Bolinas Lagoon

Weather forecasters have been calling for a spell of sunny weather.

Favorable weather together with midday high tides prompted Jono and me to venture out on waters we’ve never paddled before: Bolinas Lagoon.

Bolinas Map

Bolinas (at the bottom of this map) sits right on top of the San Andreas Fault at the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore. Note how it is aligned along the fault with Tomales Bay to the north.

The only other time I came here to paddle a boat was about twenty years ago. I had just bought a sit-on-top kayak. Donning a wetsuit, I went out into the ocean. There were medium small waves breaking on the beach. I thought it would be easy to surf them.

45 minutes later I dragged my boat, my sorry sandy self, and my bruised body back on the beach. I never returned.

The thrashing taught me nothing about the placid lagoon behind the sandbar.

I could see that it looked pretty shallow. The satellite image below reveals just how shallow Bolinas Lagoon is.

JPEG sat

Knowing this we launched this morning a couple of hours before high tide. We started off just inside the mouth of the lagoon and, carried by the flooding current set off on a north northwesterly course along the western shore. First we passed the row of quaint cottages along the Bolinas waterfront.

Bolinas 3:23:16

The flooding tide carried us towards Bolinas County Park and into a maze of channels that steadily got narrower and shallower. We hoped that the current would carry us far enough to join the main channel that parallels Highway One on the east shore of the lagoon.

Bolinas West Channel 3:23:16

That turned out to be wishful thinking.

Instead, we wended our way to the almost the end and got stuck fast in gooey mud. The fact that the tide was still flooding was reassuring.

It was not easy to turn around. My boat is a little less than 13 feet long and still it took me a quarter of an hour to get turned around and headed back to where we came from.

Jono, in his 17 foot canoe, had more difficulty.

But we finally managed to extract ourselves from our predicament and find our way out into open, but very shallow, water.

Along the way we passed by large sandpipers with long downward curving bills. I think they’re Long-billed Curlews.

Curlew 3:23:16

This bird’s body is about the size of a sea gull.

Just a bit father along we saw these bright-orange billed shore birds, Caspian Terns, I believe.

Caspian Tern 3:23:16


We made our way south over open water in the middle of the lagoon so shallow that our paddles often struck the sandy bottom.

We were able to find a meandering channel that skirted south of Kent Island and back towards an exclusive housing development. Jono said it’s called Seadrift, a gated enclave for people with money.

One medium sized tsunami would sure change Seadrift property values. Have these guys heard about climate change and rising sea levels?

We passed by many harbor seals hauled out, sunning on sandbars. We didn’t get too near to them.

Without realizing it, I captured a photo of a mother seal with her pup. It’s that time of year in seal land.

Harbor Seals w: Pup 3:23:16

Note the pup on the left

We made out way back to our starting point, but the beach we started at had pretty much disappeared under the high tide waters.

Jono Homeward Bound 3:23:16

Jono heading home

We opted to pull our boats out of the water at the dock for the Bolinas Marine Station run by the College of Marin.

2 thoughts on “Bolinas Lagoon

  1. Nice report Dan. I think you got the birds right. We used to launch over by Audubon Ranch and follow the channel by the hiway. They’ve been talking about dredging the lagoon for years but it’s been very controversial. Apparently, mining and farming were responsible for the silt, now there’s not enough water exchange to keep it flushed out.


  2. Thanks, Ray. Jono was telling me that Bolinas Lagoon was once deep enough for coastal vessels to pull in for loads of lumber etc. Those days are gone. It’s so shallow now that you need a good high tide just for paddle boats. There were a lot of birds wading in the “lagoon” yards from shore. The “lagoon” is really a mud flat topped by a thin layer of water over it at high tide.

    I was glad to get my first picture of the Long-billed Curlew yesterday. Today I’m heading up to Lake Sonoma to see what’s up there.

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