Go ahead, keep singing. I will wait.
Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance, romance. Water all around it, every where… (thank you Four Preps for singing it and to Debi C. for sharing it with me!)
28 September 2017
We left our good friend Tony on Thursday morning. I won’t lie, it was sad leaving. I think Tony was sad to see us go as well. I loved seeing the work progress on SV Magic. Tony felt the progress moved his trip timeline forward notably and it was the momentum we had hoped to provide. It is exciting! Yet I think I am going to miss Tony’s cheery voice and his beautiful sailboat. There were people that we hoped to see while in the area but it just wasn’t going to happen and we hope they understand. We now have a plan for moving southward that is directed by weather. We passed the USS Iowa on our way out, the port, and of course the Angels Gate Lighthouse. Everything we passed coming in two weeks earlier when we arrived. We would not be coming back this way anymore. Deep breath. The breeze picked up to a steady wind and we could see tall ships sailing back and forth as we cut across towards Santa Catalina.
We heard so much about Catalina that we had to go. We heard about it from sailing friends in the PNW. We heard about it from diving friends in California. Although the cold water and mention of dry suits or 7mm or more wetsuits did not sound appealing at all, we might try once anyway. This would be the rest well earned after our “working stay” in L.A. There is a spring in our step again as we excitedly head towards Catalina Island!
The wind picked up to 17kn and on a broad reach. Excellent! With full sails up, main and genoa, SV Bella Nave settled in very nicely. Everything about this sail brought out her marked ability to cut through the waves smoothly and confidently. This was what Passport sailboat owners talk of and what Robert Perry sought to achieve. There was no micromanagement of the sails. This was the best sail yet. We encountered a couple large waves well timed that caught us with our eyes resting in closed fashion because the ride was so smooth. Twenty six miles passed in about four hours. This was a rocket sail! It was fun, it was exhilarating, it was what we were hoping for! We averaged approximately 7.5kn miles/hour. Before long, we saw the outline of Catalina Island and we began dropping sails just as quickly when we saw the harbor patrol boat out in front of the harbor checking every one in and giving directions to their mooring. While reservations are almost required during high season, we are in the off season and didn’t think it would be an issue. It wasn’t.
Avalon is listed as a city but has the feel of a quaint European or Mediterranean town. Everything is clean and spotless. Exquisitely quaint streets filled with golf carts as main transportation, with quirky shops and a small beach that is pristine. There is a beautiful casino, which we learned the definition is actually a place of entertainment as opposed to gambling, and many other buildings with historic value.
The harbor requires use of a mooring that connects to the bow AND the stern, thus all boats face the same direction (in our case, out towards the sea) and stack nicely next to each other. There are 350 moorings. In peak season you will be partying with 349 of your closest friends. Not that we were planning on it, but should you decide you want to go often or leave your boat there, they do have a brokerage for the mooring balls. You can pick one up cheaply for $200K! The mooring they were going to put us on originally is for sale – $250K and that is its reduced price! We saw many sport fishing boats as well as yachts, and a few sailboats. While some may have been grander, even had actual ice makers on board, we were pretty happy with our sailboat. We met our neighbors on the starboard (right) side, Brandon and Mandy who were in a 33ft sport fishing boat. Young and having fun! That’s what Catalina is about. He came over and toured Bella Nave and noted how this boat was ready for some big adventure. John then took a tour of his boat and noted that my lures might be a wee big unless I was planning on catching anything over 400 pounds. We planned for two nights here before moving on to the other side of Catalina but decided on Saturday to stay one more night. John dropped the dingy but rather than loading the outboard on it, everything was so close that he decided to keep his arms moving by rowing.
We explored the town for two days. We walked at least five miles each day as we went from one side of Avalon (Lovers Cove where the submersible tour takes place and many people snorkel, and yes- in 5-7mm full wetsuits!) then up the hill to the private Hamilton Cove gated community. At Lover’s Cove, John jumped in with snorkel and mask and shorts. He wasn’t thrilled but it didn’t kill him either. He assured me that I would not like to follow him in (no wet suit). The fog stayed with us most of the day so our view from the top of the other side was interesting but not entirely photographic. We passed by the zip line and deer feeding under palm trees. Wait, what? Back into town, and we could see a cruise ship had come in with the fog. Celebrity Cruise. Well that adds to the town’s activity level today, doesn’t it!
