Story by Carol Canter.
Photos by Lee Daley.
I was standing in a circle of 16 kayakers on Schoonmaker Beach in Sausalito at 6:30pm on a Sunday night in March.
A full cantaloupe-colored moon peered out from behind the masts of sailboats. It was so large and low in the sky that it looked like it was surrealistically painted on a backdrop. Clad in life jackets and holding our paddles, we each introduced ourselves and shared with the group why we were there – more specifically, why we had each signed on to this full-moon paddle on Richardson Bay with Sea Trek.
The responses were as diverse as the group. One man from Oakland said, “This is my Valentine’s present from my wife, so we’re here to enjoy a romantic evening out on the bay.” A woman visiting from Manhattan said that as a refugee from the concrete jungle, she gravitated toward opportunities for outdoor adventure. My husband volunteered that being somewhat immobilized by a painful knee injury had made him long to take on an outdoor adventure that relied on the upper body. A single man from Boston and a woman from San Francisco discovered each other in the circle and paired up to paddle a double kayak. I myself had been inspired by the harmonic convergence of two factors: my school-aged daughter was away for a week on a class trip; and the weather was unseasonably warm, reminiscent of summer evenings in my youth where everyone gathered outdoors to enjoy summer’s sensual warmth. Throw in a full moon and a trip organized by experts (for which we just had to make a reservation and show up) – and I couldn’t resist.
The sun set, the moon rose, the stars twinkled and we were encircled by land masses familiar by day – Sausalito, Mount Tamalpais, Tiburon, Belvedere and Angel Island – but full of mystery by night, their sparkling lights a dazzling yet protective necklace that circumscribed our journey.
We gathered at 6 p.m. at Schoonmaker Point Marina in Sausalito, signed the usual release waivers, were given windbreakers, life jackets and paddles, then formed a circle on the beach. After the introductions, Sea Trek guides gave us a safety briefing and paddling instructions. While the adventure is geared for people who are new to the sport, it turned out that more than half of our group had done at least some sea kayaking before.
We put on spray skirts, got comfortable in our double kayaks and fit the elastic bottom of our skirts around the edge of the cockpit. That would keep our bottoms dry and free from spray and splashes from enthusiastic paddling. The guides helped launch us into the bay’s calm gentle waters, where we paddled until everyone was comfortable. Then we headed out past funky boats and splendid yachts into the silence of evening, gliding on smooth glassy water.
I have to admit we picked a night that had it all—not just warm clear weather, not just the Hale-Bopp comet and not just a full moon. There was also an almost total lunar eclipse, which meant we watched the gradual darkening of most of that big melon moon as we paddled. At first we noticed the lower tip of the moon disappear – it looked like just a cloud or two obscuring the bottom, but as more and more of the moon vanished, the eclipse became easy to discern.
Fascinated as we were by the eclipse above Angel Island, we’d turn our attention to the drama over Mount Tam, observing Hale-Bopp, distinctive amid the heavenly bodies for its tail, trailing its brightness like a scattering of fairy dust.
Even as we drifted off into this cosmic light show overhead, we stayed in close touch with our fellow kayakers. We talked and kept an eye on the eerie neon green lights tied onto the front of each kayak. Somewhere off Tiburon, we agreed to gather, holding onto one another’s boats to form a huge raft. Thus anchored, we were able to circulate food and drink the company supplied.
Before we paddled back toward Sausalito, we formed one more communal raft. Loath to return to reality, eager to linger in the silvery bay, we each tried to come up with one word that characterized the evening: “Om, perfection, cosmic and romantic” are the four I remember. By then the eclipse had left only a crescent-shaped sliver of light, a bright cap atop a now darkened head that had once been the full moon. We pulled our kayaks up on the beach, returned our gear, then went our separate ways back into the night.
IF YOU GO: This story first ran in the Contra Costa Times May 18, 1997. The same trip, with minor variation, is still offered today – an indication of its popularity over the decades. Visit https://www.seatrek.com/portfolio/full-moon-paddle/ for further information. Trips now convene at the Bay Model in Sausalito. For more trips in Marin County see: Marin Headlands: Just Across the Golden Gate Bridge; and Point Reyes San Francisco Escape.