First-time channel swimmer? Consider Anacapa Island

by Evan Morrison. 13 February 2012.

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 to the mainland.

Anacapa channel swim

Anacapa Island to Port Hueneme, California

25 successful swims since 1978.

The 12.2-mile (20 km) swim, from East Anacapa to Silver Strand Beach near Port Hueneme - has many desirable qualities for marathon swimmers.

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

How to Sign Up for an Anacapa Island Swim

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