Channel Islands ferry is only way to go

VENTURA, Calif. — Dolphins, humpback whales, gray sharks, sea lions.

These are all easily seen on the Island Packers boat tours to Southern California’s Channel Islands.

The company, which has been serving Channel Islands National Park visitors since 1968, dedicates itself to providing an outlet for education, recreation and research on marine and island wildlife.

Click on the video at the left to see an audio slide show of the Island Packers ferry trips to the Channel Islands, narrated by writer Alexandra Leon.

To Island Packers employees who travel the same routes every day, the diversity of this wildlife makes every trip a different experience.

”The same exact trip can be so different because the seasons, the people, the animals are always changing,” said Joel Barrett, an Island Packers crewmember who has been working with the company since 2004.

For Barrett, his most memorable moment on the boats was when he saw a blue whale get eaten by a blue shark.

”I’m never going to forget that moment,” Barrett said. “It’s something I would have never seen anywhere else.”

A pod of more than 100 dolphins seen on a day trip to Santa Cruz Island was what most impressed Jose Ocanas, a first-time Island Packers passenger.

Island Packers Boat Tours, are the only way to get to the Channel Islands, besides going on a privately owned boat. The company, which was founded in 1968, operates daily trips to Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Anacapa and Santa Rosa (Photos by Alexandra Leon).

Ocanas came down from San Francisco to visit Ventura and the Channel Islands with his partner Jerry. The couple had been planning the trip since February and agreed that the boat ride itself was more than which they had bargained.

”That was incredible,” Ocanas said. “It was worth coming out on the boat just for this.”

The boats, two catamarans named the Islander and the Island Adventure, as well as one monohull called the Vanguard, make up the company’s fleet. On average, the boats collectively transport around 300 to 500 people per day.

The boats go out daily to the five islands: Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Santa Rosa. Along with their trips to the island, they conduct whale-watching tours, wildlife and harbor cruises, memorials at sea and private charters.

The two catamarans, the Islander and the Island Adventure, depart from Ventura Boat Harbor in Ventura, Calif. The cruise company’s monohaul, the Vanguard, departs from Oxnard Harbor in Oxnard, Calif.

According to Capt. David Corey who has worked with Island Packers for the past 10 years, 99 percent of the crewmembers are naturalists and wildlife interpreters. Most of the crew is certified to lead hikes and educational programs for school groups.

”While we’re here working, just being outdoors and getting to enjoy nature is such an incredible resource,” Corey said.

The crew has also proved an incredible resource to visitors to the islands. Not only do they act as wildlife interpreters, but they have also served on various rescue missions around the island.

 Second Capt. Steve Silvas, who began working for Island Packers in May 2007, recalled giving aid to hypothermic kayakers that strayed too far from the islands, transporting visitors with breaks and sprains back to the mainland, and even contacting the Coast Guard by radio when a man jumped off a cliff last year.

”We get to see all kinds of odd stuff since we are the only boats that are constantly out here,” Silvas said. “Nothing seems difficult after a rescue.”

Despite the dangers of being in a vast, completely natural environment, Mark Connally, who owns the 1968 company with his sister Cherryl and mother Lillian, believes the isolated nature of the island is one of its main attractions.

”We respect the environment and encourage people to appreciate the nature of the island,” Connally said. “You can feel the solitude and the quietness when you’re there because you’re 60 to 100 miles away from a city of 10 million people. It’s like stepping back in time.”

Stepping back in time takes the islands to the days when the Chumash, a native Californian people, inhabited them. The Chumash lived on the islands 10,000 years prior to European contact. Although they were wiped out 200 years later, the oldest human remains in the North American continent were found in their territory.

The three boats – the Islander, the Island Adventure and the Islander – transport between 300 and 500 people to the islands daily.

”I was drawn to this job because of the marine life on the islands, as well as their cultural history,” affirmed naturalist and crewmember DeeDee Anderson.

Anderson, who has been working for Island Packers for the past six years, started full time, but now works part time since she began teaching at the Oxnard College Marine Center. She took the teaching position to make up for the limited pay that working on a boat crew offers. Yet, she is still glad to be working on the boat some days.

”This isn’t a high paying job, it’s hard to survive on the pay, but no other job provides this uniqueness and it’s a great company. I’m still here,” Anderson said.

While the pay is hardly something to keep Island Packers crew from working, one of the downsides to being on a boat all day is dealing with seasickness.

”There are some dirty parts to the job,” Corey admitted. “We’re all plumbers.”

Travelers are encouraged to sit in the upper decks of the boat if they are feeling sick. And if they absolutely cannot hold it in, Corey’s job as captain is to inform visitors to release their waste over the side of the boat instead of turning the bathrooms into their own personal “torture chambers.”

Barrett’s advice to avoiding becoming what he jokingly calls a “vomit zombie,” is to eat the proper types of food.

”Keep your body full of good food and drink if you’re seasick,” Barrett said. “Bread and crackers help.”


One of the main attractions on the boat rides are the daily marine mammal sightings. Here, a pod of whales surfs the waves made by the Islander.

If You Go:

Prices: Depending on activity, ranges from $24 to $85. For a full list of boat fares, visit



Ventura Harbor: 1691 Spinnaker Dr., Suite 105 B, Ventura, Calif. 93001 and Oxnard: 3600 S. Harbor Blvd., Oxnard, CA 93035.

Phone: 805-642-1393

Web site:

Duration of trip: about 1.25 hours each way

Things to see and do:

On the boat: Whale watching, marine mammal viewings, bird watching, fish sightings.

On the islands: Hiking, kayaking, tidepooling, camping.

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