Weathering in Ventura

Tonight is our third night in Ventura Isle Marina. We hadn’t planned on stopping here but we’re finding that there’s a fine line between plans and what actually transpires while cruising. Ventura is about 30 miles east of Santa Cruz Island where we spent the last 4 nights.

We arrived on Santa Cruz Island bright and early after our all night passage from Morro Bay. The passage took about 18 hours with no wind so we motored the entire way. We had Fry’s Harbor in mind but upon arriving found the anchorage full. We made the passage with the Bakers on Capaz and decided to go a few miles away to a temporary anchorage to rest and figure our next move out. Bleary eyed from lack of sleep we dropped our hook in the Cueva Valdez anchorage. After a short rest we put the dinghy in the water to do some exploring. The cruising guide mentioned a number of caves in the area that could only be reached by dinghy. One in particular is known as the Painted Cave for the green, yellow, and red rocks that decorate the cave interior.

The wind and swell were calm as Erin and I cranked up the outboard and got the dinghy on plane. The geography of Santa Cruz Island lends itself to caves and there were many false entrances but when we saw the 150 foot high entrance to the Painted Cave it was unmistakable. Entering a cave by boat was a new experience for us both. We were completely alone since we agreed that our friends on Capaz would watch our boat while we explored and we’d watch theirs when we returned. As we got deeper into the cave the walls and ceiling began to close in and the light began to dim. About 300 feet into the cave the width decreased to about 30 feet and we started to hear noises amplified by the rock surrounding us and echoing off the high ceiling. We decided to turn the dinghy around with the front facing out and row backwards just in case a quick getaway was in order. The back of the Painted Cave is about 400 feet into the island. When you reach this point you a make a right turn into complete darkness and guide yourself by spotlight. Erin and I were a bit spooked at this point because a surge of waves was building and crashing into the darkness. We couldn’t see the waves crashing, but we could sure hear them. We weren’t in complete darkness yet so we pressed on a little further. Shortly we heard wailing coming from the back of the cave. After a few seconds we heard it again, and again. It really sounded like something terrible was happening back there in the darkness. We made a unanimous decision to paddle the other way as quickly as we could. The swells were building quickly and it wasn’t safe to go further anyway. We later found out from our dock neighbors in Ventura that the noises were baby sea lions. They lay on a hidden beach in the total darkness in the back of the cave spooking would be visitors. We’ll take their word for it.

Early in the afternoon we went back to Fry’s Harbor and found that a few boats had cleared out so we set the hook and settled in for the night. The next morning everyone left, including Capaz, and we were the only boat in this amazing place with our own private beach! Later during dinner the wind kicked up to sustained 20 Knots with gusts well into the 30’s. We didn’t have enough scope on our bow anchor and it drug leaving us broadside to the wind. It took another two tries to get both our bow and stern anchors set where we wanted them. Anchoring in sand is definitely different than the sticky mud we’re used to in Seattle. We spent the entire night on anchor watch monitoring our position and checking the distance of our boat from the rocky cliffs on either side of us. Around 6AM the wind finally died enough to get a little shut eye. The forecast called for even more wind the next night so we reset our anchors a third time in the morning and put out another bow anchor as a precaution. We never saw more than 7 knots for the next two nights and slept peacefully.

We spent a few days exploring the cove by kayak, the beach by foot, and scuba dived for the first time on our own without our instructor. The peace was not to last however and the forecast for the weekend called for sustained 30 knots with gusts into the 40’s. We decided not to press our luck and motored to the safely of Ventura to wait out the weather at the Ventura Isle Marina. It turned out to be a great decision. We spent the next afternoon monitoring channel 16 on the VHF and listening to the Coast Guard receive calls from stressed mariners. We heard calls from vessels in the islands asking the Coast Guard to relay their safely to family on the mainland, to let them know they weren’t going to make it home that night but they were anchored and holding so far. The Coast Guard asked for each vessel’s position, verified that they were ok. They closed each conversation by telling everyone to stay put if they were anchored and put life jackets on just in case. We think that majority of these were smaller fishing boats not really prepared for the conditions. We did hear one MayDay call from an unidentified vessel. The Coast Guard was never able to raise them again on the VHF so we’re not sure what happened. We saw sustained winds of 39 knots with gusts well into the 40’s.

The people at Ventura Isle Marina were extremely friendly and invited us to a dock party within 10 minutes of arriving. At the party we talked about our trip and meet a number of other boats heading south into Mexico and beyond. The people reminded us of our old dock neighbors at Shileshole back home in Seattle. We even caught a ride with our dock neighbors and crashed a party at the Ventura Yacht Club where we feasted on a great meal. Coincidentally the Bakers on Capaz had gotten into Ventura about an hour before us and were tied up at the yacht club guest dock. Because they are members of the Seattle Yacht Club they enjoyed two nights of free reciprocal moorage while we had to shell out $80night for a spot. After dinner we walked down to Capaz for a few drinks and laughs. Small world right?

We took advantage of our time waiting out the weather to walk to In-And-Out, visit the marine store, and do a major shopping run at Von’s. What normally would be two hours of running errands in a car turned into an all day event walking the streets. Von’s was a 4-mile round trip lugging our backpacks and carrying our collapsible cart. It’s quite an interesting experience to walk down a city street with $350 in groceries strapped to your back. We really need to get folding bikes!

If the forecast holds tomorrow morning we’re heading back to explore the south side of Santa Cruz Island before heading further south to Catalina Island. There’s supposed to be awesome diving on Catalina Island and warmer water so we’re planning on staying a week.