Charles Frederick Holder.

Life in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California online

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they would look like gigantic needles rising from the
bottom. All have a peculiar beard or protecting growth
of weed that constitutes a forest about them, a gigantic
sea plant rising from water sixty or more feet in depth
and forming a natural wave-break and a home for count-
less marine animals. The vines are often one hundred
feet in length, vast cables with broad crimpled leaves of
a rich dark olive hue, which assume graceful shapes in
the tide, and when one peers down into the blue water
the scene is often a revelation ; a new world is opened
up, and the real beauty of oceanic or submarine scenery
is appreciated. The great leaves are carried by the fitful
currents that sweep these islands in every direction.
Sometimes they are extended at full length and appear
like a horde of green snakes ; again they lie at the sur-
face, listless and drooping, forming myriads of halls,
parterres, nooks and corners of much beauty, the real
dark, unfathomed cave of the ocean.

So attractive are these kelpian forests, so fascinating
to investigate, that the glass-bottom-boat voyages to
them have become a pastime so well defined that thou-
sands indulge in it, and the fleet with windows in the
bottom cruises up and down the smooth waters, by the
sea-lion rookeries, affording one of the most pleasing
and novel experiences to be enjoyed on the Pacific Coast.

A Window of the Sea 319

At Avalon there are no hackmen; it is a sort of
mountain Venice, where carriages are at a discount,
except for mountain climbing. One takes a sea auto-
mobile, numbers of which lie in the bay, and the captains
of the glass-bottom boats replace the hackmen of the
mainland and cry the merits of their strange craft, each
of which claims to the knowledge of some especially
beautiful sea meadow or glade which he will take you
over for the small sum of two bits.

These crafts are of all sizes and are significant of the
attractions of the gardens of the sea, and doubtless the
study of marine zoology never had more patrons than at
this isle of summer where thousands of persons yearly
make the safe and picturesque voyage.

The glass window in the boat is set in a few inches
from the bottom so that when the boat grounds the glass
does not. A large oblong well is built in the boat, its
edges being padded ; and about this from one to fifty
observers can sit and gaze down at the passing throng
a succession of ejaculations expressing the delight and
satisfaction of the voyagers. The skipper of the craft
discourses learnedly and always picturesquely on the
strange creatures that pass in view. The captain of the
glass-bottom boat is generally a character : amiable,
courteous to a degree, replete with a marvellous, some-
times fearsome store of facts relating to the wonders of
the deep, which he shares with his guests, affording a
most interesting divertisement.

The voyager when the glass-bottom boat starts

3 20 Life in the Open

is first regaled with the sandy beach, in three or four
feet of water. He sees the wave lines, the effect of
waves on soft sand, the delicate shading of the bottom
in grays innumerable ; now the collar-like egg of a
univalve or the sharp eye of a sole or halibut protrud-
ing from the sand. A school of smelt dart by, pursued
by a bass ; and as the water deepens bands of small
fish, gleaming like silver, appear ; then a black cormo-
rant dashing after them, or perchance a sea-lion brows-
ing on the bottom in pursuit of prey. Suddenly the
light grows dimmer ; quaint shadows appear on the bot-
tom, and almost without warning the lookers on are in
the depths of the kelpian forest

The fitness of the term hanging gardens is apparent,
as the great leaves appear to rise near the surface, then
droop over, forming graceful arches and loops and
conveying the impression of being suspended at the
surface. The colour is a deep olive, grading to yellow ;
the leaves a foot or more wide and very long ; their
edges crimpled. Each one is seen to be covered with a
lacelike network of great beauty. Delicate plumes
wave to and fro, telling of worms or minute sertularians.
Here the tracery is white, like frosted silver, the limy
deposit of some animal, while others are of rich lavender
hues, all plainly seen as the great leaves are brushed
across the glass window. The vagrant beams of light
which strike the surface bring out the tints and shades
in high relief. Through a green loop of kelp is seen
the turquoise blue of deep water, and poised in it an

A Window of the Sea 321

angel fish of vivid golden yellow, a tint that persists in
taking black through the camera. A school of these
fishes swims into view, turning their gorgeous shapes
upward and eying the strange window in which are
mirrored many faces. With them are smaller ones of a
vivid blue iridescence, suggesting the strange vagaries
of nature, as the very young are almost entirely blue,
and called by our skipper " electric fishes." But as
they grow the blue merges into orange, and the adult
fish blooms out in its perfect coat of gold.

