Monthly Archives: September 2019

A Tiny But Beautiful Glimpse Into Santa Cruz Island

So last week, Frank and I had the opportunity to do a little sailing and explore a bit more of California.  We left Long Beach and headed directly to Santa Cruz Island, which was about 70 miles.

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Sunrise over Long Beach.

We started the day early and motored until the wind filled in about half way to our destination. Once the sails were out, our speed increased and we managed to arrive at Santa Cruz around 3 pm.

Santa Cruz is 22 miles long and varies between 2 and 6 miles across making it the largest of the eight Channel Islands.  We were able to spend 5 nights on Santa Cruz and we anchored in three different anchorages.

Our first stop was Potato Cove because it was a very calm day which is needed to stop there. We were the only boat and we dropped the bow anchor and a stern anchor, prepared to stay the night in the beautiful isolation of this tiny bay.  But between the noise and smell of the birds and sea lions, plus the pestering of insects, we decided a different location would be better.

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A decent view while lounging on TTR in Little Scorpion.

Instead of staying in Potato Cove, we motored over to Little Scorpion and dropped the anchor.  We spent two nights anchored at Scorpion and relished being back on the hook and feeling like cruisers again.  The anchorage was very pretty and the light during the day and at night was crisp and clear.

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Full moon rising over Santa Cruz while anchored in Little Scorpion.

We took a couple of great walks that offered fabulous views as you can see from the pictures below.

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That anchorage is Little Scorpion but TTR is tucked in near shore and out of sight.

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Looking west from up high on Santa Cruz.

There is evidence that Santa Cruz Island has had human occupation dating back 10,000 years! During the mid to late 1800s, ranching and farming were introduced to Santa Cruz Island.  Pigs and sheep were raised on the island and both olive trees and grapes were planted.  

I’m not certain, but I believe the combination of difficult terrain and the challenges of transporting goods needed and for sale soon caused a collapse of the farming on Santa Cruz. 

The sheep and pigs that were abandoned on the island became feral, they multiplied and caused great damage to the vegetation on Santa Cruz. In addition, the chemical DDT caused the shells of native bald eagles to become too fragile to incubate which decimated the bald eagle population on the island. With the demise of the bald eagles, Golden Eagles began hunting on the island to feast off of the piglets and foxes.

Basically the natural balance of Santa Cruz was destroyed by the introduction of the new non-indigenous animals and plants.

Several decades ago, efforts were begun to restore Santa Cruz to its’ natural state by removing the feral pigs and sheep, relocating the golden eagles, restoring native plants and reintroducing the bald eagles back onto Santa Cruz. (Restoration information gathered from The Nature Conservancy.)

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We found areas of  Santa Cruz had more lush vegetation than on Santa Barbara.

The Santa Cruz Island Fox, the smallest fox in the world, was near extinction, but efforts to breed these foxes in captivity and release them on Santa Cruz has been successful. Between the breeding program and the removal of the Golden Eagles, the Santa Cruz fox is beginning to thrive once more.  (The Nature Conservancy)

Our next stop on Santa Cruz was Prisoners Harbor.  We met the folks from our two neighboring boats and enjoyed sharing sundowners with them. Ironically it turns out the people on s/v Fellowship had met Clayton’s friend Connor while Connor was sailing in the Sea of Cortez on his first boat, s/v Sea Casa.  What a small world!!

Although I am admittedly a warm water girl, the water in Prisoners Harbor was calling me so I took the opportunity to swim and snorkel while Frank headed out on the SUP to explore the nearby landing area.

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Anacapa Island shrouded in clouds.

The wind and water were exceedingly calm which was great because, unlike the Caribbean Islands, there is often very little protection in the harbors on the islands. If the wind had changed, Prisoners Harbor could have become very uncomfortable.

One of the reasons we went to Santa Cruz is that we had heard the worlds largest sea cave is on Santa Cruz and Frank and I really wanted to see it.  We upped anchor in Prisoners Harbor and headed to Cueva Valdez anchorage so we would be close enough to dinghy to the Painted Cave.

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How lucky are we to have this view?

Cueva Valdez is a tiny little bay that was just stunning! We spent the first afternoon appreciating it from the boat but the next day we explored the bits of beach.

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Cave dinghy parking for one, please.

How cute is this little spot where we stowed Day Tripper while we climbed around on the rocks on shore? We never did see the Santa Cruz Island fox, but I’m pretty sure I saw fox prints inside the cave!

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A little birdie came to nap on TTR.

The big appeal for me to head to Santa Cruz, in addition to some quiet, undeveloped anchorages, was the Painted Cave and I was not disappointed! We did make a wrong guess about which cave was the cave at first but our wrong turn exposed us a bunch of sea lions.  It was early morning and the sea lions had a lot of energy.

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Hey who are you guys?

The sea lions looked like a bunch of swimming gophers with their necks extended trying to figure our who we were! But when we came back the second time, they must have already had their morning playtime and feeding as they were much more chilled.

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Supposedly sea lions lie around with flippers up to regulate their body temperature.

After researching the Painted Cave, I have learned that it is the largest sea cave in California and the fourth longest sea cave in the world.  So, though it isn’t the biggest in the world, it’s pretty amazing!

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Yep, we took Day Tripper into that ever narrowing and darkening cave!

Although the water is only 30 feet deep, the cave entrance is 160 feet high! And it extends 1227 feet in length – more than three football fields.  And let me tell you, it is pitch black deep in that cave!

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Colorful and narrowing.

I shot video going into the cave so you can have a better feeling for what the inside of the cave looked like….

Ignore the video quality and enjoy the cave…

The first time we went in Painted Cave, we had the motor running and the sea lions in the back were barking up a storm! I was pretty nervous because I could hear (and smell) the sea lions, but I couldn’t see them unless I shined the flash light right on them!

There was a rock shelf in the darkness and the cave split into two directions. On that shelf were about a dozen sea lions and we were much closer to them than I wanted to be when we spotted them in our flashlights!

The variety of color on the walls of the cave was surprising and really pretty.

The combination of the colors inside the cave and the tall expanse followed by the complete darkness was a very interesting experience.

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Returning to the light at the entrance was very welcome!

Apparently sea caves develop along a weak area of rock which is pummeled by wave action. They can occur in a variety of rock types and often along a line between layers of rock with differing hardnesses.  Painted Cave developed along a fault line which increased its’ weakness and susceptibility to erosion by the waves. (Thank you Wikipedia!)

After exploring the Painted Cave, we returned to TTR and relaxed in our little private anchorage, relishing the quiet of nature before leaving for Santa Barbara the next morning.

Five days was not nearly enough time to see Santa Cruz. There are several other places we would have liked to explore, but at least we had a chance to see a bit of this island and get a taste for its’ unique flavor.

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