We are sitting on the water, bobbing on small swells in our yellow kayak while waiting to explore some of the many sea cave options available to us on the southeast edge of Santa Cruz Island, the largest of four northern islands–Santa Rosa, Santa Miguel, and Anacapa being the others–that comprise Channel Islands National Park.
With names like Limbo, the Green Room, Neptune’s Trident, Flatliners, and Boatwreck, these grottoes suggest something ominous and sinister to less-accomplished sailors like Leah and me.
The unconventional road to Channel Islands crosses the Santa Barbara Channel from Ventura Harbor via a dedicated ferry chartered by Island Packers.
After boarding the vessel with day trippers and overnight campers, we embarked at 9:00 am for a 1 to 1.5 hour cruise, depending on encounters with sea creatures,
and immense cargo ships entitled to “right of way”.
Unfortunately, there were no whale sightings, despite being a regular occurrence during summer months, since humpback and endangered blue whales enjoy feeding beneath these krill-rich waters.
After disembarking from Scorpion Anchorage, a short trek past Scorpion Ranch reminded us that this island was once privately owned and operated as a sheep ranch before the National Park Service acquired the eastern parcel during the 1990’s. Machine wrecks layered with rust bordered the road past the ranch house.
After layering into our kayaking outfit,
we eventually met up with forth-year guide Marc,
who reviewed safety maneuvers and rowing tips by the launch point.
We entered the water at Scorpion Beach,
and paddled along the southeastern edge of the coastline toward San Pedro Point, where we visited a handful of caves, each one unique and posing a different challenge: whether it was leaning low while paddling to avoid low-hanging rocks from shrinking ceilings; coping in absolute darkness; guiding the kayak through keyhole passages; or timing our exit to avoid being pummeled by surging water.
And of course, there were plenty of seascapes along the way.
After two hours in the water, we traded surf for turf, and hiked the canyon loop trail for commanding views of our surroundings. From the Anacapa Passage…
past a kelp forest…
…from a wildflower patch…
to a chalky cliff at Cavern Point…
…with a lookout to Prisoners Harbor…
…and crossing paths with an indigenous creature…the island fox.
After meeting a multi-layered sea challenge of kayaking, we boarded the ferry and returned to Ventura–where terra firma meets the ocean, and it’s steady beneath our feet.