Exploring With Old Friends (Part Three)

After our cave canal escapade, the Captain and I returned to the boat with shit-eating grins. 

We turned the boat westward and putted alongside Anacapa’s captivating coast, passing the eastern and middle parts of the island. We eventually found a spot to take a look around in a cove in the western islet.  It was called Frenchy’s Cove, which got its name from a long-time resident on the island named Raymond “Frenchy” LeDreau.

I threw the board back in the water, grabbed my paddle, and went out to explore some more, as the guys hung out on the boat several hundred yards off shore.  There were no waves at all in the cove, being a lee shore, and as I paddled toward the beach, I marveled at the visibility in the water.  I could see the ocean bottom clearly, even at forty or so feet of depth, with various fish lollygagging in empty wide space.  There was no kelp, only a pebbly bottom.  As I got closer to shore, I saw that the cove protected a small sand beach filled with brown pelicans, who were looking at me warily. 

Beached at Frenchy’s Cove in glassy conditions, with the catamaran in the background

I paddled directly onto the beach at the intersection of two rocky cliffs and pulled my board up on shore.  Directly in front of me was a sand and rock pathway between the cliffs, and I could hear waves crashing beyond it.  I walked up the path and almost immediately, I found myself on the other side of the island.  I went from the leeward side to the windward side of the islet in a matter of seconds.  It appeared that the tide slices the island into pieces, every single day. 

This place was cool.

Looking through – from leeward to windward side of the island
Cwiz, Amir, and the Captain relaxing in Frenchy’s Cove

Back on the board after my lengthy excursion to the other side of the island, I paddled west along the shore some more, seeing more pelicans, craggy cliffs, and then some kelp beds.  Once I made it back to the boat, we motored along the remainder of western Anacapa and although we were anxious to get on our way to the neighboring island, Santa Cruz, we noticed sea caves underneath the cliffs and wanted to check it out. 

So, again, we turned the motor off, and threw the boards on the water.  This time Amir and Cwiz took the boards, but since neither of them had paddled much, they paddled toward the sea caves slowly on their knees. I yelled out to Cwiz, “C’mon dude, stand up!”

So he gave it a shot.  He set the paddle down between his legs, planted his hands, and he slowly started to stand up.  Immediately, he started a slow roll to his right, and while still in a crouch, he went directly into the cold water in front of the sea cave.

Cwiz came up screaming and laughing. “Whoah, whoah.”

The rest of us laughed at him as he continued, “That’s so cold.  God, that’s cold!” 

Then, since he was already wet, he gave it another shot, and fell in again.  He screamed when he popped up, which sent birds into a frenzy of activity around the caves. 

Amir paddling toward the caves, and Cwiz in his roll into the water

All of us back on the catamaran, and now dried off, we set off into the channel between Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island.  While mid-channel, we saw a light blue, almost white shape materialize just beneath the calm surface of the water about fifty yards away.  It looked like a submarine surreptitiously arriving at periscope depth, hoping not to be seen. 

For a moment, it did not surface and nothing happened, but then the shape broke through the surface and a crystalline geyser erupted with an ice cream cone shaped blast.  Instantly, the Captain turned the wheel to maneuver us toward it for a closer look. 

Cwiz was standing next to me and I said, “That, my friend, is a blue whale.”

“How can you tell?”

“I just know.  I can’t believe how lucky we are.”

I wondered at the creature.  We could only see one-third of its body, and yet it was still indescribably huge.  It relaxed on the surface peacefully, like some magnanimous demigod of the deep.  Having filled its room-sized lungs, it flashed its flukes and dove gracefully back down, far into the dark.  We cheered as the flukes appeared.

For the last 10 years or so, I have been regularly paddling on a standup paddleboard in the ocean, sometimes over significant distances, oftentimes actively looking for whales.  I have seen just about everything one usually sees in our waters, but not a blue whale.  This beautiful creature was a peaceful, wondrous behemoth, the largest animal on Earth. 

I should not have been surprised at our luck.  Cwiz had never seen a whale in his life, not in the flesh.  So why wouldn’t his first encounter with a whale be with the most rare, with the most awe-inspiring creature on Earth?  Cwiz always had that kind of luck, or call it karma if you want.  The universe always seemed to be smiling at him and giving him gifts like that.  Cwiz was not particularly fond of the ocean, but here he was, being handed a gift by the ocean that very few will ever see, at least not in person.

the Blue

When we made it across the channel to Santa Cruz Island, we motored westward along its coastline.  The bright and blue sunny skies we had while in the channel were slowly being swallowed by a deep and rolling fog.  The gray mass coming toward us threatened to envelop us entirely.  So we turned into a harbor and found a place of peaceful perfection. 

The harbor was framed by small mountains a few hundred feet high, covered in coastal sage brush.  The water lapped rhythmically onto smooth stones and abundant conical shells on the beach.  Not another soul was present.  As the fog threatened to steal our view, the Captain located what he reckoned was the best spot to drop anchor for the night, hoping we would not find ourselves washed up on the beach in the morning. 

Cwiz said, “I am going to get dinner ready.” 

Cwiz had somehow jury-rigged a small grill, fired it up, and was carefully grilling thin strips of carne asada.  There was the asada, but then out came a bucket of guacamole, which had somehow also been packed on ice in a crate he had brought, and then a huge bag of tortilla chips appeared.  We made our way on shore and found a lonely picnic table next to an old dock.  A Channel Islands fox appeared on a trail past the picnic table and darted off into the brush, instantly vanishing.

The plates were passed around and before we knew it, Cwiz was slicing up piping hot, perfectly salty slices of asada, licking his fingers as he did so.  We cracked open some beers, and looked at the tranquil water. 

The quiet was almost unsettling.  The four of us gathered at the table, and ate meat, chips, and guacamole.  That was it as far as the food goes.  But it was the company, the nearly silent bay, the lapping water, the swirling fog, and the sight of a slowly spinning catamaran at single anchor in the distance that made it perfect. 

We ate with goofy smiles on our faces, retelling and enjoying the stories of over 30 years together.  But more important – we relished the fact that new stories were still being created and we were still laughing together after all these many years.

(End of Part Three)

The dudes enjoying the meal on Santa Cruz Island
The Cat on single anchor
Exploring western Anacapa

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