On the leaves are seen singular crabs, red and olive,
with square shells, and deeper in the crevices of the
moss-covered rock are gigantic spider crabs a foot
across, mimicking the rocks in shape and colour. The
nature of the forest is ever changing. Now great pom-
pons of a rich dark weed appear, in splendid tints,
born of the deep sea. It waves gracefully as the slight
swell comes in, and as it turns aside displays the very
giant of the star-fishes, a huge creature garbed in red,
with white spikes or tubercles scattered over it, a most
conspicuous object among the greens. The star-fish is
twelve inches across, and slowly moves along by the
aid of its myriad feet. In the crevices are smaller stars ;
some a vivid red, others dark, with arms like snakes.

The bottom changes now to a finer moss or weed, a
deep velvet green here or there, changing to iridescent
tints ; and in it lie big, slug-like, brick-red sea-cucum-
bers ; and then presto ! the captain of the glass-bottom
boat transports us to a deep glen in which lacelike plants

3 22 Life in the Open

rise and poise a tracery of ineffable delicacy and
beauty, forming a natural canopy for numbers of long-
spined black echini, or sea-urchins ; formidable creat-
ures, sea-porcupines, that recognise the presence of
some possible enemy, and attempt to hide by plunging
deeper into the maze. Splashes of white tell of a white
sea-urchin, and almost every nook and corner of this
sea-forest is inhabited by these aggressive creatures.

The bottom of the sea along this rocky shore is
a colour scheme of marvellous beauty. Green is the pre-
dominating hue, but green in countless shades, tones,
and expressions. Sometimes a short wiry weed covers
the bottom, but it is constantly being waved aside
to display other and more beautiful colours : weeds in
purple, brown, rocks of lavender encrusted with a flam-
ing red sponge or a mass of pink serpulse, from which
rises the delicate mauve tracery of their breathing
organs. This sea tapestry is constantly in motion, so
has the appearance of changing light and shade, tint
and colour, every moment displaying some new creature
to the voyagers of the curious craft with windows look-
ing down into the sea.

As it glides along, the bottom seemingly slipping
away, a strange pointed snakelike head appears, pro-
jecting from the algae. It turns, glides forward with a
singular motion, and displays itself ; an eel or
moray, four feet or more in length and proportion-
ately robust. It is a dark brown colour, spotted
here and there with yellow, and should it open






A Window of the Sea 3 2 3

its mouth it would display menacing fanglike

The glass window is now poised over a group of
forms which must be the flowers of this marine forest.
They are gigantic sea-anemones, four or five inches
across and several tall, while radiating from the circum-
ference are innumerable mauve and purple petals which
give the lowly animal, a cousin of the corals, a startling
resemblance to a Burbank daisy, or some large flower
of that class. Some are fully expanded, standing firm
and erect ; others are closed, the petals drawn in so that
they appear to be mere mounds of mauve on the rocks.
Near them are true corals, which appear to be anem-
ones, the delicate pellucid tentacles rising above the
limy tube. Moving offshore, huge comet-like jellies may
be seen, twenty to thirty feet in length, with dark
lavender markings, or more delicate and fairy-like liv-
ing traceries drifting in the current, standing out against
the deep blue of the sea. Large fishes poise in the
lower depths, the large sea-bass mimicking the folds of
the great kelpian forest that rolls and sways above them
in the current.

Nature is a very clever masquerader, and has ap-
parently so bedecked several large fishes that they find
abundant protection in the resemblance to the crimpled
leaves of the kelp. None of the lookers-on can see the
kelp-fish which the skipper assures them is directly be-
fore their eyes. But suddenly the leaf, or what they
thought was a leaf, stirs, unbends, and resolves itself

3 2 4 Life in the Open

into a fish, marvellous in its resemblance to the leaves
among which it lives. The mimic is a foot in length,
of a delicate green, tending to yellow, the exact tint of
the kelp, even the paler whitish spots being simulated ;
not only this, but the kelp-fish poises in the hanging
gardens either on its head or tail, or partly recumbent,
so that it has assumed the exact position of the leaves
it so closely imitates. It is long, slender, with a high
fin extending its entire length ; a pointed mouth, and
eyes having the strange faculty of following one around,
after the fashion of the eyes of old portraits.

