Story & photos by Gretchen Ammerman
For the TODAY
The beauty of the Oregon Coast is magnified in places where rivers spill out into the ocean, then gently, or sometimes not so gently, creep back in with the changing of the tides. Using a small boat to explore the bays and estuaries created by this water dance offers opportunities for magical days, great photo ops and, occasionally, touches of danger. To make sure you have more of the first two and less of the third, it helps to have a great guide.
“Our coastal tidal waterways are extraordinarily complicated,” said Marcus Hinz, co-owner of Kayak Tillamook. “Even people who understand tides don’t realize they can change many times a day and be quite dangerous - understanding and overcoming that is one of the things we’ve perfected.”
The company’s guides use their combined years of experience in reading the weather to help people enjoy kayaking year-round - not just in the summer months. In the winter, though, it can take more than expertise alone to tempt people on to the water, so the guides have taken to tucking a thermos of hot apple cider into each boat from November until the end of the cold season.
“The cider was an enticement to get people out in the winter and see what they might be missing,” Hinz said. “The cider also works as a safety device, since it keeps people’s cores warm.”
A treat the company has provided since it formed in 2005, the cider, complete with a cinnamon stick, has become a trademark of sorts.
“It makes people so happy, we probably will never stop doing it,” Hinz said “We spend a little extra for really good thermoses, but they keep the liquid hot for up to six hours so it’s totally worth it.”
Kayak Tillamook provides guiding tours on waterways stretching from Nehalem Bay near Manzanita to Devils Lake and Siletz Bay in Lincoln City.
In between are such sites as Cape Meares Lake near Tillamook and the Sand Lake Recreational Area just north of Pacific City, which I explored under the expert guidance of long time guide and company co-owner Paul Peterson.
“Sand Lake is one of my favorite spots because the water is so pristine and there is a limited window of time that you can get out in a boat,” Peterson said, strengthening the argument for guided paddling. “During low tide, this whole place can be covered in sand.”
Though it was late January, our group of four enjoyed dry skies and calm weather, even getting a bit of sun breaking through toward the end of the journey. A great blue heron sat on an un-submerged log and stared lazily at us as we paddled on the estuary, admiring views of the ocean. Fetching waterfowl waited until our cameras were trained on them, then dived shyly under the water.
Though the weather was mild, I was looking forward to the cider, as my hands, clad in gloves thick enough to prevent calluses but not enough to keep the cold out completely, were starting to shake.
As promised, the beverage warmed me up almost immediately, and was quite tasty too boot. I was now on the horns of a dilemma - should I use my hands to hold my camera and continue to try to capture one of the vexingly shy bufflehead ducks, or keep holding the thermos containing the comforting beverage. A quick scan of my photos reveals that I primarily chose the latter option.
Prior to our paddle, Peterson spent some time giving us a quick but thorough review of technique and safety measures, which all guides do before taking guests out into the water.
“We always spend about a half hour on instruction and practice,” Hinz said. “Knowing some basics really helps our guests perform better in the water and therefore enjoy their experience more.”
And though they depend on customers for their livelihood, Kayak Tillamook guides treat the trips as a torch that they are lighting then passing on.
“We know that there are good odds folks will eventually buy their own boat,” Hinz said. “So we work hard to make sure people understand the behavior of these coastal waterways and to reconnect people with the complicated nature of estuaries; we basically think of ourselves as ambassadors.”
Though I thought myself lucky to have arrived for my scheduled jaunt on a such a mild day, Hinz said that really wasn’t as rare an occurrence as one might think for a Pacific Northwestern winter.
“We really try to encourage people concerned with weather to read the winter weather protocols on our website, as the regular forecast is almost always wrong,” he said. “We very rarely cancel a tour due to bad weather in the winter. Even when rain is forecasted, there is usually a weather window, and we’re very good at finding those.”
Kayak Tillamook offers regularly scheduled tours, including the apple cider tours, plus special tours by appointment. Scheduled Tours include two hours on the water, half-hour instruction on land, a professional guide, kayaks, and all necessary gear. For more information, go to kayaktillamook.com or call 503-866-4808.