Cruising

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Catalina is 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its widest point, one of eight Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. Two are owned by the Navy. A couple of them are too small to be of interest except to sportfishers and divers. Five of the islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara) became the Channel Islands National Park in 1980, but those in the park that harbor cruising boats are different from Catalina—wilder, more removed, requiring more planning.

At Catalina, the major stress point is picking up a mooring. When newbies come along, provided they don’t hit your boat, they’re fun to watch. Moorings are tightly packed, and there’s a fore-and-aft tie-up that isn’t so complicated, but you either know it or you don’t.

Avalon, home to most of the island’s fewer than 4,000 residents, has 400 first-come, first-serve moorings packed into the main harbor below the former home of Western novelist Zane Gray (the house is now a boutique hotel where, “in keeping with the serenity of the pueblo, there are no phones, TVs, or clocks in the rooms”). On the rise on the opposite side of the harbor is the former home of William Wrigley, Jr. Once upon a time, Wrigley (chewing gum, Chicago Cubs) owned almost all of Catalina. He brought his Cubs here for training camp each spring, and he loved the place and wanted to see it preserved. The Wrigley family succeeded at that, passing forward a remarkably wild island now owned and controlled for the most part by the nonprofit Catalina Conservancy. When you moor for a fee, you are paying to keep those open hills above you, open.

Outside Avalon there are hundreds of additional moorings, mostly on the mainland side of the island. They are leased to private parties but rented when available, and there is ample anchorage. As we approached for the Seawind Rendezvous, moored and anchored boats painted a thin white line along the foot of the island from left to right.

The target for most sailing groups bent on a rendezvous at Catalina is the Isthmus, where Isthmus Cove and 257 moorings front the village of Two Harbors on one side of the island, opposite incredibly protected Cat Harbor with 117 moorings and anchorage for 200. Here the mountain drops down to near–sea level, the island narrows, and the two coves are only half a mile apart. There is a ferry dock and a dinghy dock, and there are facilities ashore to accommodate all sorts of activities. But the “village” consists of only one store and one restaurant. A genuine one-room schoolhouse houses grades K–5; older kids commute to Avalon. Cars are few (it can take 10 years to get a permit to bring in a car), and the pace is appropriate to “island life.”

The target for most sailing groups bent on a rendezvous at Catalina is the Isthmus, where Isthmus Cove and 257 moorings front the village of Two Harbors on one side of the island, opposite incredibly protected Cat Harbor with 117 moorings and anchorage for 200. Here the mountain drops down to near–sea level, the island narrows, and the two coves are only half a mile apart. There is a ferry dock and a dinghy dock, and there are facilities ashore to accommodate all sorts of activities. But the “village” consists of only one store and one restaurant. A genuine one-room schoolhouse houses grades K–5; older kids commute to Avalon. Cars are few (it can take 10 years to get a permit to bring in a car), and the pace is appropriate to “island life.”

Our rendezvous began with dinner aboard Joe Weathers’s Sea Ya, and yes, it was crowded and it was good. The next day included a chalk talk by twice-ideal Brad Poulos. First, he’s an expert on sails, being a principal at UK-Halsey Sails in Southern California. Second, he craves a cruising cat of his own, not to replace his high-end racing but to give him a different, more comfortable experience on the water. We were a modest group, made up of the crews of seven boats attending (four 1160s and three 1100s), plus the owners of four more cats that were scattered around various ports in Mexico, but the folks just couldn’t miss this gathering of kindred souls. Come evening, we rallied-up for a barbecue and a happy birthday song for Steve Ellsworth, who, along with Seawind dealer Kurt Jerman, had thrown himself into organizing the event. And then...

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