Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island

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Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island, 1889
Smugglers Cove with heavy growth of feed on lime adobe hillsides where sheep have not fed to any extent. Adobe house, fig, walnut, eucalyptus and olive trees shown. Cuts in the hillside show limestone formation plainly.
Santa Cruz Island, Symmes, 1922
Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island
Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island

Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island is located to the south of the island’s easternmost point, San Pedro Point. Its harbor affords good anchorage in northwesterly winds and during the summer and fall months it is a favorite anchorage for visiting boats. During the winter, Smugglers Cove is open and unprotected from southeast storms. Despite its good anchor grounds, landing on its long sandy beach is particularly difficult due to the common presence of an inside swell. The name Smugglers Cove appears at least as early as 1856 in Report of the Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey for 1856, map #48. Here the name is spelled Smuggler’s Cove, with a singular possessive apostrophe. The place name Smugglers Cove (no apostrophe) appears on Forney’s 1875 island survey map. The place name appears on the June 1882 U.S. Coast Survey map Pacific Coast from Santa Monica to Point Conception, including the Santa Barbara Channel, California, J.E. Hilgard, Superintendent.

According to Pier Gherini [1966]:

“Smugglers’ Cove referred to an era in early California history when custom duties were evaded, and apparently Smugglers’ Cove was used as an interim stopping place prior to the entry at mainland ports.”

Helen Caire [1993: 47] further describes this era:

“Monterey became the capital of Alta California, and its port alone was open to foreign ships. The only source of revenue for California, the tax on imports, was of great importance. Many foreign vessels tried to dodge it, often successfully, reducing Spanish revenue while enriching themselves. Smuggling flourished, especially since the contrabandistas brought goods, which the californios wanted, and indeed, many of which they really needed. Soon the chief aim and heaviest traffic of the traders was the beautiful fur of the sea otter. It is certain that the islands were used as bases of operations on the southern coast, as Smugglers’ Cove on Santa Cruz Island and a bight of the same name on San Clemente [Island] testify. By 1834 the deserted islands were not visited except by smugglers and sea otter hunters.”

This place name appears on the Santa Cruz Island Sheet D topographic map. When the island was partitioned in 1925, this location was included in Tract No. 7 appointed to Edmund A. Rossi. Vessels wrecked at Smugglers Cove include:

  • International I (1918)
  • Vineth (1961)
  • Sierra (1971)
  • White Cap (1966)
  • Reaper (1980s) minesweep


TIME LAPSE VIDEO OF THE UNIQUE SUNDIAL ON THE SMUGGLERS RANCH HOUSE BY KEITH PARK




In the News~

April 11, 1895 [SBMP]: “The Olympia left yesterday morning for Smugglers Harbor.”


January 25, 1902 [LAT/SB]: “Frank Marincovich returned from Santa Cruz Island Thursday with a story of mishaps. Between wind, water and file, his sloop had a lively time, and those on board, the experience of their lives. On Sunday the Big Loafer was anchored in Scorpion Harbor, but that proved no adequate shelter from the northwest gale that was raging down the channel… After splitting the mainsail, the Big Loafer, after an eventful night, reached a safe anchorage in Smugglers Cove.”


August 10, 1902 [OC]: “A party composed of Judge and Mrs. B. T. Williams, Miss Irene Williams, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Gould, Miss Olive Gould and Thomas Gould, Jr. embarked on the yacht Daisy at Serena Wednesday, and after a delightful sail across the channel landed at Tinker’s Harbor, Santa Cruz Island… The next morning they coasted around the island, enjoying the scenery, and anchored at Smugglers Cove at the east end of the island… The entire party were very enthusiastic over the trip, and delighted with the Daisy and her Captain Merry…”


January 22, 1902 [SBMP]: “Captain Frank Marincovich, with the Big Loafer, returned from Santa Cruz Island yesterday with a story of mishaps. Between wind, water and fire, the sloop had a lively time of it, and those on board had the experience of their lives. The northwest gale that raged down the channel Sunday found the Big Loafer anchored in Scorpion Harbor, but the wind was of such severity that this shelter was of no avail. The Loafer dragged anchor, and soon was at the mercy of the sea. Driven by the wind, the sloop followed the coarse of the shore for about a mile and then was approaching a chain of rocks. Dire disaster seemed imminent when Captain Marincovich as a last resort, spread out a piece of canvas and steered out of danger. This left the Loafer further out in the channel, and she had a choppy time for the next few hours. As darkness came on, a lantern was brought from below, but was overturned in the disorder, the oil spilled on the deck, and in the hold. This caught fire and the crew forgot the storm for a few minutes while fighting the flames. The Big Loafer finally reached a safe anchorage in Smugglers Cove, after splitting the mainsail in the effort.”


March 12, 1902 [SBMP]: “The gasoline launch Peerless arrived from Santa Cruz Island yesterday with news of a drowning. The man whose life was lost [August Ericson], employed by the West Coast Fishing Company, whose cannery is located on the island.”


