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EXPLORING THE ISLAND BY KAYAK PLENTY OF THRILLS ON TRIP TO ISLANDS.

Byline: Bill Becher Staff Writer

Fortunately, no rats had to be eaten and nobody got voted off the island when 12 of us on a kayak cave-exploring trip survived a weekend on Santa Cruz Island.

We all had signed up for the Southwind Kayak Center trip to the biggest island in the Channel Islands National Park, about 25 miles west of Santa Barbara. We would go explore some stunning sea tunnels and caves according to the brochure.

We meet at 7:15 a.m. at the Ventura Harbor for the trip to Santa Cruz on the Island Packers Vanguard.

We learn there is major schlepping involved in this adventure. We dump our gear on the sidewalk and help guides Harold Trevort and Brian Walrod with the kayaks - which are loaded below deck, on deck, and in a skiff the Vanguard towed. The crew of the Vanguard presses us into service to form a human bucket brigade to hand luggage from the sidewalk to the boat. This process is reversed when off-loading at Santa Cruz, and repeated the next day on the return to the mainland. This is the major reason that Island Packers limits individual baggage items to 45 pounds or less.

The trip to the island takes about an hour-and-a-half and once on the island, NPS Ranger Jack Gillooly gives a brief introduction and warns about the presence of Hantavirus, which is spread by deer mice.

Although no visitors or NPS personnel are known to have been infected with this nasty disease, his suggested precautions include avoiding breathing dust in places where mouse droppings are found, such as in buildings. Our stay is al fresco, in tents we have brought and we will pitch at the designated campsites in the eucalyptus-shaded canyon about a half-mile from the beach.

Gillooly also warns us about getting too close to the cliffs, as they have a tendency to crumble and fall into the ocean. He tells us the resident ravens are known to open zippers with their beaks so we should store our food carefully.

We schlep the gear to the campground and set up our tents and have some lunch. The group includes an extended family of sisters with children and a husband, a couple of solo guys, a solo female librarian who brought her own kayak, and two other couples. Most are new to kayaking, or have done and introductory paddle class.

We're all asked to introduce ourselves and what we expect to get out of the trip. Some in the group actually have been shanghaied. Jody Motter is a water sports lover and has convinced her hiker husband Mike, ballet dancer daughter Erica, guitar-playing son Andrew and sister Dana to go. Jody's son explains why he's here: ``Because mom made me.''

As Trevort goes through a litany of the dangers we will face, a couple in the group look as if they hope they will be voted off the island.

We should watch out for Dragons Teeth: the pointy rocks that can hang from the cave's ceiling or protrude from the bottom.

We must beware the waves breaking in the caves and smacking us into the ceiling, waves that surge back and forth and sideways. These waves could rub skin off against the rough cave walls like a cheese grater, though this process sounds to me more like being in a blender set on puree.

We should control our paddle so it doesn't get caught and garrote us our get broken over the boat.

``If you are under a low spot and the surge lifts you, don't lean back,'' the guide says. ``That will smash your face into the ceiling of the cave. Lean forward. So your helmet takes the blow.''

If a wave takes you up toward the roof of the cave, his advice is to capsize the kayak and let the hull take the impact to avoid a head or neck injury. Hang upside down, underwater, he says, patiently holding your breath waiting for the surge to subside.

Wearing a life jacket and helmet in the cave is a must, and wet suits and gloves are suggested for those who sit on top of kayaks - to protect against the cheese-grater effect.

Those in enclosed kayaks are encouraged to leave the spray skirts off to make a wet exit easier, and to wear gloves and long-sleeved shirts or jackets. We are reminded to take our dark glasses off when entering the caves.

The advice that really sticks is ``Don't paddle under anything that's dripping, meaning that if it's wet, it probably got that from a wave that reached the ceiling,'' something I don't want to experience when in a cave.

Trevort said later he doesn't want to scare people with these warnings but does want to get our attention. He did. He says the guides don't mind getting people wet, but they don't want to get them cut up. (No one on our trip was hurt.)

After lunch and introductions we walk the half-mile to the landing pier for a quick introduction to paddling and launch the boats.

This consists of lowering them to the water, walking down a ladder and stepping into the floating kayaks. This is easier than it sounds, as it turns out, though it could be an adventure in its own if the conditions were rough.

We all manage to get in the water right-side up and paddle to a nearby cave at Scorpion Rocks. We stay outside while the guides observe the rise and fall of the water in the cave.

It can be a long time between large sets of waves and Harold and Brian want to make sure we will have plenty of headroom. Harold paddles in to check things out. Brian stays outside to help us time our entry.

There are several rocks that are awash, and we paddle with an incoming swell to get over them.

We marvel at the colors of the water and the earthy dark smell of the cave. Everyone makes it through without getting grated.

We paddle some more, checking out other caves. Some are through tunnels, others are one-way but big enough to turn around in. One of the caves has an underwater window that lets in sunlight, giving the jade green water an eerie fluorescence.

The wind is kicking up by now, so we paddle back to Scorpion Bay and beach the kayaks.

The group decides to eat first, and then go for a hike. We shared a potluck dinner over camp stoves.

Later we walk up to the top of the bluff to watch the sunset. The hills are the lovely, chamois brown that Californians love, not that icky green that Easterners seem to like.

Three girls are sipping out of a jar of what appears to be lemonade.

We are up the next morning to have breakfast, break camp and get into the kayaks. This time we paddle west and explore the sea caves along the way.

We pass on a large cave that has a harbor seal resting on the sand at the back of the cave. Sea mammals need their naps between hunting forages, and, aside from not being the right thing to do, harassing marine animals is a federal crime subject to fines up to $10,000.

We split up after an hour and half, with part of the group going back to the dock, and the rest of us going with Harold to explore more caves.

Kathy the librarian, who also rides mountain bikes, is with us. Harold points out Dragon's Breath, the cool misty air that is pumped out of some caves by the surge. But we don't spot any dragons, only bright orange garibaldi fish below us in the clear water and the pelicans flying in formation overhead.

The wind is kicking up some waves, and we swoop up and down the crests, getting a bit wet, but nobody goes over except John, who takes a dip to cool off.

We get to one cave, dubbed Marge Simpson because of the beehive-haired human profile in the rock. We wait a while outside the cave, watching the surge.

It looks good and Harold is ready to lead us in when a big set starts the blender effect. He decides we should pass.

As we get around the point to the cave's outlet, we see a kid in a kayak, not a part of our group, in the cave. A big wave lifts his kayak and wedges it between the rock walls.

He hangs suspended for a minute until the next big wave frees the kayak and he tumbles into the frothy water. Harold shouts advice: ``Turn the kayak over and swim out,'' which is what the kid does. Lesson learned.

We meet at the dock to hand up the gear onto the Vanguard and take some group pictures.

We arrive in Ventura Harbor and the skipper tells us, ``The bonding is not over yet. We still need to help unload the kayaks and gear.''

Too short is my take on this adventure. There are so many caves, so many hiking trails, and so much water to fish or snorkel that I would suggest a minimum of three days to get a taste of it all.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo: (1 -- color) Kayakers enter the sea caves at Santa Cruz Island, one of the highlights of the trip.

(2 -- color) A kayaker travels through a cave on Santa Cruz Island.

(3) Helmets are passed out to kayakers at Ventura Harbor prior to departure on their adventure to the Channel Islands.

Bill Becher/Special to the Daily News
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Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 3, 2000
Words:1611
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