Fry's Harbor was such a special place that we would have liked to stay several more days. Unfortunately, family and business issues back home meant we had to start moving towards home. Our plan was that we would spend one more night on Santa Cruz and Prisoners Harbor and then make the crossing back to Catalina. We planned to stay at Catalina for a few nights (to readjust) and then return home to Newport Beach.
The morning dawned bright and beautiful with a light west wind. Prisoners Harbor is not far from Fry's and the conditions were so nice that we looked forward to doing some sailing. We weighed anchors (first the bow and then the stern) and moved to the mouth of the cove where we raised the mainsail. Soon we were angling off the island on a port tack. We turned down wind and tried poling out the headsail, but we couldn't get it to stay filled - even with the whisker pole. Part of the problem may have been the swell, but we can't escape the fact that our genoa is a great reaching sail, but a terrible downwind sail. We are going to have to address that problem if we want to do more long trips.
We sailed for about an hour and then gybed onto a starboard tack heading for Prisoners Harbor. The harbor is a large cove which is easily visible from offshore because of its pier and a large barn. There was one other boat in the cove when we arrived and they appeared to be weighing anchor. We dropped sail and motored around the west side of the cove. We were quite surprised at how shallow it was. We were 100 yards from the beach and only in 18 feet of water! We dropped our bow anchor in about 20 feet and tried to set it, but it didn't set. We raised it again and pulled a huge clump of eel grass from the flukes. The other boat was having some difficulty with their windlass and hadn't moved out of the cove so we motored over to ask advice. They suggested anchoring deeper and told us that it might take several tries before we could get a set. We tried again in about 28 feet and this time the anchor set well. We shut down and proceeded to get the boat back into living mode.
About this time the gentleman from "Far Away Eyes" who had helped us anchor in Fry's came by in his dinghy. He was staying in Pelican Harbor a few miles up the coast. He said that a "huge" shark had washed ashore on the beach near Pelican and that we should go see it. "Don't miss it" he said. "It's amazing!" I was skeptical, but there's still enough of the little boy in Rick that he can't resist something like this. So we put the dinghy in the water, mounted the outboard and off we went. It turned out that the beach in question was quite a bit farther than we had thought and the question was raised about how much fuel we had. We were also going into the chop and it was a very wet ride. I have to admit that I suggested turning back. We saw the masts in Pelican Harbor and then (finally) we saw a beach with a grey lump on one side. It was a dead shark. It looked big, but not "amazing" by any stretch. Rick found a way to the beach through the kelp and we beached the dinghy.
As soon as we got out of the dinghy it was very clear that this was no ordinary shark. It was huge. It was frightening even though it was clearly dead. The closer we got to it, the bigger it was. We were speechless. This was a massive great white shark which had become entangled in a gill net and suffocated. It must have washed up on the beach with that morning's high tide. There was very little smell and the gulls hadn't found it yet. Even the eyes were still bright. I've seen sharks like this on TV and I know that the seal and sea lion rookeries on the Channel Islands would be prime hunting grounds for big sharks, but to actually see one right in front of us left me weak in the knees. Had this shark been nearby when Rick was swimming yesterday? Rick and I both paced off the length. He got about 24 feet while I got about 27 feet. It was big by any measurement. We joked around a little, but it was kind of strained. It was a little like being in church. We motored back to the boat without saying much. We both felt somewhat overwhelmed by the experience. What an amazing thing to have seen. Truly, this is a wild place.
(I was going to include a small rant about gill nets here, but the context seemed to address it much better than I could.)
After lunch we decided to go ashore and explore the pier and barns. Santa Cruz Island was a privately owned ranch for many years. Prisoners Harbor was where the cattle and sheep were brought to the island and then taken off for market. I had read "On Santa Cruz Island" by Clifford Mc Elrath who was ranch supervisor in the early 1920s and I was anxious to see if the area still had the feel that was conveyed in the book. We landed the dinghy at the pier and went ashore. The first thing you see is the large barns. This is actually one building with two parts, made of beautiful brick with a stone foundation and the year "1887" marked over one of the doors. In front of the barns are a complex set of corrals. I don't know if these are in the same configuration that they were in the old cattle days, but they were very impressive. The biggest thing we noticed was the lack of people or any other activity ashore. Rick said it felt like a ghost town - once active and busy, now just a museum.
