Turned out we had only two boats able to make the trip to Catalina this year: Rich and Peggy Ciolino on S/V Ecco Bella, and Diana O’Connell and Bruce Wagner on S/V Boat II. We both planned to leave on Monday morning, September 28, although Diana and Bruce’s plan was immediately interrupted by a fuel leak on Boat II. Bruce and Diana discovered the leak upon their arrival at the boat early that morning. They were planning to sail to Smugglers for the night and continue on to Two Harbors the following morning. Rich and Peggy’s plan was to sail to Channel Islands Harbor for the night and meet up with Boat II at a location about 25 nm south of Smugglers the next morning. Bruce was able to find the leak, a split fuel line, and buy and install a replacement which lead to a long delay.
Ecco Bella got underway at about noon under overcast skies, motoring all the way, with very little wind, and was settled-in at the guest dock by 1745 when we heard Boat II contacting the Channel Islands Harbor office on the VHF radio. They were heading to Channel Islands instead of Smugglers and asked about accommodations. Peggy and I greeted them at the guest dock as dusk approached.
We headed out of the harbor together just before sunrise on the following day. Once out of the harbor we raised our mainsails to counter the small swells but alas there was no significant wind until about noon. BoatII ran her jib up later as we made progress towards Two Harbors under overcast skies.
A little while after leaving the harbor we got a VHF call from BoatII to tell us that it looks like one of our fenders was bobbing about in the waves behind us and they would try to retrieve it. As happens sometimes we forgot to take our fenders in before we left the guest dock and I hadn’t tied it on very well, so it worked its way loose once we started bouncing around. Thankfully they were successful in collecting our fender.
BoatII is seen towing its yellow kayak in this picture but it got swamped later in the day when a plug came loose. Diana and Bruce had to recover the kayak, now with many gallons of water in it, making it very difficult to bring it on board, and empty it out. To their dismay and disgust they found the interior of the kayak to be full of mold and stuff which then spilled onto the deck making quite a mess.
We slowed and sailed along with them until they got the whole mess under control and got under way again. As they approached us from astern we heard a loud horn rendition of the “Ride of the Valkyries”! It was Bruce celebrating their conquering the kayak beast with his trombone – when we talked at Two Harbors he said he never goes anywhere without at least his plastic practice instrument. I was able to record a bit of it after grabbing the camera and spinning around to record it. Click here to see the short video.
The wind came up pretty nicely as we approached Catalina and both of us decided to sail under genoa jib only – and it was great. (Our own Mike Pyzel told us in one of his seminars that sometimes it’s really nice to sail this way with the sail just pulling the boat along, like pulling a toy along on a string.) All in all we got in about four hours of sailing for the 10 hour trip, which is fairly normal for this run.
We arrived at Two Harbors at about 1700 hrs and picked up a mooring for four nights. Diana and Bruce were going to stay for one night and then move on to Avalon in the morning. Our moorings were next to each other with an empty space in between. In the morning Peggy and I dinghied over to BoatII to say good morning, pick up our wayward fender, and talk about our trip and plans. I mentioned that it looked like he was playing a black trombone and he pulled it out to show us. It’s a relatively inexpensive
plastic knock-around horn that he takes on trips like this so he can practice without carrying the good horn he uses professionally. Before they moved on to Avalon later in the morning they took a kayak trip over to 4th of July Harbor to do some exploring.
Two Harbors itself is seriously following coronavirus safety guidelines but that can’t be said for boaters on boats, in our observations. Anyone coming ashore must wear a mask, and social distancing is recommended on
signage. As anyone that’s been to the general store will recall there are two ways to get in and out – but now the one nearest the beach is the only entrance and the one on the side next to the ice cream window is the exit. Oh, the ice cream window is not serving ice cream at this time, which was a disappointment, but they do have an adequate selection of frozen ice cream inside. The one and only restaurant is closed indoors but has a pretty full menu for outside, socially distant, dinning and takeout. Ordering food is done at the outside bar and they have a waiting line marked around the inner edge of the deck eating area. When your food order is ready they bring it out to a table on the patio and call your number.
Peggy and I planned to stay on board, except for swimming, hiking, and going to the general store if necessary, so we didn’t make use of the bathrooms or showers – a benefit of having a cruise-equipped boat I guess, and we can’t comment on how these facilities are set up for distancing and so forth. We did shower on-board making use of our solar water heater. Here’s a photo of Peggy taking her shower, with the five gallons of solar heated water sitting above the hatch over the head. I put it out on deck at about 1000 hrs and we used it at 1700 hrs.
