Kayaking and Exploring Sea Caves

Check out our first adventure
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? 

Island Packers catamaran

On kayak day, we met Pat at the Island Packers dock on a not so bright 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 Ventura shoreline.

Scorpian's Anchorage, Santa Cruz Island

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.

About Santa Cruz 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 handful Kayak photo by Tim Haufof 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.

ocean floor off Santa Cruz Island
But our focus quickly shifted to the overwhelming clarity of the ocean floor beneath us rich with brightly orange-colored starfish and the gently swaying sea kelp forest 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 imagined!

Santa Cruz Island rock formation
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 about to change.

kayaking at Santa Cruz Island
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 fashion faux-pas.

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!

Suddenly 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 with us nowhere in sight

Not 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 coming true!

Then my panic abruptly turned to anger at the sight of Michael bobbing in the water next to me. “Why’d you do that!?  Why’d you do that!?” I yelled at him repeatedly. “Do we have to talk about this now? ” he fired back.

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! Carved 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.

Sea Cave photo by Tim Hauf

Each sea cave offered something different from the last. In one cave we found sea-lions resting in a shallow beach exposed briefly by the low tide.

My favorite though was the Emerald Cave, 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.

Marge Simpson Arch at Santa Cruz Island 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 Simpson archway. 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 view of the bay below and nearby Anacapa Island. Many say this is a Cavern's Point Loop trail good place for whale watching.

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 archway! 

Get info on trips to Santa Cruz Island

Get info on Kayak tours and rentals

Historical fact: 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.”

Return from Kayaking and Exploring Sea Caves to Home Page