Reservations have been available for Santa Catalina Island's campgrounds for years, but trips from Marina del Rey to the island have always had an element of uncertainty, because boaters have never been sure as to whether or not there would be a mooring waiting for them. Currently, moorings are available on a first come, space available basis. Those who lease their moorings must call 24 hours in advance if they are planning to use them.
Once in Avalon, on a busy summer day the good sloop La Runa was securely moored at Descanso Beach. My girlfriend, Carolisa Pomerantz, and I had just swum to the beach front bar for cocktails and returned. We were looking forward to a relaxing barbecue on deck when we were approached by a boat from Harbor Patrol. The skipper told us that as of 8 a.m. the next morning we’d have to shove off and fend for ourselves because the mooring’s lessee was arriving the next day.
The next night we barely slept, buffeted by waves in our less protected anchorage hoping that our anchor held. In fact, on any holiday weekend, many boaters can expect to in Catalina, which can be a challenge given the water depth and the length of anchor rode needed there.
It’s not in place yet, but as of Memorial Day, boaters will be able to go online and reserve a mooring in advance in Catalina's West End. The moorings in Avalon, Descanso Beach and Hamilton Cove are overseen by the city of Avalon and will not be part of the new online reservation system put in place by Two Harbors Enterprises. The system will allow boaters to pay upfront with a credit card. Some moorings will still be available on a first come basis, but most can be secured in advance. The reservations are expected to be accessible at www.visitcatalinaisland.com.
If you’ve never picked up a mooring wand, here are some tips. The procedure is better handled by two people.
- For years, Phillip Winter, the Two Harbors’ harbormaster, accepted hails for moorings on Channel 16 (also the emergency Coast Guard Channel) but now he’s asking boaters to use Channel 9.
- Once you’ve been assigned a mooring, proceed there slowly, watching for dinghy cross traffic. After nudging your boat to the location, put your motor in neutral. Have your bow man pick up the wand. That’s the buoy that resembles an olive with a toothpick in a martini glass. Pull the wand onto the bow of your boat.
- About six feet below the surface of the water, you’ll find the bow hawser, a large diameter nylon line that you’ll attach to your boat’s bow cleat.
- Find the spreader line that’s attached to the hawser. Run the spreader line (also called the sand line) to the stern of the boat.
- Pull on it until you find the stern hawser. Grab it. Let the sand line go slack. Attach the stern hawser to the stern cleat.
- Check both bow and stern hawsers to make sure that you’re securely moored. Drop the sand line into the water.
- Be sure to monitor the tides. Adjust hawser tension as tides rise and fall. On one trip, we moored at low tide and tried to leave at high tide, finding it nearly impossible because our mooring was pulling the boat lower into the rising water.
- When leaving, start your boat’s engine but keep it in neutral. Drop the stern hawser, then the bow hawser, allowing them to settle free of your propeller. Then put your motor in gear for your trip back to Marina del Rey.
The new reservation system is great news for boaters. It will encourage more trips from the mainland and allow boaters to travel more easily knowing that their destination is waiting to embrace them.
More important, boaters will rest more easily once they get there. Isn't that the point of going to Catalina?
Correction, 02/22/11: This version corrects that the new online mooring system only will be available in Catalina's West End and does not cover moorings in Avalon, Descanso Beach and Hamilton Cove that are overseen by the city of Avalon.