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!

Sailing Adventures – Part 1

For those who don’t know, I’ve retired at the young age of 37. Just kidding! I quit my teaching job of 8 years to explore other creative pursuits and to figure out what I would like to do next. In the meantime, it’s freed up my schedule immensely and given me the opportunity to do things that I wouldn’t have had the chance to. The first of these big things is: Sailing.

A quick history in 2 sentences: I grew up on a sailboat that my parents built. Yeah, we actually lived and sailed on it when I was a youngling.

So, when my dad asked if I wanted to come sailing with him and a couple of friends on the way to get the boat hauled, I said yes. My dad planned an awesome 11 day trip to the Channel Islands on our way to the boatyard in Ventura. I thought I’d share some of our adventures, thoughts from my journal, and some photos.

The adventure started with this view of Savant in foggy Morro Bay harbor. By noon we were on our way, my dad handing over the wheel to me so that I could do my best slogging through a broadside swell as we came out of the harbor. Oh the rolling! What a way to start out, especially with two newbies on board, but they did great!

Our first stop was a sunny Port San Luis. This was my first experience at the wheel while anchoring. Luckily there was only one other boat in the anchorage. Turns our that “grown up me” got a lot more responsibilities than “little kid me”, and it was pretty awesome!

The second day was the longest sailing day, about 60 miles from Port San Luis, around Point Conception, to an anchorage at Cojo. It was another light wind and broadside swell day until we got closer to Point Conception and the wind picked up (not surprisingly!). Even during a less than ideal sailing day, there are benefits of being out on the water. And those benefits came in the form of sunfish floating at the surface, 13 whales spotted, a pod of dolphins checking us out, and a couple pods of feeding sea lions followed religiously by flocks of birds.

Day three journal entry: Not even 8 AM and the surfers have arrived here in the middle of nowhere to surf the morning waves. It's cloudy with small patches of blue, multiple layers of clouds and fog. Some are puffy over the water and the fog looks like its rising from the hillsides, almost like smoke. The breeze is from the west, toppling over the cliffs and into us. The wind smells fresh and salty, blowing from the ocean over the headlands here at Cojo and into my face, maybe 5-10 kts. The surfers are likely sheltered right at the base of the cliffs, but they're probably still cold.  I can hear the waves breaking along a small beach at the base of sandstone cliffs. The striations in the layers are a clear sweep from upper left to bottom right. There's a little bench up where the cliffs end in a sandy dune, and there might even be a path there. Who knows where it leads or if this little beach is the end of the line. There's no habitation, no roads around here except the Point Conception lighthouse and a bunch of ranches in the hills too small to see, yet I'm watching four surfers enjoy a Wednesday morning in this deserted and pristine place. Two old bikes are toppled over in the sand at the base of the cliffs, likely from the two early birds. The other two came in on a red dinghy that they anchored right outside the breakers. They came from down the coast. How far did they travel to get here? Who are they? Why go to such lengths to find the perfect wave? That's easy... The perfect wave makes you feel invincible, like you're part of this wide world that's so amazing. What better place to find that perfection than on a deserted beach where you don't have to share the waves?

On day three we sailed (well, motor-sailed) across the Santa Barbara Channel to San Miguel Island and Cuylar Harbor. It’s part of the Channel Islands National Park. The Island is owned by the Navy, but is managed by the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. Special permits are needed to get onto the island and there’s one campground and a ranger station. Of course, my dad made sure we had all our permits and even arranged for the ranger to give us a guided hike (because people aren’t allowed past the campground without a ranger, even with a permit).

Stay tuned for Part 2 for details about our hike and our first stop on Santa Cruz Island.