We recently were able to have my sister, Rhianna and her boyfriend, Weston aboard Agape for a three-day trip to Santa Cruz Island to celebrate her birthday. It was the first time she’d been on an overnight trip offshore and we were so excited to share this experience with them.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather heading out to the island and even had occasional dolphin visitors as we made our way through the channel. As we finished crossing the shipping lane and into the line of oil platforms, we sailed directly into a massive ball of LIFE! As far as your eyes could see, the water was teeming with fish, dolphins, birds, pinnipeds and yes… WHALES! It’s not uncommon to see whales in the channel and we are used to seeing them, but this trip we were especially hoping to see one for my sister’s birthday. We lucked out! Not only was there one whale, but there were many! They were popping up all around the boat. Swimming right to us! They got so close, that Josh even used our bow thrusters to make extra noise to ensure they knew we were there and wouldn’t hit us.
The whales swam directly in front of us, below us, behind us! We squealed with excitement as they got closer and closer. One in particular got very close and hung around. I exclaimed, “See Rhianna, you got your BIRTHDAY WHALE!”
We tend to see a lot of life near the oil platforms, as they create an artificial reef for larger predators to feed off of, but this day was a special treat! This week there were massive schools of tuna crabs all over Southern California. These crabs are unusual in these waters and were brought up from Mexico with the warm waters brought on by El Nino, (see previous post). Coincidentally there was also an extensive algae bloom in the area, attracting lots of hungry fish. The water was teaming with life! These two events created perfect feeding conditions and we just happened to be lucky enough to get in on the action!
We couldn’t have imagined a better start to our trip! We even stopped the boat and hung around for at least half an hour watching the dolphins and sea lions play off our bow, while the whales continued to feed all around us.
After the mid-channel excitement, we continued on to our first destination for the weekend, Fry’s Harbor. As I mentioned before, there was a massive algae bloom that weekend, turning the water a stunning turquoise color. It looked as if we had been transported to somewhere in the Caribbean!
After a night of relaxing and beach combing for shells at Fry’s, we woke up early to make the sail up to Painted Cave. The cave is famous, listed as one of the top three largest sea caves in the world. In order to get in and really explore the cave, you need a very calm day with no swell, and we hoped it would be one of those days. As we made our way up the coast, the wind and swell began picking up. The closer we got, the more we realized entering the cave that day would not be an option, yet we were so close we decided to continue on and at least see the cave entrance.
From Painted Cave we turned around and headed back down the front side of Santa Cruz, past Fry’s Harbor and on to our anchorage for the night, Prisoners Harbor. We checked out all the little anchorages along the way, planning future trips to explore the caves and canyons along the coastline.
Once at Prisoners, we tucked up along the cliff and dropped anchor in the shallows on a bed of eel grass and sand. We set our bow anchor in about 10ft of water and the stern on the beach. After double checking our anchors, we loaded up the dingy and headed to the beach to comb for abalone shells, hike and hopefully spot an island fox.
In the morning we woke up to a sea of fog. It was beautifully eerie… As we looked around and enjoyed the glowing stillness, we noticed it was an extremely low tide, and decided to turn on the sailing instruments and check our depth. The 10 feet below our keel the night before became a foot and a half, dropping at one point to half a foot…. We weren’t too concerned as we were on a bed of eel grass, and knew Agape’s keel could easily hold her full weight on dry ground. It was still a shock to see how far the tide had dropped though, so we decided to enjoy our coffee a little longer as the tide came back in before heading out to our next destination.
Once the tide started coming back in we pulled up our anchors and headed further east toward Scorpion Anchorage. We had hoped the sun would break through on our way but the island sat in such a dense cloud we couldn’t even see the top of the cliffs as we motored along the island.
As we approached the anchorage the sun began breaking through. We set our anchor and couldn’t wait to get to the beach to play some bocci ball! It ended up being a beautiful last day on the island, only wish we could have stayed longer.