Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Sailing Trip to Catalina Island

Having returned to The States a month early from the Baja trip, El Mecánico and I spent the next few weeks slowly meandering our way back home. After all, there was no reason to rush back to the cold and wet winter in the Pacific Northwest.

For two years, I had been trying to arrange a sailing trip with a friend who lives in Los Angeles. As we'd be passing through LA, this was the perfect opportunity to make the trip happen. We decided to take a five-day sailing trip to Catalina Island. We ended up having such a grand time that we extended our trip from five days to nine.

Sailing to Catalina, with Salem on my lap.
(Photo: Jake Brownson)

First up...the island.

Catalina Island is located 22 miles off the coast of California, to the south and slight west of Los Angeles. Part of the Channel Islands, Catalina is 8 miles wide at its broadest point and 22 miles long from end-to-end.

Though the island only has 4,100 inhabitants, it sees more than 1 million visitors every year. Given its numerous coves, the island is popular for scuba divers and snorkelers. Parasailors are attracted to the island's peaks, the highest which is over 2,000 ft. Backpackers flock to the island to hike and camp along the 37-mile-long Trans-Catalina Trail that traverses the island. For being so close to Los Angeles, Catalina feels as though it is a world away.

A map of Catalina Island.

Catalina has a rich history. Archeological discoveries place the first inhabitants on the island around 7000 BC. The island saw all sort of explorers, settlers, and pirates in the centuries that followed. In more recent history, the island became a popular tourist destination in the early 1920s, after the Wrigley family (of chewing gum fame) purchased the land. The Chicago Cubs, who were owned by Wrigley, used the island for spring training for a thirty year stretch, ending in the early 1950s. In the mid-1970s, the Wrigley family deeded land to the Catalina Island Conservancy, who now administers nearly 90% of the island. There is a 20-year-long waitlist to own a vehicle on the island, though driving golf carts (known as "autoettes") is less restrictive and therefore more prominent.

Being so close to Hollywood, the island has seen many movies and many actors over the years. We can thank Hollywood for introducing bison to the island. In 1924, 14 bison were brought to the island as props for a movie that was being filmed. Due to financial reasons, the bison remained on the island after the filming was complete. Today, the bison have multiplied to a population of about 150, though, surprisingly, we didn't see a single bison along the 30+ miles of trails that we hiked. In honor of the bison, Buffalo Milk cocktails are served at the local bars.

Next up...the captain.

The captain of the boat was my friend, Jake. You may remember Jake from other blog posts. I had the pleasure of living on Jake's old boat, Phoenix, for a few months back in 2013. Over the years, Jake and I have enjoyed a number of sailing adventures (see An Overnighter to Sand Island and Anchoring, Sweet Salem, and TJs), a couple of bike rides (see The Scaponia Shake-Down and Day #19: And We're Off), and a great friendship. Jake now lives aboard his 38' Hunter, named Bonne Vie.

Bonne Vie.

As co-founder of a software company, Jake (who is wickedly brilliant) has the flexibility to work from wherever he wants. Often times he logs in from his boat. Yeah, life is good.

Jake's favorite office.

Jake has an awesome kitty, named Salem. Salem loves everything about living on a sailboat...

Salem loves to roam on deck.

...except for the actual sailing part. If she goes below deck while the boat is underway, she will most certainly throw least once, if not more. But if she stays up on deck, she's usually more comfortable.

I can definitely relate to not feeling well underway. I had my first vomit-at-sea as we were heading out to Catalina. On the bright side, my "little episode" added some fish food to the ocean, right? I attributed the nauseousness to a partially empty stomach. It's funny -- the movement of the open waters makes you not want to eat, but eating is the best thing to prevent an unsettled stomach.

Salem and I hang tough while underway.
(Photo: El Mecánico)

I loved having Salem aboard. As I love kitties -- especially sailing kitties -- I took lots of photos of Salem.

Salem, in her glamour pose...

...and Salem sprawled out on the hatch.

At one point during our trip, Jake fed Salem a treat through one of the portholes. This single act raised the bar for our spoiled sailing feline. From then on, Salem would sit outside the porthole and demand that a snack be served to her. Salem totally reminded me of a little kid at the window of an ice cream shop.

Feeding Salem through the porthole.

Okay, okay, I'll stop with the kitty talk and get on with the trip...

The crossing from Marina del Rey, where Bonne Vie is docked, to Catalina Island took about six hours. We were able to sail a majority of the way to the island, but low winds forced us to motor back on our return.

We arrived at Two Harbors, the second largest establishment on Catalina, in the evening. Fortunately, Jake was familiar with the harbor and safely navigated us to our mooring buoy in the dark.

