Thursday, October 20, 2011

Anchored in Prisioners Harbor

Where I am:

I left Oxnard Monday morning and motored over in light wind (2-4 knots) to Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz. Smugglers Cove is a open anchorage near the east tip of Santa Cruz. The forecast was for strong winds on Wednesday and since my plan was to sail around the island stopping at a few spots I thought I would stay here to wait out the winds as most of the anchorages on the north side of Santa Cruz are fairly open to NW winds. With the wind forecast NW 20-30 knots gusting to 35 this anchorage would be a good spot to wait it out. As it turned out, the winds were light Wednesday, the strong winds didn't arrive.

Tuesday while I was onboard in Smugglers, reading a book, I heard a call of "Craig!…" come in through the companionway and when I looked out, it was Gia arriving - the folks I met up in Morro Bay. I dinghy'ed over once they were settled and had a good afternoon with them.

Thursday I left for my first stop along the north shore, Prisioners Harbor. The previous two days had been foggy in the morning with the fog burning off in the early afternoon. Thursday was foggy when I left and I was hoping for it burning off again as there are hiking trails you can get to from Prisioners Harbor and I was looking forward to getting some exercise while I explored this island a little. As it turned out, it remained heavily overcast all day, with the cloud base ending a few hundred feet up letting me see the cliffs along the coastline but nothing higher up. Santa Cruz is the largest of the islands with the hilliest terrain. The views from the hills looking out would be fantastic on a clear day I think.

I had my first cool dolphin experience on Thursday on the motor over to Prisioners from Smugglers. I finally spotted a group of dolphins that made there way over to me and started to 'play in my bow wake'! That was awesome. It happened just as I started to approach the wide Prisioners harbor area and I wasn't able to watch them very long as I had anchoring chores to attend to.

Anyway, I stayed aboard and did a bit of engine maintenance, added 5 gallons of diesel to the tank from a gerry can, read, ate dinner and it was pitch black by 7pm. The moon wasn't up yet and with the overcast clouds the stars were totally hidden. I am the only boat in this harbor and there are no shore lights. At around 7:15pm I started hearing a lot of splashing outside. I left the cabin to go topsides and was greeted with it being pitch black outside, I couldn't see the horizon or anything around me. But there was a lot of activity around the boat, lots of small splashes, larger splashes, lots of breathing of sea lions or dolphins. After my eyes started to adjust to the dark I started to see what was going on, and it was amazing.

The water in this area has a lot of phosphorescence. Phosphorescence isn't very bright, your eyes need to be adjusted to the dark to see it. As my eyes adjusted, I started seeing large areas of water which would suddenly light up. After a little more eye adjustment, I started seeing that schools of fish were swimming around being chased by dolphins and sea lions. All the motions in the water were creating phosphorescence so you could track the motion of what was going on by watching the light. Sometimes I would look over and see a boundary of light rapidly approaching followed by a few larger blobs of light. As the forward boundary got to me I would see that it was thousands upon thousands of fish trying to escape dolphins chasing them. Once my eyes were fully adjusted I could see the dolphins clearly - the light was surrounding them and trailing off of their body and fins leaving them clearly defined - it was incredible. Another light pattern was a dense column of light approaching the surface and then fanning out in all directions - again chased by a dolphin or two or three.

On top of this, pelicans were also fishing. I had heard the splash of pelicans diving into the water before I first came on deck, by now the sound of their diving into the water is becoming familiar. Before coming up from below I didn't understand how the pelicans were fishing as it was dark outside. Once my eyes had adjusted it made sense. With the phosphorescence in the water, you could see individual larger fish swimming around, and the larger schools were easily spotted. The pelicans were diving into the dense schools of fish, fishing.

After a while I also started to see sea lions among everything else. If I had seen them first I would have thought they were fast and elegant swimmers. However compared to the dolphins, the sea lions were slow! This all lasted for an hour or so, by which time I stopped seeing the dolphins around the boat at all, and the sea lions were around for another 30 minutes or so. Its been a couple of hours now since it started and I can still hear the occasional pelican still diving into the water. I imagine the dolphins are the most successful hunters and left first, sea lions next and a few pelicans are still hoping to get their fill for the night.

Depending on the weather, I'll either stay here on Friday and go hiking, or if it remains cloudy I'll move down the coast a little further and explore a sea cave from my dingy. I'll spend a few more days on this island, and then move along to Catalina.


  1. We finally got a head of you! ;-) We're in San Diego getting readdy to kick off the Baja Ha Ha on Monday. DO go to Avalon, its definitely the mediteranean of So Cal. Not sure you will want to stay long, but I think it's a worthy stop one of things you have to do!

    See you in Mexico, drop me a mail on the SSB. My HAM call sign is W7PEA.

  2. Hi Craig,

    Apologies that its taken so long to catch-up with your blog again. Much better reading now that you are actually sailing! :-)

    In one of your posts you mentioned you had been reading. I'm half-way through a book that you might take to. The book is by Matthew Crawford and the UK edition title is 'The Case for Working with Your Hands or why Office Work is bad for us and fixing things feels good'. Published in the US as 'Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the value of work'.

    After reading your blog, I think you just have to find this book - its very you!

    I have a bottle of Yorkshire Square Ale that will be consumed soon and I'll do a little toast to you - keep exploring (and writing)!