Sunday, November 9, 2008

Santa Barbara, Channel Islands and Oxnard

During our time in Santa Barbara, I spent a weekend in Moor Park visiting my cousin Sita, her husband Raj and their sons, Dara and Sher in the Simi Valley, while Chris stayed on the boat. I have known Sita since we were children in Britain and then both of us lived in Ontario for some years and before she emigrated to the USA and I to British Columbia. Her boys are very bright and adventurous although hiking on Mt. Tzouhalem in Duncan last year proved too much for them and they prefer camping grounds with hot showers and a swimming pool! I guess they will have to toughen up for the Madagascar trip they asked me to organise nearly 10 years ago...

The highlight of my visit was trick-or-treating on Halloween night with my partner in crime, Sher, who is 6ft 2 inches at the young age of 15 years. Sita dropped us off at a subdivision near their house with 2 empty pillow cases and we came home with over 500 pieces of candy after several hours of knocking on peoples' doors. Most of our booty came from a bunch of kids who tried to scare us in their haunted garage where they flew at us in scary costumes. One of them was a bit too aggressive and threw me against the real wall and then apologised for it to Sher, thinking I was his little brother. Sher said " No, that's my sister ", so they gave us even more candy! As we went by their little bonfire afterwards I offered to tell them a scary story in return for extra candy. We scored big!!

I also got caught up on Indian music and ate lots of great Indian food cooked by my cousin and her mother-in-law. Raj's mum made some delicious rasmalai, my favourite east Indian dessert - yummy! Thanks to Dara, I came away with lots of beautiful music for our collection.

Last Monday, we sailed 20 miles across the Santa Barbara Channel, almost like the English Channel crossing , to Santa Cruz Island. We set off in fairly calm weather from the marina and were lucky to see 2 gray whales a few miles from the shore. We could have run over them as they were just lying there under the surface and occasionally turning and spouting water.

Almost an hour into the trip, the wind rose and Chris reefed our main sail once and then twice.The swells were high too and the combination with the strong SW wind resulted in waves breaking over the bow and spraying the cockpit, frequently drenching Captain Chris who had taken over the steering from " Banshee ", the autopilot.I tried to capture the wild ride using my newly purchased videocam, " Flip", and we may download a few minutes for your viewing pleasure.

We were heading for Fry's Harbour on Santa Cruz Island and had a GPS waypoint set up to guide us there but with all the spray and mist swirling around, it was not easy to see the entrance until we were less than a quarter of a mile away. Thankfully, there was another sail boat already there, the Mariposa, which Chris recognised from Santa Barbara Marina. We dropped anchor beside it and were later joined by 3 fishing boats. Usually the fishing boats, which fish here for squid, stay just outside the little cozy anchorage but because of the 25 knot winds they also took shelter between the 2 steep cliffs of the bay.

In the evening, Chris rowed over to Mariposa to pick up Eric and Sarka for a potluck supper on board Ladybug and we shared laughter and stories over a nice dinner of lentils, pasta, rotis and salad.

The next morning, Chris rowed out to see if a surf landing was feasible and declared it easy, so we landed on the gravelly beach and set out for a hike. The scarred mountain to the left of the beach was evidence of the rock mining operation here; the rock used for the Santa Barbara breakwater came from here. On the ground we found railroad ties and metal wires and further in the woods there were geranium plants, taller than me, which must have been brought over by the workers. We hiked through a shaded glen following a game trail ( left by feral sheep? ) hugging a trickling creek and then scrambled up a canyon wall to a lookout from which we had a gorgeous view of our anchorage. We watched all the boats rocking and rolling, the channel swarming with white crests and the wicked wind funneling down the canyon and decapitating the waves. We should have guessed there was a tough night ahead.

Despite the arid soil, there were many plants on the mountain - prickly pear cacti, manzanitas, wild flowers we had not seen before and a variety of grasses. We later found out that there are 480 types of plants on the island, including 6 species and 2 types which are unique to the island. However, during the ranching era of the mid 18th century, people brought over fennel and it has spread so much that the conservationists have an eradication plan in action. The feral pigs and sheep from those days have also been rounded up and eliminated as they were destroying the natural flora of the island.

The north part of the island is volcanic in origin while the south is more sedimentary with a sharp fault line running in the centre dividing the two. The rock we were climbing was very crumbly and I felt somewhat uncomfortable while ascending and worse on the descent. I must admit that Chris really helped me on the way down, talking me through the steep unstable bits.

Tuesday night was terrible as the wind tore down from Diablo Canyon and through our anchorage into the channel. It was gusting to 35 knots or so and the fishermen came even closer to our boat, one almost appearing to run into our Ladybug. We were watching a movie on our mini laptop and Chris ran up to check if our anchor had dragged. It had not moved; the fishing boat was re-anchoring and the fisherman on board assured us that he would keep watch and make sure we did not collide. He kept his word because we could hear him turn on his motor and move every so often when he got closer to us. It was a watchful night as we popped out our heads every half to one hour to make sure that the wind had not pushed us towards the steep rockface or the other boats. At 2.30am, Chris was resetting the anchor and I nearly panicked seeing the nearest boat within 10 feet of us. I screamed "Hey!!!" to the man at the wheel before I realised that he was actually picking up his anchor and moving out further.

The only good thing that happened that night was Obama's victory!

