Friday, August 3, 2007

WE MADE IT!!! 98 miles in six days

What an amazing adventure.
We wrapped up our kayak trip today with a 22-mile trek from Port San Luis to the Guadalupe Dunes – just south of the county line at the Santa Maria River.
The original plan was to camp at the Oceano Dunes and finish the final 10 miles tomorrow, but we had one more 20-plus mile day in us and wanted to avoid another sketchy beach break in Oceano.
The 22-mile leg was our third in six days, and we ended up covering 98 total miles during our trip from Ragged Point to the Guadalupe Dunes (We initially thought we would paddle 86 miles in seven days).
We began today’s leg at 5:30 a.m., which was the first time we launched before sunrise. The fog coupled with the early morning light made for an eerie scene along Avila Beach as we paddled toward Shell Beach. We paddled straight to the Dinosaur Caves, where we explored a bit before heading out to the open ocean again.
We were about a mile off the coast when we saw hundreds of pelicans, cormorants and sea lions off to the west, gorging themselves on a massive school of anchovies.
The three of us paddled over to the bait ball and witnessed one of the most amazing displays of marine wildlife you’ll ever see. But you’re going to have to wait until we publish our diaries and photos to see exactly what we’re talking about. The Tribune's print series begins next weekend, so be sure to pick it up. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this scene.
* * *
Thanks to everyone who followed the trip. You’ll be able to get a better feel for what we saw in the print series, which resumes on Sunday, Aug. 12, and runs for five days.
I also wanted to thank Kayak Horizons in Morro Bay, Good Clean Fun in Cayucos, MTI Adventurewear and Portside Marine for their help along the way. This trip also would not have been possible without all of the friends, family and coworkers who lent a hand, so thanks to everyone who met up with us on our quest to paddle SLO County.
And last but not least, thanks to Beau and Joe for joining me on this challenging but very rewarding "story." It was an unbelievable journey that has renewed my love for our precious coast, which all of us take for granted far too often.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some sand to wash out of my ears.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Another fine day for paddling

Today was another calm paddle from Montana de Oro to Port San Luis.
The wind came up a bit in the afternoon but things went so smoothly we’re probably going to combine the final two legs of the trip tomorrow.
That means we’ll be tackling at least 18 miles on Friday, starting at sunrise in Avila Beach and ending in the late afternoon at the Guadalupe Dunes – just past the mouth of the Santa Maria River and the southern SLO County line.
I think the most memorable part of today’s paddle was the stretch between Point Buchon and Diablo Canyon, which was loaded with marine life. Just below the point, the water was filled with jellyfish, and we ran into some more blue rockfish while fishing the stretch in front of the power plant – where we had to stay at least a nautical mile off shore.
We also had a chance to explore some of the sea caves near the point thanks to the calm conditions combined with a low tide.
The winds came up a little bit in the afternoon but we had no problem getting to Port San Luis and had another easy landing near the RV camping area.
Overall, it was another great day on the water. Let’s hope tomorrow is the same.
– Brian Milne

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Day four: Calm, the way it should be.

Joe probably summed up today’s paddle best.

"This is how it should be every day,”" he said after our relatively uneventful, 10-mile cruise from Morro Bay State Park to Montana de Oro.

Day 4 was an ideal day for a paddle thanks to calm winds and a manageable swell. I don'’t think we saw a whitecap all afternoon, and we didn'’t make it out of the Morro Bay Harbor until after noon.

Our paddle south along the sandspit was a rejuvenating one after three days of challenging beach break launches and landings.

The three of us landed safely at Spooner’s Cove in the late afternoon. It was our first dry landing since the first day at San Simeon State Park.

So far in four days we’'ve covered nearly 60 miles and are re-energized heading into tomorrow's 15-mile paddle along the Diablo Canyon coast to Port San Luis.

Here's to another disaster-free day tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Videos from the journey so far

Click on the links below to watch video clips of the guys before they launch each day.

When they get home, you'll find a full video of their trip here.

Welcome to Morro Bay

Our rest day turned out to be quite an adventure.

Today was supposed to be an easy, five-mile paddle from Morro Strand State Beach to Morro Bay State Park, but that pesky swell at “A-Beach” provided another challenge this morning.

The same beach break that wreaked havoc on our kayaks and camping gear the night before took some more gear from Beau this morning. After getting dumped a couple of times, Beau managed to scramble back on his Cobra Tourer and paddle outside.

I’m not quite sure how we did it, but Joe and I managed to avoid any major wipeouts on this day.

Once we bailed the water out of our kayaks, we paddled to Morro Rock and took a much-needed break at the harbor where we greeted the "Welcome to Morro Bay" with smiles and cheers. From there we picked up another paddle from Kayak Horizons (Joe snapped his on our surf landing a day earlier) and set up camp at Morro Bay State Park.

So far, we’ve paddled about 50 miles in three days and are halfway home to our final destination at the Guadalupe Dunes. If our next two days go as planned, we might combine the final two legs of the trip to avoid any additional surf landings/launches.

The beach breaks have not been too kind to us so far.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Surf's up at Morro Strand

Today’s blog entry will be another brief one thanks to a crash landing at Morro Strand State Beach. Too many repairs and not enough daylight.

