Catalina Island

Miranda met us in Long Beach near the end of June for a 10 day Southern California vacation.  Unfortunately, weather-wise, it resembled a PNW vacation with the continuation of June Gloom (Southern California’s best kept secret). 

We planned to visit Catalina Island, 25 miles off the coast of LA.  The two primary spots for visiting boaters are Avalon, on the SE end of the Island and Two Harbors, about 10 miles NW of Avalon.  Both have systems of mooring balls where you pick up a line to hook to your bow, and then walk a secondary line to the back of the boat, where you pull up a stern line to secure yourself in place.  Avalon is first-come-first serve, while Two Harbors allows you to make reservations.  We chose to make a reservation at Two Harbors and then move over to Avalon later in the week.

Seas were a little mixed when we departed Long Beach on a foggy Sunday morning.  Unfortunately, Miranda got sick in spite of having taken some seasickness medication.  After a sloppy two hour journey we picked up the mooring at Cherry Cove, but it was exposed to the swell and quite rolly.  We called a shore boat to get Miranda on land but even land wasn’t enough for her to recover so Gwen managed to get a room for the night at the Banning House Lodge.  I got the dinghy down and joined them on the beach for a couple of hours until they could check in, and then went back to spend a rolly night on the boat. 

We had no immediate neighbor on the next mooring buoy, fortunately for our first time. The small float with the pole sticking up is what Gwen picked up to grab hold of the mooring line.
You can just see the line on the side of the boat holding the bow and stern inline. A bit more complex than mooring buoys we have used before.

Two Harbors is quite rural.  There is the one lodge, but lots of campsites around the area.  They have a system to haul gear from the ferry landing at the pier out to the campsites and back while campers hike in.  It gets crazy crowded at the landing at ferry time.  Miranda was feeling much better after a night on land, but we were concerned that it would be a problem to stay on the boat with as much movement as we were having.  The moorings were so close that there was no way to deploy the flopper stopper, so we decided to move on and see if things were better at Avalon. 

Two Harbors area from up on the hill.

After a short ride down the Island we met the harbor patrol boat outside of Avalon and got a mooring assignment.  There were plenty of spaces available, but they couldn’t guarantee us a spot past Friday… the big July 4th weekend was coming up.  The mooring balls are all privately owned, so the owners can come in at any time. We picked our way into the mooring field and settled into our spot nearly in the middle of the harbor amid 100+ other boats.

The view from our back deck in Avalon.

We did a little dinghy tour around the harbor and when we got back to our boat, we saw that we were dangerously close to the boat next to us.  We called the harbor patrol, and they advised us to switch the side of the boat that the mooring was attached to.  This was not a trivial task in the freshening breeze.  The harbor patrol launch first pulled us back until we could switch sides with the stern line, and then came forward to do the same with the bow line.  It took about all the launch had to get us enough slack and it was slightly more exciting than we bargained for!  But, we got it done and didn’t have any problems for the remainder of the week.

We celebrated my birthday the next day.  We started out by doing a golf cart tour of the area around Avalon.  It is quite hilly in the area and golf carts are the preferred mode of transportation.  Unfortunately, by the time we got over to the rental place, one of the ferries had arrived and we were battling with hordes of Angelenos to get one of the carts.  We did finally secure a rental and joined the heavy golf cart traffic on the 12 mile loop around the Avalon area.  It was actually a lot of fun and we got some great views of the harbor, went to the botanical garden and Wrigley memorial, and over to the Casino and Descanso beach.   

Later, we had dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants.  The highlight was having a local favorite cocktail called Buffalo Milk – named after the herd of buffalo still on the island after being imported for a movie many years ago. The namesake beverage is essentially a White Russian with a lot of whipped cream.  It was good for dessert and I was still able to drive the dinghy back to the boat.

Avalon from the hillside. The large building in the distance is the old casino.

Miranda had arranged for us to do a discover scuba dive at the gem of Avalon, the Dive Park in front of the old Casino.  I got scuba certified many years ago but haven’t done much diving in the last two decades.  Miranda is considering getting certified, especially since we are heading to Bonaire in December for an O’Keefe family dive vacation.  I was a little hesitant about diving in cold water, but they provided us with 7MM wetsuits and booties.  I brought my hood and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not cold.  The dive was spectacular.  There is a kelp forest right in the park in 25-40 ft of water and the first thing we saw on descending was a trio of Giant Sea Bass, which must have been 5+ ft long and in the 250-300 lb range.  They were hanging out in the kelp, staying away from fishermen, I suspect.  It was very cool to swim through the kelp, and there were huge numbers of very curious bright orange garibaldis, the state fish of California.  All in all a very well done discover scuba class and a fun dive.  I think Miranda will do some scuba lessons back in Seattle and do her certification dives in Bonaire.  Cool.

The weather forecast was starting to look sketchy for the weekend so we left Catalina on Thursday morning.  We had flat calm conditions the whole way across and no seasickness.  We took a chance on going to King Harbor in Redondo Beach and managed to find a spot on the first-come first-serve reciprocal dock at King Harbor Yacht Club.

2 thoughts on “Catalina Island”

  1. Sounds like Catalina didn’t disappoint. Sorry about the crowds. We always go in January or February. Aunt Jan

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