It’s 4:15 in the morning. Monday. It’s been a long weekend, and now it’s my day off. I should be sleeping in but I peel myself out of bed, stumble to the car. I stop for gas, and head to the shop. Damian is waiting, so we load a couple of sea kayaks onto my truck. Toss the gear in. 5:30 am. Most of the world is still asleep, and we roll out of town. Huh? Traffic? There’s a wreck on the interstate, and we sit. With traffic and such, it’s a long drive to Oxnard and it’s nearly nine in the morning before we launch. Our goal, Anacapa Island, about 12 miles off the coast. I’ve never done an open ocean crossing, neither has Damian, and I’m facing the trip with excitement, anticipation, and a dose of trepidation. A heavy fog is present, which means we’ll be doing the crossing with nothing more than an inexpensive compass and a photocopied chart to guide our way. My concerns include weather, crossing a heavily used shipping channel, and finding the island in the dense fog. I can’t help doing the trigonometry, and calculating that being off by only a few degrees, we could paddle right past the island and never see it. Damian is trusting me to find the island and I feel some pressure. We head out into the fog. Within minutes, the shore disappears behind us. The ocean and sky bend together in a lifeless grey color. Sounds are muted. Colors are muted. We paddle through the fog. I keep a close eye on the compass. Listening through the fog for ships, we proceed. A sea lion approaches and plays in our wake. I start to relax, settling into the rhythm of paddling, trusting my compass. Nothing quite makes you feel as small as being in a kayak in the middle of the ocean, not being able to see anything in any direction. A grey form starts to take shape through the fog. At first I think it’s just a shadow, but the hard angles prove otherwise, and it’s an oil derrick, which will be our only navigational way point. We continue into the fog, and the derrick melts away. Hours start to pass. There’s a fair swell on the ocean. Paddling, paddling. Sea lions and dolphins play in the water. I was expecting the crossing to take 4 hours or so, but as the time stretches on, I begin to worry. I try and keep my mind free, but I secretly yearn for a glimpse of the island. I need to see it to reassure me that we haven’t paddled past it in the fog. Grey forms appear in the fog, and I think I can make out the shapes of the island. But I wonder if it’s just my imagination. Yup. It’s an island, and the arch off the end tells me that it’s Anacapa. Whew. I’m relieved. Damian give’s me the thumbs up, and I relax much more.
We paddle towards the west end of Anacapa, aiming for Frenchys Cove. Wind and an evil current make this stretch feel like paddling on a treadmill, and it seems to take an eternity. Paddling hard, and the island doesn’t seem to get closer fast enough. We’ve now been in the boats for close to 6 hours, and we’re ready to get there. Time stretches on. Eventually I land on the small rocky beach (picture with two kayaks on rocks). Damian is soon to follow. We stretch our legs and eat some food. Happy to be here. After a break, we start paddling down the coast of the island. Amazing to watch huge groups of sea lions hunting schools of fish. It’s a gorgeous area, and a sea kayak is definitely the way to see it. Playing in the water, I nose into a few sea caves, and play in one little rock garden, but the swells are big enough that I mostly just enjoy the scenery. We paddle past middle Anacapa, then on to East Anacapa. We round a corner into a cove, where we are greeted by Holly, a NP Ranger. After helping us get our kayaks on the pier, she gives a brief outline of where things are at on the island. We ferry some gear, set up camp, and I cook some burritos. Wander around the island a bit, and soon, I’m feeling sleepy. Anacapa is a working lighthouse, and there a few buildings for the National Park Personnel, but other than that it’s basically a big, pretty, rocky, birdsnest. Gulls nest everywhere. I mean, everywhere. The cacophony is amazing. the smell is amazing. Gulls EVERYWHERE. We wake to more fog, and as I eat breakfast, I flip on the weather radio that Doug (my boss at Southwind) loaned us. It cackles “Small Craft advisory- wind 15 -17 knots, rising in the afternoon” Damian throws a worried glance, and I look back at him. “Think kayaks are considered small craft? ” ” well, it’s on the big side for a kayak…” We decide to err on the side of caution, and head back as soon as possible. Pack up camp, an head down to the water. Load the kayaks, and launch. The paddle back was less worrisome. We had much more visibility, and enjoyed several pods, totalling hundreds, of dolphins, passing us, some swimming within sight under our boats, and leaping from the water just feet away. More faith in my navigation allowed me to relax a bit more, and I really enjoyed the paddle back. BIG ocean swells swept beneath us, and a few times we’d get a bit of a breeze, but mostly the weather seemed to be pushing us along, and the severe stuff we feared never surfaced. Even with a few long breaks, we made it back in a little over 4 hours. Overall, a great trip, it was fun. the wildlife was amazing. I think when I do the trip again, I’ll plan three days, to allow a day to explore the island more, but it was a blast, and I look forward to doing ti again. Unfortunately, the wonder of being out at sea, with dolphins passing all around you, is something hard to put into words, as is the amazing emptiness of a foggy open ocean, and I don’t feel like I’ve well described the experiences. It’s awesome, in the truest, original sense of the word.