Chart of Channel Islands

Changing Channels

Oct 19 - 29, 2015

We had the pleasure of visiting 4 of the 8 Channel Islands. The difference in atmosphere from urban San Francisco and even Half Moon Bay to these areas of more wilderness, really did seem like changing channels.

Although each island has its own flora and fauna, they all share a hilly ruggedness and a dry climate. There are few, if any, places that would be considered all-weather anchorages. When deciding where to go it was necessary to consider both wind direction and strength, as well as swell height and direction. Most of our time there had significant swell and wind from multiple directions so almost every anchorage was exposed to something. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our time here, especially in the less developed islands.

Santa Cruz Island

After leaving Santa Rosa (previous journal entry), where we deemed it too windy and swelly to go ahore, we tucked into Albert's Anchorage on the south side of Santa Cruz Island. The high cliff just 50 m west of our boat dominated the scenery. It appeared fairly uniform, dark and made for an early sunset. However, the morning sun on the wall revealed a greater array of colour and texture – surprisingly beautiful. In front of the small beach at the head of the cove was a reef that followed the shore and paralleled the cliff. Two reef fish at Santa Cruz Island Despite the disappearance of our sun just after arrival, it didn't take long for Bjarne to don his mask and snorkel. Barb chose to wait for the morning light and warmer air temperature. The snorkelling highlight, in addition to the fact that the water was getter warmer (although one still needs a wet suit if staying in for any length of time) was the kelp. Great tall strands reached up to the surface. while rays of sun streamed into the water, lighting up the graceful swaying green leaves.Kelp stretching up to sun at Santa Cruz Island Bjarne discovered a well-disguised fish hiding in the leaves, with just the right shades of yellow, green and brown to blend in.

We tested out our stern anchoring system here in hopes of reducing the effect of the swell, finding and correcting a few glitches. Currently it is a bit challenging to deploy as some parts of the rode are too thick for the chocks so it means manually taking all the weight of the anchor and chain for a time. We get the brute squad (Princess Bride reference) to do that part. We have some thoughts about how to improve the system – add it to the list. Good thing we tested it in benign conditions as we needed it in a bit more of hurry at Santa Catalina Island.

On a peaceful, clear morning, as we prepared the boat to move to the east side of Santa Cruz I. we were distressed to see a huge black plume of smoke! Large smoke plume from burning boat between Santa Cruz and AnacapaQuickly tuning into the VHF we heard calls to the Coast Guard about a boat on fire. Fortunately, there was at least one other boat closer than us and the folks on the burning boat all got off safely. As it was about 8 miles away, and we had two anchors out, we might have been able to get there in an hour and half. The folks were returned to their home port on the mainland but, as far as we could tell, their boat was destroyed. Events like this can't help but make us wonder how these things happen, what can we do to avoid them, and speculate what would we do in such a situation.

Smugglers' Cove was more of an open roadstead. We dropped anchor in clear blue water, near the Coast Guard mooring ball. Waves built into interesting large curls and crashed onto the long beach shoreline as the swell rolled in relentlessly. The Coast Guard did show up later US Coast Guard on mooring at Santa Cruzto claim their mooring and we amused ourselves by noticing how long it took before they remembered to turn on their anchor light. Wisely, we refrained from calling to remind them.

We had hoped to snorkel over a wreck marked on the chart but couldn't find it. From a snorkelling perspective there was little to see, but the swimming was pleasant. Plans for a hike ashore were also altered as a dinghy trip through the onshore breakers did not look appealing. Bjarne, who grew up on the west coast and spent summers playing in waves, swam ashore. With much coaxing and coaching, he lured me through the surf onto land. Thus, we were able to walk a short distance in our swim gear to inspect the olive and eucalyptus trees - all looking very dry. Getting back through the surf required more coaxing. Bjarne took my fins for me, saying it would be easier without. He would give them back once through the breakers. I was instructed to wait closer in to shore until it looked like a smaller wave set coming in, and then quickly swim past the point where the waves break. How am I supposed to tell where that is? I swam like crazy. Somewhat breathless, I finally popped my head up and looked back. Bjarne was way behind me, calling out, “You forgot your flippers!

We weren't hearing a lot of news but wanted to know about our election. We hadn't been able to find out on the USA news who our Prime Minister was. It took a few email requests, but eventually we got that information and more details about our local representatives. We also were informed the Blue Jays were just a couple of games away from making it to the World Series. Woo hoo! The evening was calm and warm, a perfect night to sit in the cockpit and listen to a game on the single sideband radio. It was an exciting game, but a disappointing conclusion, and so ended our short-lived interest in more worldly affairs.

In the wee hours before dawn we left Santa Cruz Island. Nice to have some stars to steer by. As soon as we detected a breeze we canned the engine. We had given ourselves good amount of time to cover the 40 miles to Santa Barbara so we had the freedom to sail slowly. We did motor several times but were pleased to keep this at a minimum. Numerous dolphins were spotted but none stuck around; presumably we were too slow. As we approached Santa Barbara, the fins started to look different. Wait, those are sea lion flippers! We were amused to see some of these excellent swimmers drifting by on big clumps of free-floating kelp rafts. I guess every one appreciates a free ride now and again.

