A Paddle Around Humboldt Bay as Pelicans Led the Way
One of the few negative things about working with boat rentals is the
fact that I often send people out under the most ideal conditions, but
have to stay behind on the dock. Terrible, I know, to complain about
something like this, but knowing what pleasure they are about to
enjoy- knowing what I’m missing- always tugs my thoughts a little
towards the longing side.
One day this last season proved to be an especially demanding test for
even as I was driving over the bridge to work, my first customers were
gathering at the gate in anticipation. And who can blame them: a
favorable tide, glassy water, clear skies and summer sweetness was the
order of the morning. In other words, perfect conditions for
kayaking. And I’m working. But I love my job, right? And so off I
go to the punishing task of making someone’s day.
Only today it seems to be everybody’s day. I’m rentin’ boats right
and left, drooling with jealousy as paddler after paddler passes
through my view of the bay and islands. Finally, as I launch what
would be the last rental of the day, I realize that once they are all
back and we close, I can go out myself! This thought is so
revitalizing to me that I even let a late comer take the Hobie 14 out
for an hour after closing time.
But then, finally, my chance has come! Of course I’ve got my boat all
ready to go with snacks, water and gear while waiting for quitin’
time. Now I just need to think of a route. Hefting the boat down the
ramp, I notice a relatively large flock of pelicans do their beautiful
glide landing on the water just off our dock. And I am struck, not by
bird shit like with seagulls, but with a beautiful idea for a route:
follow the pelicans, wherever they went, as long as I could.
In the water and ready to go, I paddle out slowly along the backside
of the pelicans noticing that they are not scared by my presence, but,
hopefully, as interested in me as I am in them. The pelicans take
flight as if on cue, and make for the south end of Indian Island.
Okay, I think, here I go- handing the reins over to the instincts of
another animal! Am I sane, or searching for sanity? I contemplate
the arguments for both sides, and end up at a draw when I reach the
spot where the pelicans still remain. Stopping to gulp some water and
breathe, the pelicans seem to think I’m slacking because they take off
again towards the bridge on the west side of the island. Because it
is a low tide, and because I have never been out and around Indian
Island, I hesitate long enough to say, “Um, … oh well, what the
hell”. The wind that had been blowing well all afternoon died, the
water was calm and despite its low level, I felt game. So paddle I
did, to the bridge and beyond, thinking that it was probably double
the distance around this island at low tide compared to high water
Up around the north end of the island, I saw that ‘my guides’ were
behind me now, and flying v-formation out towards sea. Okay, so I’m
more around than not, but I’m not even sure if ‘around’ is possible at
low tide. And it’s my call now, no lead. “Go for it” I say, to
spite my apparently abandoning leaders. And sure enough, I make it
around not just Indian but Woodley Island, too. Paddling back up the
Eureka waterfront from Samoa bridge to our dock at F Street, watching
the sun go down, the pelicans came back out of nowhere for one more
flyby. And there was just something about the moment that made me
think the pelicans were trying to say, “Hey, you trusted us.
We didn’t leave you,we were watching all along. We just wanted to
give you an opportunity to push the trust in yourself.” And as I drove
home back over the bridge, looking at the path(s) I had just journeyed,
what else could I say- but Thank You!
-John, who used to work for Hum-Boats Sailing and Paddling Center in
Eureka, can now be sought after somewhere among the waters and
wildlife of Mendocino.