Downwinder

The juvenile brown pelican was simply searching for a place to hunker down, get out of the piercing, freezing wind, to close its eyes and forget about it.  I could sympathize with the tuckered out seabird.Myself, Fraser Kersey, Garrett Kababik and Mike Wathan were in the midst of kayaking down from the southeast end of Santa Cruz Island, across the Anacapa Passage to Anacapa Island, and eventually across the channel to the Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. But at the moment we were in the same boat as the pelican, so to speak.For now we were relegated to a barren cobbled beach, riding out the latest wind event at Frenchy’s Cove on West Anacapa Island. The weather radio belted out steady doses of northwest winds of 47 mph gusting to 60 mph, a good day to fly a kite but not paddling kayaks.  Pitching tents was out of the question.So while the sun was still above the sheer face of West Anacapa, some of us napped, read and ate.  I watched juvenile pelicans trying to adapt to their windblown habitat.  Take-offs and landings were awkward.  Instead of hovering above and diving for their food, they sat on the surface of the rippling waters and stabbed without much success at potential food.Once the sun sank behind the treeless isle, we made a fort out of our kayaks.  The temperature dropped as we curled up in our sleeping bags passing around a bottle of Jack Daniels, and slices of sausage and cheese.  I was the closest to the bluff when our beleaguered pelican friend waddled straight to me.  It walked between me and the edge of the bluff, stuck out its right wing and poked me in the face.  The pelican continued a few feet further and took shelter on the other side of our camp in some dormant coreopsis.After two kayaks were blown down the cobbled beach we tied kayaks to each other and to any available driftwood, fortified with the biggest rocks we could find braced against the hulls of our boats.  Sleeping was a challenge.  Everyone had their sleeping bags pulled over their heads.  Beyond the chilly whistling winds, I could hear the constant tossing and turning, a night that seemed to never end.Then as if someone had shut a window, the wind suddenly stopped around 4:00 a.m.  I wanted to believe the weather radio was relieved to say 5 mph northwest winds.  However that was just during the morning hours.  By the afternoon the northwest winds would increase again above 25 mph with larger gusts.  We tore out of our sleeping bags and frantically stuffed gear in dry bags and inside the hulls of our kayaks.  By 5:00 a.m. we put in at Frenchy’s Cove and made a beeline across the channel to oil platform Gail.Once we closed in on Gail we headed southeast to oil platform Gina surfing wind waves and paddling amongst a small pod of common dolphins.  Channel crossings can be monotonous, but as we drew closer to the busy Channel Islands Harbor a sense of completion swept over us like a wave leaving those relentless winds behind in the middle of the channel.

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