I awoke to the sound of water lapping against the swim platform outside my stateroom porthole. I opened my eyes to see the sunlight reflected off the ceiling above me, dancing the the rhythm of the calm water beneath the boat, the movement of the hull rocking me gently side to side as if in a cradle being lulled by the ocean.As my senses awaken ed, I caught the smell of coffee brewing upstairs. I sat up and stretched, savoring the stillness and tranquility of the moment. I glanced outside the porthole to a view of the rocky cliffs, so close I felt I could almost reach out and touch the giant coreopsis, which were in full bloom and blanketing the hillside with a brilliant yellow hue.
We were anchored at Pelican Bay on Santa Cruz Island on a calm Saturday Morning. After a breakfast of Lobster Benedict, Organic Sausage, and fresh fruit salad, I found myself a comfortable chair and sat on the aft deck where I was able to watch my daughter and son kayaking around the boat and diving off the fly-bridge into the clear cool water. Surely I was somewhere in France, Mallorca, or off the coast of Southern Spain. I looked to the north over the ocean and saw the mainland in the distance, which brought me momentarily back to reality. Santa Barbara was only a short distance from us but it felt a million miles away.
I was engrossed in my book when my nose detected the wonderful familiar scent of sauteed onions. I turned toward the galley to see the chef already preparing lunch. Shortly after, I felt the vibration of the engines starting. The captain had begun to weigh anchor for our short tour around the back side of the island where we would stop to eat lunch.
I wandered up to the fly-bridge, which offered commanding 360 degree views of…well…wherever we happened to be at the moment. The view was continually changing. We arrived at our anchorage. The Captain turned off the engines and all of a sudden it was so quiet I could hear a pelican’s wings cutting through the air as he flew by. I soon found myself asleep in a steamer chair under the shade of the canvas roof overhead. I completely lost track of time as I passed in and out of consciousness. The squawk of a seagull who had come to rest on the railing next to me brought me back to the moment. The kids were snorkeling nearby in the bay. I could see them in the distance with the one of the crew and hear them taking about the purple sea anemone and the orange Garibaldi they had just seen.
My wife had just spotted the fluke of a whale in the distance and had gone in search of a pair of binoculars to take a closer look.
Later that afternoon, as evening approached, the flickering light from the oil lamps in the salon transformed the teak interior with a cloak of warmth. As I descended the stairs to the aft stateroom to freshen up before cocktails were served, I peaked into my son’s stateroom; He was deeply immersed in a copy of Robinson Crusoe he had discovered on the bookshelf.
Dinner started with a plate of buttery, sizzling escargots followed by course after course of the most flavorful and tastefully plated dishes. The atmosphere was very relaxed, but there was nothing lazy or routine about the food. The chef mastered a combination of richness, simplicity and elegance, equal to or better than any restaurant I had experienced.
Throughout our stay on “Grand Times”, we feasted on classic dishes with a fresh, contemporary touch, including Soup Aux Oighons Gratinee, to a classic Croque Madame, to Cassoulet de Castelnaudry or Grilled Free Range Rib-eye served with fresh arugula. When we finally left the table, it was with the most memorable tastes in our mouths.
After dinner, we were offered Grand Times’s signature homemade Limoncello, served ice cold in Italian aperitivo glasses that the Captain’s wife had brought back from Murano, Italy. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
The next day, the Captain and First Mate had coordinated a Kayak Trip through Paddle Sports, a local outfitter, who met us at the island the morning. We spent all day paddling through the caves and coves near Painted Cave. I peered over the edge of my kayak. The water was so clear I could see the white sandy bottom. A small ray shot past me, stirring up the sand below. Warm cozy towels, hot apple cider and a shower were waiting for us when we returned.
The next day, shortly after departing for the mainland, we were met by a large school of dolphins who had detoured off their track to escort us through the shipping lane. They swam right up to the boat, flipped around and then swam under the bow of the boat, surfing the underwater current below the surface.
About midway thought he Channel, we met up with a family of Humpback whales who didn’t seem to be in any hurry and who weren’t the least bit afraid of us. Before approaching them, the Captain shut down the engines and the curious whales actually approached US, showing off their graceful tails that slid effortlessly in and out of the water. I had never seen such a majestic, beautifully choreographed dance performed by such colossal creatures.
Several sea lions lounging on the buoy outside the Channel welcomed us back to Santa Barbara Harbor. I turned to the captain and asked if we couldn’t just turn around for a couple more days!