Pictures to go with the Iridium satellite postings

Posting pictures over the Iridium satellite connection doesn’t work particularly well, and much of Catalina Island does not have internet connectivity except through satellites – at least I can (sort of) check text-based email over Iridium but nothing else. Nevertheless, pictures were taken! Here are a few pictures that fit with the prior posts.

To the south of Avalon is the east end of the island, and that’s where the large rock quarry is located. The quarry is on a steep hillside with switch back roads that cut up the face. There are four moorings located just offshore, and a pair of big cranes at the water’s edge that must be used for loading materials onto barges.
The rock crushing mill is located mid-face with conveyor belts stretching out left and right. One of the big mining dump trucks arrive above the mill and dumped its load of rocks into the mill from above. In operating it’s noisy, and it was quite a sight to watch huge boulders that somehow fell out of the mill go bounding down the cliff.
Charles’ Dynamique 62 Magick Express at anchor at the outside edge of Cat Harbor. It’s a huge boat, and he’s out and about in Southern California.
Nibs out for his first jaunt in the inflatable dinghy on his way to visit Magick Express. Nibs gets to ride in the cat backpack as this keeps his claws away from the rubber boat. He didn’t seem to mind the ride much.
The view towards the surface from 70′ down in Emerald Bay – the kelp anchors itself to rocks on the sea floor and grows to the surface where it spreads out in a canopy. Exploring a kelp bed is fun, lots of critters hang out within the kelp.
The seaweeds on the rocky floor really come to life when the dive light shines on them. The water was clear and calm – no surge for a change.
The lone star fish I saw during the dive, looks like a Pisaster giganteus. The white spots on the star are spikey and hard – perhaps to make the animal not enticing to eat?
I came across a Whelk crawling along a rock – these snails are carnivorous and crawl around the sea floor looking for dead things to consume. They don’t travel quickly and this one did not mind the light being pointed at it.
Still life with seaweed and strainer. The clump next to the strainer made it all the way inside the wire screen and plugged up the strainer, the long length of seaweed was still stuck inside the intake hose and never made it to the strainer. To clear the hose required removing the hose from the strainer. At least I know the strainer works!
Flat and warm with a light breeze riffling the water during the motor across the pond back to Oxnard. It’s 55 miles and we made good time despite pausing the clear the strainer.
Our pal the Mola mola (Ocean Sunfish) as he hangs out on the surface a few feet away from Beetle. The mouth is very small compared to the size of the fish, and these guys mostly are after jellyfish. Much fun to see one!

– rob

Beetle is in Channel Islands Harbor

Beetle is happily back in the slip in the harbor – and we made it here just before dark despite the time lost to clearing seaweed from the raw water strainer. Beetle does have legs, powering along comfortably at 7 knots through the light air and flat water. Along the way we came across a good size Ocean Sunfish, maybe four feet nose to rear of body, that was lazing on the surface. Sunfish like to float on their side at the surface and that presents a curious white blob floating in the blue-green sea, so I disconnected the autopilot and went over to investigate. The fish let us get quite close, you could see its eye looking about as it inspected the boat. Eventually I got too close and the fish made some fairly strong flaps with its two large fins and it went down a couple of feet and turned to a more normal fish swimming style of dorsal side up and it swam along slowly. I expect the moment we we departed it was back at the surface floating along happily. Neat to see one of them.

While running along towards Port Hueneme I had the VHF radio on and the USCG would periodically pop up to invite everyone to switch to VHF 22A and listen to a National Weather Service announcement regarding patchy dense fog along the coast. We were in bright sun and decided NWS must be thinking of some other coast than here. Visbility was at least 28 miles based on chart distances to shore.

Off Point Dume Kristen and I heard a loud scraping sound from under the boat and we slowed down three quarters of a knot. I looked aft to observe a large batch of kelp float back to the surface behind the boat – we had just motored straight over a good wide pile of the kelp and some had likely wrapped around the leading edge of the keel or the rudder (or the kelp had damanged the speedo paddle wheel as we slid over it). We stopped the boat, could see kelp wrapped on the rudder, spent ten minutes motoring backwards and forwards in circles, and a fair bit of kelp chunks floated out from under. And then we were back up to speed an on our way. Large algae has probably been a problem out here ever since people invented boats.

As we passed Point Mugu a long horizontal band of thick fog became visible to the west, Santa Cruz Island disappeared into it, and then the oil rigs started to disappear as the fog rolled towards us. We scurried into the harbor, cleared the breakwater, and just was we had the boat tied up the fog rolled in and visibility shut down – clearly the fog had patched.

A good run up the coast from Catalina Island, a week there that sort of feels like three separate trips rolled into one as we had completely different weather and locations: two days in town at Avalon, then 30-45 knot Santa Anas through Isthmus as we hunkered down in Cat Harbor, followed up by perfect Southern California conditions around in Emerald Bay. Fun!

