A Small Boat To The Channel Islands

I like to write about diving. I generally avoid writing about getting to the diving, dive resorts, dive masters or many of the other things that go with diving, unless they are part of the adventure. Well, if you've ever gone small boating in the ocean, especially to the Channel Islands, you know that often just getting there is an adventure.

This originally started out as a description of some trips I had made to the Channel Islands in small boats. Then I started to remember how many trips I had made over the years in small boats. Viewed from over the years, they all tend to blur together. Some of that blur might be just that common fog of the 70's and 80's. Still, trips like those are so memorable and there were so many memorable events on these trips, that looking close I start to remember that each trip was distinguished by its own special experiences.
This was one essay that sort of breaks up into three parts. The first is about boating in general. The second is about my many trips with Kevin. The third part is about my trips on the Island Breaker with Don. Conveniently, the older essay about Central Coast Adventures With Dale, that talks about boating along the Central Coast, can just follow those.

Seeing these essays after they are written, I see that they could just as well be called More Ramblings From The Diary Of A Dive Bum. I guess it is just some parts of the dive adventure that I never really wrote down before, but this was some of the best exploring that I ever got to do... Heck, much of the time we had no idea where we were.
Looking at it all together, I find it hard to believe how many trips I made in a few small boats. They were wonderful adventures.

Anacapa Arch, West End

The Channel Islands are just a magical place for me. A place of exotic beauty, mystery, surprises, peace and excitement that demand that I explore just a little bit further, beyond the next point, to the next island. They are a perfect place to explore. I have spent a lot of time there, but there is still so much to see and so many Front Side Coves that I just never had the time to stop and visit.
One of the best times is when you pull into a calm cove and look down along the kelp stands until you can see fish swimming among the rocks and kelp on the bottom. Another is when you are descending far from a shore and out of the gloom appears a vibrant reef that would be unsuspected from the surface, but is really a vast lush world to swim through. Under each cliff are its castoff rocks providing a beautiful reef. There is far more hidden in the water there, than I will ever see. I have not yet taken my own boat for a slow explore along the backside of San Nic or Miguel.
In a big boat you tend to go from place to place. You stop at each dive site, dive and then wait for everyone to get back abord. You then take a fairly slow trip to the next spot. On a small boat you pull into an area and find a place to anchor. Then maybe you go ashore or you dive. Then, being in a smaller faster boat, you tend to cruise along near the shore, slowing down whenever there is something interesting to see. You tend to have less tanks (usually no more than 3 per person) so you have more time when you are not diving. You also spend less time travelling, so you have more time to look around. You get to see more and explore more in a small boat. It's not a cattle boat, but small boats always mean tight quarters and while the boat is not that crowded, the crew is certainly loaded full up most all of the time.

Most of the time the Channel Islands present an appearance of arid, almost desert or chaparral. There are many faces to the islands though. It seems that the shoreward sides of the islands get more rain and the backsides get much less. It seems that most of the rain storms there come from the north and not from the southern ocean. Sometimes there was green grass on the hillsides of Catalina that was so thick and lush that climbing up the island presented the hazard that you could start slipping on that grass and you weren't going to stop. Go along the backside of Santa Cruz Island from the west end and the mountain side there looks like a moonscape. If you study the natural history and the human history of the islands, there is obviously a great deal to learn and some mysteries that will never be known.

Backside Santa Cruz from Gull Island

The Coast Guard recommends a 40 foot boat for crossing to the Channel Islands. It is cold open ocean and can get quite rough, sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly. Still, it's a beautiful trip that sportsmen have been making in small boats for a long time.
In the early 70's I well remember the small, open wooden outboards that were common at Anacapa and the southern end of Santa Cruz Island. These were mostly fishers and looked to be often husband and wife crews. These were small boats, mostly less than 21 feet and mostly seen in summer. They were made of coppery red mahogany and were beautiful. The early 70's constituted the end of the era of these craft. This was near the beginning of the time of the molded fiberglass hull. Now a wooden boat like that is a rare classic, but some still do exist.
Going to the Channel Islands in a small boat is always memorable. On a good day, it is calm cruising and exploring in beautiful and empty coves. When things go wrong, it is as harrowing as only a small boat owner can understand. Just having the boat start and work good when you get to the ramp is a challenge. Then you also have to make your own weather judgments and reporting wasn't very good then. Navigation isn't too tough... unless there is fog... Also, aside from any diving, fishing or mis-adventures, it is a long tiring ride, when it's not rough.

