Back to Home Page



Ahoy from your intrepid circumnavigators!
(Ha! And you thought we weren’t getting anywhere, didn’t you?)
We left Marina del Rey on a beautiful sunny, but very cold, day with light winds. Not that you can tell, really, but that’s Malibu behind Paul in the picture above.

Our expectations were to stay two days at San Pedro Bay (Long Beach) and then head out to Santa Catalina Island. However, as we left Marina del Rey we saw a beautiful mackerel sky. Given the sailor’s adage that a mackerel sky presages rain 3-4 days away we had the heads up that our stay in Long Beach might be extended beyond our desires! (Thank you Lu Able and the Power Squadron Weather Class!)

San Pedro Bay is massively large – and it is populated by ships that are massively large as well. Little boats like ours are just specks of dust to them – with no right of way and no considerations. Merchant ships rule San Pedro Bay! And they are stacked outside of the bay waiting for an opportunity to get in. The radio traffic is a cacophony of foreign voices arranging for a pilot to guide them in. (We understand that Walmart pays big bucks on the side to get their ships to the head of the line.)


San Pedro Bay has a very long 7.5 mile breakwater (yup, 7.5 miles, that’s a whole lotta rock) with 3 opportunities to enter the bay. The entire affair is so long that each opening has its own lighthouse! Pleasure craft like ours need to pay close attention before attempting to navigate into (or across) one of the openings. Going north to south (really west to east at this point of the coastline), the first section is called the San Pedro breakwater and it ends at the Los Angeles light. As you can see below, a merchant vessel a little larger than us claimed prior rights to this opening in the breakwater. That’s the Los Angeles Light right in front of him in the first picture. Below that, we see him turning to come toward us, as we are crossing the shipping lane. Debi, the navigator, was most unhappy at this point in time. That ship was moving way faster than our measly 6 knots and WAY too close for her tastes. Paul, the captain outvoted her and decided to go for it!
[What happened next Uncle Pete?. . . . .]
[Captain’s aside to Jon: Yup, you can see how close it was! She is such a fraidy cat. I didn’t even get the 5 horn salute that you got trying to outrun that merchant vessel in the Alameda estuary and I didn’t see her nagging at you.]

The second section of the breakwater extended for another 3 miles, ending with the Long Beach light. We were able to slip into this one, which suited us just fine. It gave us an opportunity to scoot across the bay to see the Queen Mary up close.
Between the Queen Mary and Alamitos Bay Marina (our destination at the south-east end of Los Padres Bay) are several islands, two named for astronauts (Islands Grissom & White). From a distance they look like your stereotypical palm tree studded islands. Up close you can see they are man-made oil rigs decorated to look like islands so as to cause the least amount of offense as possible. (We thought John McLemore might appreciate the judicious use of palm trees down this way.)
As predicted by the mackerel skies, our stay at Alamitos Bay was wet, soggy and longer than 2 days! We had debated going to Catalina anyways, but it was a good thing we stayed put, as they had miserable weather out there: 6 foot waves entering Avalon Bay, one boat lost.

The pups were not enamored of Alamitos Bay because of the strict adherence to leash laws and the lack of grassy areas or swimming holes. Their favorite day was when we rented a car for a shopping trip to Minnies (a clearing house for used boating stuff). What a strange feeling for us to be on a freeway again – and an LA freeway, the 405, at that!

At the first sign of good weather we cast off from our end tie at Alamitos Bay and headed out for our Catalina Island adventure.

Santa Catalina Island is only about 28 miles away from California but it is a world apart from the mainland. It is also pretty small in size: just over 18 miles long; 7 miles across at its widest point, ½ mile wide at the isthmus, its narrowest point. Our trip out was uncomfortable for everyone: not enough wind to set the sails and too much swell on the beam to keep us on a steady keel. Ugh! But the weather was dry, the skies weren’t too overcast and before too long we were able to see the island in the distance. On a clear day, you can see the island from the mainland but there was too much haze that day. In the picture below, can you see a large faint white splotch in the center of the land? It is a mega-condo complex. So large, it is listed as a navigation aid in the guide books!
As we got closer, we realized we weren’t the only ones visting Avalon that day. Talk about big boats getting in your way!
Avalon is a magical city, designed for tourists. Its main feature is the “casino” which, in this case refers not to a gambling institution but the Italian derivation of “gathering place.” It was built to be a large music and dance hall. The wooden floor is actually suspended from the ceiling so as to provide the most pleasant dancing experience possible.
The casino is one of the first things you see on approaching Avalon. But it is not until you get up close to it that you realize what a stunning example of Art Deco it is:




The town of Avalon is very pretty, with lots of fountains and tile decorations.




