These were days of leisure. We had made our way around the notorious Point Conception in somewhat anti climatic fashion, but at last, as the old salt in Newport had foretold, we were in “the land of milk and honey”.
After abandoning Coho anchorage two days before, we had made our way to Santa Cruz Island. The anchorages on Santa Cruz are unlike any that we had seen before. In the first place, many are not coves or bays at all, but simple roadsteads with decent holding power for your anchor and some small protection from wind of a particular direction. You had constantly to watch the wind to see if you needed to move your anchorage; lest you end up on a lee shore. The prevailing winds are from the NW, but any tropical storm activity in Mexico can bring swell and wind from the south or south east, in fact the entirety of the southern shore of Santa Cruz is subject to unanticipated southern swell which can make for a too exciting anchorage. The biggest concern of all is from the north east. Santa Anna winds form when high pressure builds over the arid deserts of Northern California, Eastern Oregon and Utah. As the heat intensifies pressure builds and resistance from the more moderate Southern California climate weakens. Ultimately, they are no match for one another and the dam will break sending, sometimes searing hot, wind roaring into the Santa Barbara Channel at speeds of 50 miles an hour or more! These winds are terribly dangerous on shore…….no one wants to experience them in a boat!
Santa Cruz Island is just over 20 miles long and, at its widest, 5.5 miles across. It is a world unto itself. Indeed, the small coves, rugged mountains, sandy beaches and wind swept plains look like they are right out of central casting for a Land of the Lost or King Kong movie. Originally the island was named San Lucas. It was renamed in 1769 after a period of conflict with the local natives was resolved, through the return of a crucifix stolen from a church that had been sacked.
In the 1800’s, the island fell into private ownership with the Gehrini family in the majority stake. There was a cattle and sheep ranch. Almonds and olives were planted, as were grapes and the wine soon gained a solid reputation with the well to do back on the mainland. Prohibition and the Depression put the ranch into a financial decline from which they could not recover and the island parcels changed hands. By the mid 20th century Edward Stanton had acquired 90 percent of the island and, upon his death in the 1980’s, he bequeathed the entirety of his holdings to The Nature Conservancy. A few years later the remaining 10 percent, still owned by the descendants of the Gehrini family, was acquired by the National Park Service. Today control is divided between those two entities; the National Park side has ferry service, camping and hiking; the more remote Nature Conservancy portion is much more regulated and requires a special permit to go ashore.
We explored the island, visiting Painted Cave and Cueva Valdez, anchoring at Potato Harbor. We spent a leisurely day sailing around the eastern shore onto the southern side. We fished and sailed as we made our way to the idyllic Coches Priestos. A small cove within the nature conservancy. We had a permit and were keen to go exploring ashore.
It was at Coches that we first met Agatha, a Beneteau 45, also from Seattle, with Bill, Victoria and daughter Rose on board. The anchorage was uncomfortable and required two anchors; one bow and one stern. We had gotten there first and had the more protected spot and in the end Agatha chose discretion and fled in search of a more welcoming spot to spend the night. We wondered and worried about them for days. In the end they chose correctly, we spent an uncomfortable and worrisome night as the swells grew out of the south. Epiphany pitched into the waves all night and we had to abandon our state room in the bow for the relative stability of the midships bunk. Just after sunrise we sprung our stern anchor. The bow anchor does all of the heavy lifting, so we were not in any danger, but now we had the added pleasure of swinging so the incoming swell could catch us from multiple and unexpected directions! We pulled our ground tackle onto the boat and left there vowing to return….we had never made it ashore.
We made then for Santa Barbara. We were running low on, provisions, fuel and electricity. It seemed like a good time to head into port!
Santa Barbara is deserving of a hundred pages of writing. We both consider it amongst our favorite cities, and if we ever relocate to Southern California, I am sure it is where we will land. There is art and culture without pretense or airs. The people are warm, welcoming and generous. A fisherman’s market takes over the main pier on weekend mornings and the ukulele club, their membership numbering many dozens, meet on Wednesdays beneath a giant oak. There is wine and wineries, restaurants of every sort and the sidewalks are full of people and commerce. Everywhere there are boats. We met so many generous folks who were interested in our travels and wanted to help us.
