Santa Catalina Island appeared on the horizon first as a dark smudge above the swells in the early afternoon light, right where it should be. We had ghosted out of the Channel Islands Harbor early in the morning, breaking the strange hold of the place with the quiet thrum of the diesel. After the excitement and social days of our trip from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, pulling into the homey and well appointed marina at Channel Islands lulled us into a comfortable ease that was hard to leave. If not for Brian’s looming return to the real world we could have easily spent a couple of weeks there enjoying the easy access to services and flat, flat water.
From a distance Catalina island looked much like the brown, mountainous mainland. As we came closer though, the lack of population stood out starkly. The hills rose steeply from the dark blue ocean, steep and arid. From the deck of Pura Vida the island was beautiful and imposing. We approached from the North, intent on picking up a mooring at Two Harbors anchorage. Two Harbors is solidly in the middle of the island, at a narrow waist of land the chart declares the isthmus, a narrow strip of land connecting the two ovals of Catalina Island. The substantial northwest swell quickly diminished as we sailed into the lee of the island and continued to fade as we got closer to the island.
The entrance is easy, well marked on the chart and bounded clearly to port by a huge rock the local birds have decorated heavily with their white droppings. We hailed the harbor master on the VHF and were quickly greeted by a friendly voice that directed us into a mooring near the beach.
Brian was not in the mood for the canned ravioli I offered for dinner so after securely tying up to a mooring we dropped the dinghy and went ashore to the towns only restaurant. Two Harbors is a place of ones. One restaurant, one snack stand, one bar, one general store, one dive shop, and one laundry. One is more than enough. Standing on shore I felt like I’d arrived at summer camp and was happy to be there. The deck of the restaurant overlooks a sandy beach lined with palm trees. Buildings are exposed wood and decking sporting summer pastels. The warm evening air and quiet of the place made me feel like we stepped back in time and entered a place our grandparents would have felt right at home.
After several fantastic days working our way through the menu at the restaurant and exploring the air by foot, kayak, and fin I persuaded Brian that we must spend at least one night in the fabled Avalon before continuing south to San Diego. Reluctantly he agreed and we left mid morning for the 10 mile hop south.
Avalon is pretty, but lacks the charm Two Harbors holds for us. A cruise ship was anchored outside the mooring field as we approached and Brian strongly considered bypassing Avalon altogether in favor of San Diego. I’d come too far to just sail by, so I insisted we stay. By the next morning the cruise ship had left so we ventured out to check out the sights. The botanical gardens provided a good stretch of the legs and a glimpse into the myriad of plants that can survive on minimal water. We hopped on the loop bus up the hill to the gardens, and opted to walk the downhill stretch back to town and dinghy back to the boat. Crazy lovers of the night life we are, we venture out later to a movie at the old casino to round out the evening where I fall asleep on Brian’s shoulder.
We left in the late afternoon en route for San Diego. The plan was to sail overnight and arrive sometime mid-morning. We underestimated Pura Vida’s speed and arrived well before sunup. General wisdom agrees that entering a strange harbor at night is a bad idea so we took in some sail to slow down and wait for sunup before entering the channel. 14 short hours after departing we were docked in San Diego and pining for Santa Catalina island.