Three Santa Barbara Sail and Power Squadron sailboats participated in our annual cruise to Isthmus Cove at Catalina Island: Virginia and Dennis Johns with grand-daughter Kira aboard S/V Libertad, Lisa and Scott Burns aboard S/V Benchmark, and Peggy and Rich Ciolino aboard S/V Ecco Bella. Another sailboat, a friend of the Burns from Marina 4 aboard S/V Westerly accompanied us to Catalina but sailed on to Avalon instead of tying up at the Isthmus.
S/V Ecco Bella was the last to leave the Santa Barbara harbor on Monday morning at about noon after taking on fuel. We could see S/V’s Benchmark and Libertad about two nm ahead and learned that S/V Westerly was a bit ahead of them. We were all headed to Smugglers Cove on the south side of Santa Cruz Island for an overnight stay before the 60 nm passage to Catalina.
We were the last to arrive at Smugglers and took our position at anchor in about 30 feet of water with about 150 feet of chain out.
We left the following morning for Catalina and had a lovely, warm motor-sail since the wind was in the 4 kt range and the seas were small for most of the trip. As is usual the wind picked up as we neared Catalina but to only about 10 kts which is not quite enough for Ecco Bella to make decent speed without the gennie so we continued all the way with the engine helping us along. Libertad however took advantage of the wind and set their spinnaker for the last few miles into the Isthmus.
When we arrived at the Isthmus and radioed the harbormaster for a mooring assignment we were told that S/V’s Benchmark and Libertad had just picked up their moorings and that we would be next to each other so we proceeded to pick up our mooring next to S/V Libertad.
The first order of business was to get our dinghy in the water. We had just bought a new one to replace one we had for about 10 years that gave up the ghost during our last trip here a month ago. Having a dinghy is crucial here to go back and forth to shore or just do some sightseeing. Peggy and I stayed aboard this first night, had dinner, and got to bed early after a long day. A not so critical item to ready was our Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) which we inflated the following day.
Peggy and I took a walk each morning before breakfast. It’s a nice pretty level dirt road trail with gorgeous hillside, harbor, and ocean views from one side of Catalina Island to the other that’s about one mile each way. We roused the entire party for the second day’s walk.
Overall, the weather was great with warm sunshine every day. However, on most days an off-shore westerly ocean breeze would blow in the afternoon just enough to make ripples on the water and cause a cooling effect in the air. Sitting in the cockpit behind a dodger with the bow facing into the wind provided protection from that cool breeze.
On Wednesday night we gathered on Ecco Bella for some drinks, “pain killers” and appetizers. Note, NO MASKS, it’s nice to be somewhat normal again!
Just for kicks we all took a day trip to Avalon aboard the Cyclone speedboat. For $30 you get a round trip ticket from the Isthmus to Avalon that takes about 35 minutes or so. Speeding along the scenic coastline at 26 kts with thumping music playing is quite a kick. Their schedule is such that you only get 2 and a half hours in Avalon before catching the return trip, but that’s enough time to casually stroll around and grab lunch. And that’s exactly what we did, meeting up with Scott’s friend from S/V Westerly that traveled to Catalina with us and a friend of his who came up to Avalon from San Diego. The nine of us had a nice lunch at the Bluewater Grill, and some of us followed lunch with an ice cream cone or a frozen chocolate covered banana.
Richard had a fright when we returned to the dock to pick up the Cyclone for the return trip when he couldn’t find his return ticket. After searching his pockets several times and asking Peggy to search her fanny pack and pockets he moved up the line to ask the Cyclone crew what he should do without a return ticket? One of the crew reached into his pocket and pulled out a ticket, looked at it, and said “Are you Richard?” Wow, he found it on my seat after we disembarked from the boat! Oh, what a relief that was!
On Thursday night we all got together aboard S/V Benchmark for pot-luck appetizers with Lisa providing enough delicious cheese and bean quesadillas to fill us up that we skipped dinner.
On Friday we all gathered on S/V Libertad for a delicious tri-tip dinner with side dishes provided by Peggy and Lisa. The John’s grand-daughter Kira, with help from Virginia, made a tasty dessert cookie to top off the dinner. S/Vs Libertad and Benchmark were planning to depart for home in the morning so we couldn’t hang out into the night, but we were able to get in a few rounds of Mexican Train Dominoes before breaking up the party.
