Catalina Island

On Wednesday, October 8, we sailed 33 nautical miles in 8 1/2 hours over from the mainland to Two Harbors on Catalina Island. The wind started out light but picked up to over 20 knots in the afternoon, making it a wonderful close reach sail in only minimally choppy seas. We finally got to use Charlie, our Monitor windvane, to sail without hands on the wheel. Charlie held our course perfectly until we had a wind shift, and even then, all we had to do was release Charlie long enough to reset the sails and then re-engage Charlie. He steers better than we do! We maxed out at 6.2 knots, which is pretty good for our little Cool Change.

Two Harbors charges for mooring balls in several protected coves. By arriving midweek, we got our choice of mooring balls. We were placed way into the main Isthmus Cove, close to the shore. It was very still and comfortable. Two Harbors is developed, with a pier, a shore boat shuttle, a restaurant and bar, a small grocery store and gift shop, bathrooms with coin showers, and dirt roads in and around the area, with vehicles showing up here and there. There was even an “island safari” van that charged people to be driven around the island! The mooring balls were very very close together, with an interesting double-tie system for both bow and stern off of one single ball. It was like floating in a boat parking lot, all in tight, perfectly aligned rows of boats of equal length. But by contrast to Avalon, another town about 15 miles away, Two Harbors was comparatively remote and primitive. I overheard one young boy from L.A. say to his friend, just as he disembarked from the ferry that had brought him and his classmates over to the island for 6th grade camp, “I can’t believe we are on a real UNINHABITED island!” Pointing to the top of the highest ridge, he said, “I want to live THERE!”

Boats on moorings near ours in Two Harbors

Boats on moorings near ours in Two Harbors


Rick and I really enjoyed Two Harbors. I noticed from the chart that the distance to the bay on the opposite side of the island didn’t seem that far, so we started to walk over there. Well, it was so close it surprised us. The other side had a deep cove with mooring balls also; thus, “Two Harbors!”

One day we got into our dinghy and motored around Isthmus Cove and the adjacent coves. We meandered out around the point and found the seas surprisingly calm. Even more stunning were the caves along the tall walls of the point. Never having explored such caves before, we were a bit hesitant, afraid we might get pushed in too deep and get stuck on rocks or puncture our inflatable dinghy by a surge in the waves. So Rick gingerly motored toward the opening of one cave. We got in deep enough to see the incredible colors of the cave and the deep blue water, and then hear echoes of water colliding with rock far louder than anything justified by the calm clear water before us. It was scary and beautiful all at the same time. Like a whole other universe.

The cave we began to explore at Two Harbors

The cave we began to explore at Two Harbors

A harbor seal diving off a rock. (I never noticed before how stunningly blue their bodies are, and how psychedelic the round circles are!)

A harbor seal diving off a rock. (I never noticed before how stunningly blue their bodies are, and how psychedelic the round circles are!)

As we motored away from the cave, I looked around at the calm water and the blue sky, still in awe of the colors and sounds we had just witnessed, and I realized at that moment I couldn’t be any happier. Neither Rick nor I have ever been ones to isolate ourselves from nature nor adventure, but there was something different now. We weren’t just taking a week off to go explore – we had been on an adventure for five weeks steady, it just kept getting better, and this is our life for the foreseeable future! It seemed almost too good to be true, like we had discovered the secret to happiness and were living it every day, day in and day out! I leaned over and kissed Rick and we both just looked at each other in appreciation of what incredibly good fortune we had to be at that very place at that very moment, on this journey together.

Oh, isn't life grand?

Oh, isn’t life grand?

We finally got to reconnect with our friends Dana and Keith, who we first met briefly in Monterey and then befriended in Morro Bay. Our schedules had been dancing around each other all the way down the coast. Remarkably, they are from Cameron Park, just a stone’s throw from Coloma where our home is in Northern California. They are both retired from police management; I think maybe she was a Chief! We have had a lot of fun with them and a lot in common, in that we are both shaking out our boats and systems in preparation for the HaHa.

