Friday, April 1, 2016

No crowds during California's winter

Avalon on Catalina Island. The mooring field is starting to fill up for the weekend.
Cruising California in the off season is the bomb. Every place we stop to anchor or tie up not only has room for us, but welcomes us -- sometimes with off-season rates. And the weather is about the same as the Northwest's best summer days; sunny, dry and mid-60s to 70s.

We were only going to stay in Santa Barbara for a couple of days but I caught a cold and we stayed a nearly a week with no problems. We've heard from other cruisers that during the summer, slips in Santa Barbara are hard to get and good luck trying to extend your stay. It is the city's only marina and in a wonderful location, so it's not hard to understand why slips are in demand.
Virginia explores Pelican Bay on Santa Cruz Island. 
The couple who keep their boat in the slip next to us spoke glowingly about the beauties of Santa Cruz Island across the channel from Santa Barbara. They recommended we anchor at Pelican Bay, which is usually crowded during the summer months. We sailed across the channel and found only one other boat with which we had to share this idyllic anchorage.
Beautiful Santa Cruz Island.

We were there for two nights when we heard a weather report of gale-force winds that would hit the island. So we sailed to King Harbor at Redondo Beach. No slips were available, but we spent the night on one of four mooring balls for transient yachts. We were the only boat at the mooring field and there were no boats in the anchorage inside the breakwater. This small marina is a gem, but we didn't have the time or inclination to explore it. Still feeling a little punky from my cold, I didn't want to unlash and launch the dinghy.
Seabirds line the breakwater at sunset on the King Harbor breakwater.
We wished someone had warned us about the mooring balls in California. I'm sure we were great entertainment for people onshore as we tried to figure out why this ball had a funny wand in the water and no way to tie to the top of the ball! The trick is to grab the wand, pull it up on deck and use the pendent attached to it to hoist up the mooring line to loop over the bow cleat. Then you follow another smaller line to a loop you then put on the stern cleat. Important safety tip: wear gloves.

Shoreline Village Marina in Long Beach. The harbor is also known as TransPac Harbor with signs detailing the history of that great yacht race.
The next morning we sailed the short hop to Long Beach and the Shoreline Village Marina. This marina is right in the middle of restaurants, shops, walkways, parks and not far from from the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of The Pacific. (You can read about our visit to the aquarium here.) At night, twinkling lights lit up the businesses and structures in the nearby park. We felt like we were docked in the middle of Main Street Disneyland. We could even see a Ferris wheel from our boat.

We weathered a pretty good storm, with gale-force winds, rain and thunder and felt secure; the boat hardly moved. In the morning the marina was filled with garbage washed down the LA River into Long Beach Harbor. It was pretty grim. Most of it was reeds and branches, but much of it was plastic: water bottles, plastic sacks and wrappers of every description. Single-use plastic is evil. We stayed four nights and by the time we left most of the garbage was cleaned up.

We found the gas dock at marina next door was convenient place to fuel up. Their diesel price was the least expensive we've come across and the attendant was helpful and friendly. He told us stories about other cruisers he'd met including a family of four from France who set off for French Polynesia after buying fuel.

Two Harbors on Catalina Island.
Long Beach is right across the water from Catalina Island so we decided to spend a few days there. As a kid I always wanted to visit Catalina during our vacations to Southern California. Our good friend back in Newport, Chris, also insisted we not miss it.

"Don't go to Avalon" was a phrase we heard often while at Long Beach. "It's crowded, expensive and hard to get a mooring ball." So we decided to stay at Two Harbors. The mooring field at Two Harbors is lovely and deserted in the winter time. We spent two nights... two very rolly expensive nights. At $50 a night, it was more expensive than most marinas. We were glad to leave that harbor.
Oceanus moored in Avalon Harbor with the amazing Casino, which was never used for gambling.
We sailed two hours to Avalon and paid the harbor patrol $84 for two nights. The harbor patrolman said, "our winter special is pay two nights and get the next five free." We like free so we stayed a week on Avalon and loved it. The mooring field was less than half full, it was quiet and we slept well every night. Best of all there is plenty to see and do.

The harborside of Avalon. In the background is the entrance to the walkway to the Casino and the Avalon Yacht Club.
From our mooring we watched people walking along the shops and restaurants that front the harbor. Most of the brick-paved streets near the harbor are pedestrian only and most of the vehicles on the island are propane-powered golf carts. Up the hill from the harbor is a chime tower that struck the hours and each quarter hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. On one end of the harbor we could see the monumental Casino building built in the art deco style of the 1930s and at the other end we could watch the ferries come and go from the mainland.

On shore we visited some of the shops, but we really had no interest in most of them. We have everything we could want. We did find a great Ace Hardware store packed with an astonishing selection of practical items. I finally found the perfect nozzle for our hose to replace the one we left on the dock at Newport. I've been looking for the right one in every port since we left. Best of all it cost only $3.

The botanical gardens on Catalina Island.
Each day we did something: visited the botanical gardens; went to the Tuesday night half-price movie so we could see the fantastic theater inside the Casino; rented a golf cart for an hour so we could tour around Avalon in style; walked to fill our propane bottle, and attended church in a meeting room in the U.S. Bank building. Part of the fun was rowing to and from the dinghy dock to get ashore and visiting with the other boaters along the way. The water was so clear we could see the bottom most of the time. We saw a bat ray and several bright orange Garibaldi fish. I spent an enjoyable afternoon snorkeling around the boat cleaning off the grunge from Long Beach Harbor and checking her bottom.

Friday was the last night of our stay in Avalon and the little harbor filled up with yachts including several from a Southern California yacht club having their spring cruise. The main party boat was next door to Oceanus and at one time had eight dinghies tied up to it. The nice thing about yachties is that most of them are older and the party was all but over by 9:30 p.m.

The next day we headed to Dana Point Marina for two days to visit friends. It's a beautiful marina. They were also very accommodating when we needed to change our reservation because we stayed longer than we planned at Avalon.

Then it was on to San Diego. As we came close to the entrance to the bay we saw two islands... two Mexican islands!
Oceanus was one of only three yachts tied up to the Police Dock in San Diego. During the fall this place is packed.