Willows Anchorage

Sail to Willows anchorage on Santa Cruz Island with Capt. Dan Ryder and Sail Channel Islands
Bow and stern anchors are essential at Willows.
Loc: mid-south coast Santa Cruz Lat: N33-57.67 Long: W119-45.27 Last visit: Dec 2023
Tide/Sun/Moon/WX Dist: 6 Prisoner’s Harbor WX
Chart 18728 Santa Cruz Channel NPS Alerts
Skipper: Capt. Dan Boat: S/Y Sancerre Capt. Dan Port: Channel Islands
Landing Permit Required Nature Conservancy permit app
Local Notice to Mariners

A Choice Anchorage

There are many picturesque anchorages along the Santa Cruz southern coast, but none more so than the one at the end of Willows Canyon. Protected from west to north, it is a most spectacular setting and is great for kayaking and snorkeling. A south swell usually turns into a south surge, which can be daunting if not downright nauseating.


NOAA Chart 18728

Arriving from the west, Willows  Anchorage outlying 87 ft. rocks formations are hidden by hill 669. Use Bowen Point and the white-stained rock at its foot, which is about 2 miles to east of Willows as your distant approach point.

These two 87' rocks mark Willows, but from far offshore, they're hard to locate.
These two 87′ rocks mark Willows, but from far offshore, they’re hard to locate.

Approaching from east, the anchorage is easy to identify with its precipitous cliffs that rise nearly vertically to about 700 ft. There are also two 87 ft. rocks that lie some 100 and 200 yards from shore. As big as these rocks are, they often blend into the background until you’re within a mile or two.

West anchorage

There is room for a couple of fair-sized yachts here in Willows Anchorage. If we’re the first ones in, we’ll start into the anchorage once we’re parallel with the rocks and will favor that side as we motor toward the beach.

There's enough room for two yachts in the western part of Willows Anchorage.
There’s enough room for two yachts in the western part of Willows Anchorage.

Note that there are submerged rocks near the western cliff as well as near the pinnacle rocks. Once situated roughly in the middle, we’ll drive in until we’re in about 25 ft. of water then make a hard left turn into the wind. If the wind is calm, we’ll drop our stern anchor just out of the turn, if not we’ll motor ahead until we’re roughly abeam of the break between the 87 ft. rocks. We’ll drop the bow anchor there then drive astern parallel to the rocks until we’re in 20-25 ft. of water. We set the bow anchor at this point, then drop the stern, ease out stern rode and motor ahead until we have roughly 150 ft. of stern rode deployed. We set both anchors with vigor. We check the tide tables. If we’re on a rising tide, we’ll leave some slack in the rode, if not, we’ll haul in fairly tight. If there are two boats in the anchorage, it’s good practice to offset laterally and bow-to-stern. Note: There can be a nasty surge in close to the pinnacle rocks.


Canyon winds are frequent and sometimes very strong.

Centered between the 87' rocks and the western wall.
Centered between the 87′ rocks and the western wall.

We’ve not been very lucky in lining up with the wind and have frequently found ourselves with a strong cross wind blowing us toward the cliff or the rocks. Neither position is comfortable and it is particularly hazardous to get underway in these conditions. When we anchor here, we always set an anchor watch and are ready to go if conditions turn sour. Other hazards: From time-to-time we’ve encountered substantial kelp close to the cliffs and beach.

Eastern anchorage

The area on the east side of the pinnacle rocks can be even smoother than the more popular area. In 2017, the west anchorage was a violent washing machine, but the east side, though a little rolly, was acceptable. Had we set a second hook to keep the boat into the swell, we’d have got substantially more sleep.

Only one hook is required. Be cautious of submerged rocks close to the beach and anchor well clear of the pinnacle rocks.

Landing Permits Required

If you intend to go ashore, you’ll need a permit from the Nature Conservancy.


If you have newer or amplifying information concerning this anchorage or the surrounding area, please contact Capt. Dan.


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