We fueled up and pumped out and were ready to (reluctantly) leave Santa Barbara. It was a really nice harbor – well kept and very easy to maneuver in. But we resisted the urge to spend a bunch more money and stay longer. The islands called to us!
Our desired course (surprise surprise) took us right into the wind. We motored all the way through the shipping channels. It was foggy and there was no visibility. It was also kind of rough going. I got hungry and started to make black bean tacos for us as we started to cross the shipping channel. We were hitting some steep angles so I also tried to get Jonny to take some pictures (I have this crazy idea I want to get a “Mystery Spot” type photo because it looks so funny when you’re trying to stand upright inside the boat, but the rest of the boat is at a wild angle…). It was all a little too much for the Captain, who was sure we were going to get run over by huge boats when crossing the lanes (I was really cutting into his panic time). The AIS on our chart plotter showed that we were in no danger of being run over by container ships and it was too foggy to see otherwise. In fact we saw pretty much nothing all the way across. It was kind of dull, but it WASN’T cold, which I duly noted and appreciated. We finally got to sail on the approach to Santa Cruz Island. Found our first anchorage – Fourney’s Cove. It was sort of pretty in a Moon meets Ireland meets drought sort of way. And still pretty foggy. The best place to anchor happened to be kind of on top of a gathering of buoys set out by a urchin fisherman to store his catch for the night. He came over and said Hi to us and in the morning we got front row seats watching him load everything onto his boat. He chatted with us a while and we learned a lot more about the islands and where to go and what to expect. He’d been working these waters since 1974. He’s also written a book we will look for to be published eventually – called Diving the Devil’s Teeth. Unfortunately we didn’t get his name, but he was a really nice guy.
In the morning we decided to head over to Santa Rosa Island. We’d read that Johnsons Lee anchorage was nice. The urchin man confirmed “It’ll be sunny there when it’s foggy everywhere else”. That clinched it for me!
We had a rousing sail across Santa Cruz channel – big wind, waves and speed and even caught a mackerel (first catch) on the way. Johnson’s Lee was even better than expected. Warm and sunny and pretty. I finally had a chance to jump overboard for a swim and snorkel. I even decided to let Pierre come out of hiding for a dip.
Another boat was anchored there – we met them the next day when they paddled their kayaks over to say Hi – Ken and Michelle from Santa Cruz (!) aboard KeMiRa, a gorgeous Hylas 49. They have been visiting Channel Islands every year for 30 years now. They had some good tips and info from all their experiences, too. Ken described the anchorage as ‘living in a 9.5 earthquake all the time.” Yeah, that is a good description of life on the hook…
We were just going to spend one night, but it was so nice there and we could see clouds settled over Santa Cruz island…why go back? Best to stay put where sunshine is guaranteed! Jonny dove down on the anchor to check it out. Funny thing, it was just lying there, on the bottom of the ocean, not dug into the sand or anything. The chain was buried, but the anchor? Nah. Of course he wished he hadn’t seen that. He didn’t sleep for 2 nights. But the boat never went anywhere. I think the kelp the chain wrapped around held us.
On the 3rd day we headed back across to Santa Cruz Island. The channel crossing got really windy! Around 25 knot winds and some rough waves – but all in the right direction for a change! We had a fun ride. The nice thing down here is when a wave smacks you over the boat, you don’t freeze to death! You just laugh and eventually dry off. Did I mention I liked the climate down here?
We went to an anchorage that was supposedly one of the best – Coches Prietos (black pigs?). I guess everyone knew it was the best – there were about 8 other boats when we arrived and several more showed up (including a power boat that anchored directly behind us). It was also pretty rough and rolly, which meant the captain lost another night of sleep. Go figure – for months prior to leaving on this trip, I didn’t sleep a wink out of anxiety and stress and Jonny slept fine…now that we’re here, I sleep like a baby, rocked to sleep every night. Poor Jonny is a wreck, worrying that we’re going to drag anchor every night (we’ve never come close – our Manson Supreme anchor, 60 ft of chain and however many hundred ft of rode we need seems to do just fine, even in above-gale-force winds (that’s right, keep reading…).
