(The following is an account of a sail to the Channel Islands by De Marsh and Stan Butler of the Potter Yachters several years ago. The story was originally published in the club newsletter, The Potter Yachter.)


By De Marsh

I lie in my bunk listening to the mournful wail of the rigging. The stars skid past the hatch opening as the anchor lights of two large boats alternate with silhouettes of the rocks on the point. Ipo and Ooh No!, two 14-foot Potters, dance like marionettes at the ends of their anchor lines. With a 50-knot wind gusting out of the arroyos of the Santa Cruz Island anchorage, I anxiously wonder if we will still be here in the morning. This was our introduction to cruising the Channel Islands.

Our trip from the Bay Area started the day before. The plan had been to leave home on Thursday, spend the night at the Channel Island Harbor, sail to Santa Cruz Island, spend two days exploring and skin diving, to finally return home again on Monday. We arrive at the Channel Island Harbor late Thursday afternoon.

To say that the Channel Island Harbor launch facility is the best in the west would not be too great an exaggeration - several acres of parking, four concrete ramps with comparable docking, and a picturesque "Fishermans Village." Our arrival was marred by a sign stating cars would be towed away if left after hours. What to do? A panicked trip to the Harbor Master's Office relieved our fears with his assurance that we could park as long as we wished (weIl, at least through Sunday).

A clear evening sky, a placid sea, and a prediction of fair weather on the morrow raised our expectations for a favorable channel passage the next day. Local channel experts cautioned that an early crossing is advisable to avoid the strong afternoon westerlies. We heed their advice next morning with an early breakfast and launch by 7:15 a.m. A snappy tug on the pull rope and the Seagull outboard comes to life. We slowly motor along the channel toward the breakwater, passing great forests of masts waving gently to and fro, their stillness disturbed by our wakes. The approach to the outer harbor finds two surfers gingerly picking their way among the rocks in anticipation of surfing the outer breakwater. Our final exit from the harbor is greeted by a gentle swell and no wind. The great adventure begins.

Arch Rock, the easternmost point of Anacapa Island, is 11 miles from the harbor entrance. Today the island holds her head high for all to admire her majestic profile, providing us visual security for our first crossing. We plan to sail to Anacapa, explore her hidden recesses, then negotiate the windy passage separating Anacapa and Santa Cruz. Our destination for the first anchorage is near Smugglers Cove.

Within six miles of Anacapa we enter the "slot,"an area that funnels the westerlies between the mainland and the islands. The 15-knot breeze provides a welcome relief from the noisy outboards as we both douse the gas paddles and hoist sails. Ah! The serenity of sail, but not for long, as the pleasant 15 knot breeze becomes a blustery 25 knots with the start of a good chop.

Time to reef the main. I was most anxious for this opportunity, as I had recently put reefing points in my mainsail using Stan Butler's jiffy reefing for a pattern. In less than a minute, it was "heave to and reef down." To my surprise and consternation Ipo took on a severe lee helm. Careful sail adjustment eased the helm if the working jib was allowed to partially luff; however, the result was an inability to point effectively to windward. By contrast, Ooh No!under reef, with both sails driving the boat and minimum heel, was pointing 10-12 degrees higher. Why?

A later in-depth analysis revealed that duplicating Mark II sail reef points on a Mark I sail configuration reduces the sail area to 31 square feet in contrast to 40 square feet on the Mark II. This drastic reduction moves the center of effort too far forward, resulting in a lee helm. A relocation of reefpoints will be required.

As we made Anacapa, the reduced pointing capability under reefing left Ipo a mile to leeward of Ooh No!. Stan motored back to find out what the trouble is as I shake out the reefing and start the Seagull. A 30-knot wind is now channeling out of the west right into our teeth, resulting in a decision to motor-sail the length of Anacapa.

Anacapa is a National Monument under management of the Park Service. The island was named by Vancouver after an Indian word "Anyapah", meaning "mirage." In reality, Anacapa is a 4.5 mile chain of three islands separated by two rock strewn passes. The western and most prominant island is a brown pelican sanctuary, off limits to visitors. Frenchy's Cove, on the middle island, is the most frequented by visitors as it contains the only beach landing. All other areas consist of steep cliffs terminating directly into the sea. Many years earlier, Stan and I had camped several times at Frenchy's Cove. On those occasions, a group of us would charter a boat and be delivered to Frenchy's Cove. After several days of diving, the charter boat would then return to retrieve us. Kelp beds, clear water, and abundant sea life provide superb diving conditions, making this a popular area.

