First-time channel swimmer? Consider Anacapa Island

For the most up-to-date information about Anacapa Island swims, please see the new dedicated Anacapa Island page at the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association website.

A channel crossing is a special kind of marathon swim. From one piece of land, you swim to another, non-contiguous piece of land, with nothing but water separating the two. Unlike a lake or bay crossing, there are no shortcuts – you can’t fudge the distance by adjusting where you start and finish. Unlike a river swim, there’s no consistent current to speed you along. Indeed, the only way out is getting on the boat.

For Americans, the most commonly attempted channel swim is the Catalina (a.k.a. San Pedro) Channel. The second most-attempted channel by Americans is, I would imagine, the English Channel. These are both substantial swims – over 20 miles each. So the question arises: How do you build up to them? One approach is to do a swim of similar distance, but in a more controlled setting – e.g., Tampa Bay or MIMS.

But there’s another, overlooked option for building up to a major channel swim: Do a real, full-fledged channel swim – but a shorter one. And guess what? There’s one such swim, right here in Southern California: Anacapa Island.

Anacapa channel swim
Anacapa Island to Port Hueneme, California

Anacapa Island comprises three narrow volcanic islets, 12 miles or so off the coast of Southern California. One of eight members of the Channel Islands (another of which is Catalina), Anacapa is also part of Channel Islands National Park. Compared to its neighbor, Catalina, Anacapa is relatively untouched by swimmers – only 25 successful swims since 1978.

The 12.4-mile (20 km) swim, from East Anacapa to Silver Strand Beach near Port Hueneme – has many desirable qualities for marathon swimmers.

  • It offers similar challenges as Catalina – open-ocean conditions, low-to-mid 60s water temperature – but at only 60% of the distance.
  • Like Catalina, swimmers have the support and backing of an official, legitimate marathon swimming organization – the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association.
  • Like Catalina, swimmers have access to a boat pilot with extensive experience escorting swimmers – the Tuna Thumper, captained by Bob Andrieux. Captain Bob has a 100% success rate: He’s never had a swimmer enter the water who failed to finish. A remarkable achievement in this business.
  • Like Catalina, swimmers will share the water with all matter of interesting marine life – for better (dolphins, porpoises, and whales) and for worse (the occasional jellyfish).
  • Unlike Catalina, a swim from Anacapa occurs during daylight hours, which some may find less psychologically intimidating.
  • Before and after your swim, you’re well-positioned to enjoy either Santa Barbara (a 30-minute drive north) or Los Angeles (a 1-hour drive south).

Being 60 miles further up the coast than Catalina, Anacapa has slightly cooler waters – perhaps 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit on average. The following chart shows the average, minimum, and maximum daily sea temperature for each day of the year, using all available data from the relevant NOAA buoy (2002-2011).

anacapa passage average sea temperature
Daily sea temperature: Average (black), maximum (red), & minimum (blue): 2002-2011. Data from NOAA buoy 46217. Chart by yours truly. Click to enlarge.

Swim Overview

(The following section is adapted, with permission, from a document authored by 2011 Anacapa soloist Dave Van Mouwerik.)

Anacapa Island topo map
Swim start at top right

The swim begins at a sheer cliff on the eastern edge of East Anacapa, near a lighthouse and distinctive formation known as “Arch Rock.” While the escort boat idles 50-60 yards offshore, the swimmer enters the water and approaches the cliff. The swimmer places his/her hand on the cliff, and at the observer’s signal, the swim begins.

Anacapa Island arch rock and lighthouse
Anacapa Island: lighthouse & arch rock. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Swimmers typically commence their journey just after sunrise, which casts Anacapa’s crags in a spooky, otherworldly light – as seen here:

Lynn Kubasek Anacapa swim start
2011 Anacapa soloist Lynn Kubasek enters the water. Image courtesy of Rob Aquatics (

Of the 25 successful Anacapa solo swims, the shortest was Nick Caine’s 5:03 in 2008; the longest was Jim Neitz’s 10:43 in 2011. With the length of day approaching 14 hours in the height of summer (plus an additional hour of visible light), even the most plodding of swimmers should be able to finish with light in the sky.

Four statute miles from the finish, you swim past an oil rig named Gina:

Gina the oil rig. Photo courtesy of Rob Aquatics (

The swim finishes at Silver Strand Beach, which separates the entrances to Channel Islands Harbor (to the northwest) and Port Hueneme Harbor (to the southeast):

Anacapa channel swim finish
Satellite image of Silver Strand Beach. Courtesy of Dave Van Mouwerik

In contrast to the sheer cliff start, the Anacapa swim ends on a soft, sandy beach. Typically, there isn’t much surf to contend with – but if you do have to bodysurf, at least you won’t faceplant on a bed of rocks. After clearing the water, the swimmer returns to the boat for a brief ride back to Ventura Harbor (where the Tuna Thumper docks).

2011 Anacapa soloist Lynn Kubasek finishing at Silver Strand Beach. Photo courtesy of Rob Aquatics (

Anacapa Swim Narratives

  • And, a narrated slideshow by Dave Van Mouwerik:

How to Sign Up for an Anacapa Island Swim

  • Book a date with an escort boat. The most frequently used boat for Anacapa swims is the Tuna Thumper, operated by Capt. Bob Andrieux (805-535-8519,
  • Join the SBCSA (annual or lifetime) and notify us of your upcoming attempt.
  • Follow the steps described on this page.
  • Feel free to contact the SBCSA leadership with any questions or concerns. Scott Zornig (board president) can be reached at [szornig at aol dot com]. I am also a SBCSA board member and can be reached by leaving a comment on this website.

9 thoughts on “First-time channel swimmer? Consider Anacapa Island”

  1. Evan, thank you very much for this post. This route seems a lot more approachable to the new marathon swimmer (me) compared to the traditional Catalina swim. Now you’ve got me thinking about swimming Anacapa whereas I’ve never even considered Catalina! I’ve also stayed at Port Hueneme and know the area somewhat well, which makes it even more appealing. Good beaches south of there in Malibu!

    Oh, love the rest of your blog too! (I follow via RSS)

    1. John, thanks for the comment. We’d be glad for you to add your name to the (as of now, relatively short) list of Anacapa swimmers! Thanks also for the blog post (I’ll link to it if you don’t mind). I was certainly gratified to read that you think a wetsuit would not be ideal 😉

  2. Nice writeup, Evan. Makes me want to go out and do Anacapa again. I’m attaching a link to the “Roadmap” that I wrote for would-be Anacapa swimmers. This is the document that you refered to a couple of times in your article. Perhaps anyone wishing further information could snag the Roadmap PDF, for a little further reading.

    I like your blog, keep it coming.

  3. Awesome info Evan. Thanks for describing the swim and posting the pics and vids. I’d be more interested in hearing the details of a San Nicolas crossing. Preferably a personal account by yourself… 🙂 (I know it’s never been done, but has it been attempted?)

    1. To my knowledge, San Nic has never been attempted, by either solo or relay. It’d be an absolute beast of a swim… kinda blows my mind just thinking about it. San Clemente, which is almost as far, has one successful relay and (I believe) one unsuccessful solo attempt.

  4. That was such an amazing swim! Kind of wish I did it before Catalina but it was all good. Anacapa was just the best! Thinking of Santa Cruz now. Oh dear!!!

    1. Absolutely! The SBCSA and I would be happy to help you tackle any of the Channel Islands. But Catalina’s a good one, too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.