(San Diego, Ca) A voyage to Santa Catalina Island is a prerequisite for all San Diego sailboat owners. I have been making the passage on my Ericson 35 Memor Esto since 1985. Each and every trip to the island has its own amazing memories. As I sit writing this article, I can visualize swinging on a mooring, halyard swinging, snorkeling just off Desconso Beach, pizza at Antonio’s, movie at the Casino, or a nap in the cockpit of my boat. Im talking about a cruise to Catalina Island. The Island of enchantment. I took my wife on our honeymoon to Catalina. The food tastes better on Catalina Island. My father used to say “For some reason food tastes especially good in this setting.”
A ferry ride over does not do the island justice. Half of the fun of going to Catalina is the voyage. Land is not visible during half of the trip. Each time I see La Jolla dip below the horizon, it brings a little bit more seriousness to the voyage. All alone on the Pacific Ocean. Dolphins and flying fish may stop by to say hello and escort you on your way.
Catalina is about a 70 nautical mile trip from Point Loma. The journey is just long enough to be considered a high seas adventure. The compass course to Catalina is directly into the wind and current. It will take longer to get to the island than to return home. Plan on a 12-18 hour journey. You will be crossing the shipping lanes coming out of LA Harbor. Keep a good watch out especially at night for the freighters, fishing boats and everything else. I have seen some pretty strange things out there in the middle of the night. This is an offshore voyage, so plain accordingly.
In the summer you won’t have to worry to much about fog, other than the marine layer in the morning. Fall and winter time does see its fair share of fog. So be careful, stay put if its foggy. It is not a bad idea to do a 2 day or Harbor Hop trip during the fall and winter. Shorter days and possibility of fog make the longer trip a better option. Crew size of 2-3 people on board, doing 1-2 hour watch shifts at night works well. Remember, this is a fun trip. Sail as much as you can. Motoring the entire way is not what I call a sailing trip. Don’t rush it. Enjoy. Your on vacation!
The Santa Ana Winds can cause problems at Catalina from October thru March. If a Santa Ana does pop up, Avalon is not safe due to the wind and large waves. The only safe harbor during a Santa Ana is Catalina Harbor. I was unlucky enough to be woken up once by a Santa Ana. Boats were being ripped off their bow mooring, flipping around and smashing into downwind boats. Luckily the harbor was not very full at the time and we were able to wait out the storm on- board. You will be required to stay onboard the boat during the storm in case of an emergency. I would not recommend trying to board a dinghy or land a dinghy with these massive waves plowing through the harbor. Women and children can go ashore on the shoreboat.
One of my favorite ways to get to Catalina is the overnight trip. Generally, I like to leave 5 or 6 in the afternoon. You can spend the day shopping and loading the boat. The overnight trip ensures a morning arrival (if everything goes well). The sunset and sunrise make the long night worth the effort. Hot stew at sunset and hot chocolate during the sunrise. How many times have you seen the sunrise from the ocean? If it is a moonless night, it will be pitch black. You will see nothing but your running lights. A full moon on the Pacific almost seems like day time with the reflection off the water. The moorings in Avalon start to free up about 9am.
Single Day Trip
Leave at 5-6 in the morning from San Diego Bay and motor until the wind builds enough to sail. Once the sails are up you must tack up the rest of the way to Catalina. Generally you just tack over towards the coast, tack back towards Catalina. Keep up this routine until you have the island on a layline or the wind drops and you need to start motoring again. You will be bucking the wind and tide all the way.
2 Day Trip
The 2 Day Trip is a nice way to break up the Catalina journey. You can stop off at Oceanside or Dana Point. I like Dana Point because it’s a bit closer to Catalina. Once again leave San Diego Bay in the early morning. An early morning departure ensures arrival before the sun sets. Call ahead if you wish to obtain a guest slip. Anchoring is an option in Dana Point. Dana Point has two places to anchor; East Basin and one at the West Basin. The West Basin anchorage is less busy, while the East Basin has a lot of traffic from the boat ramp and fishing boats going in and out. The Harbor Masters office is on the South end of Dana Point as you arrive into the inner harbor.
If you have plenty of time on your hands, harbor hopping is a blast as well. Nothing wrong with exploring the local harbors to get to your final destination of Catalina.
