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Doheny Beach, CA in the Princess

It’s hard to believe that a week ago we were camping on the beach just 50 miles north of San Diego (Dana Point) in the Princess with two sea kayaks on the truck roof and sunshine (mostly) outside. On December 19th we loaded up the truck and trailer and headed south for some escape from

Our 1970 Streamline Princes (21-foot) at Doheny Beach State Park

Our 1970 Streamline Princess (21-foot) at Doheny Beach State Park

the snow and ice. At 5pm the next day we rolled into Doheny Beach State Park in Dana Point, California for a 5-day visit. Our schedule included sightseeing at Disneyland, a visit to the restored mission at San Juan Capistrano, a wonderful morning at San Onofre State Beach (about 11 miles south) with the California Kayak Friends gang (www.ckf.org) and (on the way home) a paddle in the bull kelp off Monterey, CA with sea otters.

Doheny Beach is about 30 miles south of Disneyland (or about 50 miles south of LA) and just around the corner from Dana Point where Richard  Henry Dana pitched cowhides down to the beach for loading into the brigantine Pilgrim anchored below. You can read the story in “Two Years Before the Mast” which is available in several formats (including mobile devices) from The Gutenberg Project (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/4277#downloads). I highly recommend reading this book whether you kayak or sail or just have some interest in the history of the west coast of the USA if only for the descriptions of so many places (San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Pedro, Dana Point, San Diego, etc.) in the 1830s as well as a later addtion to most editions describing his visit to San Francisco in 1859 and the differences he found in less than 30 years.

Allow me to quote Dana’s description from the top of what we now know as “Dana Point” as he wrote it in his book: ”

Here the country stretched out for miles, as far as the eye could
reach, on a level, table surface, and the only habitation in sight
was the small white mission of San Juan Capistrano, with a few
Indian huts about it, standing in a small hollow, about a mile
from where we were. Reaching the brow of the hill, where the cart
stood, we found several piles of hides, and Indians sitting round
them. One or two other carts were coming slowly on from the

The Mission at San Juan Capistrano

The Mission at San Juan Capistrano

Mission, and the captain told us to begin and throw the hides down. This, then, was the way they were to be got down,-- thrown down, one at a time, a distance of four hundred feet!"

Having long been a fan of Dana’s book you can imagine my delight to be camped in the Princess within view of his “hill” and were able to drive to the top and look out of the very same vista he looked at in the 1830s. It has changed, somewhat, I must admit. But the view, and the “small white mission” are still worth the trip.

Our Disneyland trip was aborted when we discovered that it was a 30 to 45 minute wait just to get tickets into the park itself. We contented ourselves with walking around Downtown Disney. I first visited this park in 1959 – only a few years after it opened – when I was 16. I told my parents I was going to do agricultural work in Quincy (in those days high school and college kids did much of the farm work done by latinos today) and drove down to Anaheim to visit a girlfriend who had moved and to apply for a job at the park. I  was an amateur radio operator and figured I was qualified to do tech work for them. They told me to go back and finish school.

Disneyland is virtually unrecognizable to me now and the crowds were incredible. Not to mention the prices. The original ride tickets (including the fabled E-ticket) are relics of the past and probably collector’s items. We parked ($16) and walked through Downtown Disney (non-existent in 1957) to a ticketing area where the lines were at least 30 minutes long. At this point we had to re-think the plan. Spend all day in line for $100 or bag it. We turned around and walked back through Downtown Disney, visited a few of the shops, got back into the truck and left. In retrospect we should have gone kayaking instead as the surf would be too dangerous the next day. (Sigh).

The next day we had breakfast at Denny’s and then we visited the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. I’m a big fan of the California missions having had the opportunity to visit many of them (including this one 40 years ago) but I’m not unaware of the negative aspects of Father Serra’s life’s work. While the missions unquestionably civilized both lower and upper California and prepared the upper version to become the California we know today, they also devastated the indigenous cultures they touched; cultures which have never recovered. But much the same thing happened in the Pacific Northwest without Fr. Serra.  The damage is done, either way, so now I simply appreciate them as they are. And they are serene and beautiful. Even when the swallows are still in Argentina.

