Potato Harbor

Sail to Potato Harbor on Santa Cruz Island with Capt. Dan Ryder and Sail Channel Islands
Sunset from inside Potato Harbor
Loc: North coast Santa Cruz Lat: N 34-02.9 Long: W 119-35.45 Last visit: June 2017
Tide/Sun/Moon/WX Dist: 3 Prisoners, Santa Cruz WX
Chart 18729 Anacapa Passage Google Earth
Skipper:Capt. Dan Boat: S/V Sancerre Capt. Dan Port: Channel Islands
Landing Permit Local Notice to Mariners NPS Alerts

Overview

The anchorage is a bit cozier than it appears in this GoPro wide angle shot. ©Tom Ryder
The anchorage is a bit cozier than it appears in this GoPro wide angle shot. ©Tom Ryder

Potato Harbor is one of the prettiest anchorages on Santa Cruz. Maybe the prettiest. We’re compelled by the grandeur of the cliffs to sail in almost every time we’re in the neighborhood, yet we rarely get to drop the hook in there. Why? It’s a death trap when conditions are normal i.e. westerlies of 15 knots. You’re on a lee shore and if the wind pipes up above normal, you’ve got to fight a swell exacerbated by the shallow water at the mouth of the harbor.

Refuge from Santa Ana

A wide-angle GoPro shot. We typically put our stern anchor in the light colored water and the bow 2/3 or the way to the entrance.
A wide-angle GoPro shot. We typically put our stern anchor in the light colored water and the bow 2/3 or the way to the entrance. ©Tom Ryder

On the other hand, if you’re surprised by moderate Santa Ana winds, this is a great refuge. The towering cliffs to the north and east make this a great spot to ride out the “Devil Wind.”

On the third hand, if the wind is out of the east at much more than 35 knots, it can roar over the cliffs and straight down into the anchorage.  It is spectacular. At that point, you’re far safer in Chinese Harbor.

By the way, when we anchor here during easterly winds, we anchor facing east. On calm nights, we face west in anticipation of the morning’s prevailing winds.

Approach

Potato Harbor from the Loop Trail. Pinnacle on left marks the entrance to the anchorage
Potato Harbor from the Loop Trail. Pinnacle on left marks the entrance to the anchorage

The anchorage is easy to locate. Just look for the white rocks SW of Cavern Point. Potato Bay, as it’s sometimes called, lies just to the east of to those, guarded by a 112 ft. pinnacle rock on the east side and marked by an small arch on the northwest. I’d think you can fit two or three 35-footers in here, each anchored bow and stern.

Small arch at north entrance to Potato Harbor.
Small arch at north entrance to Potato Harbor.

However, Labor Day of 2007, I counted 30 boats in there. Too much of a crowd for me and an outright disaster if any wind had come up. Boats were scattered everywhere, though, to be frank, many of them were quite small. Some were beached, perhaps not intending to spend the night.

Anchoring

When we stay overnight on settled nights, we plant the stern hook as far east as we can go, in 15 ft. or so,  taking care to check tide tables so that we wouldn’t find ourselves aground in the morning. The bow anchor ends up on a sand bottom in 25 -30 ft. I set the anchor alarm for minimum movement – on Sancerre, that’s 60 ft. – and then keep an eye on things throughout the night.

It should go without saying that we brief our crew thoroughly on our emergency escape plan and we preposition our gear – searchlight, flashlights, life jackets and gloves in the event the wind builds from the west.

Uncharted Hazards

Sunset at Potato Harbor. Red at night, sailors delight.
Sunset at Potato Harbor. Red at night, sailors delight.

There are rocky areas, particularly in the NE corner and some kelp, but on the last visit, the kelp was not much a factor. Be on the lookout for lobster and crab pot buoys. During lobster season, they are everywhere starting a mile or more from the entrance and then are scattered throughout the anchorage. Also be on the lookout for crabbers.

Hazards here can include kayaks, paddle boards and swimmers, particularly near the east end of the cove.
Hazards here can include kayaks, paddle boards and swimmers, particularly near the east end of the cove.

The last time we spent the night, we had a crabber encroach into our space. We had two hooks down, yet he dropped his hook no more than 100 ft. away. I don’t know how much rode he had out, but the thought of him swinging in changing breezes made us uneasy.

Updates

If you have pictures to share or new or amplifying information concerning this anchorage or the surrounding area, please contact Captain Dan

Photos:

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