Sea Kayaking in Channel Islands National Park

Trip Start Nov 05, 2009
Trip End Nov 08, 2009

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Fees Parker Double Tree

Flag of United States  , California
Friday, November 6, 2009

On our second day in California my family and I decided to take a sea kayak adventure in Channel Islands National Park. I am a huge fan of our National Parks and couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit another one when it was so close-by.

We started out our morning with a great breakfast in the hotel. The Cafe Los Arcos had a great buffet breakfast, it was pricey $22.00, but it was self serve so you could take what you wanted. I had pancakes, sausage, eggs, yogurt and granola, a cinnamon roll and fruit juice. The food was fantastic and they even made us a great club sandwich lunch to take with us kayaking. I made sure my family filled up since none of them have ever kayaked before and I knew they were going to be burning some calories!

After breakfast we got into the rental car and drove about 35 minutes to the harbor in Ventura where our tour would begin. We booked our tour with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company but our charter boat to the island was run by Island Packers. We checked in with the helpful women from Island Packers and were told that our guide was going to be there in about 40 minutes. We walked around their shop for a bit and went to the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center so I could get my passport stamped and take a look around. We took some photos of the marina and surrounding area and then headed back to the Island Packers office.
By the time we arrived our guide, Jennifer, was there. She introduced herself to us and went over the obligatory waivers and safety information. She told us we would have a 75 minutes charter boat ride our to the islands along with some other folks who were hiking and camping on the islands. Apparently sea sickness is a problem for some people on the charter boats on the ocean. We were told that if you get sea sick the best place to be is on the outside deck closest to the stern of the boat. The worst place to be is inside in the middle of the boat because you will feel the motion the most there. The day was beautiful and for the most part the ocean was relatively calm, we hit a few big waves but we didn't notice anyone who got sick. The ride out was beautiful as was the weather. We saw seals and many types of birds on our ride to Santa Cruz Island.

Our tour was called Sea Caves and Coves Kayaking around Santa Cruz Island, which is the largest and closest of all the islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park. The first thing we did on the island was get changed into the clothing we were going to wear while kayaking. Since I paddle I brought my own wet-suit and paddle jacket. Santa Barbara Adventure Company supplies wet-suits and paddle jackets to people on their tours. Once everyone was changed we were all given helmets and life jackets to put on and adjust for ourselves. I adjusted my families equipment.

The next thing we did was a quick demonstration on how to get into the kayak and how to climb back in if you capsize. Sea kayaks are different than whitewater kayaks so I made sure I was paying attention. Our guide Jennifer did a quick lesson on paddle strokes which was nothing new to me. We were in double sit-on top sea kayaks, since my aunt was injured she went into the kayak with me since I had the most experience. My mom and dad paddled together and there was another couple in a tandem kayak, our guide was in a single kayak. We picked up two kayaks at a time and did a double man carry down to the rocky beach where we were going to launch.

Jennifer waded thigh deep into the ocean and held the kayak for us as we climbed in one by one and launched us into the Pacific. I could tell my aunt was nervous, at first the entire kayak shook as she tried to get her "sea legs" and get used to the rolling motion of the ocean. I told her to keep her hips loose and let me control the kayak until she got more accustomed to the sensation. I took a few pictures and watched my parents launch, my mom looked really nervous.

Once everyone was in a kayak we paddled for a little bit in the safety of the bay area. When everyone was a little more accustomed to maneuvering the kayaks we paddled up to our first sea cave. It was large and dark inside. Jen explained a little about counting waves and figuring out when it was safe to enter each cave. She took the lead and paddled into the cave, the other couple in the group went next followed by my aunt and myself and then my parents. The caves are neat to go into. They are multi-colored and various birds live inside. The waves enter into the caves so you must steer you kayak to avoid hitting the walls. The entire time we paddled Jen talked about the marine life and history of the area. She pointed out several large cracks in the arches of the caves and explained that they were fault lines caused in earthquakes. I guess not even tiny bits of land are spared the damage from an earthquake.

Next we left the relative calm of the bay and entered more choppy water farther out into the ocean to reach our next cave. The Pacific Ocean was more active now and the waves we were going through were about 5 feet high. I am quite accustomed to paddling through high waves and rough water while whitewater kayaking but my aunt was frozen in horror. She took her paddle out of the water held it above her head and started screaming "Angela, oh my god, Angela!". I knew she was really scared because I felt our kayak start to turn sideways against the big waves, which is the fastest way to capsize a kayak, I realized that she was staring at the shore! In a kayak where you look is where you end up going, it can be helpful or harmful depending. In our situation it was harmful since the shoreline was running parallel to us and the big waves were coming right us in a relentless pattern. I managed to get her attention and told her to stare at Jen, who was in-front of us. Just doing that turned the kayak to square us up to the waves that were coming at us. I looked over to see my parents paddling well but my mother still looking nervous.

We paddled through the big waves around a large point on the island to another calmer area of water. The next cave was larger than the last, all the boats fit into it easily with room to spare. Jen talked more about the ecology that we were seeing. Inside this cave was a small beach at the back and an odd shaped arch that was just big enough to paddle through. Jen demonstrated how to do it and the younger couple paddled through it with no problem. My mom and aunt refused to try so we paddled out of the cave and back into the choppy water of the Pacific again.