We took the dingy over to the Aquatic Dive Park boundary where I had a go at snorkeling. In a 5mm shorty wet suit. It takes a couple minutes to recalibrate the coldness that startled every inch of my body. It was tolerable. Not bad actually. I was expecting much worse. I don’t like being cold though. Before I could complain too much, I caught sight of a bright orange fish. Aha! The infamous Garibaldi. State fish. Right there in front of my….wait…there is another! And another. And another. Okay, now I feel like I am snorkeling in a fish bowl with a bunch of gold fish. They don’t seem very afraid but then again, these can be territorial fish. They might be guarding eggs or their territory and they aren’t afraid to take a little nip at you! Best of all, now that my attention was completely diverted to colorful things floating in the water I had forgot that the water was cold and now it seemed, well almost but not quite pleasant. It was a fun 45 minute snorkel. I did however find that hoisting my wet seal like body back into the dingy after the snorkel did not go well. In fact, it did not go at all. I suggested we need a small ladder over the side. He suggested we lose weight and get in better shape. I said again that we would get a small ladder over the side. I should have asked it in the form of a question. I still received “the look”. He rowed over to a dock with a fixed ladder that allowed me to climb and step nicely into our dingy. Saturday we walked around again and in the afternoon took our SCUBA gear over to the Aquatic Dive Park. Adjacent to the casino, the area which was quiet the other day was now amassed with hundreds of seal like humanoids. Students were learning, students were doing open water dives for certification, dry suit divers, recreational divers and even some snorkelers. “Hey, what did you see down there?” “Orange fish!” “If you are lucky, you might see a Black Grouper!” Well then, let’s go see some orange fish. There was some tall kelp to swim through, and it made for some interesting photography as it was something new for us. John moved through the water towards the boundary. Somewhere around 40-50ft we came around a corner of rock and kelp base. These large green opalescent eyes stared back at us. Mouth agape and nonplussed at our appearance was one of the infamous Black Grouper. Well, he really looked more blue to me. He just watched as we slowed to look at him and before we moved on. When you are a 200 pound fish, I guess you can do as you darn well please. Oh yes, and currently a ‘protected species’ so they don’t even bother to move away from you. They know the score! I say they because we rounded yet another corner and there were five more! This brought our total up to six in one location. My perspective was interesting as John moved in closer for a video. The fish in front of him was easily the size of John. Well, maybe a little rounder in the middle. They are a big fish. As we were nearing the end of the dive, John found he was being swarmed by 50-100 fish, Garibaldis (orange fish), calico colored and some other snapper type of fish. All thought he had something to offer in the way of food. He rubbed his fingers together under water and this seemed to create quite a stir but soon they saw through his ruse and moved on. Speaking of moving on, so did we. Our dive was over and tomorrow we would look for quieter waters to anchor and perhaps another dive.
Sunday found us moving on. With the winds pushing into Cat Harbor and Little Harbor on the other side of the island, we opted to stay at Emerald Bay. A few boats were already here, it appeared idyllic. I didn’t want to try the other side if we were only going to come back here anyway. We heard that Indian Rock was a good dive site. We opted for a mooring again as opposed to anchoring. There did not seem to be much for protected shallower anchoring. We set the boat and then prepared to dive again.
