First glimpse of Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Island is a little under 25 miles from Ventura.  Its the largest island in the Channel Islands National Park.  Sunday we decided to take a break from boat work and sail out to the Islands.  An overcast “June gloom” sky and a mid-sixties high meant even the few folks that do take there boats out of the slip likely would be staying put today.

The forecast was for winds out of the South at 5-15 knots and a 3-4 foot Northwest swell.  Hmm…which side of the island should we head for?  The north side would keep us off a lee shore but be exposed to the swell.  The south would likely be less rolly but leave us in a bad position should conditions change.  Weather can be fickle at the islands.

We opted to side with the wind and take our chances on the north shore of the island.  That settled, we prepped and motored out of our slip before 8 am.  Things were brisk and we were dressed in layers.  As expected, when scanning the horizon as we slowly made our way offshore there wasn’t another sail in sight.

     Lots of room today

After a couple hours of peaceful sailing at a measly 3 knots or so, we quickly realized we wouldn’t be making it to Santa Cruz before most of the daylight was gone at this rate.  So with some chagrin we turned the key on the iron genny.  Motor-sailing we were doing around 6 knots (what vessel couldn’t with an engine behind them?)

After the engine was running in gear for a while, we decided to check the bilge to make sure the drip rate for the packing gland was what we expected.  Denise and a great eye and caught a steady little trickle coming down the starboard side of the bilge.  “Uh, Grant?” I hear from the helm.  “You better come down here.”  Uh-oh.

A quick taste test confirmed it wasn’t salt water.  So we knew right away we were dealing with some kind of freshwater leak, although a minor one.  After some investigation it turned out the source was a loose clamp on a fitting that had allowed a hose to slide down and off just enough to start a trickle from the pressurized line.  Relieving the pressure, snugging up the hose to the fitting, and tightening the clamp ended the leak.

This little passage has a bit of everything.  First were a small pod of dolphins about ten miles off the cost.  A good sign.  Then were some weather station buoys and some floating kelp patches to dodge to keep boredom at bay.

After another hour or so we came fairly close to one of the oil rigs off California.  It was impressive looking and was paired with what appeared to be two groups of massive buoys in the water near the rig.  Perhaps for crew boats to tie up or piping or something.  No real signs of life aboard but we weren’t really close enough to see if there were I suppose.

Oil.  You may not like it, but you use it!     Passing the rig

All the while terrible news was coming over 16 on the VHF radio.  A boat was on fire near Santa Barbara and some folks had been forced to jump into the water (COLD!)  A fishing charter boat lost its engine and had a non-responsive massive freighter bearing down on it at 20 knots.  With situations like that, our little projects and “fix it” tasks were nothing to complain about!

Lastly, we had to cross what at times can be a very busy shipping lane.  The southbound lane runs surprisingly close to the islands at places.  We really only saw one ship and that was long before we were in the lanes so it must have been a slow time.  Ships move at a quick clip and you always want to be prepared as a speck on the horizon can be threatening your vessel in the blink of an eye.

The traffic separation zone is a strip of water a few miles wide designed to keep ships going opposite directions a safe distance apart.  It seemed like forever before we crossed it and were out of the lanes.

Shipping     Approaching Santa Cruz

As the sharp contours and green hillsides of Santa Cruz came into view something amazing happened.  The cold cloudy sky that had tailed us all the way from the mainland broke up, and as if commanded from above the sky opened and it was a beautiful sunny day!  With the air temp rising 15 degrees or so even Denise was comfy.

Another world      Comfy Denise

Our approach left us heading right for Chinese Harbor.  The guide book calls it an “open roadstead,” rolly and often uncomfortable.  Amazingly, there was no swell to harass us today and we just decided to head in and scope it out.  Once we hit a depth of 50 feet we were ready to drop the hook.

We had purchased an over-sized 45 lb. Manson Supreme anchor and 300 feet of ACCO high-test 3/8” chain that we were anxious to try out.  Lest you think we went overboard on our ground tackle, “nothing too strong ever broke.”  We were careful to get a large Crosby shackle and mouse it with Monel so as not to be penny wise and pound foolish with our setup.

Satisfied with our spot (quite a ways away from the only two other boats around) over it went.  To test the anchor and since we were only staying for an hour or so we let out a ridiculously inadequate 2:1 scope.  The hook bit almost instantly and observation confirmed we were not budging.  Even with the occasional (40 knot?) gust howling down the massive cliffs in front of us.  It was a gorgeous day and we relaxed!

Gorgeous Water     Deserted and beautiful

Shot from the bow     Bobbing away peacefully

Edge of the isle     Heading back

For a brief moment we thought we had moved, but it turned out to just be a fishing boat drifting towards us as they reeled away.  All too soon it was time to head back as we were hoping to return before dark.  Up went the chain back into its locker and before we knew it, Santa Cruz was fading into the distance.  As if it were a portal to another world the sky turned gray and the cold returned.  We made it into the harbor at the last glimpse of dusk but, alas it was night once the dock lines were secured.  Close enough.

Back to civilization     Interesting shot

Flock o birds     Santa Cruz chart

Some numbers:

Trip distance 51 miles.
Average speed 5.8 knots
Wind S 5-15 knots
Seas NW swell at 1-2 ft

It was a great trip!


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