There is No Escape

I first had the opportunity to go to Santa Barbara Island three years ago. The island is 38 miles off the coast of Los Angeles (a four hour boat ride) and part of Channel Islands National Park. It’s about 1.8 miles long with 640 acres. There are no beaches, just steep cliffs, some of which are over 600 feet high. There are no trees, no water, no stores. Just a single bunkhouse, which uses propane and solar energy. The bunkhouse serves as shelter for the island’s caretakers and for those working to restore the island’s native habitat. When Judy and I went there three years ago as volunteer caretakers, we were completely cut off from civilization. Our sole interaction with other human beings was over the radio each morning when we had to send in the morning weather report. I loved it! Every sight and sound was natural: wind, sun, the barking of sea lions, the island grasses, flowers, pelicans, hawks, meadowlarks.

We had the opportunity to go again this year and I was looking forward to the peace and quiet. But the very first night, at 2:00 am, we were awakened by a helicopter hovering very low and shining a large spotlight. It flew over the bunkhouse three times before finally disappearing. What the hell was that? we both wondered. The helicopter returned the next morning, and it was huge. We wondered if they were searching for drug smugglers or something. It turned out that a 26-foot boat had driven into the island in the middle of the night, and the helicopter had been sent out to rescue the three fishermen on board. The next day, as the only people on the scene, the park service radioed us, asking us to look for the wreckage and to take photographs from the cliffs above. We hiked along the cliffs, picking our way through the prickly pear cactus and the cholla (another nasty cactus plant) until we found it. Taking photographs of the wreckage and radioing in reports took up three of our days there. I’m not complaining. I had a fantastic time. But it’s strange how difficult it is to escape the doings of human beings. Our machines take us everywhere now and the people running the machines are often foolish and oblivious. Foolish and oblivious enough to drive a large boat into an island in the middle of the night.

Judy on the island

Walking back from shooting the wreckage

The Wreckage

The Wreckage


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3 Responses to “There is No Escape”

  1. Chandani Diaz Says:

    Thank you so much for the S.B. Island report – my husband and I tried Googling the island and came up with very little (except that it was part of the Parks System) – your photos and report shed great light on the island and its natural beauty.

  2. Sarah Says:

    Do boatwrecks often occur on SBI? Did the coast guard rescue the fishermen?

    I’m sorry to hear that what should have been a tranquil respite from humanity was marred on the first night by a 2 a.m. reality check. Even so, I’m glad that you found that the paradise of nature outweighed the drawbacks of reality there.

    Welcome home and happy new year!

    • markbittner Says:

      This was a rare occurrence. And, yes, they rescued all three on board. It looks like they’d run onto some rocks right at the shore (which was in the midst of an immense sea lion rookery) and then got off the boat to tie it to two boulders—no doubt to keep the boat from being tossed helplessly. Within the three days that we were watching the boat it pretty much disappeared. The surf is rugged where they wrecked. Actually, it’s rugged around the entire island.

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