We met a guy named Casey when we were swimming at Coches – he came over in his dinghy because he thought I was in trouble. I was trying to make rope loops off the back of the Monitor to climb up the back of the boat (I have a hard time using the so-called ladder we have). He spends several months out on his boat and he claimed to be sort of a recluse (not interested in attending the upcoming Buccaneer Days at Catalina, etc.). But he was always buzzing around in his dinghy talking to everyone. He seemed to know all the dirt of the anchorage. The Neighborhood Watch, if you will. We had a sort of unpleasant night, swinging around, narrowly missing all the other boats around us. Even I got worried at one point! We decided to hit the road the next morning. It just wasn’t all that, there! We couldn’t even go ashore since it was in the restricted part of the island. We decided to put our dinghy together and tow it behind us, so we’d be ready to put out a stern anchor – which is required at Scorpion Bay.
We zipped around close to shore and enjoyed the view of the island and Jonny tried a little fishing (caught a little mackerel but threw it back). We were headed to Little Scorpion around the other side of the island. We passed by Yellow Banks and Smuggler’s Cove – just gorgeous and sunny little coves right next to each other. We rounded the corner and the cliffs got steep and tall and the water rough with white caps from the increased wind. We bashed through it for about 10 minutes and then thought “what are we doing?!”. It was going to be super windy there, and we just passed 2 gorgeous, peaceful coves. We turned around and hightailed it back to Smuggler’s Cove. Just for fun (!) we decided to put out our Danforth as a stern anchor. After we’d anchored, Jonny rowed out in the dinghy with the Danforth and dropped it. The boat no longer could swing around, and we stayed pointed into the swell. It was pretty comfortable. We were enjoying a very warm pleasant evening in the cockpit and discussing our anchor situation, etc. Jonny was worried about something and I said “Well, it’s not like we’re going to have a gale!”. His eyes got wide and he knocked on the teak. And, I swear I am not making this up, not 30 seconds later the wind picked up. A LOT. It blew and it blew HARD for a good 3+ hours! We were laughing so hard (and I have been forbidden to speak like that again). Luckily the wind was on our nose so it was quite pleasant behind the dodger. We just listened to music and looked at the stars until the wind decided to calm down and we could sleep.
In the morning I attempted my 2nd go at making bread (with fresh yeast this time). Jonny decided he wanted to pull up the stern anchor and see what it would be like NOT having it out that night. We weren’t really sure how you pull up a stern anchor. Kind of wish we’d thought of that before we tossed it out there. Jonny rowed the dinghy out there and could pull it out. He dove down on it and it was completely buried up to the chain and there was no way to dig it out. We should’ve watched more YouTube videos on “How to Retrieve a Stern Anchor”. Jonny tied the dinghy to the anchor line and swam back to the boat. We debated for a bit on what we should do and how. Finally decided to pull the bow anchor up and bring the boat over to the other anchor and pull it up with the windlass on the bow. We finally got it up and re-anchored with just the bow. That took up half of an entire day (and I managed to have my bread rise and get it baked in the midst of all this – it came out good! I really need a real bread pan tho.).
I was itching to go ashore and walk around. There were some trails we could see and an olive orchard on a hillside. We thought maybe we could even hike to the top of the mountain and see over to Scorpion on the other side. There was really no place we could see to land a dinghy on shore. There was no beach, just lots and lots of softball sized rocks. And it was steep, like, straight up from the water. And a really strong shore break. But waaaay down at the other end seemed like there might be a spot. Jonny TOLD me it wasn’t a good idea, but I at least wanted to TRY, it looked like it got really shallow near shore (it didn’t) and it looked like there was a little flat sandy spot to land (there wasn’t)… so we rowed over there in the dinghy. The waves were not really breaking at the far end near the outer cliff of the cove. As we got closer and I saw how steep it really was, I was suddenly wanting to just go back to the boat… I didn’t want to do it. But I had whined about it so much that there was no way Jonny was turning us around…he said it would be fine. We did manage to land it OK and not get rolled (although it was waist deep when I jumped out near ‘shore’). The waves helped us get the dinghy straight up the rocks (they were all smooth and round, not jagged, but pretty big and hard to walk on). The dinghy was safe and I had managed (barely) not to pee myself in the landing. We had a long, hot walk just to get to the main spot with the sign and trail up the hill (and, as it turns out, a trail back into a campground). We walked up the hill and got some great views. It was blisteringly hot (so hot my phone even started whining about it’s temperature and stopped working – but I did manage to get some pix). The wind started to pick up a little. And so did the waves. The little spot we landed where the waves weren’t breaking? Yeah, it was gone. Waves were breaking everywhere now. The departure was even more terrifying than the landing. We had to hold the dinghy and run straight down the rocks to the water and wait for exactly the right moment to shove it in and jump on. Luckily, Jonny is expert at calling these moments. I would’ve just stood there sniveling and freaking out for hours. We made it in and were paddling past the point of danger. It was fine. Except. Jonny had lost his flip flop in the frey. I had to hold us in position while he swam back for it (do you know how much those flip flops cost?!?). The wind tried to carry me off and I got a little flustered at the whole rowing thing, but I finally got it together and rowed back to pick up Jonny. The wind was getting stronger and stronger. We rowed along shore until we were a little past Summer and then headed out for her. The wind and waves were so strong we were very careful to not overshoot – as there was a chance we could blow past her and not be able to get back. We came barreling at her – aimed for the bow so we had a chance to grab on before we went too far. We got safely back on board and settled down a bit. The wind just got stronger and stronger and we had upwards of 35 knots blowing for almost the entire evening. Without a stern anchor we rolled around quite a bit more, but no dragging.