Then there is always the pound. It's just part of boating in any small boat. That is what happens whenever the person driving the boat makes a mistake. It may be an unavoidable mistake, but it is certainly a mistake. It is when the boat, for some reason, comes down wrong and instead of cutting through a wave, it simply pounds down. It makes the boat shudder in an unforgettable way, because that shudder goes all the way to your spine. It is the boat's way of telling you that you made a mistake. Make enough of those and the boat is going to come apart... and you can clearly and intimately feel that message. It also feels pretty nasty on your back if you aren't standing to take the shock.

There is one important caveat to remember about boating to the Channel Islands. "You can always find calm water at the island". Most places you go boating out of, you know the conditions as soon as you leave the harbor. If it's rough, it's going to stay rough and you might as well turn around. Not so at the islands. No matter how rough it is when you leave the harbor, you can blindly hold on to some hope that you can find some calm water when you get to the islands. This is an extremely important item, because it dictates the nature of boating there. While diving and boating is easier and generally more fun when the seas are calm, even if it is rough, you can pretty much always find some sheltered cove for diving. It's just a matter of getting there. So sometimes, you go out when it's a bit rough. Sometimes you go out when it's way too rough. That's what makes for memorable moments in boating. You look at each other and you both have the same "did you see that" expression on your faces.

Often the boating aspect is actually more of an adventure than the diving. It's far more work and there's more to go wrong. Loading a boat starts with gas, oil and the endless maintenance. Food, clothing and dive gear come next, if there is no bedding. Tanks are heavy, hard and they roll really good if not fixed in place carefully. Heck, I've been in the parking lot with the outdrive pulled apart. Careful on the ramp!
You quickly learn a system where the regulars cooperate in a well coordinated system that gets the job done amazingly quickly, but it's still early in the morning and things still tend to go wrong.
The drive to the harbor is the same way. If everything goes good, great and forget it. If salt water has destroyed a trailer bearing, you're gonna have an adventure. Brakes. Brakes and heavy loads. Whee... We slide right through the red light. You've already slid enough and made enough noise that no one is going to hit you, but I suspect they were laughing a bit as they watched us slide by.
Both Don and I always had an ear cocked. That may sound like a lobster slapping in the ice chest, but we knew that sound. That's a water pump belt that just broke. Time to pay attention. Any boat can start taking on water for some unexpected reason. Engines just hate that. There are other sounds you have to listen for, like any new sound. Running out of gas sucks, because sure as the ocean is wide, you're going to be a long way from a gas pump
Let me tell you, when you've gotten up early, taken an all day cruise in the sun, spray and wind, bouncing across swell, dive and then driven back, you still have to clean out the boat, clean the boat and clean out the outdrives. We do it for fun.

There are other things you learn about.

If you talk to the guys at the Isthmus or Avalon gas docks at Catalina, they will tell that at least once a week, somebody comes across to the island, stops for gas and starts sinking at the dock because they never put in their plug.

There are obviously a lot of hazards to avoid when in a small boat, but one is a bit unexpected. Those big container ships are much faster than they look. Any time you are near one and have to make a judgment about passing them, be careful. They are very easy to misjudge, especially if you think that you have the speed to blow by them. You don't. You can meet them coming into San Pedro Harbor or out in the open channel. It's not just that they are big, they are boogying. Going into the breakwater at San Pedro, if one of those ships is in front of you, don't try to pass them and get in first. You may very well not make it and you will probably come closer than you want.
Don and Marci were laying down in the back of the Island Breaker. I was standing with Joe, who was driving. We were in the open channel off of Ventura. Joe asked whether he should go behind or in front of this one big ship. I judged he should go in front. (He who hesitates is certainly lost). We went in front and then turned along side it some to get back to the desired course. Don could then see the ship sticking up next to us. I still regularly have to tell him not to bother me, that it was a valid judgment call.

One thing that is funny about driving a small boat. You usually are following a course set by the compass. Well, unless you have a long range view and something to aim at like an island or the shore, you will tend to deviate from your planned compass course. This is called 'falling off'. You fall off your planned course. Almost all people do this. Then you have to look at your compass and correct again. What is interesting is that the amount and direction that a person falls off is generally consistent. They always fall off to the right or left, but not both. Some people fall off a lot, some fall off less, but it is usually the same amount... Kevin rarely fell off much, but he was the exception... Me.. 15 degrees left. Considering that the difference between hitting the east end of Anacapa and passing to the west of San Miguel Island (50 miles away) is only 15 degrees from the mainland, that can be important. You can learn your natural fall off, but it is still hard to adjust for correctly.

