First Sail to Catalina Island - Cat Harbor
This new interest in sailing is about a year in the making now. It was around May/June of 2015 when Michael and I were binge watching Sailing You-tube channels and Sailing Documentaries on Netflix and we decided to take an "Intro to Sailing Course" down in LA, just to see if we'd like it. In good fashion, we took our groupon down to a local sailing group and went on our first intro sail. We really dug it but realized we had no idea what we were doing. So we signed up for a week long live-aboard sailing course to get certified ASA 101, 103 and 104 (which I never wrote a post about sadly.. maybe I will one of these days) in Mexico for the end of 2015. After a week of sailing and being introduced to live-aboard life, we were hooked. I bought books on sailing and began dreaming about owning a boat. We went to our first boat show in Marina Del Rey and walked around the fancy new sailboats they had at the Marina, and whenever we are down in LA we seem to find ourselves sitting on a bench looking into a marina full of boats and talking about which ones we like the best and when we will get our own...
I'm still not ready to own my own boat yet. I want to pay down some other debts first and we wanted to practice more with a sailing group, so we found a sailing club, LA Sailing, that seemed to fit our needs and our time commitment at a reasonable price. We joined back in February and usually go on sails with them one weekend a month around the LA area.
This month was special though. Our very first Catalina Island trip. Something I've been dreaming about for quite some time. I've never been to Catalina and sailing there for the first time seemed like the best way to experience the journey.
Our group was 6 in total. Our boat, named No Worries, around 30 ft. For not knowing each other, we all hit it off pretty well and seemed to have a similar sense of humor, which I think made the trip even more enjoyable. We set sail around 11 am on Friday, June 17, out of Marina Del Rey and made our way toward the protected anchorage of Cat Harbor.
The winds were not super strong most of the trip so we spent a lot of time assisting our sails with our motor in order to make good time to the island. But when the winds were good, the boat got a nice solid lean, and the wind felt fantastic.
I hadn't sailed on No Worries before so getting to know her quirks took a little bit of time. She likes to veer right if you don't watch for it and she needs a little assistance on the throttle. Her main sail is a bit tricky to pull up because it likes to get caught, and she has no wind vane so I had to learn to use other queues for wind direction... but these are all things that give a boat his or her own personality.
Beer. Sail. Sandwhiches. Sail. More Beer. Life was good. We also spotted some whales on our sail up (possibly a fin whale?).
It was a foggy morning so Catalina Island was no where to be seen until we were right upon it. On a clear day you can see it from Marina Del Rey. There are 3 popular anchorages on Catalina: Isthmus, Cat Harbor, and Avalon and we opted to stay in Cat Harbor which is the most protected anchorage on the Island... meaning we could expect calmer nights on the boat from wind and current protection. In fact, Cat Harbor is noted by the U.S. Coastguard as 1 of the 2 year-round safe harbors in all of Southern California.
However, it does take about an extra 2-2 1/2 hours to get to because it is on the other side of Catalina Island. All in all I think it took us around 7 hours to get to Cat Harbor. Worth the extra time for a nice anchorage that was low key and spacious. I got to watch and help with using my first mooring anchor, complete with a "Sand Line", which was a simple enough process. We got our assigned mooring from Harbor John, and... well... drank more beer. Now we were on island time.
The first evening we took the dinghy onto the Island and walked across to the other side of the island to eat dinner near Isthmus cove. I forget the name of the restaurant but I'm pretty sure it was the only one available to choose from. So being a plant-based-recently-vegan consumer now, this is one of those instances I allowed myself to have some fish. and it was yummy :). Most of the weekend though, I snacked on various plant based friendly foods, spinach and pita, fruit smoothies, almonds, tofu hotdogs, corn, blue corn tortilla chips and salsa.. although not as healthy as my weekdays when its easier to keep fresh fruits and veggies around, I don't feel like I did too bad.
Saturday we had a full day to explore and enjoy the Island. We all went to shore in the morning for some coffee and then split off for some early morning hiking. Michael and I went on a steep hike, Banning House to Cat Harbor Overlook, to an epic view of Cat Harbor and Isthmus Cove.
Beautiful views. Can't wait to come back some day to do the Trans-Catalina Island Trail.
Then we went off with a couple other of our crew mates to go snorkeling. Now... for those of you who don't know me... I actually have a slightly irrational fear of the ocean. Put me on a sailboat and I feel like I can command the seas... but.. put me on a dinghy amongst the swells or better yet, throw me overboard with some fins, and I start to get slightly panicky. I'm trying to get over this, and Michael knows this as well, so I tend to make myself go along on these kinds of excursions.. even if I don't stay in the water long.
We started to take the dinghy out to an area called Lobster Bay, but the swells were HUGE (exaggeration)... the swells were decent and we weren't sure if we'd be able to find a calm spot to anchor the dinghy at, so we went back inside Cat Harbor and found a nice spot along the edge. It took me 10 or so minutes after watching everyone else float around in the water before I decided to hang my body begrudgingly off the side of the dinghy and slowly slip into the water. In the end, it wasn't so horrible. It was cold, but I got used to it and there was some cool kelp and a few fish here and there. I think the highlight of the snorkeling trip though was that we spotted a bald eagle and his nest 2 times! I'm not sure I've ever seen a real bald eagle before... 'Murica.
For dinner on Saturday we had a grill out on the island, watched the sun set from the Banning House (a historical lodge on the island) and we ended our night with card games and drinks on the boat. Boat life.
Sunday we woke up on the boat a took a dinghy to the main island for another hike, had a cat nap on the sandy beach of isthmus cove, and got ready to sail back to Marina Del Rey.
The wind was scarce on our trip home, so again we had to rely on our motor in order to make good time. We saw a huge pod of dolphins too at one point on our journey home which was really cool. I've never seen that before. The motor was having some issues, but fortunately we were able to make it back just fine. Took us another 7ish hours to get back.
This weekend trip to Catalina was awesome. Every sailing trip I take just convinces me more and more how much I like to sail. My only regret is that I didn't see any buffalo. Sigh. Next Time Catalina.. next time.