Cruisin' Santa Cruz

A charter in California’s Channel Islands proves you don’t have to go abroad to find adventure.

The wind was gusting in the mid-20s, so we ran briskly under jib alone at 7 knots. The northern shore looked uninviting with the surly sea state, but the instant we rounded San Pedro Point on the eastern end, the wind plummeted. In the lee of the island, we peeled off our jackets and basked in the sun.

Our next anchorage was at Yellowbanks, a calm, shallow inlet with a sandy bottom. As soon as we were set, we launched the kayaks. Samantha and Steve explored the shoreline while Sharon and Brad checked out the neighbors. Then, famished from our triathlon of hiking, sailing and kayaking, we enjoyed a dinner of fresh local produce with tri-tip and lobster tails on the grill. We watched the sky turn blue and pink and lavender, like a layer of cotton candy on the horizon.

I awoke Wednesday morning when the sun pierced the overhead hatch. The cockpit was adorned with birthday decorations for Sharon; there was a fun and festive day planned. We observed the other boats in the anchorage pointed willy-nilly in the light air, but the swell and a dark blue perimeter of breeze just offshore foretold more serious conditions outside. With a gale warning in the forecast, we would stay tucked close to the island.

We departed Yellowbanks and hugged the southern shore of Santa Cruz as we meandered west. Along the way we saw a charter fishing boat and decided to slow down and try our luck. We drifted along, tossing our lures toward the kelp beds, landing a calico here and a little mackerel there, but mostly donating our bait to the bounty below. We spent so much time goofing off, we were forced to bypass a planned lunch stop at pretty Willows Anchorage and went directly to our haven for the night.

Alberts and Coches Prietos anchorages are separated by an imposing promontory — 432 feet of solid rock rising straight up from the water. We chose the slightly eastern cove, Alberts, where we anchored deep in, bow and stern, knowing that fishing boats might be joining us in the wee hours.

It was blazing hot in the glassy inlet, and once again we deployed our toys. We kayaked around the promontory to meet the wind and seas head on. Big waves charged at us. Sharon bobbed up and down at the bow of the kayak as if on a seesaw, and we rushed around the corner.

Once inside Coches, the bay was calm. Two other sailboats and a tall ship laden with boisterous teenagers were anchored there. We landed our kayaks and dinghy easily and stretched our legs on the sandy beach. On another visit, I’d hiked the short interior trail and seen foxes, but today was too hot for humans and canines alike. We contented ourselves in the delicious turquoise water. It was just as beautiful as any anchorage in the Caribbean or Sea of Cortez.

Later that night, after birthday dinner and cake, the squid boats ­arrived, circling the outer edge of the anchorage, their bright green-and-white glow looking like extra party lights for our celebration.

THUD!

THUMP! Flop, flop, flop, flop, flop, flop, flop! A clamor of thumping and shower of fish scales woke me at 0330. I discovered a 14-inch flying fish precariously straddling my hatch, attempting refuge in my cabin. Shoving him overboard, I pondered what ­monstrous beast had chased him so vigorously up onto the deck of the boat.

Outside, the sweet scent of sage wafted through the gully and mixed with the briny aroma of the seashore. Stars shone bright overhead against the black velvet sky. The Big Dipper nestled in the crook of the canyon; the Milky Way arced like a halo. Such is the magic of the Channel Islands. Although just off the coast of Los Angeles, it felt like we were worlds apart.

Later that morning Steve took inventory of our provisions and prepared a feast to sustain us for the ride home. With the wind expected to pipe up even more, we decided to return while we could. Racing against the impending gale, we steamed east in the lee of the island while readying the boat for the channel crossing. Here the water was slick, broken only by rafts of sea lions warming themselves in the California sun. But out there it was blowing and then some. We reefed the jib and main, poked our nose around the corner, and ventured out into Santa Barbara Channel.

Twenty-plus knots of breeze and big rolling seas blasted us from the northwest as we beat back to Santa Barbara. We bunched behind the dodger and enjoyed the exhilarating 24-mile sail home at a lively 7 knots, meanwhile planning our return trip for the spring.

Betsy Crowfoot is a West Coast sailor and writer whose home base is in Santa Barbara, California. Yachting photographer Sharon Green is the founder of the Ultimate Sailing Calendar. Her latest book, 30 Years of Ultimate Sailing, is available from her website, www.ultimatesailing.com.

Hang on to your hats! The crew of Jenny Lane beats across Santa Barbara Channel, also known as “Windy Lane,” on their way to Santa Cruz Island.Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Santa Barbara Channel Islands

Capt. Ken Miller and the author comb Santa Cruz Island’s coastline for a protected anchorage.Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing
They find one, Yellowbanks, in the lee of the island, where the waters are calm.Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing
Jenny Lane, a Catalina 50 chartered from Santa Barbara Sailing Center, awaits the return of adventurers exploring Painted Cave by dinghy.Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing
The rosy glow of ­sunset softens the rugged California coastline across Santa Barbara Channel.Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Santa Barbara Channel Islands

The prevailing sea breeze almost always guarantees a brisk sail to the islands and back.Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Santa Barbara Channel Islands

Samantha and Steve Worzman kayak around the promontory at Alberts ­Anchorage, on the south shore of Santa Cruz Island.Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing

Santa Barbara Channel Islands

Photographer Sharon Green goes on a reconnaissance mission at Pelican Bay, bathed in the golden light of the rising sun.Sharon Green/Ultimate Sailing