San Nicolas Island

A story by Brad

Took the good skiff back to the Island of the Blue Dolphins last Saturday morning. Rode a rare north easterly flow all the way to the island leaving at 8AM, arriving at the west end, back side at around 1PM. The water was 55-56 degrees and the vis at the west end was about 15ft. I found some better vis down around mid-island, so I put on my new 5mil and slipped in the water with my camera. Within a short time I was surrounded by a host of the usual characters. Blacksmith, blue perch, a few olives and blues as well a few calicos, an occasional huge pile perch, some small sheephead, and some kelp rockfish. The sea lion pups were out in force. They were playing and roughhousing all over the place. They are absolutely delightful to watch. They are incredibly tight-knit as they play in groups of 10 to 30 or so. They can be seen touching noses for extended periods of time, I guess the teens are just being teens!

Late Saturday afternoon, I made my way down to the east end by Dutch Harbor. As the sun was setting, 6 commercial boats came into the area to hide out from the wind. We had a little sundowner that evening. The wind came over the island and blew 25-30 kts until around midnight. With a 1/4 mile fetch and little swell, it was a very nice setting to listen to Garrison Keiller's 'A Prairie Home Companion' with a fine rum and coke on ice. Sunday morning was clear with a nice breeze from the north east. I made my way back up the island and found some more kelp to swim in. Though I didn't see anything extraordinary, it is always a thrill to swim under the canopy at different coves along the back side. Two weeks ago, I saw quite a few lobsters, but this time I saw none. I guess they moved on.

Sunday night was magic! It was a rare combination of crystal clear skies and no dew! Dry and warm, no wind at all. The kind of night that gets you out from under the covers and awake under the stars for hours, just taking in the sights and sounds. Sea lions romping by the skiff, elephants bellowing on the beach, the sand-spit gently breaking in the distance and the smell of dry brush from the island...

What a difference a day makes! I made the run home yesterday morning. As i left the island, there was a gentle 10kt breeze from the n/w and it just got better all the way back. This morning on the other hand saw gale winds at sunup. The swell yesterday morning was 6ft, today it is over 15ft. Trust me, you don't want to be there in gale winds and 15ft seas. There is no shelter from the wind when the seas build over 15ft.

I've made the run back in rough weather several times. You look out over the god-forsaken horizon and all you see are the whitecaps and the peaks of the biggest swells. I fasten the velcro around the wrists and ankles, hold the boat in one hand, the tiller in the other and with body english, i carve a 5ft wide path through the foam. I look for the peaks and race over to catch them! You position yourself at the crest, back off the throttle and shoot down the face, peak after peak for as long as they last.

This time I rode the lull before the clearing wind back to safe harbor yet one more time...

Here is a glimpse of the beauty that is San Nicolas Island~


(loves the sea)

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