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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 7:57 pm | Fair 56º


Captain’s Log: Of Rogue Waves and Weird Water

The 'potato patch' off Santa Cruz Island is known for its powerful currents and giant waves — but the fishing is great

All eyes turned forward and jaws went slack as a 14-foot rogue wave climbed from the sea without warning and bore down on us. I spun the wheel to turn the bow into the wave and bellowed for everyone to hang on to something. The green breaking crest doused us all as the WaveWalker braved another adventure at sea and kept us all safe.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

We call them rogue waves because we can’t explain their origin. But in this case — even though the term was used liberally by my passengers — I knew the origin, and so it wasn’t a rogue wave, just a result of being where the water gets weird in scary ways.

We were cruising through the area known as the “potato patch” at the west end of Santa Cruz Island near Frazer Point. The water there seems to develop a mind of its own because powerful currents (I’ve seen the current carry away a 12-ounce torpedo weight) race around the end of the island, often times moving uphill (against the wind and waves). It creates steep and very unpredictable waves.

To compound matters, the underwater topography guides the currents and creates collision areas where strong and swirling currents coming from diverse directions collide to create sudden and large waves. The waves seem to jump right up from a fairly calm surface, as did the breaker we braved this day. An experienced skipper never breathes with ease near the potato patch.

So why do we go there? Fishing is great! Those currents bring plenty of food to the impressive fish who live and forage in the area. Lots of food means lots of fish. We catch rockfish, lingcod cabezon, ocean whitefish, sheephead, calico bass and other delectable critters. When fishing is good here (quality of fishing here is driven by the currents), it is very, very good.

I strongly recommend against surfing this area. The waves are inconsistent and unpredictable, and the currents often become too strong to paddle against. Even boating near the potato patch can be risky when the currents are raging uphill against big swells and wind waves. When approaching the area, seasoned skippers watch the water ahead, always ready to alter course to avoid the area. Going a few miles out of the way is a reasonable price to pay for safety.

The remainder of our day was a safe fish-filled adventure, but we maintained a rogue wave watch throughout the day.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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