Gardyloo was there, who we first met in Monterery; Vince and Kathleen, who split their time as live aboards in the Marina with their little dog; Ryan, a young guy was new to boating and his excitement was contagious. Art, our next door neighbor, was a handsome fisherman/surfer/contractor (the contracting being to support the fishing and surfing). We immediately hit it off and he offered us the use of charts as well as advice on the channel islands anchorages and weather. Most generous of all was Ed. Ed had a Pacific Seacraft 34. A slightly smaller version of our boat that was parked directly across the dock from us. Ed is one of those guys that as soon as you meet him, you just know that he is good people and you want to talk to. One day he gave us his car so that we could go shopping……It was a nice car! Volvo or Audi….. I can’t remember…….. A nice car, and he just gave us the keys. Thanks Ed!
We loved Santa Barbara and were sorry to leave. But we were not yet satisfied with our exploration of the Channel Islands. Gardyloo had headed out of Santa Barbara the day before. We caught up with them at Prisoner’s Harbor on Santa Cruz Island and rowed over to visit. Gardyloo is an Island Packet 45. She weighs 40 thousand pounds and is pristine to look at both inside and out. Her owners Harry and Suzana are from the San Francisco area and have become our friends. Harry says that he did not intend to go camping but rather wanted an apartment that he could take sailing with him…..he accomplished this with Gardyloo! We hung out with Harry and Suzanna for a bit before heading off to explore more. We anchored at Fry’s Harbor and went ashore for a hike. The remnants of an old mining concern still litter the beach there. We traveled to the stark and wind swept desolation of Fraser’s Point and Fourney’s Cove. We anchored again, in Potato Harbor which defies the imagination. And finally, again made for Coches Priestos to fulfill our vow and hike ashore.
On this occasion too, Coches was playing host to a southern swell. We got there much earlier in the day than we had before. We packed a lunch, our camera and hiking shoes, lowered the dinghy and made for shore. The plan was for Julianne to row, waiting for a break in the swells and I would hop out and pull us ashore. We waited for a break in the swell, and believing that we saw a window, Julie began to pull hard toward the beach. Almost immediately, a wave sprang up behind us and we surfed it’s crest perilously in toward shore. I jumped out amid the wash to pull us in. We were only a few feet from shore and in the wave wash, but the water was still neck deep. This was the opposite of helpful to Julianne, who still had to paddle us in before the next wave broke;, but now had the added burden of a dipshit and soaking wet husband hanging from the side of the dinghy, impairing her ability to steer! We laughed until we cried.
It was well worth the effort, we had paradise to ourselves. We enjoyed a great lunch, with cold beer and sandwiches and hiked up the valley to a hill top, where we took some great photos of Epiphany at anchorage. Getting the dinghy back to the boat was nearly as adventurous as our landing……Finding ourselves back at home on Epiphany, we soon discovered that the swells were worst than our first time here. Also, we had anchored at high tide and the beach (and breakers) were getting closer to us. We spontaneously decided to say good bye to Santa Cruz. We were well rested and had good weather and Catalina Island was just 60 miles away. It was time for a change of scenery.
We sailed through the night and arrived off of Catalina Harbor, known as “Cat Harbor” to nearly everyone, at dawn. Cat harbor occupies the isthmus of Catalina Island on the outside, facing the Pacific Ocean. Over the isthmus lies two harbors and across the channel, Los Angeles. The isthmus is only a half mile wide. We break out the dinghy and lower down the outboard. Each day, we dinghy in and walk across to the little tourist town of Two Harbors, where the ferry brings tourist back a forth from Los Angeles.
In 1846, the last Mexican Governor of California is said to have deeded Catalina to Thomas Robbins, for a saddled horse on which to escape advancing American Troops. In 1919 the island was purchased by chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley with the design to develop the city of Avalon. To this purpose he formed the Catalina Island Company. Later his son formed the Catalina Island Conservancy. Today, the Island is still owned and operated by the Catalina Island Company and the Catalina Conservancy; and the Wrigley family still own their private section of the island.
