Forney Cove

Forney's Cove
Forney’s Cove
Loc:Western tip Santa Cruz Island Lat: N34-03.3 Long: W119-55.2 Last visit: Dec 2023
Tide/Sun/Moon/WX Dist: 5 Bechers Bay, Santa Rosa WX
Chart 18728 Santa Cruz Channel NPS Alerts
Skipper: Capt. Dan Boat: S/V Sancerre Capt. Dan Port: Chan Islands
Landing Permit Required Nature Conservancy permit app
Local Notice to Mariners


NOAA chart 1827
NOAA chart 1828

Normally, getting settled into Forney Cove  is pretty straight forward, simply a matter of finding the west end of the island and then heading to the southwest corner.

Arriving from the northwest, the cliffs are foreboding and they do not invite you close in, but as you get to Fraser Point, there is a tendency to hug the coast.

bareboat lessons include advanced anchoring skills
Sancerre rides to anchor at Forney Cove  on a bareboat instructional cruise.

Watch out: there is a line of rocks that extends a hundred yards or so from the point. We make it a practice to pass this section with at least 40 ft. under the keel. Then we parallel the reef, still in about 40 ft. and make a wide arc — a half mile or so — around the final outcropping and into the anchorage. From the east, it’s just straight ahead, keeping clear of rocks and kelp.

Some charts note that the area just south of Fraser Point is a potato patch where conflicting currents turn into very choppy seas. Our experience is that, while the currents do seem to conflict, the turbulence is barely remarkable most days. Most days.

A rude awakening

Forney's Cove tide pools
There are tide pools all around the cove

Getting into Forney Cove  was far more challenging than usual in April 2014. We had winds out of the west at 30+ which kicked the seas up to 10 feet or so. Fagan says stay out of Forney Cove in these conditions, but our alternative was a ride back to Smugglers, where we’d started the day. So, we headed south from Fraser point, which protects Forneys from west wind and swell, noting that the Potato Patch was likely to be bumpier than usual.

Dave Gallup, the Great American Painter, kayaking ashore with paint, easel etc.
Dave Gallup, the Great American Painter, kayaking ashore with paint, easel etc.

With the seas at that level, 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.

Yup, that’s the Potato Patch that we disregarded for so many passages.

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.

Forney's Cove
Forney’s 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.


Several algae make a remarkable still life photo
Several algae make a remarkable still life photo

We usually anchor in about 25 ft. of water, which is quite a bit closer to shore than the anchor icon on the chart. The one time we anchored at about the indicated position, we encountered an uncomfortable swell coming around the reef.

The video shows us anchored about where the anchor appears on the chart. We rarely anchor that far out any more. On the other hand, when we got buffeted by the Santa Ana, we got blown into shallow water in short order. Had our anchor not reset when we got spun around … we don’t really want to think about that.

Going Ashore

If you intend to go ashore, you’ll need a landing permit from the Nature Conservancy. Go to permit app for a pdf form, mailing and e-mailing instructions.

The Nature Conservancy does not allow anyone to ago ashore between Cueva Valdez and Fraser Point from 1 Feb to 1 Nov.

Like so many of the Santa Cruz anchorages, the surf usually appears benign, but in sit-on-top kayaks, it can be tricky. Watch the surf for a bit before you head in and be prepared to get wet and possibly to walk/swim the last few yards.


Succulents in bloom
Succulents in bloom

The waters leading to the anchorage just north and east of the point can be turbulent in the extreme. When the weather is settled, that’s less of a problem, but if the wind has been whipping up out of the west you can expect to encounter confused seas and rollers ranging to 15 feet. You can avoid the problem by standing off the reef a mile and then  continuing east two miles before heading shoreward. It’s a couple of miles of backtracking. The other choice is a thrilling ride.

Kelp can be a factor both on the approach and in the anchorage proper and seems to regaining a foothold.

In the event of a Santa Ana, West Cove, which is just opposite Forneys, is an excellent refuge.

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.”

Road to Christy Ranch ... even with a permit, you're not allowed to go there.
Road to Christy Ranch … even with a permit, you’re not allowed to go there.

Everyone jumped to their stations and we were underway in about 15 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.

Scary stories

Fagan reports that he almost lost his boat in Santa Ana winds in Forney Cove 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.

Who was Forney?

A twice-wounded veteran of the civil war, Stehman Forney was captured by confederates at the Battle Gettysburg. By 1865 he’d found less hazardous work with the Coast and Geodetic Survey and went west to Alaska and eventually to our home waters. For more, click Stehman Forney.


If you have new or amplifying information concerning this anchorage or the surrounding area, please e-mail Capt. Dan.

Sail for just a few hours …. or several days

Verified by MonsterInsights