On Wednesday, we woke up to discover that the fishing boats had moved out of the anchorage and were anchored outside of the rocky entrance. The sea was glassy calm in the channel and we rowed ashore once more to walk along the stream gurgling in the glade of oak trees and watch the myriad of patterns and colours of stones, acorns and leaves in the stream bed. We also explored the caves and rocky shoreline. One of the caves was over 100 ft long with a high ceiling and we rowed almost right to the back wall, my heart thudding as the surge thundered and echoed all around us. There were also some interesting blow holes, my favourite being a double hole with a separating rocky prominence which looked as if it were a nose with someone sneezing viciously when it blew.

At lunchtime we set sail for another anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, Prisoners' Harbour. After an hour of very pleasant sailing, we dropped anchor next to Mariposa and close to the National Park's pier. The harbour is so named because a shipload of Mexican prisoners were set down here in 1830 to start a ranch and fend for themselves. They were given some start-up provisions which apparently went up in a fire , so they built rafts and escaped back to Santa Barbara where they were later re-captured.

We were able to land L'il Bugger successfully on the rocky shore of the harbour; there is no dinghy dock off the pier. Along the bluffs we found a beautiful hiking trail towards Pelican Bay, another recommended anchorage. At the first shoulder of the trail is Harvey's Lookout, a little red roofed cabin which is now used to house an exhibit put together by the Conservation Society describing the history, fauna and flora of the island. As we did not have much daylight left, we could not hike the entire length to Pelican Bay but enjoyed the fabulous vistas towards the mainland from the scrubland at the top of the bluffs and the dips into the rocky fern-walled cool canyons.

In the evening we returned to celebrate Obama's victory with a glass of champagne on board the Mariposa with Eric and Sarka.

Thursday dawned a hot, sunny day which tempted Chris to dive off the boat for an early morning swim; water temperature was probably 68C, but I declined. He made tea biscuits for breakfast as the loser of a little bet we had made the day before and we set off on another shore adventure.This time we hiked in the south easterly direction on the Del Norte Trail, following a dusty road lined with giant fennel plants. We came to a National Park campground with a few tent pads, 2 being occupied, under some crooked trees. There was an open composting toilet but no other facilities, so people have to bring in their own water. We hiked higher towards a microwave tower and saw a picturesque ranch house with planted fields at the base of one of the hills and also a research area where fennel had been eradicated and was being monitored for regrowth.

The microwave tower provided us almost a 360 degree view of the island and Chris climbed up an abandoned shed next to it to take some video footage with " Flip ", which we shall try to link to this blog. He also could not resist climbing part of the way up the tower and had to be coaxed down by yours truly. We saw the dusty orange volcanic peaks rising in the northwest, the lush forests and pasture lands spreading down the hills to the south and the almost turquoise bay to the east. We felt incredibly lucky to be enjoying this vast preserved wilderness.

On Friday morning, it was calm again, so we started the day with a swim and then rowed down to Pelican Bay, looking at the marine life along the shore. There were lots of orange and red starfish, barnacles and mussels crowding each other on the rocks, bright green ribbons of kelp floating on the surface and orange fish darting in and out of the fronds down in the water.

Pelican Bay once had a hotel on one of the points built by Ira Eaton in the 1920's and we could see why he would have chosen this site. It seemed like an oasis with a grove of eucalyptus trees off the rocky beach and fantastic views from the building site looking across the channel towards Santa Barbara and the mountains beyond. The promontory itself now has a group of century plants, which are like the aloe vera plant, with giant stalks up to 20 ft high pointing at the sky. From the sea, they looked like trees. We found evidence of an old Indian midden as well as an old bed frame and a ceramic shard which looked suspiciously like part of a chamber pot from the hotel days.

This landing also gave us the chance to complete the trail between Prisoners' Harbour and Pelican Bay. We hiked along the bluffs through golden grassy fields, past a small pine grove and into a deep, silent canyon where we expected pterodactyls to swoop down at us. There was water dripping over huge boulders of rock from a hidden stream and pools of water lined with giant ferns. Going up again we came across some Toyon trees with bright red berries which reminded me of holly trees.

We returned to the Ladybug at midday and sailed to the mainland flying our spinnaker in the light wind from the northwest. What a contrast to our trip to the island! Our slow speed meant that we could enjoy views of Santa Cruz island and neighbouring Anacapa Island for hours, arriving at Channel Islands Harbour in Oxnard after sunset.It was a challenging entry due to a dredger working behind the breakwater with its pipes and floating lights hundreds of feet behind it.

The harbour front extends for miles with many private marinas and businesses along the main channel.Reclaimed land has been used to develop a maze of canals lined with homes and condos with private docks. No wonder it is called the Venice of California.Some of the houses are built in the style of Mediterranean villas while others are Arts and Crafts.

My cousins came over with a lovely dinner on Saturday night and we had planned to leave on Sunday but gale force winds forced us to stay another night. The wind howled through the marina, palm trees swaying crazily and the town seemed like a ghost town with not a soul in sight as we walked along the waterfront sidewalks. I guess they were all hiding from the cold wind.

Today, we set off for Paradise Cove north of Santa Monica and then plan to visit Santa Catalina Island for a few days.

1 comment:

Sarka said...

Thank you for the description of Pelican Bay, since we did not get to see it. Glad to see you were safely in a marina during the gale winds yesterday.