Kayaking and Exploring Sea Caves
exploring the sea caves of Santa
Cruz Island by kayak!
It was a unique wedding gift from my long time
friend and kayak guide, Pat Worth, that coaxed my land legs into a sea
kayak to explore
the islands for the first time. I admit the thought of this was
somewhat scary to me as I’ve always been a bit of a “water phobe.” Even
those long underwater scenes in movies can make me feel short of
breath! But, how could I turn down a wedding a gift?
On kayak day, we met Pat at the Island Packers dock on a not
but early morning. He was armed with two tandem kayaks, a set of oars,
life jackets and helmets. We loaded our gear on the 64’ catamaran and
set off for Santa Cruz Island with the morning haze still gripping the
One-hour later, we stood atop the small pier at Scorpion’s Anchorage
with the haze lifted and the sun beginning to warm our day. There, we
were met by a park ranger who gave us a brief set of do’s and don’ts to
ensure that we and Mother Nature got along on the island.
Finally free to be on our own, our kayaks in ready-to-go position lined
up along the beach, Pat gave us a quick course in kayak 101. Only a
skills were needed to get us started, such as getting in and out of the
kayak, keeping balance, stroke technique and what to do if you capsize.
I admit, the thought of capsizing had already crossed my mind
and I was more than a little nervous about this. “Oh, don’t worry” Pat
assured us, “I’ve only had one couple capsize on me before, and they
were doing something stupid.”
This brought me comfort, as I sure
wasn’t planning on doing anything stupid!
Seated in our kayak with life jackets buttoned and helmets secured, we
pushed off with our paddles and cast out into Scorpion Bay in search of
sea caves. With me in front and Michael in back, we stroked along,
focusing on finding our rhythm and balance.
But our focus quickly shifted to the overwhelming clarity of the ocean
floor beneath us rich with brightly orange-colored
gently swaying sea kelp
reaching towards the surface.
Large jagged rocks, created by ancient lava flows, jutted out
around us, The
close up view of Santa Cruz Island was far more stunning than I ever
We followed Pat towards the entrance of our first sea cave. Before
entering, he explained that the rise and fall of the current can
sometimes create rough waters inside.
This is why it’s important to observe the tides’
behavior in each cave before you enter. Seemingly docile
waters at one minute can suddenly turn to “stormy seas” the next. Pat
then asked us to wait outside, while he went in to scope out the cave
and make sure it was safe enough for us kayak-newbies.
Gently bobbing in our kayak as we waited for a signal from Pat and
still gawking at our surroundings, our peaceful moment was
No longer able to stand the sight of my lopsided helmet in front of
him, Michael decided to lean forward ever so slightly to correct my
Startled by the unexpected tug at my helmet, I leaned
sharply to the right, destroying the gentle balance we had achieved.
Our capsizing kayak rolled us into the ocean like two humpty-dumpties
one right after the other. Plop! Plop!
and fully immersed in the biting cold of the Pacific Ocean,
panic set in. I can only imagine what
was going thru Pat’s mind
when he returned from
the sea cave and found our kayak belly-up
nowhere in sight
knowing which way was up or down, my life jacket
rescued me by quickly returning me to the
surface. Gasping for air, my hands clawing desperately but slipping off
the capsized kayak’s smooth surface, my worst watery nightmare was
Then my panic abruptly turned to anger at the sight of Michael
in the water next to me. “Why’d you do that!? Why’d you do
yelled at him repeatedly. “Do
we have to talk about this now?
After our sitcom-moment passed, we put Pat's kayak 101 lesson to good
use. We reached over the kayak, grabbed the far-side and pulled it
towards us to flip our capsized vessel right side up. We are
now officially known as "Pat’s second
couple to have done something stupid".
Safely on top again, shivering and wet, I was determined to see this
thru! Nothing like an ice cold dip in the Pacific to wake you up!
Finally, we entered our first sea cave. Wow!
out by earthquakes and the barrage of never-ending ocean swells, the unique
shapes and forms
in here were like nothing I’ve ever seen!
The need for helmets
became clear to me now as the rise and fall of
ocean tide could cause us to bump our heads on the rough surface of the
cave walls. Some edges are so sharp we used our paddles instead of our
hands to keep a safe distance.
Each sea cave offered something different from the last. In one cave we
resting in a shallow beach exposed
briefly by the low tide.
My favorite though was the Emerald
, named after the green glow caused by sunlight filtering
through the sea cave’s craggy top and reflecting the ocean color onto
the cave walls.
A few sea caves later, and with my water phobia cured (for now at
least), we crossed the open channel towards Cavern Point.
Along the way
we stopped to watch Pat use a swell to shoot through the Marge
. Michael wanted to try this too, but I chickened out.
And all that paddling had given me the appetite of a whale so we
decided to head in to eat our lunch before it was time to catch the
boat to return home.
After enjoying our lunch on one of the sea side picnic tables at
Scorpion beach, we hiked part way up the Cavern Point Loop trail
. From here, we were treated to an eye-popping
of the bay below and nearby Anacapa Island. Many say this is a
place for whale
Had we more time, we would’ve continued towards Potato Harbor
or back towards the once occupied Scorpion Ranch.
As we departed, we vowed to return again. With one trip, we
were hooked! The next summer Michael returned with MC to introduce him
to sea caves. Island kayaking has become a regular father and son
tradition for them. They’ve even braved the Marge Simpson
Get info on trips to Santa Cruz Island
Get info on Kayak tours and
La Isla de Santa Cruz
(the island of the sacred cross) is said to have earned its name from a
staff, topped with an iron cross, accidentally left behind by a Spanish
priest in 1769. As the story goes, a Chumash Indian found the cross and
returned it to the priest the next day. By the time Santa Cruz was
discovered by a Spanish expedition, over 2,000 Chumash Indians lived on
the island in approximately a dozen villages. They used their shell
bead money to trade with tribes throughout California. Expert sea
travelers, they traversed to the mainland in canoes called Tomols. The
Chumash called their island “Limuw,” which translates to “in the sea.”
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