The second day of our trip was a surprisingly fun 22-mile trek from San Simeon State Park.

The wind was calm. The swells were at our back. We even had time to squeeze in some fishing and were joined along the way by Steve Hennigh, the owner of Good Clean Fun in Cayucos. He showed us some hot spots to kayak, surf and fish.

It took us about three and a half hours to reach our final destination at Morro Strand, one of our favorite surf spots. Well, surf was up today.

Joe was the first one to go down, blindsided by an outside wave as we were strapping down our gear and preparing for a surf landing.

Joe got slammed so hard it broke his paddle in half and knocked a bunch of gear off his kayak. He saved most of the gear but some camera equipment was damaged in the process.

Beau and I also ran into trouble during our attempts at a surf landing. Beau lost some gear and I lost a fishing rod holder, which left a four-inch hole in the top of the kayak. That’s what we’re attempting to repair right now.

Tomorrow we do it all over again.

Day 1 grueling but successful

We made it. It took 21.5 miles and nine hours, but we made it.

The first leg of our kayak adventure is in the books, and we’re relieved that we were able to get what will probably be the toughest portion of our journey out of the way.

The launch at the mouth of San Carpoforo Creek, just north of Ragged Point, went pretty smooth considering the waves were in the 4-foot range.

Joe was the first one out, finding a seam between sets and getting out without much of a problem.

Beau and I took two of the biggest waves on the head but somehow managed to break through the set and stay on our kayaks.

We spent the next 10 minutes readjusting and bailing water out of our kayaks, talking about how lucky we were that we brought our wetsuits. We battled the fog in the morning and a grueling windswell over that latter half of the trip, the last five miles of which being the toughest conditions we’ve faced.

When we finally saw San Simeon Creek, which leads to the campground at San Simeon State Park, we were thrilled because I’m not sure we could’ve paddled much more.

Right now we’re pretty slammed, so I’m putting a period on this blog entry. Tomorrow will surely be another adventure.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Some last-minute preparations

Only six hours until we launch!

I was too excited to sleep, so I was going over some last-minute advice I received from my fellow kayakers. I thought I would share some of their e-mails for any readers who plan on ocean kayaking in the future:

“My first thought is that you chose the right time of year to do this. Late summer has the calmest swell and wind of the year according to the climactic summaries on the NOAA buoy pages. ... I've paddled and remember fondly the coastline of San Luis Obispo County. ... South of Montana De Oro the coastline is stunningly beautiful with little coves, arches and caves that connect one cove to another around Point Buchon.”
Mike Higgins,

“In regard to gear, if you are paddling sit on tops, then your gear list shouldn’t be too exhaustive. I realize that the water may be pretty cold, but given good conditions, you won't need much protection from the water elements. You will need to concern yourself first and foremost with the sun, so some short of loose fitting, high SPF shirt will allow you to be comfortable in the heat and protected from the sun. As far as pants are concerned, you could think of a lightweight (.5 or 1 mil) neoprene pant, that will protect you from the sun and the cold water …”
Roger Loughney,
LVM/Kayak Journal

Friday, July 27, 2007

Let the paddling begin

The launch date is almost here and it seems like everyone is getting a little bit nervous.

Especially Joe, Beau and I, who are probably experiencing those same pregame jitters many athletes go through before a big game. Nothing major, just a little flutter in the stomach because you’ve been preparing for this for so long and have no idea how it’s going to turn out.

Any uneasiness should disappear the moment we paddle around Ragged Point on Sunday morning, but in the meantime, all we can think about is what could go wrong.

We already know from some of our practice paddles that Mother Nature could step in at any time and put the kibosh on things.

A little bit of wind here, some choppy swells there. Next thing you know we’re stuck in a remote cove somewhere praying for the whitecaps to die down before dark.

What doesn’t help the anxiousness is all this talk about sharks.

In the past month, there have been three reported great white shark sightings off the San Luis Obispo County coast.

In a meeting with our editors yesterday, even Executive Editor Sandy Duerr was talking sharks.

“So what do you guys do if you see a shark out there?” she asked.

Well, we’ll probably do what Dan Prather did last weekend when the fisherman and his kayak were attacked by a great white off the San Mateo County coast.

After he was knocked off his kayak, Prather, according to local newspaper reports, scrambled back to his kayak and paddled as fast as he could back to shore unharmed.

Just what you want to hear a couple days before setting out on a seven-day, 86-mile paddle in the open ocean.

All of which coincides with Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, which begins Sunday and runs through Saturday — the same seven-day period we’re on the water.

Luckily we won’t be anywhere near a television.

– Brian Milne

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The gear

Brian is paddling his own Ocean Kayak Prowler 15, Angler Edition. Joe is paddling a Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro from Good Clean Fun in Cayucos, and Beau is taking out a Cobra Tourer from Kayak Horizons.


