Sunday, November 15, 2015

Catalina Island

Marina Del Rey is a lot like the Eagles “Hotel California” – you can check in any time you want, but you can never leave!  We had a hard time departing this welcoming place and stayed a day longer than planned.  There is a certain ennui that sets in when you have been in one place for a while and the living is easy.  It had taken us two days to get ready to sail again and we were tired.  So we took the morning of the extra day and bicycled back down the beach past the Santa Monica Pier to the end of the trail at Pacific Palisades. 

On the Santa Monica Pier with Pacific Pallisades in the distance

  In the afternoon we scrubbed Ka’sala- as her decks had accumulated a greasy black film from LA smog fallout.  Late afternoon we met with Michael and other members of the PMYC for a farewell beverage.  The next morning we were off the dock by 8am, assisted by Luigi and Michael.  I looked up at the club’s big plate glass windows, as we motored out the fairway,  to see the morning members give enormous “bon voyage” waves. That brought a lump to my throat!  We are indebted to Michael M., who looked after us our entire stay, taking care of all our needs and becoming a good friend. 

Chef Michael after a lovely Sea Bass dinner
Our destination was Catalina Island.  The skies were clear, the sun warm as we sailed on a close reach in 10 knots of wind.  A couple of times we had to motor for a while as the wind dropped off, but all in all, it was a delightful passage.  We sailed into Isthmus Cove about 3:30 pm and picked up one of the 257 moorings that have been installed in the bay. 

Michael had suggested we get as close to the “west wall” as possible and we were able to get one 4 over in “C” line.  

Dawn illuminates the "West Wall" in Isthmus Cove

The off season deal here is that you pay for three nights and get a week free.  You can move around to any of their 750 moorings around the island, except Avalon Harbour, because it is managed by another company.  Although you can anchor in many places with permission, they tend to be deep and exposed.

Ka'sala is moored third from the hill in the front line - village of Two Harbours in the background
To say Catalina Island is stunning is an understatement.  As you approach, the craggy orange tinted, steep sided, gully-wrinkled hillsides shimmer.  The water is unbelievably clear and a dramatic shade of light emerald.  

Emerald green water - you can see the lines of the mooring bouys right to the bottom
We could easily see the moorings anchored twenty some feet under our keel.  Schools of mackerel and brilliant orange California Garibaldi (which look like an oversized goldfish), glided by. 

California Garibaldi
We had been told there were recent great white shark sightings, but we couldn’t imagine this enormous creature penetrating the moorings.  At the head of the Isthmus is a natural pebble beach and a tiny village with a bar/cafe and general store.  Because the island runs east/west, and the sides of the hills are so steep, the sun disappeared by 4pm, leaving behind a long lingering dusk.  We watched the sky fade from sapphire blue to aquamarine, lavender and rose, with a final lemon green smudge behind tall palm trees as the stars began to glitter and appear across the night sky. Ka’sala bobbed gently in the swell and we enjoyed a lovely dinner in the cockpit, under the glow of lantern light, with a blanket over our knees.

Textured coastline of Catalina
The next day we left our dinghy at the pier and explored the Two Harbours area by foot.  In addition to the cafe and store, there are $2 showers, laundry and flush toilets.  There are a number of small private homes and rental units, as well as a dive shop (which also rents bicycles, kayaks and paddleboards), visitor information centre and sheriff’s office.  We met friendly Sheriff Chad who told us a little about the place.  We walked over to the other side of the Isthmus to Catalina Harbour – considered one of two all weather safe anchorages in Southern California – then doubled back to hike the road overlooking the anchorage and several other coves, equally, if not more, stunning than the one we were in.  

Entrance to Catalina Harbour

Breathtaking Cherry Cove - we could see the bottom from our vantage point high on the hill
This was dusty work, rewarded with a refreshing swim when we returned to Ka’sala.  The clear water was 21 degrees!

Steep hills surround the harbours

That afternoon I launched my kayak and paddled all around the area.  On the eastern side is Fisherman’s Cove where the University of Southern California has a marine institute.  The waters nearby are a marine sanctuary and, according to Sheriff Chad, a great place to dive and snorkel as the fish “know” they can’t be hunted.  I only saw a handful of Garibaldi from the kayak.  Along the rocky shoreline were small caves and caverns carved into the bluffs which had interesting striations of grey, orange and white.  Large crane-like birds nested nearby and the surf gently lifted the kayak as I skimmed by. 

Fisherman's Cove and the Wrigley Institute in the distance
Our second night in the anchorage was quite bumpy and in the morning we heard that a Santa Ana was predicted to blow in the afternoon.  A small craft warning was in effect.  We had already decided we would take advantage of the “deal” and explore other anchorages, so thought we would move around to Catalina Harbour a day earlier.  Doug also wanted to dive on Ka’sala to replace the zinc on the prop.  We only enjoyed a brief interlude of sailing when we rounded “Land’s End”, but were most enthralled by the natural, rough beauty of the island.

Catalina Harbour, foreground, Isthmus Harbour on the other side, Palos Verdes, on the mainland, in the far distance
“Cat” Harbour lacks the beautiful setting and crystalline waters of the Isthmus side, but the water is absolutely flat. 

Cat Harbour
It appears to be the “service” side of the island, but it is still lovely and we continued to enjoy the warm, sunny days and cool, starry nights.  The wind did pick up and williwawed over the steep hills, but we were snug in the harbour. 

Sunset in Cat Harbour
On our second day in Cat Harbour we decided to go for a hike up into the hills.  There is a challenging 37+ mile trail that runs the entire length of Catalina Island.  Hikers usually take four days to do the trip, camping along the way at designated spots.

Two Harbours is the skinny bit, we hiked to the top of the highest bit and back
Unknowingly, we headed up the steepest and most challenging part of the walk to its highest point at 1750 feet. 

On the ridge at the top, trail continues on to Lands End
The wide trail climbed almost vertically through cactus, scrub and dried grasses to a most stunning view. 

Looking toward Los Angeles from the top
It would have been lovely to continue, but we headed back down for a hot shower and a cold one in the Two Harbours Village.

View of Cat Harbour coming down the mountain
We decided we would leave Catalina and sail directly to San Diego, 85 nautical miles away.  We calculate our speed/distance at 5 nautical miles an hour, so realized we would not be able to make this entire passage in daylight hours.  As a result, we left Wednesday, November 11, at 3pm with a smart afternoon wind from the northwest.   We continued on through the night as the wind gradually shifted to the northeast, sailing almost the entire way averaging five knots.  We arrived in San Diego about 8am the following morning and were in our slip at Harbour Island West Marina by 9.  We will be in San Diego for a week or more as we complete our final preparations for Mexico.  

Goodbye Catalina!

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