Cruising the Channel Islands

We got a late start departing Ventura Harbor that Memorial Day weekend. Arriving at their Swan 40, Blue Moon, on Thursday, my hosts Mark and Christine Mohler discovered there was a problem with the shore-power main breaker. The Mohlers hadn’t been cruising for a couple of months, and now found their dead house batteries needed replacing.

We finally got underway late on the Friday and headed across the Santa Barbara Channel toward Santa Cruz Island, which has relatively few anchorages along its north shore that are amenable to a night approach. This coast is exposed to the northwesterly winds and swell that predominate off Southern California in spring and summer, and many of the anchorages offering protection from this quarter are tight. Much of the shore is also studded with cliffs and boulders that are best negotiated in daylight.

Pelican Bay—our ultimate choice that afternoon—proved to be a pleasant enough anchorage. The sun was just setting behind the hills, and even with 15 other boats, all members of a local cruising squadron, wedged into the modestly sized bay, it seemed peaceful from where we sat, anchored near the harbor entrance.

Better still, we had an unobstructed view of a pair of California gray whales that began breaching at the mouth of the bay, only a few hundred feet away. “Whale in the bay! Whale in the bay!” boomed the PA speaker on a nearby trawler, showing off one of the more unfortunate accessories found on modern powerboats. Eventually they did quiet down enough that we could hear the collective “oohing” and “aahing” from other boats, and the booming sound of the whales hitting the water.

We left Pelican Bay the next morning before the wind kicked in. In early summer, there is a regular pattern of “June gloom,” the local term for the morning’s light winds and low cloud cover, which typically clears in the middle of the day when the sun breaks through and the northwesterlies fill in at 15 to 25 knots. We motored west along the island’s north shore, eager to stake a claim in one of the smaller and hopefully less populated anchorages.

The entrance to Little Lady’s Harbor was clogged with kelp surging in the swell and fringed with breakers, but Mark and Christine know the spot well and pushed straight in. With a cliff on one side and a steep hill on the other, the narrow cove has a very tight feel—Little Lady’s will never host a squadron of anything bigger than kayaks—and we dropped two anchors at a spot on the western side before tying a line to the cliff. A group of harbor seals resting on the opposite side snorted a few times, slipped into the water, and swam out through the kelp. Soon enough they were back, and pelicans skimmed the wavetops outside the harbor mouth.

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