Tuesday, October 8, 2013

True North September 26 to October 2: Santa Catalina Island

We left one Paradise for another as we sailed from Marina del Rey with a steady 15-20 kt wind all the way to Catalina Island. And of course sunny blue sky. What a glorious day! More dolphins. We sailed around to the west side of the island and tucked into Cat Harbor at the Isthmus. 
Entering Cat Harbor
The harbor master quickly motored over to us to assign a mooring and guide us through the process: pick up the mooring pole and bring it aboard while quickly finding the bow hawser and securing it to the bow cleat, then follow the spreader line to the stern hawser and doing the same. The important part is to make sure the weighted spreader line lies on the bottom and doesn't get tangled in the prop. We later watched a party boat in Avalon make many frustrating dives before untangling their prop so they could leave. We quickly inflated the dinghy and rode to shore to check out Two Harbors... nice! Palm trees are soul-soothing!

Hiking the high points is always on the list of things to do. We found two such pleasant hikes and managed to do both during the hottest part of the day. The isthmus is a half mile wide, connecting Catalina (Cat) Harbor with Isthmus Cove. Together they make up Two Harbors. There are supposedly bison on the island, however we did not see the bison, only their - ahh - leavings.

The Isthmus (Two Harbors):  Isthmus Cove on left, Cat Harbor on right
The Cat Harbor side is very peaceful, just a harbor full of boats; nothing much else. Isthmus Cove, however, has a restaurant, bar, grocery store, showers, swaying palm trees and lots of music! It's the party side and easily accessible by a short walk across the isthmus from where we were moored. We had a nice dinner there.  If visiting, do not forget the ultimate tourist trap, the "Buffalo Milk" cocktail!

"Buffalo Milk"
Our next stop was the more well-known Avalon calling to us. Located on the SE side of the island, we first motored (no wind), then sailed into our mooring by noon. What a busy yet picturesque sight!
Avalon Harbor with distinctive round Casino
The moorings are about 30' apart – over 200 of them! Sailboats, motor yachts large and small and sport fishing boats all across the harbor, set against a palm lined esplanade and rising hillside of mostly stucco houses. 
Touring Avalon
The striking circular casino stands out along one end – it's not a gambling casino but an elaborate art deco entertainment area with a theater, and a ballroom on the upper level with colorful Tiffany lights. 
The famous Art Deco Mermaid
 at the Casino
A weekend in Avalon on warm, sunny day meant that people were hanging out on their boats in swimming suits, something Pacific NW cruisers never do or see. Ferries bring hundreds of people over from the mainland but the place to be is on the water on a boat. Boaters reading, soaking up sun and views, mingling, bow to stern... your party is my party! Para-sailers, snorkelers, divers, swimmers, kayakers... Despite what might seem like mass confusion, we found it quite pleasant to soak it all in and it wasn't noisy as it might seem from the description. 
Quiet time in a busy place
There were several dive/snorkel sites nearby. We took the dinghy over to the Avalon Underwater Park to snorkel and search in particular for “Oscar”, a thirty year-old resident garibaldi fish. We never found him but the clear water and kelp beds were loaded with different colorful schools of fish and many bright orange garibaldi. On our last afternoon in Avalon, the surge pushed Gregg into a ragged dock edge. We ended our evening with a short walk to the emergency room for ten stitches in his left leg. No water sports for the next two weeks. 

We motored just an hour north of Avalon for one more night on the island and anchored at Moonstone Cove. Imagine! Each passing cove presented views more scenic that the one before. This idyllic little waterfront is used by the Newport Beach Club. We couldn't go to shore but sure enjoyed looking at it.
Newport Beach Yacht Club, Moonstone Cove
Very peaceful! We took the dinghy over to Henrock Reef and Cove from there so I could do some snorkeling. Gregg kept the dinghy nearby with a book as the water was off limits for his stitches for now. 
Gregg nurses his stitches while Anne snorkels
Immediately on entering the water I saw a halibut beneath the dinghy...darn, no fishing license – or any way to catch the thing!  The next surprise was a new fish to me. It was almost hidden against the light sandy bottom as it, too, was a light sand color - a shovelnose guitarfish. Then there was a round stingray, also the color of the sand so it almost went unnoticed. The usual bright orange garibaldi were there and many schools of a medium sized striped fish that I couldn't identify. During the night, five fish boats were anchored just beyond the moorings with bright lights...they probably got that halibut!  Their engines started around 2 AM and all were gone in the morning when we got up. The forecast for Santa Ana winds and large steep waves in the next few days added to our reluctant resolve to leave the island for the mainland that day.

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