We are working on the process to keep equipment at a minimum and support the easiest route off the boat. Rather than a giant stride off the side, we put our BCD in the water and jumped in after in order to put them on. John took a compass heading and showed me and then we descended. Almost immediately I found little black nudibranchs out in the sand! That was quick! My attention was once again easily diverted. However my new dive console of gauges (problem #1 -related to all of our dive computers as well as underwater camera equipment, that were stolen during the break in of our storage unit) was free floating due to my retractable lanyard having broken earlier today (problem #2) and with a little bit of surge, I somehow lost my beloved “Reed’s Rod”. This handy tool has been with me for many years, allowing me to steady myself or my camera safely. Reed’s Rod was designed by our friend and very experienced SCUBA diver. That was terribly frustrating (problem #3). I had a choice to keep up with John or go back and search for my equipment. John moves faster through the water when he doesn’t have a camera (problem #4) and I tend to be slower partially because I have a camera and am looking for things to take photos of. I was able to catch up and let him know that my rod was lost and we continued on looking at orange fish and would circle back around. As we came around, to the sand again, we starting searching for the rod. He a little higher and me a little lower. Some sand was kicking up indicating some activity and there was the coolest, if not most unusual, looking sting ray, a Bat Ray who was looking for food. Of course I would want to have video of this! That’s when it happened. After the video, I looked up and John was no where in site. No bubbles, nothing. I reached for my computer and followed the course as we had discussed before descending. Where is Dory when I need her? I kept moving and it seemed like I should have been to the mooring line and our boat by now. This was so frustrating. I would need to get my bearings which would require me performing a safety stop and a quick surfacing. When I finally reached the surface, I had passed by our boat by almost 50 yards. This is a drag as I am now heading back into some surge in order to get back. I swam back on the surface so that I could search along the surface as well as view the water below me for any sight of John. Sure enough, he was up on the other side of the boat. Needless to say, he was quite upset. I was too, however we express upset very differently. It was a very quiet afternoon as we tasked to put things away but did not speak. We both knew this should not have happened and would not happen again! Communication 101. Our trips have always involved other people and therefore we tended to dive with others. It has been a very long time since we dived with just each other. It may be in the back of your mind as to how this could have happened to John and I. We are not new to diving. He is meticulous about maintaining our equipment and knowledge and we often review everything before as well as after. I have seen this with experienced divers, even instructors, with even far more years or dives under their weight belts. Routine is important but without focused intention, can be a contributing factor to a larger problem. We have seen divers jump in the water with full gear, begin to descend and realize their oxygen tank was not opened, or they forgot weights, or the list can go on. On dive boat trips, there maybe dive masters and boat personnel that set up gear for the divers and the assumption may be that it is “all ready to go”. The first three problems are related to knowing and being comfortable with the equipment before made the dive. I am a conservative diver and I am comfortable knowing where everything is attached and where to find it. A simple thing like the free floating console annoyed me. I felt I was having to always search for it and couldn’t connect it comfortably to my bcd with easy access to monitor during the dive. We can get new retractable lanyards. We can fabricate something to simulate my diving rod. The fourth problem, communication, is applicable to diving but also sailing. That will be our biggest obstacle to overcome. I am choosing to share this as I think some may feel that every day is perfect. There are challenges that will present in cruising and as hard as we try to minimize their potential, they happen. This was just one example. Needless to say it was a quiet night. Except for the surge which caused the boat to heave to and fro – all night.
Monday morning we were off again, this time to either Cat Harbor or Little Harbor depending upon which we found a better holding and protection from surge. We rounded the tip of the island and our first harbor was Cat Harbor. It looked good. Should we go up to Little Harbor and come back if we don’t like it or just anchor here? For the sake of enjoying the down time, we decided to just anchor and stay. Cat Harbor is at the isthmus. We went into “town” of Two Harbors on the other side of the isthmus to find showers and quite a well equipped area with trash (recycling), showers, laundry, small grocery store, restaurant, and beach. Oh, and evidently THIS is the island’s hotspot! Immediately our phones came to life and we were able to update apps while doing laundry. Who knew! In retrospect, I wouldn’t have minded to stay here instead of Emerald Bay except we would have missed out on the diving. We could have stayed happily one more day except our wind patterns suggested the contrary. We met another couple on the dock, heading to their sailboat with Friday, their boat dog. You got it. Friday is such a nice dog! Of course I needed some puppy loving. John tolerates this only because it keeps me from mentioning that “we” should have a dog. This couple moved aboard their boat in 2009 when the stock market fell. An attorney and an engineer, they decided it was time to do something different with how they were living life. It is interesting as this is a common thread woven in to many of the cruisers stories that we have heard. We all returned to our respective boats. They would be staying longer while doing some work being able to utilize the connectivity. Their ultimate plan of travel would be the same as ours.
3 October 2017
Thirteen hours to San Diego Harbor. We were up at 7am and had both the bow and stern anchor up and we moving on by 8am. The winds that we actually had were less than predicted (PredictWind). We used the asymmetrical sail for awhile and that helped with some of the downwind we had but in order to not turn this into another overnight, we gave in and powered up the “iron sail”.
It was around 9pm when we noticed the increase in air traffic. Navy helicopters flying over head. Uh oh. What did John do now. Wait, isn’t there a naval base around here? Why yes, yes there is!
Welcome to San Diego!