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Oct 22: Chilling in Avalon, Santa Catalina Island

[ written by crewmember Sean ]

I was the first awake that day. Something about the excited screams from the boat off our port bow told me it was a good idea. Almost too late (goddammmit!) I saw the rich Gals on the sweet giant Beneteau in front of us enjoying a giggly early morning skinny dip!

Most of the action had already taken place, and I resignedly put on my snorkling gear and went for an early, cold, snorkel. Beautiful wildlife in the break zone and interesting to see a Pacific kelp type environment for the first time.

The crew enjoyed a slow start, some of our favourite granola, and some coffee. Gotta love sipping a smooth cup on the bow of your boat in the morning, and in such a lovely place. We prepared to sail the short journey down the coat of Catalina to Avalon. The legendary city on the island is reputed to be the playground of rich kids and a place for those who need to be seen. Naturally, we knew we would fit right in. 'Hey can we pump out our head in your fancy harbour?!'

We hoisted anchor and set out in light winds on a clear fine Southern California day. We left under motor with Purpeat tied to the stern. Not appropriate for long distance or high winds, but no big deal today. The wind was almost dead behind us as we headed along the rugged coast of the island. I had been bugging Will to try the configuration of two head sails, one poled out on each side of the boat. It's kind of unusual, but one that this boat is equipped to support, and might be useful given the Northwesterly winds expected for our trip south.

Will and Sara endured some communication difficulties while the sails were going up (communication between bow and helm is reputed to be the source of almost all boat borne fights and may even have been involved in the Bismark going down...). I took the cue to get out of dodge and hopped in Purpeat with my Nikon in a dry bag and sped off happily into the ocean waves. Apparently all those years of practicing wave jumping on Lake Bernard payed off since I didn't dump it and was heard to be hooting from the deck of Wanderlust. I got some great shots of boat from all angles and it was really a treat for us all to see her from some distance, and especially cool to see the colourful spinnaker fly!

Sara poling out the headsails after Will tired of wrestling with them


Flying the genoa and spinny off the front!

The configuration was cool and seemed stable a few degrees off of a dead run, although with the winds dying to nothing, we took it all down and motored the rest of the way to Avalon.

Avalon was identified easily on our approach by the big beautiful Casino building on the north east tip of the harbour, and by the many expensive boats posturing at the entrance to the harbour. It was the end of a nice weekend, Sunday, and apparently the offshore powerboats (drool) were all preparing to race back across the straight to LA. There was a cool tunnel with triple Bridgeport Mercs that I liked, and lots of Fountaines with big loud twin gas guzzlers.

Just idling around they must have used gallons of fuel! We smugly positionned off to the side in our efficient 20k pound baby, and waited for the full throttle mayhem. Well, eventually it happened, and it was a roar, a cloud of unspent hydrocarbons, and all the boats were gone. Anticlimactic, but whatever. Avalon, get ready: Wanderlust is in the house!

Rev it big boy


The Casino catches our eye

Avalon harbour was mayhem, and on a Sunday night. Manouvering between huge multimullion dollar yachts and other (less spectacular of course) sailing rigs, we tentatively made our way to the fuel dock. "Out of diesel" someone yells down at us, as I hit the throttle to alter the course of our 20k pound girl at the last possible minute. Will and Sara looked stressed. I can't imagine why. We had to reverse course through a sea of boats to go meet the 'harbour master' and get our slip alottment. 'harbour-sleeping-on-duty-guy' would be more like it. He eventually showed up as we tired of stationkeeping and we were able to head back in to find our mooring ball.

As in Two Harbours, the drill was that you tied onto both a bow and a stern mooring, which keeps all the boats pointed parallel and out to sea. Will and I impressed ourselves by hauling the mooring off the bottom, only to find later that the boat was swinging violently with the interaction of the mooring weights and the waves rolling in. We learn again.

