Catamaran Sailing
Catamaran Pictures

On the Wire - Feature

Anacapa Island
A Bonus Trip to Close the Season

By Gary Friesen

Summer was ending and the days were shortening.  I was still overwhelmed with all the beauty and adventure I had experienced on this yearís trips to Santa Cruz Island.  I did not like the thought of not having any more cat trips to the off shore national park so I decided to do one more trip while the days were still long enough.

Alan Thompson, a well known Inter 20 sailor from the San Diego area, volunteered to crew when it became evident that Bill Mattson would not going to be able to attend this unscheduled trip.  Alan is a very experienced trans-channel sailor and has a web page that includes much useful information about safety and preparedness for this sort of trip. (Alan's web site can be found at a href="">  We had been wanted to get together for some cat sailing so this was a good time to do it.

Track Data from Handheld GPS

Alan drove to Los Angeles after dinner, to avoid rush hour traffic.  He arrived quite late at my place and we both were too keyed up about the trip to go to sleep.  We talked and enjoyed some beverages.  Then we finally got sleepy, at 3 a.m.!

Six oíclock came quickly and we were on the highway without delay.  We hit some heavy traffic on our way, stopped for breakfast, got the boat rigged, and had some sandwiches made for lunch.  We were underway by noon.  The weather was dull and we barely had enough breeze to move the boat.  A mile later, as we entered the ocean, we had about 4 knots of wind.

The wind remained very light for several hours and our 13.5 nautical mile hop across the channel was turning into the beginning of a very long day.  The first 10 miles took 2.5 hours to cover as we close reached on a starboard tack.  We were headed right for the arches at the east end of the island, some 2.5 miles east of our destination, Fryís Harbor. 

Knowing that I was approaching the wind shadow of the distant, but huge Santa Cruz Island, and an area with a strong current opposing our windward progress, I decided to tack before reaching the full influence of those two forces that opposed us.
I also decided to sail farther than the lay line to Fryís, anticipating a possible wind shift and some sideslip on the currents.  I wanted to know that I would not have to try for additional northward progress later while in the wind shadow and on the currents.  So we sailed about 3 miles when we might have been fine with 1.8 miles on this port tack.  At this time the wind picked up and we began to enjoy some double trapezing.  Alan took the helm.

Now we were going fast enough for our dolphin friends to come play!

We were slicing through the water nicely.

When we tacked back to starboard, and we found ourselves double trapped on a beam reach, right on target.  We were making 12 Ė16 knots the rest of the 5.5 miles we traveled.  Alan and I both took a turn at driving during this fast and exciting final leg of the trip to the island.  Alan commented on how difficult the steering was to deal with in comparison to his cat, an Inter 20.   He also noted that in the light to medium air, my hulls seemed to cut through the water a little better than his would have done.

The island seemed to be growing as we viewed it on approach.


The boring part of the day was behind us. The final leg of the first crossing of the day was delightful as the wind and sun had come out to play with us.  We were in great spirits and ready for the challenge of a beach landing or dropping an anchor to allow us to swim ashore for lunch.  Some tough and difficult times were ahead.  It was getting late as the challenges began to expand.

I turned into irons near the beach and Alan jumped off the boat to keep her from going aground.  We surveyed the available beach.  Tide was at its peak so we knew that if we beached the cat, we would not have to worry much about her if we walk away.  However, the shore was too nasty looking.

The available beach was a very steep cascade of bowling ball size boulders.  This was not going to work.  We discussed it and talked about anchoring.  I stood up and looked down through the beautiful blue green water to see what sort of bottom we had for anchorage.

I was shocked to see that on the windward side of the boat, out of Alanís view, we had a very huge and nasty looking rock just about a foot below us.  When I exclaimed "Thereís a huge rock, right here!" Alan immediately responded by gently pushing the boat downwind along the shore to get us away from the rock.  I was glad that we did not make contact with it.  I then looked down behind the boat and right there, almost hitting the rudders was a barnacle-infested thing that looked a lot like the scraper blade on the front of a skip loader bulldozer.

This was certainly not a friendly place to anchor.  Further off shore there was a large rock in the way; call it a small island.  So, Alan hopped back on the boat and we moved away from shore.  Alan is practiced at anchoring.  He had brought with us the best anchor available for this situation.

