Channeling the Islands

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.

pace setter

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.

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,

hauling on a buoy
layers of hauled-up sea lions

pair of bottlenose dolphins

dolphin jump

and immense cargo ships entitled to “right of way”.

NYK with dolphin

NYK Argus
layers of containers

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.

dead tractor

dead truck

After layering into our kayaking outfit,

what a couple

we eventually met up with forth-year guide Marc,

Marc the guide

who reviewed safety maneuvers and rowing tips by the launch point.


We entered the water at Scorpion Beach,

Scorpion Beach.jpg

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.

entering a cave

approaching sea cave

into the cave

sea cave (2)

inside the sea cave

And of course, there were plenty of seascapes along the way.


rock crops


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…

Santa Cruz Island

past a kelp forest…

Kelp forest

…from a wildflower patch…

Anacapa Island

to a chalky cliff at Cavern Point…

Cliff edge

…with a lookout to Prisoners Harbor…

Prisoners Harbor

…and crossing paths with an indigenous creature…the island fox.

fox in repose

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.

Ventura Pier