– rob

Cleaning the water strainer on the weay to Channel Islands Harbor

Good morning – it’s another beautiful sunny light air November morning in Santa Monica Bay. We’re departing Catalina Island bound for Channel Islands Harbor, that’s a 54 mile hop and the idea was to make the run in daylight and therefore we wanted an up and early out. The forecast called for patchy morning dense fog and we could see the fog from Emerald, the fog was located up against Palos Verdes which was fine from my perspective. Calm and nicely mellow breeze according to the folks at NWS and the HRRR model run.

On went the engine, we dropped off the mooring, motored around past Brizo but they were still asleep so didn’t get to wave goodbye, made the turn around the kelp bed at Indian Rock, pointed the bow north, opened up the engine and immediately the raw water ceased flowing from the exhaust thru-hull in the transom and instead there issued smokey exhaust fumes from the thru-hull and nothing else. Argh! Shut engine off, unroll no. 4 jib so we’re pointed away from the island, and commence to troubleshoot the raw water cooling system on the Yanmar. First step – check the sea water strainer, which looked oddly dark to my eye. Upon removal of the strainer cup a large glop of tightly packed kelpy-looking thin seaweed flopped out – a huge amount of it. There was more stuffed down the intake hose that leads from the thru-hull to the strainer inlet. Open thru-hull, no water comes out – hose is plugged. Remove hose from strainer, fish out another two feet of seaweed and now I have gushing ocean water coming in – this is one of the rare instances where this is a good thing! Clean strainer, take photo of offending algae, re-assemble strainer, open up raw water impeller housing to verify no impeller fins have broken off (fins were intact, no need to dig through hoses to the back of the cooling jacket to recover bits of fins). Reassemble everything, open thru-hull to check for leaks (none noted), fire up engine – all is good, the gases remaining in the lift mufflers came out, along with a lot of raw water. Excellent! That took an hour of shifting gear to clear the at bunk to roll up the foam mattress to open up the engine box and access the sea water strainer, do the work, then put everything back together. Plus cat-management involving harnesses and unhappy cats and moving cats to places that were safe for them and out of the way – which mostly involves parking them on deck beneath the dodger and then keeping them there.

Now we’re once again under way, powering along north-east through beautiful blue water, sunny sky, and 46 miles to go to. Probably won’t arrive before dark, but we should arrive today – as compared to the alternative of slowly (but pleasantly) sailing in the prevailing 3.5 knots of west breeze and arriving some time tomorrow.

So that brings us up to speed on goings-on here this morning.

Yesterday was a super dive on the kelp beds outside Indian Rock, by far the best dive of the three I got in this trip. Good visibility, zero surge, light current, the equipment all worked – no leaks at the dive mask (silicone grease is my friend for this, lightly coat the mask seal prior to donning), no fogging of the dive mask (light scrubbing with plain-jane toothpaste and a tooth brush, no fingers as fingers have oil on them), the GoPro turned on in video mode this time (as opposed to prior dive where GoPro remained in stand-by mode when I thought it was recording), and I experimented with the dive compass and found it was easier to track the sunlight filtering through the water to know which way I was headed as compared to using the compass to do the same. The bottom was 70 feet, found interesting large kelpy seaweed with a tiny thin hold fast and a single 10″ wide 8-12 feet long leaf that lay on the sand, abalone, lobsters, tube worms, all sorts of fun critters. That was a fun dive!

The ladies on Brizo popped by in the kayaks for more conversation in the late afternoon, most pleasant, then it was time to stow Beetle for today’s run up to the marina. And turned out that Kristen’s portable television was able to pick up some of the NFL game last night between the guys in black uniforms on one team and the guys in white uniforms on the other team. The TV has a 6″ tall stick antenna and that was sufficient to pick up most of the broadcast all the way from (presumably) Palos Verdes. We were rather tired though and did not make it to the end of the game – will have to look up what happened. Lots of turn-overs, though, the quarterbacks kept throwing the football to the other team.

I should have time inspect photos when back in the marina, and it will be fun to put up some on the blog.

Have fun today! And Beetle is once again happily tooling along across the Big Blue.

– rob

Patchy morning fog is here

It’s Sunday morning and the forecast “patchy morning fog” is here with us. Visibility is less than 1/2 mile horizontally though bits of brightness glow through from above. Makes me think the fog isn’t very thick but instead must be right down here on the water.

