August  2005

Log #3:  Channel Islands Summer Shakedown

Sunday, JULY 24, 2005 - Becher's Bay, Santa Rosa Island
Santa Rosa, California’s second largest island, has a varied landscape of rolling hills, deep canyons, fresh water streams, a coastal lagoon, and sandy beaches with dunes. Our return here was prompted by Dave on Betelgeuse who told us of the beautiful scenery and great hiking - especially in Lobo Canyon. Since we had never been ashore, we decided to explore new territory.

Becher’s Bay is a large open bight (4.5 miles across) on the northeastern end of the island. A long wooden pier extends out into it, a vestige of the extensive cattle operation begun in 1901. It’s easy to get ashore either by tying up to the pier and climbing the iron ladder or by landing on the wide sandy beaches to either side of it. A path from the pier leads through the historic Vail and Vickers Ranch with its old farmhouses, barns, and a one-room schoolhouse from the 1870’s; ancient wind-sculpted cedars tower over the structures like umbrellas. We stopped to say hello to Angie and EK, the former owners (EK’s dad attended the school there), who now run an exclusive private hunt for stocked elk and deer (the largest mule deer in the country) for a few months every year under a special license with the National Park Service (due to expire in 2011). We continued another mile toward the impressive campground - drinking water (unlike most of the other Islands), toilets, and two dozen camping spots, each with its own picnic table, concrete pad, and windbreak screen - located in a beautiful valley with a fresh water stream.

No one was there........except Miriam. Miriam, a Jewish-Cuban published poet who organizes poetry slams in San Jose, had driven down to Ventura and taken an Island Packers commercial boat to the island to camp by herself for a few days. At our request to hear her poetry, she gladly obliged. Since slams are as much about the performance as the verse, she drew herself up and collected her theatrical persona before launching into rhythmical recitations laced with fortissimos, whispers, and flamboyant spanish word-trills. We arranged to hike Lobo Canyon with her the next day and cajoled a National Park Service employee into driving the three of us the six miles to the trailhead.

Lobo Canyon is legendary for its beauty and was a highlight of our island exploration. The two mile trail begins at a Chumash Indian cave and follows a narrow stream with riparian vegetation, winding through dramatic wind-carved sandstone cliffs, and ending at tide pools at the sea’s edge. There’s lots of wildlife here - birds, hawks, lizards, dragonflies, and hundreds of thumbnail sized emerald green frogs and black tadpoles. We saw a huge mule deer and Miriam almost stepped on a garter snake. After reemerging from the canyon, we walked back the six miles along Smith Highway to Becher’s Bay and reached the pier about 3 p.m., just as the usual afternoon wind began to howl.

A short excursion to Water Canyon Beach one day was lovely (where throngs of birds, like bees, swarmed at the outfall of the fresh water stream) but the other hike we really enjoyed was to a stand of rare Torrey Pines. After four miles along the flat Coast Road, past the landing strip and a field of horses, the path veered steeply up to the top of a plateau. On the slope along either side of the trail was a stand of Torrey Pine trees found nowhere else in the world - a different subspecies even from those found in a small area of La Jolla. Returning along the upper Wreck Road we had terrific views of the coastline and the rolling scrub brush hills of the interior - a glimpse into what California originally looked like.

We enjoyed a week of unseasonably sunny, calm, warm weather at Santa Rosa Island but it was time to leave; we had a rendezvous to keep with Linda’s dad, Stan, and his wife Nicole, who were flying into Los Angeles from Florida to spend a week on the boat with us.

Sunday, JULY 31, 2005 - Marina del Rey, Los Angeles
At daybreak we set sail from Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island where we had stayed the previous night, broad reaching past the dramatic rocky spine that is Anacapa Island (aptly named “mirage” by the Chumash Indians). Shortly afterward the wind switched directly behind us and we were able to sail wing on wing all the way to the harbor entrance at Marina del Rey. From port to port with no motoring!!!!!

It was happy hour when we pulled into the guest dock at the Pacific Mariner’s Yacht Club and four very happy members came down from the bar to greet us and take our dock lines. This friendly group immediately made us feel very welcome and helped us over the next few days, orienting us to the area and offering to drive us to the supermarket. The next day, as he was walking up the dock toward the restrooms in his early morning stupor, Chuck passed a boat and did a double-take. “I know that bow-roller” he said to himself and realized he was looking straight at Runaway, a Spencer (NZ) 36 that his good friend Gary Titchenal from Santa Cruz built and owned for many years. Gary had just sold the boat a few months earlier and here she was a few yards away - what a small world! We spent a lovely evening with Eric and Robin, the new owners.
Stan and Nicole arrived Tuesday afternoon and we celebrated Nicole’s birthday with their friends Barry and Ilana. The next day we left for beautiful Catalina Island, 26 miles across the sea (as the song goes).