After returning to the boat, we set about getting ready to leave the next day. The cruising guide said that Prisoners could be a little rolly, but was well protected from the west wind. It was right on both counts. It was so well protected from the wind that even small breezes were blocked and the temperature in the cabin went way up. It was so rolly that our dinner nearly launched itself out of the bowls several times. We did manage to get some sleep in spite of the boat's motion.
The next morning we weighed anchor without any problems and began motoring east down the island. The scenery was so dramatic that I can't really describe it. Huge sheer cliffs, groves of trees, caves along the surf line, beautiful colors. Rick said that he felt that Santa Cruz must me much younger than Catalina because it didn't have the worn down look that Catalina has.
Coming around the east end of the island we passed Big Scorpion anchorage which only had one boat in it. Little Scorpion lies just to the south sheltered by several huge rocks. It had seven or eight boats in it. We turned into the swell (there was no wind) and raised our mainsail here. The whole Anacapa passage was very lumpy with light fluky winds. Too many currents and breezes converge here. It took us a couple of hours to get out of the influence of Anacapa Island. We entered an area where we were alone on the ocean. Occasionally we would see a container ship hull-down on the horizon, but there were no other boats where we were. We motor-sailed until early afternoon when the wind shifted and picked up. We had a great sail the rest of the way to Catalina. The ocean from the west end of Catalina about seven miles out is a confluence of currents and is very lumpy. Our little autopilot couldn't deal with the slop so we took turns steering. It was very physical work with the swells turning us about, but we were cracking off speeds of 6.5kts so it felt great! It was tiring, but we were exhilarated. Visions of "cheeseburgers in paradise" began to fill our heads.
We dropped sails in the lee of Arrow Point and motored past a surprisingly full Emerald Bay. Rick joked "what if the Isthmus is full?" "Ha ha!" Well, the joke was on us! It WAS full - all moorings completely sold out with about 75 to 100 boats in the anchorage! We could head for home or anchor out. We were too tired to go another six hours to Newport so we anchored in 80 feet between two other boats that weren't too happy to see us. Well, we wanted new experiences and this certainly was one! We took turns keeping an anchor watch that night. We were very stable, as was the boat to our starboard. But the boat on our port side (a CT ketch) had an all rope rode and was wandering all over the anchorage whenever the wind shifted at all.
Morning came with out incident and we went ashore briefly to retrieve Rick's bicycle and get some breakfast to bring back to the boat. While we were gone, the tide changed and Mandisa decided to go visiting. We came back to find her completely sideways with the wandering ketch sitting right over our chain. We asked the ketch to motor away from our rode, which they were happy to do, and then we got very busy getting the heck out of there. Raising all this chain and a 33lb anchor up through 80 feet of water gives new meaning to the term "weighing anchor"! When we got to the point where the anchor should have been coming up, things got really difficult. The Spade anchor has a tendency to dig itself very deep and sometimes dig itself under things. This is what happened. Somehow the anchor had dug itself under the holdfast of a large kelp plant. Everything came loose all at once and I cranked on the windlass while Rick motored us into safer water. Up came the anchor - mud, kelp, holdfast and all - and I spent several minutes whacking at it with a kitchen knife to get the anchor clear enough to go onto the roller. We breathed a sigh of relief and pointed the bow towards Newport.
I'd like to say we had all manner of interesting adventures on the way home, but we didn't. We saw some dolphins (including some white ones we didn't recognize) and a whale off in the distance, but other than that it was the usual windless commute back to Newport. I had been gone exactly four weeks, Rick had been gone almost five. We hadn't been able to do some of the things we'd wanted to do, but we'd also done things we never expected. We met wonderful people and learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We learned that this little boat could take care of us in scary situations and we could take care of her. Perhaps this cruising thing might work out after all.
- Newport Beach
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- Prisoners Harbor from shore. Mandisa is the boat on the left.
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- The shark. (For scale, Rick is about 5'10" tall.)
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Baba 30 #218