Can’t Leave Catalina!

We made it!

I need to preface this with a note about Catalina. If you have a schedule, a real job, or anything that will require you to leave Catalina, I would recommend rethinking your schedule to give yourself an extra week there. It is an amazing place and you will definitely miss your commitment. Eric and I definitely did. We planned to be in San Diego on October 12th but didn't show up until the 17th. Catalina honestly just has this magnetic characteristic that makes you want to sit down and smile. We did lots of that. Here is what happened and why we spent so much time there.

Gradient of color and clouds.

Around 9pm I pulled the hook at Coches Prietos anchorage, Santa Cruz, and we started to motor our way to Catalina. The wind was still nonexistent, so we hunkered down for a long and loud trip to Emerald Bay, our first stop on Catalina. Eric and I worked four hour shifts, which seems like a good idea, but honestly, it gave you just enough time to cope with the clunking of the diesel to get an interrupted hour of sleep. Even with ear plugs, the thumping of the engine was felt at either end of the boat. The sound was so thick you could taste it.

Fog comes rolling in.

Once up and in the cockpit, watches were easy. One heading, constant weak wind, and motoring. The hardest part was finding ways to keep your mind stimulated or else the sleepies would get the best of you. I first occupied my mind with trying to get the best angle on what little wind there was, but after setting it and striking the jib twice, I finally surrendered the extra sail power and resolved to only use the full main hiked over to port. After tromping around on deck for an hour, I slouched in the cockpit and the sleepies took hold. Don't worry though, my micro nap didn't last long because A. I was standing up to prevent myself from falling asleep, and B. the moon was too bright to even look up at the sky let alone fall asleep. It was like trying to nap in a well lit room, our natural shades, our eyelashes, just don't cut it sometimes.

Ship comes rolling in.

My second shift was at daybreak. Zombie Eric filled me in on everything I already knew about the past 4 hours I was trying to sleep, but did point out some fog on the horizon. After I grabbed the tiller the white wall of fog covered my surrounding faster than I expected. It took all but 20 minutes for Panache to be completely enveloped. It was so thick and the sun was at just the right angle, that you could see each individual whisking particle of water vapor making up the blanket that was blindfolding my boat. I turned the radar on to restore my confidence, but it took several minutes to prep before I could see again. Tony was telling us how the charts for the channel islands were not completely up to date - that shipping lanes had changed recently. As the thought was still developing in my mind, a deep grumble started to build in the distance.

I was fully awake now, and I knew what that sound was. A container ship. I was glancing down at the radar display then back to the 100 meters of visibility in front of me every couple of seconds. According to the radar nothing was there, but according to my ears and gut, a freighter was barreling towards Panache. A closer look at the Radar showed a 12 miles radius! My scale was too large to see something so close! I shrunk the scope of the radar to one mile and there it was, a very large, and very fast boat, much less than one mile away, heading my way. As I looked up, the container ship drilled through the fog and into my view. It obviously saw me well before I even knew he was even there, and barreled by to my port. The rest of the watch I was very alert and, now with the correct scale on the radar, could identify and avoid the other container ships sharing the same waterway.

By the time my shift was over, I could see the north east tip of Santa Catalina Island. However, it would be another hour before we reached Emerald Bay. This anchorage is Tony's favorite, and he even warned us we might not want to leave. Our plan was to spend the night at Emerald bay, and then travel down to Avalon, the big town on Catalina, for one more night before traveling the 70 miles down to San Diego.

Bottle nose dolphin says hello.

Plans tend to change, especially when cruising, and especially when you are greeted with turquoise water with 30 feet of visibility. The tropics might be warm, but Emerald Bay was just as beautiful. If you have a wetsuit this beauty is just as accessible as any tropical getaway. The Garibaldi, California's state fish, were everywhere! On the big side, they are as big as a frisbee and bright orange like one too. They are so bright you can easily spot them from the deck of the boat. Our plans immediately changed after tying up to a mooring buoy. We knew we needed to stay an extra night. Before the sun went down we opted for a sunset snorkel. The white sand floor reflected enough light to illuminate the towers of kelp that stretch to the surface to absorb as much light as possible. Kelp, a total pain for boaters, is a complete treasure for snorkelers/scuba-divers. What a smart plant! Kelp of all kinds harvest sustenance from nutrient rich waters and naturally grows little air pockets to pull itself closer to its energy source, the sun. These underwater forests are also great hiding places for all types of critters!

Indian Rock at Emerald Bay Catalina.

Kelp and clarity.

On our second day we hiked to the nearest peak overlooking our anchorage. No paths, no hiking shoes, just steep inclines covered in grass, cactus and wild fennel. The peak offered a view well worth the effort. Eric and I sat atop Catalina for over an hour listening to the sounds of sunset while watching a blanket of fog roll in from the north. An island fox even paid us a visit, curious enough to see who was sharing his vista, but not friendly enough to pose for a picture. As the sun set, we strolled back down to Panache doing our best not to step on any cactus.

Hill Hike above Emerald Bay

Almost fell face first into this spider.

Don't step on me!

Fog rolling through Two Harbors

Cloud cover giving dappled light to the hillside.