I could tell that my aunt was starting to relax and enjoy herself since she felt that I could control the kayak with minimal effort on her part. She was hooting and hollering in the big waves instead of screaming in fear! As we approached another part of the island she suddenly threw her weight hard to the right side of the kayak, the classic "buoy lean"! Thank God I have whitewater kayaking experience and instinctively braced on my right side to keep us from going over! I yelled at her to not do that and explained that shifting weight that quickly without telling the other person in the kayak was a sure-fire way to tip over! Having my aunt in a kayak with me was quite an adventure. I never counter-steered or braced so much in my paddling career. It taught me that I will never paddle whitewater tandem! But all in all I was having fun and enjoyed sea kayaking and I thought my family was starting to have a better time now that they were getting used to paddling.

We paddled back to the first cave that we visited and Jen gave everyone to opportunity to try to paddle through an extremely narrow cave opening and warned us that the likelihood of tipping was pretty good. My aunt and mom instantly refused to try so that left the younger couple with us to try. We paddled to the other end of the cave entrance to get a better look at what they were doing. We could see them start to paddle into the tiny little cave opening before a wave came through. When the wave receded we could see only one person in the boat. My aunt noticed a paddle had washed through the cave and was floating near the entrance. I immediately started to paddle forward to go get it but she resisted, she was afraid of getting sucked into the cave. I explained to her that we couldn't let the paddle get flushed out into the ocean and that we wouldn't be going into the cave...she hesitantly agreed. We got the paddle without a problem, just then Jen came up to us to retrieve the paddle. The young couple was going to do a 2nd attempt of the cave since they were soaked already. They made it through without a problem but they both looked very cold since they opted against wearing wet-suits.

Once everyone was back in their kayaks we preceded to paddle to the other end of the island. Along the way we saw many of the birds that make their home in Channel Islands National Park perched on a rock in the middle of the ocean. There were pelicans and cormorants and other bird species as well. We saw several seals poke their heads out of the water and follow us very curiously. We encountered another group of kayakers returning from the western end of the island, other than that we didn't see anyone else on the water.

Our next cave was the infamous "Green Room". It was the largest of the caves but also had the most violent waves crashing into it and apparently a strong undertow. Jen paddled up to the cave and no one followed her. I made up my mind that I was going into that cave. My aunt didn't want to but I propelled the kayak forward under my own strength. The cave was big and looked harmless enough. It was neat inside and you could see many nests of the various birds perched up on tiny ledges in the cave, there was also a kelp bed in the cave. We didn't have a problem until the next set of waves came through. The were very large and pushed us deeper and deeper inside the cave. My aunt freaked out and put her paddle in the air and started screaming "help, help me!" All the while I was back paddling to get us out of the cave, we suddenly hit a swirly current of water that forced us over to the right wall of the cave. I needed help paddling so I told my aunt that she had to back paddle with me and stop screaming. She was so freaked out that she started paddling forward only adding to the strength of the undertow. Once I realized what she was doing I commanded that she take her paddle out of the water and let me do it on my own. I managed to get us out of the cave by paddling like all hell. Everyone else decided they didn't want to go in since we had a hard time getting out.

So we all paddled around the side of the green past a few more arches and saw more wildlife. We paddled along the cliffs and looked for starfish and looked in a few more smaller caves before returning to shore. We carried our kayaks back up the beach and took off our gear and got changed back into street clothes. A little while later our charter boat came to pick us up. We ate our sandwiches and chips and drank some beers on to return ride to Santa Barbara. On the way Jen came and sat and talked with us, my family had a good time and the horror stories were already growing!

When we returned to the harbor in Ventura we got back in the rental for the drive back to Santa Barbara. We returned to the hotel to shower and change. We were supposed to meet my cousin Shelly at a bar on State Street for a few drinks after her rehearsal dinner. So we got in the car and drove the few blocks to State Street. All the shops, restaurants and bars were open. It looked like Santa Barbara had quite the night life. We managed to find Sharkeez but the family wasn't there and they hadn't called my cell phone. We walked around and looked at all the places to eat since we were hungry and opted for the Chipotle Mexican Grill since we wanted Mexican and their prices were cheap. The food was really good, its not so much a restaurant as it is a cafe. Seating was limited and the place looked popular. We ate and left since it was getting crowded, we walked around State Street and then returned to the hotel for the night. We never did hook up with the rest of the family but we figured the rehearsal ran late and we were tired anyway. It was a long day!

Things Learned on Day 2 in California:

1. Channel Islands National Park Website :

2. Santa Barbara Adventure Company Website:

3. Island Packers Website :

4. Sea sickness tip: We were told that if you get sea sick the best place to be is on the outside deck closest to the stern of the boat. The worst place to be is inside in the middle of the boat because you will feel the motion the most there.

5. Santa Cruz Island info:

6. In a kayak what you look at is where you will go, which includes obstacles.

7. Paddling tandem can be trying when one person has experience and the other does not.

8. I will never paddle whitewater in tandem!

9. State Street is the main street in Santa Barbara with all the shops and restaurants.

10. Parking is incredibly limited near State Street, you will probably end up in a parking lot and paying for it.
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Suz Cohen w/ SB Adventure Co on

Great to read your posting. Jen is now working with the Nature Conservancy on the Channel Islands. She is wonderful.

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