Saturday, February 18, 2012


I was recently asked what does one see on the Noyo and instantly slipped into a dream-like state.

The character of the Noyo is quite unique. Located in Fort Bragg, California, it is a harbor, estuary, and river with a variety of ecosystems that include coastal, salt marsh, pine forest, riparian (wooded wetland), and coniferous forest.

A visitor's first impressions are often that of an old fishing harbor that has seen its heyday but is still operating. For many the harbor elicits flashbacks of the movie Overboard with Kirk Russell and Goldie Hawn.

The harbor is an intriguing place to watch fishing boats and coast guard boats travel to and from their berths to the sea.
Of course with any fishing village, there are the animals that thrive on the scraps and hand outs of the fishing industry. Sea lions are typically seen basking on the docks or cruising through the channel. If one doesn't see them, their raucous barking is often heard.

Great blue herons, gulls, various sea birds, harbor seals, and Noyo Harbor Cats are common sights in the Noyo Harbor. This great blue heron is having identity issues.

The Noyo Harbor is but a small portion of the Noyo and those that explore a little further will be intrigued and delighted its quirks and charm. To further explore the Noyo, one needs to get off the beaten path. Many venture up the Noyo River Canyon on the Skunk Train. On its 21 mile journey from Fort Bragg to Northspur, the Skunk Train crosses the Noyo River 13 times. Passengers on the train listen see the beauty of the Noyo River Canyon and see Fort Bragg's logging history.

Some will discover the Noyo via a journey into the "Working South Harbor." A drive down South Harbor Drive affords one the perspective of the workings of Noyo Harbor. Drive with your windows down and you will hear the sounds of a working fishing harbor - the clanking of boat repair, fishermen/women directing their crew or telling stories of the one that got away, gulls whining, sea lions barking, and in the summer the osprey calling. A special treat is the aroma of Thanksgiving Coffee being roasted.

Driving one may see the "Coasties" (US Coast Guard seamen/seawomen) doing their physical training - jogging or playing football or volleyball. Past the coastguard station, one comes to the boat basin which houses the majority of the Noyo's Fleet. It is fun to stop and take a look at the variety of craft some of which are from many years ago.

Driving past the boat basin, one comes to a large parking area and the south boat basin launch ramp. During salmon season, this parking lot is full with trucks and empty boat trailers. Other times, it is a great spot to pull over and stretch the legs and look around. There is a short walkway with a railing that is a good spot to see where the Noyo transitions from a coastal to wooded ecosystem.

Many make the mistake of turning around at the south boat basin parking area and miss one of Fort Bragg and Noyo Harbor's interesting off the beaten path locations - Dolphin Isle Marina. To get to Dolphin Isle, follow the private road that is tucked away in the back corner of the parking lot.

Dolphin Isle is the old marina that dates pre1960's. It now houses some commercial and sport boats. It is also an RV park with a deli/store and the home of a couple of businesses including Liquid Fusion Kayaking. Dolphin Isle is just over a mile away from the ocean and has its own climate. In the summer and fall, it is a good spot to escape the coastal fog that hovers on the coast. In the spring, one can escape the gusty northwestern winds and winter is the time to enjoy the warmth of the deli with a fresh cup of Thanksgiving Coffee or a bowl of Sandy's homemade soup.

Dolphin Isle is a great spot for wildlife watching and there are many days when the to-do list doesn't get accomplished because of special wildlife sitings from river otters hunting to baby birds and garter snakes. Or sometimes, it is just nice to bask in the sun by the river and read a book and enjoy some local North Coast Brews.

Dolphin Isle is a quirky spot with a sub-culture of its own and not one that everyone appreciates. I personally love it there. Dolphin Isle is also where the Noyo loses its feel as a fishing harbor and becomes a peaceful estuary that is best explored on the the water.

Stay tuned for the wonders and delights of paddling the Noyo.

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