January 4, 1905 [LAT/OX]: “The gasoline launch Glendale was piled up on the rocks of Anacapa Island Christmas Eve and totally wrecked. The craft belonged to a Hueneme fishing company, which was engaged in crawfishing and had a camp on Santa Cruz Island near Smugglers Cove. ..”


December 12, 1905 [SBMP]: “Word has just been brought in from Santa Cruz Island that three 25-foot power launches were sunk in the fierce gale that swept past the islands Saturday. They were the property of Avalon fishermen who have been camped at Smugglers Harbor for several weeks in search of crawfish. Two of the boats were torn from their moorings and sunk, and the third was capsized while two fishermen were in it. They were not far from shore and succeeded in reaching land by swimming. A larger launch owned by the same party was not sunk, and an effort will be made to raise the other launches if they can be located.”


July 26, 1910 [LAT/LB]: “John Ruggs and Frank Randall came over from Catalina today after a strenuous experience last week on the launch Margarita. They were caught in a storm and driven into Smugglers’ Cove, where they were forced to stay three days with little food and less water. They got away Saturday evening.”


April 16, 1911 [SBMP]: “A Summer Cruise in the Sunset Sea- ...The voyagers skirted the south side of Santa Cruz Island, stopping a day or two in Smugglers Cove, where they found a party of Japanese fishermen using diving suits in their quest for crawfish.”


January 7, 1912 [SHR/75]: “A party of Los Angeles sportsmen intends to spend some time at the islands. They will go on the Gussie M with Captain Vasquez. They expect to reach Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island, where they will hunt wild boars for two days. L. H. Lipmen will head the expedition.”


December 29, 1914 [SBDNI]: “A close watch is being maintained along the water front for mysterious craft which might have some connection with the many thefts from boats in the bay, which have occasioned local boat owners considerable loss. Immigration Inspector A. G. Bernard is also on the lookout, scenting possible smugglers, for it is believed that the bay thefts were the work of the same individuals reported to be living on Santa Cruz Island, slaughtering the island sheep and holding high carnival generally. In days gone by, Smugglers Cove on the island was noted for the thrifty work of the pirates who made it their lair. Other coves as hard to enter, and concealed from the sea, abound, and each will be carefully searched if the rumors set afloat by the fishermen are given credence by the government officials. Inspector Bernard has been right on the job since the reports were given publicity, and proposes to investigate. He has been watching for Chinese contraband, but so far no track of such business has been traced to this section. Some of the fishermen believe that the sheep shooting on the island is the work of what they call ‘rough-necks’ from Los Angeles and San Pedro, who make trips to the island to indulge the inclination for protracteds sprees, though still others believe there are genuine pirates infesting the island coves.”


August 17, 1915 [SBMP]: “A merry party of campers who have been spending the past fortnight on Santa Cruz Island, returned home on Sunday morning. They left Smugglers Cove, landing at Fry's Harbor Saturday evening...”


August 23, 1915 [SBDNI]: “Thirty tons of albacore are each day leaving Santa Barbara channel for the Van Camp Canning factory at San Pedro, according to J. S. Reynolds, who has just returned from Santa Cruz Island where he has been interestingly watching the big fishing fleet there for two weeks. From 200 to 300 power fishing boats areplying the channel waters for albacore. The canning company has towed up and anchored near Smugglers Cove a floating wharf where the fishing boats deposit their fish and receive their receipts and where the big fish barge, which visits the cove daily, takes aboard its 20 to 30 tons of fish for the cannery. On the floating dock there is also a grovery store for the fishermen and a supply station for gas, oil and distillite. The fishermen work on the share pan and the best boat last year is reported to have cleared $8000 for a season of three months. This year the boats, which have already been in the channel for two weeks, expect to stay for two months longer if the albacore continue to run for the usual length of time. The fishing fleet came up to establish headquarters at Pelican Bay, but finding no sardines and anchovies there to use for bait they moved down to Smugglers Cove, where bait was plentiful. Mr. Reynolds, who returned yesterday from two weeks camping with Captain Eaton at his summer resort at Pelican Bay, said this morning that albacore was not the only fish extremely plentiful at the islands just now. He in company with a few others from the camp caught 200 pounds of rock cod in a little over an hour one day and 300 pounds in about the same time another day.”


September 2, 1917 [LAT]: “Santa Barbara. Captain C. Fink of the supply boat Seafarer, has come in from Santa Cruz Island with news of the loss of two fishing boats, the Halfhill, owned by the Halfhill Canning Company of Long Beach, and a Japanese boat, each valued at $4000. The boats ran onto the submerged rocks at the east end of Santa Cruz Island, near Smugglers Cove, while fishing. There is a bare possibility that the Halfhill may be pulled from the rocks, though her position is perilous. The other boat has already been pounded to pieces.”