We would have kayaked more at Doheny except for the sand berm bulldozed up

The berm at Doheny. Looks like a sand tsunami!

The berm at Doheny. Looks like a sand tsunami!

between the campground and the water. This berm – about 12 feet high – effectively kept me from the water (but not the kids who played all over it). My ability to walk is restricted and climbing over it was out of the question. Walking around it was possible but a relatively long walk (for me, at least). So our dreams of simply dragging the kayaks down the shore and launching were dashed. However we were happy that we got the $35/day spot; the ones across the road (you can see the fire pit and parking area of one in the photo) with a better view of the berm cost $65 a night!

Doheny beach has no utility hookups so one of my priorities was to be close to the bathrooms (easier for me to walk) and to have solar panels. Without the panels we would have run out of battery power in two days. With the two 30-watt panels (bought via Amazon for $149 each) we had plenty of power for movies, reading and radio for the entire stay. Surprisingly enough, most RV owners seem unfamiliar with the concept and instead ran noisy, smelly, expensive generators every day to charge up their batteries. We were glad Doheny had rules against running generators all night. Especially when the guy next door ran his only 10 feet from the front door to the Princess.

One of the highlights of the trip was the Christmas Eve Morning surf extravaganza held at San Onofre State Beach by several members of the California Kayak Friends club (www.ckf.org). This group, which includes Duane Strosaker (www.rollordrown.com) and Mark Sanders (www.sandmarks.net) amongst others, are talented paddlers and musicians. I had never worked much with surf and what looked low to the CKF gang

Christmas Dinner December 24, 2009 in the Princess. Check out the tree!

Christmas Dinner December 24, 2009 in the Princess. Check out the tree!

looked plenty big to me. Since I had just finished my last antibiotic pill for a case of pneumonia the previous morning I decided to stay on the beach and just watch the CKF pros surf. The plus was that by the time the music started I had staked out a nice spot to sit. You can see videos shot by Duane at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EG-qlco66AU and get an idea of the fun. If there is any reason to move to SoCal other than weather, the CKF gang is it!!!

Sue and I had our Christmas Dinner in the evening of the 24th as the next day we were planning to leave Doheny Beach. The Princess has a fully equipped kitchen and Sue whipped up baked ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, and the family traditional bean casserole. Yum!

The next morning – Christmas Day – we left early headed to Monterey to see if we could kayak with the sea otters. I had tried several times to do this but always got caught in the wrong weather window. This day promised calm winds, low swell, and relatively warm weather. We drove up over the Grapevine in 30-something (F) temps and then crossed over to Highway 101, El Caminio Real or the highway of the kings. We passed several of the missions this highway serves on our way up

Ripley (left) and Teka (right) enjoyed the trip immensely.

Ripley (left) and Teka (right) enjoyed the trip immensely.

and vowed to return and visit them all as soon as we could get away.

We were parked in front of Monterey Bay Kayaks and had paid our $2/hour parking fee (for RVs) by 2pm and by 2:30pm we were garbed up and ready to launch. One big advantage to traveling in the Princess is that we have a dressing room and plenty of storage either in/on the pickup truck or in the Princess herself. We launched through the (much lower) surf (which still washed me sideways up the beach once) and paddled around the marina breakwater festooned with California Sea Lions. Staying upwind is advised. Once around the marina and into the kelp beds we were in a natural world. Egrets poised for fishing and perched on clumps of kelp. The tops of the heads of harbor seals peeked at us curiously. And sea otters! At least a half-dozen otters spread out through the bull kelp paid us little attention as we drifted slowly past them. I talked to one female with a pup on her tummy as I paddled by within ten feet. She and the pup were unconcerned. Later we talked to a local who said that we were not supposed to impact the otters but that the otters made their own rules. And indeed, it appeared that they were as interested in us as we were in them. We had both left our cameras ashore due to the surf launch and landing so we’ll have to do this again with cameras made safe for use in the water.

Once the boats were cleaned and reloaded on the truck we were in “go home” mode and headed towards I-5 for the trip north.  We were parked in front of the lake house in Moses Lake by 9pm the next evening, December 26, 2009. It had been a quick but fun trip.

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