And almost everyone drives a golf cart or electric vehicle. (Your kind of place, Mom.)
Unfortunately, Avalon is NOT dog friendly, with no dogs allowed on the beach, on the cobblestone walkways, etc. etc. etc. So, when we found a dog friendly woman who ran an electric car rental agency, we grabbed the chance to explore the areas around Avalon proper. (Lazy Max particularly enjoyed the opportunity to get off his paws!)
We saw the harbor from high above (can you spot Serenity below?),
we found a large Pet Cemetery (“Sydney, a good and faithful dog”; “ET a sweet Catalina Cat”),
and a lovely spot to play stick with the boys on the grounds just outside the Wrigley Foundation grounds (that’s Wrigley of the chewing gum fame, no dogs allowed inside, of course):
It wasn’t all fun and games for us, however. On the trip out we had discovered that one of the spreader lights had come loose from its bracket. We decided to flip a coin on who would make the repair. Debi got the coin, Debi flipped the coin, Debi called it and here we have Paul climbing the mast:
Remember that mega condo complex we used to navigate our way to Avalon? Here it is up close, so big it could qualify as its own city! We checked out some prices for Mom and Bob. An interior (i.e., no view) 1 bedroom, 700 square foot unit can be had for just $650K. Ain’t that a deal!
After two nights in Avalon, we decided to begin our journey around the island. With big NW swells predicted from a low system north of us, we abandoned our original plans to travel in a clockwise fashion around the island and went counterclockwise instead, going from Avalon to Isthmus Cove and using the island itself to shelter us from the NW swells. It was a beautiful day of sailing. Winds were 15-19 knots but coming directly on the nose for where we wanted to go, so we had a long day of tacking close to and away from shore. We didn’t mind, however, we were sailing in sunny warm weather and as long as we made it to our destination prior to sunset we would be happy! Here we are approaching Isthmus Cove after lowering the sails:
The cove reminded us of Hawaii. When we mentioned this to one of the locals, he pointed out in return that the hill behind is where Charlton Heston picked up the 10 Commandments.
And what a great place for the boys. No leashes, lots of play time on the beach and lots of long walks. There were only dirt roads, one small grocery store and a restaurant with bar. And it was also very quiet here, there were at most 4 boats moored in the cove at any one point in time.
It was a great opportunity for the pups to get more familiar using the dinghy to get from boat to land.
At this point, the island is at its narrowest, so we could walk from the side where we were moored in Isthmus Cove over to Catalina Harbor where we would be mooring next. On land, it was just a ½ mile walk. Via boat it was a 15 nautical mile sail!
Max found a rope swing that kept him entertained for quite awhile!
Catalina Harbor was our next stop. Cat Harbor (as the locals call it) is one of three designated natural harbors. This is according to the local harbor patrol man. We never did find out what the other two are, however. If anyone knows, please let us know! At any rate, we were there at the new moon when the tides were at their lowest and highest.

And what do you do if there are no haul-out facilities near by? You check the tide tables and coordinate a planned grounding, gathering all of your friends to quick work while the tide is out:
From Cat Harbor, we continued our counterclockwise journey around the island, returning to Avalon Bay for one more night. Thus completing our first ever circumnavigation. And that’s one for the books!
We had been one week at Catalina Island and would have loved to be there longer, but another high was developing on the mainland and that tends to bring on those pesky Santa Ana winds, so we decided to head on back. Our trip back to the mainland was in one sense more of the same (no wind) but also very unusual because of no swells. The ocean was flat as glass.
What a surprise then to see a long line of breaking waves in the distance when we were still 10 miles from the mainland. The chart said the water should be well over 400 feet deep, so we were really confused. We slowed way down and approached the turbulent water with binoculars in hand.
It turned out to be another magical moment: a school, about ½ mile long, of dolphin. Swimming all together in a long line. So many of them jumping in and out of the water that it looked like breaking waves. We stopped all forward movement. It was a surreal moment, being out there in the middle of nowhere and having to stop to let the cross traffic go by. By the time the resident photographer got her wits back together, only the stragglers were left so the resultant picture doesn’t do the episode justice at all!
Our next stop was Newport Beach. Talk about another surreal experience!
Newport Beach has well over 6,000 boats and not a single marina! The house developers obviously got their dibs in before the commercial developers. Almost every linear inch of shore space (including the islands) is some person’s home and each home has its own pier with at least one boat. That probably accounts for one or two thousand of the boats.
And what about the other four or five thousand? They are all at a mooring in the bay. Everywhere you look there are boats at mooring:

Even if you join one of the ritzy yacht clubs, you still can’t get your own slip; you just get a mooring in their section of the bay. In fact, it seemed to us that the only real benefit of joining a yacht club was to use the club’s tender to get to and from your boat for your weekend sail. Just think of 5,000 boats at mooring. Someplace, somewhere, in this town and the surrounding areas are close to that many tenders tucked around in someone’s car or stuck in their garage. What a concept!
But we really enjoyed Newport. The lighted boat parade (4 nights of it) was beyond belief.

And at only $5 per day for us it was the best deal around! And, Mom, you gotta love a place that has a retirement home for cats!
As we write this update, we have rounded Dana Point and are staying at Dana Point Marina.

We had hoped there would be more boating maintenance facilities here, but it is all restaurants and tourist shops. One cool thing is a reproduction of the Pilgrim, the ship captained by Henry Richard Dana. Captain Dana is responsible for some of the early navigation records of the coast of California. He was also the author of Two Years Before the Mast.
Our plans are to now head down to San Diego (with a stop off in Oceanside). We’ll stay a week or two at Shelter Island and try to get some more work completed on Serenity prior to heading in to Mexico. Primarily, we need to add some solar panels, get that temperamental SSB working and figure out some rigging strategies for our new staysail.
Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season!


Remember: Not all who wander are lost.


Copyright © 2004 Shaimas. All rights reserved. Last updated 12/21/04