Last weekend was the annual spring cruise to Isthmus Cove on Catalina Island for my club, Little Ships Fleet of Long Beach. We were also joined by the Port Royal Yacht Club from Redondo Beach. And a group, including some of our members, who charter their rides from Marina Sailing, a club with six outlets in Southern California.
Those charter boat guys miss out on some of the experiences of boat ownership. Not me. At 8:30 am Friday when I turned the key to start my engine, it made several weak revolutions and then stopped. Luckily, I had unplugged the power cord about a half-hour earlier, so my dead batteries weren't masked by the battery charger. Otherwise I would have had a couple of dark nights aboard at the island.
Just to make sure it was a battery problem and not an engine problem, I untethered my emergency starting battery from its stowage spot in the forward cabin and connected it to the engine, which fired right up.
The boat batteries were about a year old when I bought the Ericson 30 in the fall of 2005, so no surprise. I knew exactly what to do. Disconnect them. Wheel them up to my car in a dock cart and go buy new ones. Forget about the planned 9:00 am departure from the fuel dock.
I saved $52 per battery compared to West Marine's catalog price, by driving over to Wayne Electric Co. in west Long Beach and buying Delco Voyager deep-cycle batteries for $88.00 each. They were the same Group 27 size as my dead West Marine Sea-Volt Deep Cycle 90s. But they had an extra 15 ampere-hours of capacity and were noticeably heavier.
It was 1:00 pm that afternoon when I finally left the fuel dock with my tank topped up with gasoline at $5.19 a gallon. Sure glad I have a sailboat.
But that's another interesting topic. Sailing isn't always the easiest way to get to Catalina Island, which stretches in a generally NW-SE alignment roughly 25 miles south of the southern shoreline of Los Angeles County. The best way to get a sailboat to a Catalina Island destination is to leave in the morning and motorsail while the wind and seas are calm, arriving in mid-afternoon while there's still hope of getting a mooring, which are first-come, first-served unless you are lucky enough to have your own. The power boaters have all the advantages in the summer-time mooring lottery at Catalina.
Leaving in the afternoon often guarantees a long beat to windward, and several tacks if you're going to the Isthmus from my marina at the east end of the Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor complex. That Friday, the wind hit 20 knots in mid-afternoon and I flopped around for awhile hove-to trying to get a reef into the main. Finally I remembered to uncleat the boom vang and the reefing line easily pulled the new clew the last few inches to the boom. I like single-handing. But sometimes I could do with a better skipper to yell at me what I'm doing wrong.
It took seven hours and 34.7 nm to get there. I tied up at mooring a little after sunset.
I needn't have worried about being shut out for a mooring. There were plenty on the preferred west side of Isthmus Cove, and the less-protected east side was nearly empty. It was still sparsely occupied Saturday night. To my eye, sailboats far outnumbered power boats in the mix. I think fuel prices may make life tough this summer for the Catalina residents who depend on boaters for their livelihood.
The comraderie of Saturday night's beach barbeque and Sunday morning's breakfast seemed to match everyone's expectations for the weekend.
The only thing lacking as we departed late Sunday morning was wind. For me it was a case of motoring for an hour, hanging out the sails for another hour hoping the zephyrs would link up into a sustained breeze, and then motoring some more. But by 2 pm it began to blow for real and by 3:30 I was flying on a broad reach straight for home at 6 to 7 knots. Before I got there I had one period of continuous surfing down three-foot waves that saw the GPS hit 8.4 knots. That's heady stuff on a boat with a 23.4-foot water line, flying a 110% jib.
The ride home took only 5 1/2 hours and covered 28 nm.