So there I was right… I’ve been wanting to explore more of the coast in Shell Beach for swimming and my girlfriend has become more interested in kayaking so we’ve been venturing out here and there to swim in new places. We both had today off and made plans to swim from Eldwayen Ocean Park to the beach below Ventana Grill which has a giant abandoned spiral staircase on it that’s not attached to the cliff anymore. Round trip was going ┬áto run somewhere around 3.5 miles when you account for ducking rocks and skirting around kelp. At least that was the plan…

the actual swim came out closer to 2.4 miles instead

We loaded up the kayak on the truck and took it down to the beach. The water was very smooth, the tide an hour from being low, no real wind yet, and the skies were a little overcast with lines of seabirds crisscrossing it. Honestly I was a little apprehensive about this swim since there were so many moving parts and it was the first time trying it out. Kelp, wildlife, rocks, surf, long stretches of inaccessible coast, this was not an outing for novices. While we were getting ready a photographer brought a kid down for some senior portraits which was a little out of the ordinary but fun. We waited for him to get his shots before we drug the boat down the sand into the water.

I wanted to photobomb this soooo bad but mom didn't look like she had a sense of humor about such things :)

getting our gear on the beach

I helped Allison launch the kayak and she paddled out through the kelp and managed to sneak past the one big wave that I saw the whole time we were on that beach. We decided that I would start from the far end of the beach a little further north where there were less rocks and less kelp. I walked down solo and stood in the water a bit to get acclimated. I’d say we were running high 50′s like 57-59 today… the nearest buoy is at 56 right now but that’s too cold based on what I was feeling. After stalling a bit I swam the 200m out to where Allison was waiting for me.

my launch point from Eldwayen Ocean Park

On this leg of the swim down the coast I was largely blind to what was going on since I’m a right side breather, all I saw was the boat, I figured I’d get to see all the stuff on the cliffs on the way back. I did peek out the left side every once and a while to gauge how far we were and which beach access point we were closest to. The swim itself was smooth and we didn’t really take any breaks. I just cruised alongside Allison and occasionally kelp krawled when we hit sections that I couldn’t avoid without going way out of our way. On top of navigating and picking lines through the kelp she was in charge of rock avoidance as well (last time I swam out here I took a rock to the ribcage). We did good with that although I did swim right over the top of a few with maybe 2-3 feet to spare.

Once we passed the minefield that is the rock garden from Margo Dodd to the corned of Shelter Cove we were off in wide open water aiming towards a large rock between us and our goal beach. The rock is a “bird rock” which means it’s covered in a healthy coating of white bird shit. I was very desirous of giving it a wide clearance to avoid the funk that floats around those things. Even swimming wide around it I could taste that thing in the water, gross. There were a ton of birds flying to and from the rock which kinda put me on edge. There was no baitball, but large masses of birds are harbingers of doom to me so I was on high alert.

As we swam towards the spiral staircase the water got funkier, I just wanted to hurry up and land so I could take a break from it. I told Allison to keep me in line but let me hit the beach first so that I could guide her in in case there were rocks or surf or some other unknown that would make getting to shore difficult. I got into pretty shallow water and was almost ready to put a foot down when I heard something bellow at me. Holy crap. I didn’t see who did it, but it freaked me out. I looked at Allison to see if she heard and to see what was going on. She said we’d just gotten the attention of a large number of seals that had been hiding out in the kelp. She counted somewhere close to 30 that came pretty much out of nowhere and some were getting very up in my business. My thought when I heard that was nope, nope, nope… not gonna be the olive in a kelp and shark bacon salad… we’re turning this car around! We never landed on the beach, I just swung around and picked up my pace back toward the rock and told Allison we were going to swim back to the beach at Shelter Cove.

swimming away after almost landing

As we pulled away most of the seals lost interest but about 5 wouldn’t disengage and followed within a few feet of me. They weren’t so intrigued with Allison, they probably see kayaks all the time, but they had a problem with me. It felt aggressive like I triggered off some sort of territorial response. For the most part I couldn’t see them but I could see the look on Allison’s face which was all I really needed to know. The swim to the next beach I could exit at and get to the street was about 1000m. I kept my head down and followed the boat into the kelp in the cove and let her ferret out the submerged rocks. I was keeping my head down a lot too to watch out for stuff hidden in the kelp. I narrowly avoided a few and got rad views of starfish and some normal fish too. The kelp was really thick near shore and I crawled my way over the top of it until I hit clear water and the coarse sand of Shelter Cove. I turned around to look back and my escort party was spread out through the cove with eyes on me. It was really weird.

kelp krawling into Shelter Cove

"I'm watching you..."

Allison and I sat on a rock for a bit soaking in the sun deciding what to do next. I was hoping the seals would get bored and go play with something else. They instead opted to hang out in the shallows and mean mug me from the water. They were keeping their distance but specifically watching me. Eventually we decided my swim was done for the day, only problem was we were a few beaches away from the truck… Allison would have to paddle back to Eldwayen tie up the boat to something on the beach and drive back to get me. Not ideal but it was a nice day and I don’t tend to get cold so that was the new plan.

worse places to be stuck waiting I guess :)

I helped her relaunch and she paddled away up the coast. 2 of our 5 seals trailed her to the corner of the cove but let her go eventually. The other ones continued to watch me and their heads followed along when I went to go talk with some kayakers out on a tour to see if I could bum some sunscreen. They didn’t have any but they did enjoy my story of how I had ended up alone on a difficult to get to beach with goggles and a pink speedo :) Once I got bored with waiting on the beach I walked barefoot up the trail to the hotel and sneaked into the pool area to get out of the breeze and wait for Allison. I have no idea how long it took her to paddle out, get the truck and get back… I didn’t have a watch, but it was a while. She had to fight a breeze and little bit of a swell on the way back up the coast. Ultimately she made it back and got me. We hung out at the hotel’s hot tub for a few minutes and then went to pick up the kayak and rehash the morning. It was fun, a little uncomfortable in a few spots and educational. From here on out as far as I’m concerned the spiral staircase beach is now Seal-pocalypse Beach and I’m not sure I’m ever going back as a swimmer… it doesn’t seem to be the best idea ever…

Tomorrow I’m off to the Santa Cruz Rough Water Swim, say hi if you see me out!

4 Responses to “Sealpocalypse Now… A Not Quite According to Plan Swim in Shell Beach”

  1. Ed Saliklis says:

    Rob, you are totally crazy, I can’t believe I trust you with our Wednesday and Sunday swims!
    Anyway, I’m glad you got out safe and sound… There is a lesson to be learned here, how can we discern what it is? Better safe than sealy? My fate has been sealed?….

  2. Dave VM says:

    Jeez, Rob, what a great story and photos to go with it. You pulled a lot of excellent drama out of little corner of coastline that nobody really knows about.
    Seals can be….creepy.

  3. kathy says:

    You totally inspired me and I unfortunately had a similar misadventure yesterday only mine involved water too shallow to swim (forever reef) and a child abandoning the beach I had to go in search of aborting the swim for good. thank goodness no seals though. I think I’m sticking to our bay.

  4. Niel says:

    Rob, you now know what happens when you crash a seal hangout. They probably thought you were trying to poach one of their girlfriends and decided that they had to run you out of their part of town. Great to find that much of an adventure swim in our own back yard.