6. Bison, Beaches & Big Screen TVs – Southern California

October 23rd – November 27th, 2019

A sailor’s plans are written in sand at low tide and we experienced that first hand when we arrived in Santa Barbara on October 23rd, a month ahead of schedule. We had made plans before leaving Anacortes to have Thanksgiving in Santa Barbara with the Murphy family and friends. Now we needed to figure out what the new “plan” was going to be to make that happen.

Santa Barbara is unique and their marina is no different. For one, they are very strict about their Zero-Discharge policy and so immediately upon arrival we got our first discharge test. This involved the harbor police putting a florescent die tab into the toilet and as we flushed, they watched around the boat to make sure the through holes were closed. Luckily, we got a spot by the bathrooms but the die sitting in the bowl was pretty ominous. Later when we opened the valve, we learned that the die also glows in the dark! The other thing about Santa Barbara Marina is that they don’t seem to love transient boats and have strict caps on the number of days you could stay at the marina. So even if we could afford it, staying there until Thanksgiving was longer than the maximum they allowed. Unfortunately, the anchorage outside the marina closed after October 31st for the winter season making it even more difficult to stay in Santa Barbara. Time to get creative. Lucky for us we are members of Anacortes Yacht Club which allows us the privilege of reciprocal moorage at many yacht clubs, including many in Southern California. After a full day of research, phone calls and emailing boat paperwork we had a plan that allowed us to stay in SoCal until Thanksgiving mostly for free. Because of the distance we have traveled most clubs were gracious enough to give us three nights of free reciprocal dock space with the one common requirement, “You must fly your burgee at all times.” The following are the highlights at each of the stops on our SoCal circuit!

Santa Barbara

We stayed in the marina for three nights while the Santa Ana winds were blowing. We ran errands and did a couple of projects to take advantage of being on the dock. Elise did some sewing projects including a shade connector from the dodger to the solar panel arch and a wind scoop. We also did some more research on reverse osmosis watermakers and decided to order the Katadyn Powersurvivor 40e 12V version. With a week to wait for the watermaker to arrive we decided to leave the marina and anchor for a few days. It was warm and sunny and the new shade was working great! It felt like we were finally doing this cruising thing right. We were hoping to go back out to the Channel Islands for a few days but the Santa Ana’s persisted and Santa Barbara was relatively protected from the East. The Santa Ana winds are when the wind is blowing offshore in Sothern California, generally in an East or North East direction and are the driving force making Sothern California wildfires so dangerous. The winds persisted while we were anchored in the bay and on the third night the Easterly swell was wrapping around into the bay and made for an extremely uncomfortable night. The boat pitched and rolled as we yawed on the anchor, our “flopper stopper” only doing so much to slow the drastic motion. The next morning, we tucked our tails and decided to head back into the marina to get some rest as well as meet up with Austin’s long-time family friends Brooke and Laurel who were going to be hosting Thanksgiving. They were so nice to allow us to ship a few items to their house and Brooke even let us borrow his truck so we could get around town for a day. We were even able to help out another cruising family from Oregon and we all went to Costco and around town to pick up various boat parts. We hosted Brooke and Laurel for dinner on the boat and got to try out a new naan bread recipe. One of the days Brooke took us on a tour of the ranch where he has been the master carpenter, building an elaborate estate of “antique barn wood architecture” disguising modern building technology. The estate is surrounded by avocado and citrus orchards. The view from the “tea house” was amazing!


With the new watermaker in hand it was time to mosey over to Ventura where we would begin to tap into the yacht club reciprocal of SoCal. There was light wind and we were not in a hurry so we set the sails for a peaceful day sail. Elise was in the galley making up a cocktail for the cruise when Austin said “Im feeling too much like an old cruiser, let’s put all the sails up at once”.  We hoisted the main, rolled out the genoa, unfolded the staysail and flew the symmetrical spinnaker. Before we knew it there were lines on every winch and Austin was giddy. We were allotted one free night at Ventura Yacht Club so we made a quick stop of it, planning our watermaker install and going for a walk on the beach. It was a beautiful sunset with no smoke in the air but the nearby wildfires were evident in the ash washed up on the beach with the tide.

