Click photo to enlarge
TONY HICKS/STAFF Tony Hicks and daughter Lucy enjoyed a morning on the water before the sea lions raised havoc.

You know how they say not to mess with wild animals?

Don't mess with wild animals.

Of course, the theory is problematic when you don't actually see the wild animals until a dozen or so are diving off a rock and heading straight for you.

It wasn't the prospect of a sea lion encounter that had me concerned earlier that day when I eased into a kayak to paddle out to my oldest daughter's new boat in its berth. The 23-year-old has a new sailboat, on which she now lives in Monterey harbor. She rowed her little sisters out in a dinghy, while my wife and I followed in a kayak. I would've been much happier to see the sailboat parked next to a dock, especially after hearing a story about how a killer whale once invaded the harbor because of its abundance of tasty sea lions. I kept seeing visions of an orca popping my 4-year-old into its maw like a pizza roll.

Nevertheless, the oldest kid -- we'll call her Brittany, because that's her name -- impressed me with her sea savvy. She's a professional kayak guide; since she was able to get me onto the water without killing me, I trusted her with the other kids. It was probably only about 100 yards of paddling.

It turned out to be a good warm-up for what was to come.

Promising start

As Brittany loaded the three other girls onto her sailboat, my wife and I took a spin around the harbor. We shot pictures of a couple of sea otters lounging nearby and were generally having a good time once the leg cramps subsided. We ended up back on the boat, which is big enough to hold about four adults down below. I was pretty impressed.


Advertisement

Not as impressed, however, as I was 30 minutes later when I realized how fast I could paddle.

Buoyed by the calm water and the visible absence of orcas, we took the 4-year-old back to land on the kayak via the scenic route, along the far shore. We were having such a grand time that my wife pointed toward some tall rocks and suggested we swing over to check out the pelicans perched there. Yes, what a great idea, I said, fairly certain that pelicans don't eat humans.

Then the rocks below the pelicans suddenly woke up.

We had no clue they were there, but about a dozen barking sea lions cascaded off the rocks. OK, I thought, since we didn't see them, they didn't see us, and we startled them into the water. They will linger a bit, climb back up on their rock and resume their collective nap.

That's not what happened.

Crucial decision

The pack -- herd? flock? -- shifted in formation and started swimming toward us. This was when I had to make a decision: start paddling like a dozen large wild animals were chasing us -- which they were -- or use my paddle to defend my daughter. I chose the former because, after all, I wouldn't like it if a bunch of sea lions suddenly woke me from a nap and started hitting me.

I yelled something to my wife that I can't repeat in a family newspaper, but it translated roughly to: "We should consider moving in the opposite direction in a nonleisurely manner." The next two minutes may have been the greatest display of speed-rowing in human history. Luckily, our pursuers peeled off after only a few dozen yards. They were sending a message about their territory. Thanks, guys. Message received.

I thought I heard otters laughing from the other side of the harbor.

My daughter, of course, thought it was all great fun. She laughed and pointed at me when I stopped rowing and, panting heavily, wondered aloud if paramedics could bring those electrical thingies out on the water to restart someone's heart.

When you see signs telling you the cute animals can be dangerous, pay attention. Keep your eyes open. Even if they don't get you, they can still nearly scare you to death.

Contact Tony Hicks at thicks@bayareanewsgroup.com or at Facebook.com/bayareanewsgroup.tonyhicks.