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David Smith traveled to the “The Coronado Islands” in 1978 and 1982 by Air & Sea. David Shares his Story and Photos from the Trips!

Jan 15, 2016 11:51AM ● By Paul Spear

In 1978 by Airplane and in 1982 via Boat David and Juanita Smith traveled to "The 

 Coronado Islands". David shares a Story and Photographs from the trips.

“The Coronado Islands”


     The Mexican-owned, Coronado islands, just south of the border have always held a special fascination for me. Countless times I have stood on the beach and gazed at them in contemplation. Eventually my wife, Juanita and I were fortunate enough to visit, undertaking trips by airplane and boat; both were rewarding and memorable times in our lives.


     The islands have an interesting past, although I can only recount the briefest historical summary here. They were discovered in 1542 by Juan Cabrillo as he sailed north from Mexico. He named them “Las Islas Desiertas.” In 1602 Sebastian Vizcaino led several ships on an exploratory voyage of California waters. The friar on board renamed the islands, “Los Quatro Coronado’s,” in honor of four brothers executed for their Christian beliefs in ancient Rome. In times past the islands have been used by fishermen, seal and abalone hunters, pirates, as a rock quarry (North Island) and even a gambling casino on South Island in the 1930s. But eventually all commercial efforts, except fishing failed. In the 60s and 70s regular fishing trips were launched from the south end of the “T” on the original I.B. Pier. However, when the pier was destroyed by huge surf in February of 1980, fishing trips had to be terminated. The service was resurrected for a time after the pier was rebuilt 1988, only to be stopped again—this time because of damage to the pilings caused by docking fishing boats. Today fishing in the Coronado’s continues, but mainly originating from companies located in San Diego Bay.


     A brief description of the Coronado Islands from south to north is as follows: South Island is 672 feet high, almost two miles long and half-mile across. It was the site of most of the islands' history, including the casino, called Coronado Yacht Club. Also, the main lighthouse is located there, plus a relatively recent additional lighthouse and radio tower. Middle Island, just a rocky peak, is 251 feet high, its top covered sparsely with brush and cactus. Middle Rock, the smallest of the islands, is only 101 feet high and completely covered with guano. North Island (or Mummy Island or Deadman's Island) is 467 feet high. It is nearly 1 mile in length and has a large sea lion colony on the windward side. All the islands are very steep and barren, and constitute a game preserve. Special permission to land is required from the Mexican government.


     A summary of our Coronado’s visits:

     In 1975, my first encounter was an unsuccessful venture. With a friend, I sailed for the islands from the Navy Yacht Club in Coronado on a leaky, old 20-foot day sailor. The intent was to land on one of the islands by surfboard. We made it to a point a few miles northeast of North Island, but had to abandon our plans. We were ill-prepared in all respects to undertake this voyage, and were lucky to have returned--a story to recount in a later article.  

     In 1978, Juanita and I chartered a private plane at a Brown Field to fly us over the 

 Coronado’s. The flight was a bit complicated to arrange and expensive, but the experience was fantastic. Soaring over the mysterious islands was a supreme joy, especially as I was able to take some unique aerial photographs. We flew all around the islands for some time in order to document them from the most advantageous angles.

     In 1982, Juanita enjoyed a trip to the Coronado’s on an excursion boat, organized by the lady lifeguards of Mar Vista pool, with whom she worked. The photographs she took offer a more intimate view of the islands. One can see the old casino on South Island (which no longer stands), the seal colony on North Island and the Needle's Eye at the extreme south end. In between, separated by strong currents are the two smaller islands.


     Altogether, these visits fulfilled a long-awaited dream. The environment of the Coronado Islands is truly a mesmerizing one--desolate, yet beautiful, and not far away. And they are almost always visible from Imperial Beach. You owe it to yourself to see these islands firsthand.


David Smith 1-14-16                              

Independent Reporter and Photographer, Dig Imperial Beach               or 619-289-3654

                       Photo Credit; Juanita Smith (Island from boat)


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