Cruising California Coast – Channel Islands Harbor to Santa Cruz Island

The most trying experience of our whole trip happened on Santa Cruz Island. An adventure we’ll never forget.

Cruising the California coast wouldn’t be complete without visiting the islands. We started the morning checking current weather conditions around Santa Cruz Island and all looked good for our planned cruise. After topping off the water we said goodbye to our hosts and cast off.

Santa Cruz Island
Santa Cruz Island

It is a short cruise, about 15 miles to the island. One of the unique attractions is the numerous water caves. Our first anchorage, Big Scorpion, provided pretty good protection from surge and a few interesting water cave features.

Santa Cruz Island is far different than Catalina Island.

Leaving Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard CA
Approaching Santa Cruz Island, CA

We had some idea what what anchorages were like from descriptions in Charlie’s Charts. But we didn’t know what it would actually be like anchoring and spending time at the island. As it turns out our first choice, Little Scorpion is not a very attractive or interesting place. We ended up anchoring at Big Scorpion where there was better protection from surge and more interesting attractions on shore.

Santa Cruz Island Anchorage
Santa Cruz Island Anchorage. Little Scorpion
Santa Cruz Island Water Caves
Santa Cruz Island Water Caves

This is a rugged island with little or no infrastructure. If you need something you will have to bring it with you.

Arriving at Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island and Water Caves

Exploring Santa Cruz Island, CA

This island would be a pirate’s dream. The caves are all at the water line. Some are shallow but some are large enough to run your dinghy or kayak into. A great place to hide out or hide your treasure!

View from shore at Little Scorpion anchorage.

This is a rocky island with a lot of relatively soft volcanic rock. The water is warm enough to swim and clear enough to see about 20 to 30 feet.

Typical morning so far on Santa Cruz Island, CA

A typical morning in southern California during the month of June. It’s called “June Gloom”. Like clockwork the fog predominates the weather throughout the month. It usually clears for a while in the late morning or early afternoon and is back in late afternoon. This factor should be taken into account when planning a trip anywhere along the southern California coast.

Exploring Water Caves on Santa Cruz Island

Water caves are the big attraction and can be found just about everywhere. In the video below we explore one of those caves on foot.

Exploring Shoreline On Santa Cruz Island

After our excursion exploring caves at Big Scorpion we headed west along the coast to an awesome little cove where we planned to spend a day or two. The weather was perfect for the short trip. This was a very scenic spot and we were the only boat there. Perfect hideaway!

Water Caves On Santa Cruz Island

The Weather Turns Against Us

After a couple beautiful days at the island and spending a few hours in an idyllic little hideaway where we planned to spend the night and maybe make a trip ashore everything suddenly changed. Our little cove was quickly becoming a trap. Wind was picking up and the surge was beginning to pour directly into the cove.

The waves were growing and my concern was that if conditions worsened this pretty little cove would become a trap. If our anchor let go even for a minute we would be swept onto the nearby rocks. The time it would take to start the engines and reset the anchor it would be too late. We made the decision to get the hell out of there and seek a safer refuge.

By the time we started the engines and began weighing anchor the rollers were already topping four feet. Getting the anchor up was challenging but with the first mate at the helm and me at the windless we managed to hold our position and accomplish the task.

We broke out of the cove and into the open sea. I felt safer but knew we had to find someplace to shield us from the growing seas. It was getting too windy and rough to make a run for the mainland.

Considering wind direction and wave conditions we needed to find a refuge near our position. No anchorage on the north side of the island would be protected from the northwest wind and surge. Checking maps and charts as we headed into the rising sea I found a possible refuge.

Forney Cove Santa Cruz Isl
Forney Cove Santa Cruz Isl

There appeared to be a protected spot at the west end on the south side of the island. It was the closest spot we could reach in the least amount of time.

Safe Harbor-Forney Cove

By the time we rounded the west end of the island the wind was 25 to 30, gusting to 40. Seas were 10 to 15 feet. It turns out we made a good choice. Forney Cove offered great protection from sea. All we had to deal with now was the wind.

We pulled up as close to shore as we dared. The water was about 20 feet deep. We let out 100 feet of chain and another 100 feet of rode. It was mid afternoon when we settled down for the day. We were both monitoring our position.

Refuge from the sea but not the wind

We made it through the night. The next morning seemed calmer. We decided to take a dinghy to shore. We navigated around kelp and rock and finally got right up to the beach when a wave upended our dinghy and dumped us both on the beach. Our vests inflated as we sat there staring at each other and broke out into laughter.

This was a beautiful, desolate beach and at any other time would have been a great place to hang out. We spent about one half hour looking for shells and checking sea conditions on the other side of the rock barrier. We both realized the wind was picking up again and if we were going to get back to Mai Tai we better get going quick.

The wind continued to pick up as the afternoon went on. The anchor rode was tight as a banjo string. At one point the anchor let go and we were drifting. Luckily we had plenty of leeway behind us. Unfortunately the anchor caught again and jerked the bow around so hard it bent the bow roller bracket.

We fired up the engines and proceeded to try to raising the anchor. This was no easy task but we finally got it up, moved back up into the pocket and reset the anchor. This time putting out 300 feet of chain and rode. And here we sat until the next morning.

Day two in our refuge from the sea

If we were to make a run for the mainland we would have to do it early the next morning. Before the wind got up to full strength. The closest port on the mainland was Santa B√°rbara.

To start at the beginning of our journey Click Here.

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