August 20th, 2014:

FISHING IN THE PACIFIC CHANNEL ISLANDS

So far, summer in Southern California this year has been relatively mild. We’re blessed with a very chilly Pacific Ocean for the most part, and the water doesn’t get into the 70’s until September. In contrast, the Atlantic Ocean off Florida is like swimming in a bathtub; sweatshirts are not needed for a visit to the beach but towels are necessary for the sweat. Hooray for contrasts, but I’ll take the Left Coast over the Right Coast any day. And that goes for my politics as well!

Thinking of the ocean brings to mind my fishing adventure off Santa Cruz Island a few years ago. This island (20 miles off the coast from Ventura) was once home to ancient Indians like the Chumash, and archeologists are currently trying to save as many artifacts as possible before ocean waves carry them away forever.  This fishing adventure was long before I’d decided to write a seafaring yarn about Francis Drake in the Caribbean. I was one of three women and nineteen men on the brief trip. I’d never handled a fishing pole or even had a desire to catch a fish, but I’d always loved the ocean. I’ve spent most of my life near the ocean: Jacksonville Beach, Florida; Tripoli, Libya; and Los Angeles. The fishing trip was being hosted by Pelican’s Retreat, a seafood restaurant in Calabasas, that had hired me for advertising and public relations. Owners Bruce and Gert were part of the fishing gang, a gregarious and rowdy bunch of restaurant patrons. After our sporting efforts, we were taking our fish back to the restaurant for a fish fry/grill with all the fixings.

PeliFishTripOne of the fishermen just as the sun was coming up off Santa Cruz Island.

The large group gathered about 1:30 a.m. in the Oxnard Harbor area, ready to head out at 2 a.m. on the Pacific Dawn for Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. By leaving at this hour, we’d get a few hours to snooze before we anchored and the sun rose. Sleeping accommodations were below and consisted of very basic wooden rectangular compartments with a plastic covered mattress pad: room for one or two squeezed together. Since I was a novice and was curious about the ocean views, I didn’t hit the bunk right away and stayed up to see the oil platforms lit up like huge Christmas trees. When I was married, we’d taken our two kids to explore Anacapa, one of the smallest of these islands, and I remembered the weather along the California coast can change quickly and a calm sea can turn into a roller coaster ride. Being confined to a constantly moving boat for 15 hours made me very thankful for my “sailor’s stomach,” which has enabled me to enjoy ocean ventures. No time for sleeping late on a fishing excursion, a loud and disgustingly cheery voice called us to breakfast in the galley about 6 a.m. It was chilly and overcast and the anchored boat was rocking, but many enthusiasts in the group had already eaten their bacon and eggs and were fishing.

The fish I caught!

The fish I caught!

 

When the sun came out, so did the beer. Thanks to beer and the stronger stuff, there was as much laughter as fishing. With many capable fishermen around, I had plenty of help with a borrowed fishing pole and the slimy bait. I didn’t participate in the jackpot for largest fish, but as luck and persistence would have it, I caught the second biggest fish on the boat. They told me it was a whitefish, but it looked pink to me. The highlight that day was consuming the freshest sushi I’d ever had. Several just-caught fish were filleted and handed out with a slice of fresh lemon to those who weren’t afraid of chowing down on uncooked denizens of the deep. It was delicious and tender.

Warm sun and a calm sea blessed the day and after making an excellent haul of over 300 fish, we headed back to land in the afternoon. We’d carpooled to get there and on the drive home, which was less than an hour, one of the show-offs in the camper in front of the car I was in decided to make his inimitable statement on the crazy day by mooning us. I still have the photo of the fisherman we all dubbed “Dr. Moon.”

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