Dana and Keith

Dana and Keith

Our dinghy is the far one in this picture

Our dinghy is the far one in this picture

Dana Point Yacht Club called and apologized profusely but the slip they promised us in a few days was no longer available due to some race scheduling confusion. That freed us up to stay one more day in Two Harbors, which meant we didn’t motor up the 3 hours to Avalon on Catalina Island until Saturday. Going to such a popular tourist destination on a weekend probably wasn’t the best timing, especially considering they were holding a jazz festival at the Casino building (that is the big round building in the pictures; it is no longer a Casino, but rather a lovely example of Art Deco design that holds a classic theater downstairs and a ballroom/concert hall upstairs). As a result of heading there on Saturday, we were assigned a mooring ball in Descanso Bay rather than in the main Avalon Bay. Shore boats still operated in Descanso Bay to bring us to shore for a fee, so we were ok to be there, and figured we could handle its reputation for being a rolling anchorage.

A shore boat to Avalon, with the Casino in the background

The Harbor Patrol boat that assigned us our mooring, with the Casino in the background

Rick on the Avalon Dock

Rick on the Avalon Dock

Avalon from the arrival dock

Avalon from the arrival dock

Avalon Dock

Avalon Dock

The Casino on Avalon

The Casino on Avalon

A busy Avalon Bay

A busy Avalon Bay

We had one fun-filled day and night in Avalon. It was a step back in time, to a place where the 50’s Hollywood rich and famous had their heyday, combined with a modern day vibrant but unique tourist destination. There were no chain hotels or restaurants; each was one-of-a-kind, many with photographs of famous people who had visited their establishment in days gone by.

We strolled out to the Casino for a tour of the building, only to discover that tours were cancelled due to the Jazz Festival. The only way we could see the inside was to go to a movie, so we bought senior discount tickets and went to a matinee! It was gorgeous.

Via Casino - stroll along the waterfront to the Casino

Via Casino – stroll along the waterfront to the Casino

Old posters of famous people on Catalina Island - Winston Churchill belonged to its yacht club, Natalie Wood drowned here, Norma Rae (Marilyn Monroe) picnicked here)

Old posters of famous people on Catalina Island – Winston Churchill belonged to its yacht club, Natalie Wood drowned here, Norma Rae (Marilyn Monroe) picnicked here

The organ in the theater in the Casino building

The organ in the theater in the Casino building

Painting around the entire circumference of the ceiling

Painting around the entire circumference of the ceiling

After the movie, we strolled around town for a while, seeing the worker homes as well as some of the fancier places, and then went to dinner at Steve’s Steakhouse, sitting at a table on the veranda overlooking the shore promenade and the water. Steve’s is a well known establishment with a reputation for good food, and they didn’t hold back on Halloween decorations!

Halloween decorations at Steve's Steakhouse

Halloween decorations at Steve’s Steakhouse

Our dinner table overlooking the promenade

Our dinner table overlooking the promenade

A photograph on the wall in the Ladies bathroom at Steve's.  Tuna were known to jump out of the water to catch these flying fish near Avalon.

A photograph on the wall in the Ladies bathroom at Steve’s. Tuna were known to jump out of the water to catch these flying fish near Avalon.

After dinner, we sat down around a fire pit on a local hotel grounds and started sharing ghost stories with some guests of the hotel, who were from Texas on a 5-day tour. One of the women there decided not only that she was a Bruja, but so was I, so we got our Bruja picture taken together!

My sister witch

My sister witch

We had a late night out in Avalon, then caught the shore boat back to Cool Change to catch a bit of sleep before leaving early the next morning for a 50 nm sail to Oceanside. The bad thing about Descanso Bay was that it did not live up to its namesake; it was anything but restful – the rolling back and forth was so bad that Rick and I literally were rolled on top of each other back and forth in bed all night long. Neither of us got much sleep and we had a long haul sailing the next day all the way to Oceanside.

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