Adventures in SoCal (Part II): Catalina Island

Oye vey! Time has flown and every time I hope to post an update, I’m pulled away by a kid emergency (typically a fight), boat issue or life admin that needs my immediate attention or I’ve just done one of those things and am too wiped to post. Needless to say, much has transpired aboard Dakota since our last post.  As you may know from our short updates on Facebook and Instagram, we left Marina del Rey and headed toward Catalina Island.  By design, and upon advice from our friends and fellow cruisers, we were visiting Catalina Island in the off-season which meant we were able to take advantage of the “stay for 2, get 5 nights free” rate they offered after October 15th. So, all in all $100 for a week anchoring in Avalon, yay!  But first, we wanted to stop in Two Harbors.  So glad we did!

Two Harbors is the blissfully quiet and quaint town on the North end of the island. We stayed here for 2 nights at anchor and simply loved it. On our walkabout town, we spied a one-room schoolhouse (that appeared to still be in use), a long-deserted pay phone (which we had to explain to the boys was how we used to make calls before cell phones, ya know, in the “old” days!), and made the short jaunt on the isthmus of the island to check out the very protected Catalina Harbor (see below).

Taking the kids on a trip to the past – when cell phones weren’t how we phoned home in emergencies. Rather, we kept a dime in our shoes in case we needed to call home!
The dirt road isthmus between Two Harbors (where there are no paved roads) to Catalina Harbor on the west side of the island.

It was serene and beautiful and I enjoyed my quiet run along the fire trails that wound from Two Harbors to Fourth of July Cove and onto Cherry Cove–each more beautiful than the next. The remote and rugged nature of the fire trails was such an amazing contrast to the vibrant beauty and clarity of the water down below.  Perched high above Fourth of July Cove, I spotted a single sailboat (not pictured)–here the water was so clear that I could see the shadow of the boat underneath it and the anchorage so quiet I could hear them talking about their dinner plans from high above.  Amazed!

View of Two Harbors from my run on the fire trails

We were lucky to be in Two Harbors before the inundation of crowds coming in for the weekend (that weekend it was a particularly large, rambunctious group of boys and their dads on an organized Boy Scouts-like camping weekend, Star Wars themed no less!) Aannndd, cue our exit! It was time to move down the coast to the “Vegas” anchorage of Catalina – – Avalon.


Despite the naysayers who warned us that it was “Vegas-ey,” we loved it and I did not find it to be Vegas-ey in the least.  Does everyone drive golf carts around instead of cars? Sure, but I found that rather charming. Did they have a Vons? Yes. But I’m fine with that, a girl’s gotta eat! Did they have a laundromat?  Yup, also good.  They also have a newly-minted Catalina Island museum that we toured and loved, leveraging the opportunity to create an educational field trip for the kids and a fun break from the touristy hub-bub of town down by the ferry dock.  We all learned cool factoids about our locale (Did not know about the Natalie Woods boat death scandal on Catalina Island! And did not know that Marilyn Monroe lived on Catalina when she was still ‘just’ Norma Jean and married to her first husband!) The kids also had a great time on the scavenger hunt of facts they put together for the littles (with a prize at the end!)

I squeezed in a couple more gorgeous (albeit very hilly) runs and we walked all over the town of Avalon, eating plenty of yummy food and keeping the local ice cream shop in business with nightly visits. (so much for my cruiser’s diet?!)

We took the electric city bus for $1 and got a personalized and local-led guided tour of the town. We partook in a local happy hour on Taco Tuesday near the gorgeous botanical gardens and just enjoyed our time there. We also joined the town in their annual Harvest Festival, which supports the local schools whose students manage the fun booths and sell various yummy goodies. Local businesses join in and we picked up some delicious homemade hummus, tacos and baked goodies from the vendors.  The boys also got to have a bit of Fall with pumpkins and hay stacks, while the cool coastal weather provided the nip in the air, just like home!

During our time in Avalon, after much thought and reflection of our shake-down experience from our home port of San Francisco to Southern California, we also decided to skip the Baja-Haha official start date.  Lots of reasons why, but we had a ‘come-to-jesus’ talk about whether it was realistic for us to pull off the pace required (especially on the first leg of the race, about 368 n.m. in 3 days!) without any additional crew on board. The folks we had pinged to help us crew Dakota down (and make the 72-hour Leg 1 sail remotely manageable) were unable to make it after all (darned work!) and we did not feel comfortable picking up a random crew member from the race’s list at the last-minute (no time to get to know them, for our kids to feel comfortable with them, for us to feel comfortable having them on board with our kids, etc.)  But the pace wasn’t the only reason we decided to bow out of the race… our ever-growing list of necessary boat projects while we made the trip down to SoCal became un-doable in the time we had left before the Haha started.  So, after much hand-wringing and discussion, we called it midway through our time on Catalina.

That was the best decision we made! As soon as we made the call, we could breathe and just RELAX.  Not have to rush back to San Diego to start furious and stressful preparations to make an (arbitrary) deadline, plus we could stay in Avalon the rest of the week and just ENJOY Catalina.  And that we did.  Catalina Island is this other-worldly place that we could hardly believe! Pulling into Avalon, I felt like we were pulling into Positano on the Southern Italian coast.  The water was so clear, the fish were beautiful and plentiful–just looking off the side of the boat we could see 20-30 feet deep, we saw tons of Garibaldi (our fair state’s official fish!). . . . the anchorage was just pure utopia.