Mooring is a way of life on Catalina. There are few good anchorages, Cat Harbor is the best of those by far. The Catalina Island Company has filled Avalon, Twin Harbors and the surrounding coves with mooring balls. Each mooring ball has two anchor points: bow and stern. There is a “pick up stick” floating adjacent to each moorage with a spreader line attached to the two anchor lines. The idea is to attach the bow line and then pull in on the stern until both are taught. There are thousands of them and the result is a very neat and orderly harbor with boats closer together than many marinas.
On our second or third day in Cat Harbor, the weather forecast began calling for “the first Santa Anna event of the season”. Santa Anna’s are gale force winds that thunder off the desert from the north east, causing great property damage, shutting down the I-5 freeway and are obviously a hazard to boaters. Luckily, we were in a secure anchorage with good protection from the north. The forecast was for 20 to 25 knots, but as the storm grew closer, that estimate began to rise. The boats at two Harbors, right across the isthmus from us all scampered for LA or San Diego. A few brave souls, or those who did not have enough horsepower to get out of the way in time, reversed their moorings so they could meet the wind and swell head on. Some came around to our side of the island. Avalon refused to admit any boats into it’s harbor. For days, we had been in off shore conditions and set lazily in our anchorage with our bow pointed out to sea. Now we swung around to face the isthmus and the lights of LA. The wind was warmer than the day had been and it began to grow in intensity. We stretched out on our chain, and began to pitch slightly, as the gust grew to 30 knots and the wind whistled around us. But we were completely safe and comfortable in our anchorage. On the other side of the island, they had a different story. Avalon had some damaged boats, as did the marinas on the mainland. Out in the channel the wind had gusted to 60 knots.
When we awoke the next day, there was a Pacific Seacraft 37 (the same as Epiphany), anchored across the harbor. We went by in our dinghy to tell them what fantastic taste they had in boats. They had left the marina on the mainland the night before and headed out to sea to avoid damage in the storm. That may seem counter intuitive and I don’t think that we would have chosen to do that, but they were both experienced sailors, the PS 37 is an amazing “go anywhere” vessel, and the shore doesn’t do any boat any good.
The boats name was Pristine and she was captained by Colin and Cheyenne, two sailing instructors from the bay area. They had headed out with a reefed jib only and soon discovered that was still too mush power! They tried in vain to take it in and run bare poles or perhaps move to a reefed staysil…..but the wind was too strong to adjust the sails in. They ran down wind all night in 50 knot gust and following wind waves before they found the lee of Catalina! We hit it off with them right away and spent the next couple of days boat hopping for happy hours and hors devours. They are on their way to Mexico also and we are looking forward to meeting up with them again.
The wind continued out of the northeast for the next few days but it had lost all of its ferocity. Blowing itself out in one big twelve hour belch. After six nights in Cat Harbor we decided to go check out Avalon. It is one of the most popular boating destinations in the whole US and we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Plus, it was within striking distance of our last U.S. destination, San Diego! We said goodbye to Pristine and set sail. It was a lovely sailing day and we made the thirty miles in good time. We spent two days in Avalon. The moorings were full inside the harbor, so we ended up at the cove next door. A DJ played dance music all night to a weekend crowd over from LA. We jumped into the crystal clear water and discovered that it was warm. The Pacific Northwest and it’s cold dark water was far behind us now. We took the dinghy in an walked the ritzy tourist trap streets. We even allowed ourselves dinner out and a beer as we watched NFL football…….we had forgotten it was football season! But our heart wasn’t in it. We missed the serenity of Cat Harbor….this was Disneyland. We had done the math and determined that if we left before dawn, we could make San Diego by nightfall. And so, the next morning we were up at 3AM to ready the boat and make our way! San Diego was 80 miles to the south east. Our last port of call in the United States!
At 4:30 in the afternoon on October 22nd, we sailed into San Diego Harbor. We had joined the Baja Ha Ha, a cruisers rally that was headed to Mexico on October 29th, just a week away. Julianne’s daughter Lia was coming to join us to crew on the 800 mile journey down the coast. We were excited and grateful and a little surprised to have finally made it to San Diego. From the harbor entrance, you can literally see Mexico and we were full of anticipation for the adventure to come!