North of San Francisco, Tomales Bay is a destination that I’ve driven to a handful times when guests have come to visit. The main purpose of these trips is to eat oysters by the shore. After claiming a picnic table at Hog Island Oyster Company or Tomales Bay Oyster Company, one can order various sizes of Pacifics to shuck and enjoy raw or cooked over one of the open grills. The staff sells oyster knives and shucking gloves for use. And if asked, they will even show a novice how to shuck her very first oyster.
In my mind, I always equated Tomales Bay with weekend picnics, warm sunny days, and of course, oysters. Thus, when a friend asked me to go to Tomales Bay for kayaking after sundown, I was not sure what to expect. Kayaking has become a popular recreational activity on the bay. According to the National Park Service, Tomales Bay is the “largest, unspoiled coastal embayment on the coast of California.”
Most of the kayaking trips that I have found in the area are run by Blue Waters Kayaking. Of the tours offered, my friends and I registered for their Bioluminescence Tour on July 4th near Marshall Boat Works. Our confirmation email provided a long list of the items we needed to bring including warm layered clothing, water, and most importantly, headlamps.
It was surprising to me that I could see bioluminescence in the waters so close to home. I always thought one could only see such things in the warmer climates of Southeast Asia or Florida. The experience of seeing such natural phenomenons is magical and somewhat surreal. I didn’t want to pass it up especially if it only costs me a two hour drive from San Francisco.
For only $78, the three hour tour included two experienced guides per group and all of the kayaking gear necessary such as life jackets, paddles, and spray skirts (which I thought were ingenious in keeping dry!). Before we set ourselves into our kayaks, our tour guides did a thorough job going over safety procedures and paddling methods. The overview helped us to sustain energy and not tire out our arms so quickly. Once in our kayaks, they checked on each of us to ensure we were comfortable and geared up correctly. I felt extremely safe and prepared for kayaking in the dark after the quick orientation.
We set off right before sunset, and under the fading light, we could see herons sweeping across the water, small marine rays, and sea otters. There was tremendous peace at dusk that was only interrupted by the independence day fireworks set off by Tony’s Seafood Restaurant. After the oohs and ahhs from the sparkles in the night sky, we were told by our guides to turn off our headlamps. By this time, the sky was pitch dark and the clouds covered the moon. Sending our paddles down again in one sweeping stroke, we saw the pale blue sparkles dancing visibly now in the water. The bioluminescence was more luminous than we imagined.
The point and shoot camera that I used did not do justice capturing the images we saw. Below are some pictures taken with better cameras from others to give you an idea…or you can just wait until you see it with your own eyes.
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Author: Jenifer Lam
Feature photo: Blue Waters Kayaking