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Kayaking Santa Cruz


Although I have never paid a professional operator to guide me, I have spent more than a month recently kayaking in the coves and waters of Santa Cruz Island. [“To Kayak Our Adventurous Isles”.] Santa Cruz Island is the largest, tallest, and most diverse of all of California’s Channel Islands. It has the most anchorages, the most running water and the most endemic species. I recommend the roughly 80 percent of the island that is managed by the Nature Conservancy as it is truly a natural wonder. To visit this part, contact the Nature Conservancy California Field Office at (415) 777-0487 for information. A variety of trips or adventures are available through the Nature Conservancy and/or with their cooperation. You can also get a landing permit and transport yourself to the island on a small boat, as I do.

The reason that most of the largest of the California Channel Islands has been preserved so conscientiously is that Dr. Carey Stanton took the trouble to deed his property to the Nature Conservancy, understanding that the National Park Service has a use priority, not a conservation priority. Dr. Stanton purchased his large portion of the island from four of the five descendants of Frenchman Justinian Caire, who built a self sustaining community on the island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, producing some of California’s finest wines and everything from nails to bricks on Santa Cruz Island.

While it is true that one must sail and kayak smart at the island, I have been sailing and kayaking Santa Cruz Island, mostly alone, for more than 30 years and have never had an injury or life threatening situation. Some simple tips are in order. The winds are quite predictable, especially in the summer; most kayakers that get in trouble have failed to check the weather forecast or take heed of it. Prevailing summer winds are offshore in the morning and out of the west, often quite powerfully, in the afternoons. Kayakers should kayak westward in the morning after checking weather and allow the wind to become an ally in the afternoon when they are tired. Wind considerations are also important when you anchor your home vessel in the many coves that shelter small boats.

My time at the island was spent on the small sailboat Pelamis, a 26-foot sloop. This type of boat is almost worthless in today’s market although it is solid and sails well. Similar boats can be had online for less than a thousand dollars. There are many good small boat anchorages around the island. I visited Scorpion Anchorage only once and found it to be the most contaminated place at Santa Cruz Island. There is good reason for this: thousands of annual visitors that camp in the same canyon that has been a ranch operation for more than a century, and the old septic tanks continue to contaminate the watershed groundwater, in addition to with new pollution created by the thousands of visitors.

Best wishes for a real adventure.—Lane Anderson, Vessel Pelamis, Santa Barbara



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