Estero de San Antonio

I’ve only paddled the Estero de San Antonio (ESA) once before—more than 32 years ago.

ESA is the little brother of the better-but-still-little-known Estero Americano immediately to the north. There is no public access point for the Estero de San Antonio; it is almost unknown to the paddling public.

Peddalin' Paddlin' Home 7:26:16

To paddle ESA you’ve got to know someone who knows someone who owns land out here to get permission to drive on a ranch to launch your boat.

George Curtis at Launch 7:26:16

George at our launch site on Cornett’s ranch.

Recently I met George Curtis, a semi-retired pharmacist who was born in nearby Santa Rosa. George knows a lot of people, among them one of the sheep ranchers in West Marin County, Chris Cornett. Cornett is a fifth generation sheep rancher running 1400 sheep on more than 800 acres along the Estero de San Antonio.

George invited me to paddle from Chris’s ranch to the coast. At first the going was tough, especially for George’s Mirage Drive-powered Hobie kayak. Algae growing in ESA fouled the propulsion fins on the keel making it inoperable. For the first stretch, George had to resort to paddling.

Gamely Paddling thru Algae 7:26:16

George gamely powered through the first couple of miles of the trip out to the coast.

Half an hour into the trip we made it to the Middle Road bridge where, soon, an algae-free path began to open in the middle of the channel.

The bridge at Middle Road 7:26:16

We passed the remnants of the railroad bridge that once spanned ESA on its way from Sausalito to Duncans Mills.

Railroad Bridge Ruins 7:26:16

There was wildlife to see along the way including this Great Horned Owl, one of three family members living in eucalyptus trees.

Great Horned Owl 7:26:16

Whitaker Bluff loomed above us as we neared the halfway point in our journey to the coast.

Whittaker Bluff 7:26:16

About halfway out to the coast we passed under the last bridge, the Valley Ford-Franklin School Road bridge.

Franklin School Road Bridge 7:26:16

From this point on, the hills got bigger and steeper making the paddle both more dramatic and more mysterious.

Coastal Hills 7:26:16

At times it seemed impossible that this small splendid ribbon of water could wind its way through such steep hills and find its way to the coast.

Way Home 7:26:16

Then, suddenly it air chilled and we knew we were close to our goal. We paddled past an abandoned seaside farm, just a few yards inland from the ocean.

Derelict Ranch Building near Coast 7:26:16

And made our way into the coastal fog,

Fog at Coast 7:26:16

and onto the beach. We shared a sandwich. We didn’t linger there long as it took us more time to make it out the the beach than either of us had anticipated.

At Bodega Bay Beach 7:26:16

The trip back was pleasant. A friendly breeze blew in from the coast. I had remembered to bring my sail which made some sections of the estuary effortless. George spotted a TV watching us from atop a post.

TV Watching Us! 7:26:16

We cut short the trip to avoid the algae-clogged last mile or so and pulled our kayaks out under the watchful eye of a Holstein bull.

Homestretch 7:26:16

Luckily, the bull didn’t seem perturbed by our activity and we got home in time to enjoy a beer at George’s place with his lovely wife, Shannon and her visiting parents. Our paddle took us almost four hours on the water and covered just a little more than 11 miles.

Here is a map of our adventure: