National Park Concessioner—Island Packers—Celebrates 40 Years of Connecting People to the Channel Islands

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Date: May 6, 2008

Forty years ago Bill Connally, founder of Island Packers, was inspired with a vision to share the wonders of the Channel Islands by providing excursions to these remote offshore islands.

Connally, who had always dreamed of starting a pack station in the High Sierra, envisioned the idea of “packing people in” to the Channel Islands when he bought his first vessel, a World War II vintage converted navy launch. To realize his vision, the fondly remembered family patriarch enlisted the help of his wife Lil and their four children. The family christened the vessel Island Packer on Mother’s Day in 1968.

Early excursions took 43 visitors out on weekends to Anacapa Island for $7.50 per person. Today Island Packers has grown to three vessels capable of transporting about 350 passengers at a time. Instead of just one trip per day on weekends they offer year-round service to the islands, and weekend trips often have two to three channel crossings to multiple island destinations. In the early days they took out less than 5,000 hearty passengers per year, whereas today they transport about 80,000 passengers annually in relative comfort.

Since its inception the business has always been a family tradition. Today Island Packers is managed by Mark Connally as company president, Cherryl Connally as treasurer and marketing director, Lil Connally as secretary and accountant,  and Jason Wendel (Cherryl’s son) as a boat captain. Longstanding partners Alex Brodie and Keith Brovold manage and operate the two 64-foot twin hull catamarans that are the core of their fleet.

Company President Mark Connally said, “We have a resource out here in southern California that can rival any experiences in Alaska and other wildlife destination areas. It is so rewarding to go out to the islands and see how much people appreciate the opportunities to see world-class wildlife displays.”

Cherryl Connally reflected on the past forty years and said, “We are a family business. We started very small and today have a staff of over 40 employees, but we are still the same family business that we have always been.”

Many see this mom and pop operation as a business well ahead of its time—Island Packers established an ecotourism company with some of their first island excursions to a Polynesian village-style dive camp at Albert’s Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. Today they offer a multitude of experiences to all five national park islands through half-day whale watch trips, all-day island excursions, and multi-day, multi-island specialty trips.

The experiences Island Packers offers provide opportunities for the public to learn about the island and marine environments. Since 1969 they have been committed to educating school children and youth groups through the “floating classroom” field trips.
The Connally family will share some of the company and family history during a 40th anniversary celebration presentation at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 8, 2008, at the Channel Islands National Park Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center, 1901 Spinnaker Drive in the Ventura Harbor. The anniversary celebration will occur between 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. and includes a display of fine art prints and a book signing by photographer Tim Hauf featuring his new publication Channel Islands National Park and Marine Sanctuary. The event is free and open to the public.

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Last updated: February 27, 2015

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