Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Santa Cruz Island, Ventura & Oxnard, California

Sapphire Princess at anchor in Santa Barbara.
On Tuesday, October 16th we got fuel and left Santa Barbara for the Channel Islands; specifically, Santa Cruz Island.  The 25 miles across the Santa Barbara Channel to Prisoners Harbor was probably as good as it gets in Southern California (SoCal).  After leaving the Santa Barbara Marina and Stearns’ Wharf behind us, we found ourselves facing a cruise ship anchored offshore from the Santa Barbara breakwater.  Uniformed men were skippering speed boats filled with cruise passengers to and from shore as we made our way past the Sapphire Princess.

Sailing in Santa Barbara Channel.
Shortly after passing the cruise ship we found ourselves in enough wind from the right direction to hoist the sails, so up they went and we were on our way making about 4 knots.  Four knots isn’t really fast, but given that the wind was variable between 5-10 knots, 4 knots of boat speed was just fine for us.  The channel was smooth, the skies were blue and the water was a beautiful aquamarine color.

Right before lunch a group of dolphin joined us on our sail and rode with us in the bow wake for about 30 minutes.  It started out with just three dolphins and then suddenly there were about a dozen of them swimming in formation, riding alongside the boat and skimming the surface.  These guys were jumpers and some were speedsters.  Richard and I were both at the bow (the boat was on autopilot) watching the dolphins and noticed this one dolphin who would separate from the group and go speeding off to starboard and then zip underneath the group that was riding the bow wake and head to port then dive deep and come back up in formation…as though nothing had happened!  It was funny and I wondered if he just forgot to take his Ritalin that morning.

We anchored in Prisoners Harbor and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the cockpit and relaxing.  There was considerable swell coming in from the northwest and bouncing off the shore back towards the anchored boats which resulted in a pretty bouncy night on the hook.

Island Scrub only lives on Santa Cruz Island.
Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the Channel Islands and the largest island in California.  Approximately 76% of the island is owned by The Nature Conservatory with the other 24% being managed by the National Park Service.  Permits are required to visit the western portion managed by The Nature Conservatory and these have to be applied for 15 days in advance of your visit in order to allow for processing of your application.  We opted to do a hike on the eastern side of the island operated by the National Park Service.  We had breakfast and headed out in the dinghy around 10:30 am.  I was excited to go ashore and hike as I had read that there was the opportunity to see the Island Scrub-Jay, a member of the jay family that can only be seen on Santa Cruz Island.  No sooner had we stepped foot on the trailhead when the island scrub-jay appeared.  It is recognizable by its call which is similar to its more common relatives that reside on the mainland.  Additionally, the island scrub-jay looks like it belongs in the bluejay family with blue and white plumage similar to that found on the eastern bluejay and western steller’s jays.

Island Fence Lizard on Santa Cruz Island.
We also saw a couple different varieties of hummingbird (no pictures so they don’t make the “Critter List”), small brown lizards and the island fence lizard.  This little guy was fast and darted across the trail to a rock where he defiantly stood his ground and allowed me to get just close enough to grab a picture.  There were other birds that we saw but they were either too fast, too far away or too small to get a good look at or take their picture.  The island fox, a subspecies that has evolved on Santa Cruz Island to the size of a house cat, was also elusive and did not make an appearance during out hike.

The aftermath of "relaxing" in the cockpit.
Once back on the boat, both Richard and I donned our bathing suits and jumped overboard.  The aquamarine water was warm (okay, warm enough at 71.4 degrees), we were hot from our 4-hour hike and the sun was shining down brightly.  We hung out in the cockpit, me blogging, Richard studying his Spanish.  It was a beautiful day.  While in the cockpit, I noticed a group of black oystercatchers foraging for, well, I guess oysters and other sea invertebrates, brown pelicans diving for baitfish (the boat was surrounded by these bluish-sliver fish that were about 8-12 inches long) and your usual suspects of noisy gulls.  The sun set on the northeastern ridge that we had hiked earlier while the surf pounded the shore.  Osprey, and the six other sailboats in Prisoners Harbor, bobbed on her anchor in time with the waves.

Sunrise on Santa Cruz Island.
Having exhausted ourselves with the hike, swimming and hanging out in the cockpit, it was an early night for both of us.  Richard had put out our rocker stoppers in hopes that the rocking and rolling we experienced the night before would be minimized.  Sometime during the night, the wind picked up and Richard went to the cockpit to check things out.  He turned on the instruments and noted that the wind was blowing in at about 15-20 knots.  A quick check on the anchor and it was determined that our hold was solid.  Then, around 5:45 am, the wind picked up again and both Richard and I went out to check on things.  The wind that was blowing in was definitely warm and we suspected it might be a Santa Ana wind which is notorious in this part of SoCal.  The problem was that the wind was coming in from the island; possibly from the Pacific Ocean and over the top of Santa Cruz Island.  We verified our anchor’s hold and went back to bed.  I woke up about an hour later and started breakfast.  Nothing like a plate of pancakes, fresh strawberries and good New Hampshire maple syrup to calm the nerves in the face of strong winds in an anchorage.

We lifted the hook and headed for Ventura, California.  We got an email from our friends on Rhythm that they were in Ventura but were leaving for Marina del Ray.  Our decision to continue on to Ventura was made as we hoisted the sails in 15-20 knots of wind (with gusts up to 25) from the northeast.  The wind ended up backing to the east and we were able to set a course directly for the breakwater at Ventura.

The first thing on my list was a shower to wash off all the salt from yesterday’s swimming (not to mention the sweat from the hike).  After that, I loaded my laundry bags with all of our laundry and headed for the washers and dryers.  Life is mostly glamorous while cruising but you still have to wash your clothes every now and then.


  1. I recognize the Sapphire Princess - she spends her summers cruising in Alaska but is wise enough to head south for the winter...
    Keep soaking up that sun. The temperatures up here have been staying consistently cold enough outside and we now have refrigeration again.
    Take care and keep getting some good sailing in!

    1. Wise, yes. We have definitely been enjoying the warm weather, especially when we hear from friends who mention that we had a beautiful fall in Seattle, but now the miserable cold and wet has set it. Yea for refrigeration! Always a plus. The past few weeks we have had the good fortune to do some great sailing in 15-20 knots of wind...IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION! Heading to San Diego next week and will be there for the better part of November. Keep warm and keep in touch!


  2. Replies
    1. New Hampshire maple syrup rocks and is WAY better than that stuff they push out of Vermont! Glad to see you following, Stacey! Hope ll is well with you!