The next morning we rowed the dinghy to shore for a nice hike towards Howlands Landing.

Rowing the dinghy to shore.

El Mecánico and Jake, hiking to our picnic spot on the point.

The weather had been a little drizzly, but soon the sun came out, and the day transformed into pure gorgeousness.

A post-rain gift from the sky,
with Bird Rock (aptly named for its lustrous guano) off to the right.

Typically, Catalina Island is fairly brown and desert-like. But unseasonable rains made the island shine a verdant green. Plus, wildflowers added splashes of color to the lush island landscape.

Kayaks added color to the island as well.

On our way back from the hike, we attempted to find a handful of geocaches. Some we found; others we didn't.

Signing one of the geocache logs.
(Photo: Jake Brownson)

One geocache had us scrutinizing a narrow, rocky beach. Though I didn't find the cache, I found plenty of fun rocks and shells.

Showing my surprise at finding a PacMan rock...
(Photo: El Mecánico)

...and deciding I can be a PacPerson, too.
(Photo: El Mecánico)

Here's looking at you, kid.
(Photo: El Mecánico)

Post hike, Jake and I take the dinghy back to Bonne Vie.
(Photo: El Mecánico)

The next morning, we enjoyed a sunny breakfast on the bow. El Mecánico, the cook, whipped up a mean batch of pancakes.

El Mecánico and I enjoy a pancake breakfast on the bow.
(Photo: Jake Brownson)

In the evening, Jake took us on a special sunset hike. After about 45 minutes and lots of climbing, we arrived at a ridge overlooking the isthmus between Two Harbors and Catalina Harbor. Along the ridge was a barbed wire fence decorated with various tchotchkes and words shaped from wires.

A compass - how apropos!

One word says it all!

When we got to the end of the trail, where we would watch the sunset, Jake informed us that he had brought his parrot with him. As Jake pulled a case from his backpack, I imagined a goofy, mechanical parrot that would perch upon Jake's shoulder and repeat our commentary as we watched the sunset. But, no, Jake was referring to his Parrot Drone. As the sun colored the sky, Jake flew his Parrot and captured the beautiful setting orb from his bird's eye view. (You can watch the edited version of the Parrot's flight below.)

In honor of the beautiful sunset, El Mecánico and I danced...

El Mecánico and me making silhouettes.
(Photo: Jake Brownson)

...while Jake enjoyed a special can of tuna.

Jake eats his celebratory can of tuna.

Another day, the three of us set out for a long hike to Little Harbor and back. Though the sites along the hike were gorgeous, the temperature made the hike quite toasty. We jokingly dubbed the hike "the death march."

Jake and me, on the hike to Little Harbor.
(Photo: El Mecánico)

A beautiful picnic spot overlooking the ocean.
Also the location of a tricky-to-find micro-geocache.

The super-duper tiny micro-geocache.
(Photo: El Mecánico)

Our destination -- the foggy Little Harbor.

One foggy morning, El Mecánico and I woke up early to enjoy the sunrise. While I rowed the dinghy, El Mecánico snapped photographs.

My morning face.
(Photo: El Mecánico)

A morning fog, coupled with B&W, makes these photos look ancient'n'eerie.
(Photos: El Mecánico)

My photos don't capture a few of the more memorable events:
  • There were a surprising number of discarded mylar balloons floating in the Pacific. On the way to Catalina, we made a game out of trying to "harpoon the balloons" with the end of the gaff. In explaining how to capture the balloons, Jake said, "Whatever you do, don't drop the gaff in the water." So what did El Mecánico do? Yup, he dropped the gaff (unintentionally, of course). It took a number of stressful tries to capture the gaff, but, thanks to Jake's awesome mastery at the helm, the gaff was recovered! 
  • We saw tons of dolphins swimming alongside the boat. And we saw a few whales from afar as well!
  • El Mecánico was the cook for our little adventure. Fortunately, as he was liberal in his provisions, our intended five days worth of food stretched to nine days worth. A quick glance at the rations showed plenty of cans of peaches and asparagus, plus two ridiculously huge blocks of cheese. As much as I enjoyed El Mecánico's meals, by mid-trip, I was salivating at the thought of pizza.
  • While we sat on the boat one evening and chatted about music, we decided to create a sea shanty for our trip. Jake came up with a tune on his keyboard, and El Mecánico scribbled lyrics onto a piece of scrap paper. As Jake played the melody, El Mecánico belted out the verses in his best pirate accent. It was an absolute hoot! I just wish we had captured the fun on videotape.
  • During our nine-day excursion, all our bodily solid and liquid wastes were contained within a tank, as Section 312 of the Clean Water Act prohibits the dumping of untreated sewage within three miles of shore. Once we were outside of those three miles, the captain pushed the magic button, and the contents of the tank were released into the blue ocean. A thick current of brown trailed from the boat, and a putrid odor temporarily contaminated the fresh salty air. Lovely! More fish food!
  • Both before and after the sailing trip, the three of us, plus a mutual friend, Monique, did a little hot-tubing. We joked about how LA hot tub parties are synonymous with porn films. Alas, there were no film cameras (not even the Parrot!) and all bathing suits remained intact.

