Wednesday, May 23 , 2018, 3:46 pm | Overcast 66º


Captain’s Log: Santa Cruz Island’s Painted Cave a Spot of Splendor

The sights and sounds of nature and the wonder of sea life combine to create a scene of serenity

I’m in the mood to share my favorite place in the world, a spot of splendor so captivating and inspiring that many, including myself, consider it a spiritual place. I’m talking about Painted Cave on the front (north) side of Santa Cruz Island, in the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary.

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

Painted Cave is where I marvel at the natural forces of nature, where I enjoy sea life and, perhaps most importantly, where I feel most at ease communing with my maker. Forces of nature — I’ve heard geologists theorize that the cave was a lava tube — created the world’s longest sea cave. Sea life abounds. Colorful birds fly in and out of the long cave, and sea lions regularly swim in and out from a haul-out spot deep inside the cave. As for communing with my maker, this just seems where we are most at ease with each other, making it a perfect spiritual meeting ground.

It is a compelling and gorgeous spot that strikes a chord deep inside nearly everyone I have taken there. People first drop their jaws and loudly acclaim the beauty of the cave, but soon become quiet and pensive as the power of the scene overwhelms them. Visitors often quietly cry. I’ve done it myself. It is that powerful.

The sights of the natural colors on the stone walls and ceiling, the dripping and trickling of water as it percolates through the rocks above, the wonder of sea life, the beauty of the cave environment and the feeling of peace combine to put a person in a serene mood.

While often so calm and serene that humming “What a day for a daydream” seems natural, Painted Cave can become a treacherous, surging trap of destruction when large, open ocean swells funnel into the entrance and wash the walls. Seasoned skippers always monitor swells and pause to watch the entrance for several minutes before making the decision to enter the cave.

Yes, boats can enter the cave, when calm seas permit. Even big whale-watching boats nose partway into the picturesque opening, and camera flashes go off like a miniature fireworks display. Midsize vessels, such as my WaveWalker, can go deep into the cave. Small skiffs can go all the way to the back with the aid of flashlights.

The sandy, muddy ledge in front of the cave was considered a good place for halibut, and neighboring cliffs and boiler rocks were great for calico bass, until the area was closed to angling. So, if you have fishing gear aboard, stow it before approaching Painted Cave. It’s important advice for many, since anglers — perhaps the greatest on-site constituency of the sanctuary, yet the least served — visit Painted Cave regularly.

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

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