Oxnard (Round 1)

After a short 2-hour motor from Ventura we arrived at the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club in Oxnard just before lunch time. They had wonderful facilities including a hot tub and pool which we enjoyed each night. Our goal for our stay at PCYC was to complete the watermaker installation. It was not too complicated, mostly involving “bilge yoga” contortions to mount the prefilters under the galley sink and the unit itself in a compartment under the port settee. The Katadyn unit we purchased is the most compact and energy efficient reverse osmosis system on the market. With an average 4 amp hour draw we can make water with solar power alone! The drawback is that it only makes about 1.5 gallons per hour. We went on a wild goose chase to pet stores in the area, trying to find a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter. In order to test the watermaker it must read in parts per million. Finally succumbing to ordering it on Amazon Prime and shipped to the yacht club. Each night we were treated to a parade of Duffy’s going by with a grand assortment of skippers and crew from old men drinking white wine to a teenage mariachi band complete with a tuba. More on the Duffys in Newport… After three nights at PCYC the watermaker install was complete and we were ready to set off on a full day of motoring the 70nm to Catalina Island.

Santa Catalina Island

We arrived in Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island just after sunset and were met at the entrance by a harbor patrol boat who, after taking our money and boat information guided us to our mooring. Lucky for us the winter rates were in effect and the deal was, if you payed for 2 nights you can stay 5 more nights for free. Seven nights for the price of 2 made Avalon a great deal in our books. The style of mooring was new to us. First you maneuver the boat up to the forward mooring ball and the person on the bow grabs and pulls onto the deck a crab pot style buoy with a fiberglass pole attached. The buoy is attached to a large loop that goes around the bow cleat and another line that you walk back to the stern of the boat to attach to the stern cleat. This allows for many boats to be packed in close in the small harbor. After getting Atica secured the officer boarded the boat to put a die tap in the toilet to make sure we were compliant and explained the happenings of this bustling harbor. 

The first day we walked around town, did laundry and learned some history about the island from a nice young guy at the Conservancy Information Center. Catalina Island was owned by William Wrigley of the Wrigley chewing gum empire and he even brought the Chicago Cubs to the island for spring training from 1921-1951. Later the land was donated to the Catalina Island Conservancy for its preservation. Avalon is the main settlement on the island and the two square mile tourist town is fenced off from the rest of the island to keep the resident bison from roaming the streets. The bison were brought for a movie filmed in the 1920s and left behind, the joke being they didn’t even make the final cut of the film. The island residents are obsessed with the bison and take their preservation very seriously. The population became so large a few decades ago that they transplanted a portion of the herd to a South Dakota reserve rather than allowing hunting and put the rest on birth control. We ended the day walking around the Casino which turns out has nothing to do with gambling, but rather is a colosseum style movie theater and meeting hall.

While on Catalina we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go for a dive at the world class Casino Dive Park right outside of the anchorage. After Elise got certified for diving in Bali and Austin renewed his credentials, we made the big decision and sacrificed the space to bring along scuba gear and tanks on our adventure. This meant installing a new rack to secure the tanks and giving up precious space in the quarter birth for the copious amounts of gear it takes to go diving. This all payed off when we were able to load the gear up in the dingy and go for a dive straight from the boat. We were both a little nervous because this was the first dive we have done on our own and Elise had new used gear to get comfortable with. Everything went well and we were amazed by the great visibility and the amount of life we saw during the dive. The bright orange Garibaldi fish swimming through the bright green kelp forest were mesmerizing. We even saw a Bat Ray! At one-point Austin got a bit tangled in the kelp and spun around in circles trying to free himself. Overall the dive was a success and we were so happy with our decision to bring along the gear.  We can’t wait to see what else we will get to explore underwater!

