Fast Raft to Pt Lobos

by Eric Johnson

The best parts of our trip with Fast Raft to the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve came when the boat was moving very slowly. Drifting above the Middle Reef off Whaler’s Cove, watching the bull kelp undulate in the turquoise water; seeing the familiar edifice of steep, rocky, cypress-topped hills from a new angle; and best of all, cruising almost silently in the middle of a pod of almost-white Risso’s dolphins listening to the rhythmic “PFFFs” as they surfaced to breathe. (If there isn't a video just below, please refresh your browser.)

Don't get me wrong; the fast part was a blast too. The Fast Raft itself, Ranger, is a rigid-hulled vessel that sits low in the water on inflatable pontoons. It’s okay to think Zodiac, but this is a military-grade PT 1000, the only one in civilian use. It’s equipped with twin Mercury 250hp Verado 4-stroke outboard engines—yes, 500 horsepower. They’re EPA certified as California Very Low Emission, and super quiet, which makes sense since the Ranger’s gig is to ply the waters of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

After slipping out of the harbor off the Coast Guard Pier in Monterey, Capt. Laurence Henry goosed his boat to give us a taste of what the Ranger can do. Within seconds I felt my face peeling back into a grin as we tore into the wind, practically launching off the big rollers and splashing back down, cushioned on full-suspension Ullman saddles.

The trip to Point Lobos was all kinds of fun. In addition to the thrill of ripping along on top of the waves, I enjoyed getting a new perspective on the Monterey / Pebble Beach / Carmel coastline, my old stomping grounds, picking out landmarks (including our old house on Hawthorne Street in New Monterey).

It took about 30 minutes to reach Point Lobos, and that’s when the day took a new direction. I know Point Lobos like the back of my hand, but seeing it from offshore while gently rocking on the waves was something new. I was glad Lauren was in no hurry.

On the way back, Capt. Henry — an experienced sailor with a degree from the California Maritime Academy — spotted the dolphins and headed out to sea. Once we caught up with the pod he pulled back the throttle and we found ourselves surrounded by these huge (10-plus-foot-long), nearly-white creatures. (The encounter can be seen in the video above, starting at 4:01.)

Looking into the water they seemed to glow; when they surfaced we could clearly see their grey-white skin, massively scarred from battling huge squid—the mainstay of their diet.

These were Risso’s dolphins, a species rarely seen near shore. But then Monterey Bay—which includes the Monterey Canyon, one of the deepest places on earth—is home to many rare species.

Among these species is the Humboldt squid, a ferocious creature that moved into the bay six or seven years ago.

Fun fact from the American Cetacean Society: “While the size of their squid prey is unknown, squid beaks from species that grow up to 12 feet in length have been found in the stomachs of stranded Risso's dolphins.”

Here’s another cool video of Risso’s in Monterey Bay taken in January, including some awesome underwater footage, from video-wielding kayaker Stijn Schiffeleers.