We went in the lee of the big rock and set the anchor.  While testing it, we drug anchor and had to ditch because we were drifting toward the cliffs on the island.  The wind was picking up quite seriously and we had no shelter from it, so the water was getting pretty lumpy.

When we sailed back around to retrieve the anchor by the floating cushion Alan had fastened to the end of the line, we had a terrible time trying to get close enough to grasp it while not landing on the cliffs.  It took several attempts and the time was really ticking away.  It was already about 4 p.m. and sunset was due at 7 p.m.

We had come so close to the rocks that we decided to allow extra space.  Unfortunately, the only other good spot to anchor was quite far.  We got ourselves anchored and doused the sails.  Now it was time to go swimming.  We wanted to have lunch so Alan volunteered to tow the lunch box to shore.

While questioning the wind and current hindering our attempt to go ashore, I declared that we should consider having one man go and one man watch to see if it was going to work out favorably.  Alan suggested that I be the one to stay on the boat since I would be able to rig her and get underway faster than he could. So there he went, "Splash."  There went a man wearing a wet suit, a spray suit, a pfd, a vhf radio, a whistle, a flare, an EPIRB, and an ice chest full of lunch.  I watched him fight against the current and wind for about 5 minutes.

He appeared to be swimming toward the wind and current and to be moving sideways toward land.  I yelled out to him, asking if he was okay.  He responded favorably so I asked him if I should begin my crossing and he told me to go for it.  I donned my mask and snorkel and began my swim to shore.  While the view was pretty, swimming with booties and a pfd is very difficult.  Being so far from any help, we did not want to relax our safety measures.

As I drew closer to shore, I looked at shimmering beauty as a school of minnows swam by in the turquoise water.  Then as I felt the surf begin to lift me, a school of large smelt passed by.  The closer I got to shore, the easier it became, as I was away from the current that was fighting us.

Eight or ten minutes later we both were on the beach, panting.  "That was one of the best aerobic workouts Iíve had in a long time," I told Alan.   He said "Yeah, ten minutes of constant swimming.  It sure didnít look like it was going to take ten minutes."   We were both already dreading the return swim and figuring out our own strategies.

Alan Thompson
After a brief rest, we went for a walk.  High tide required us to wade through a tide pool, between waves, to reach the sandy isthmus.  We stopped for some pictures.

The Author

Seeing the other side of the Island was a great treat.  The waves were curling over into tunnels and the tide pools were getting a great thundering pounding of surf.

This place is beautiful and we had a cool view of the anchored cat from the other side of the island.

To illustrate the distance between beaches, we took a picture of one another taking a picture of one another.

When we returned to the landing beach, we sat down for lunch and began to plot our return plan.  The sun was getting rather low and this, the north side of the island, was now in complete shade.  We watched the sun's light diminish from illuminating the boat.  There were plenty of birds nesting on this island and the smell of guano was influencing my enjoyment of lunch.  So I decided to take a walk up around the cove we were in and go to a place that would have me upwind and up current of the boat.

Alan was going to stay and then hike part way around the cove and take a shot at the return swim from about half way between my chosen spot and the place where we came ashore.  I took the ice chest this time.

On my way, I went through a small tunnel or arch and found a very beautiful grotto full of tidal pool life.  From there, I could see the big rock that the boat sat next to and could just barely see the boat.  It was going to be a long swim.

As I readied myself to swim, a pair of seals popped their heads up right next to the rocks I was standing on.  Once they figured out what they were looking at, they became nervous and quickly darted away.  I am rather used to that treatment.  Later, Alan would tell me that he also had been paid a visit by the same pair of seals.

This was the most beautiful time of the day for me as I entered an underwater realm of beautiful sea life.  I saw many fish including Calico Bass, California Sheep Head, Opal Eyed Perch, Smelt, Minnows, and the state fish, Garibaldi.  Garibaldi are a brilliant orange color just as the California Poppy, the state flower.  I had a nice casual swim down the current to the boat while dragging an ice chest by my ankle.  I was slightly nervous about sharks since I was so tired and bound with so much gear on my person.  That was only because of the numerous recent reports of shark attacks in Florida.  So I just ignored my slight fear.

