A Paddle Around Humboldt Bay as Pelicans Led the Way

 A Paddle Around Humboldt Bay as Pelicans Led the Way


John Walsh


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.

Emerald contributor since July 2019


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