We threw Purpeat in the water and prepared a boarding party. Sara did not want to let the shopping wait and we were all eager to stretch our legs and see some 'civilization'. We put on our nicest clothes - Sara the only one who actually looked different - and buzzed ashore.

Avalon is indeed a tourist trap and appears to be reserved for well-heeled yaghtspeople, but somehow still manages to keep a semblance of being quaint and genuine. It's a nice little privately owned development that avoids looking like the Starbucks cookie cutter neighborhoods that are prevalent on the mainland. Chains do not appears to be allowed on the island, which is cool.

We met up with the lovely Kim that we previously met at the dive shop in Two Harbours, where she tried to find me a dive buddy and sold Sara and Will their dive gear. Really nice gal and we were happy to see a friendly face. She advised us on the insider's favourites in terms of watering holes and drinking spots. We were tired but were ready to make an evening of it. We decided to enjoy a drink and a nibble at each of several establishents, and to aim for less than $7 each in so doing. Bring on the cheap eats and beers!

Happy couple


Wrong shades, dude

We started with a drink by the sea, and followed it up closely by an attack on a local comedy club/sushi bar. Sounds wierd, but trust me, by serving mostly fish caught that day locally, the Japanese prepared sushi was REALLY good. We toasted ourselves and enjoyed some more beers before heading on to pizza and more beers.

By the time we made it back to Purpeat, we were pretty beat, and retired happily to bed. I was undecided about diving the next day and Will and Sara were to have a snorkling mission, newly addicted to seeing the undersea world as they were.

Of course I decided to dive! I was up at the crack of dawn to find a dive boat and hailed the harbour taxi to go ashore. I went with DiveLuv (again, thanks for the good advice, Kimmy), and was really happy with the choice. I signed up for an all day, three tank mission. Go big or go home, you know. The motor out was relaxing and we had time to enjoy the coastline of Catalina. Of course, I had seen this peice of coast the day before, since we were going north!

Morning in Avalon


The Dive Boat

The first dive was a deep one, sort of a wall dive, and I was down at about 90 feet where the water was less than 60 degrees. Cold, dude! It was really different than diving I had done before as the kelp was a new environment for me. Spotted some eels and some smaller reef fish such as the California Garabaldi. My dive buddy had some issues but I ended up diving with a dive instructor from Palm Springs - cool lady and great to dive with. I navigated while she took pictures and we were both happy.

Will and Sara enjoyed a crew-free day of carefree exploring in Purpeat. Snorkling until their hearts could bear no more, they returned and we all shared our underwater adventure stories. It's really cool to be with people who share a passion for the ocean and what's under it.

Tiredly, we went ashore for our last night in Avalon. Dinner was first on the list, followed by a trip to the Casino. As has been my experience in many places in the world, you are often surprised by odd food in odd places - Italian near Uluru in the Australian desert, Indian in England (OK, not suprising really), and now: Chinese on a barely habitated southern California Island. We ate some of the best north americanized Chinese I have ever had in a tiny tucked away corner of Avalon. Hey - you can't argue with the stomach, and it usually picks right. Yummy.

We decided since we were low on fuel (I had spent over three hours underwater that day and Will and Sara all day in the sun) to get straight to the Casino to see some High Rollers and maybe lose a few coins ourselves. Bring on the suckers! We walked all the way around the harbour, a beautiful if long walk (for those with ankle issues) and got to the lovely, Roman inspired Casino with smiles of anticipation. Imagine our anguish when we discovered that NOT ONLY was this Casino CLOSED for the night, but that it was not a gambling Casino at all!

The look on Will's face was of despair, dissappointment, and of a child cheated out of his best marble. No gambling for us! We trudged back to the boat for a few hours sleep before our departure to San Diego. Due to the length of the trip and our desire to make it in daylight hours, we decided to leave the cozy if expensive safety of Avalon at 3:00am.

[ written by crewmember Sean ]

Previous: two harbours