The National Oceanic Atmospheric Admin-istration (NOAA) weather report was calling for 47 mph northwest winds, gusting to 60. As myself, and three others, sat momentarily stranded on a cobble beach, strewn in driftwood on California’s West Anacapa Island, it sure felt like it.
Earlier in the day we left the southeast end of Santa Cruz Island kayaking toward East Anacapa Island and the lighthouse towering over the iconic 40-foot-tall rock arch, the symbol of the Channel Islands National Park 11 miles off the coast of Oxnard, CA. The northwest winds hadn’t reached extremes just yet, and with the winds at our back, we had no problem making good time to the second smallest isle off the mainland.
We were supposed to camp at the only campground on East Anacapa Island just west of the lighthouse on top of the island where there is no cover from the wind. By the time we reached West Anacapa, wind velocity had ratcheted upward. We realized we weren’t going to be able to pitch tents and sleep reasonably well in those winds, so we opted to stay on that cobble beach tucked against the cliffs.
Before it got dark, we made a wind barrier with our kayaks, and twice in the night the wind picked up the kayaks and blew them to the edge of the water like a flimsy piece of cardboard. As the lighthouse flashed in the night, we recovered our kayaks and wedged rocks against them that held the rest of the night.
It was so windy that even weather-beaten California brown pelicans seeking shelter within our kayak barrier waddled by us to stick their heads in the bushes behind us.
By 4 a.m. those howling northwest winds suddenly stopped. It was as if someone had shut the window in a house. Utter calm swept across the channel. There wasn’t a whisper of wind on the island, but the NOAA report was calling for more wind that coming afternoon. At first light, everyone was in a mad rush, cramming their gear inside their kayaks before paddling toward the lighthouse just a couple miles east of where we camped.
We paddled beneath the natural archway and then paddled northeast for the mainland. We kayaked in a tight formation, aiming between oil platforms Gail and Gina at the east end of the Santa Barbara Channel. Our final destination would be the Port Hueneme Lighthouse built in 1941. The 11-mile channel crossing is the shortest distance between the Channel Islands and the mainland.
As we approached the oil platforms, a small pod of common dolphins joined our small flotilla of kayaks. We were about 8 miles from the mainland as pelagic birds like black-vented shearwaters, western gulls and western grebes swooped from above and swam around our kayaks while we paddled over a bait ball of fish. As they fed, we felt the first whisper of oncoming northwest winds, which were predicted to pick up by the afternoon. We all looked at each other and began to paddle with more fervor, not wanting to get caught up in a wind event like the one the day before.
Things started to become more familiar as the mainland came into view. The Santa Monica Mountain’s tallest crags were visible to the east. There were the long sandy beaches, the Port Hueneme Pier, and to the west of it was the Port Hueneme Lighthouse, its Fresnel light flashing in the distance.
The Anacapa Island Lighthouse can be visited through Island Packers, the only boat concession permitted to land visitors on the Channel Islands National Park. Call (805)642-1393, www.islandpackers.com.
The Point Hueneme Lighthouse is owned by the U.S. Coast Guard and was constructed in 1941. The lighthouse is open for tours the third Saturday of the month from February through October from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (last tour is at 2:30 p.m.). Admission is free. For more information call (310) 541-0334.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2015 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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