Had a fun day yesterday, in particular meeting the two ladies on their Catalina 36 up the mooring row from Beetle. Kristen and I were preparing for our dinghy dive and SUP expedition to Doctor’s Cove (all of 1500′ away) when Patti and Susan paddled by in their kayaks. We ended up chit chatting for a good long while and learned of their adventures in life to arriving here on the boat in Emerald Bay. Turned out we were neighbors in Avalon the night before the Santa Ana winds came up, Patti has delivered boats up and down the coast and knows all sorts of people, she’d done the Baja Haha in 2009 – the same year as Beetle. We decided to get together later on for sundowners on their boat.

The dive at Doctor’s wasn’t that good as the visibility was 5-6 feet with lots of suspended sand and particles in the water. I had anchored the boat in a relatively clear patch of sand and that made the kelp far enough away that I could not find it from underwater. Ultimately I cut the dive short after 20 minutes and put the dive gear back into the dinghy. Kristen was paddling around on her SUP and watching the little fishes from the surface.

Back at Beetle I rinsed the dive gear in fresh water and topped up the dive tank so everything would be ready for a mid-morning dive today (Sunday). Kristen made cookies for to eat on the Catalina and off we went to share stories. That was fun, we actually spent several hours talking about boats and trips and equipment and a most pleasant time was had. Then it was 7:30 and quite dark and time to dinghy back to Beetle. Beetle will host another round of visiting today, our feline passengers are of particular interest this time.

The cats have been interesting to watch on the boat. Nibs mostly just curls up and hangs out down below, with occasional trips to the deck to see what’s up – this mostly happens when Kristen departs the boat on her SUP. Numnuts, on the other hand, is often on deck and walking around and checking everything out. He’s entirely thwarted in his attempts to get to shore, but he has worked out that he can walk down the transom and sit on one of the steps and watch the water from there. That gets him two feet closer to shore, but that’s about it. He hasn’t tried swimming yet, so he must not want to hit the beach that bad yet.

All goes well here, a bit of a slow start with the fog, some boat cleanup/organizing to do in preparation for visitors is in store as Beetle mostly looks like a dive shop at the moment. And will get the deck chairs out later on – hopefully the fog will burn off and we’ll have another good day of sun and warm and water!

– rob

Saturday morniing and Emerald Bay is nice

Had a very nice motor around Catalina West End Friday morning, a gentle 6-8 knot north breeze filled in and we happened through a large number of Risso’s Dolphins on the way in to Emerald. Some hours later a half-dozen boats motored past the point and joined us, some into Isthmus and some into here at Emerald. And later in the day Magic Express came into view. We chit-chatted with Charles over the VHF and after they had anchored he and the two kids joined us for sundowners on Beetle. Apparently the cats are a hit with the kids and Nibs even got a proper lap to sit on and good scritches from the daughter Jojo.

Kristen got her inflatable paddle board up and running with the aid of her new nifty pump that is designed to run higher pressures than Beetle’s dinghy air pump. With board up and running Kristen promptly did a proper lap around Emerald. Meantime I got the dive gear out, some battery charging involved, and spent 40 minutes perusing the bottom at the smaller bit a touch north of Indian Rock. There are a lot of small brownish seaweeds hanging onto the rocks at the bottom, plus an most fun bright blue plume coming from the seaweeds – almost as if looking at flowers blooming on the hill side. A fun dive, and I found the GoPro camera battery had lost its charge so it did not come along.

So far this morning we’ve run the dinghy over to Doctor’s Cove – this is a local dive site that Nic recommended. We checked for kelp, which is there, along with the kids from the camp on shore out in their kayaks. Not a lot of boats here this weekend, water is semi-chilly at 61 degrees and I see a lot more kayaking than snorkeling going on around Indian Rock where our mooring is located.

Plan for the day is to charge up the dive tank and dive at Doctor’s, Kristen has extra-pumped up the SUP and is rather pleased with the pressure pump she picked up. It works well when run from the ship’s batteries and easily hits 14.5 psi without struggling – that a significant improvement over the Bravo pump I use for the dinghy that doesn’t seem to like hitting 10 psi.

Conditions are light and variable wind, a low jiggly bounce to the small waves wrapping around the point and over to us, clear skies – looks to be another lovely Southern California day at the island.

Have fun!

– rob

Friday morning around at Emerald Cove

This morning the wind had backed off in San Pedro Channel, the Santa Ana had blown itself out, seas were down and Beetle was up and out early from Cat Harbor to make the relatively short 12 mile hop around Catalina West End and over to Emerald. The ocean is peaceful, a low two foot rolling swell coming in from Low pressure systems way up to the north in the Gulf of Alaska, good sun, clear sky. As we motored along we came across a large group of Risso’s Dolphin which were ambling northwards along the island. We cut the motor and drifted with them for a bit, perhaps 50 individuals made up the pod. An interesting behavior was watching one of the Risso’s make a loud splash and bang sound by rearing up out of the water and slamming his head down on against the water. The dolphin did this repeatedly, five or six smacks at a time, then carried on. No idea what that behavior is about, but it was distinctive and none of the other dolphins were doing this.