When I got close to the boat and saw the anchor line in the water, I lifted my head to check on Alanís progress and there he was.  ďI was wondering where you were,Ē he said with a slight tone of relief.  We got to the boat at exactly the same time.  Now we were cold and could not wait to get out of the islandís shadow to absorb some of the last available sunlight.

The wind was blowing pretty good now, about 15 to 17 knots, and we would be getting 19 with gusts to 21 on the way across the channel.  We were on broad reach with huge wind waves kicking our butts from abeam.  When these very steep 4 footers were coming through at periods of only 4 seconds between each, we took a beating!  This is when Alan noticed a condition where the hull shape of the Inter 20 would have done better.  We did a lot of hull burying and it was indeed an exciting ride.

The sun had set and we were on target to get to the harbor by the time it became dark.  The steep wind waves steadily grew in height and several times, we were both lifted right off of the boat when a wave would hit the windward side of the boat and float us right up and away from the deck.  We were being dunked and dragged like tea bags by the trapeze wires while we maintained steering and sail trimming from our dangling positions.  Alanís vhf radio spun off its quick release mount and headed for the ocean floor a thousand feet below.

All this energy we were using, combined with too little sleep the night before, was going to be taking its toll later.  For now, we were driven by pure adrenaline and having a very exciting time.  It was a rough and rowdy ride and we never launched the reacher sail that remained furled and strapped down for the whole day.

At one point, the waves were so severe that we needed to turn downwind and run with following seas.  The waves were so steep and close together that the bows would be on the previous wave to come through as the next one charged up on our sterns.  When you looked back, all you saw was water.  It was just one big, giant, vertical wall of water.  It was intimidating but the ocean always is an intimidator and you must always respect its immeasurable awesome power as you finesse across and upon it.

We safely entered Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard under darkness and blew down the long run to the dock.  After landing, we met a couple of guys who had just come in on a Hobie 21.  They agreed with us about how rowdy the channel was today and expressed surprise that we had actually been to the island and back that day.

While de-rigging and packing up for the ride home, our movement became slower and slower as the wear and tear to our bodies set in.  By the time we were ready to leave, it was after 10 p.m. and the hope for a good dinner at a quality steakhouse was gone.  We had to settle for severely overcooked burgers at a late night burger joint.  Cold fries accompanied our cardboard-like sandwiches.

This is when it began to hit us; we were exhausted!  The two hour drive home was about to turn out to be the most painful part of the entire day.  We were so much looking forward to a warm dry bed that we were too stubborn to stop.  About  half way home, I told Alan to converse with me so that I would not fall asleep.

We finally decided that we should pull over and sleep.  We pushed on as far as we could go before giving in to the idea of stopping for a nap.  By that time, all the good spots to pull over had passed and we were into the outer limits of the city of Los Angeles.  We agreed that stopping to sleep would certainly draw police attention who would likely wake us up to inquire.  So, we continued home.  Forcing yourself to stay awake when you are so exhausted is a painful ordeal.   I will certainly give more thought to this the next time I am making plans for a long trip.

We got home at about 1 or 1:30 in the morning and Alan told me that he would be getting up at 4 a.m. to get a jump on traffic back to San Diego.  I thought about how much sleep we had the night before and told him that I intended to be snoring when he left.

I also thought about the last time I was with Alan.  It was in Ensenada, Mexico after sailing 120 miles from Southern California in a race.  We were out on the ocean all night long and while I was sleeping inside the hull of a Viva 27 catamaran, Alan was on deck staying awake all night long.  Then we hung out and partied all day.  Does this guy ever sleep?

So ended a season of four outings to the Channel Islands National Park on a Mystere 6.0 catamaran.  It was a great adventure.  I will never forget the times I shared with Bill and Alan and I will never stop appreciating the Islands.  It is a beautiful place and it supports the fact that sailing the Santa Barbara Channel is a very adventurous endeavor.  I can hardly wait to go back to the park and I hope that one of these years I will actually go farther and see Santa Rosa Island.  Maybe next year!

Gary Friesen

Back to Features