The decks of the National Geographic Sea Lion are bathed in the light of a waning gibbous moon in the pre-dawn hours at Bechers Bay on Santa Rosa Island. Morning is a quiet time on the ship, peaceful, damp with fog, your sense of hearing more important than sight. A flood tide murmurs and fills the bay as Ursa Major watches from above.

Photographers find their way to the bow at first light seeking color and texture in the seascape. A green flash on the horizon of Santa Cruz Island, blink and you’ve missed it. Our day has begun. Endemic Torrey pines and island oaks are focal points of the mornings’ hikes, but island poppies steal the show. Meanwhile, paddle boarders and kayakers explore the offshore kelp beds with seals and sea lions. A large pod of common dolphins rides the bow of National Geographic Sea Lion during the afternoons’ southerly cruise.  A guest plays guitar as the fog rolls in, and a quiet evening settles.