The easternmost island boasts an automated light controlled from Port Hueneme. On a clear night,this valuable navigation aid can be seen for a distance of 23 miles.The light was originally established following the sinking of the Winfield Scott, a sidewheeler that struck the rocks below in 1853. A year after the sinking, a survey party investigated the area for a lighthouse; however, it was not until 1912, 58 years later, that the light was actually erected. Anacapa is a very inhospitable shore, affording little anchorage protection from any but the most moderate sea.

As we continue our traverse of Anacapa, the seas become steeper, frequently engulfing the cockpit with spray. In addition to wearing lifelines and life jackets, we are now fully clothed in foul weather gear. Near the western end of Anacapa the Seagull runs dry. Instead of gassing up, I decide to sail under full canvas. Stan, intelligently motors past the rocks and heaves to, eating lunch while I stubbornly spend the next 45 minutes tacking past the same point. (When will I learn that stubbornness is not a virtue?)

All the passages between the islands generate greater winds and higher seas. Anacapa passage is no exception. The seas steepen, and the wind noise rises another octave, exceeding 35 knots at times. With full sails Ipo demands maximum attention, with mainsheet in hand, dinghy fashion, ready to be tripped at any moment. The main is set to force a partial luff, striking a delicate balance between heeling too much and maintaining sufficient headway. The increased seas make spray in the cockpit a constant companion with an exhausting five miles still to go. Another return to reefed main is unsatisfactory. Underreefing, Ipo, several times, comes dangerously close to broaching. Without the jib the boat is too slow in these seas, forcing a reluctant return to full sail.

The anchorage in the distance beckons like the fabled siren, Lorelei, prompting visions of serenity and safety. After a seemingly interminable time Ipo enters an area of calm, cast by the island's wind shadow, necessitating motoring the final distance. At last, the exhausting 10-hour ordeal is over. Stan is already at anchor preparing hot chocolate as I set my Danforth with 150 feet of line and begin preparing Ipo for the night.

Storm warnings with increased winds and seas is the bleak forecast for tomorrow from Stan's weather radio. Good sense dictates a return to the mainland at the earliest opportunity. We agree to start back at first light next day, hopefully during the morning calm before the cold front moves through. Should the storm arrive while we are still at anchor the resulting wind shift will have us anchored off a lee shore, a very dangerous condition.

Stan is anchored too close to shore, which prompts him to relocate further out. While doing so his anchor line becomes fouled around the centerboard. Anxious prodding with the whisker pole finally frees the line. As we begin to relax, the first whisper of wind starts to trickle out of the island canyons - an annoyance that quickly turns to concern as the swirling gusts increase in force. Everything seems to be making noise. Jib clews beat a tattoo on the deck, halyards slap the mast, shrouds scream, and the centerboard pounds. The net effect is a sound collage of ear shattering intensity. The wind force continues to mount, gusting from every quarter of the compass, playing crack-the-whip with the Potters. A thin edge of fear creeps along the spine. What if theanchor drags? What if the wind shifts to the south? What if the anchor line chafes through?

We prepare for every contingency our fears can project. Stow the main below but leave the jib hanked on for a quick exit. Place the spare anchor in the cockpit ready to be put over in an emergency. Chaffing material is wrapped aboutthe anchor line where it enters the chock. The motor is gassed and at the ready. Wrap the jib clew with cloth to dampen the noise. Reposition the halyards to eliminate the slap, and raise the centerboard to stop the pounding. Now it is wait and see; everything that can be done has been done. Food and rest are what are needed to prepare for what lies ahead. I retreat to the cabin and sup on cold Spam, french bread, and dried fruit. Bites of food are gulped between nervous glances out the hatch for reassurance that we are still where we are supposed to be. After a time it is apparent that all is holding despite the increasing winds. With this assurance I retire to my sleeping bag and an Oxnard FM station playing soft music to help offset the wind noises.

I sleep fitfully in two-hour segments. The first awakening is greeted with a brilliant three-quarter moon. Lights from the mainland, reflecting on the sky, outline Anacapa, while, far beyond, oil platforms twinkle like starclusters. The winds continue into the night, at times reaching frightening proportions. Stan's anemometer is pegged off the scale most of the night, exceeding 50 knots. He is less fortunate than I for he does not get any sleep at all. The thin light of dawn brings forth the realization that all is well and the winds are dying. By full light it is dead calm.

Except for needing the compass to make the harbor, the four-hour motor trip back to the mainland proves uneventful. The storm does not strike until we are well up the road on our way home.

Having sailed San Francisco Bay for a number of years, we are accustomed to heavy going. We have frequently encountered livelier sailing conditions in the Bay than those during the passage. However, the high freaky winds of the anchorage were an experience we would not wish to repeat. Some day we should like to return during the summer, then our objective to poke and prod among the nooks and crannies of the Santa Cruz north shore can be fulfilled. Perhaps we shall.