Arrival in Emerald was simple, pulled up to mooring R-05, picked up the wand, tied off and we’re good to go for several days here. So far only one other boat is here in Emerald, the kids from the nearby shore facility are out running kayaks around and having fun, it’s quiet and we’ll see how many other boats from Cat Harbor wend their way to here. I expect we may have some of the same neighbors tonight as we had in Cat.

Thanksgiving day was a bit windy in Cat Harbor, but the breeze was well down from Wednesday night. We visited with Charles on his boat Magic Express, met his wife Cory, and proceeded to hang out in the cockpit and talk story for several hours. Occasionally Cory would hop up and check various goodies on the stove in their galley. Learned a fair bit about do-it-yourself beam cellular antennae from Charles – he’s got quite a system going on the boat, particularly as he’s been working from home for quite a while and doing so from odd places that don’t necessarily have the best radio-internet coverage.

Back on Beetle for the evening, Kristen had organized a fine dinner of turkey breast (not the entire bird – some are so big they won’t fit inside Beetle’s oven), along with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and apple pie. Most good stuff to be had on Beetle’s table last night.

Now that we’re over here in Emerald there’s not much in the way of internet access, so this note is going out over Iridium. Enjoy the day, it’s a fine day here!

– rob

Doing the snug bug rug thing in Cat Harbor

Good morning – it’s a bright lovely warm windy morning in Catalina Harbor on the west side of Santa Catalina Island, the majority of boats that spent last night out at the island are here in this harbor. It was a somewhat broken-sleep night as we would wake up as the wind increased to check the boat. About 1AM we were up with the moon and lifted the dinghy out of the water and onto the foredeck – I was concerned the dinghy might fill with water as the incoming chop was striking the transom and splashing into the dinghy. Not much water found, and we slept a bit better after that.

A basic issue with Beetle’s hull shape is the reverse transom acts as a plate that incoming waves from astern strike and produce large bangs through the hull. This isn’t an issue at anchor as Beetle pivots around and points bow to the wind – no waves come in from astern. The moorings at Cat Harbor are set up similar to Avalon – boats are tied fore & aft on the mooring and in Cat the mooring wands are set for bows aiming west (into the typical prevailing breeze). Bow west was not the best approach for last night as this points the stern into the wind-driven chop and that made for a most noisy evening last night. Even the cats noticed the louder bonks and were not too pleased with it. A small number of boats came into the moorings backwards to point into last night’s expected wind – that would have been a good idea for me. Something to remember for next time!

A beautiful Thanksgiving morning at Catalina. There are supposed to be 117 moorings in Cat Harbor, though not all of them are usable. Beetle is on E-08 which is so close to E-09 that 09’s wand is tapping against my bow pulpit. Many boats at Avalon departed for Long Beach, the folks that came around to the far side of the island are definitely the crowd that really wants to be here.

The Santa Ana arrived early evening. I turned off the wind generator around 9pm when it was making too much noise for convenient sleeping. Breeze was 18-20 knots, dry and warm and funneling in from the east through the narrow pass at Isthmus, and then on out to sea through Cat Harbor. Max winds came on around midnight and then again at 4AM – both times a steady 30-33 knots gusting to 45 (that was the max gust I saw on the instruments while checking the mooring lines). Come morning we’re back down to 18-20 knots and it feels like the wind has stopped – so it was windy last night.

The only main issue I saw while on deck last night was a good size catamaran had their roller-furled headsail come undone around midnight. The banging and snapping from the sail was easily heard over the wind. Took them several minutes to wrestle it back into being a nicely furled sail again. Otherwise nothing untoward to report. It’s now 9:45 am Thursday morning, Kristen is back to sleep, the cats are tired enough that they are not asking for their morning breakfast, and I’ve been up to check things on deck.

Yesterday was a most pleasant jaunt around the east end of Catalina Island in a light southerly that eventually faded off to nothing. I’d been wondering how utility power was brought in to Catalina – and turns out we went right past the Southern California Edison diesel generating facility – it’s a mile south from town and built close to the beach. From what I read they operate six diesel generators and bring in fuel oil on barges – there was a tug & barge pushed up onto the beach and associated concrete ramp as we went in the morning. I was a bit surprised that Catalina is not using an undersea power cable, which is how things are done up in the San Juan Islands. Turns out that cable would be 32 miles long and the most expensive way to bring in power, plus you’d still want generators on island to act as backup to the cable. So they use generators.

