Catalina Island News

Catalina Island Boater's Perspective


The island emerges into full view and grows larger as we approach. Ridges and canyons become defined; Eucalyptus silhouettes stand tall and Prickly Pear rambles toward the sea. Finally, the statuesque Casino appears, resting boldly on the water's edge. Harbor lights flash illuminating Avalon's entrance, inviting sea-farers to embrace her magic. Whether traveling by power or sail, approaching Santa Catalina Island by boat is breathtaking.

Avalon Harbor Patrol monitors VHF channel 12 and once hailed, meets visiting vessels at the harbor mouth. After registration, vessels are directed to a mooring can of which there are over two hundred in Avalon proper, about fifty outside at Descanso Beach, and another forty at Hamilton Cove. All are secured on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Thinking of the first time I encountered one of these moorings, I smirk and wonder how something so simple can seem so complex. The same snicker spreads across my face as I watch newcomers attempt this feat, not out of vindictiveness, but out of compassion. Once the bow line is secured, the sand line eased back and the stern hawser taught, sighs of relief are exchanged. Weariness from a passage or excitement to explore the island then sets in.

On a summer day the harbor is full, boaters lounge on their yachts reminiscent of porches in a southern town. Gulls circle above earnestly searching for a bite to eat or a vessel on which to poop, or so it seems. A gentle breeze lingers in the air singing sweet summer songs of relaxation, sunshine; kissing faces and cooling basking bodies. It carries with it music from the band at the Casino Dock Cafe and sprinkles the tunes over the harbor. Barbecues are lit and festivities are about to begin. Exalted fishing stories grow larger and louder by the hour. Children of all ages splash in the harbor waters while kayaks and peddleboats mingle between the moorings.

Avalon boasts and heartily protects its "no-discharge" policy and all vessels are boarded upon arrival, their holding tanks inspected. A pump-out and fresh water dock is available at the west end of the harbor and a pump-a-head service will answer your call on VHF channel 68. On weekends and during most of the summer a small skiff peruses the harbor collecting trash and recycling. Bags are provided by the harbor and fire departments. At each dinghy dock, the number varying at different times of the year, stand hefty green bins for trash if choosing to dispose of it oneself. Dinghies fewer than fourteen feet may tie up at these public docks for no more than 72 hours. Public floats, all except the Shoreboat float, may be used for loading and unloading only.

Anchorage is free north of the Casino and vessels must be at least 300 feet from any mooring area. However, be aware that this anchorage can be crowded and water depth is about 120 feet. West of Hamilton Cove is shallower, about 50 feet deep, therefore having better holding ground. Shoreboat service is still available as far West as Frog rock. Contact Avalon Harbor Patrol for more information.

The Brown Pelican frequents harbor waters occasionally careening to the surface for fish. Great Blue Herons can be spotted perching on boats or docks but remain more elusive than the gull or pelican. Harbor patrol monitors bay waters constantly; their office located at the north end of the green pier. Shoreboat, the shuttle service for vessels, monitors channel 09 and will take you back and forth from your boat to the pier. Public showers rest between the Tuna and Yacht clubs open from seven to seven, providing a laundry service as well.

If the unexpected occurs and you need mechanical assistance, hail Sherrill's Marine on 16 or Avalon Harbor Marine on 07A. For work on outboard motors, Jim on the green pier is your guy. Vessel Assist Avalon monitors channel 16 and 78A and Towboat U.S. listens to 16 or 07A. Oddly enough, after business hours parts may still be attained by checking with the bartender at the Marlin Club (310-510-0044.) The fuel dock (310-510-0046) sits at the base of the casino and holds various hours throughout the year. They will also accept used oil. Propane is available only at the Edison plant at Pebbly Beach, about a mile from town (310-510-0932.)

Lounging in the cockpit with my novel I glance up occasionally to absorb the sights and smells of the harbor. I giggle with the new found kayakers paddling in circles beside our boat. The kids from the sportfisher the next mooring over jump from the bridge then cackle raucously as they surface. Vivid umbrellas, towels, and blankets fill every inch of beach like jelly beans in a child's cupped hand. The lifeguard bellows from his perch on the pier, reminding the splashing children to settle down. Beyond, Crescent Street is full of visitors shopping or looking for a bite to eat. Sand, melon, and butter colored buildings line the main thoroughfare inviting guests to taste a bit of island life. Various architectural styles are revealed in the homes that rise up the walls of Avalon canyon.

Sometimes I can imagine the old steam ships that used to frequent the small harbor. The days when the bright art-deco tile that lines benches, planters, and fountains was crafted here. When the Chicago Cubs held their spring training in our field of dreams. I am sure much has changed. And, I can imagine, much has remained the same. I peer beneath the surface of the turquoise sheen to see the sandy bottom of the harbor nearly thirty feet below. Visibility on this side of the island is spectacular, enticing snorkelers and divers from all parts of the world to catch of glimpse of the magical, underwater world.

Labor Day nears and one last hurrah will be had by all before harbor activity wanes into the quiet winter months. JazzTrax and a handful of fishing tournaments will highlight the transition to fall. Evening dinghy rides reveal boats we have never seen, rigged this way and that; blue-water cruisers, rough and tumble fishing boats, and daysailers alike. We've actually met some long time friends from such excursions. The wind has shifted. Children begin toweling off and floats are put up for the night. The palm trees lining the beach sparkle with twinkle lights. Now a light breeze drifts through Avalon canyon and brings with it smells from Rosie's on the pier. My stomach grumbles and I begin to ponder what to put on the grill.

Jennifer Heeter