Put-In / Take-Out: Miller Park – Nick's Cove/Chicken Ranch Beach
Distance: 7-10 miles
Wind Direction: NW. Winds can reach 30-knots-plus, though if it is too westerly, then launching is a problem.
Best Time of Year: March, April and May are the best months.
Geography and Access: About 30 miles North of San Francisco, Tomales Bay is a narrow, relatively shallow bay about 13 miles in length and about a half-mile wide. The deepest spot in Tomales Bay is about 60 feet (just west of Hog Island). Most of the bay is very shallow. Access to the bay is most plentiful from the eastern shore. The western shore is not very accessible north of Tomales Bay State Park. Lawson's Landing and Nick's Cove require payment for parking. Parking is free at Chicken Ranch Beach. The drive between Nick's and Chicken Ranch Beach is about 40 minutes. It's a low-speed, winding road. Weekends can be congested with cars, bikes, and motorcycles.
Routes: In the spring (April is best), put in at Nick's Cove and run down the bay to Chicken Ranch Beach. Lawson's Landing (near Dillon Beach) is an alternate put-in location if the wind is not too heavy and not from the west. If Nick's Cove and Lawson's Landing looks too blown out, head south on Hwy 1 about one-and-a-half miles just past Clark Road. You will see a small parking area on your right. It's a good place to launch because it's a very short walk to the water and somewhat protected from the wind. If the wind is really good, you will see boarders and kiters here.
Hazards: Cold water, quickly changing conditions, fog, small fishing boats in the outer half of the bay. The eastern shore is generally rocky and shallow. Be on the lookout for oyster beds and other obstructions on that side of the bay. There are some very nice sandy beaches on the western shore.
The Run: Spring is usually a good bet if you can get out on the water before the wind starts cranking. If it's really blowing from the west, it can be very difficult to launch at Nick's Cove. If you can get out early enough you can head NW of Hog Island toward the Tomales Bay entrance. Be aware of some dangerous conditions out here. The channel is very narrow and you will often see breaking waves to your right, just off Dillon Beach. Stay close to the western shore and watch out for boats! When the wind starts picking up, head down the bay, keeping Hog Island on your left. From Hog Island you can see Pelican Point. There is a marker here at the end of a sand spit. Once you get past Pelican Point, go down the bay staying closer to the western shore. There are many nice beaches if you need to take a break.
The bumps on Tomales Bay can be a lot of fun. It is short fetch and very shallow. When the conditions are right, it's a good place to hone your downwind skills and not nearly as big and scary as San Francisco Bay or the Pacific. Tomales Bay is a bit of a sleeper. Aside from a few small boats and a couple of kayaks, you will have the bay to yourself. Higher tides are always better for put-in and take-out due to mud and rocks.
Other Stuff: Lots of wildlife including eagles, osprey, elk, leopard sharks, bat rays and seals. The San Andreas Fault runs right under the bay. Be sure to stop in the beautiful little town of Pt. Reyes Station. Go to the Bovine Bakery (look for all the bikes and motorcycles out front) and get a slice of pizza and a bear claw. You will not be disappointed. Halfway through your shuttle drive you can also stop in the little village of Marshall and have some BBQ oysters.—Jeff Burton
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