Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Catalina Island

Our time in the Channel Islands was beautiful, relaxing and enjoyable, but we were running low on fresh water and clean laundry (not to mention getting a bit stinky!) So we headed over to Channel Island Harbor, near Oxnard—our first stop on the southern Californian mainland. There wasn’t an anchorage available in the busy harbor, but we needed shore-side amenities anyway, so we pulled into Channel Islands Marina, on the west side of the harbor. The harbormaster sent us to a nice slip, just at the base of the ramp near the shower/laundry building. The girls took advantage of the shore power and played on the computer while Bryan and I walked to town. As it turned out, town was on the east side of the harbor, so it was quite a walk, up to the head of the bay and across a bridge to the other side.

After leaving the islands and coming back into cell phone range, we picked up several voicemails, one from my sister-in-law asking if there was any chance we would be in the LA area over the weekend. She had plans to bring our niece down on a college visit and they were hoping to get in a few minutes with us while they were in the area. Our tentative itinerary had us in Redondo Beach over the weekend, plenty close enough to meet up. But that gave us just one day in the marina to get all of our boat chores done. We spent the morning cleaning the boat and running up and down the ramp to change the laundry and get everyone through the shower. In the afternoon, we loaded everyone up with backpacks and walked to town for provisions. We made the mistake of stopping at a Big Lots store first, on the off chance that they had shoes (Hannah’s are so worn out, they make disturbing frog-like noises when she walks), but instead found good deals on lots of food. We don’t usually buy DVDs. In fact, we probably only own 10 or so. But we do enjoy watching something occasionally, so we thumbed through the discount stack and scored some old favorites for $3 or $5 each (Princess Bride! How did we not already own it?!) We had looked into online rentals you could download (since streaming is beyond the capabilities of all the internet we’ve run across so far and we don’t expect it to get better as we head south of the border) but the site we’d been investigating had lousy selection and worse customer service. So we couldn’t pass up a few cheap DVDs for the price of a rental.
We took our haul out to the sidewalk and divided it among our backpacks. It was a long evening lugging them around to the hardware store and West Marine, but we rewarded ourselves with Panda Express for dinner and, refortified, marched back to the boat singing silly songs and Christmas carols all the way.

We had a lot of miles to cover to make it to Redondo Beach in time, so we planned to leave early the next morning. First though, I walked to a nearby convenience store (OK, nearby is relative these days), bought a half gallon of milk, and we had cereal and happy girls for breakfast. on our way south, we ran into a large and persistent pod of porpoises that stuck around for several hours. It was a pretty easy day and, despite the confusing lights of the city on shore, a pretty easy entrance just after sunset. The harbor patrol met us at a sea-lion-infested dock (they all dove in, barking, as we pulled up) and we filled out the paperwork for our free anchoring permit. It was great to be able to stay in the protected harbor for free, while still knowing someone was keeping an eye on the boat and would call us if something went wrong.

The next day, we rowed in and met our family for a few brief, precious hours of pier-walking and catching up.

As they left, they dropped Bryan off at a nearby 7-11 to pick up an Amazon order we’d had shipped to the Amazon Locker there. It was a pretty slick system! The only drawback for us was the limited hold time; if we didn’t make it there within 3 days, our stuff would be shipped back. But our packages were there, with all the necessities we’d ordered for heading into Mexico—new communications devices for Bryan, and knitting counters and books for our November birthday girl.
As easy as picking up a Redbox video!

The girls and I walked to the grocery store to fill out our Big Lots purchases with some fresh produce and Bryan met us there on the way back to help carry stuff back to the dinghy.

That night, Bryan and I rowed over to the docks and walked to the nearest Starbucks for cheap internet access. They closed before we expected, so we popped across the street to the McDonalds in hopes of finishing our downloads. The McDonalds was undergoing construction and didn’t have any indoor seating (or restroom access!) but we logged on from the curb outside and finished up. We must have looked more with-it than we felt; some turned-around tourists even stopped to ask us directions!
We spent most of the next day doing dishes and stowing groceries, but by evening, we settled in for a family movie night—Maverick! The girls went to bed exclaiming over the surprise plot twists at the end, reliving earlier scenes with their new knowledge.
Installing an LED anchor light

The next day, the winds were supposed to be a little high, 15-25 knots, but the swells were still relatively small compared to our experiences earlier in the trip so, despite the small craft advisory, we left early in the morning for Catalina Island. They call it a small craft advisory, but our small craft did just fine. My tummy, on the other hand, wasn’t so happy with the bouncing around. Bryan graciously let me sleep it off for a few hours and then we traded watches for the last couple of hours into Catalina Harbor.

