Channel Islands

The Channel Islands National Park. L-R: San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, Anacapa Island, Santa Barbara Island. Also in the archipelago, but not part of the NPS are San Nicolas Island, Santa Catalina Island, and San Clemente Island
Santa Cruz Island topology
Santa Cruz Island emerges from the fog
We had a good sail over; perfect winds and warm weather

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.

Colorful rocks from the beach. Common courtesy says you should demolish these cairns if you make one, so it is not mistaken for a hiking landmark
Monsoon as seen from inside a cave at Cueva Valdez
Crystal clear tidepools
Purple sea urchins
A cave by the beach
Succulents here are very pretty
A skull we found on the beach
Travis writes a note to hide for the next cruiser to potentially find

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.

What a refreshing color
Tadpoles we saw on our hike
Travis and Rowan take a break by the shore
Exploring sea caves and cliff by dinghy. Here we are stuck in a kelp forest
A starfish clings onto wave battered rocks
A blowhole spews water 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.

Panorama from Pelican Bay
A very relaxed Island Fox
An interesting crack in the cliffs


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.

Finally, a decent hike on our short cruising career
Colorful local flora
Scorpion Anchorage from above. You can very faintly see Anacapa emerging from the fog in the distance
Monsoon relaxing in turquoise water

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.

The entire spine of Anacapa Island
The lighthouse on Anacapa
Cormorants roosting on a sheer cliff face
Arch rock, disconcertingly close behind where Monsoon anchored
Leaving Anacapa

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.


3 thoughts on “Channel Islands

  1. Happy to see that you are all doing well. We think about you and enjoy reading your adventures. Great pictures!! Go Rowan!!! Ron & Monique (camping Refugio)

    Liked by 1 person

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