Category Archives: Cruising Guide

Have your own boat? Use our cruising guide to learn details of Channel Islands Anchorages

Painted Cave – a great kayak adventure

We’ve updated our Painted Cave page, but the main thing that’s new there is our latest video shot last November. You’ll be relieved to know that the original video ran on for about an hour, but I’ve excised all the under exposed (we’re talking totally black…. it’s a cave and it is very dark)  and now the video runs just a shade over four minutes.

If you’re thinking of heading into Painted Cave any time soon, check out the page in our cruising guide and if that doesn’t give you enough info, give me, Capt. Dan, a call at 805.750.7828. I’m happy to discuss sailing and cave exploring in the Channel Islands just about any time.

Sailing the Channel Islands – Prisoners Harbor revisited

Prisoners harbor tricks and tacticsPrisoners Harbor chart 18729

Anchoring at Prisoners Harbor can be a bit tricky

I like Prisoners Harbor, but there are some things to think about on your way in

1. Most folks anchor on a single hook, but I’m going to stop that practice right now. I’ve been in there on the nicest of evenings (last Monday, in fact) and somewhere in the middle of the night the wind dies and I find myself drifting about and far too frequently end up with the swell on the beam. It’s not dangerous, but it’s not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

I may have to anchor away from the crowd and may be be exposed to a bit more wind and swell, but I’ll go to the east side of the pier if I have to and drop two hooks and get oriented into the NW swell. It’s worth the effort for a decent night’s snoozing.

Prisoner Harbor anchoring
This is our favorite spot to anchor. It’s about 100 yards NW of the buoy that has been returned to service but is not in this pic.

2. The mooring buoy is back. It’s where it was for years, about 75 yards NW of the pier. It’s still just for National Park Service boats and Island Packers.  BTW – the chart pictured is the latest available. We’ll send notice to the CG that an update is required.

3. Eel grass, still a pain in the ass. We tried anchor just south of the 5 fathom mark. Our very reliable Fortress anchor would not set. When I hauled it up, we had half an acre (OK, a small bouquet) of eel grass in the flukes. We moved to a spot 100 yards north of the mooring buoy (about the 3 3/4 fathom mark) and got a good set on the first try. No eel grass when we got underway.

4. Note the anchor symbol. If you actually try to anchor near there you’re liable to find yourself in 100 feet of water.


Post season Santa Ana winds

Late Santa Ana winds — signal climate change.

Really, we don’t know … for sure. But all of us local sailors know that Santa Ana winds can be expected November through April. That would mean the ones we went through a few weeks ago should have been the last until Thanksgiving. But anyone looking at the forecast here in mid-May knows that there are more a-comin’

A few quick lessons on film

We set out for some advanced coastal cruising training the last week of April. The students wanted to do some night sailing and wanted to be trained in heavy weather tactics. As usual, we learned some lessons alongside our students.

A rude awakening in Forneys Cove

Getting into Forneys was far more challenging than usual. We had winds out of the west at 30+ which kicked the seas up to 10 feet or so. Fagan says stay out of Forneys in these conditions, but our alternative was a ride back to Smugglers, where we’d started the day. It was a four-day trip and this was day two. Forneys made some sense. So, we headed south from Fraser point, which protects Forneys from west wind and swell, trying to get around the Potato Patch. In retrospect, we should have gone a mile or so farther south. As it was, we turned downwind/downsea in some waves that were shoaling up in vicinity of 15′. Close interval, snarly as hell. Just ugly. Already reefed down, we’d decided to get the sails out of the way entirely  to avoid a probable gybe on the turn into the cove. And  under power, we were able to control our speed and avoid surfing. Nevertheless, we made a fairly spectacular entry into the cove. Expecting snotty conditions based on Fagan, we were surprised to be spit out into flat water – not glassy, but not particularly ruffled –  and winds of 10 knots. Had we caught the old sea pirate in an error? It was a new moon and we arrived at low tide. When the tide rose six feet or so around midnight, the swell came breaking over the reef. It wasn’t dangerous, but the rolling was fairly violent and sleep was hard to find.

Santa Ana pays a call

We’d spent quite a bit of time briefing the crew during the day on local weather phenomena, describing the early symptoms of Santa Ana: low humidity (dry decks), unusually high temperature, crystal-clear visibility, building chop. Maybe a hint of offshore wind. I was lying awake just after dawn when the crew made his weather report, ending with “The wind is light but shifting, and It feels like a hair dryer out there.” Everyone jumped to their stations and we were underway in about 10 minutes, which is a good trick with an anchor snubber rigged. The wind was pushing past 20 as we cleared the lee shore. It didn’t feel like an emergency, but if we’d waited another 10 or 20 minutes, it would have been. Somewhere around 40 knots of wind and Sancerre becomes reluctant to stay into the wind. Anchor retrieval becomes questionable. If it gets to around 50 knots, and we simply must get out, we’d tie a float to bitter end of  the anchor rode and jettison the whole thing for later retrieval. If we get caught in Alberts, Willows or another place that we’re likely to have both bow and stern hooks in place, the decision to leave one behind happens a lot quicker as you’re only 50 meters from the  cliff  face from the get-go.

 Scary stories

Fagan reports that he almost lost his boat in  Santa Ana winds  in Forneys when the wind whipped up to 45 knots. Another dock mate of ours reported that two urchin fishermen did lose their boats, scared their dogs and had to be rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. Dogs included.