There are eight Channel Islands. Most people have heard of Catalina, if not the rest. On the east end of Catalina is the town of Avalon. Many people know of it and it is a respectable town with mansions, businesses, dive shops, tours, underwater parks, all the amenities of a resort and the Casino. Also, zoo crowds in summer. Less known is Isthmus towards the west end of Catalina. On both sides of the island are deep coves. The seaward side cove is called Twin Harbors and the shoreward side is called Isthmus. As opposed to Avalon, it is like a sleepy, dusty village with dirt roads and palm trees. There is a gas dock there and sort of a dive shop (you can get fills if someone is there). There is even a store, restraunt and a bar that is now open all year, instead of just in summer. For boaters and divers, Isthmus is quieter and provides all that is needed. There is real good diving right close to Isthmus, including Eagles Reef, Bird Rock, Ship Rock, Isthmus High Spot, Blue Caverns and other excellent sites. Often Isthmus was our destination. Both Isthmus and Avalon are crowded from Memorial Day to Labor Day and are insane during the annual Pirate days, but both are peaceful other times, though the weather is usually excellent all year. Isthmus, especially, outside of tourist season, is a quiet pleasant place. The kind of place for a quiet pleasant cruise.

Cruising the Channel Islands With Kevin

It seems I've known Kevin forever, but I guess it's really only since High School when we first met and tried to mess with each other in shop. It didn't work well for either one and we ended up as friends so that we could seriously mess with each other.
It seems like almost every weekend, I was water-skiing with Kevin, Richard and Arthur. It was Arthur that had the boat and we'd all head up to Piru, Castaic or Pyamid Lake. For longer trips we ended up at the river, Pine Flats Lake or Mission Bay. Often my brother was along with his flat bottom. That was one shockingly fast boat. In the early morning the lakes were glass and great for water-skiing. Mid day, the water would get rougher and skiing would slow for a bit. I even got a bit of a tan one summer doing this. It only took about 2 years to heal. Anyway, water would calm some in the afternoon and we'd be skiing again. Then in the evening, I'd make the last trip across the lake behind my brother's boat back to the dock, flat out.
If you wonder why I write about water-skiing here, it definitely is part of the context. It was just part of what we were doing at the same time as we were diving. Diving just lasted longer. To me, it's also a statement of amazement about how much time we had in those days. At least we used it for fun.

Life wasn't all water-skiing though. There were plenty of free time for diving. I was constantly shore diving and I had been making trips to the Channel Islands on Charter boats like the Sea Bee and Sea Packer, almost weekly for a couple of years, but this was very different. Kevin's father, Glen, had been taking small boats to the Channel Islands for many years. Instead of slowly chugging over in a 55 foot, heavy, wood hulled boat, this was flying in a 21 foot fiberglass rocket that glided over the water as we went to Anacapa.
We pulled into this fairly protected cove that they knew of on the frontside and went onto the island. It was legal then. It was only about a 150 foot walk to the other side of the island where the ocean waves hit the small beach. I walked along the the shore of Anacapa Island for the first time. It was enchanting. In spring and early summer the islands get verdant green and there are yellow wild flowers everywhere. As I describe elsewhere, scuba and freediving in the calm frontside coves is great with good vis and lots to see, especially then. This was when the bottom was thick with huge red urchins and warty sea cucumbers. Scallops were common in the cracks behind the urchins and there were even legal pink abalone part way buried in the sand at the bottom of the rocks at the mouth of the coves. There were still some big sheepsheads even at Anacapa and the Calico bass were thick. In those days, the large purple jellyfish were common and you could count the blue sharks you passed by their fins sticking up. There were a lot of them.

View From Anacapa

For Glen, cruising was just what he did for fun when he wasn't doing business. He was a bit of an adventurer and he had a lot of good stories from over the years. He was a diver when that meant just a mask and fins.
On these trips, I would burn my tanks with Kevin or Bill and then free dive along the island shore for hours at a time. Sometimes we hiked onto the top of the island itself. Glen would be rowing around in his small inflatable or just relaxing on the island.
I made a lot of trips over many years, to Anacapa, Santa Cruz and Catalina with Glen, Kevin and Bill. It was always fun.