South of the power station is a huge sand and gravel mining and crushing operation – the Pebbly Beach Quary & Mill, an open face mine that operates the really big dump trucks. We watched two trucks drive up to a landing above the rock crushing building, lift up their beds and pour rocks into the crushing hopper. Lots of really big crunchy sounds ensue, and different size smaller rocks are screened out to long conveyor belts running left and right that release the smaller rocks into huge piles that cascade down the hillside hundreds of feet to the road below. It’s a rather vertical operation.

The back side of the island is essentially vertical cliffs with deep canyons cut through, and devoid of people and buildings, at least that could be seen from the water. We motored along the 10 fathom line to check out the beaches, then decided to go visit Farnsworth Bank – it’s a small area where the bottom rises from 250′ up to 54′. I was wondering if fishes concentrated there and we might see something. We arrived and spent 20 minutes poking around with the depth sounder and eventually found the tallest pinnacle with 60′ of water above it. The water wasn’t clear enough to discern any difference in color and no fishes or birds were there – perhaps it isn’t a particularly interesting pinnacle if you’re a fish.

Cat Harbor is 4-1/2 miles from Farnsworth, on the way in I telephoned the Twin Harbors Harbor Patrol (AT&T has good cell coverage west of Cat Harbor) and they assigned a nice mooring, E-08, to Beetle for the forecast windy evening ahead. This mooring is directly behind friend Nic’s boat Iolanthe, and Iolanthe looks perfect as usual. Haley was in the Harbor Patrol boat working Cat Harbor, she remembered Beetle and the two cats (she has a cat on her boat in the harbor), she set us up on the mooring and then was busy running around helping all the other boats pulling in shortly after Beetle arrived.

Charles is out at the islands for Thanksgiving, he stopped by to say hello. Wonderful fun to catch up with him and his adventures. We’ll visit his boat later today. Behind us is Cat Harbor as it looked before the wind came up – nice and calm.

To top off the day, late afternoon Charles pulled up in his dinghy, turns out he’s here on his Dynamique 62 and I haven’t run into him for a long time. He pulled in after we arrived and anchored out, and from what I can tell he didn’t drag in last night’s winds. Plan is for us to visit him later today, and he even invited the cats to come along. I’m not too sure how that’s going to work as we haven’t tried cats in the dinghy before – this will be a new experience for them, and Kristen has her cat backpack carrier; it’s a bit of squeeze to install two cats at the same time into the carrier, but we shall see.

So that’s how yesterday went – everyone here is still a bit sleepy, looks to be an excellent day ahead. General plan is to hang here in Cat again tonight, it’s Turkey Day so there’s a fancy dinner planned for this evening, and the forecast calls for continued but diminished Santa Ana winds through to tomorrow morning. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

– rob

Santa Ana winds in the forecast

Good morning – it’s dawn here in Avalon harbor, a bit choppy with an 18 inch swell rolling in through the mooring field and where it strikes the concrete sea wall and reflects back out across the harbor. Turns the place into a washing machine of sorts. On the plus side the fore & aft moorings keep the boats semi-aligned with the waves and keeps Beetle mostly pitching rather than rollling.

Sunrise lighting up the Avalon casino, with its breakwater extending off towards center image.

Yesterday was most pleasant, Kristen and I explored the local coves via dinghy to see if there might be a good dive spot. There was no kelp that we could see in Lover’s Cove next door, Descanso Bay north of the casino also seemed to have zero kelp – I suspect the urchins have been busy out here eating kelp. On our way back into the harbor we swung by the rock jetty adjacent to the casino and found lots of kelp – so that looks like it could be a good spot.

In the afternoon we decided to check out the little town of Avalon, and Kristen had found a small restaurant with outdoor seating called “The Sand Trap” set back in a canyon a mere 10 minute walk inland from the beach – and they featured a 2pm to 6pm happy hour along with fish tacos; this looked promising. Just as we were preparing to depart Beetle for shore the Harbor Patrol boat pulled up and told us there were forecast NE winds for Wednesday night and asked if we wanted to move from mooring 150 over to 157 as that would put us more in the lee of the breakwater. I asked after what the new forecast was and he said that National Weather Service had just telephoned them about the change and he did not have timing or wind levels. He alo pointed out that Avalon is not an all-weather safe harbor. I thought a moment and suggested that if winds were that strong then I would take Beetle around to the west side of the island and up to Cat Harbor. Strikes me that moving into a tightly packed bunch of boats on moorings did not sound like a great idea in case the waves and/or wind were worse than forecast.

We then dinghied ashore and found the restaurant, which is situated directly across the narrow road from the golf course and directly across the road from the green – no wonder it’s called The Sand Trap. Apparently golf balls will land in their outdoor patio area – thus the large netting along the course side of the road. We had some good fish & chips, nachos, and discovered this is the place the locals come to for happy hour. It’s far enough from the beach that fewers tourists make the walk there.

