Anacapa: Small in Size, Huge in Diving Adventures

I can’t think of Anacapa without thinking of the Winfield Scott. On a foggy night in December 1853 the side wheel steamer, laden with gold and more than 400 passengers, many of them also carrying gold, ran into a rock just off the north side of Middle Anacapa. There was a great deal of panic and confusion, but everyone was eventually ferried to a large rock 200
yards off the island.

This rock was estimated to be 50 yards long and 25 yards wide by one of the passengers, yet it accommodated everyone through the night. (Imagining that many people in that small a space is, to me, mind boggling. They must have been packed together like sardines.)

The morning after the collision, everyone was ferried to a considerably larger rock. And, by week’s end, all had been rescued.

The Winfield Scott was salvaged numerous times over the years, but remnants of it remain to this day in water no deeper than 25 feet. In years when the kelp is scarce you’ll see parts of the “Winnie” easily. But when the kelp is thick, it takes a keen eye to discern any wreckage.

Anacapa and the “Winnie” are part of the Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary, so visiting divers are welcome to look but may not take any artifacts they find—it’s a violation of state and federal laws to do so.

The “Winnie” is just one of Anacapa’s many dive sites. I enjoy diving here because the water is usually calmer, clearer and warmer than that of the other Northern Channel Islands. Also, since Anacapa is just 11 miles off the coast, the boat ride out and back is short.

One of Anacapa attractions is the possibility of seeing larger marine animals. Harbor seals haulout in several places. They like to play hide and seek among the kelp, peering at divers curiously. The seals then like to lie on the bottom and watch the divers for a while before approaching. Stay in one place, ignore them and let them come to you. I got my best shot of one on the southeast side of East Anacapa, just around the island from Arch Rock.

There’s also a school of giant sea bass off Anacapa, reputed to hang out around Brittlestar Reef (also known as White Rock Reef). While they won’t let you get as close as the sea bass school off Catalina, just seeing these huge fish is a treat.

Some of my most colorful wide-angle photos were taken on Coral Reef, which is loaded with gorgeous pink and purple gorgonian seafans.

Anacapa, five miles long and one-quarter to one-half mile wide, is comprised of three islands, West, Middle and East. The lighthouse, visitor’s center, hiking trails and campgrounds are on East Anacapa, accessible by climbing up the 154 steps at Landing Cove. My favorite time of year to visit is the spring or early summer, when the island is green from the winter rains. Wildflowers are plentiful here then, including lush stands of the tree sunflower, Coreopsis gigantea, which grows only on some of the Channel Islands and one area of the California coast.

Many birds nest on Anacapa. Western gulls lay their eggs and raise their chicks on the ground, and it’s usually easy for visitors to get a good look at them as well as good photos.

It may be the second smallest of the eight Channel Islands, but Anacapa is huge when it comes to diving adventures.

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