2015-02 5 Star Training in San Francisco

A group of 7 student came together for a 5 day training course to improve our skills in more challenging environments and prepare for 4 or 5 Star Award Assessments. Gathering in San Francisco, paddlers from California, North Carolina and Minnesota collected for two classes, BCU 5 Star Training course and Open Water and Tidal Planning, taught by Jen Kleck and John Carmody.

2015 5 Star Training

Jen, is owner of Aqua Adventures in San Diego, and one of the master minds behind Baja Kayak Fest. Jen’s list of accomplishments in BCU Sea Kayaking are not only on the highest ranking, but she was also the first in the U.S.to become a level 5 coach. I find her level of skill and knowledge of sea kayaking is surpassed by her understanding and compassion for her students; combining a nurturing yet firm approach to the student learning and outcome.

DSC00488 (1024x576)John stands among the  best of the best in his coaching credentials also. John’s company, Sea Cliff Kayakers, is based out of Maine, offering premier kayaking training in the northeast U.S. I have worked with John on several occasions and have vastly improved my skills and the way I view the sea. My wife, Michelle (who is a skilled and accomplished kayaker and instructor) and I feel so strongly of his kayak coaching that we regularly facilitate having him in the Midwest to share his knowledge with our fellow club members.

Our group gathered for breakfast the first day and everyone got down to business assessing and gathering data for the area we planned to paddle. Wow! under the Golden Gate Bridge. This iconic setting also held a great deal of stigma: strong currents prison escapes, heavy shipping traffic. Weather and tides were the main focus.

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Michelle adjusts and fits the kayak she will use for the next 5 days

Michelle adjusts and fits the kayak she will use for the next 5 days

First things first: distribution of boats (Jen brought most of the fleet for the participants). Fitting and moving boats is a good way to get down to business and realize this is just another day on the water. At this point in our paddling experience, we have a simple realization that we are doing what we love.

This fantastic scenic overlook was an exciting way to prep for the day.






Dick explains the big picture of water shed basin, water flow and hazards to expect.

Dick explains the big picture of water shed basin, water flow and hazards to expect.

Having a member on our team who frequently paddles in the area was an additional bonus; Dick was our ‘local knowledge’ expert we often called on. Even though Jen and John could navigate these waters with ease and convey the information of a very complex tidal environment to their students, they were clever enough to utilize Dick as another source of information, another way of communicating to students. Current tables may say this, Dick’s experience says something a little different. Ferries are supposed to travel on a route, Dick’s experience has indicated otherwise and he provide safety tips.

We launch at Golden Gate:


For me, one of the more vigorous activities was a rough landing. The object of the exercise was to get your group off the water and onto  shore. Rough means something more difficult than the dumping beaches we all seemed to have challenges at one point or another.

Logical spots seemed too easy and the rest seemed too difficult. I wasn’t interested in injuries to myself and others. Under pressure from Jen to pick a spot, I finally decided on a rock I felt was big enough to host 3 boats. It’s vertical front had a lot of vertical motion, but very little in and out sloshing, or so I thought.

The water rises up to my precarious perch.

The water rises up to my precarious perch.

As I approached the rock while swimming, I found myself either finding questionable hand and foot holds or losing them altogether as I was sloshed up and down, or in and out. The others likely experienced it also, except with the benefit of a strong grip and hoist.

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One by one we swam to the rock while being tethered to our boats to keep them from drifting away, while for the most part, another person was keeping our boat from crashing upon us in the swell.




Except for a hole somewhere in my dry suit (I had to send it in for repair and haven’t received it back yet), all went off with a hitch. Sure the ocean had it’s way with us, pushing our puny bodies around, but patience and cool heads got us up and off with relative ease. I thought the swim was fun!!!


I wish my repair shop at home had this view

I wish my repair shop at home had this view

And of course, there’s the obligatory “repair your boat whilst on the water” and we were all game for fun. One caveat, however was that I not use too good of a repair on Donna’s boat.





Crux Points

Under the Golden Gate

Paddle into the strong current at the “Crux”

Crux points are defined as a place where it is the most difficult part of a journey; a make or break point as far as successful completion of the journey. Sometimes good leaders, looking for the safest routes for their group, plan their timing at the crux to make the journey easier by minimizing or mitigating the risks. We, however, looked for opportunities to stretch our skills and hit these crux points when the effects would be at their greatest.

Route under bridgeA good coach or enthusiastic, experienced paddler can spend a while playing at a “feature”, as visualized by the GPS track running while we were here.




Tide Race at Yellow Bluff: crux or playground?

Tide Race at Yellow Bluff: crux or playground?