Now, please enjoy two little treats: the Catalina Island Sea Shanty and The Flight of the Parrot.

Treat #1: The Catalina Island Sea Shanty

Lyrics by El Mecánico
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  
The smog of the city
Was chocking their throats
They decided to head out to sea
There was a small island
A bit off the coast
That's where they wanted to be
The waters were calm
But the cat still threw up
And the first mate, she puked starboard side
The captain's agenda
Was to clean up some trash
"Harpoon the Balloons," he cried 
The cook was damn careless
He lost the gaff
It took quite awhile to reclaim
The dolphins were laughing
And swimming around
Enjoying their futile game
Soon night came upon
The Bonne Vie and her crew
As they slowly rowed in
The captain, he chose
To moor in the harbor
Near where adventures begin 
Oh Catalina!
The small desert island of Buffalo Milk
Oh Catalina!
Where the filthy are welcome and so are their ilk 
The isle was cloaked
In a bright emerald green
Rare rain had stirred her awake
Red, yellow, and purple
Dotted the meadows
Surrounding the chocolate lakes
The captain and crew
Hiked her steep trails
In the rain and the sun through the day
Their muscles were aching
And wanted to stop
But the beauty enticed them to play
The captain had visions
One afternoon
Of where he wanted to be
He hoisted a case
To the top of a hill
To see the red sun sink at sea 
In the case was a parrot
That flew all around
Causing the captain to squeal
Then later he ate
Some fine tuna in oil
How great could one captain feel? 
Oh Catalina!
Where cactus and grass look awfully nice
Oh Catalina!
You might even consider coming here twice
The captain and crew
Holed up for days
They forgot how to bathe properly
They smelled like the purge
That came from the head
When the captain would shit out at sea
The cook lost his taste
His food looked like mush
And a pizza seemed like a dream
But they plowed through the rations
Of swill and hardtack
And bricks of rubbery cheese
After awhile
The adventure was through
The harbor patrol chased them out
But the wind was too weak
So they took to the oar
The crew had reason to pout 
The fog was a cloak
Grey colored the land
The dolphins, the water, and sky
They rowed back to the city
With an ache in their backs
But a twinkled of green in their eyes 
Oh Catalina!
The island oasis, it's there on the map
Oh Catalina!
They never saw buffalo, but lots of their crap

The above sea shanty isn't the only song that has popularized the island. The song "26 Miles" by the Four Preps hit #2 on the Billboards in 1958. Do you recognize this song?

Treat #2: The Flight of The Parrot

I had a fantastic time on Catalina Island, which was especially meaningful after the Baja trip. Many thanks to Jake and Salem for being such spectacular hosts!


  1. Hi, Sarah! What a cool adventure! I enjoyed reading your post, as always! I think you're a fascinating gal! xo

    1. Thanks, MaryJo! So great to hear from you! :)

  2. It was a huge bummer for me from my PAC coast trip not to go there. :( Did you get over the seasickness?

    1. Yes, I got over the seasickness. It only bothered me for about ten minutes. As soon as we started making tight circles to recover the gaff, I became nauseous. And then as soon as my stomach was emptied, I was fine again. I'm sorry you didn't get to see Catalina. I wonder how different the experience would have been if everything wasn't so lush and green! Happy travels!

  3. Where the filthy are welcome and so are their ilk!

    This sounds like the perfect trip to take after not having as much fun as you hoped in Baja! Loved the flight of the parrot. I had no idea about the bison, on a small island like that, and no predators, you'd think they'd be doing a lot of damage.

    Raising my glass to sea shanties, mylar harpooning and seasick cats! Great post Sarah!

    1. I agree, Tony -- this trip was a blessing after Baja.

      Though there are no predators for the bison, the size of the herd is monitored closely by the Catalina Island Conservancy.

      Yes, raise a glass to all things that make us happy!

    2. GOOD! I am glad the herd is monitored! love bison!


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