Santa Cruz Island August 2020

We are very fortunate in many ways, one of which is our close proximity to the Channel Islands National Park. The islands are just a few miles away, but because those are water miles, the number of visitors is far less than other parks. You can take the Island Packers ferry for a day visit or even camping. We joined the Fairwind Yacht Club a few years ago and sail the club boats to the islands every chance we get.

Our latest adventure was a two night trip over to Santa Cruz Island for my birthday. The plan was to visit some familiar anchorages. The first night would be Little Scorpion, with a second night at Prisoners Harbor. The wind was too light for sailing, so we motored the entire way, about 5 hours. As we approached the anchorage from about a mile out, we could see several boats already in the anchorage. It is high season and this is to be expected. As we dropped the main sail, the wind jumped from <5 knots to 8. It figures we would get some wind just as we got close to our destination! Then the wind jumped to 10 knots and then 13! It was really starting to blow just in time to find an anchor spot amongst the other boats. After accessing the situation, we decided to check the main Scorpion anchorage. The wind was still blowing and while there were no boats, our view was going to be the pier and construction equipment on the beach. We decided to keep moving.

As we continued West, Stephen asked about Potato, a secluded anchorage we passed last year that looked idyllic. According to Brian Fagan’s Channel Islands cruising guide, it wasn’t a good spot for the usual NW winds. Since it was on our way to wherever we were going, we decided to check it out. The anchorage was empty, so we went in and made a couple of circles to scope it out and decided to drop anchor.

Wojo alone in Potato Harbor

There was very little wind and the decision was made to stay for the night. We explored the caves in kayaks. One cave in particular had a low entrance, but once inside it opened up and was quite large. We did some snorkeling, beach combing, and watched the abundant sea life, with many seals and sea lions, pelicans and other shore birds. We have the anchorage to ourselves for the night. Other than a little more rolling during the night then we would have liked, it was a wonderful choice.

Potato Harbor from the kayak – you can see our boat in the center

In the morning, after Stephen pulled up the stern anchor in the dinghy, he found a stowaway, a small octopus!

We continued onto Prisoners anchorage. As we approached, there was only the Island Packers ferry boat at it’s mooring, no other boats! Coming off our starboard were two more sailboats. We arrived a couple minutes after them and waited for them to get anchored. We took up a position in front of them, with the three of us lined up along the West cliffs. Up until now, we’ve always used two anchors here, but the rules dictate the first in the anchorage sets the precedent and they were both on single anchors. We dropped our bow anchor and prepared to go ashore.

Our goal was to complete the trail that leads from Prisoners to Pelican Bay. We had been on the trail a couple times, but never made it all the way. Pelican Bay was the location of the Eaton’s camp and cabins. In the early 1900’s they brought tourists over to the island from Santa Barbara in their boat, Sea Wolf, which Ira Eaton built in his backyard. Margaret documents their story in A Diary Of A Sea Captain’s Wife. The trail turned out to be five miles of fairly strenuous hiking, with lots of ascents and descents. The diversity of plants, from ferns to cactus was amazing. Pelican Bay was beautiful. The water was a beautiful green and surrounded by beautiful cliffs. It looked like a postcard. On our return trip, we came across Island foxes twice. These foxes are only found on the islands and they have no fear of humans. They calmly watch us from a short distance. The hike was worth every sore muscle. During both nights we were treated to a light show because of the bioluminescence. The fish and seals create light trials in the dark water. It was amazing to see the light show put on by the abundant underwater sea life. I feel it rivals anything Walt Disney could create.

Sunrise breakfast in Prisoner’s Harbor

In the morning, we pulled up anchor early and headed to the east side for some possible surfing. Once again, our anchor came with a beautiful purple colored octopus!

A rainbow over Prisoner’s Harbor on our departure

We dropped anchor a couple of hours later on the East end of the island to give Stephen and his friend a chance to surf. Our first attempt at anchoring put us closer to a boat that was already anchored from the night before. The captain was kind enough to walk out to his bow and stand with his arms crossed — which I believe is the international sign for “I think you are too close to my boat buddy”. We repositioned our anchor and they jumped off for the paddle over to the surf break. The waves were pretty small, but they caught some waves and they were the only surfers in the water. They had their own private island surf session.

As we headed home, the wind picked up and we sailed all the way – no motoring necessary. It was one of the best trips yet to the islands only 20 miles from home!

I received the book On Santa Cruz Island for my birthday and read it on the trip. It describes the island and the ranching during the early 1900’s. Other than no more ranching, the island hasn’t changed much since that time. Speaking of books, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a good book about the islands, Islands Apart, written by our good friend Ken McAlpine. He is wonderful author and we recommend all of his books.