September 7, 1917 [SBMP]: “Jack Asselton, a fisherman accused of the murder of T. Nio, a Japanese, has been lodged in the Santa Barbara county jail, he being brought here yesterday by policeman Glaz of San Pedro, where the arrest took place. The affray took place several days ago at Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island, a quarrel starting over bait. Nio was stabbed with a boat hook, and he was hurried to San Pedro for treatment.”


May 11, 1919 [SBMP]: “The yacht Ortona, flagship of the South Coast Yacht Club of San Pedro, which visited this port Friday with skipper Dan H. Laubershiemer, commodore Cleve Harrison and a party aboard, sailed away yesterday morning at 10 o’clock with the Painted Cave of Santa Cruz Island as her immediate destination. From the cave, the party planned to forge on to Fry’s Harbor, and from there to Chinese Harbor to anchor for the night. The waters of Smugglers Cove were expected to be their haven for today, and this evening they will unfurl sail for their home harbor.”


August 21, 1919 [LAT]: “After clinging desperately for twelve hours to an improved raft in the open sea and after seeing one of their companions drown, Captain Leonard C. Perryman and Boyd E. Canfield of the launch Oregon were picked up nearly dead from exposure and exhaustion yesterday morning off Point Dume by a Japanese fishing boat. Leonard E. Parsons, 20 years old, of Long Beach, was drowned after he had become too exhausted by his struggles with wind and wave to cling longer to the frail raft, hastily improvised from three hatch covers fastened together. The tender Oregon, a sixty-foot gas launch chartered by the Tuna Canners’ Clearinghouse Association to transfer fish from the boats operating off Santa Cruz Island to San Pedro, set out from Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island at 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon. About 8 o’clock the captain discovered she was leaking badly and had already begun to sink. The three members of the crew began to dump the cargo of twelve tons of tuna overboard. Shortly before 10 o’clock the Oregon sank…”


June 28, 1920 [SCICo]: “It was true that Captain Vasquez died somewhere around Smugglers Cove.”


September 19, 1920 [LAT]: “Out of Smugglers Cove, Santa Cruz Island, swept a seaplane and drummed away toward Anacapa, patrolling the channel as carefully as if it were on the watch for submarines. It described interlacing ‘figure eights’ which permitted its observer to scan every wave which passed under him. Suddenly the plane ceased to swing from horizon to horizon and buzzed like a bee, in narrowing circles, over something in the water. Then it swung back towards Smugglers Cove and from it was tossed a ‘bomb’ which drifted down gently, as if very light, and floated buoyantly when it struck the waves. A man in a crow’s nest in one of the boats in the mouth of the cove saw the ‘bomb’ and excitedly shouted directions. In a minute the boat, which for hours had lain like a painted ship upon a painted sea, was speeding toward the floating speck, and two men in a dory soon captured it and brought it on board. It was a hollow, water-proofed, water-tight paper carton. The captain, an immense hairy Austrian, tore it open and spread out the paper that was in it. The paper was a map of the coast of Southern and Lower California… In one of the two northernmost squares was an X, one point of which was an arrowhead. The ‘bomb’ was from the Canners’ Fish Company Intelligence service and from the map and the accompanying footnotes the captain knew that a large school of tuna swimming northwest had been spotted about five miles north of Anacapa…”


September 10, 1928 [ODC]: “A hydroplane inspection of Santa Cruz Island was made Friday by Frederick Law Olmstead, famous landscape authority selected by the State of California to pass upon the desirability of the various park sites proposed by the different localities as desirable to be included in the purchases to be made from the proposed bond issue of $6,000,000 to be voted on at the coming election… Passing over Smugglers Cove, but 30-odd fishing boats were in evidence. Before the Santa Cruz waters were over fished there have been 300 fishing boats there at one time…”


November 21, 1958 [SBNP]: “State and county officials who toured the near shore of Santa Cruz Island yesterday are enthusiastic about the prospect of establishing harbors and camps for public use at two different sites on the island. They selected Smugglers Cove, at the east end, and Prisoners Harbor nearly opposite Santa Barbara. The party yesterday went ashore at both places. H. G. Stevens, chief of the newly established State Small Craft Harbor Division, commented that acquisition of either or both sites for state marine parks would fulfill a visionary idea that has been discussed for 30 years among yachtsmen and persons interested in public recreation areas.”


September 3, 1958 [SBNP]: “Donald Spencer told last night of 20 hours he spent in the cold Santa Barbara Channel swimming toward an island he could not see, towards the sound of a foghorn he could hear. He and two friends started from Port Hueneme toward Smugglers Cove. The sea was smooth at first, but a chop developed when they were probably a mile and a half from the island. Their motor stopped, and a wave broke over the boat. The men seized life cushions. The boat got away from them, and they attempted to stay together. The other men became exhausted and finally sank into the water. Several boats passed without seeing Spencer, but finally a Japanese freighter took him aboard and on to San Francisco, where his father met him.”