Crossing Tomales Bar - May 14, 2011


I've kayaked and sailed in Tomales Bay several times and it has become my favorite trailer sailing/kayaking destination. However, before last weekend's annual springtime Potter Yachter expedition, I'd never ventured across the bar at the north end of Tomales into Bodega Bay.

Lia ghosting in an ebb, north of Hog Island, on her way to Bodega Bay   (Photo credit: Rob Sampson)

Local lore holds that, when crossing Tomales bar, "It's best not to follow the buoys." Since this tidbit came from a local sailor who has windsurfed, and also observed a great white

feeding on a sea lion, in these waters (and lived to tell about it), I figured I'd heed his advice.

This map is a guide to where the photos were taken:

The strong ebb helped push Lia northward in flukey winds over the three miles from Hog Island to the shoal spit off Lawson's Landing on the NE shore at the end of the Bay. I glanced over Lia's transom and Hog Island was a spec to the south.

Photo #1

Suddenly, it dawned on me that there weren't any fishermen in the area, and I began to see the first of the numerous "breakers" that are reported on the chart.

Photo #2

It was shortly after 1PM, NOAA was reporting 7' swell at 12 seconds, and it would ebb for another hour to an 0.8 ft low. As we slogged along in the light breeze, I began to realize why l was cautioned, "Don't follow the buoys." Off Lia's bow, I could see a wide breaking wave from the 7' swell reaching what by now was a 5 or 6' shoal.

Photo #3

As we pinched as high as we could to avoid the break off our bow, the bluff at Tomales Point made the NW breeze even more erratic, but we could just make way as I admired the beautiful rollers crashing into the bluff. The narrow and shallow Tomales Bay entrance acts as a Venturi that accelerates the wave so fast, the relative wind blows the tops off the waves like a strong off shore wind does to a big shore break.

Photo #4

After almost an hour of bobbing along at 0.5kt, we finally cleared the bluff and caught clear air once again. When we reached the desolate rocks at the end of Tomales Point, I figured Lia and I'd tempted fate long enough.

Photo #5

Just at slack, we gybed around the upwind mark and began the long run back to Nick's Cove.

Photo #6


Next time I cross the Tomales bar, I'll wait for more water and a little more wind.

See ya out there,

Jerry - Lia #918