by Mike Geer, Ariel #271 MICHALLA
(Reprinted from the Winter 1998 Ariel News Letter)

The decision to go wasn't a hard one. After six trips to the local Channel Islands, specifically to Santa Cruz island, I was ready to broaden my horizons.

Santa Cruz was usually 16 to 24 miles of motoring at night to avoid the wind chop, anchor in a semi protected cove, and catch up on my reading and relaxing. Although some places I was able to dingy ashore and explore or hike, I thought it would be nice to visit the civilization (bars and restaurants) that my local islands didn't offer.

My goal was to go to Catalina Island. It offered two harbors on it's North side. The closest being Two Harbors at 55.9 miles by my G.P.S. The second was Avalon, a few miles further. Two Harbors is usually a broad reach/run from Channel Islands Harbor, and a beat coming back. Both harbors offered moorings close to the dingy dock, and enough activities within walking distance to keep me busy for a few days.

Next, I needed to decide when to go. The boat is basically ready to go at any time. MICHALLA is the name of my sturdy Pearson Ariel. I have her rigged for single-handing, as that's the way I usually sail. October fifth was my first choice because it was Buccaneer Days at Two Harbors. This is the wildest weekend of the year. I arranged to meet some friends and spend the weekend with them at Two Harbors. Unfortunately, work would not allow me the week off, so I chose to go the following weekend, October 11 - 13.

October 11-13 was also the date of the Catalina Cruisers’ Weekend. Sponsored by WEST MARINE, it’s a gathering of genuine cruisers heading South for the Winter. It’s also a gathering for us cruiser-wannabes dreaming of going South for the Winter. The program was scheduled to begin with a Happy Hour on Friday and a swap meet on Saturday. Saturday was to be a full day of speakers and seminars on topics from safety to sail trim. Saturday night there was to be a live band with dining and dancing. Breakfast Sunday morning would end the weekend, allowing most boats to leave by noon.

After topping off my ice box and gas tanks, I left Channel Islands Harbor at 1:00 P.M. Friday, set the autopilot on a course of 120 magnetic, set my main and 120%Genoa, and settled down for my longest solo trip. What began as a beam reach in 10 knots slowly turned into a broad reach with 15 knots and little chop. I went forward to set my ½ oz. spinnaker and soon we were moving nicely at 6 knots. My only concern was crossing the shipping channel. I would enter the channel’s North bound lanes at 11 miles and I would leave the South bound lanes at 25 miles. I could have cut across at 90 degrees and shortened the time in the lanes, but because it was still day light, I decided to take the rhumb line.
At about 8:00 p.m. the wind died to 6 knots and the sun was just about out of sight. By 9:30 my spinnaker was hanging like an expensive wet noodle. I dropped the kite to the deck, started the motor, and prayed that my tailwind wasn't exactly my boat speed so I wouldn't have to breathe the exhaust. Luck was with me in that respect, and as I neared Two Harbors, I radioed the patrol for a mooring. I was guided to a mooring and as I paid my $12.00 I noticed it was exactly 1:00 A.M. It had been a fun twelve hours and I was ready for some sleep.

My two days on the island started at 6:00 A.M. the next morning, and went pretty much nonstop for 48 hours. Lot's of information, alcohol, and aspirin went through my head in a very short time. You really feel a sense of freedom and accomplishment walking onto an island to which you have sailed, no matter how near or how far. And no matter how cold or wet you were on the way there, sleep comes deep and easy when you are secure in your harbor.

As I sat in the harbor rocking gently behind my mooring ball I began to think about the feelings that I experienced on this trip. A little nervous? Yes, mostly because of the shipping lanes. Scared? Not really. Lonely? A little. After I sang just about every Jimmy Buffet song I knew, I kept myself amused by listening to the Coast Guard berate skippers for their never ending requests for radio-checks on channel 16. My only guess is that these people never actually listen to their radios. They just turn them on and ask for a radio check. If they would just listen for a half hour they would at least get to hear some other idiot chastised for doing what they are about to do.

I also realized how much more relaxing cruising is than racing. I race on boats in the summer and I enjoy it very much, but there isn't the same type of solitude and peacefulness that comes with cruising.

Would I make the trip again? You bet. Next year I'll stop by Catalina once again. Maybe when I get there I will detest the uphill slog home so much I'll just keep on heading South and try to improve my Spanish.