Catalina Island Camping | The Rugged Male
The birthdays of the hardy male should always be celebrated. Hell, everyone's birthday must be celebrated! You have physically taken a trip around the sun, an awe-inspiring achievement that deserves to be recognized even if you bring it on your own. If you have the time to plan your birthday, it should be a time […]

The birthdays of the hardy male should always be celebrated. Hell, everyone's birthday must be celebrated! You have physically taken a trip around the sun, an awe-inspiring achievement that deserves to be recognized even if you bring it on your own.

If you have the time to plan your birthday, it should be a time to reflect and unusual celebration, in other words - special. This is exactly what I did last month. I was happy enough given the Covid restrictions, the Covid concerns, the California wildfires, the BLM protests, and the five civil wars America is currently waging.

The plan: Captain of the Catalina Channel with my friends to camp, fish and mess around on Santa Catalina Island

It sounds simple enough, but there have been concerns the whole week before. Maybe it was because my boat was only 30 feet long, relatively small for the 24 mile rental. Perhaps this was partly due to the fact that my marine engineer had told me not to leave the port two days before departure. We may not have GPS or radar and the fog was great that week. Oh I got it, it must be that the starboard starter is missing teeth and needs a rebuild. Nahhhh.

I was nervous for Mother Nature, like all captains. The weather can change in 30 minutes in this canal and suddenly your peaceful crossing has become the Adventure of Poseidon. The only other time I was captain of this chain I experienced just that, in a 25 foot center console.

If you don't know Santa Catalina Island, we should start with the name. Everyone, and I mean everyone just calls her Catalina. It was a place for the Hollywood elite back then ... well, before at the time". As early as 1911, Catalina Island served as the location for more than 200 films. Throughout this history, Catalina Island has been transformed into the coast of North Africa, Tahiti, the US border and many more. Catalina holds a unique place in the history of film production as the exotic back of Hollywood.

Another interesting and lasting impression of Catalina is the sighting of buffalo roaming the island. Tatonka were brought to Catalina Island for the production of The Endangered American, the film version of Zane Grey's classic novel. The North American bison herd has roamed the Catalina Hills since December 1924.

OK, enough history ...

We walked out of the port of San Pedro to the crack of 11h. When traveling with musicians, don't expect an early departure. Our skies were hard to read as we had a lot of California wildfire smoke and coastal fog lingering over the past week. We passed the Angels Gate Lighthouse and shortly thereafter the visibility improved until we had a full blue bird. The fog was successfully removed as a threat to our journey.

As the lighthouse began to fade in the distance, we put our compass on and headed out for the blue sky and ocean. Shortly after, we took escorts right next to our stern. A large school of dolphins seemed to share our goals for the day. It was a good time to break our first beers. Why not, Mother Nature had just joined the party. Cheers!

We kept the throttle at around 18 knots and enjoyed the ride. After about an hour, we could see Catalina on the horizon. Shortly after, we arrived at Two Harbors. It is a beautiful part of the island that does not have a city, rather an outpost or a military base. It's called Two Harbors because the island is really skinny at this point. It is an isthmus between the two ports on both sides of the island. You can walk to the other side of the island in 15 minutes.

There are no docks or slides in Two Harbors, so your mooring skills need to be sharp. We hit channel 9 on the VHF radio to inform the harbor master that we need an anchor near the campground. Then we knocked moored to the main dock to unload gear and look around. I was the only person to have been there before and it wasn't for a very long time.

They have what is called a 'gear transport' where they will drive your camping gear to your campsite for a small fee. There is a sizable hill to get to the campsites from the city, but it's not bad if you shed some light. We had a lot of gear and guitars so we took advantage of the service. I also added firewood to our transportation. Our buddy Dan walked the track with the guitars.

camping-catalina-two-ports-quayside

Two ports, Catalina

Our moorings and campsites are at the end of these rows of boats. We didn't have a dinghy and were planning on using a paddleboard to move gear to shore. This turned out to be difficult as there were more waves than expected in this cove. The rocky beach and the steep hill also made it difficult. Climbing up a steep dirt hill in wet flip flops wasn't fun, but it was really beautiful. The water around Catalina is crystal clear, making it a popular destination among the diving community.

We finally brought everything to our camp. The campsites are great, well equipped with a picnic table and a fireplace with a cooking grid. Ours also had a structure on the table for some shade. They're pretty close to each other which I imagine could be annoying, but we were in a shoulder season and midweek so it wasn't bad. I also feel that everyone at Two Harbors is respectful. It is much more a place for nature enthusiasts than a tourist destination like Avalon - the proverbial “the other side of the island”. Except they're on the same side.

Two Harbors reminds me of K-58, a surf spot in Baja. There was just a campsite there for years. More and more surfers kept coming and eventually restaurants and small hotels started to appear. The evolution of Two Harbors is not much different. The city looks like a military base. The general store added a restaurant, bar, and beach club, but everything is still very sweet. Our campsite has a 10 pm noise ordinance.

We set up our camp, poured in some tequilas and enjoyed the view. The fuel dock told me it was the first time they could see the mainland all week because of the forest fires. It was getting dark and we were hungry, having been up since 6am with little more than pistachios and a few beers. The boys packed sirloin steaks which complimented our camp decor very well. Dan and I went for a man cave style and ate our steaks with our hands. No need for silverware.

california-beach-camping

After dinner we played music until 10pm, receiving applause from our fellow campers. I hadn't been camping for many years and this moment seemed very silly to me not to do it more often.

The last part of the tour wasn't fully done yet, that's the way I like to travel. Plan about 60% of the trip and pilot it the rest of the time. It allows for a spontaneity that many of us don't have in our lives and badly need it.

The plan was for me to sleep on the boat while the boys spent the night in their tents. It was a good plan, except once again, no dinghy.

Every night around midnight I would walk alone on a steep, black path to the rocky edge of the water. There I would toss Adam's paddleboard with my clothes in a trash bag tied around my neck. It wasn't bad but there was a lot of room for improvement. I was quite humid once I got to the boat but it was great, I had a warm bed and abundant moonlight. There was a lot more swaying waves than expected. Being moored at an anchorage is quite different from being tied to a dock. Nothing that Advil PM cannot solve.

The next morning I hear: "Hello CuttyHunk, this is the Harbormaster". I got upstairs and said "Hello, you have to bring me some coffee". She smiled and asked me to come to town when I had a chance to pay for my mooring. I nodded and she left in her skiff.

Our trip to Catalina is over, but our island adventure has only just begun - I thought as I took a dip in the ocean. The rest of the story is up to you. Here are some pictures of the rest of our trip.

Thanks for the reading!

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