The Potato Patch is a gnarly, snarly, troubled patch of water with bipolar disorder — at the west end of Santa Cruz Island, where Ma Nature is known to practice severe and deviant behavior. Boaters should be very wary of the Potato Patch.

Powerful northwest-flowing currents in a constantly expanding/contracting area, just west of Fraser Point, oppose large swells coming from the northwest, forcing those open-ocean waves up and up and up.

A man wearing a baseball hat, tan lightweight jack and white T-shirt holds up a calico bass he caught at Frazier Point on a calm day.
Scott Marshall fishes for calico bass at Frazier Point on a calm day. Credit: Courtesy photo

The currents are inconsistent, creating sudden towering surprises whenever the velocity suddenly ratchets up and forces swells upwards.

How big do they get? I recall one day on a charter, while rounding Fraser Point a good quarter mile off the island on relatively flat seas, when a monstrous swell rose up under my vessel. I slammed the throttles of my big twin outboards forward to warp speed to overcome the raging current and the lift of the wave.

I was just able to stay ahead of that steep watery mountain, and I’ll never forget the looks of awe on my passengers’ faces while they watched a 30-foot wave threatening to break on us from behind. With motors, as with politics, power has advantages.

Weird things happen at the Potato Patch. For example, roiling underwater eddies occasionally collide to produce amazing aberrations of nature.

On another charter trip we were traversing the area on a calm sunny day with no apparent cause for wariness, when Ma Nature struck a surprise blow from below.

Fortunately, this salty ol’ skipper never lets my guard down, and I was ready to react when multiple swirling eddies slammed together to force an 18-foot wave to rise up right in front of us.

There was no time to alter course and run from it. I bellowed, “All hands hang on tight, right now!”

I spun the wheel just enough to keep the bow climbing up the wave and gunned the engines just enough to hold our position. The wave passed under us and conditions remained calm and comfortable the remainder of the morning.

So why on earth would anyone want to take a boat into the Potato Patch? Good question.

Answers include: 1) The area is absolutely gorgeous. 2) The most natural course around the island lies right through the Potato Patch. 3) There are more fish there than you can shake a fishing rod at. 4) There is something in our human nature that makes us want to tempt the dickens out of Ma Nature. What’s up with that?

I won’t tell you to stay clear of the Potato Patch. You might think I was trying to keep a great fishing honey-hole to myself. But I will advise boaters to watch the water carefully and give the area a wide berth when conditions look unstable.

Whenever you do enter the area, keep alert and watchful.

I recommend avoidance of the area to inexperienced boaters who might want to earn some stripes before venturing knowingly into the treacherous waters of the Potato Patch.

— 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. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.