I could see a pile of sea lions from the parking lot when we pulled up to the dock in the morning. The first thing I heard when I got out of the truck was their raucous barking, which made me smile. I took a deep breath, smelled the sea, and looked at the fog hovering over the water, which was still and dark.
Amir pulled up within a few minutes of us arriving and parked next to our truck.
I said, “You made it!”
Amir stretched when he got out of the car, smiled at us, and grabbed a backpack. That was all he brought.
Ian wrapped him in a suffocating bear hug and lifted him off the ground, threatening to break his spine. Ian always did this to his old pals.
Ian said, “Been too long buddy.”
Amir said, “Okay, easy man.”
Ian released him.
Amir continued, “I need this weekend guys. I was not gonna miss it for anything.”
Cwiz said, “The kids driving you nuts?”
Amir has three little ones at home, just like Cwiz.
Amir said, “No, not exactly. I could just use some dude time.”
I said, “You ready to paddle your ass off?”
“Probably not, but I’ll drink beer on the boat and watch you paddle yours off.”
I said, “Works for me.”
We loaded our gear on the catamaran, and headed out to sea. Almost immediately out of the harbor, in beautifully calm seas, we stumbled upon a fairly large pod of common dolphin (probably 75-100 of them). The dolphins happily greeted us, swimming alongside us for about fifteen minutes. Amir and I stood at the front of the boat and took videos while the dolphins darted in and out of the shot. Cwiz Facetime’d his construction manager, pointed the camera at the dolphins, gleefully gloating. The Captain hooted from behind the wheel in the stern, and attempted to high five some dolphins with his hand in the water.
When the dolphins suddenly decided there were more interesting things to do in the world, I headed to the stern next to the Captain. I cut up some salami and cheese, and laid out a bag of grapes on the cutting board. Amir settled down with me and we munched and caught up. Cwiz remained out on the catamaran’s mesh netting over the water in the bow, handling a construction emergency on his phone.
Within an hour, we motored out of the fog into a brilliant May day, with Anacapa Island straight ahead, but still several miles away. Anacapa is one of the eight Channel Islands, which have sometimes been called North America’s Galapagos Islands. Anacapa is a long and skinny volcanic island, undulating from west to east. The three parts of the island (west, middle, and east) are not fully connected, and in some places, you can walk from the southern end of the island to the northern island in all of 20 seconds. The island is constantly being battered by the waves and it is slowly, very slowly, vanishing.
The Captain chartered a course for the easternmost point on the island, pointing the bow of our little catamaran directly at it. We could see that the eastern edge of the island ended abruptly with a large brown rocky cliff, perhaps 100 feet high. Above it, a gradual hill covered with sand reed led to a lighthouse at the highest point. Just beyond the easternmost point of the island was Arch Rock, a huge volcanic rock forty feet high and just as wide, with a large hole in the middle. Picture the Arch de Triumph in Paris, but made of rock, and set down next to a California island paradise.
When we arrived at the island, we stopped the engine a few hundred yards from the arch. The Captain asked Cwiz and Amir to make sure the boat stayed well clear of the rocks, and the Captain and I went to work inflating our two inflatable paddleboards. I pumped up my Starboard inflatable SUP like a man possessed and threw the board in the water in record time, leashing it to the boat so it did not float off. I went below, grabbed my paddle, jumped feet first onto the board, unleashed, and paddled off. I did not wait for the Captain, knowing he would be right behind me.
I paddled to the arch, taking note of the calm surface of the water. There was little wind but the currents could be seen and felt, especially as I got closer to the arch. Underneath the surface, the kelp stalks were pointing east toward the arch, being pulled by the current in that direction.
As I got closer, the current pulled me directly but slowly through the arch without paddling at all, and when I was under the arch, I looked up at the rocky roof over my head. The roof was wide and the columns on either side of me were massive. They looked like they might stand for another 10,000 years. I turned around to the boat and saw the Captain had started paddling toward me.
Cwiz yelled out sarcastically, “Okay, Amir and I will just be chilling on the boat with our thumbs up our butts, okay?”
The Captain yelled something back at them, but I could not make it out. Some snickering and laughing echoed off the water toward me.
After I passed through the arch to the other side, I sat on my board and relaxed in the kelp beds. I could see what looked like abalone shells on the seabed, silver sparkling flashes here and there. There was a vibrant world of sea life underneath me and I imagined the lobsters, crabs, scallops, sea horses, sea stars, Garibaldi, anemones, leopard sharks, and innumerable other creatures that called this home. I wished I had my mask with me.
I heard the familiar barking of a sea lion colony lying on the tide pools and low rocks at the base of the island’s cliffside. About fifty of them, mostly sleeping on top of one another, were piled up around the base of the island, just fifty or so yards from the arch. I love sea lions, but the colony immediately registered the thought that where there is plentiful prey, there are hunters. Maybe I don’t need the mask after all, I thought to myself.
The Captain passed under the arch behind me, gleeful and childlike. He started snooping around the columns of the arch and then he yelled out, “Jer, come here!”
He was excited about something but wasn’t saying what it was. I headed over immediately. Ian and I had been adventuring together since the first day we met, when we were 10. Then, as now, we are of the same mind when it comes to adventure. We feed off each other’s excitement and ideas, and enjoy a symbiosis of mutual fun.
I started paddling toward the Captain to see what he was amped about this time, ready to “Get rad” as we liked to say to each other. As I got closer, I saw he was lingering at the mouth of a narrow passageway through the arch’s western column that I had not noticed when I paddled past it. The sea had carved out a cave which started on one side of the arch and went through to the other side. When the Captain had timed the wave action right, he suddenly started paddling through the cave canal and he vanished.
I was right behind him, paddling hard, and without bothering with timing, I followed him into the canal. My board was nearly 13 feet long and the width of the canal was less than half that, so it was a challenge paddling through it as the waves thrashed inside it. The cave ceiling was not very high, so we had to paddle on our knees. With a few short strokes, I powered through the canal. As I neared the exit, my board was pulled sideways by the escaping current as another wave sucked up the water to prepare to crash into the canal.
“Oh shit,” I yelled out, worried I might be slammed back into the canal walls.
I leaned over and plunged my paddle deep, seeking the most thrust possible to get out of there. It worked. I flew out of the cave opening up the face of the small incoming wave, only scraping the railof my inflatable board on the sharp rocks. The Captain was sitting on his board in the kelp when I came out, beaming with joy like the kid I met over thirty years ago.
He said, “Dude, that was so rad!”
We both looked back at the boat, over 100 yards away, help up our arms in victory to Am and Cwiz and shouted as loud as we could, “Wooooohoooo!”
We were kids again, joyously and purely delighting in a simple pleasure. But we only had Am and Cwiz to congratulate us. Amir held up his beer and saluted us while relaxing in the bow. Cwiz, who was at the helm, yelled back, “Hey, you clowns! Get back on the boat and let’s go.”
(END OF PART TWO)