Well, S/V Benchmark left for home early Saturday morning with a stopover in Channel Islands Harbor and S/V Libertad left later with a stopover in Paradise Cove. S/V Ecco Bella, not having any pressing reason to rush home, stayed one more day and departed early Sunday morning for home with a stopover in Smugglers Cove on Santa Cruz Island.
Saturday turned out to be a lovely day with more walking, SUPing, reading, a quick dip in the 71° water, and readying the boat for a 6:00AM departure. When we awoke on Sunday morning we noticed the neighbors on either side of us were awake, with lights on and looking busy. The motor boat on our starboard side had three men on but right now only two were there and their engine was running and their navigation and running lights were on. On our port side was a couple on a sailboat who were standing in their cockpit, a light on, and drinking coffee. The motor boat departed slowly and headed out to sea. As I started our engine to warm it up I told the couple on the sailboat that we were leaving at 6 o’clock and one of them said, “Oh, that’s when the race starts.” Race, what race? “The paddle board race” she replied.
Let me back up a bit: It turned out that the guys and gals we had seen the past few days, including one guy from the power boat next to us, that were scooting around the cove on these incredibly thin paddle boards, just wide enough for a body to lie on, with their hands paddling like crazy to move really fast in the water, were here for a race across the channel! No sooner had I realized what was happening, I heard an announcement from the direction of the beach, and a signal, gun or horn, I can’t remember, and the race began! I could hear lots of splashing and yelling as the racers were headed in our direction. I quickly grabbed my video camera and tried to film the approaching crowd of racers and was able to get some out-of-focus dark footage before I zoomed out to get the image in focus just as they came by our boat, yelling and splashing in between the moored boats. The best shot I got was after they passed our boats.
EPILOGUE: After we got home I found some information about this race. It turns out that this race is 26 nm to Manhattan Beach, their destination from the Isthmus, and it has been going on for 42 years. I also found the results of this particular race and here a couple of key highlights: The cutoff for finishers is 9 hours so the last racer getting in under 9 hours placed 75th out of over 100 male and female racers in 8 hours and 58 minutes or so. The winning time was about five and a half hours! That seems amazing that a person can keep up a pace of nearly 5 kts for that long; others not so fast.
The rest of our run to Smugglers Cove was not nearly as exciting as being in the thick of the paddle race start. With an overcast sky, a bumpy sea, and cold headwinds most of the way, we motor sailed the entire way. The sun burned through as we approached Smugglers and we anchored in about 30 feet of water and let out 150 feet of chain, pretty much as we did earlier in the week on the way to Catalina. The wind and sea were quite calm all night and we left Smugglers about 11:00 in the morning. We meandered along the north coast of Santa Cruz to enjoy the sights and finally turned for home about 12:30. Again, conditions were not conducive to sailing so we motor sailed all the way home. Along the way, about half way home, the sea went super calm. We haven’t seen it so calm. The sea had ripples interspersed with huge, like tens of hundreds of square feet, areas where it was like glass. It remained like this until we got about three miles off shore.
As we neared Santa Barbara we took note of a beautiful, very large, yacht heading out to sea. It had a similar appearance to Steve Jobs’ yacht that we had seen in Mexico in that the two upper decks were separated by fairly flat rooftops that, on Jobs’ yacht mimicked an iPad and an iPhone. As we got very close to Santa Barbara we noticed a strange looking vessel at anchor close to shore. It was gray and had kind of a military look to it. We circled around it and took some pictures of this huge catamaran, now known to be non-military as we saw some civilian deck hands on board. On deck we recognized a helicopter and a few RIBs and dinghies of various sizes. As we sailed into the harbor we noticed that it had weighed anchor and was moving out to sea. Peggy noted the name of the yacht, Hodor, and began researching it as we moved into our slip. What she found out was the catamaran was a 216 foot support ship for the yacht we had seen earlier, a 285 foot yacht named Lonian! This support ship carries all the “toys” for the “mother” yacht Lonian owned by Lorenzo Fertitta, the former CEO of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He also has ties to some Las Vega casinos. Boy, what incredible excess, gut pretty interesting to see. This turned out to be an unexpected surprise to our Catalina cruise – you never know what you might come across when cruising.