I departed Santa Barbara on Nov. 4 on the 1970 26-foot Columbia sloop, Pelamis. This boat had been for sale but no one would make an offer — basically, a boat without value in this market. I’m told one could be bought for $800 or less. It is a good and well-built boat, although the sails are old and repaired. I sailed on a starboard tack with 10- to 20-knot winds directly to Forney Cove at the west end of Santa Cruz Island, and anchored under sail in 25 feet of water about 3 p.m. I carried a full main and a genoa jib the whole way, luffing a bit in windy lanes where it approached 20 knots.
Forney Cove is good shelter from seas in all but southeaster storms. It is protected from the north and northwest by a 500-foot ridge that ends in West End, and from the west and southwest by Fraser Point and the shallow rocks, ending in Bird Rock, that extend toward the southwest. At high tide, westerly swells come over the rocks and make the anchorage rough, and the winds are felt in the cove, blowing right over the ridge, Fraser Point and the rocks. Santa Rosa Island also provides some protection to the southwest; it is only eight miles away. A large kelp forest wraps around Bird Rock and the shoals, and Fraser Point and West Cove break the big seas coming from the northwest. Spray from them flies over the 60-foot bluffs. When a strong northwester blows, you can feel Alaska in it.
I rested the night and went ashore in the morning, landing my kayak by the landing sign placed by The Nature Conservancy, which own this part of the island. My hike that second day was just to Fraser Point and a large white cross with the name Steve Crombie on it. I noticed lots of fox track on the trail and road but did not see any foxes. The wind was increasing and the seals and seabirds were cavorting in the 20-foot seas as they rolled in. The cover on the sides of the bluffs is brown grass about a foot high, razor grass near the water of a greenish brown hue, and chaparral. There are clumps of white morning glory and a few prickly pear cactus.
When I returned to the kayak, the south seas rolled me three times as I tried to return to the boat. From this first time on I landed the kayak further west under the protection of Fraser Point and Bird Rock.
The following day, my third, strong northwester winds kept me on the boat. The beach to land a kayak was directly upwind and I could not paddle strongly enough to get there. I was also sore from the roll in the surf the day before.
When I did get ashore, I hiked up the road to the southeast. From shore, Pelamis sits in a tranquil blue cove surrounded by rocks, while outside the rocks, to the northwest and west, large seas with whitecaps march past. The terns and gulls wheel in the strong winds while pelicans soar just above the water, using the troughs of the waves to avoid some wind. Cormorants dive directly into the roughest waters and vanish.
My attention is drawn to a white water tank on a hill about three miles to the east. Reason would indicate that it must be below some fresh-water source. Less than a mile down the road toward it I came to an old eucalyptus, not a native, that was about 10 feet in diameter at the base but about 10-feet tall and deformed by the winds, trailing off to the southeast as I was headed. I stopped to hug it and commiserate about the wind, and crushed and smelled a leaf. There at the tree there is a fork in the humble road that goes up on the ridge, but my knees would not handle the climb and I continued toward the tank. When I reached the ridge that the tank sat on I could see pools of water in the canyon below and hiked up to the tank. The tank was empty but the water had the kind of growth and life in it that indicates it is perennial … and this is the end of the dry season. I sat by a pool and ate my lunch, and dreamed of following the canyon up to large pools but the limitations of my knees prohibited it. I took a short nap on top of the tank and then started back. While at the island, I was confined to the boat three days by winds but hiked every other day.
A pile of rocks near Forney Cove proved to be the remains of an old stone house, probably from the days when Justinian Caire, a French businessman who made his fortune in San Francisco, owned the island and managed a Mediterranean-style estate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He brought French compatriots directly from the old country and settled them on the island, where they made everything from bricks and nails to famous wines.
From the top of the water tank, a simple wooden shack was visible that would be hidden from the sea and the road. Upon investigation, I discovered it was a shelter with a stove and solar power. I used it daily for midday naps when I hiked and left it enhanced with fox and pelican skulls and someone’s lost hoodie and flannel shirt. I also found a spot to nap in some vines with small fruit that looked like chestnuts. I prepared nopales at the shack.
On Nov. 22, I pulled anchor and sailed downwind to Morse Point Anchorage on the southwest corner of Santa Cruz Island in about 20 knots of wind. I found my way between the exposed rocks of Morse Point and prepared to sail my stern anchor in 40 feet but the marker float line got tangled and I ended up with it in 20 feet instead, which put my bow anchor, placed afterward, in less than 15 feet — not enough. I spent the night worried about my shallow anchoring, but in the morning used the offshore to reset the bow anchor in 30 feet and took up the stern anchor all together to swing on one.