We’d heard Catalina Harbor, on the west side of the island, was a lot less populated than the main harbor on the east side, closer to the mainland. We found a spot to anchor outside all the empty mooring buoys and settled in for the night. After a long day of travel, setting an anchor (or, in this case, setting both anchors to keep us from swinging into other boats, fishing platforms, or the nearby cliffs) can be tiring and nerve-wracking. We came in just at dusk, but the light quickly faded as we tried to find a safe spot. Lately, Hannah has been helping lift and lower the anchor, so instead of squinting at the dark and worrying about the cliffs, I left her on deck to assist the captain and went below to make dinner. By the time we were set, dinner was hot and ready and I was calm enough to enjoy it. We may have to make this a new tradition!
In the morning, Meira rowed us to shore for a walk over to the small town of Two Harbors. It was an easy row, but rather long, so I read aloud to us in between exclaiming over diving pelicans and other colorful sea life. Two Harbors is likely a bustling place during the busy summer season, but on this, mid-week, off-season afternoon, there was not a whole lot going on. We found a playground across the dirt road from the local school, sat on the swings for a bit (Meira lifting her feet to avoid the “mud puddles and their squashy environs.”) and then Hannah took a turn rowing us back.
The next day, we motored on around the island to the main harbor of Avalon.

We met the friendly Harbor Patrol, who showed us to our assigned mooring buoy and helped us get tied up. The buoys are privately owned, but the owner must give a day’s notice that they plan to use it, so the harbor can rent them out on a day-to-day basis to visiting yachts. We’ve picked up mooring buoys before, but never used one like this, with a tie on both bow and stern. It was pretty foolproof though, with its tall pick-up stick at the bow and long trailing line back to the stern.
Before we could even head below, a man from a neighboring boat rowed over to greet us. He is from the area and had lots of helpful information about the island. He must have sized up our interests pretty quickly, because instead of suggesting fancy restaurants or shopping, he told us about a volunteer opportunity with the Catalina Island Conservancy organization. We rowed to shore and walked to their office to check it out. Every Thursday, a driver takes a van of volunteers up to Middle Ranch, an area in the interior of the island, to spend the morning working at the native plant nursery. We’d come at just the right time! Usually, a tour of the interior costs upwards of $40 a person, so we were intrigued by the thought of staying an extra night for the chance to join the volunteers. We made a few phone calls while taking a self-guided walking tour of the town, and by evening, it was all arranged.


We decided against going out to eat, but splurged on some meat for the grill and a package of salad, both rare commodities on a boat without refrigeration. I’d mixed up some flatbread dough earlier in the day and Bryan grilled the meat and then the bread on the back deck. It was even warm enough to eat outside, watching sea lions chase the schools of fish around in the clear blue water around the boat.

We’d been warned several times that the driver, Whitey, would leave promptly at 7:30 AM, so we went to bed early and set several alarms. Everyone was out of bed by 10 to 6 and we bustled about, bumping into each other in the pre-dawn light. Bryan fried bagels while I threw together a pasta salad for lunch. By 7:00, the sun was coming up and we, bundled against the morning chill, were in the dinghy, rowing for shore, and enjoying the last of the morning colors. We pulled up in Splitpea to the already packed dinghy dock and hopped over the other boats to tie her up. We walked up the hill the few blocks to the conservancy parking lot and met up with the other volunteers.
The drive into the interior was a treat! The roads here are strictly controlled, with a limited number of interior permits granted each year. So we rode up the hills and down the canyons like little owls, swiveling our heads to take in each new vista.
The morning’s work too, was quite enjoyable. It started out cold, but as we worked, the sun came out and we soon had a pile of discarded clothes on a side table. Meira and Bryan broke up and sieved some mossy dirt, Hannah winnowed seeds, and I transplanted seedlings to trays while Bob Marley and R&B blared in the background. On our way up, we’d seen evidence of recent fires and spotted the native plants the conservancy had used to replant the damaged areas. It was a privilege to get to be one tiny part of the good work they do to preserve Catalina for future generations.

After our work was over, we returned to the harbor. We’d brought a lunch, but forgot to pack forks. Fortunately, one of the other volunteers overheard our dilemma and brought some from his house to a local park. We invited him to eat with us and enjoyed hearing more about what brought him to the island and what life was like for him there, in the strange blend of remote-small-town and busy-tourist-destination.
The town was full of, as our boat neighbor said, “…ways to separate people from their money,” but the ubiquitous ice cream shops were becoming irresistible. We solved the problem with a up a tub of ice cream from the grocery store (coming to consensus on ice cream makes living in small spaces together look easy!) and took it back to the boat to devour before it melted.
We’d heard that the local kids put on a Halloween Parade down the main drag, so the girls rustled up some costumes from around the boat. Meira transformed herself into a vampire and Hannah brought a notebook and pencil and declared herself a journalist. We all enjoyed watching the small animals/characters/superheroes flit down the street. When the parade was over, the girls joined in the trick-or-treating fun at a few of the nearby shops while Bryan and I snuck away to a beachfront cafĂ© for grown-up treats—coffee and an empanada. I can’t wait to see where and how we’ll end up celebrating other holidays this year!

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