Then Kevin got Pinky.
He finally had his own boat. It was this 17 foot, pink, high sided fiberglass bathtub with a 75 hp Evinrude outboard. It was made in 1956. That made it older than him.
We were stoked. A couple of kids at Channel Islands Harbor with a boat, ready for our first trip to Anacapa. We got loaded up and headed out of the harbor with about 7 other boats... all but 3 of which turned back as soon as they got in the swell beyond the breakwater. It wasn't a huge day, but it was big. A bit of discussion and we figured we had to try it. It was the first time out. So on we went due south, which should take us to the east end of Anacapa.
Kevin was standing on a plastic step stool for driving, so that he could see over the windscreen. After a few miles of bouncing along and a few launches, the only boat still following was a nice new cruiser that was over 30 feet and they weren't passing us. The entire boat flexed as it went through the waves. We were really bouncing along when there was this huge crash of shattering plastic. Kevin's step stool was plastic fragments, but that was not our first thought. We both thought it was the boat cracking up at first.
Well, it was a beautiful day when we got there and calmer when we went home.

There was one thing that really made small or large boating to the Channel Islands a lot nicer than it might have been. Going back to dock, you were always going with the waves. Never into them. A lot of times, even with a big boat, you can get on a swell and surf for quite a ways. So if you could make it out, you could always make it back... Unless it was Santana Wind conditions and then you might well want that 40 foot boat the Coast Guard mentioned. Usually though, the trip back was a relaxed beautiful ride.
Of course, there was one other thing about Pinky. It was an old boat with an old design. The bottom behind the V of the bow, was sort of a flat curve. They made boats that way for a while... Then they learned that that design can cause them to flip if you surf a swell...

Note that the Santana Winds (sometimes mis-called the Santa Anna's) are always blowing from shore, but they usually come from the deserts high up above the land and drop down to the ocean 60 miles out. If the weather is right though, they drop down through the mountain passes and blow along the water. They may or may not be a problem, but they can be a bad one, especially at Catalina. A boater must keep a weather eye open for them and smell the air. If you smell sage, the Santanas will be there soon and it is wise to look for shelter. You can get stuck for a day or two in the lee of the island depending on where you are and how bad the winds are.
The Santanas can make the ocean flat for shore diving though. Then another thing to watch for then is if the water temperature suddenly drops about 4 degrees. It means that the winds have blown off the top warmer water and pulled up cold upwelling waters. Vis along the shore can get extraordinary at that time.

Anyway, we made a lot of trips to Anacapa and a few to Santa Cruz Island in Pinky. It's great trying to figure out where a good dive spot might be. These were spring and summer trips. The air was warm. We would just dive in coves or look for kelp offshore. We had no electronics beyond a compass and a flashlight... There was only one thing that was uncomfortable. Kevin always liked to leave the island later than I would have. We were often one of the last boats to the harbor, just a bit before dusk. Well, there was this one time when the boat started and we got a few miles from the island. Then something happened and suddenly the engine would barely run. We tried everything we knew, but it would just sorta rough idle along as we barely moved. It was late and though I saw two boats, they were a long way off. That flashlight I mentioned... Well, there was one other boat a couple of miles away that was not going in the opposite direction. I quickly recalled how to SOS and we shut down the engine so that we weren't moving. The folks on the other boat didn't really want to tow us, but it was like a 50 foot swordfish boat, so they did.
The post mortem showed that we had a broken distributor shaft. How we ever got the motor started was a mystery.

We had a lot of fun with Pinky. We were kids having a great time exploring and everything was brand new.