  • Garmin eTrex Legend GPS
  • Lieca D-Lux 3 Digital Camera
  • Cannon Elph Digital Camera
  • Uniden MH120 VHF Marine Radio
  • HawkEye Fish Finder
  • Cell phones

Paddling gear

  • MTI Adventurewear Dorado PFDs
  • Cobra Tourer (Beau)
  • Ocean Kayak Prowler (Brian)
  • Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro (Joe)
  • Dry bags
  • Bilge pump, sponge
  • Kayak cart
  • Paddling gloves
  • Paddles

Common camping gear:
  • first-aid kit
  • compass
  • waterproof flashlight
  • lantern
  • headlamp
  • matches
  • whistle
  • flares
  • cell phones
  • tents
  • sleeping bags
  • freeze-dry backpacking food
  • fishing poles and tackle
  • water hydration packs
  • backpacking stove
  • cook set
  • flashlights
  • multi-tool

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Planning and prepping

This is not a trip for weak stomachs or soft shoulders.

While we are far from expert kayakers, we have been paddling two to three days a week in preparation for this week-long project, which could cover close to 100 miles of coastline.

(See a photo gallery of their training paddles here.)

We also have the support of friends and family members who will be checking in with us at each landing.

The three of us also surf two to three times a week, so we are used to the constant paddling, not to mention the tides, currents and surf-zone challenges the San Luis Obispo County coastline presents.

After talking to the Coast Guard and local kayak experts such as Robert Mohle, who wrote the book “Adventure Kayaking: Trips from Big Sur to San Diego,” and Dennis Krueger, who owns the Kayak Horizons paddle shop in Morro Bay, we agreed on the dates and the route for the trip and began our preparation.

Route details

We’ll launch at the mouth of San Carpoforo Creek near Ragged Point and the northern county line on July 29 and head south (hopefully with the wind and currents at our back) for seven days until we end up at the mouth of the Santa Maria River.

Officers in aid at the Coast Guard station in Morro Bay suggested late July or early August as the best time for open-ocean paddling because the swells and winds are usually calm. Even with the summer fog along the coast, if we stay close to the coastline we should be in good shape.

The Coast Guard also encouraged us to leave a map of our route with friends and family and recommended bringing a marine radio (Coast Guard is on Channel 16), cell phones and a marine first-aid kit with flares (see our gear list for more info.). We were also reminded of the restricted area of one nautical mile around the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

Mohle and Krueger gave us the paddling tips and let us know what to expect while kayaking the remote stretches below Ragged Point and Point Buchon. They recommended sit-on-top kayaks, which are more stable and easier to get in and out of in the surf zone, for this paddling adventure.


Because we will be paddling over a seven-day period, we will need a place to camp each night. We made reservations at some campsites and have plans to camp with friends and family at a couple others :

  • San Simeon State Beach Park
  • Morro Strand State Beach
  • Morro Bay State Park
  • MontaƱa de Oro State Park
  • the RV area in Port San Luis
  • Oceano Dunes

-- Brian Milne

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Meet the kayakers

Joe Johnston

Johnston, (at right in the photo) a Livermore native, has been a Tribune photographer for seven years. The 33-year-old Shell Beach resident graduated from Cal Poly in 1998 and has been enjoying the Central Coast ever since. An avid surfer, Johnston recently got into kayaking after purchasing a wooden sit-inside kayak on eBay.

Johnston on the trip: “I’m looking forward to being able to see the beauty of the county’s coastline from end to end and doing it in a physically challenging way. I think pushing myself each day to paddle these long stretches of coast and capturing images of what we see and experience along the way will be well worth it. There’s something very self-insightful and significant, I think, that comes from throwing yourself into something like this.”

Brian Milne

Milne (center) has lived in Atascadero for 18 years and has written for the Tribune the past seven, covering college sports for the paper. Milne, 30, graduated from Cal Poly (2002) and Atascadero High (1995) and lives with his wife, Aja, and daughter, Payton.

Milne on the trip: “I’m looking forward to the adventure itself, being challenged by Mother Nature and enjoying miles of coastline that I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. I think the toughest part of the trip will be passing all those great surfing and fishing spots along the way.”

Beau Clyburn

Clyburn, (left) an Atascadero native, is a full-time electrician who moonlights as a weekend guide for Kayak Horizons in Morro Bay. The 30-year-old Clyburn recently moved to Los Osos to be closer to the ocean and three of his outdoor passions — surfing, kayaking and fishing. A graduate of Atascadero High, Clyburn has known Milne since they played against one another in Little League.

Clyburn on the trip: “I’m really looking forward to experiencing the unspoiled coastline of the Central Coast, a portion of coast that most people don’t get to see.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

An adventure is born

When Tribune photographer Joe Johnston came to me in April with this idea to kayak nearly the entire San Luis Obispo County coast, I thought to myself, “Somebody’s been spending too much time in the darkroom.”

But the more I thought about the idea, and the logistics of a trip like this, the more realistic the weeklong expedition became.

The challenging part was going to be fitting a trip like this into our schedules and getting the newspaper to sign off on the project.

We spent the next month researching the project, interviewing anyone who could shed light on the trip — the Coast Guard, kayak shops, surf shops, sportfishing outfits and campgrounds — and in early May our editors gave us the OK.

Then all we had to do was train for the most challenging outdoor adventure of our lives.

— Brian Milne