Here is another track where we worked on many skills such as rescues in a tidal race. How odd to perceive waves going in one direction while the current was obviously moving another with boat traffic right on the edge of this mess. I’m grateful I’ve practiced paddling with a boat full of water, when my “rescuer” did exactly as instructed: “Get him into the boat and out of the race as quickly as possible”

 The Big Picture

DSC00527We had a little time to kill on the day we were going to do the night nav, so we went to the Bay Model Visitor Center where we got an idea of the enormity of the power of the Bay. This museum has a working scale model of the San Francisco Bay. A 1:1000 Horizontal scale and 1:100 time scale enables the visitor to get an idea of how things work in this complex environment


One of the hostel buildings we used.

One of the hostel buildings we used.

Our base of operations was a comfortable, nearby hostel. Choices of sharing rooms with others or lodging as an individual allowed for various lodging options. Our group was housed in two different buildings, and both had large public spaces which included large dining areas and kitchens.

Jen did an awesome job with logistics, by having the plan laid out well in advance. This resulted in the right number of communications and concise information. There’s also a bonus to her logistics: as promised, she always brings good weather!


Open Water Navigation

Jane debriefs the group on her navigation exercise

Jane debriefs the group on her navigation exercise

In addition to our on water 5 Star training, we also participated in an Open Water Navigation and Tidal Planning class.  Our dining room became an excellent classroom as there was plenty of space for pairs and individuals to work on their route planning using the British Admiralty charts that John brought with him.

Advanced Tidal Water/Sea Definition: Any journey on the sea where tidal races, overfalls or open crossings may be encountered, which cannot be avoided; sections of coastline where landings may not be possible or difficult; difficult sea states and/or stronger winds (Beaufort Force 4 or above); launching and landing through surf (up to 1.5 metres trough to crest height). We were fortunate to have these conditions all week.

This class could be a classroom only course, but I’m thankful we were able to get out and put in to practice the things we were learning inside. I suppose, like most kayakers, we need fresh air and need to put things in to context.


Night Navigation

Night navigation was certainly a highlight of our experience: city at night, illuminated bridge, then darkness as we went to the outside of the bay. Keeping track of our location would be the key to success. Bays, points, light house, lights and horns were familiar to us because we had seen them the day before in the light. This put things into perspective and realization that the navigation was just one small piece. We’ve paddled in the dark before and knew some basic skills: keep track of your location and the others, allow your eyes to adjust, relax and have fun. Once we were outside the Golden Gate…darkness. There was a new element this time, a gentle Pacific swell. There was a lot of ocean between us and Hawaii.

I found the swell to be soothing and relaxing…until the landing. The gentle swell changed it’s characteristic when met with the beach. All throughout the week the beaches along the coast were challenging to everyone at least once, and that night was no exception. My duty was to land our group of 3. I went in first and capsized in the break, grabbed my boat and dragged it up. Meanwhile, John and the group were outside the break wondering what was happening, being unable to see in the dark. After I got my boat up the beach, I signaled with my light and brought the rest in.

Our return route included a few exercises: Paddle straight out on a compass heading for 40 strokes, then back: try to find John. I knew the current and eddy would push me one way then the other. Realizing this and understanding that the flood current would be stronger than the eddy would generally push me in one direction upon my return. I was able to confirm this by comparing where I departed from  (luckily I was keeping track of where I was). Due to my position change, John could only be on my left..but where was he? I searched the dark for a silhouette – none. Then I spotted his helmet just above a rock. The rascal was hiding behind a rock!

The next exercise was a search and rescue operation. Our group spread out abreast and each had duties. The paddler on the inside was responsible for watching all the space between him and the beach. Another paddler was on the outside, responsible for watching all the space to the outside as she could, focusing for shapes and silhouettes. The other two paddlers were in between, maintaining as much space between all and guiding their partner.  We couldn’t cover the whole ocean, but at least nobody was going to get through our web.


The “Rock” and a really nice day trip

Michelle at "The Rock"

Michelle at “The Rock”

Of course we had to paddle to Alcatraz and it was pretty cool, but I feel the whole day and the journey to get there were way better than the goal.








Yellow line is route; white lines are ferry routes

Yellow line is route; white lines are ferry routes

We split into two groups in the morning and had two very distinctly different routes. Basically launch from Sausalito, circumnavigate Angel Island, lunch, and on to Alcatraz, return to Horseshoe cove. Big currents, bigger shipping channels and fortunately, very little traffic. I say fortunatelt because we went through some shipping lanes where we’ve seen big boats before. No worries though, our plans and keen awareness were part of the logistics.

The  "Alcatraz Plan"

The “Alcatraz Plan”