I went up north for a couple of years after that and I have no idea what exactly happened to Pinky. It was time for replacement before Kevin ever got that boat. Kevin went through a succession of boats. He was a bit of a wheeler dealer, so he would buy a boat and maybe sell it a short time later, usually for more than he bought it for. He kept most boats for only a couple of years and never for more than 3.
His brother Bill had a boat too now. Sometimes we would go out alone or with his brother or father. Actually, his brother Mike had a boat too, but we don't mention him. Since they were more into cruising, we would only bring a couple of tanks, but I liked free diving so much that tanks didn't matter that much to me. This is when I got in the habit of swimming out over the sand past the cove rocks with my tanks. You don't always find much, but anything you find is almost guaranteed to be interesting and unusual. Any small isolated rock in the sand will be used as cover by every animal that can glom onto it. Also, in winter, I would see some lobster boeys a ways offshore and just jump in there to see if they were sitting on a reef. You have to be a bit careful of your depth doing that, but I found some amazing shelves that seemed rarely visited by divers because some had large abalone or scallops on them. It seemed like sometimes the lobsters had already found the traps and sometimes they hadn't. I remember more than once finding nice lobsters in ledges right near traps. There seems to be a lot of small reefs between say 100 feet and 115 feet, off of Santa Cruz Island. Finding them is another story. There are big Calico bass down there.
This was also when I could free dive comfortably to 70 feet. Past about 50 feet, the fish don't know what you are if you aren't blowing bubbles. I usually didn't do much spearing when on a small boat, but I still liked playing hide and seek with the big calicos. They don't like being snuck up on.
Sometimes, when cruising out, we would just stop mid channel and fish, but that usually just meant catching mackerel or barracuda and then having a shark grab that. If you got them in, the objective was to get the hook out without them ever coming onto the boat.
Sometimes we went to Catalina. Avalon is a fun town for pizza and watering holes. Sometimes we would stay over night anchored outside the harbor there instead of at the Isthmus. There is great diving all around Avalon.


I should mention one other boat. Kevin loved to go to the LA boat show. One time when I went with him, I was wandering around by myself when I saw the Mercury exhibit. This was the first year (or near to it) that Mercury was selling the Black Max line of outboard motors. I looked at it and told the sales women 'wait until my friend sees that'! She said that he already had and that he hugged it... That was Kevin's way of judging it's size.
So Kevin ended up with a 125 HP Black Max mounted on a 16 foot ski/race boat with maybe 4 inches of freeboard. Great ski boat. Interesting ocean boat. We took it to Catalina a number of times. The trick is to never stop mid channel unless it is really calm. We did do a fair amount of ocean skiing, but really it was still a matter of going to coves and Catalina with other boats... Just with that boat, we had to do a lot of waiting for others to catch up.
If you know ocean boating, you know it was just a matter of time.
We had already made a couple of trips back from Catalina in the afternoon, when the seas had started to pick up. You have to drive a boat with a fairly nimble touch, but no one did it better than Kevin. This one afternoon though, it was really big even if it was trailing seas. I was sitting backwards in one of those padded contoured seats that they put in ski boats. My view was of whitecapped walls of water trying to fall on the boat from behind. We got launched every couple of minutes. At least that boat was a good flyer. Three times we launched good enough to knock the wind out of me. Kevin sorta apologized, but he was busy. In conditions like that, you just have to rely on your boat and driver...
After that trip, there were lateral crack lines in the boat, so Kevin sold it. Actually, I think I liked the bigger boats for the ocean.
Talk about rough rides. He got one boat that had a V8 engine, but the boat was really designed for a V6. The extra weight in the back made it bounce a lot. Mara almost lost her... chests on that first trip. Then Kevin got those fins that bolt onto the bottom of the outdrive to lift the engine for stability. It rode like a Cadillac after that.
After his divorce, the Wendy Sue becamse the Wendy Who.

Quiet morning at Isthmus

The Island Breaker

Really, for me, this was the time of the Peace and the Truth, taking Wednesday trips to San Nicolas (The Badlands) and Santa Rosa (Talcott Shoal) Islands. Then if I wasn't set for skiing or bodysurfing, I would go on a small boat to the inner islands on the weekends. This was the great lobster hunting times, say the mid 80's.

Then I met Don and Glen. They owned the Island Breaker.
Originally, it was Glen's boat, but as I hear it, Don was driving along and saw an 8 foot shark hanging in a tree. He figured he had to check it out and that is how he met Glen and bought into the boat. I won't say that either one of these guys was extremely sane (or myself for that matter), but they did like to dive and the Island Breaker was a real dive boat.
It was a 25 foot boat with twin 6 cylinder Chevy engines with Mercury outdrives. That gave it good speed and reasonable gas consumption. It was ugly, but it did the job. We could carry 5 divers comfortably enough and 14 tanks. There was a big swim step at the back just made for diving. The deck had burned off years back and was replaced with a simple deck that made it look like a big ski boat. It had as much capability as you had nerve to try. With the barrel under the deck, it carried 85 gallons of gas. They had taken it to San Miguel Island on calm days. Best of all, it was very fast.
I hear tell that they came straight back from San Miguel Island, all the way to Ventura Harbor one day and got pulled into the Coast Guard docks for inspection. They were basically told that the only ones that drove that route that straight and fast, were drug runners.
Well, then Glen pulled that slick maneuver that got him in the pokey, I was making good money doing side jobs and I must have been a bit insane, cuz I bought Glen's interest in the boat. We all know about that day for a boat owner.
I had been making trips with them for some time, so that didn't change anything much. If you're going to partner in a boat, a mechanic like Don is a good person to do it with. What a lot of work!

