isolation over time, many distinctive plant and animal species that
exist here are found nowhere else on the planet.
As evening deepened, I set up the barbecue. Mary and I enjoyed
our dinner with a fine bottle of wine under a brightening canopy of
stars. We were able to see a dim hue on the horizon from the mainland as the coastal cities electrified the night — so close yet a world
away. Tucked into our anchorage, we felt that we’d escaped the rat
race of life in town, if only for several days. We both felt that we’d
become spectators of two distinct worlds: the world that surrounded
our anchorage, ever-brightening stars, a gently heaving ocean, and
the marine life that surrounded us; and that now-distant realm we
called home, glowing across the water.
Throughout the night the winds shifted, but our anchors held
us securely. For me, checking on our anchors throughout the night
is standard procedure. It’s during these times that I love to absorb
the nightlife surrounding the boat. As I made my way forward to
Later, Mary and I paddled ashore for a brief hike into the canyon,
where we noticed the island fox, another unique species making a
comeback. Island foxes are the smallest canids in North America and
are found only on the Channel Islands. About the size of a house cat,
the average weight for an adult male is about six pounds. The success
of the native island fox is a direct result of the return of the bald eagle,
which displaced the non-native golden eagle. The golden eagle has
been a very successful predator of the island fox. Luckily for the fox,
the bald eagle prefers seafood.
Mary at the tiller.
Dinner and wine
Cueva Valdez on
the west end of
Hiking at Pris-
lookout on Santa
check our rode at about 2 a.m., I noticed a disturbance in the water
caused by a huge school of silver-colored smelt, congregating in the
umbrella of light cast by our masthead light. The school morphed
into ever-changing helixes to avoid hunting sea lions that looked
like dark torpedoes careening through the fish. This dance between
species was made truly beautiful by bioluminescent plankton, which
cast electric-blue outlines showing the paths of both the hunter and
the hunted. Overhead, pelicans and other seabirds silently flew into
the night. Periodically, the ocean surface exploded with each avian
dive on the fish below. Higher in the heavens, shooting stars ripped
across the sky.
PHOTOS: SEAN AND MARY WATSON
A NEW DAY IN AUTUMN
We awoke early to more unsettled, but beautiful autumn weather. As
we warmed our hands with our coffee cups, we watched the night
yield to the day with colors changing from darkness to golden light.
The sea lions were still active and I was pleased to actually see a bald
eagle perched on a cliff. The bald eagle is one of the island species
that’s making a comeback, thanks to conservation efforts and the
ban on DDT.
Barbara, which was still coated in thick black rain-laden clouds.
About halfway across the channel, winds picked up to about 20
knots. The channel was calm and we sailed into the harbor at maximum boat speed.
THE TREASURE OFF THE COAST
Every visit to the Channel Islands is a unique experience. With each
voyage my appreciation for the natural marine world off our Southern
California coast grows. This fall crossing proved to be one of the most
beautiful trips so far. Many of my harbor compatriots adhere to the
conventional wisdom that channel crossings should be limited to
the summer months. While the weather is certainly better during the
summer, off-season trips to the Channel Islands will be a rewarding
experience for those who prefer fewer neighbors in the anchorages
and can accept temperatures only a few degrees lower.
Sean and Mary Watson grew up in Santa Barbara, California, where they met
in high school and have enjoyed boating for most of their lives. Now that their son
and daughter have moved away, they have more time on their hands and have
rediscovered the harbor life and overnight sailing trips to the Channel Islands.