Kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough

“Are we going to kayak in the rain?”  The question is asked again and again by nervous Scouts whose concept of a fun outing does not include being outside when the weather turns bad.  “Can we just go home? Can I stay in the car? Can I call my mother and ask her to pick me up?”  Their anxiety is building as we break camp in a downpour.  Challenged, the Senior Patrol Leader spreads the word,  “Yes we are kayaking.  Yes you have to man up and deal with the weather.  No you can’t weasel out.  It won’t be so bad.  Just do it.”  The Troop finishes loading equipment into our vehicles for our short drive from Sunset Beach to Moss Landing. Too late to turn back now.

We pull into the large parking lot and the boys emerge from the cars.  Scouts make their way over to the equipment shed and get fitted for wet suits and PFDs.  The rain is finally slacking off.   Spirits are starting to lift.  The boys start joking with each other about how good they look in wetsuits and their plans for somehow knocking Matt into the water.  Time to get started.

Kayaking in Monterrey

Getting ready for the kayak

We get our long paddles (hold them vertical so you don’t smack someone in the head) and march down to the water’s edge.  A short talk about the rules of wildlife engagement, “Stay 50 feet from ocean mammals, especially sea otters.”  Buddies select their kayaks and drag them down to the water.  (Two boys per kayak, biggest in the back.) Everyone pushes into the ocean and the adventure begins.  The rain is hardly an issue anymore.

The Troop forms a colorful armada of 18 yellow kayaks powered by Scouts in blue /black wetsuits wielding 36 red paddles that are moving constantly.  We paddle cautiously through the shallow water, training ourselves how to paddle as a team.  (The Scout in front sets the pace.)  Scouts are serious and engaged in the task at hand.  No one wants to accidently flip over and fall into the ocean.

Getting together on the water

Troop formation on the water

Within a few minutes we experience our first crisis.  A sea otter with a large clam balanced on its stomach suddenly appears right in the middle of our group.  The guides start yelling for everyone to back off at least 50 feet.    Unfortunately, one of the adults left his glasses in the equipment room and he can’t see that his kayak and the sea otter are on a collision course.  Just when everyone thinks the otter is doomed, it disappears under the water and reappears a few yards away, still working on the clam.  Disaster averted.  We successfully avoid the other two dozen otters that have maneuvered into position to watch the excitement and propel ourselves into deeper water.

The more confident Scouts paddle their kayaks towards the docks to get a closer look at the sea lions lounging on the pier.   They soon discover that there are also dozens of sea lions swimming around their kayaks.    All around the little yellow boats, sea lion heads are popping out of the water, sometimes just a few feet from a Scout.  The sea lions seem curious.  They circle our kayaks, checking everyone out.  The boys are curious also, but also wary of the big mammals.  Sea lions are huge (male sea lions can grow to more than 600 pounds) but not usually aggressive.  We paddle away and the sea lions do not follow.

The guides begin waving their arms and the Scouts paddle in the direction they are pointing.   We pass under a bridge and hear the traffic on Hwy 1 above us.  Our voices echo as we ooh and ahh at the urchins and barnacles plastered all over the dark and slimy bridge supports.  There are bird nests above us in the trestles.  Sea gulls are everywhere looking for food.  Scouts are entering a different world as they glide with the tide into the Elkhorn Slough.   

After a while, the group paddles into an area inhabited by harbor seals.  They are on the shore and in the water on both sides of the kayaks.  Seals are not as large as the sea lions but they are just as curious.  Seal heads are visible everywhere (we notice that they have no ears) and they constantly appear between the kayaks, sometimes as close as five feet from a paddler.  We try to keep our distance but it’s impossible.  There are just too many to avoid. For a brief time, Scouts and seals peacefully co-exist as the Troop journeys through their saltwater habitat.  By now, the rain, while still falling steadily, is totally forgotten. 

After an hour, the guides give the signal to turn around and head back.  It’s more difficult paddling against the tide and our progress is slower.  On the return, one of the younger Scouts becomes excited because he thinks there is a dog swimming with the seals.  Pressed for proof by the older boys, he says it looked like a beagle diving in the water.   After a brief debate, they decide that a beagle’s big ears and general body shape would make it unsuitable for joining a harem of seals.  Plus a beagle doesn’t have the right kind of feet for diving.  The young Scout probably saw a deformed harbor seal instead.

Scouts on Kayaks

Scouts kayaking in the rain

Eventually we pass under the bridge again and work our way through the sea lions, past the sea otters, and back to our starting point.  The kayaks are beached and then carried up to the landing.  Everyone is soaking wet; part rain, part splash from the paddles, and part wading into the water with the kayaks.  Scouts hurry back to the equipment room and change out of wetsuits and into whatever dry clothes they can find.  (It was warmer in the wetsuits.)   At the pizza parlor on the way home, Scouts reach a consensus that kayaking in the rain is cold but it also fun.   Maybe next year the weather will be better.

Monterrey Bay Kayaks is a familiar place for Scouts.  For the past 25 years, they have entertained and educated boys from all over Northern California.  They have several trips.  Two of the most popular with Scouts are Elkhorn Slough (which is interesting and relatively easy) and Monterrey Bay which is harder and will appeal to older boys who have already been to the Slough.   Bring an extra pair of shoes and socks, especially when it is raining or cold.   There is a Scout discount if you ask for it.   Budget  in the $50 range per Scout plus gratuity for the guides.