One of the nights of our stay our friend Gavin Bracket sailed out to Catalina on a 50-foot racing catamaran, After Burner, that he and two other sailors were setting up to sail to New Zealand. We made BBQ pizzas in the cockpit and laughed about how unexpected it was to see him on Catalina Island. They stayed just one night before heading to San Diego and then left on a straight shot for Tonga. They estimated it would take them 10-20 days on this very minimalistic racing cat. They showed us around the boat and the small coffin like bunks they would be sleeping in. Its sounds like a great adventure but we are glad that our crossings will be in a little more comfort. Real time update, the crew of After Burner made it to American Samoa 27 days after leaving San Diego and are preparing for the next leg to New Zealand.

On Saturday we left the sparsely populated anchorage to explore the wildlands of Catalina. We took a shuttle bus over the rugged terrain of the island’s interior to the Airport in the Sky. On the way up we passed a playground at one of the hiker camps and there was a bison standing next to the slide. At first, we thought it was a statue since it looked so out of place. After walking around the small airport, we hiked the 13 miles back to town on the Trans-Catalina Trail. The trail traverses up and down several “mountains” and just 5 miles in we were worn out so we stopped for a picnic lunch at the “Black-Jack Campground”. We continued on in the heat, taking in the views of the bright blue Pacific Ocean with the contrasting yellow-orange hillsides. We really felt like we were far from home with this drastic change in environment. A few miles from town and very near where we had seen the bison from the van we passed quietly by the enormous creature, trying not to disturb him. As we got back to town the sun was setting and are legs were pretty worn out. Sitting on a sailboat for days doesn’t do a good job at preparing you for a pretty intense hike. By the time we got back to the boat the sky was dark but the water was lit up blue, green and purple with the under-glow lights of the fancy power boats that had filled the bay while we were away. We had neighbors on all sides and next door three guys were watching the football game on a big screen tv on the deck of their sports fishing boat. We were sweaty and dusty from the hike and needed desperately to clean off. As soon as we got back to the boat we stripped down and jumped overboard startling the neighbors. The water was refreshing and so clear it felt like you were in a swimming pool. The underwater lights allowed you to see the mooring blocks on the sea floor. The contrast of grassy hillsides and wild animals to bright lights and music was a shock to the system. Truly a California experience.

We spent the rest of our days in Catalina walking around town, lounging in the cockpit and reading in the hammock. The week felt like a vacation from boat projects and the moving from place to place we had been doing the following months.

Dana Point

We departed Catalina Island for a six-hour motor to Dana Point in overcast weather. The trip was uneventful apart from a shark fin sighting about half way into the trip. The water was so smooth you could see the black fin making small circles in the swell. We tied up to the Dana Point Yacht Club dock in the afternoon and got to see the youth sailing team practicing in the harbor. The wind had picked up and several boats capsized. Austin saw the coach had his hands full and yelled over if he could help. Austin jumped in the chase boat just in time to help with a dinghy that’s mast had come down due to a shroud failure. The coach was hesitant at first but after Austin explained his background in coaching, he was relieved to have an extra set of hands to get the broken boat and uninjured kids back to the dock. Karla and James on SV Polaris also came into Dana Point that same day and invited us out for a very nice dinner at one of the restaurants by the harbor. It was really nice to get to sit down and talk after running into them several times on our trip down the California Coast. We also got to meet up with Svea Love, a good family friend and her boyfriend Nate for yummy Chinese food.


From Dana Point we sailed north to the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club in Newport Beach. The club was fancy and the staff made it clear we weren’t their typical guests. We made the most of the location, taking a uber to a discount fabric store and did yoga in the nearby park each morning. Newport harbor is a manmade canal system/bay that is teaming with Duffy electric boats. To get the full picture of the Newport scene we recommend watching the “Teach Me How to Duffy” music video on YouTube. Austin asked a Duffy the tagline question and they were less than amused. Along with hundreds of Duffys we also saw a gondola and a floating tiki bar while we cruised through the canals in the dinghy one afternoon. Another day we walked over to Balboa Island and took the 3-car ferry to Balboa Peninsula and walked out to the Newport Pier. It was a very interesting ferry system that has three ferries all running continuously so there was always one on each side and one in the middle of the 400 ft crossing. There was no schedule and it only cost $2 for a car and driver. The attitude of Newport was a bit uppity and the people were not very friendly so we were happy to move on North to Long Beach.