Mission Bay: First stop from San Diego Bay. Anchorage in Mariner’s Basin is free up to 72 hours. You do not have to check in with the Harbor Master to anchor at Mariner’s. Swing on one anchor. In case of emergency you can contact the Life Guard services on VHF16 or their phone is (619) 221-8899. Driscoll, Islandia, Marina Village and Seaforth do offer guest slips if you don’t want to anchor. Driscoll and Seaforth monitor VHF channel 16. The San Diego Police Department patrols Mission Bay (619) 221-8985. South Jetty Light 32 45.4N
Oceanside Harbor: Call ahead for guest slip reservations. No anchoring. 1.2 miles north of Oceanside Pier. 35 berths available. Tie up in front of the Harbor Office upon arrival. Reservations accepted. Harbor Patrol Monitors VHF channel 12 and 16. South Jetty light: 33 12.4N, 117 23.9W. Harbor Master (760) 435-4000.
Dana Point: 23 miles north of Oceanside Harbor. Guest slips are available from the Harbor Patrol or private marinas. You can anchor in either the East or West ends of the harbor. West end is quieter. Lighted Buoy 1: 33 27.1N 117 41.9W Breakwater light 3: 33 27.3N, 117 41.5. Harbor Patrol monitors VHF 16 for assistance. Harbor Patrol (949) 248-2222. Dana Point Marina (949) 496-6137, Dana West (949) 493-6222 or Embarcadero Marina (949) 496-6177.
Newport Harbor: You can anchor out or get a mooring in Newport. Just 11 miles from Dana Point. The Newport Harbor Patrol monitors VHF channel 16. Visit the Harbor Master dock for slips, moorings and anchorage. Guest Slips and moorings may not be reserved in advance but as you approach the harbor, you can check for availability. Anchorage is located off east end of Lido Isle (C-1) marked with yellow buoys. Swing on one anchor. You can also anchor just off the East Jetty outside the harbor up to 72 hours. You can go ashore on any one of the 10 public docks identified by the blue and white topped pilings. Boats 30 feet or less can stop at the front of the public docks for up to 20 minutes. Bell buoy at entrance of Newport Harbor is: 33 35.06N, 117 52.69W flashes green ever 6 seconds. Harbor Patrol (949) 723-1002.
Catalina Island: Avalon Harbor Department monitors VHF channel 12. All moorings are on a first come, first served basis. Moorings start to free up around 9am. Best day of the week to arrive to get a mooring is Sunday. Best time for a summer to arrival is right after the 4th of July weekend (crowds are smaller). Upon arrival, stand by at harbor entrance for a mooring assignment from Harbor Patrol. Night time arrival will require contacting Harbor Patrol by VHF. South Entrance Latitude 33 20.7N, North Entrance 118 19.3W. Moorings for boats under 39 feet are $26 per night. Phone (310) 510-0535.
Whites Landing is a back up plan if Avalon moorings are full. You can make a mooring reservation at Whites Landing (including Isthmus area, Emerald Bay and Catalina Harbor) up to 90 days in advance. Reservation info (310) 510-4253. Two Harbors monitors VHF channel 9. A 30-39 foot boat will cost you $32 a night.
RETURN HOME: The return trip to San Diego Bay is my favorite. It’s a long downwind slide with the current. You will see a pod of dolphins in the morning. I like to leave at 5-6am. Another amazing visual is leaving the harbor as the sun rises, with the lights of the Casino fading into the distance. You can motor until 10 or 11am until the wind fills in. I hope you did not forget your downwind sails. Set the chute and enjoy the sun. It’s not uncommon to have a 6-8 hour spinnaker run in the summer. 10 to 12 hours is an average time for the trip home. With a little bit of luck you will be home before the sunset. San Diego Harbor entrance buoy (SD1) 32 37.20N, 117 14.45W. I can’t wait until my next trip.
Offshore emergency use US Coast Guard on VHF 16, (310) 833-1600.
Sea Tow and Vessel Assist monitor VHF 16.
Catalina Island Website: www.visitcatalinaisland.com
Two Harbors Website: www.VisitTwoHarbors.com