A Day in Channel Islands National Park

By Captain Ryan ‘Otis’ Downs

Last week, the crew of the Hawaiian Chieftain took the vessel from Dana Point, CA to another beautiful port of Southern California: Ventura. Since we had plenty of time to get there, we decided to make a detour to Santa Rosa Island, part of Channel Islands National Park.

When I took over as captain in December, I decided that I wanted to see these islands up close. I had only been to Catalina Island and wanted to explore the more isolated islands. Growing up in California, I had always wanted to experience this part of the state. I have been on this Southern California tour with the tall ships before. Not take this opportunity to see the paradise of Channel Islands National Park seemed like a missed opportunity.

At 3pm we left Dana Point, a port that had been kind to us. We fired a salute as we cast lines and waved to our friends. We crossed to open water, setting every stitch of canvas we had while the sun dipped in the west. We had a lovely 15 knot breeze from our starboard beam, and Chieftain simply flew. It was the best I had ever seen this ship perform. All of the crew silently basked in the sunset as we sailed west. We took in sail as night fell.

The next morning, we watched the sun rise off of Santa Cruz Island. We were greeted by dolphins playing in our bow wake and a breaching humpback whale. Quite a way to enjoy your morning coffee! We dropped anchor at 10am. As the chain came taut and the engines switched off, the sounds of breakers on the shore and birds met our ears. We furled sail, got into the small boat, and spent the afternoon exploring the island.

Santa Rosa is a majestic island; curious seals who rarely see humans get very close. The Mate, Sabrina and I swam in the surf with a few of them. The wild seals cautiously approached us and then swam away. A species of fox unique to the Channel Islands also greeted us. One fox fellow was particularly curious about the new visitors to his island. He got very close to us before heading off into the brush. It’s not just the animals that were intriguing. Rare Torrey Pines are tightly packed into a grove on the island, and walking through them is a lovely experience.

We looked from the top of a hill down at Hawaiian Chieftain, happily at anchor on an island where we didn’t see another human. The sail to Santa Rosa Island and our day on the island helped remind us about our place in the natural world, and how silence can speak volumes when you let it. It reminded us why we do what we do; communing with each other and the sea.