TILLAMOOK, Ore. -- A clear sky plus brilliant sunshine add up to a March surprise on a recent weekend along the Oregon coast.
It was a perfect time to dive into new adventure on the quiet side of coastal life with Kayak Tillamook’s lead guide, Paul Peterson.
Peterson has been a skipper aboard large fishing boats from Oregon to Alaska, but these days he shows newcomers the perfect paddle strokes that will keep them safe.
Before we got our boat bottoms wet, he demonstrated the forward paddle stroke during our land based prep session: “So in it goes,” said Peterson, who reached forward with the paddle, “and then it’s a push-pull move inside that imaginary strike zone of baseball.”
Our small troop of paddlers prepped for a trip on Netarts Bay, a small Tillamook County estuary that may suit you just fine.
Marc Hinz co-owns and operates Kayak Tillamook with Peterson and he said that the business grew out of a college class five years ago. He added that kayaking tours “just happened” because he was in the right place at the right time and owned the right passion for water.
His business has grown to fill a recreation niche that was missing in the Tillamook coastal communities.
He added that the twelve-foot long kayaks are akin to “beginner’s dream boats:”
“You need to know nothing about kayaking because the majority of our tours are built for beginners. If you have ever paddled a canoe, this kayak has similar stability; it’s a bit wider and more stable than ocean-going kayaks too.”
Once the half hour shore based session wrapped up, we dropped in at near-ebb tide at the Netarts Bay public marina to enjoy a winter’s day that was too nice to believe.
Tucked into the comfortable and stable kayak, I followed Peterson and Hinz’s lessons. Soon, I became the master of my boat as I caught on to the basic forward, backward and sweeper strokes.
We wore PFD’s (Personal Flotation Devices) as Peterson shepherded us along the edge of the bay, (the beauty of the craft is that it can float and maneuver in just inches of water.)
Peterson carried proper safety gear that included a VHF radio and a first-aid kit, and he kept us a safe distance away from the estuary’s rough bar.
It is critical for newcomers to this sport to join experienced professionals like Peterson who know the water well, because conditions on the water can change in a heartbeat and inexperienced boaters can get into unexpected trouble.
Peterson also noted that boating regulations changed recently. Beginning in 2010, all non-motorized boats longer than 10-feet are required to have a ten-dollar Aquatic Invasive Species Permit. The money from the permit helps to develop and manage programs that keep non-native plants and animals out of Oregon’s waterways.
At 2700 acres, Netarts Bay is relatively small in size with no major rivers, but several small creeks that feed into it.
Peterson and Hinz agreed that the bay’s high water quality is largely due to its remoteness, small size and more:
“There is no industry on this bay,” noted Peterson. “So, there’s nothing polluting it and it’s all natural. In the wintertime when we have the heavy run-off in the wintertime you’ll see some turbidity, but primarily it’s a clean bay.
“Netarts Bay is one of the most pristine bays on the Oregon,” added Hinz. It is shallow throughout, no more than 15-feet deep and the water is so clear you can see right to the bottom. You can see Dungeness crabs crawling across the bottom of the bay, so visibility makes this a nice waterway to paddle and it is a very popular clamming destination too.”
Mila Le and John Vella traveled from their Portland home to join us for a day of paddling on Netarts Bay.
It was just the second time each had tried kayaking recreation. Yet, each felt right at home in the cozy confines of their boats.
“I think most anyone can do it,” said Vella. “It’s amazing how easy and comfortable it feels. It’s pretty natural – as long a you remain calm when the little waves come up and splash you.”
Mila agreed that the wet suited her just fine too: “It’s about as close as you can get to the water without being in the water. It also feels really different from a typical motorboat where you are perched up and looking down into the water. In a kayak you’re so much closer to the water and I like that closeness.”
Kayak Tillamook’s tours reach across six Tillamook County estuaries for a total of 80 miles on bays, rivers, sloughs and backwater areas.
“That’s about 800 square miles of flat water paddling opportunities,” noted Hinz. “Most of which are tidal influenced - but we also have lakes – freshwater lakes and intimate little sloughs that wander up into coastal forests – there’s a lot for us to see and do in a kayak.”
There’s even more too! Hinz offered me a copy of the new Nehalem Estuary Water Trail Map, a hands-on guide produced and published by the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.
The guide is free and available to kayakers and other boaters.
It is the first in a series of water trail maps that will eventually detail all of the Tillamook estuaries including Netarts Bay.
If you wish to make Netarts Bay a longer stay, consider nearby Cape Lookout State Park, located a few miles from the bay.
Park manager Pate Marvin said that the parkland offers 225 sites including rental cabins and 13 yurts.
“You can walk to your hearts content on the beach, said Marvin. “Once you get away from the campground, a mile or two – you’re not going to see a whole lot of people as you hike Netarts Spit – even in the busy summer season – so you can really find peace and solitude and enjoy the outdoors.”
Le and Vella agreed that Netarts Bay is a special place and kayaking offers intimate moments where nature’s touch restores the soul:
“The mountains, the water – you can even hear the ocean in the distance,” noted Vella. “There’s so much variety and we’re so fortunate to be able to enjoy all of this anytime because it is so close to Portland.”
Le smiled and added “When you hit it just right, it’s awesome. Everyone should try it.”
Important note: As reported in this story, effective January 1, 2010: resident and nonresident boaters are required to have an Aquatic Invasive Species Permit for paddle craft (drift boats, canoes, kayaks, inflatable pontoon boat, etc.) that are 10 feet long or longer. Registered powerboat owners do not need to buy a permit: they pay a fee when they register or re-register their boats. Revenues will be used to help stop the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species in Oregon waters and keep them open for recreational uses.