Wednesday, AUGUST 3, 2005 - Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island
We sailed all day, turning on the engine only when the wind died at Palos Verde and then to scoot across the shipping lanes, getting out of the way of two freighters heading south. As we approached Avalon Harbor, we passed Descanzo Bay and gave a shout to Bill and Sue, Chuck’s brother and sister-in-law aboard Limerick, their 38’ Fontaine-Pugeot catamaran. It was the height of the busy season and it was difficult to get a mooring in Avalon’s inner harbor. Luckily, Buzz and Maureen, Chuck’s brother-in-law and sister, were already on a mooring inside the harbor so we rafted up (tied together) with Encore.
Here we stayed and the week just flew by with lots of swimming, land excursions, and social gatherings with the Houlihan clan and other boating friends. One morning we boarded the “yellow submarine” for an underwater tour of Lovers’ Cove where fish have been fed by tourist boats for generations and generations. The fish mob the below-water windows so densely that they block out the sunlight from the surface. Among them were large bright orange “goldfish”, the Garibaldi, California’s state fish and a protected species. As our young guide quipped from his scripted dialogue: “The Garibaldi is good-eating.....it tastes a little like bald eagle”.

Stan and Nicole did well in Jacaranda’s cramped quarters with few of the amenities they are accustomed to on Infinity, their 47’ Mainship...as long as Stan was able to dinghy into town for his daily ration of chocolate ice cream.

Monday, AUGUST 8, 2005 - Catalina Island - Avalon and White’s
After a week, we all dispersed - Linda flew to Boston to see her son Joe perform at the Berklee School of Music; she was there six days with her sister Louise who took the train up from New York. Stan and Nicole took the Catalina Express ferry (about 1 and 1/2 hours) and returned to the mainland. Chuck moved the boat from Avalon north to Hen Rock, our favorite anchorage at White’s Landing....a great place to await our next boat guests - Neil and Hilary. When Linda returned, we hung out there for a few more days, hiking, swimming, and visiting with Kristen and Jason on No Strings (and dog Teaka and 2 cats). Since Jason was harbor patrol at White’s, they resided there all summer and we saw them often.

Monday, AUGUST 22, 2005 - Catalina Island and Santa Barbara Island
Neil and Hilary flew down from Bainbridge Island, WA. for a week with us - a much anticipated event! Both are knowledgeable naturalists and have been talking about buying a sailboat so we were eager to share our experiences with them. We spent a few days in Avalon - hiking the hills, taking a tour of the Casino (the famous Art Deco ballroom), and walking through the Wrigley Botanical Gardens - before leaving for Santa Barbara Island on Thursday morning. Past Catalina we rolled out the sails and with Neil and Hilary taking the helm, we put in a few tacks and anchored at the Landing by late afternoon. That first night was pretty rolly - Hilary and Neil fought each other for the more secure outboard edge of the bed - but putting out the “flopper-stopper” the next day helped reduce the rocking quite a bit. This clever device is a flat metal screen covered by a piece of plastic that is slit diagonally into four flaps. When attached to a pole and hung off the side of the boat, the plastic flaps open and close, counteracting the boat’s side to side motion.

Our sunny days at Santa Barbara Island were spent hiking, dinghying around to see the elephant seals and sea lion rookeries, and bird watching. This late in the season the bird nesting areas were virtually empty - only feather-covered ground and some expected chick fatalities remained. Sea lion pups were weaned and on their own now. After cockpit showers and cozy dinners, we spent several evenings listening to Neil read aloud from his wonderful manuscript, Near the Wild Heart, which Hilary was editing before final submittal to his agent. Before we knew it, we were sailing back to Hen Rock, enroute to Avalon at the end of a great visit. We said goodbye to Neil and Hilary as they boarded the ferry and then stayed overnight to do laundry, reprovision, and run errands.

Tuesday, AUGUST 30 , 2005 - Hen Rock at White’s, Catalina Island
We settled in at Hen Rock for the Labor Day weekend and the onslaught of boats, jet skis, and water toys of all sorts. Linda fished in the dinghy at the edge of the kelp off Long Point one day, using a flying fish that had landed on the boat at Santa Barbara Island as bait. She caught two small Blacksmiths for a panfried lunch. The late summer water was warm (72 degrees) and snorkeling was great in the kelp beds and rocks nearby.

We had plenty of time to read, do boat chores, visit other boats, and for Linda to work on her art projects. One night we had a delicious prime rib dinner with Kristen and Jason on No Strings, followed by a movie (DVD on the computer).
One of the biggest perks of going to the Channel Islands is being able to tune in to four national pubic radio stations on the boat - from Pasadena, Santa Barbara, LA and San Diego. Four! It’s NPR heaven! What an incredible selection of music, cultural reviews, and intriguing stories we were able to choose from! Unfortunately, this time, they were bringing us the news of the worsening catastrophe in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. The reports were distressing as Weather, that supreme overlord of the cruising life, wreaked its havoc on this very special place. We listened with the humility and respect weather commands from people like us living a life of exposure to its power and its vagaries.

Monday, SEPTEMBER 5, 2005 - San Diego
Reluctantly acknowledging the end of summer, we said a final goodbye to the Channel Islands at sunrise. Our Summer Shakedown ended with an all-day motorboat ride back to our slip at Silver Gate Yacht Club. Let the preparations for Mexico begin!

MORE PHOTOS: In the "Photo Gallery" for Passage Note #81