We took this opportunity to try out a new boating appliance on this trip – a mechanical coffee grinder, that was given to me by Peggy last Christmas. It worked well and aside from one hike to Cat Harbor, and a couple of quick dips in the water, it was the only source of exercise I had on the trip – I’m certainly not complaining because a major reason for taking trips like this is to relax.
Just after breakfast on our first morning we got a taste of perhaps a bee hell to come. It’s not unusual to have a bee or two find us while eating in the cockpit – I’m not sure how they do that out here on the water but they do. We had eaten some deliciously tasty honeydew melon and sure enough a bee showed up. Our experience with bees has shown that if you give them something to eat they’ll leave us and the rest of the food alone, pretty much. So I tried leaving one piece of melon out and sure enough the one bee seemed to enjoy it but soon a swarm of bees showed up. After a while bees were flying all over the cockpit, even after I put the melon in the trash. My plan was seriously flawed and I had to resort to self-defense by wildly swinging a folded newspaper at them and killing a few that were getting particularly aggressive. Things calmed down but a few of them came back later over the next couple of days and sweet Peggy got stung two different times, once on her hand and the other on her arm. Fortunately the damage didn’t seem to keep her from enjoying our time there.
The day we took our hike started out very foggy but by the time we began, the fog was clearing. In the photos below the clearing fog is behind Peggy to the left of the main trail in one and the view to the right of the trail looking towards Cat Harbor is in the other.
Below is a view of the pier and the dinghy dock. Something interesting about the dinghy dock was that the two side fingers had been removed, for repair or replacement we presume, leaving just the main walkway.
On the dinghy ride back to the boat we rode around the harbor a bit and took the following photo of fog on the far end of the harbor that caught our eye. If you look closely you’ll see a fair number of flags flying on some of the boats, and that brings us to another interesting aspect of our visit to Catalina. When we arrived on Tuesday afternoon there weren’t very many boats in the harbor. As the days passed we noticed more and more boats coming in and many of them were flying “pirate-like” flags. There was one boat in particular that had probably 30 or more large flags flying on her
mast and stays. What we deduced was going on was an impromptu Buccaneer Days rally! I use the term impromptu since I had read announcements from Two Harbors that the annual Buccaneer Days had been canceled due to the coronavirus restrictions. Obviously all these pirates didn’t get the message, or more likely, didn’t care and came anyway to have a good time. Buccaneer Days has been going on for about 30 years and it involves a lot of partying on-shore, on-boat, and on-dinghy. The on-shore activities, bands, bbq’s, etc, were not happening but the other celebrations were going full tilt including boat parties, loud music, firing off cannons, and setting off major firecrackers on Friday night. As we had planned, we would leave on Saturday morning so we “missed out” on Saturday’s revelry.
We got underway on Saturday at about 0730 hrs with a goal of reaching Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz Island before dark. This is usually about a 10 hour, mostly motoring, trip as the seas and whatever wind you get is typically pretty much on the nose. A few hours after leaving Two Harbors we got a radio message from BoatII that they had some battery issues while at Avalon. They were able to get some help to get their engine running and were planning on motoring all the way to Santa Barbara, not wanting to chance turning off the engine to stop overnight along the way. They made it back safely.
As happened last year on one of our trips back from Catalina, we had another good passage since the seas were fairly flat and the wind was light. The weather was good with visibility about 3nm under overcast skies. When you take this straight shot course from Catalina to Smugglers Cove you have a good chance of passing very close to the Santa Monica Basin weather buoy, which we did. Peggy noticed it thinking at first it was a sailboat off our port side. It’s kind of nice to pass something like this on a long trip – it gives one a sense of making progress.
Around 1500 hrs the overcast skies began dropping to sea level reducing visibility and by 1700 hrs it was about 1/4nm. The fog remained until about a 1/2nm off of Smugglers which was bathed in sunlight. We heaved a sigh of relief now that anchoring in the fog was not going to be necessary. By about 1930 hrs we were settled and ready for dinner. We put out our flopper stopper to counter the usual wind shifts during that night that put the boat beam-on to the normal westerly swells. Since it was cooling down outside
we had dinner down below and when finished I went out to the cockpit to see how we were sitting relative to when we anchored and could not see anything but anchor lights as thefog was in heavy and wet. Fortunately the
winds were calm and the sea state was low during the night so we slept comfortably.
After yesterday’s long haul and while feeling comfortable at anchor, we slept in a bit and woke up to pretty clear skies. After breakfast we took our time getting ready to leave the anchorage for Santa Barbara and got underway about 1230. With the usual morning light winds we motored for several hours before the wind finally built enough to sail. After a couple of hours under sail we were moving nicely in 13 – 15 kt winds as we approached the harbor – a perfect way to end a cruise.