The natural adventures of Kim Powell

Kim Powell, owner, operator and head naturalist of Blue Water Ventures

Kim Powell, owner, operator and head naturalist of Blue Water Ventures (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Water Ventures)


Well known for her women’s adventures, Kim Powell helps women (and lesbians!) get to know the natural world they live in leading women-only whale-watching trips to Baja and eco-tours in Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Manatees of Florida along with other destinations. Every day is an adventure for Kim, owner, operator and head naturalist of Blue Water Ventures in Santa Cruz, Calif. 

Take for example, late last month when she and a group of her kayakers saved a young sea lion that found refuge on one of the kayaks in the Moss Landing Harbor from what appeared to be a sexual assault by a male sea otter.

Leading natural kayaking tours through the harbor to Elkhorn Slough for more than 15 years, the incident was a first for her, she told the Santa Cruz Sentinal.

“Otters will try to climb aboard, and we try to discourage that,” says Kim. “With sea lions, I’ve never had that experience.”

The group of kayakers came upon the scene where, Kim believed were two sea otters matting about 50 feet away. She began to tell the group to move away from the scene, but before her message got to the kayakers, which had just received a safety class, the sea lion made a mad dash for the kayaks with the otter in hot pursuit.

Don’t be fooled by the cute and cuddly appearance of sea otters as the young sea lion learned

Don’t be fooled by the cute and cuddly appearance of sea otters as the young sea lion learned (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Water Ventures)

“The sea lion jumped on a boat on the outside of the raft,” says Kim, who kept the kayakers calm as the aggressive otter came toward them and they paddled away.

Once in the clear, Kim’s co-leader gave the sea lion a push with the paddle and it jumped over her co-leader and Kim’s boats disappearing into a group of sea lions nearby.

That is not a normal day out on the water for Kim and her guests who venture out onto the Monterey and Santa Cruz bays with her. A typical day is filled with gliding through the water learning about marine life, hiking through the woods discovering plants and trees and birds and other creatures, and more for the groups of women, teens and families that explore Santa Cruz and Monterey’s great outdoors lead by Kim and her team.

Santa Cruz is Kim’s home, but she often ventures off to the tropics brining women with her.

This month she’s leading an outdoor adventure for women to Ano Nuevo Elephant Seals and Tidepooling with Betty’s List, a mostly women social organization that is open to gay, bisexual and transgender individuals based in San Francisco. The group will gather at Ano Nuevo State Reserve and Davenport Landing on April 13.
Kim will lead another women’s outing with the Betty’s List to see the whales on a private women’s cruise on May 10.

Women kayakers out on the waters with Blue Water Ventures

Women kayakers out on the waters with Blue Water Ventures (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Water Ventures)

Kim has a strong following among women throughout the Monterey, San Francisco and Santa Cruz Bay Areas. Her women adventures are popular and often sell out.

Other women’s adventures Kim is leading this year include two more whale and seals and sea otter trips on April 26 and 27 respectively in the Monterey and Santa Cruz bay area.

She will then take women to the British Virgin Islands June 7 – 5, Women’s Weekend at Loon Lake August 8 – 11, and Mendocino Sea Caves by Kayak September 6 – 8 before the end of the year.

A natural yearning

Nature and educating people about the natural world has been Kim’s life.

For more than a quarter of a century, Kim, 55, has been leading eco-tours through U.S. national parks before launching Blue Water Ventures in 1995.

She was always leading neighborhood kids on mini-excursions into the woods since the tender age of five, she says.

“I was always the kid in the neighborhood that was organizing some outing into the woods,” says Kim recalling her childhood adventures and educating her peers about the natural world. “The experience was a lot of fun.”

That experience continues today, “there’s a lot of activity and recreation, but there is always an educational component to everything we do,” she says.

Kim grew up in Cleveland, Oh. Her father would bring her gifts of baby alligators and once a baby green sea turtle from his insurance sales trips that took him to seaside locations until they relocated to Florida along the Gulf Coast, she told the Bay Area Reporter.

That early love for nature grew into a passion that would be her life’s work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in environmental anthropology from St. Andrew’s College in North Carolina and earned her master’s in environmental interpretation from Clemson University in South Carolina. She also studied marine science in Belize.

She spent a decade leading trips in the Okefenokee Swamp Park to the everglades in Belize and Central America where she spent nearly half the year traveling and guiding people through the wilderness.

“It was just really taxing to live that lifestyle, but it was also very addictive and I loved it,” says Kim, recalling that period of her life.

Underwater adventure with sea lions in the Manatee in Florida with Blue Water Ventures

Underwater adventure with sea lions in the Manatee in Florida with Blue Water Ventures (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Water Ventures)

Recreational way of life

But after 10 years spending half her life on excursions away from home Kim sought balance. She left her job and the island off of Georgia that she loved and moved to California. She landed in Santa Cruz with no intention of staying, but that all changed when she arrived on the shores of Northern California.

“When I landed in Santa Cruz I just knew this was a place that called to me and spoke to me,” says Kim. It had everything she ever dreamed of, nature and outdoor activities at her fingertips year-round and natural beauty in abundance. “Part of that was because of its natural beauty and there is so much to do in Santa Cruz.”

Ultimately, what got her to settle in Santa Cruz was the “migration of species that we experience here,” she says.

Twice a year grey whales travel through Santa Cruz and Monterey so close that they can be seen from the shore or while dinning at local restaurants that line the cost and piers. The elephant seals come down from Alaska on their way to Central California and the Monarch butterflies flutter through the area heading north every spring.

A few years after arriving in Santa Cruz, Kim fell in love with her life partner of 13 years, Nellie Farstad.

A short while after landing in Santa Cruz, the tug of educating people about their natural surroundings pulled at her again. She started missing leading trips. Very slowly, she began to lead small trips that grew into Blue Water Ventures. The difference this time was that she was in control and decided to focus on only doing trips that she loves and is passionate about, she says.

Migrating grey whales off of the coast of Santa Cruz and Monterey, Calif.

Migrating grey whales off of the coast of Santa Cruz and Monterey, Calif. (Photo: Courtesy of Blue Water Ventures)

Santa Cruz and Monterey offered close-to-home day trip opportunities so that she wasn’t traveling as often and she could focus on her interest in tropical destinations when she chose to take groups to distant countries.

“So, as far as starting a business involving recreation it was a really great fit,” says Kim.

“As a naturalist for me, Santa Cruz is one of the most exciting places to live,” she continues counting off the great weather, music and restaurants as other unique qualities that make Santa Cruz a great destination for travelers and a place to live.

Another benefit was that people were always active doing some sort of outdoor recreational activity.

“There is just so much to do and people are in the mindset to be outside to walk, to bike, to kayak, to stand up board [and] to surf,” says Kim excitedly. “It’s an active community. Probably the most active community I’ve ever lived in.”

Kim can often be found out in the water surfing, in the mountains hiking and taking photos as her way of relaxing, just as much as when she’s working and there is always someone around to keep her company.

“There is always somebody out there that has some flexible time,” says Kim somewhat amazed. “In Santa Cruz, it is the lifestyle and people try to make time to recreate.”

More than 15 years after landing in Santa Cruz she hasn’t lost her passion for the area, she says.

“I’m passionate about Santa Cruz and the wildlife here,” says Kim, touting that there is always something to learn as nature shifts and changes through time.

“We go to these exotic trips, but I’m always so happy to come back to Santa Cruz,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

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