Santa Cruz Island excursion with friends

Joan, Abigail, and Ken on Boat to Santa Cruz Island 8/26/14

Joan, Abigail, and Ken on Boat to Santa Cruz Island 8/26/14

We reconnected with friends from long ago who invited us to hike Santa Cruz Island, one of the Anacapa Channel Islands. ISLAND PACKERS Boats leave from Ventura Harbor daily to these islands. We embarked on the Island Explorer, a two level boat with a galley amidships. Santa Cruz is the largest of four Islands, that include Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. We departed with 65 passengers and 3 crew members.The Explorer left at 9 and we arrived at Santa Cruz at 10:30 AM.

She plowed through the water leaving a white trail on the deep blue Pacific Ocean. Brown Sea Lions, and dark seals clung to buoys showing the departure course from the harbor. Pelicans, and sea gulls glided nearby and flapped their wings while curious dolphin leaped through the waves, dipped, and zoomed.

Even on a warm summer day the north westerly wind whistled through the open deck cooling us off. Some wore wrist bands and took Dramamine as they were warned the ride could be rough. My experience as a waiter on a merchant ship and in the U.S.Navy as a shipboard navigator taught me to watch the horizon and breathe fresh air to avoid sea sickness people in the galley might feel as the boat rolled around distorting their balance.

Upon arriving at Prisoner Harbor dock the crystal clear water revealed large orange and yellow kelp beds that fish use to hide from predators and deposit eggs. Black glistening cormorants with a long throat and a large pouch for holding fish, bobbed up and down in the dazzling water and congregated on rocks in the hundreds. We had arrived at an Island in California as it appeared two hundred years ago.Two athletic coaches showed kayakers how to maneuver their red two-seater kayaks and work together as a team. When they smartly swished by under the dock our crew told us it was time to depart the boat.DSCN0223

Paul, our guide, from the Nature Conservancy, described the flora and fauna of the Island and told us to watch for the scrub jay that only inhabited this paradise. He explained the formation of the island that arose from forces of nature including volcanic activity and the reactions of diatomaceous earth. Because the hike we were about to commence was strenuous including ravines and dangerous cliffs, they required our signatures on a document containing an emergency contact in the area and warning us of the potential dangers we might encounter.

About ten of us decided to join Paul, and followed his smile, tanned face, wavy blonde hair, and muscular frame with blue Nature Conservancy shirt, khaki shorts, and hiking boots.The first trail ascended quickly into a winding path around ancient trees, over slippery peach-colored volcanic rock formations attached to slopes. Soon the path took us to a group of shimmering bronze manzanita with red berries. An endangered Island Fox scurried into the underbrush. We turned back toward a spectacular view of the cobalt ocean that led to Ventura, sport fishing boats, and smaller craft that searched for the breathtaking painted caves nearby.


Each time Paul took us past any scene he would describe some feature of Santa Cruz like the name "Prisoner Harbor". That involved events in 1830 when the Mexican government wanted to increase its population in California with 80 convicts. They were so filthy, starved, and disheveled the presidio commander in Santa Barbara refused their entry until a prominent citizen convinced him to allow some prisoners to perform odd jobs after they were bathed, fed, and clothed. The California governor approved thirty additional convicts who constructed shelters, but a fire destroyed their camp.They built crude rafts and landed near Carpinteria Valley. They were imprisoned and eventually released, so the story goes.


Eventually we came to a deep gorge and stopped while he pointed to a remarkable view of the forest trees and rocks that formed a natural waterfall during the rainy season, but now one could only imagine it cascading through the steep area to the gorge he was about to take us. Since there was a time limit we would have to press on to make the 3 PM return trip. We decided to relax, eat our lunch under the shade of a tree overlooking the gorge, and return at our leisure. Many enticing and different views we missed racing up to that spot, were now available and gave us the opportunity to stop,  photograph, and enjoy. We heard scrub jays but never saw one, although we have six that regularly eat at our bird feeders in Granada Hills.


The hike back descended and seemed easier. Panoramic views spread before us with ever differing features exposed we hadn't seen. We noticed the wetlands Paul mentioned that are a project to increase bird and nature activity. Our walk took us under a gigantic shade tree near what was once a mill, but now a well in front of the wetlands. Insects flew, birds flitted after them, many birds chirped and made calls. Beyond was a view of the Pacific Ocean and Ventura Harbor.


Soon our group caught up with us and were glad to rest at benches while the crew prepared for our return. We wandered to the beach where instead of sand, thousands of smooth rocks appeared worn by erosion and the action of constant salt water that rushed over them. As a child I always enjoyed beach exploring and was entranced by the varieties of rock colors and shapes, different shades of kelp, and other vegetation. One caught my attention that appeared like a scarlet cloth or part of a dress, but when I touched and pulled it,  an interesting seaweed or plant appeared. A marsh with a pond and many shades of green over a slight hill made me grab my camera,  but it announced the battery quit. My hands grabbed two perfectly flat rocks and cast them out on the ocean surface where they both made eight to ten circles to the pleasure of the child inside me.


The boat departed on time and again shot through the ocean leaving a white foamy path for seagulls to follow. Soon we were surrounded by hundreds of frolicking dolphin dipping and zooming at the bow, or riding along the bow for a few seconds until another wanted that spot.The crew encouraged us to look at these amazing and playful dolphin who seemed to truly enjoy their habitat and play with boats  filled with people. The crew turned the boat around to encourage more interaction and the dolphins responded with intense movements as before. The passengers were infected by the sight of such glee and seemed elevated  despite exhaustion from a hike or other activity. It was the most spectacular dolphin scene I had ever witnessed.That includes nine years on many ships and cruises. We all shared our enjoyment of this trip over dinner at Brophy's  Brothers restaurant.DSCN0246



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