The Island Breaker

The good part was that it was a fast trip to Santa Cruz Island. We'd load up and be there in a bit over an hour from Ventura. If there was a swell from the north or west, we would go straight to the back side of Anacapa and turn up to Santa Cruz Island, flying over the calm water. If the swell was from the south, we would stay in front in the smooth water there. Sometimes it was just rough everywhere, but that was why it was called the Island Breaker (one reason anyway). It was heavy and had a nice V so we could go into rough water.
Then if it was a nice day we would go up the backside of Santa Cruz Island. Realize, that is a 27 mile long island. There is a lot of diving. Pick a cove, any cove, or just some offshore kelp patch. We looked for spots that looked to be too small for the charter boats to want to visit. We would stop at Gull Island or go on to Santa Rosa. If not Santa Rosa, we would stop at Kinton Point where there were still plentiful abalone and fish. The diving inside of Frazier Point (the north west corner of Santa Cruz Island) was good. The diving outside (like the Potato Patch) was better, but a challenge if there was any swell. Then a dive under the northern cliffs before heading home. In between, munch Fig Newtons and eat mystery chicken.


Glen and Don at Kinton Point.
Notice the Pink and Red Abalone.

It's truly a different world out there from nearby LA.. There may be other boats out there, but not many past the south east end of Santa Cruz.
Along the backside are a number of deep coves that go back to sandy beaches with streams that come down from the island canyons. There are often power and sail boats anchored in the well protected back of these. From what I saw, I can only imagine that they anchor there all summer, perhaps longer and occasionally go to shore for supplies. Heck, if they are really serious yaghties, I would expect that they mosey on down to Cabo or Acapulco for summer. These coves are very deep and you may never get really see into them from charter boats.
Sometimes, hunters with bows go up the canyons beyond the beaches looking for wild boar.

Sometimes if we wanted to go to Santa Rosa Island, we would start from Santa Barbara Harbor and make the long Channel Crossing there, but then we could dive the backside near Bee Rock. That is some great diving.
During lobster season, we usually just went across to the frontside to Santa Cruz where it tended to be calmer and we could do frontside diving for lobster. I always liked tooling around China Point looking for bugs and scallops. We used to find 3 or 4 pounders fairly often, bigger occasionally. Every point on the front side is rich with life. Every cove was a good dive.
We took the boat into Painted Cave and were real lucky not to lose a prop. You could see the rocks just below it. Next time, we just swam in, but went in a ways further than a boat can go. Sea lions are barking and bouncing around everywhere. They don't seem to like their privacy and feeling of safety disturbed there.

After A Day Backside Santa Cruz

Don, Pat, Alan and myself went to San Nicolas Island for a season opener. We got to do some great lobster diving Bouncing For Bugs in the shallow water and tide pools near shore. Shortly after that trip, we loaded up Don, Pat, Glen, Alan, Myself, 14 tanks, 85 gallons of gas and off we went to San Nicolas Island. The Island Breaker hadn't been there. Heck, we didn't even have a course. There was swell, but it had about a 13 second period from the west. The slow period and the fact that we were going due south made it an OK ride. When we got about 10 miles behind Anacapa, I was able to guesstimate where Nic should be, from all my trips there on the Peace. I saw it.
It was hard to believe that the boat could plane with all that weight, but we made it there in about 2 1/4 hours. Since the island is Navy owned, we were radioing ahead as you are supposed to do, to ask about closures. Well, they waited until we were about a mile from the middle of the north side of the island and then sent a helicopter to chase us away. Then we were heading west directly into that big swell, but we weighed so much that the Island Breaker just broke on through it. I suspect that they were surprised at the speed we could make into it. I had really wanted to dive the frontside tide pools. What a hassle, but it almost looked like a jet up there was hovering.
Anyway we got to the west end and did our diving. Got some bugs and got home... with almost no gas left.
For those of you that don't know it, San Nicolas is a long, challenging trip to make in a small boat. It was probably about 60 miles to get back. The diving is great, but a charter boat is an easier way to go.