The next day we decided to moved over to Yellow Banks and see if it was calmer there. We ended up staying 2 more nights over there. Two more nights of gale forces winds that started earlier each day. On the first night at Yellow Banks we were kind of getting used to the winds. The rigging was howling and the boat was rocking violently…and we were quietly down below – Jonny with his power drill installing a new LED light strip to give us better lighting in the v-berth area, and me cooking up beef and noodles to make a lasagna. I’m not sure how smart it was doing all that cooking when the “wind chill factor” was 90 degrees. But we gotta eat, right? After I put away the leftovers and filled the pan with soap and water, I realized a new benefit to the rocky boat situation. Our dishes wash themselves (I have video of the soapy water sloshing around in the pan. It was practically clean by morning!).
There were several boats in Yellow Banks, including Casey, Neighborhood Watch from Coches. A guy in a little sailing dinghy was sailing and rowing around, he came over to say Hi. Alex was a young guy from Sausalito, taking his Cal 29 down to Marina Del Rey. It was his first time single-handing and he was very excited and enthusiastic about it. He was also anchored extremely close to shore, but it seemed OK.? He mentioned something about wanting to go hiking ashore (maybe we were interested? I didn’t say anything at the time as it wasn’t really an invitation, but I remember thinking “go ashore again? Yeah I don’t think so”. Yellow Banks shore was far more treacherous looking than Smuggler’s.
The next day we were just chilling and preparing for a big sail down to Catalina the day after. We got the dinghy cleaned up and stowed and things looking pretty ‘ship shape’ by 2pm, which was good because the winds came up at 2:15 pm! (it was like someone turned on a switch). Casey was visiting us in his dinghy, telling us about all the experiences he’s had. I kept being distracted by someone on the shore. I thought at first it might be a sweeper from the nearby powerboat (“sweepers” are what we call stand up paddle boarders – they look like they’re sweeping…). Then I realized it was someone with a dinghy. I interrupted Casey and said “It looks like someone is on the shore and they don’t look to be OK…”. We got the binos and sure enough, it was Alex and his sailing dinghy. The dinghy was upside down on the rocks and it looked like a yardsale trailing behind. Casey raced over in his dinghy, but couldn’t safely get close to shore. The wind was just getting stronger and stronger. He called the Coast Guard on his VHF that he had in his dinghy. Luckily there was a big USCG boat moored at Smuggler’s Cove. They sent out a big red dinghy with 4 guys. We tuned the radio to Channel 16 so we could hear what was going on. They couldn’t safely get to shore either, so they just hovered around and made sure Alex didn’t try to get into the water again. Alex was dragging his dinghy around, picking up the pieces and wandering around. We weren’t really sure what he was doing. The USCG ended up calling the National Park Service, since Alex was on NPS land. They couldn’t get to where he was, so they ended up sending a helicopter to retrieve him, which took a couple hours to arrive. We kept wondering if he was going to try to relaunch his dinghy? Or if the USCG guys could get close enough to call out to him, or if the helicopter was going to try to airlift him out or what?!? Casey kept chiming in on the radio, offering “helpful local knowledge”. Who needs TV?!?!?! The helicopter did arrive, and landed on the top of a hill. Two guys scrambled down to the shore and talked with Alex. Apparently he agreed to go on the helicopter to Scorpion Bay, where they had a pier. The USCG then would need to go there and get him and bring him back to his boat. They were hesitant due to the 40 knot winds and said he may need to stay there overnight. We noticed later in the dark they did appear to return him to his boat. We never got the rest of the story, since we were planning to leave at 4:30 am the next morning (too bad we couldn’t TiVo it).
Check out these winds – and yes, we were at anchor, not underway!