Saturday, June 9, 2012

Kayaking Monterey Bay

I would not consider myself a novice kayaker.  While I am not yet prepared to kayak whitewater in the Smoky Mountains, I would not hesitate to jump in a small self propelled craft on my own or with a partner.  Please do not confuse canoeing with kayaking - a canoe is deeper, slower, and harder to roll over. It is also far more difficult to flip a canoe back over once it has gone belly up, and I recommend simply dragging it ashore to dump the water. When looking for speed, stealth, and a low draft that makes for easier times in shallow water, the kayak is by far the better choice.
This particular kayaking adventure was another new experience for me. Prior to the beautiful west coast of California (I still generally think of the west coast as Sarasota or Naples, FL), I had kayaked both inland waters and the Florida Keys so I understood the importance of tides, wind, currents, boat wakes, and wildlife. Whitewater rafting prepared my husband and me for the 55°F water, and we gladly donned the less than flattering splash gear. The plastic-like jacket and pants are not lined or particularly comfortable and don't breathe like the popular gym clothing so readily available these days, but don't try and tough it out bare skinned! These clothes WILL keep you dry and much warmer than any sweatshirt or rain jacket. Bring/borrow water shoes too. Trust me.

Me about to head out on a very windy day (note the splash guard clothing).
Whenever you are on the water, wear your sunglasses and sunscreen even if it is chilly or overcast. Sunburns still happen on cloudy days, and peering down into the water beneath you is easier with polarized lenses.  We traveled to Monterey Bay in April, and the weather had been too windy for any whale watching vessels or to kayak outside of the bay into open waters.  The skin seering wind and cold, and the fact that this was a first time experience for us both is why our 2 yr old son did not join us this time around.  Even after the experience, this is likely one adventure we shall save for when he is a bit older and can easily swim safely back to the kayak if dumped - probably closer to 6 or 7 years old.
Now for the cool stuff!
One of the best things about this mini-expedition was the plethora of local wildlife, and I'm not just talking sea gulls. In addition to gulls and pigeons, there were plenty of sea otters, harbor seals, California sea lions, other bird species I do not pretend to know, and even a few large geese. Here comes the educational part of today's blog:
Seals vs Sea Lions
Identification Tip:
Do not confuse seals and sea lions, it offends the locals in the same way as it annoys people who drink Dunkin Donuts coffee vs. Starbucks. So take a moment to get a the short cut on identifying these awesome pinnipeds.  These photos taken while in Monterey Bay should help:
Harbor seal sitting on rocks just below the surface of the water
Seals don't really have a neck. They move around in a very awkward undulating motion when on land, and do not have the long, flexible pectoral flippers that sea lions do. Their tails are shorter than a seal's as well, and they do not have pronounced ear flaps.
Sea lions - ear flaps & long flippers are easy to spot
Sea lions are far more common on television and in animal shows because they move around on land far easier than seals do, and from what I understand have a much better attitude toward their human trainers too.  This is the animal you picture as balancing a ball on its nose and raising its tail in the air. They have extremely flexible necks and distinctively long flippers.

A very good shortcut to understanding this better is I was very happy to have written my descriptors prior to fact checking, and still be accurate (yay!). This particular site also credits their information to Sea World and National Geographic, so we are all on the same page.

Just for fun, here is the angry pair of geese that were not at all pleased about our exploration of Monterey Bay. The male is particularly irritated as my husband gleefully crept the kayak near "their" rocks. As I was in the front of the kayak... not cool, man.

Finally we did maneuver our way around both the New and Old Fisherman's Wharfs.  I now clearly understand the meanings of terms like Cannery Row, wharfs, and other familiars that get tossed around small oceanside towns regularly. Below is a photo of the REAL Fisherman's Wharf at Monterey. This is not a public attraction so much as a location for commercial fisherman and charters to drop off their haul for processing.  The number of sea lions using the lower structures of the wharf was astounding! The photos, unfortunately, were not.  The animals were shrouded in shadows and we dared not venture too close for a myriad of safety reasons that included the choppy waves, unfamiliar currents, and oh yeah, potentially aggressive bulls.
The REAL Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey Bay
The historical wharf is now covered in shops and local vendors and some of the most amazing clam chowder ever. The chowder was just another surprise to me; residing on the west coast of the US gave me the impression the only clam chowder worth eating had to come from New England. Chock it up to another first and another lesson learned!

As just one of many adventures had on this California trip, we covered far more territory that will be coming soon to this medium. Upcoming is a look at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its new jellyfish exhibit, Big Sur, and the redwoods of Pfeiffer, waterfall included.  If you want to share this particular adventure yourself, I can highly recommend the organization we worked with, Adventures by the Sea.  They also had bicycle rentals and other fun options in addition to kayaks. Very cool and relaxed staff despite the fact that we were just another pair of tourists, and we were treated respectfully like locals and talked about local waters and wildlife.  Feel free to check them out!

Stay tuned! And regardless of the cold or rain, just remember it's only water!!

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