Sailing from Santa Barbara to the Channel Islands

Friday – Preparation

In early December, I attended ASA 104, sailing from Santa Barbara to the Channel Islands with 2 other students and our instructor. We arrived at the Santa Barbara Sailing Center Friday evening at 5pm. My two other classmates were a couple that I had previously takenASA 101 and 103 with, so we were already familiar with each other. Our instructor was not who we expected, but an experienced sailor nonetheless. 

For the next few hours, we reviewed sailing right-aways, what the different lights mean on the boat, and eventually started plotting our course for the following day. Once we had our timing and route outlined, we determined what we wanted to eat for the next few days.

Excited, we met the next morning at the Sailing Center and packed up the boat. We would be sailing on the Jenny Lane, a 51’ Catalina 50. It was the biggest (and nicest) boat I had been on. After preparing the boat, we set off for the islands. The wind was light, so we motored the whole way. We did a couple “man over board” drills along the way, trimmed the sails a bunch, and made it to the islands in about 5 hours.

Santa Cruz Island was beautiful. It looked like a mix of remote Baja shorelines and cliffs with some scenic Oregon colors.

Fry’s Harbor was where we decided to anchor for the evening. It was the best place to shelter us from the large 5-7 foot NW swell and also the easterly wind. Seeing our instructor read the weather, swell, and get the boat into a perfect anchoring position was quite impressive and a testament to what 20 years of sailing can lead to.

We used two anchors to secure our position for the night. One out in front and another behind us. For the anchor behind us, I and another student hopped into a dingy to deploy it. Being in a small dingy powered only by oars is not for the faint of heart, but also very fun.

Once we got anchored, it was time to start winding down. It had been a long day of learning in some larger swells. We made spaghetti and meatballs on one of the smallest stoves I have ever seen and it was delicious!

Being in that cove with an almost full moon was beautfiul. It was perfectly quiet with the occasional fishing boat cruising in to check on a pot they dropped. It was also a lot of fun to play with the night photography settings that the iPhone 11 Pro offers.

Our sleeping quarters were small but nice. On the other hand, the bathroom was somehow smaller than one you find on an airplane. It even made a porta-potty look more appealing.

Sunday – Sailing Back to Santa Barbara

We woke up the next morning at 7am and had a rather lengthy breakfast of coffee and bagels while we discussed the plan for the next day. 

After pulling up the anchors, we cruised south along Santa Cruz Island to Pelican Bay. It was great seeing how diverse Santa Cruz Island is with the variety of shoreline cliffs, trees, and wildlife.

Once we were done with the quick tour, we started heading back to Santa Barbara Harbor. There was a small craft advisory in effect. We were experiencing 20-23 knot winds the whole way back. Once we got our sails properly trimmed, we were averaging about 7 knots the whole way back, sometimes getting into the mid 8 knot range! The swells will still large, so it was a sea-sick inducing ride. Very thankful for Meclizine, which helped me from getting sick. But dang, it got close a couple times, especially when we went below deck to manually check our course.

With the strong winds, we made it back to the harbor in about 3-4 hours. We were all happy to be able to step back on solid land. We were even greeted with a rainbow!

 Sailing from Santa Barbara to the Channel Islands was a great adventure! Next up on the sailing front: practice, practice, practice. While I like sailing and love the ocean, sailing requires a ton of time on the water to truly feel comfortable out there. I am hoping we can get more time just cruising around the harbor, practicing all the elements of sailing.