Santa Barbara Island

Santa Barbara Island is home to one (or more?) sea lion colonies. On our first night at anchor (we arrived just before 17h00, aka Happy Hour) quite a few individual lions swam around the boat, checking us out. We've seen sea lions perched on fairly high buoys, thus wondered if they could get up onto our boat. Half expecting to wake up to a sea lion in the cockpit, we closed the hatches and went to bed with the moon and a fishing boat to keep us company.Fishing boat in moonlight at Santa Barbara The morning was uneventful in this regard. We later heard about some sea lions doing a fair amount of smelly damage to boats that they could board, so are grateful we didn't have to deal with that (yet?). Again, the snorkelling was not great but some sea lions did pass by below us. They were clearly scoping us out but presumably deemed we were not enough fun as they didn't stick around. Although very exciting to be in the water with these wonderful creatures, there was also some relief that they didn't come too close.

The anchorage at "St. Babs" is really just a patch of shallower sand-bottom along the eastern shore, and has a landing allowing access to the island. Santa Barbara boat landing placeTo go ashore via dinghy one rows up to the tall dock, times the surge from the swell to grab hold of and climb the ladder, and then uses the crane to lift the dinghy up onto the dock, which was about 20 feet up. (A similar system is used at Niue in the South Pacific, although when we were there it wasn't functioning due to a recent cyclone.) That seemed like more trouble than it was worth so we put a few things in a dry-bag and swam ashore for a tramp on the island. From the friendly volunteer naturalist we learned about the work to restore the island to its pre-human ecosystem to encourage more birds, including some endangered ones, to stop over. Walking up from landing place at Santa BarbaraIt took over 30 years to eradicate the rabbits that had been brought to the island by a family that tried unsuccessfully to farm it. Good plants included the prickly pear cactus and a type of inedible cucumber.Walking up from landing place at Santa BarbaraThe ice plant, although coating the island in an attractive reddish hue, is invasive and on the hit list.

Hiking to Signal Hill on Santa Barbara It was good to stretch the legs and get the heart pumping a little on this dry, hilly island. The views from the other side of the island, with the small Sutil Island just off the southwest shore, were lovely. We would have happily traipsed around more but our plan was to be anchored at the next island by dark that day. Sutil Island at Santa Barbara

Santa Catalina Island

Regretfully, we had to motor quite a bit to reach Santa Catalina I. before night fell. Upon reaching Catalina Harbor we were frustrated to discover that the bay had been thoroughly infested by mooring balls, which one could rent for a fee. Bjarne refers to this as an extortion racket. Barb is irritated by the complete overtaking of what should be a public resource. Older information from the guide books still had some anchorage space available. As dusk fell, we found what we took to be a clearing between some moorings and happily settled in for a fairly calm (i.e. not too rolly) night. Unfortunately, before breakfast the harbour authority came by and informed us that our location was unacceptable. Apparently, we were in a fairway (not on the chart) and there were unused but unrecovered mooring chains littering the bottom there. The search for a more suitable spot was difficult. It took two tries and the use of our stern anchor to park ourselves in an narrow spot fairly close to some rocks. We figured the stern anchor should hold us off. We kept an eye on things for a couple of hours and then went ashore.

Santa Catalina I. is mainly privately owned and is the most developed of the Channel Islands. Almost every decent bay is filled with private mooring balls. We counted 121 in Catalina Hbr, of which about 1/5 were in use. Bjarne overlooking the mooring-infested Isthmus Cove The island itself is quite beautiful. It too is hilly and dry, but there is more vegetation than the other Channel Islands and the earth has lovely reddish tones. We were amused to discover the arid equivalent of a water-hazard on the disc golf course - a large stand of cactus! Large stand of cactus on Disc-golf course

We wandered into the small town of Two Harbours and amused/shocked ourselves by looking at some of the prices. The small Red School House reported that it was closed this year as there were only two students registered. According to a hiker we encountered, there is a very challenging hiking trail running the length of the island. We travelled along a small portion of it, eyed the next long hill and decided we'd gone far enough (good thing really, when one considers what was happening back at Hoku Pa'a). We did take some photos of the beautiful bay.

Coming back down, we were quite surprised to see a buffalo!Buffalo on Santa Catalina That explained the buffalos on the local tourist t-shirts, and the piles of dung that seemed to come from a very big horse. We also had the good fortune to spot a small fox; Fox on Santa Catalina Islandthey are apparently quite shy and not encountered regularly.

Upon return, the tide had dropped and Hoku Pa'a was uncomfortably close to some very pointy bits. Yet another reanchoring put us in a ridiculously deep (65 feet) part of the bay, which meant that our scope for the anchor was quite poor (when the anchor line angle is too steep relative to the ground, the anchor is more likely to drag). Fortunately, we held through the calm night but after breakfast we noticed Hoku Pa'a was straying. Enough of this. Off we went to the south part of the island.

We anchored in a rather exposed spot on the south part of Santa Catalina I, called Silver Canyon. Silver Canyon anchorage on Santa Catalina IslandDuring the afternoon it wasn't bad - not too rolly and the anchor held well in the wide sand bar. We were content to stay there until our planned departure for the mainland at 0300h the next morning. How bad could it be for just a few short hours? The wind picked up and became more southerly over the afternoon. By dark we were making like a salad (tossed that is). Despite an early bedtime, we got little sleep in the violent motion. I must say though, that the anchor held very well. It was a relief when it was time to get up for our early departure. Under a bright moon and a few stars, we set sail for Oceanside and our friends, not feeling too regretful about changing this channel.

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