The window drifts past a slug-like animal lying on
painted rocks, the Mche de mer of the Chinese, in which
lives the strange glass-like fish fierasfer. Here is a
colony of mimic flowers, serpulse, with crowns of red,
blue, and seeming gold. The lightest jar on the boat
and they are gone, to appear slowly unfolding like
flowers. Near them are other tube-building worms, with
similar organs ; and out from beneath a richly-coloured
rock wave the " whips " of the spiny lobster or crawfish
a lobster in all but the large claws.

The animals of the hanging gardens are not con-
fined to the kelp or to the rocks of the bottom. The
blue water where the sunlight enters brings out myri-
ads of delicate forms, poising, drifting, swimming, the
veritable gems of the sea. Some are red as the ruby ;
others blue like sapphire ; some yellow, white, brown, or
emitting vivid flashes of seeming phosphorescent light.
Ocean sapphires they are called ; the true gems of the

A Window of the Sea 3 2 5

sea, thickly strewn in the deep blue water. Sweeping
by, poised in classic shapes, are the smaller jelly-fishes ;
crystal vases, so delicate that the rich tone of the ocean
can be seen through them, changing to a steely blue.
Some are mere spectres, a tracery of lace ; others rich
in colours and flaunting long trains.

Nearly all these pellucid crafts move by slow flap-
ping of the umbrella-like disk ; but here is a jelly, the
Pkysophora, which has a series of pumps by which it
shoots along through the water. No more beautiful
object can be conceived than this ; ablaze with colours
pink, white, blue, and quicksilver ; darting through the
azure waters that form the atmosphere of the floating

As the boat moves out into deep water the purity of
this aqueous sky is seen, as fifty feet below the rocks
are plainly visible, and the dim shapes of kelp leaves
faintly outlined far beyond. Here large fishes float :
the graceful sheep's-head, peculiar to the region, the
male having enormous red and black stripes, a blunt
forehead, and the lower jaw of pure white. The female
is a radiant creature, with beautiful eyes, and often red,
brown, or white. These fishes are easily attracted to
the boat by a judicious display of bait, where their
graceful forms can be plainly observed.

Now the window is over deep water, to see the pass-
ing school of barracuda : tens of thousands of long,
slender, pike-shaped fishes, all headed in one direction,
swimming slowly, a picture of a thousand staring black

3 26 Life in the Open

eyes dotting the sea. Suddenly they disappear, as
though some shutter had been snapped, and into the
field dash a school of large sea-bass, the splendid game
fish of this region. Again the window approaches shoal
water, and for several miles it follows along this fishes'
highway, providing the voyagers with an ever-changing
panorama of marine scenery. Now it will be a shoal of
blue perch, a fish that affects the kelp forest and
presents a sharp contrast to it in its vivid tint.

These fish like to bask and sport near the surface,
and the window appears full of them as it moves along.
Rock bass, singly and in schools, are seen poised in
alcoves of the kelp, richly striped brown and black ; and
here the radiant " white " fish, as blue as the water, with
long and beautiful fins, while in the depths below
other and interesting forms are seen, all slightly
magnified by the glass.

In and out, now in shallows where the velvet-like
rocks are near the surface, now offshore, following in
the trail of some vagrant shark, the shallow steamer
moves, affording strange vistas of the sea and its secrets,
and emphasising the fact that a new method of study
has been found in the field of popular science that is at
once a pastime and recreation.

Chapter XXIII

Cruising Along the Channel Islands

STRUNG along the coast of Southern California
are several groups of islands : the Coronados of
San Diego, the Santa Catalina group, off Los
Angeles County, and the Santa Barbara Islands, oppo-
site the Santa Ynez Mountains, that rise in graceful
lines over the old Spanish town, one of the few in
Southern California still possessing strong individuality.
The Coronados are small, and have no permanent
residents. The Santa Catalina group consists of four
islands : Santa Catalina, eighteen miles offshore, twen-
ty-two miles long and sixty around ; Santa Barbara
Rock, twenty-five miles north ; San Nicolas, eighty
miles out at sea, to the north-west, and San Clemente,
nearly as large as Santa Catalina, forty miles to the
south-west from the mainland. The Santa Barbara
Islands lie on the channel of that name, about twenty
miles offshore, and are four in number : Anacapa,
Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel, all but the
former being of large size.


