Here’s what hit me on my last trip to Catalina. It happened on the wrap-up night of a Seawind Catamaran rendezvous, and we were six cats abreast, rafted in cozy Cat Harbor across a narrow neck from Isthmus Cove. The few scattered lights ashore stole little from a starry sky. The guitars and the singing went on for a bit. A few dozen people were sated by a potluck spread (and whatever else). Tales were told, all of them true, and the moon was high, and the cheer and the warmth and the music reached a crescendo. That’s when it hit me: This could have been any cruising hole anywhere.
Musket Cove, Fiji. Langkawi, Malaysia. La Cruz, Mexico. These people, these boats, this atmosphere could have been there or anywhere far from home. But we were not that. As my night ended, with a row ashore and a short walk across the island, I gazed across the water and there on the horizon lay the loom of all of Los Angeles. I could imagine, easily, the roar of traffic on the 405. So near and yet so far. No wonder people love to get away to Catalina.
Call it Santa Catalina Island, if you must. “Twenty-six miles across the sea,” more or less. Easily the number-one sailing destination in California. When Bogie and Bacall took time away, where else to go? Their 54-foot S&S, Santana , could find Catalina by herself.
Wherever you live, if you’re a sailor, you have your home waters, and somewhere toward a convenient periphery of those home waters lies the favored getaway, birthplace of summer legends. When Seawind Catamarans went looking for a Southern California spot for a rendezvous, there was the bad news—only one place to go—and there was the good news. They were going to Catalina.
On a clear day (they happen; no heckling, and by the way they’re gorgeous, so eat your heart out) Catalina is visible to a large portion of the 13 million inhabitants of greater Los Angeles. The island owns the seaward horizon for a jagged 22 miles, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to Catalina without hearing someone remark on the millions who live close by without discovering it, “but that’s all right.”
Outbound from Long Beach aboard the Seawind 1160 Paradise Express , we weren’t far gone when we were joined by the first of the dolphins. A multitude. Picture buffalo on the plains of yore. They surrounded us, churning the surface from horizon to horizon, with one squad or another peeling off to ride our double bow wakes. Cameras came out. Spirits, already high, rose higher. We crowded the bow to look down at our flippery friends looking up, and Heather Heffernan said it for all of us, “No matter how many times you’ve experienced this, you feel blessed.”
I could still make out the cranes of Los Angeles Harbor astern and, away to the north, the rise of the Pacific Palisades wrapping west toward Malibu. Truly, we were not far gone at all, except that as soon as you drop your dock lines, you’re away .