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Ramblings - San Miguel Island Sept. 2007


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San Miguel Island Sept. 2007

San Miguel Island Circumnavigation, Whales, Orca, Rain, Mud, and Other Fun
Lee A. Shurie 
September 21-23, 2007

It took a while to clean my gear from this weekend's San Miguel trip. Why? That's part of the tale...

Eight of us arrived early Friday morning for the departure to remote San Miguel Island. Duane Strosaker, Steve Wilson, Bob McMurray, Jon Brindle, Ken Fry, Barb Tomita, George Manolakas, and me. Well, I wasn't so early. Due to a bad accident the freeway was completely shut down for almost an hour. I called Barb on the cell phone and when I charged into the parking lot just a few minutes before departure I was again reminded how great it is to have such good kayaking friends. They sucked my gear right out of my car and the boat off my roof while I literally ran in to the office to register. Thanks guys (& gal)!

The boat ride out to San Miguel was well worth the price of trip alone. We saw one humpback whale, at least 5 blue whales, several blue sharks, and many hundreds of common dolphin. The blue sharks were feeding on a whale carcass floating out between the shipping lanes. We got to see them very close up.

Just as we arrived at San Miguel the forecasted rain began to fall. What gear didn't get soaked in the surf landing was soon assaulted by a downpour which lasted most of the afternoon and on and off through the evening. The steep 1.5 mile hike to the campground has a bad reputation when the weather is dry, but on this day it was a slippery muddy mess. We often slid back one step for every two forward, and sometimes slipped back 4 or 5 feet before we could grab a bush to halt our slide. Several of us fell flat into the mud - more than once. We were well aware of the precipice to our right. After the climb we set up our tents in the pouring rain and then stood around talking in our soaking wet clothes. There was no sense changing into something dry - only to have it become soaked in a matter of minutes. You might expect to see frowns, but I saw smiles all around. These are amazing people, I thought.

Although a few in the group had puddles in their tents and damp sleeping bags, we all made it through the night to be greeted by sunshine and calm winds in the morning. Our plan was to be on the water by 8:00 AM and we launched exactly then. We paddled out to Point Bennett - 8 or 9 NM away. Along the way we were treated to fabulous scenery, thick kelp beds, huge breakers along the shoreline (sometimes far offshore as well), and our own sea lion escort. Early on we drew the curiosity of a pod of sea lion pups who came very close and treated us to flying leaps, back flips and other showing off. I almost bumped one in the nose with my paddle - it came so close. Another one didn't see Duane coming and Duane would have run over it if he hadn't slowed down and banged his paddle to warn the sea lion. They stayed with us all the way - although it's hard to say if it was always the same group or some of their cousins. Along the shore were many Elephant Seals which made a racket we could hear from a long way off.

At point Bennett Ken and I turned back while the others continued on to circumnavigate the island. Ken prudently made the decision to return since he has been recovering from a shoulder injury. But he made it to the seldom-visited rugged exposed western end of the most western of the Channel Islands! We had a great trip back, playing along the way and hugging the dramatic coastline. Duane, Steve, Jon, George, and Bob completed a 6 hour circumnavigation - something rarely accomplished because of the challenging conditions prevalent here. Congratulations guys!

Meanwhile Barb had gone for a hike with the Ranger and his wife. We returned to find that she had been relaxing in the Ranger Station eating fresh-baked brownies! That evening we all went to the Ranger Station to watch a video of Huell Howser's visit to San Miguel. We laughed and laughed through the entire show. Making fun of Huell was part of our banter all weekend long.

The Ranger estimated there have been fewer than 100 people on the island this year. When we asked him how many kayakers have been there he said: "I think you're looking at them".

Sunday dawned clear and calm. After packing up, Duane and I got on the water early for a coastal paddle to hear the distinctive sound of the male Elephant Seals. Along the way we threaded the rocks and kelp and had a great time. We couldn't stop grinning. Ken and Barb got on the water just before Duane and I returned. We thought they had gone around Prince Island, but we didn't see them come around the other side. Time went by... and we couldn't raise them on the VHF, so I decided to go check on them. Jon and George quickly hopped into their boats and we dashed to the rescue - only to find that Ken and Barb had taken a different route. They returned to the beach just as the three of us reached Prince Island. Oh well - it was a good excuse to circumnavigate Prince Island! :) By the way, I noticed how quickly and efficiently we got underway once the decision was made. Going from dry clothes to paddling gear and then racing away didn't take long at all. There was no wondering "what do we do?" "what gear should we take?" "do we have tow belts and radios?". We were all prepared and did not have to think about it. Again, I was impressed with the caliber of the company I was keeping.

The ride home was great fun with lots of chatter and big smiles. We visited Painted Cave and salivated over the cave-studded shoreline of Western Santa Cruz Island. On the way we saw a Minke Whale and then... when we least expected it an Orca attack on a pod of feeding dolphin! The boat captain had pointed out the feeding behavior of the dolphin and then they became very skittish - as if something had frightened them. Then BAM! It was over in an instant. We stayed around for a little while to see if we could spot the Orca again but that one dramatic moment was the end of it.

Most of us stopped at In-N-Out on the way home. I never saw hamburgers disappear so fast.

Thanks to a fabulous group! And thanks to John Petersen who had the original idea for the trip. Circumstances out of his control caused him to miss this trip - which has been a dream of his. We all thought of him during the trip and hope to join him on a kayak adventure soon.

Lee A. Shurie
September 23, 2007

Lee Shurie