Sailing the Channel Islands

I ended up with very few pictures of my second trip to the Channel Islands due to an unlucky incident involving a dinghy and the surf. Let's just say, piling 7 people and gear into a 4 man dingy and paddling it through the surf is not a good idea. Fortunately for us, the surf was small and 5 out of 7 of us can swim.

After my first 4 day trip and ASA sailing certifications, I was determined to put what I had learned to practice and recreate the adventure, this time with my family as crew. My wife was cautious but excited. She is always up for an adventure. We packed up our family of 7, paddleboard, snorkel gear, and sleeping bags and set off for the coast in our trusty Chevy Suburban.

I had joined Marina Sailing at Channel Island Harbor, and with my ASA courses complete, they let us barefoot charter a 42 foot Jeanneau named "R."  The Jeanneau 42 was similar in size to the Beneteau 45 "Freedom" that I had become comfortable sailing, with a few exceptions. First off, the Jeanneau did not have a bow thruster, which later became a frustration for me. Second, the Jeanneau had an in-mast furling mainsail (instead of lazy jacks), a nice feature as long as it works.

We arrived at the boat early in the late morning and packed it with our gear and provisions. We gathered them from the local grocery store in Oxnard that morning. Weather being cooperative, the fog blew off, and after a quick check out on the boat, we found ourselves motoring through Channel Islands Harbor, headed towards Anacapa Island.

Earlier in the year (February), I had made a similar trip, except we first sailed up to Santa Barbara, and then crossed over to the island of Santa Cruz. The family and I discussed and elected to spend more time exploring the Islands and skip out on Santa Barbara.

The crossing to Anacapa was literally smooth sailing with light winds. Our average speed was probably 4 knots, a bit slow for my liking, but great for my first time on a 42-foot boot with my wife and 5 kids. That includes my two littles, Lincoln and Truman who are 5 and 4. From Anacapa, we made the quick jaunt over to Santa Cruz and swung around the south side looking for a calm anchorage to spend the night in. We ended up snuggled up in Alberts Cove with an hour or so before sunset, setting the hook in 25 feet of water.

I find it hard to sleep at anchorage, and I instinctively wake up every hour or so and check the anchor. I did this on my first sail with a qualified captain on board, even though he had much more experience than I. This night was no different. In the middle of the night, I felt the slight hint that indeed the anchor was dragging, and I woke my oldest son Ben to help me move the boat and reset the anchor. I slept much better the rest of the night.

The morning was clear and beautiful, and we swam to shore, snorkeled, and explored the little beach. The water around the island was surprisingly clear and warm. After breakfast, we set off for a better place to launch exploration parties onto the island and headed over to Smugglers Cove.

This was a delightful sail in flat waters with perhaps 8 to 10 knots of wind. Dolphins played in our wake, and without the rumble of motors we could hear their squeaks and pops as they jumped and swamp next to our gliding sailboat.

We dowsed the sails, and with my wife at the helm, we set the hook in the clear blue water of Smugglers Cove.  As I stood at the bow pulpit watching for any hidden obstacles, I saw a huge ray sweep in front of the boat.  We set the anchor, made lunch and prepared our landing party. 7 people and gear stuffed into a tiny 4 man dingy. What could go wrong?

We paddled in with as good of caution as we could, hearing and seeing the breaking surf.  With perhaps not enough caution, we figured we could paddle down the small breakers. We were wrong. The little dingy toppled over spilling out all 7 of us in a few feet of warm, clear, but rocky water. The littles, as we call them, were quite shocked, but the rest of us had a good laugh and happily waded ashore. Then I realized that in the chaos we had lost my phone. When boarding the dinghy I had handed it to my wife, who chose to save our little kids rather than my wallet and phone. A good choice.  I swam back to the boat and got the paddleboard and snorkel gear. We searched and searched, but despite the clarity of the water, it was no place to be found.

We gave up on the search and decided to make the best of the rest of the day and explore the island. Santa Cruz Island is a National Park and quite beautiful. Smugglers Cove is home to a long-abandoned ranch and olive grove.  The hike was enjoyable and we spotted a curious fox looking for a free lunch, which we obliged to provide.

The trip back to the boat was a real challenge as the tide was coming in and the surf was much bigger. Katie and I put the two littles in the dinghy and left our capable teenagers to make their own way through the surf. The three big kids worked together on 1 paddleboard to get back to the boat.  Meanwhile,  we tugged the small dinghy through the breaks and swam it a few hundred yards or so to the boat.

We pulled up the anchor the next morning and sailed back to Channel Island Harbor. The sail back was accompanied by dolphins, flying fish, wind, and waves as the sky turned grey. Fortunately, the weather never turned, and luck carried us home safe form our maiden voyage.   Our approach to the slip was 5 minutes of terror as I misjudged the turn and almost smashed into the back of a very shiny and expensive-looking power yacht. Without the aid of a bow thruster, and fighting prop walk, I finally backed into an empty slip which gave me the extra room I needed to retry my approach. No harm no foul as they say. It was a fantastic family adventure.


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