Sitting at anchor in a craggy cove of Santa Cruz Island with no other soul in sight is like traveling back in time. The roar of the surf, the bark of a sea lion, the gentle lapping of the water against the hull makes you forget that just 24 miles away lies the city of Santa Barbara and the Southern California mainland, one of the most populous areas in the nation.
Santa Cruz is the largest of the eight Channel Islands, a broken line of rocky mountain tops rising from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. It is a popular destination among adventurous boaters like Doug and Karen Danielson of Dana Point.
When it comes to cruising the Channel Islands, the Danielsons are experts. Together the husband-and-wife sailing team has logged more than 20,000 nautical miles, mostly sailing to and from the Channel Islands and other local cruising destinations.
"The islands just draw us," says Karen. "It is so peaceful there. There are always new things to see, different birds, plant life. We enjoy the wilderness, and I call that wilderness."
The Danielsons will share their love--and their knowledge--of the islands during two free boating seminars this month at the Dana Point Yacht Club. The first is entitled "Preparing to Cruise the Channel islands" and will be at 10 a.m. today. The second, called "What to Expect Cruising the Channel Islands," will be at 10 a.m. June 30.
To boaters making their first journey to the primitive islands, the Danielsons' most important piece of advice is: Be prepared. "The Channel Islands are not populated," says Doug. "You pretty much have to rely on yourself for everything. You cannot go to the store when you need food. There is no store. You cannot go to an ice machine and get ice. So you need some time to look at how you are going to live on your vessel for the four days, or one week or two weeks you are going to be there."
One of the most important preparations, according to Doug, is making sure that your vessel is equipped with adequate ground tackle. "In the Channel Islands, you are going to have to be anchoring all the time," he says. "So you have to have good ground tackle and you should practice using it before you go."
Practice is essential, Doug points out, because most Southern California boaters keep their boats in slips or at moorings and have no experience anchoring--especially in windy weather, which is common in the Channel Islands area. "Go out and practice anchoring in the wind," Doug advises. "Because up there you will be in the wind most of the time."
Boaters should have at least two anchors and should be prepared to set anchors at both bow and stern, Doug says. "People need to realize that they are on their own and the weather conditions can change rapidly. The most common mistake people make is thinking it is going to be like going to Catalina Island. They do not realize it is primitive and you are on your own. It is a whole different type of sailing."
Just getting there can be an adventure, according to Brad Avery, a veteran Channel Islands cruiser and sailing director at Orange Coast College. Santa Cruz Island is about 95 miles from Newport Beach and it can take a typical 30- to 40-foot sailboat about 20 hours to make the journey. "Going up there you are going against the wind and current. So what I do is I leave around 5 in the evening and go all night and get there in morning. That way you avoid the head winds. The other alternative is to go to Catalina first, then Santa Barbara Island and then to Santa Cruz."
Avery, who has sailed the islands nearly 50 times in the last 10 years, advises boaters to allow a minimum of five days for the trip. "You need two days just to travel," he points out. "A day to go up there and a day to come back."
Avery says it's not a voyage for novices. "I would not recommend it to anyone just venturing out. Do a weekend trip to Catalina at least to prepare for it. It is a good step up for someone who has cruised Catalina first."
Boaters visiting the islands should have an up-to-date cruising guide, Avery says. He recommends "The Cruising Guide to California's Channel Islands" by Brian Fagan. The book is available at Dana Book and Navigation, 24402 Del Prado Ave., and at some marine stores.
For information on visiting the Channel Islands you can write to the Channel Islands National Park, 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, Calif. 93001, or call (805) 644-8157.
Although Santa Cruz is one of the most popular cruising destinations among boaters, the Channel Islands National Park is made up of five islands--Santa Barbara, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Anacapa. The other three Channel Islands, not included in the park, are Santa Catalina, the well-known tourist destination, and San Clemente and San Nicolas, both under Navy control.