Sailing Adventures – Part 4

We left off last time with a hike between Pelican Bay and Prisoners Harbor.

Day nine dawned sunny and windless. We took our time with breakfast and then headed out for an 8 mi jaunt down the coast to the western tip of Santa Cruz Island to an anchorage called Little Scorpion. Despite the lack of wind, our stubbornness meant turning off the engine and “sailing” down the coast at 2-3 kts with the sails luffing. By the time we got close to the anchorage the wind had come up a bit.

We took a couple passes through the anchorage, scoping out spots and then tried our stern and bow anchor dance. Unfortunately, the combined result of the wind, a steeply sloping bottom and an error dropping the bow anchor meant that we ended up laying perpendicular to the other boats in the anchorage. It was late afternoon, both anchors seemed dug in pretty well and we were tired, so we gave up and let it be.

Journal entry day ten: By the time we woke up, the anchorage had eight boats in it. One was leaving while at least three others jockeyed for their spot. It was ridiculous and claustrophobic and the wind was still blowing. The weather report said there was a small craft advisory for the western part of Santa Cruz Island and Anacapa Island. So we pulled up the anchors and went to find a better spot.

Unfortunately we got waved off at Scoprion Anchorage by a boat that had situated themselves in the very middle of the anchorage. So we continued down the coast to a little cove called Potato. It is completely surrounded by cliffs, with a small opening to get into the bay. A happily barking sea lion colony welcomed us. The winds and swell were from the northwest and straight through the small opening and into the bay.

We kept an eye on the wind and the swells, which kept building throughout the afternoon. Usually the wind and any wind-driven swells die down toward the end of the afternoon, but they didn’t this time.

Towards evening, with the swells still increasing and the wind still strong, Dad and I decided it would be safer and more comfortable to “bug out” and head back to Little Scorpion for the night. Unfortunately that decision wasn’t made until 8:30 pm.

Journal entry evening day ten: Dad pulled the anchor quickly and I fought the swells out of the cove at the helm. I got to the mouth of the cove by the time Dad got back into the cockpit and we literally weren't going anywhere. Momentary panic with the 6-8 ft swells, 15 kts of wind, and cliffs on both sides closing in. Dad reached over and gave her a little more gas, and then freedom. What followed was battling a broadside swell down the coast for about thirty minutes as darkness closed in... Coming into Little Scorpion in the dark wasn't much fun either, but I drove through the anchorage, Dad dropped the anchor and we called it good.

After getting settled back at Little Scorpion we let the adrenaline subside a bit while watching the star-filled sky. The Milky Way swept across the blackness and a few satellites raced from horizon to horizon.

Day eleven dawned bright and breezy and we were off early to get to Ventura by noon.

Journal entry day eleven: I found myself at the helm of Savant once again. All of the sails were up in 12 kts of wind and we were speeding over the water at 7 kts. We finally had enough wind for a decent sail and there was nothing that was going to get me to relinquish that helm. It was beautiful and magical and felt like flying. I could hear the propellor spinning freely, the pitch changing slightly as we got pushed over the crest of a swell or loitered a bit in a trough. We saw schools of dolphins and avoided oil platform "Gail".

We made it to the Derecktor boatyard in Ventura Harbor early and was greeted on the dock by Leonora who is organizer-extraordinaire for the operation. I wasn’t able to stay in town for the boatyard activities, but my dad was happy with the services that were offered, the environmental considerations, and their ability to come up with solutions when problems arose.

Our adventure was over and I was headed home. It’s a trip that I feel lucky to have been a part of, not just for the sailing itself, but being able to share it with my dad was a gift.

Sailing Adventures – Part 2

Back to our sailing adventures. We ended last time having gotten to Cuylar Harbor on San Miguel Island.

Day four was our guided hike. The previous evening Dad got the ranger on the radio and we arranged to meet him at the ranger station at 8:30 AM. The ranger station and campground are at the top of a steep canyon and down the beach at the opposite end of Cuylar harbor as the anchorage and safe dinghy landing sites. The ranger recommended giving ourselves an hour to get up to him once we’d made it ashore.

This was our first beach landing with the four of us in the dinghy and it was going smoothly, until it wasn’t. It was a comedy of errors, but we managed not to capsize the dinghy in the surf and there was only minor blood drawn. The beach was inviting, even in the haze of the early morning, and had been claimed by a pack of sea lions and elephant seals. We gave them a wide berth as we walked toward the trailhead, but they were sleepy and barely acknowledged our presence.

The trail to the ranger station was in fact steep, dusty, and up the side of a sheer ravine in some places. I hiked faster than “the boys” and managed to make my way to the top of the ravine silently enough to see two Island foxes cross the path in front of me and then study me from the brush. One was clearly an adult, but the other, while almost the same size, didn’t have the brown coloration of a full-grown fox yet. It was likely a youngling following momma in search of a lizard breakfast. The noise of chatting carrying up the trail scared them off and I was sad to see them go.

During our hike with the ranger (Eric Oberg – who is absolutely wonderful), who turned out to be a ranger at the Channel Islands Visitor Center on the mainland and doing stints on all the islands, we were regaled with the history of the Channel Islands fox. In summary, they were critically endangered (only 15 individuals on San Miguel). A within-island captive breeding program brought the populations up to a stable size (about 400 on San Miguel) on all the islands and they are doing very well. The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service monitor the populations using radio collars and we happened to run into one of the seasonal workers who monitor the population while we were on our hike. She had her radio antenna out and was hiking around the island trying to get signals from all the foxes. In an effort to monitor their health, she was also setting up to do some trapping to collect samples.

Our hike took us out to a place called Cardwell Point. Along the way Ranger Eric told us with stories about the history of the island (and it’s unexploded ordinances), the flora and fauna living there, the geology of the island, and about the Chumash tribes who colonized and lived on the islands for hundreds of years.

It was a great hike, but after four plus hours of information and talking, the cranky level was ratcheting up, so we headed straight back to the ranger station instead of seeing where the island fox breeding pens were. The rest of the afternoon was spent hiking back to the dinghy and getting back to the boat. Our launch off the beach was much more graceful than our arrival that morning. We rewarded ourselves with some quick sun showers and one of the crew even took a quick dip off the side of the boat. I wrote in my journal: “No one smells too bad, so I’d say we’re totally winning!” It’s funny what’s considered a win when you’re living in close quarters with other people.

The next day (day five) took us from San Miguel to Santa Cruz Island.

Journal excerpt from our sail:  The islands are really different from each other. The northern shore of Santa Cruz Island exhibits cliffs dropping precipitously hundreds of feet into the ocean, filled with caves and nooks that have eroded. They look black with tinges of red oxidized rock and the flatter spots are white with bird crap. We sailed within a quarter mile of the shore and still had 150 feet beneath the keel.

We checked out several anchorage spots on the north side of Santa Cruz Island and finally settled on a little inlet called Fry’s Harbor. There were only two other boats anchored when we arrived and we successfully threw out a stern anchor and a bow anchor, setting both in a smooth J shaped arc of the boat. We celebrated our victory and comfortable anchorage with a boat classic, a strong drink plus cheese and crackers.

Look for Part 3 for our run-in with Island Packers, kayaking, and more hiking!