take your inaugural Commencement Bay swim of 2007. You’re not alone.

Need more kayaks

Sailboats on Commencement Bay
Sailboats on Commencement Bay
The turnout was like the weather – less than ideal by most peoples’ judgment. To that, I say “BAH!” There was plenty going on from my perspective and if you didn’t make it out, bummer for you. If you live in Washington and can’t appreciate the weather last night, then please move to Florida NOW. Seriously, go on. The sailboats were out in force, nearly running us over on their way to the Tacoma-side buoys. I liked seeing the action up close as they switched their sail configurations to head back across Commencement Bay towards Browns Point and Northeast Tacoma where they began. Although there were sufficient winds for the sails, the water was the calmest I’d encountered in Commencement Bay. It was an eerie calm. In fact, you could’ve tried your hand waterskiing out there if you wanted. As the sailboats rounded the buoy and turned back, I saw a big seal pop up out of nowhere. It’s head was the same size as my dog’s. It bobbed around for a minute or so and then disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Apparently, seals can hold their breath really well and they definitely do NOT come when you call em. I tried everything – whistles, kisses, all the usual dog-luring noises – no luck. While the seal chose to ignore me, the biggest barnacles I’ve ever seen had no choice but to entertain me.
Pilings on Commencement Bay
Pilings on Commencement Bay

The pilings that comprise all the deserted old docks along Ruston Way currently house barnacles the size of small eggs. Their beaks are the same size of those on small birds. When you touch a piling with a kayak paddle, they all recoil into their shells. Not only do they move a lot, but they make noise too. These giant barnacles live far down on the pilings, so they’re only exposed on low-tide. I tried to take several pictures of a single barnacle, but you can’t really utilize the camera zoom in a kayak. The constant movement resulted in me deleting 95% of my pics. Photography from a kayak is definitely a specialized skill, involving luck as much as anything. For a similar experience, take your camera and have someone give you a piggy back ride – try to take some closeup photos while riding piggy back and you’ll get the idea of what it’s like. I’m just glad I wasn’t dealing with real film, or last night would’ve been really expensive. So, in closing, Tacoma, I will definitely plan on seeing more of you next week. Things like this need time to build steam, I understand. Many are afraid of inclement weather, I understand. Those of you who were on the fence last night – you know who you are – you will eventually do the right thing and join us. Official turnout calculated by me: 25 sailboats, 2 kayaks, and a dozen walkers. Not bad for a gloomy night, but Tacoma can definitely do better.

Hey Tacoma: Kayaks vs. Wednesdays

THE TIME IS NOW. The weather couldn’t be better! Well.. sure it could. But that’s not the point here. Wednesday nights finally have something besides LOST associated with them. It is time for Tacoma residents to get out and do something on Wednesday nights. Especially those of you (like me) who have spent far too much time at home lately – this is your big chance! Get out, walk, run, paddle, sail, row, swim, skate, bike.. there must be something on that list that you do on occasion. Tacoma’s Ruston Way waterfront will be our destination this evening (as well as most Wednesdays in the near future). Hopefully the sailboats will be out in force so those of you that can’t quite make it onto the water will have something more interesting to watch than a few of us kayaks. Weeknights are much less hectic than the weekends on Ruston Way. Most of Tacoma waits for the weekend show-n-tell to head down, so parking and traffic will both be a breeze. Good luck. Safe travels. I’ll see ya if I see ya.