Long Beach

Our next stop north was Alamitos Bay Yacht Club in Long Beach. It is predominantly a small boat and racing club and refreshingly more our style after Newport. The weather suddenly felt like fall and we got our first rain since Oregon. We ended up staying on the yacht club premises the full three days we were in Long Beach. Elise pulled out the sewing machine and made some more shade panels and started knitting Christmas stockings and Austin caught up with some reading and writing.

Marina Del Ray, LA

From Long Beach we sailed around North to Marina Del Ray. As we entered the breakwater, we saw a skiff on fire that turned out to be for a drill. A helicopter did a fly bye and we saw two boats full Lifeguard firefighters leaving the harbor to put out the fire. We tied up at the Del Ray Yacht Club dock and rented Bird electric scooters to zoom over to the grocery store and explore the harbor area. The next day we walked from the marina to the Santa Monica Pier through Venice Beach. It was a crazy scene of homeless people and macho body builders working out on the beach. That night we met up with Austin’s brother Gabe, his girlfriend Megan, friend Blake and his wife Megan for dinner at a hip Thai fusion restaurant in Venice. After dinner we went to a very trendy bar that was so posh it didn’t even have a sign outside. We all felt pretty out of place and made the next stop a dive bar with sawdust on the floor. The next day we moved the boat over to the Pacific Mariner Yacht Club just one finger over in the marina. After tying up in the tight slip the same group from the night before plus another friend Ty came over to the boat for brunch. We had bagels and salmon locks that Gabe made before coming down from Washington. Gabe stayed with us on the boat and we spent the next day doing boat projects. Austin worked on a fix to the chain locker leak, Gabe fiber glassed a patch on the dinghy and Elise scrubbed the boat topsides. After a day of boat work, we rewarded ourselves with giant burgers and beers at Hinano’s, the same dive bar we had visited for drinks a few days earlier.

Oxnard (Round 2)

After fueling up in Marina Del Ray the three of us headed north back toward Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving. We started out with good wind and had a fun sail before it died back and we had to motor. We planned for one night in Oxnard at the Ana Capa Yacht Club and then on to Santa Barbara. Our plans changed on the way when Austin’s dad called with news that Brookes house was under mandatory evacuation for a nearby wildfire and that the Thanksgiving plans were up in the air. We called the Santa Barbara Marina and they couldn’t guarantee they would have a slip for us as inclement weather was expected. The city of Santa Barbara went from wildfire evacuations to landslide warnings when the rain started pouring down on the recently burned ground. We decided that with the weather building we would stay in Oxnard and travel by car up to Santa Barbara only about a 50-minute drive. We called the Pacific Corinthian Yacht Club where we stayed the previous time we were in Oxnard and they were happy to let us stay on their dock again. The weather felt like fall in Washington with rain and cool temperatures. We got an uber up to Brooks house and enjoyed thanksgiving with the Murphy family. It was great to see family and friends for the holiday and everyone was so relieved the fires had gone out with the rain. After stuffing ourselves with a Thanksgiving feast, we provisioned the boat with the last few items we wanted to get before Mexico and said our goodbyes. It was harder than we expected, after saying goodbye when we left Washington 3 months ago. This time it was undetermined how long it would be before we would all see each other again. After a month of slowly creeping around Sothern California we were antsy to get moving and adventuring again. The day after Thanksgiving we untied the lines and headed south. Next stop MEXICO!

1 thought on “6. Bison, Beaches & Big Screen TVs – Southern California”

  1. Great blog! Love hearing all about your fun and productive stops in SoCal. Glad AYC membership served you well 🙂
    Hasta Luego – safe travels to Mexico!


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