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With the Highway Blocked, California Commuters Take to the Sea

Mudslides have closed US 101 above Los Angeles, so tourist boats are offering an ad-hoc ferry service between Ventura and Santa Barbara.
Boulders block a road after a mudslide in Montecito, California.
Boulders block a road after a mudslide in Montecito, California.Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department

Island Packers Cruises operates a fleet of catamarans that take day-trippers and whale watchers from Ventura and Oxnard up the coast from Los Angeles to the Channel Islands, a chain of small islands offshore. But this week, devastating mudslides have closed US 101, cutting off the main route up and down the Pacific coast. So the company’s high-speed tourist boats have been pressed into service to provide emergency transportation for residents between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Since Tuesday, three of their four catamarans—each of which can carry up to 130 people—has been helping people move between areas that are otherwise inaccessible, due to the continued closure of large sections of US 101 and other major roads in the area. The Condor Express, a whale watching line operated by another cruise company called Sea Landing, is also offering the same shuttle service. “There aren’t any other boats like our boats around,” said Cheryl Connally, one of the Island Packers owners.