Santa Barbara Channel

Channel Islands National Park

The Santa Barbara Channel is that part of the Pacific Ocean which separates the mainland of California from the northern Channel Islands. It is generally south of the city of Santa Barbara, and west of the city of Ventura.

It trends east-west, is approximately 80 miles long and averages about thirty miles across, becoming narrowest at its easternmost extremity where Anacapa Island is less than twenty miles from the mainland.

The Santa Barbara Channel is considered a scenic location, with the islands visible from the mainland on clear days.

Excursion boats cross the channel, taking visitors to watch whales and visit the islands. In the perpendicular (east-west) direction, huge cargo ships and tankers occupy a major shipping lane on their way to or from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Channel is the location of several active oil fields with substantial reserves, including the Ellwood and Dos Cuadras fields. In 1969, the Dos Cuadras was the site of a major oil spill, which came about when oil spurted at high pressure through faults and cracks around a zone which had recently been drilled for the first time. Public outrage over the massive environmental damage inflicted by this spill, which covered hundreds of square miles of the channel and fouled beaches from Ventura to Goleta, was a major spur to the budding environmental movement. Some oil exploration and production activities continue in the area, in spite of vigorous opposition from local organizations, such as Santa Barbara-based Get Oil Out (GOO).

San Miguel Island is relatively small, about 7 miles at the biggest stretch. It is the furthest north island in the Channel Islands chain. It is exposed to the seas above Point Conception and the weather can howl down the coast from Alaska with no interruption before it gets there. This accounts for why it is lightly dove.

With an average wind speed of around 30 knots, you cannot just go there any time. This island has an Elephant Seal Rookery at Point Bennet. The remoteness and rough conditions can has left the island such that the diving can be pristine. The bottom terrain tends to be huge pinnacles covered with colorful filter feeders. Wall diving is the norm. Keep an eye open for another pinnacle, nearby, off in the haze.

There is a small island offshore about 100 yards, called Castle Rock. As you get past the rock, you can see that you are in a ring of reefs and rocks that is about a mile across.

This place is known as Shark Park. With good reason. This is the open ocean. Next stop is Hawaii.

There are Great Whites and Open Ocean Makos here. If you have seen one of these landlords here, you do not forget it. On an extremely clear day, you may find out that they are there, and if you are lucky will tend to stay past your vision.

Orcas show up here too.