Sunday, May 29 , 2016, 9:20 am | Fog/Mist 58º

Chumash Tomol Crossing to Santa Cruz Island Halted by Rough Seas

Dangerous currents disrupt annual event retracing tribe's ancient trading route to Channel Islands

By Mike Traphagen for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians |

The annual Chumash Tomol Crossing began on schedule at 3 a.m. Saturday at Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor, but for the first time in nine crossings since 2001, the 21-mile trip was canceled halfway through the journey because of rough ocean currents.

“The ocean dictates everything, and today she said, ‘This isn’t a good day for a paddle,’” said Reggie Pagaling, a tomol captain and Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians tribal elder.

Organizers knew the waters could be harsh Saturday, which is why only the larger tomol of the tribe’s two vessels attempted the crossing.

The 30-foot tomol named Muptami of Kalawashaq, which made its maiden voyage last year, started strong but began taking on water 11 miles short of its destination at Santa Cruz Island, and organizers determined it wasn’t safe to continue. Support boats rescued the crew and towed the tomol safely back to Ventura Harbor.

“The swells were coming in at every 3 to 5 seconds; that is very rough,” Pagaling said. “We’re used to swells at 11 to 20 seconds. That gives the paddlers enough time to react and recover between swells. This was just too rough.”

The annual Chumash Tomol Crossing retraces an ancient Chumash trading route that can take up to 13 hours depending on ocean currents, wind and fog conditions. This year, Pagaling wanted to make a point to reflect on loved ones who have recently passed away.

“I did accomplish one our goals — I placed our traditional prayer in the water to honor the memory of my uncle Manuel Armenta, Victoria Lopez (the mother of tomol captain Marcus Lopez Sr.), and our family friend Don Sorenson,” said Reggie Pagaling, a tomol captain and Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians tribal elder.

“And about 20 seconds later, a big gray whale came to the surface, blew out a flash of seawater, and when it went back down it gave us a tail salute as we left.”

Organizers of the annual Chumash Tomol Crossing canceled the event three years ago before launch because of rough water conditions.

Dedicated supporters of the annual crossing include the Barbareno Chumash Council, the Chumash Maritime Association, Channel Islands National Park and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

— Mike Traphagen is a public relations specialist for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

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