The Channel Islands is a group of 8 islands 20 miles south of Santa Barbara, known as the Galapagos of California. It is home to a huge variety of plants and animals that have evolved in isolation and thus can only be found here, and are especially vulnerable to competition from invasive species. The National Park Service and Nature Conservancy have been working here to rehabilitate local populations of foxes and eagles, and to combat soil erosion caused in previous decades by overgrazing pigs and sheep, and poisoning by the chemical DDT. Their success can be seen in the return of the friendly and diminutive island foxes, and bald eagles once again breeding in the wild. Access to the Islands are by limited ferry service or private boat only, so they remain uncrowded, pristine and tranquil.
Out of these 5 Islands, we chose to visit Santa Cruz Island; the biggest of the 5. Our first stop was in Cueva Valdez, where we were delighted to find we were the only people there; no other boats nor hikers. In effect, we had our own private beach. The anchorage was surrounded by caves, sheltering crystal clear tide pools. Bright purple sea urchins basked in the shallows and curious sea lions swam around our boat, wondering what this black visitor with a blue belly could be. At night, we sat on the bow and watched bioluminescence dancing around us like an underwater lightning storm, with our anchor lines lighting up like sparklers with each wave.
In Fry’s Harbor, we met 3 boats that had rendezvoused from Ventura. We’ve come to notice how cruisers seek out each other’s company; to share the good stories, the bad stories, or to share local knowledge. Whichever it is, we easily identify with each other and become fast friends. Tom, who has been cruising around the Islands many times, led us on an unmaintained hiking trail thru the ruins of an old mining operation, and along a small stream. “This stream has been dry for a few years now, but it is nice to see some water in it and imagine what it must have been like in the times of missionaries and pirates when their sailing vessels would stop by to provision water.” “And look at all these tadpoles”, chipped in Steve; our other hiking companion. “They are a barometer of how healthy the environment here is, so it looks like it’s doing well”. Later that evening, we were all invited for drinks on the third Ventura boat. We might be a diverse bunch; 2 sailing vessels from the 70s, a brand new 2018 yacht, and a motor boat, and of all ages, from a 10 month old baby to grandparents in their 60s, but we connected on our similarities; our love for travel, family and freedom.
In Pelican Bay, we anchored off a shear white cliff that plunged into refreshing turquoise waters. We dinghied ashore to explore the site of a demolished hotel and imagined wealthy guests from the mainland relaxing in this exotic location. We spotted several island foxes in the brush, and were surprised at how comfortable they were being close to humans. We even saw one lounging in the sun a mere foot off the hiking trail and thought it was dead, before it casually got up and walked away. We tried taking a salt water shower; diving off the bow of the boat in our swimwear, climbing on deck to soap up, jumping back in for a rinse, then finishing off with a small amount of fresh water. The seawater was about as cold as an unheated pool in the morning, but the anticipation of diving in made it seem a lot worse than it actually was.
Our last stop on the island was Scorpion Anchorage, the main destination for ferry boats and the trail head for most hikes through the island. Surprisingly on this summer day, we were still the only boat there, and we managed to secure an anchoring spot under the shadow of a cliff and behind some kelp, probably the only comfortable spot in this large but unprotected anchorage. Here, we had a look at the remains of an old ranch, and hiked up the cliffs for spectacular views of the water and rolling hills of native vegetation.
On our way back to the mainland, we attempted to stop by Anacapa Island, but were dissuaded by an excessively rolly anchorage and a daunting dinghy landing, even in relatively mild weather. We hadn’t even made it thru dinner before deciding that we had to leave. Some places are best left to nature, and that is a good thing.