Night sail to Smugglers … almost

The night sail was uneventful. Actually, it was beautiful. A Carl Sagan kind of night. In the interests of training, we scheduled two hour watches so that everyone could have the thrill of going to bed tired, waking up a tad more  tired, standing watch and again and then staying up all day. The lesson, of course, is to manage sleep as closely as you manage your batteries, fuel and water. We sailed the coast in variable winds. Team B had 20 knots – give or take – and two lovely romps on a broad reach, while my Team A saw nothing but light and variable. Coming around Sandstone Point at the southeastern end of Santa Cruz, the wind picked up and warmed up. The visibility was unrestricted, the decks were dry …. and Smugglers became a very unattractive place to anchor. We headed east, hoping to get to Oxnard before the looming Santa Ana showed up. We didn’t make it. We shot by Cat Rock, supposedly a Santa Ana refuge, and headed to Potato Harbor in almost 50 knots of following wind. We were making 9 knots on a piece of main smaller than my Speedos. The wind was so strong that it created a venturi-like force that lifted the water in a powerful spray, creating an occasional rainbow. Potato was better than being in the open, but the wind was coming over the north cliff and pounding down into the harbor. There’s not a lot of room to swing in there, and we elected to try China Bay.

China Bay

China Bay has been cited as an eastwind refuge for more than 100 years, and we’ve never been disappointed when we hunkered down there. We were comfortably anchored, had enough food, water and fuel to hole up for several days, and that’s just want the forecast said we were likely to do. Not wanting to hear a Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan with our name following, we called Coast Guard Sector LA to head off an overdue report from our families. They called our homes, told them we were likely to be late, maybe a couple of days late, but that we were safe. As it turned out, the wind died at dusk, shifted to the west and we had another pleasant sail under an incredibly starry sky and arrived home only a few hours after our original schedule.

Capt. Dan’s Channel Islands Cruising Guide

New Blog

I’m pulling my blog into the main body of the website. If you’ve come

Capt. Dan and Tom at Johnson's Lee
My son Tom — no family resemblance there – Dawn and Bosun ventured back to Johnson’s Lee with me in early March

here from the old blog, please subscribe to this one as the old one will go away shortly. Click the green SUBSCRIBE button over there on the left. (If I were smarter about this web stuff, I’d have been able to import the old subscribers, but I don’t  know who you are.)

Channel Islands Cruising Guide

Anyhow, if you’ve been thinking the old Channel Islands Cruising Guide looks a little funky compared to the new website, I’d have to agree.  It’ll be long and slow, but we’re updating gradually with a new reliance on video. We’ve most recently updated  Johnson’s Lee.

Johnsons Lee, Santa Rosa Island

Even though Santa Rosa Island is now fully under the control of the National Park Service, there are still some places you must avoid. You no longer have to worry about getting shot, but you should still refer to the NPS website hiking restrictions & beach closures as certain beaches are closed from time-to-time to protect the snowy plover nesting sites as well as pinniped rookeries (seals, sea lions, elephant seal nurseries)


There are relatively few anchorages on Santa Rosa Island, and most of those visiting this island are drawn to Becher’s Bay NW anchorage, often not venturing beyond this large, well sheltered and popular anchorage. However, heading around East Point up the south west coast of the island to Johnson’s Lee is well worth the trip in the right conditions. However, this anchorage is untenable when the winds are out of the southeast or there is a short-period southern swell. Also, as mentioned above, strong winds out of the west can also make for a pretty unsettled night if you’re not equipped with a properly rigged riding sail.


Near Ford Point on the Way to Johnsons Lee
Near Ford Point on the Way to Johnsons Lee – the far point

The approach to Johnson’s Lee is fairly straight forward as it lies immediately NE of South Point (the southern most point of Santa Rosa Island). However, finding the “sweet spot” can be a bit of a challenge. Brian Fagan states in The Cruising Guide to Central and Southern California (revised 2002) “The buildings on the slopes are visible from a long distance. Steer for the pier immediately below them. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the sake of returning the island to its natural state), these buildings and the pier no longer exist and all traces of them have been eliminated. There is, however, some sort of storage shed that is visible for miles. The light on South Point looks like it should be a good landmark, but, don’t expect to see this light when approaching from the south east. While it should be visible when approaching from San Miguel Island, spotting may also be a little difficult (except at night, which we’re not likely to attempt).

How we did it, specifically

We’ve made the run from Yellowbanks a couple of times. We headed fairly far off coast on a southwesterly heading in search for some wind and perhaps a few dolphins and a whale or two. Fortunately, we encountered all of the above (including the largest and most active pod of Fin Whales any of us had previously seen). On our spring 2014 trip, we encountered transiting gray whales and a lonesome bull elephant seal in the anchorage. We had sailed far enough out so that when we tacked we were on a northwest heading that practically took us straight into Johnson’s Lee. Finding the right place to drop the hook required a little more poking around as the landmarks listed in Fagan are all gone. In addition, there is a fair amount of kelp to be avoided. While the anchorage is quite large, care must be taken to avoid anchoring at the base of the canyon where strong winds can at times come roaring through. At the same time, care should be taken so as to not to get too close to the northern shore where (according to Fagan) it is rocky and the holding is poor. We wove our way through a small kelp bed, and dropped the hook in approximately 35 feet of water, a half mile or so off shore, paying out about 200 feet of chain. The wind was blowing almost 30, but we were well sheltered from the swell that had been punishing us for two days. Note: If you have a mooring buoy on your chart, you’ve got an old chart. The buoy’s gone and the chart has been updated.

Going Ashore

Go to Santa Rosa Island for general information including history, topography, flora and fauna of Santa Rosa and an excellent slide show on the Channel Islands National Park website.


None that aren’t charted or visible. Updates: If you have new or amplifying information concerning this anchorage or the surrounding area, please contact Capt. Dan. His e-mail link is in the left sidebar.

See you on the water!