33 Life in the Open

Nearly all these islands are peaks of an offshore
coast range, thrust up here ages ago, and we can
imagine them lofty isolated peaks rising from a ridge
that doubtless runs along shore far to the south.

Only one of these groups, Santa Catalina, has a
permanent settlement, the town of Avalon. This is the
only inhabited island open to the public and having
regular daily boats. Avalon is a fully-fledged and well-
equipped community, with hotels, cottages, homes, and
what is without question the finest rod fishing for
large game fishes in the world. This and its singu-
larly perfect climate have given Santa Catalina a wide

The town stands on a miniature crescent-shaped bay
from which a deep caflon reaches away, stopped by a
mountain range two miles to the west. The vale of Ava-
lon is a romantic and beautiful amphitheatre, surrounded
by ranges of hills which rise one above the other in a
jumble of peaks. In winter it is green, a marvellous con-
trast to the deep blue of the sea, in which the island
rests in peace and tranquillity, almost the only object
that is " pacific" in this sea of Balboa. The harbour of
Avalon is a miniature Naples, and the climate is so
singular that from April to November, and often
December, a storm or squall of any kind is unknown.
Nearly every day there is a stiff breeze a short distance
out, but along the rocky coast, near shore, the high
mountains ranging up to twenty-two hundred feet pro-
duce a lee so that small boats are perfectly safe.

Cruising Along the Channel Islands 33*

Twenty miles out to sea, the island is perforce a
yachting centre, and the only port in Southern California,
except Santa Barbara, San Pedro and San Diego, where
there is an exensive boating and sailing contingent,
safe at all times ; and the little bay is filled with craft of
all kinds, racing auto boats, fleets of glass-bottom boats,
while launches extend out from every boatman's stand,
filling the south end of the beautiful bay and form-
ing an attractive colour scheme.

Here is often the rendezvous of the South Coast
Yacht Club. The yachts cruise among the islands,
San Clemente, twenty miles distant, being an interesting
point for its fine fishing and the fact that, like all the
islands, it had at one time a large and vigorous native
population whose strange implements are found buried
in the shifting sand dunes that are constantly changing
shapes. San Clemente is government property, and is
rented to sheep herders, from whom permission must be
had before landing.

An interesting cruise can be made to San Nicolas,
about eighty miles from Avalon. The island is in the
region of eternal winds. I made three attempts to
reach it in a sixty-ton yacht, each time being driven
back by heavy winds, or having to lay to in the heavy
sea. Approaching it, the island is seen to be low-ly-
ing, about seven miles long, with mountains or hills in
the centre, and over it a cloud bank that is bombarded
by the wind, which apparently is never quite able to
drive it off. To the east a long sandy spit reaches out,

33 2 Life in the Open

and by this we anchored in a treacherous sea, the tide
rushing up and down, the sea running in and around,
and the wind whistling a mournful dirge through the

The landing is through the surf, and dangerous.
Another anchorage is at Corral Harbour, several miles
above. The wind-gods hold San Nicolas, and a more
uninviting spot it would be difficult to find. The wind
seemingly never ceases, lifting the sand into the air,
whirling it along like wraiths, filling great cafions,
emptying others, and every day changing the land-
scape. I crossed a plain as level as a floor, covered
with small pebbles that at times the wind hurls through
the air. Despite its interesting features, San Nicolas
is a good place to leave behind. In 1836, we are
told, the last Indians were taken away ; but as they
were leaving a squaw swam back to get her child,
and for some reason was left and abandoned. In
1856, twenty years later, George Nidever of Santa
Barbara landed there, on an otter hunt. To his sur-
prise he found huts of whalebone, and near one an old
woman, dressed in a garb of skins and feathers. She
presented a weird appearance ; her language was unin-
telligible. Nidever took her to Santa Barbara, where
every attempt was made to find some one who could
talk to her, but without success. The "lost woman"
died three months after her rescue, and was buried by
the mission fathers.

In striking contrast are the Santa Barbara Islands,


Cruisiug Along the Channel Islands 333

about one hundred miles north of Santa Catalina. The
winds are often heavy for a small boat here, and for
perfect comfort and safety a commodious yacht is
needed. Anacapa lies to the south, a long rocky spit,
changing at every point of view. Over a small channel
lies Santa Cruz Island, nearly as large as Santa Cata-
lina, well wooded, hilly, and very attractive, in the inte-
rior of which is a vineyard, the property, as is the
entire island, of a Swiss-Italian wine colony. The
interior is reached up a narrow but beautiful oak-lined
canon the bed of a stream winding upward and lead-
ing into the little valley of grapes. The harbours at
Santa Cruz are more or less open, but good anchorage
is to be had, and strong winds for sailing are met with
every day.

