Captain Yohn Gideon, providing nature boat tours since 1994. He’s also the owner of the Captain’s Inn at Moss Landing, a unique bed and breakfast.
One afternoon, Ed and I were taking a break away from our computers, walking around the quaint little town of Moss Landing when we came upon an old fisherman cottage that had been remodeled to house the Elkhorn Slough Safari office. I picked up some literature and mentioned it would probably make a good story to interview the Captain. I left my card -- and later that evening I got a call from Captain Yohn inviting me to join a Safari ride the next day as he had an extra seat. Since I was interested in interviewing him, perhaps I would enjoy seeing what he did. Oh boy, was I. Since I come from a fisherman and boat building ancestry, I'm ready to get on a boat whenever the opportunity arises. I had no idea what the boat looked like nor what Captain Yohn looked like, but I figured If I got there early enough, he would be easy to find. When I arrived in Moss Landing, I went to the Harbor Master's office and was directed to the pier by the telephone and was told that was where I would find the Elkhorn Slough Safari boat. My mental image of Captain Yohn was of an elderly seaman with white hair and beard and dark suntanned skin right out of of "The Captain and Mrs. Muir." When I approached a van in the parking lot with Elkhorn Slough Safari signage, I saw a young man in jeans, a blue sweat shirt and a captains hat on top of his red hair. I introduced myself and he smiled his welcome. Okay, I was charmed out of my other image of what a sea captain is supposed to look like. I was one of 20 passengers that day. Captain Yohn says "everyone will have a different experience that they will take from this tour." My reaction was a lump in my throat and finding myself drying a quick tear of emotion as we approached a sea otter feeding himself so close to our boat I could see his facial features or see birds spreading their wings to dry or watching the reflection in the water of a long-necked graceful bird standing in the shallow wetlands. According to Captain Yohn, the Elkhorn Slough is the largest wetland in the State of California. Captain Yohn's wife has her graduate degree from the local Moss Landing Marine Lab Graduate Program in Marine Sources. "We both are committed to the preservation of this special habitat," commented Captain Yohn. Captain Yohn, one of five brothers, joined the Navy a short time after he graduated from the University of Nebraska with a Business Management degree. "I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with my life, so I thought I would serve my country and see the world." I worked in construction during my college years and right after I graduated, but thought I would use my college major in the Navy. "I did get to see a lot of the world," reflected Captain Yohn, "I would always take tours when I arrived in a new location." "That's when I started to think about a tour business and stored that in the back of my mind." After serving in "Desert Storm," he was stationed at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. It was at this time he had the opportunity to visit the Central Coast and not only fell in love with the area, but was introduced to his future wife by a mutual friend. "It was a natural choice to move to this area after leaving the Navy since my wife's family was here and I really loved the area," explained Captain Yohn. "I did a lot of studying about Moss Landing and the Elkhorn Slough before I decided to embark on my Safari business," said Captain Yohn. "I decided that a pontoon boat would be the best design for this type of excursion." The Elkhorn Slough Safari boat has seats that fit two people very comfortably on each side of the boat. The Captain sits in back steering while his Naturalist, Allison explains what is being seen. They cleverly use the passengers to keep count of certain animals by passing out counters before setting out. "By keeping tabs on how many animals and birds are around during certain hours and times of the year, I can schedule better tours. Because I get a lot of historians, scientists and artists who take this tour, I am constantly learning more myself. When asked if there is any bad time to see the Slough, Captain Yohn replied, "I don't go out when it is raining, but right before and right after a rain storm is a great time to see the Slough. Different seasons give you the opportunity of seeing the Slough change and that's always an adventure." Captain Yohn gives guided tours on a regular basis, but you must have a reservation. He gives special rates to seniors 65 or over and to groups of 6 or more. If you are interested in taking this tour, call Elkhorn Slough Safari at 831-633-5555 or visit www.elkhornslough.com. You never know, he might issue you the counter to count the sea otters like I did.