Fall Sailing Adventure to Catalina Island

A friend once said he’d never met anyone on a boat he didn’t like. With our Fall sail to Catalina Island completed, I have to say I agree with him. Sailing seems to bring out the best in people. On this trip some of us were old friends and some were new. We all brought different interests, talents and ideas to the table. It was a fun group of people to sail with! Here’s the story of our adventure.

Morning coffee on the pier in Isthmus Cove Catalina Island

Clear Sunny Weather for our Fall Sailing Trip

We planned our trip this year for the weekend before Thanksgiving, and to return in time to prepare for the holiday. It’s Thanksgiving Day today, and as I write this I’m looking out the window at a dark and rainy Los Angeles. I’m thankful for the t-shirt weather we experienced on our trip, because today it feels like a distant memory. It makes me smile to think that just days ago we sailed from Marina Del Rey in warm sunshine on our Fall adventure. Seven people who’s paths might never have crossed if not for our mutual interest in sailing.

Our crew getting excited about our arrival in Avalon

A Real Chore – Parking and Loading Up Our Boat

It was painfully early Saturday morning when we met in the Marina Del Rey parking lot. I had promised everyone free parking at dock 52 for the duration, but we all found ourselves staring at a brand new sign saying “No overnight parking without written permission.” Well who on earth gives this written permission? None of us knew. In trying to save time, I’d arranged for the boat checkout to be done the day before. This way we could focus on loading up and getting under way, and our newest challenge – parking. It sure sounds simple to load up a boat and set sail, but with the parking challenges in Marina Del Rey and the distance from our cars to the boat we didn’t leave the slip until 10:30.

Our Sailboat for the Weekend ‘Altair’

Our charter sailboat was ‘Altair’, a beautifully maintained 2007 Jeanneau 42i with three cabins and two heads. There’s something about the way these boats sail that I really like. I’m not sure why, but they seem to just carve through the water and don’t creak or groan as much as other yachts. This one had a 4 cylinder Yanmar diesel engine, furling mainsail and dual helm. The electronics and autopilot were Raymarine E-Series. Overall a beautiful boat, and we were in for a fantastic weekend with clear weather.

Altair moored in Isthmus Cove, Catalina Island

The wind forecast was not looking good, with less than 10 knots all weekend. But the weather was beautiful and clear. We left the Marina Del Rey breakwater south entrance at 10:30 and headed for Avalon under power, motoring at 7 knots. With 37 nautical miles ahead of us our time en-route would be 5-6 hours. It’s not quite a straight shot from Marina Del Rey, as we needed to pass the ES2 buoy off El Segundo and then the PV buoy off Rancho Palos Verdes, before making the channel crossing to Avalon.

Sailing to Avalon Harbor Catalina Island

When approaching from the Northwest, there is a dip in the hills on left side of Catalina which is a good landmark for approaching Avalon. As you get within 10 miles the Casino building is visible, then the right turn into Avalon harbor. We had no problem getting a mooring, as it was relatively deserted. I guess the weekend before Thanksgiving is not a popular one? We were all tied up and relaxing by 16:00 as the sun disappeared behind the hillside.

Approaching Avalon from Marina Del Rey

Being all settled in, several of us decided to hop in the dinghy and head to shore. Our mooring was really close to the dock, and we looked forward to a walk around Avalon. It was getting dark so most of the shops were closing, but we did manage to find some souvenirs before heading to the Avalon Grille for dinner. Dinner was a nice and the waiter was helpful. He explained all about how much of Catalina’s drinking water is desalinated, which was really interesting. It tasted good to me! I never would have guessed.

Boats moored in Avalon harbor

Heading back to the boat some of us turned in for the night while the rest of us spent some time relaxing in the cockpit. The night sky was clear and we could see tons of stars in the sky. The forecast showed weather coming in but for the moment it almost felt like spring. There’s nothing quite like the quiet out there at night, with nothing but the sound of the water splashing up against the hull.

Avalon from our boat at night

The next morning, we headed to shore to investigate the pumpout and water facilities. I hadn’t used them in Avalon before. The fuel dock and pumpout/water dock are two different places at the foot of the Casino building on the West side of the bay. With only one quarter of the moorings occupied it was easy for us to get over there and back up to the pumpout dock. A friendly Harbor Patrol boat brought us a hose to fill our water tanks, which seemed to empty rather quickly.

Sailing From Avalon to Two Harbors

At about 10:00 we left Avalon and headed West along the coast for Two Harbors. We sailed in light winds and enjoyed a fantastic lunch underway. This trip we were particularly lucky to have a crew member who wanted to do the provisioning and prepare meals. We all ate really well! I don’t think any of the crew went hungry the entire time.

Enjoying lunch while sailing along the Catalina coast

Anchoring in Goat Harbor Catalina Island

On our way to Two Harbors we stopped at remote Goat Harbor, tucked in behind some rocks and anchored. It was a bit chilly for swimming but that didn’t stop our Chef who brought his snorkel gear and went exploring. This is a boat in campground and we had it all to ourselves.

Anchored in Goat Harbor between Avalon and Two Harbors

A Beautiful Sunset at Catalina Harbor

Arriving in Two Harbors we found it even more deserted than Avalon. With it being Sunday afternoon I’m guessing most people had left to prepare for Thanksgiving. We took the dinghy to shore and walked across the Isthmus to Cat Harbor. The sun was getting low in the sky and made wonderful colors on the water. Catalina Harbor is a quiet, special place where you can really feel ‘off the grid.’ One day we’ll sail there around the west end.

Sunset in Catalina Harbor at The Isthmus

Dinner at the Harbor Reef Restaurant

That night with all the good food we’d enjoyed on our trip, not everyone wanted to go to dinner at the Harbor Reef Restaurant. But of course I did, it’s such a fun place and reminds me of a 1960s South Seas B movie. After dinner when we returned to the boat, half the crew had already turned in for the night so the rest of us sat outside enjoying the dark starry night. I woke at about 15:00 to the wind whistling and water splashing. Going above deck I imagined what it would be like when the forecasted weather arrived. With the swell and wind coming in from the Northeast this peaceful place could be total chaos, but of course we would be long gone by then.

View of Two Harbors from our boat in Isthmus Cove

Sailing Back to Marina Del Rey from Isthmus Cove

Getting home on Monday to Marina Del Rey the wind was mostly dead in the channel, but we motored at about 7 knots and finally sailed once we reached the Redondo Beach area and Redondo Canyon. We saw very little wildlife on this trip but a few dolphins did visit, and fortunately it wasn’t too cold. Upon arrival at Marina Del Rey it was about 15:00 so we had plenty of time to unload, clean the boat and say goodbye.

Heading home to Marina Del Rey from Two Harbors, Catalina Island

This Fall Sailing Trip was a Smashing Success

With this year’s Fall sail to Catalina wrapped up, I have to say that October and November have become one of my favorite times for sailing to Catalina Island. The crowds are gone but the weather can still be fantastic! Thanks to our crew for all their effort and hope to sail with you again soon.

What do you think about sailing to Catalina in the Fall? Share your comments below! When commenting your email will remain private, only your name is displayed.