Being at anchor (“on the hook”) for a week also taught us some valuable lessons – – ones that helped solidify our decision to bow out of the official Baja-Haha start date. First, energy was our enemy.  While on the hook, we found ourselves depleting our house battery much more quickly than we should have been (house battery runs all DC power–primarily refrigeration– forget about AC power for anything that plugs into an outlet!)… that meant our refrigerator was killing our battery every day, which meant that we needed to start our engine every day to replenish it (and even then, the battery wasn’t getting nearly the charge it needed).  So, we decided that the first order of business when we sailed to San Diego was to deal with our energy situation.  We also needed to deal with our connectivity issues. And while we had lots of other things on our list of “to-do’s” in San Diego before leaving the U.S. for quite some time, we whittled it down to the following big ones:

  1. Get new batteries.  At first we thought that having someone come look at our batteries and test them might be a good idea.  But after spending a week on the hook and never really getting a good charge to hold on, and later calling the manufacturer to check the date the batteries were “born,” confirmed our suspicion that they were overdue for replacement. (Side note: getting new boat batteries is, OF COURSE, a big deal. These bad boys weigh 165 lbs EACH and there are two of them.  So, ordering new ones and having someone come take out the old ones, dispose of them and install the new ones is kiiinndda essential for our crew.  I, for one, cannot imagine trying to lift a battery as heavy as my husband and install it in the tiny and tight spaces the batteries need to go–and doing it 4 times (out for the 2 dead batteries and in for the 2 new batteries).
  2. Get solar and/or get a generator – The battery problem also confirmed for us that we needed an energy solution that was going to work for us in the long-term when we are on the hook.  While we have a wind generator on board (and fully functioning after much heartache while we were still docked in San Mateo!), the wind on our journey thus far, and where we expect to go, is so light (or non-existent) that we have to look at alternate energy sources. However, after getting to San Diego and inundating ourselves with these massive projects/installations, we weighed the pros and cons of buying/installing solar–some of which include: the drive to LA from San Diego to get the solar panels, having to rent a truck because they are so fragile and cannot be shipped by air, aannndd setting aside at least 2 days for installation aannnndd probably hiring installers to help us since we’ve got the littles to manage/educate/feed/take care of 24 hours a day.  On balance, we decided that given the amount of time we have left to cruise (we think), we needed to go with the quick and dirty solution–get a Honda generator.  So, that’s what we did.
  3. Get internet on the boat – One of the biggest lessons we learned along our shake-down cruise down the California coast is that unlocked/free wifi is difficult to get, even when we are docked right in front of the yacht club or marina providing the wifi with a password!  And while we hoped that the need for internet would not be a “need” but rather a “want,” we were proven wrong time and again.  We could not research our location (in advance or on the go) because we lacked internet to do so when we had time and we lacked time to do so when we had cellular reception.  So, we often got into port knowing nothing of what educational opportunities existed, unable to prepare any lessons or materials in advance (i.e., when the kids are ASLEEP!), and had to wing it–which often went awry as we struggled to get off the boat, into the dinghy, dock the dinghy, get onto land and to a place with a kid-friendly activity and with any educational value, or even entertainment value!
    Not to mention all the other things we were unable to tend to–like property management issues, financial issues, tax issues, and general life admin issues.  Last, but not least, we needed the internet for a much larger portion of our educational needs than we previously planned for or thought. Not having internet became not only a hindrance but a major HANDICAP.  So, internet was the final piece of the puzzle upon getting to San Diego.
    Thanks to our new friends Bloom, we learned of a (fairly) complex wifi/cellular boosting solution that provides the best of everything–boosting free wifi when available, boosting a cell signal when available and being able to adapt the cellular modem to SIM cards from different countries (i.e., unlocked modem).  And while the system is not particularly cheap or easy to install (it took me a total of about 3 days to install, with professional help to drill a new hole in the boat for the wires and re-wire our electrical panel to include a DC switch for the internet), it is *highly* effective.  I HEART my new internet system.  So, a HUGE thank you to Bloom and to Phil M. of Coastal Marine Wifi for your hours of hand-holding, personal support and sincere concern in getting Dakota connected!!

Needless to say, we had plenty to  do upon arriving in San Diego… but for the time being, we adored Catalina Island and would recommend it to anyone!  Even if you don’t come by your own boat, there is a high-speed ferry that departs regularly (particularly during high season) from Long Beach.  And while many people do a day trip here, but I’d recommend at least 1 overnight so you can really enjoy all that there is to see and do…. and bonus! If it’s your birthday, you can ride the ferry over for free and get tons of free food/drink throughout Avalon on your birthday!  

Let me leave you with this little gem of our loves walking (sans footwear) along the trail after a fun day at Descanso Beach Club back to the boat (by way of the Catalina Casino, a fascinating place in and of itself!)

My favorite pic of our time on Catalina Island–and the reason we are doing this! #brothersforever


4 thoughts on “Adventures in SoCal (Part II): Catalina Island

  1. sounds like you’ve been rolling with the punches and adapting on the fly — and it sounds like you’re doing it well. Congrats on opting out of the race! You can develop your skills this year and do it another year like pros.

    Love the pic of the boys with their arms around each other in their bare feet. Priceless.

    Keep up the updates, please!


  2. I was beginning to worry – you were so faithful in posting frequently, then nothing for what seemed like forever. There will be another time for the race – love the picture of the boys.


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