The road in Avalon are filled with little golf carts running gasoline engines and off road tires (very few battery powered carts), which makes it funny and smelly and noisy as the little carts go whirring around. They’re not fast, there are just a lot of them and it sounds for all the world like everyone is mowing their lawn continuously. The carts are most maneuverable compared to cars, which makes folks pulling U-turns in the middle of the road as they depart their parking space seem entirely normal.

Catalina Island, Beetle is the green boat in Avalon at the SE end. The wind is forecast to arrive from the east so we’re going around the island to Cat Harbor, two-thirds of the way up the west side of the island. The black lines are the intended route from here to there, should take us less than four hours to get to Cat and we can check out the backside of Catalina.

Back on Beetle I checked a couple of forecast models and National Weather Service to find that a 1038 mb High is forecast to drop south to Nevada and that should set up strong Santa Ana winds across the Los Angeles basin, including Long Beach which is directly to the east from Avalon. The early forecasts were for 10-15 knots N-NE winds, that shifted as the HRRR model runs came out every hour – forecasts later last night were calling for 15-20 knots and reaching out to Catalina. Started to look like a good time to head for Cat Harbor on the other side of the island.

Output from the morning HRRR model run, it coincides nicely with the NWS meteorologists’ forecast – it’s going to be wind from the east out here. The purple wind barbs are showing 25 knots all the way out to Catalina.

This morning I was up on deck early, it’s light air and sunny and choppy in the harbor. Some boats had shifted over to pack into the NW corner behind the breakwater. I checked the latest model runs and forecasts and the pressures have been increased, the call is for stronger wind lasting longer – and the main push should be late Wednesday thru Thursday dawn, which means if anything goes wrong in the harbor it will all happen in the dark. Forecast is now for 25-30 knots out here possible gusts to 35, the Gale warnings are up along the coast – this makes Cat Harbor look like a good idea.

Harbor Patrol went by our transom whilst towing the dinghy dock to a more protected spot in the harbor. They paused briefly to chat about the weather forecast.

While mulling this over I looked out just in time to meet one of the Harbor Patrol boats going by Beetle’s transom, and he had the town dinghy dock in tow – they take it over and hide it inside the breakwater when bad weather conditions are forecast. I told him we were departing this morning bound for Cat, he said that was a great idea as it would be 35 knots of wind in here tonight.

It’s a 19 mile hop around the island to Cat, we’re going to travel around the east end of Catalina as I normally never get to see that section of the island. Next up this morning, now that cats have been fed, is to lift the outboard motor back up to its spot on the stern rail, bring the inflatable dinghy up onto the foredeck, and then we’ll head out and explore the other side of the island.

Have fun today! We are likely to be in Cat Harbor through Thursday night given the current forecast – should be a pleasant time as that’s a very good all-weather harbor.

– rob

A nice sail and motor to Avalon, Catalina Island

This morning finds Beetle happily on mooring in Avalon, the small town (though it is the City of Avalon) at the east end of Santa Catalina Island. We’re on mooring 150, owned by “Sub Chase” as indicated by the stencilled name on the white mooring ball. Should one feel the need to have your boat’s name on a mooring ball here, the adjacent ball is available for sale at $539,000. That seems a bit steep to me, but perhaps the sales price is negotiable? Whether you have your own mooring or not, it’s still a most pleasant place to wake up. Sun has just poked up into the low clouds on the horizon, it’s clear sky above, a slightly cool 4 knots of wind west breeeze is wafting over the island and filtering through the boats here in the harbor.

Kristen is aboard along with her two cats, and with the aim to enjoy Turkey week at Catalina island. We’re here in the off-season (winter) which makes the mooring rates significantly more affordable than the high season (summer). Normal rates are $58/night on a mooring, in the winter the daily cost remains the same but if you pay for two nights on a mooring the next 5 nights are included at no additional charge. Not too shabby if you should be in the area with your boat.

Kristen arrived on Saturday, and the weather forecast called for a reasonably strong Santa Ana wind to blow through to Monday noon-ish as a 1034 mb High set up over Idaho and then would shift south to Nevada. That forecast was accurate, with 30-35 knots of hot dry air whipping down the Santa Paula/Santa Clara valley and out to sea through Oxnard. We stayed in the slip on Sunday. The forecast for Monday called for a reduction to 20-25 and backing off the coast once we were in the lee of the hills along Malibu – we were up and out early Monday morning, set the double-reefed main, hoofed it out of the harbor past the small craft advisory flag flying from the pole atop the Harbor Master’s office, and, ZOOM!, out and southeast parallel to the coast. It’s fun to have lots of breeze, good boat speed, extra warm, and no waves – just the short fetch chop. With the no. 4 partially out we zipped along on a fun reach for a couple of hours and then BANG! – no wind. We’d sailed past the Navy air base at Pt. Mugu, slipped in behind the hills and the wind shut down. In less than a mile of travel we went from 25 knots on the beam to 2 knots from the bow.

