Howling Santa Ana winds (a.k.a. Santana winds) out of the east were wreaking havoc from Port Hueneme to Goleta, yet out in the middle of the Santa Barbara Channel, winds were calm and the water was glassy.

We had just left the west end of Santa Cruz Island after catching our limits of fish in only a few hours of fishing, plus doing some memorable sightseeing. I had us on a 17 degree compass course, heading for Santa Barbara Harbor.

Humpback whales are known for putting on a show at the surface of the sea.

Humpback whales are known for putting on a show at the surface of the sea. (David Bacon)

Just two miles off the island, we crossed a long meandering current break. It was loaded with kelp paddies and weeds and was being patrolled by a surprising number of California sea lions. Pinnepeds know that schools of baitfish are drawn to current breaks, and those sea lions had dinner on their minds.

Another mile and a half along our course, we encountered a group of about 500 common dolphin. When we got close, they turned and came racing toward the boat to play on the bow wave and in the stern wake waves.

I just gotta love critters who would rather play than do anything. It is particularly fascinating when they cruise alongside the boat, almost close enough to reach out and touch, and turn partway over onto their side, so their eye is looking directly back at the watching passengers.

These dolphin seem to be just as curious about us, as we are about them.

A woman on a recent trip, made a profound comment, based upon her own personal beliefs. She said it seemed like the ancestors who became dolphins, and the ancestors who became humans, were once close friends in the sea. We chose to live on land, and the dolphin chose to stay in the sea.

The dolphin can remember the friendship. We just have some vague sense of it, and can’t help but love dolphins.

That story doesn’t quite match my own beliefs, but I’ll respect and appreciate her beliefs.

Five miles from the island, we experienced the highlight of the trip. Not more than 200 yards off our port beam, a humpback whale breached, catching lots of air, and came down with a thunderous splash.

Then a second humpy did the same exact thing. That did it!  I was waving and cheering wildly, like the eccentric captain that I happily admit to being. As we cruised slowly by, those two whales breached and splashed repeatedly, seemingly to make certain we were properly impressed. We were.

Late December is not the best time of year to go searching for large marine mammals in our waters. The story of our day shows, however, that great fun can be had in our waters even during the slower periods. In about another month, California gray whales will begin showing up as they swim towards their big

— 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.