More fog rolling towards Catalina Island

The next morning we found ourselves in more fog. We pulled anchor and motored down the coast, and by 12 pm the sun was in full swing and the fog started to lift. Our diet of beans and rice was starting to wear on us, so we made a pit stop in isthmus cove to visit Two Harbors, the other big town on the island. They call it two harbors because the island is pinched together providing two unique harbors on either side of the island. Burgers and internet provided comfort. The surroundings were a perfect blend of civilization and nature. I guess thats what you get when the tourism industry is driven by the natural environment. Catalina sees a constant flow of fisherman, scuba divers, sailors, and hikers, all of witch are there to revel in the natural paradise.

As the light started to wash from the sky, we turned back to the ocean and headed SE out of Isthmus Cove, working our way to Avalon. In light of motoring all the way to Catalina, we decided to sail all the way to Avalon unassisted. It was a sailboat after all. Avalon wasn't very far, but the lack of wind made the distance formidable. With the wind to our backs, we were making three knots on glass like water. The slog was dotted with brief moments of excitement as dolphins made a ruckus past our sluggish boat. By the time we arrived to Avalon, the fatigue had nearly had its way with us, but something about the bay spurred us with excitement. We were finally back to civilization. With our new found energy we opted to pick up a mooring buoy close to shore and row in to hunt down a pint.

We eventually found an open bar, had a drink, and got to chatting with the bartender about our trip so far and where we planned to go next. He started to pull local sailors from inside the bar to talk to us. We ended up chatting a long time to Captain Jim, a local sailor who owns a 70' schooner. He told us about cruisers weekend that was happening up in Two Harbors, and the local jazz festival that also brought in big sailboats. Ok, we already pushed back our departure once, but what were we really missing in San Diego! I guess we will never know because we opted to stay for cruisers weekend and the Jazz festival.

Jim introduced us to many other locals that were excited to meet us and show us the island. This started a daily habit of coming to shore, hanging out all day, and going out at night with the people who lived there and already wired down Catalina. They definitely made us feel like locals too.

Calico Bass

Mooring was too expensive in Avalon bay, so we ended up anchoring the boat a couple of miles away past Descanso Beach. This was not rowing distance (unless the outboard on your dinghy ran out of gas… 🙁 then it does become rowing distance), so it was time to break out the outboard gas motor. This little Yamaha 3 horse power outboard was something of a mystery. Tony gave it to us on a whim, and I honestly didn't expect the thing to hold gas let alone run. But on the first yank of the cranking cord the engine revved up. Amazing! Motoring around was a true pleasure. It wasn't fast, but it was faster than rowing and a lot more fun. Docking a dinghy at a popular destination like Avalon bay was something of an art form. There is never enough room for all the dinghies, so a long painter line is totally necessary to ensure a safe tie up. It was not uncommon to hop between two other dinghies in order to land on the dock.

Our last day in Catalina was spent in Two Harbors at Cruisers Weekend, an event hosted by Latitudes and Attitudes. We took workshops on fishing from our sailboat, finding weather resources and interpreting them, and clearing customs in foreign ports. A nice brush up to the information Eric and I already had. The most interesting workshop was hosted by the family of the sailing vessel Blue Sky. They traveled around the world, and had lots of great straightforward information about about what to except at forge in ports, and good bartering skills throughout your travels. The captain, a mechanically inclined individual, was telling us that every fisherman you will run into uses Yamaha #15 spark plugs. Buy a box of these and be familiar with how to replace them. You will be every fisherman's best friend, and will never have a short supply of fresh fish, lobster, and shellfish. He also pointed out that simple things like fleet knifes, that are easy and cheap for us to buy, are something that can be hard to get down south. This is a tool fisherman use every day, something that will legitimately help how they perform there work, un-like booze or ciggarets. These kinds of bartering tools are what to look for. The workshops got me all fired up to try my hand at bartering for a meal.

The workshops came to a close and we were ready to head back to Avalon for one last night, our home away from home. Captain Jim's boat was something incredible - it was a C-Witch 70' schooner constructed from ferro cement. This boat was rock solid, but it was missing a couple of important things: the masts, the rigging, and the sails. No problem, we could motor. Jim had already ordered the two tall masts from my home state of Washington, and they should be ready to ship in a month or two. The rest of the boat was just a matter of getting the funding necessary to buy everything. Jim found the boat on the dry, and although it was 30 or so years old, it had never been put in the water. Tarped up for 30 years without ever being sailed! What a find! Apparently the two owners fell out of favor with each other and eventually decided to sell the boat. Lucky for Jim, because he really got a great deal on a great solid beautiful boat. Even without it being a sailboat, it was still fun to motor around and you could see the potential it has. Jim's ultimate goal is to take the boat down south and use it for a tourist day sailor. On our way out of Two Harbors several dinghy pulled up to us asking where our masts went. I looked up and acted surprised that they were missing. This received good belly laughs.

Captain Jim's 70' C-Witch. Amazing boat!

The morning of our departure was a little somber. I didn't want to leave. The sun was bright and Avalon was still full of hustle and bustle. Eric and I grabbed some last minute provisions (Tang), and headed back to the boat. We were anchored in 60 feet of water, practically in a kelp bed, and pulling up 300' of chain. Not the most exciting activity. We motored past Avalon for the last time, waved goodbye, and turned Panache to 115 degrees, a perfect heading for Point Loma, San Diego, California.

Eric and his new friend.

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