It was super sunny and warm, the water went glassy, and on went the engine-sail, bound for Catalina. The goal was to arrive with daylight. We didn’t quite make that, but the trip was a most pleasant putt putt as we tooled along the ocean.

Visibility was phenomenal, Catalina was on the horizon at 50 miles, Santa Barbara Island was easily seen, the mountains east of Los Angeles poked their heads up brightly above the yellow smog of the LA basin. The super visibility also made it difficult to judge distances – what looked like perhaps a small box floating in the water turned out to be a 20 meter fishing boat eight miles away; the amazing clarity made everything look so little as you could see them from so far away.

Cargo ships drifting around offshore Southern California are readily visible on the AIS display. The water is so deep here that none of these guys are anchored – they’re just drifting about with engines off.
250 meter cargo ships don’t look so big when drifting around off the west end of Catalina Island.

We found a lot of shipping on the AIS display, they were scattred all along from Santa Barbara Island to Catalina. There were even three ships anchored offshore from Port Hueneme – two car carriers and a Chiquita (banana?) cargo ship. Everyone is waiting to get their goods to shore. We could hear them talking to each other over the VHF, usually in interesting accents as they work with the English language that is used for communication between international vessels – “Ve turning motor on and vondering your intenions are vhat?” one would say to the other. Long pause. Other responds, “Ve are drift, drifting yes drifting. Ve sink to also put motor on and move also six.” First boat: “Ok, zen ve will avoid you as ve startink motor, zen move forward six mile and two mile norse. Zen go back drifting.” Other boat, “Ok, zen ve avoid you as you drift, ve drift also.”

A close drive-by of a smaller cargo ship drifting around in the sun just off Catalina. These guys were moving around one of the cranes, possibly to lift up cargo hatches?

There were at least 25 ships drifting lazily about in the Southern California bight, plus a bunch more anchored off the Port of Long Beach. I think it’s one of the few times Tiger Beetle has passed a freighter at sea – normally the cargo ships are far faster but not this time. I suspect there is a business opportunity here delivering pizza to all these ships hanging around.

Looking aft towards Catalina West End to watch the setting sun light up the clouds from below. It was most calm out there.
It’s interesting to navigate the mooring field when it’s this black out.

The sunset was spectacular, then it got dark, and by the time we arrived at the entry to Avalon it was rather darker. The moon wouldn’t rise for several hours, and I checked in with the Harbor Patrol over the VHF radio – yes, they could see us, they were helping one boat on to the moorings and then they would be over directly to check us in. Worked out fine, we drifted a bit too (proving that cargo ships are not the only ones that can drift around in front of Catalina Island) , the fellow came out in his patrol boat, spotted us a mooring, I handed my credit card to him over the water and then he handed it back to me (I wonder how many credit cards are on the bottom outside Avalon?), then he said, “Follow me in – we’ll set you up.” He headed in and we followed, almost beaning one of the larger metal mooring balls set outside the harbor for 250 foot boats – the mooring balls are not lit.

Inside the harbor it’s chock-a-block stuffed with moorings all set fore & aft, boats are pointed bow out, and with the slight breeze blowing through it would be difficult to stop the bow at the mooring hawser wand, get the wand up on deck and the hawser over the stern cleat before the wind pushed the stern around and past the mooring. The Harbor Patrol had clearly thought of this; as soon as Kristen had the wand up he moved around to Beetle’s stern quarter and tossed a tow line over so he could pull Beetle back into alignment with the aft mooring line – that helped me a lot in pulling in the aft line and getting it onto our stern cleat. Worked a treat!

All that done it was barbecue on, cheese burgers created, dinner was had – and time for bed. A most excellent start to a week on the pond.

The view in the morning – now we can see what we were running around in last night.

– rob, & kristen, & stato (aka numnuts), & nibs

French Polynesia is on!

It’s never too early to plan next year’s cruise – and since that cruise was supposed to happen two years ago I’ve had a lot of time for planning. Countries started to close their borders in March 2020, and over the past 18 months not a lot has changed out in the South Pacific. French Polynesia borders are closed, Cook Islands are closed, ditto for American Samoa, Samoa, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands. If I wanted to go south to New Zealand I’d find that Niue, Tonga, and New Zealand are all closed. Even Australia is closed. That makes it tough to go anywhere…

French Polynesia closed its maritime borders March 2020, went into lockdown, opened air travel in July 2020 (but not the maritime border), re-closed the air border in February 2021 as the Covid-19 delta variant emerged, and now in November the air border is again open… but the maritime border remains closed.

