Prisoners Harbor

Sail to Prisoners anchorage on Santa Cruz Island with Capt. Dan Ryder and Sail Channel Islands
Prisoners Labor Day weekend 2007 Prisoners – More than 30 boats Sun. night
Loc:Eastern north coast Santa Cruz Lat: N34-01.28 Long: W119-41.11 Last visit: Aug 2017
Tide/Sun/Moon/WX Dist: 0 Prisoner’s Harbor, Santa Cruz WX
Chart 18728 Santa Cruz Channel NPS Alerts
Skipper: Capt. Dan Boat: SANCERRE Capt. Dan Port: Chan Islands
Landing Permit Not Required permit app Local Notice to Mariners

The Debate: Prisoners or Pelican

Depending upon on who you decide is your local expert – Prisoners is either almost as good as Pelican or Prisoners is only suitable if there is no room in Pelican. They’re only a mile or so apart, and frankly, we side with the Pelican group if only because you generally get a smoother ride at anchor. On the other hand, Prisoners can accommodate far more boats and only a single hook is required. It’s easy to get ashore and no landing permit is required to the east of the pier. As long as you turn left when leaving the beach area, you’re in the National Park. Turn right, and you’re out of bounds unless you have a Nature Conservancy permit.

Approach

Approach: This is the lowest spot on the horizon between Cavern Point and Mt. Diablo.
Approach: This is the lowest spot on the horizon between Cavern Point and Mt. Diablo.

On especially clear days (usually in winter), the precipitous valley just behind the anchorage is visible from Oxnard and Ventura.

Most days, we head out from Oxnard before the wind picks up. We could motor directly to the anchorage, but usually head for platform Grace. By the time we get there, we typically have sailable wind. Heading off on a close reach almost always gets us to the vicinity of Cavern Point. We motor across Chinese Harbor to Prisoners, staying on or outside the 20 fathom curve if we can’t see shore, which keeps us clear of all obstructions. The pier, which you’d think would be very prominent, is often hard to see, particularly in late afternoon sun.

This is our favorite spot: near the western cliffs and just off the pier.
This is our favorite spot: near the western cliffs and just off the pier.

Approaching from the west, just past Twin Harbors, the shoreline veers SE. If you’re in close to the shore, you won’t see Prisoners until you pass Pelican.

Anchoring

The western wall of the anchorage is best protected. After a lot of experimentation, I’ve decided that it’s the best spot if any swell is entering the anchorage. The bad news is that in order to get in close enough for protection, you’ve got to anchor bow and stern. And the worse news is that there’s eel grass and other weeds that make anchoring iffy.

The swell can wrap around the point. That makes for an uncomfortable ride. A solution is to anchor bow and stern near the western wall.
The swell can wrap around the point. That makes for an uncomfortable ride. A solution is to anchor bow and stern near the western wall.

We’ve got a French Plow forward and a Fortress aft. The plow does just that, plows and sets like a charm. Last time in, we veered out about 250 ft. on the bow anchor, which was in 20 ft. of water, then dropped our stern hook and finally pulled forward about 75′.

The stern hook was in about 15 ft., so the scope required was quite short. We figured that would be OK since we just need it to prevent us from swinging. Another boat entered the anchorage and tried to moor forward of us and then astern.

Labor Day weekend 2007 Prisoners - More than 30 boats Sun. night. Ugh.
Labor Day weekend 2007 Prisoners – More than 30 boats Sun. night. Ugh.

Their Danforth would not set in the weeds and so they took a spot slightly east of our position. That offset was enough to give them a much rougher ride in the encroaching swell. BTW — on their first attempt to anchor, they veered out a lot of line and and powered up mightily to set the anchor. That’s the right thing to do, but even so they dragged and had to move. Good seamanship all the way around.

On holiday weekends, if you see a huge gaggle of boats lying to anchor, you’ll need two hooks.

Kayaking is great at Prisoners. If you set out after 1000, head west into the prevailing wind.
Kayaking is great at Prisoners. If you set out after 1000, head west into the prevailing wind.

As a practical matter, we avoid Prisoners if there is any sort of wave action entering the anchorage. With no swell and little company, which is usually the case, we head for a spot near the mooring ball. It lies a bit more inshore than the charted position. Our intended point of anchoring in settled conditions is a couple of boat lengths off the pier, straight out or just a tad west.

Going Ashore

The last time we visited, we enjoyed a very calm day and rowing the

Moonrise at Prisoners.
Moonrise at Prisoners.

dinghy or kayak to and onto the beach was no problem. Or you can offload at the dinghy dock on the east side of the pier. If you do paddle into the beach, there is a steep gradient, so if you jump off on the seaside, you’ll likely find yourself up to your armpits or, maybe, swimming. The beach is made of rocks of 4-12 inches and uncomfortable on bare feet.

Hazards

Eel grass and mud can make setting the anchor a problem.

Updates

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

Links

NPS Santa Cruz Info

Nature Conservancy Santa Cruz Info

NPS Boating & Fishing Rules

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