Going Home

You perhaps ask why no more electronics. Well, we were out one day when there was some fog, but it wasn't too bad... until we got off the east end of Santa Cruz Island. We were heading for Yellow Banks and suddenly everything vanished to gray. Hmmm... Then a boat went by that had radar. We got behind it and went on. By the time we came out of the fog, there were 5 boats lined up behind us.
I did the sensible thing and bought a Loran C. We mounted it up and it worked great the first trip. It was weird. Our dead reckoning that we were used to using, said 'over there'. The Loran said 'no, here'. It was 'here'... Dead on. I liked that.
Well, Lorans need a really good ground and so there was this braided ground wire that trailed from the unit. I really didn't know what to do with it, so it sort of just sat out, unconnected. Did I mention the electrical on the boat? Well, it wasn't perfect. Heck, if you had wet feet and a bit of luck, you could get a nasty shock off that one starter key... Well, the Loran ground wire found it's way to that hot key... It smoked the Loran. I sent it to be fixed, but it was never the same again.

Since I'm just rambling, I guess I have add a bit about Glen. He made more mistakes than I am prone to, so his story ended up being more interesting, if you know what I mean. Glen was a real good guy, but.. well, he did Glenbys and Glenbys are bad mistakes.
Anyway, he got out of the pokey after two years. How he got in was quite incredible and involved getting clocked by the CHP while airborne and that wasn't his worst transgression that night...

Glen got another boat. This 21 foot ugly green thing with a single outdrive.
The story I heard was that his father went to the ramp at 10 pm and his truck was still there, so he called the Coast Guard. 4 am the CG helicopter spots them drifting. By then they are wrapping themselves in aluminum foil to try to keep warm. Seriously, these guys would go out with no more than a T shirt.
Well, this guy is no dummy. That's not gonna to happen again. So he got a kicker engine big enough to get him back to dock and mounted it to his swim step... But you have to also chain them... That fell off mid-channel sometime...
Then there was the time we towed him back. Everyone came onto our boat for the tow. One of his drunk buddies chose me on during the tow, cuz I didn't like him tailing a bug I got (it's illegal to possess then). When we got to dock, I clarified things for him.
Believe it or not, there were other stories about Glen as well, but he did get to do some good diving.
Last I heard, Glen came into some money and got another real nice boat.

Well, I hope you found this a bit amusing. Small boating in the big ocean is always... interesting. There are other essays on the site, about fun on small boats at other times and places. There was the stories about the the trips to Margarita Ville and boating from Point Sal to South Big Sur in Central Coast Adventures With Dale. That was some great diving and some wild boating.
I haven't put much in about my inflatable trips down here in San Diego. There is some great diving off of La Jolla and Point Loma. Inflatables bounce too much though.
Now a days I prefer going with Lem in his 28 foot BayLiner. Radar, differential GPS, hot showers, compressor, bunks, shelter and it's fast. That has been good for some great diving. I've written some essays about those trips. We do some good night diving... then it's a stealth mission..

... I can't wait to go out to local reefs out of Oceanside this year with John in his boat..., but that will be another story.

Enjoy the diving, seahunt

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I donno exactly how to put it, but I think that it is fair to say that taking a small boat to the Channel Islands takes a certain kind of fortitude. Partly it is an individuals urge to travel and explore places in the sea that few others have a desire to visit. Those who take small boats across the Channel are explorers, but they must be more than that. Boaters that visit the Channel Islands reqularly learn to dress warm, but it takes more than that, because the cold of the ocean is limitless and so ultimately, the only thing that will resist that cold is the endurence of the individual who just considers it to be a cost of the visit. That is the way of the sea, a person coping with the impersonal.
Sometimes when boating, you have to put up with seasickness. It makes you miserable and weak, but the ocean doesn't care so the individual must ignore it and just carry on.
Sometimes it is just rough and you're going to get beat and it's going to go on for hours. Each wave becomes a challenge to carefully climb and then not crash down into the next one. It requires confidence in both the crew and the skipper.
What requires fortitude more than anything else though is the age old issue of mariners going out to a place that can be as hostile and dangerous as it is vast and beautiful. You just have to have a nature that can feel at home in such a wild place without being overwhelmed by it or to give in to fear when things get scary. I've known a number of people that are this way. You know, salt water in their veins, these are people I call my friends including Glen, Bill, Kevin Bray, Richard, Don, Marci , Pat, Allen, Glen, Dale, Mel, Dan and a few others. We had some great trips.