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Anacapa: Unbagged (Channel Islands, Day 3)

This post is a continuation of Stampede of the Sea Lions (Channel Islands Day 2)

Pelicans hanging out at Little Scorpion cove on Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands

The few bananas still on board didn’t faze us, although at least one person tried to attribute the shape and yellow color of the kayak to Chris’ unusual incident. After breakfast, during which we fended off the swarm of flies that had come aboard some time during the night, we took turns paddling the sheltered coves of Little Scorpion, dipping into narrow crevices and enjoying the roller coaster-like effect of the tide in such a tight squeeze. We’d seen a few pelicans at other anchorages, but at Little Scorpion they teemed on any open face of rock, so that we began to wonder why our first day’s cove had been named for the brown seabird and not here. We also spotted a sleek, black, red-billed bird (which I’ve since discovered is a black oystercatcher), but I could never get my kayak close enough to allow for a good shot. Sea lions made frequent appearances, sometimes frolicking close enough to the kayak I could make out their bemused facial expressions.

Kayaking through caves was a bit anticlimactic after Painted Cave, but it was still quite a thrill to navigate through open-ended caverns and launch out through the other side. The water was clear enough to see twenty feet to the bottom, illuminating the purple sea urchins, multi-armed sunflower stars, ochre sea stars, and the occasional skittish Garibaldi.

Sea star, Channel Islands, California
Purple sea stars were in abundance at Little Scorpion

After turning over the kayak to Sally, I somehow got suckered into going snorkeling. Now, normally I’d jump at the chance to flipper around and ogle sea creatures, but the decidedly frigid water temperature — just about 60 degrees — and my lack of an adequate wetsuit made me hesitate. But soon Chris had convinced me that I’d regret not going, and that even if the water was cold, I’d remember the sights more than the bone-numbing coldness, so I acquiesced. Gary chauffeured us over in the dinghy to the mouth of a small sea cave, where I overcame my trepidation to plunge into the water. When I emerged, it was to spout a mouthful of expletives as the cold shot through every limb like darts. But I was already submerged, so I followed Chris, my limbs hugging my body, into the cave.

Perhaps he hadn’t learned from yesterday’s encounter with the cascade of blubbery bodies, but Chris swam well ahead into the darkness, intent on hitting the end of the cave, sea lion stampede be damned. I hung back at a slightly less risky location, just within sight of sunlight but not close enough for it to aid me in viewing my surroundings. I clung to the barnacled cave wall as the tide swelled in and out, raising me upwards sometimes two or three feet, as I saw the dim beam of Chris’ flashlight poke about ahead. He’d found another beach and was fixed on flopping ashore, his flippers still on. I imagined various creatures trolling the floor below me, but clung fast, telling myself they’d eat him before me.

Channel Islands, Santa Cruz, Little Scorpion, Chris Lemon, snorkeling
A diver braves the frigid (okay, 60-ish) waters to explore the Channel Islands marine life.

Finally he returned, and we swam around a rocky outcropping to the sea cave we individually kayaked through that morning. I spotted a spider crab dozing on the sea floor, then allowed the tide to push me forward into the cave, where the seabed rose to present a mesmerizing pattern of sand. The currents popped us out through the other end, and we explored the critters on the outside of the cave before hauling ourselves, me shivering, back into the dinghy for our return trip to the Sun Soleil.

Soon we had raised anchor and, now completely under sail power, we set our bearing for the lighthouse on Anacapa, which is actually comprised of three small islands that in total are still far smaller than Santa Cruz. Despite its size, Anacapa is a main stopping point for many visitors to the Channel Islands, due in part to the lighthouse and visitor’s center, as well as its system of moderate hiking trails. In rough waves, the four of us managed to get situated in the dinghy, while Gary navigated through the massive kelp beds just offshore. While the others took charge of bringing the dinghy on land with the help of a pulley, I marched up the steps in search of a true flush toilet, pausing halfway up to admire the stark blue waters of the cove and the kelp pulsing in the surf.

Channel Islands, Anacapa
Visitors to Anacapa scope out the kelp beds for Garibaldi and otters.

None of us ever set foot on the true island though, because before I could relieve my bladder, I was fetched to return to my friends, who had been sought out by park rangers. We soon learned that there was a problem back on the Sun Soleil and that we were to be shuttled back, now donning NPS life jackets. As a few island visitors — more than we’d seen in our previous two days — snapped shots of us evacuees, we looked sadly back at Anacapa, its unvisited lighthouse, and unconquered sea arch, each vowing to return and bag the island. We received some solace in learning from the rangers exactly what it was that we’d discovered at Pelicans: a 26-foot basking shark.

Somehow, in the rough chop, we made it back aboard the Sun Soleil without getting squished between the NPS vessel. Gary told us of his engine problems, which he assumed may have been from cruising through a bed of gnarly kelp, and said our trip would have to be cut short. We reluctantly headed back towards the mainland, each taking turns at the helm. It wasn’t without irony that Sally pointed out that there were still a few bananas on board.

Day 1: Santa Cruz: Spanish for “Isle of Corpses”?
Day 2: Stampede of the Sea Lions
Day 3: Anacapa: Unbagged

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