The French Polynesia DPAM (Direction Polynesienne des Affaires Maritimes) are the folks that manage the national maritime border, and they had always included a humanitarian exception to the maritime border closure to allow brief stop-overs to reprovision and refuel; you needed advance permission from DPAM to do so but then you had to depart and go away somewhere else. In August DPAM altered their rule such that boats could request authorization to cross the maritime border provided the people on board were vaccinated or would go into quarantine, but the border remain closed.

Word of this change filtered through the cruising community and people pricked their ears up. It’s fantastic DPAM might let boats in but the timing wasn’t great as the cruising season mostly ends as Typhoon Season kicks in November 1. It also wasn’t clear if boats were actually receiving approval from DPAM to enter French Polynesia for purposes of recreational sailing.

The Authorization signature block received on my Declaration of Entry or Stopover – Pleasure Boat form submitted to DPAM. This means I (and Beetle) can visit French Polynesia, commencing in Nuku Hiva, come May 2022.

By late October Andy Turpin, organizer of the Pacific Puddle Jump group ‘sail/rally’ to French Polynesia, had been given the go-ahead by DPAM to host the rally in 2022 – this suggested recreational sailing might receive DPAM approval. One catch – each boat wanting to enter the country still must request and receive authorization from DPAM to cross the still-closed maritime border. I downloaded the form, studied it, not sure if I had only one chance to get it correct or not – who knows how lenient the DPAM folks might be if I screwed it up? I sent my draft request to two people I knew from my time there 2017 – Tehani (Tahiti Crew) in Papeete and Kevin (Nuku Hiva Yacht Services) in the Marquesas – for advice. Then I emailed the form in to DPAM on my own, no Yacht Agent involved.

The big news is that two days later Tiger Beetle and I were granted permission to cross the French Polynesia maritime border and enter the country at Nuku Hiva in May of next year. Yeah team! French Polynesia is on for 2022!

The red line is my ideal route – across the South Pacific and exiting the Typhoon belt in November to over-wrinter in the Marshall Islands. The blue line is an alternate likely route (as of today) that would see Beetle in Fiji and then down to New Zealand. The pink line is the more typical, but less likely route today, through Niue and Tonga then on to New Zealand.

The next question becomes – where to go after French Polynesia? One option is to obtain a Long Stay Visa (LSV) and remain in French Polynesia – that’s what I did in 2017 and come typhoon seasson I sailed north to Hawaii. That worked out well, I’ve been there/done that and it might be fun to try something different. As Beetle is in Southern California it will be significantly easier for me to request the LSV from here as compared to 2017 when Beetle was in La Cruz, Mexico – mostly because I need to request the LSV from the French Consulate in San Francisco. So if New Zealand or the Marshalls don’t look like they will open then I will need to request an LSV.

I would prefer to clear the South Pacific typhoon belt by sailing north to the Marshall Islands (red route) – there’s lots of atolls to explore in the Marshalls, as a USA citizen I can be in the Marshalls for a long time, and it just sounds like an interesting and remote place. The alternative is south to New Zealand (blue/pink routes). The Marshalls and New Zealand are both closed at the moment…

And now we get to announcements from the past week. Countries are announcing *planned* openings, at least of air borders, between now and mid-January 2022: Kiribati intends to open up January 13, the Cook Islands have just stated the same, New Zealand is planning for January, and today Fiji announced they will be opening up December 1 – they are ahead of the pack. It’s entirely unclear if Tuvalu, the Marshalls, Niue, or Tonga will re-open their borders in 2022, and if they do decide to do that, when might that happen?

I am currently in communications with Chester, the Chief of Sea Port Police in American Samoa, about whether or not I would be (or might be) allowed to enter American Samoa (Pago Pago) in August of next year – will be interesting to see what the response is, hopefully it’s positive even though no one can know what the American Samoa border restrictions will look like 10 months into the future.

So it starts to look like cruising the South Pacific is a GO for 2022. Next up is Andy Turpin should be opening up registration for the 2022 Pacific Puddle Jump come 1 December, something Beetle will sign up for. Then the big decision about whether or not I request an LSV for French Polynesia. The risk of Typhoons is high in Fiji, therefore it’s entirely unsafe to remain in Fiji come 1 November 2022. I need New Zealand (or Australia) to open up to the south, or the Marshalls to open up to the north before I can commit to arriving in Fiji in September – that’s late in the season and Beetle needs to be clear of the region in 5-8 weeks after arrival. The upshot is I would want a reasonably likely destination north or south to clear the typhoon belt before rolling west from French Polynesia – currently only Fiji is open through it’s Blue Lane Initiative for yachts (and that is likely to simplify come 1 December). Will be interesting to see how travel possibilities progress.

This is going to be fun!

– rob & Beetle