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Eco-tours by kayak on the bay.

SEA KAYAKING ON SAN Francisco Bay isn't exactly a new idea; companies like Sea Trek in Sausalito have been offering lessons and tours for 11 years. This season, however, a growing number of outfillers will be offering kayak programs with an ecological conscience.

As bay waters become more polluted, fisheries decline, and rare wetlands continue to be threatened by development, several kayak outfitters have teamed up with environmental groups working to protect and improve the quality of the bay. The result has been the creation of naturalist-led kayak tours that raise funds while offering paddlers a unique glimpse at the bay's ecology.

All tours listed here are geared for first-time kayakers and include equipment, instruction, and guides; bring your own lunch unless noted. Most companies offer monthly benefit tours from March through November; we list programs scheduled for March and April. Call for reservations.

Blue Waters Kayak Tours (415/456-8956) offers bird-watching trips led by owner and naturalist Kate McClain to benefit the Richardson Bay Audubon Center, in Tiburon.

Roughly 2,000 herons nest at Marin Islands National Wildfire Refuge, just north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. It's the only place on the bay where you can find black-crowned night herons, great blue herons, and great and snowy egrets nesting together. A trip on March 27 will skirt the islands for a close-up gander; Beth Huning, director of the Audubon Center, will paddle along to describe bird courtship rituals.

On April 9, paddlers will hug the coast of Richardson Bay to reach the 500-acre Audubon Bird Sanctuary, where the last of the wintering ducks and other migratory waterfowl should be ready to head north.

Both trips take about 6 hours and cost $65 per person.

California Canoe & Kayak (510/893-7833) will begin its season with trips benefiting Save San Francisco Bay Association. Each will be to a different area where public access is restricted, and both will be attended by biologist Paul Kelly, who blends an understanding of environmental issues with an appreciation of the bay's plant and wildlife communities.

On March 26, the small Brooks Island Preserve, off Richmond, is the destination of a short paddle and a 2-hour walk with the resident naturalist. After lunch, kayakers will explore nearby wetlands.

On April 24, paddlers will tour wetland waterways of San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge at Alviso.

Both excursions will last 5 to 6 hours (limit of 10 people) and cost $75.

Environmental Traveling Companions (415/474-7662), a nonprofit organization, operates bay kayak trips to raise funds for outdoor and environmental adventures for disadvantaged youth and disabled people of all ages.

The most popular are monthly moonlight paddles from Sausalito, next scheduled on March 26 and April 23 and 24. Pairs in double kayaks paddle to Sam's Anchor Cafe in Tiburon for dinner. They convoy back by moonlight, with romantic views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. The $78 cost includes dinner. Trips offered later in the season feature Angel Island weekends, which include meals and an overnight at Camp Reynolds for $175 per person. Themes last year included painting with artist Thacher Hurd, tales of sharks with Steinhart Aquarium director John McCosker, and bay history with author Malcolm Margolin.

Sea Trek Ocean Kayaking Center (800/934-2252) will offer at least two monthly tours this season to benefit both The Bay Institute of San Francisco, which works to restore freshwater flows to the bay and delta, and San Francisco BayKeeper, which maintains on-the-water pollution monitoring patrols.

Richardson Bay's sheltered waters, quirky marinas filled with houseboats, and rich variety of marine life make it popular for kayaking. A day tour (March 26 and April 24) emphasizing bay history and ecology hugs the shoreline north of Sausalito and leads past a sea lion hangout to the Audubon refuge for bird-watching. After lunch, paddlers will cross the bay for people-watching along the Sausalito waterfront. Cost of $120 includes lunch.

A sunset cruise ($60) at 4 P.M. on April 17 covers nearly the same 5-mile loop with fewer stops. The bay's glassy surface glows in pinks and oranges as the sun slips behind Mount Tamalpais. You'll be back in Sausalito around 8.
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Title Annotation:San Francisco Bay, California
Author:Phillips, Jeff
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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