Sunday, November 23, 2014

Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island
As described in an earlier blog, it can get tiring having to find your way around a new place every 3-4 days.  So, when we heard that the mooring balls on Santa Catalina Island were "pay for 2 nights, stay for 5 nights free" (the off-season rate) we jumped at the chance to go there.  Santa Catalina Island is only 22 nm from L.A., and it is really the only boating destination for the whole of Southern California.  To accommodate the thousands of boats that descend on Catalina during the summer, the Parks people have installed mooring balls just about every place they can.  The water is pretty deep most of the way around, so anchoring is a challenge in most places.  As a result, there are probably over 2000 mooring balls scattered around the island.  As space is scarce, the balls are placed about 20 feet apart, and boats are required to tie up to a front and back mooring.  There is an elaborate line system on each mooring, which is quite intimidating if it is your first time encountering one.  Luckily there was almost no one at the island when we visited, because I can't imagine trying to maneuver our boat into place, in a cross wind, with 20 boats within a boat length.  From talking to other cruisers who go there a lot, it gets "interesting" in the summer.  Glad we weren't there to experience it.

The top, at last! Those tiny white things are all the mooring balls
Isthmus (left) and Catalina Harbour (right - where we stayed)
Pooped puppy
We spent the first 6 nights in quiet Catalina Harbour, which is not as touristy as the rest of the island. But, a short 10 minute walk from the harbour takes you to the small town of "Two Harbours", which is a much more popular tourist site.  Catalina is a rocky, mountainous, dry island that reminded us a lot of the Sea of Cortez.  Tons of cactus.  One of the main attractions is hiking, and so on day 2 we set off to climb to the top of one of the peaks in search of great views.  After a long, steep slog to the top (Charlotte was bagged by the time we got there), we found our views.  Truly magnificent.  Unfortunately the hike proved to be too much for our short legged, 9 year old dog - she hurt the doggy-equivalent of her pectoral muscle and was in pain for several days. She wouldn't let us lift her up, which is a bit of a problem when you live on a boat that has a 5 step ladder between the cockpit and inside of the boat.  Luckily she'd let us lift her if she was in her life jacket, so we could get her in and out of the boat (and, thankfully, in and out of the dingy).  A good lesson for us to take it easy on the poor girl, as a real injury with our current lifestyle would be a major issue.

Bocce tournament on the beach with fellow Cruisers
The chain/rode snarl...

After several days of boat projects (cleaning the hull, working on the water maker install etc), and some play (several Happy Hours, a bocce tournament in Two Harbours with the crews of s/v Kanilela, Kialoa and Greybeard), we motored over to the main town of Avalon with the intention of anchoring outside the bay (we were too cheap to pay the extra mooring ball cost).  The bay was deeper than we'd anticipated (150'), but as we needed to untwist our anchor chain, which had been causing us problems all summer, we decided to give it a try.  Now, the chain has been really bad all summer, but usually I can get 120 feet out with no issues.  On that day, it seemed worse for some reason.  Even though I was going slow and being paranoid about untwisting it as I went, I only got 100 feet of chain out before it jammed in the windlass (does this sound familiar??).  Needless to say, a lot of very foul language was said by both of us and a mini-meltdown ensued. Gary kept saying 'why doesn't this ever happen when I run the windlass?'  ...Then we saw the chain...  From 120 feet on-wards, we no longer had chain, we had a chain/rode ball.  There was no beginning and no end. What a disaster.  After we got the first jam out and realized the windlass still worked (ha, I didn't break it!), we drove silently out to deep water and set about untangling and dropping it all in the water.  It was a very long and painful process, which took almost 3 hours to complete. As we pulled in the rode, we broke the stripper arm on the windlass, but it seemed to work if I got in the anchor locker (which is very small) and pulled from below.  Luckily we only had to do that for the rode - the chain seemed to go through the windlass fine. After the untangling, we tried dropping and raising the anchor a few times and realized that our bow roller was causing the chain to twist 90 degrees between the roller and the windlass.  So, problem identified and fixed for the time being, but a final solution would have to come another day. As it was almost dark by the time we were done, we motored 3 nm north of Avalon and picked up a mooring ball there.  Despite our dark moods, we worked as a team to land the dingy in small surf on the beach so Charlotte could pee (in the dark) then went back to the boat for a tasty (?) meal...
Mmmm, dinner...

The next day we spent the morning fixing an alternator issue and topping up our batteries with water, then motored down to Avalon in our dingy to meet Gord and Mags from Kanilela, and Scott and Tanya from Kialoa for a late lunch/early dinner at a great hole-on-the wall Mexican place off the tourist track.  We celebrated making it this far by drinking margaritas (Gary had a smoothie) from styrofoam cups, with friends. Thankfully in Cruising, the 'bad' is always tempered by the 'good'.

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