October 1996-Tonight we are in Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island.
Today we walked all over town and of course there are all the touristy shops and rich homes, but also there are the honest touches of history like the building housing the Post Office and hardware store; it looked right out of the 20's. And I like the narrow streets, this is California but it seems more like some part of the French Riviera. This is also a place of boats. The police are more apparent on the harbor than on the land, with two or three harbor patrol boats cruising all the time, and the operators have policemen's badges. There are ferries coming and going, dozens of launches and dingy crossing every which way, and nearby launch BEN WESTON, a 50 foot open boat, tools around carrying passengers to and from we never could figure out where.
The harbor is busy, pretty, and very clean. The water is as clear as glass. This afternoon we sat on WINGS having a drink and soaking in the atmosphere, the sky was blue, the sun was warm, flags were flapping, and all around us were the snorting sounds of launches and taxi's. I took some photos but the reality of this place, the way I felt, I don't have enough film to capture it.
Some of the pleasure I get from Avalon could be the contrast from yesterday. It was Hell!
We were in the Channel Islands, moving from one anchorage to another on Santa Cruz Island.
Our First Anchorage in The Channel Islands
First we went into Little Scorpion, or what we took to be Little Scorpion based on our poor charts, having intended to stay the night in that harbor, but then we went around to Big Scorpion on account of the pelican rookery on the rocks up wind from the former location and the great obnoxious smell the presence of what looked to be several thousand of the big birds lent to the area.
Though the air smelt better, Big Scorpion was a disappointment to us as well, and a more desolate place we could hardly imagine. The higher parts of the island were rolling hills which were totally barren except for windswept brown grass and in the valley, an extension of which became the cove as it reached the sea, there were just a few trees, some houses and a couple of beached skiffs. All these signs of humanity were vacant and run down, and were veiled in a wind blown haze or mist. There was not a person or even a dog to be seen anywhere. Surrounding the ranch, if that’s what it was, were other ruins of all sorts, old pier footings, broken fences, overturned picnic tables, and the like. Anchored in the harbor, which was whitecaps and spindrift, was a large power boat, but no sign of life was on it. On top of it all this was only a small harbor, just a bight in the coast, hardly any shelter from the open channel, and surrounded by rocks. No lights, no sign of life, no sounds but the wind. But it was getting dark and the fog was worsening and there were no near alternatives, and so we anchored in a silent, cold, choppy spot, watched the fog blow in, and wondered why we ever came to the Channel Islands.
Just after dark all hell broke loose. The fog closed in completely and the wind began to howl right down the valley towards us. The bottom was rock, and our 45 lb plow, even on all chain, started to drag. We noticed right away, and sprang up from the dinner table, onto deck in our light clothes, and weighed anchor, just a few seconds before we would have gone onto the rocks to leeward. We tried to reset once, but it wouldn't do so there was nothing but to get out of Dodge. Now, like a miracle, there was a light on the powerboat which helped us get our bearings, and we motored into the darkness using that light and the compass course of escape which we had noted on our arrival. With the light on the powerboat and our compass course we made it to deep water. Without those two points of refernce we'd have been lost because in the chaos of darkness, wind and fog we were completely disoriented.
Once away from Santa Cruz Island and Scorpion anchorage, we secured for sea, which took an hour after our hasty departure, and we determined that our best action was to cross the 70 miles to Catalina. Really, there was no other choice. The other harbors nearby were all small, barely protected, surrounded by rocks, exposed to surge, and fogbound, and it was darker than the inside of a coal mine. So we threaded through Anacapa passage on GPS and set sail to the southeast.
We reached Catalina at daybreak, and found it quiet, clear, and warm. So now you know why I'm feeling happy to be here.
Well, that's our story for the day. Life cruising continues to be an adventure. But we love it all and if we survive, we'll have a richness of experiences that you can't buy.
Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, Avalon