Then I paddled ashore to Morse Point and climbed the bluff to an enclosure there. The enclosure probably dated from the years before The Nature Conservancy rid the island of pigs and sheep. Morse Point is a special habitat, with dozens of small islands and a huge kelp bed. I hoped to walk to Pozo Canyon along the bluffs, and found an old road, unused for years, to follow. I was able to make my way to a deep canyon about halfway to Pozo from Morse Point, and I could see the pools of fresh water but it was difficult to get down into the canyon.
Finally, I was able to scramble down and, since my knees were again at their limit, I ate a lunch of hard salami by the creek. As I was eating, a large raven took up station on the bluff above me and complained loudly … caw, caw! I cut off a small piece and placed it on the cliffside below the bird but it only cocked its head to one side and then the other and looked at it — until I turned to wash my hands in the creek, when I heard the noise of his wings. When I turned back, both the raven and the salami were gone. The bird soon returned with a flock and as I hiked back to my kayak he followed me, coming quite close.
I was unable to get local marine weather in Morse Point Anchorage and could only get Los Angeles and San Diego weather. Still, they were predicting winds below passes and canyons so I was not surprised when santa ana winds blew in the night. They blew right off of 1,300-foot Sierra Blanca so they were strong but warm and no seas with them — a safe situation.
At anchor near kelp beds, and Morse Point and Malva Real are among the largest, kelp flies are a bit of a nuisance. They are persistent and hard to kill but easy to swat. I was ashore most days when they were at their worst.
I went ashore to explore Johnson Canyon and was immediately joined by an island blue jay, a variety larger and more colorful than its mainland cousins. There are also olive-colored warblers in the willows in the canyon bottoms. The canyon floor got moister as I continued up it until I found pools of fresh water about two miles above the anchorage. At that point, the canyon was crowded with bullrushes and cattails and the willows.
That night the fishing boat Katrina came in and asked about the shelter from the santa anas. She had been at China Harbor, recommended but poor due to big northwest ground swells. They joined me that night and gave me a big crab to eat … sweetest of all flesh!
Knowing I could not go cross country to Pozo Canyon, I took advantage of the morning remnant of the santa anas to get there and pulled my kayak up on Pozo beach. It was one of my longest kayak trips, perhaps five miles. At Pozo, there is a marsh on the beach as the fresh water from the canyon mixes with sea water. Vehicle tracks lead up the canyon from the marsh and make hiking easy. It was one of the few hikes where I could hike and look at the same time. The canyon bottom is sandy and level but the water never reappeared. Purple lupine is common along with rattle bush and hummingbird bush. There are a lot of hummingbirds. There is also a bush with red berries, and the fox and other animal droppings indicate everyone’s eating berries. There are California quail with their distinctive calls (like peacocks), and a tree that looks like an aspen.
On Thanksgiving Day, I found myself looking closely at small ducks called surf scoters and wondering if they would be good cooked for dinner … but I ended up eating Spanish mackerel and kelp and being thankful for the sea. The next day I pulled anchor and sailed downwind to Laguna Harbor in Malva Real Anchorage, anchoring in 40 feet. Laguna Harbor is a deep canyon between two 1,000-foot ridges. Coral Point protects it from the santa anas but it is exposed to west wind, although not seas (which come from the northwest here).
I landed my kayak in Laguna Harbor and hiked up through marshes to an oak tree several miles up the canyon. There were a lot of quail and big stands of island ironwood, once a predominant forest on the mainland but extinct for a hundred million years except on the islands. It’s a big tree, about 60 feet, with fernlike leaves. The big oak tree had a tag #202 and was one of the biggest I’ve seen. I climbed onto a limb and shared lunch with a blue jay, and then hiked back down to the beach. The wind had picked up to about 40 knots and blew directly on the boat. I got lucky and got through the surf in the kayak but the wind blew me toward the boat so rapidly that I was back paddling to slow the kayak down and barely caught the boat’s anchor line, stretched almost horizontal in the wind, and lost my paddle.
In the very early morning offshore wind I pulled anchor and sailed for Channel Islands Harbor, a 12-hour crossing that ended with difficulty as a huge squid fleet were plying the deep waters leading into Port Hueneme and their lights blinded me to the navigation lights for the harbor. I made it safely and will be here until Wednesday, when I continue south.
— Lane Anderson is a retired letter carrier, a Vietnam veteran and a 31-year Santa Barbara resident. Upon retirement he ran for city council and, failing to win a seat last month, departed for a long-awaited sailboat cruise into southern waters. This essay originally appeared on his blog; click here to read more.