Santa Rosa lies farther out, and is a large island
used as a sheep and cattle ranch. Portions of San
Miguel, which lies to the north, it may be said, are being
blown into the sea. With San Nicolas it represents the
undoing of an island, and the view of white sand dunes
flowing over mountains is an interesting phenomenon,
and the island is worth visiting if for nothing else than
to witness the vagaries of the winds which come in from
the west and toss the sand aloft where clouds and wraiths
go whirling through the air, borne upward to drop like
snow upon the waters. Three hundred years ago this is-
land was discovered by Cabrillo, the Spanish adventurer,
who died and was buried here. At that time the island,
it is said, was covered with verdure, trees and brush,

334 Life in the Open

as are parts of it to-day ; but the sand in the course
of years has encroached upon it and reduced the
former productive portions to the state of a mere
desert, and to-day it presents a most desolate appear-
ance, and those who land here have to wade through
the deep sand that is ever piling up and is destined
to completely fill the harbour or reduce it to a

Some time ago a schooner was thrown ashore on the
beach, and to show the remarkable movementof the
sand the vessel is now some distance inland and near-
ly buried out of sight by the insidious advance. It has
covered the deck, run down into the hold, partly filled the
craft, so that from a distance she appears to be riding on
a sea of sand, hard pressed and desolate. All about,
as far as the eye can reach, sand is coming down the hills
or going up, covering the rocks and gullies, sweeping
into caftons and forming vast slides by which one can
slide from the summit of a hill fairly into the bay.

As a picture of desolation and the rapid movement
of sand, San Miguel has no equal. It works like snow,
the slightest obstacle being an excuse for piling up ; and
along the beach are seen a succession of sand waves, so
high in some instances that the stroller is lost to sight
as he moves slowly along. There is no better place
than this great amphitheatre of sand in which to observe
the action of the wind, which at one point carries it up a
steep slope, and not far away it is pouring down.

The advance of sand is often subtle and unobserved ;

Cruising Along the Channel Islands 335

even when the wind is low it is moving, and by lying
down on the dune it can be seen coming along the sur-
face in well-defined rivers. I noticed this particularly
on the outer islands of the Texan coast, where the sand
rivers in numbers of instances were blowing a distance
of a mile or more from the gulf across the flat to the
inner bay. They moved at about the same rate of speed
that a man would walk, and were incessant, and had
been for centuries ; yet the island retained about the
same shape, the loss of sand being equal to the supply.
The prevailing wind at San Miguel is north-west, and
wing and wing we fell away before it, leaving the in-
hospitable shores to make the harbour of Santa Barbara
with its splendid beach and tiers of houses rising one
above the other to the mountains of Santa Ynez.
Yachting 1 is a delightful diversion in Southern Cali-
fornia, and between the various resorts from Santa
Barbara to Coronado, or to San Diego, and the attract-
ive and beautiful islands offshore, the yachtsman has
ample choice.

The climatic features of Southern California lend
themselves to produce very favourable conditions for
yachting. During the entire season, from May until
November, there will be no storms, squalls, cyclones,
thunder-storms, rain, or any of the conditions that hold
on the Atlantic Coast. Every day there is a west wind
that can be counted on, sometimes strong, sometimes

1 None of the habitable islands of Southern California are open to the public ex-
cept Santa Catalina ; but permission to land can doubtless be obtained from
owners or lessees.

Life in the Open

light, and always cool and delightful. Paims fringe the
shore at Santa Barbara and are seen everywhere, but it
is never hot in a tropical sense ; there is rarely uncom-
fortable weather in port or out to sea.

The lee of the large islands often produces a dead
calm, and for this reason auxiliary yachts are popular,
being able to go into the nooks and corners of the coast.
All summer there is a delightful, fresh, stiff breeze ;
heavier in the Santa Barbara Channel, lighter off Santa
Catalina, and lighter still between San Diego and the
Coronados. As summer wanes and September comes,

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Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderLife in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California → online text (page 17 of 21)