"26 Miles (Santa Catalina)," sung by the Four Preps in 1958, helped make Santa Catalina Island a national household name. Many recreational boaters and passengers on the Catalina Flyer will travel the 26 nautical miles from Newport Harbor to Avalon.
But most people are only familiar with city of Avalon, or members of the local yacht clubs only make the crossing to the clubs' boat moorings and beach areas on the island. A smaller percentage and usually only a boater crowd know about the hamlet of Two Harbors referred by boaters as the "Isthmus." These are the only harbors on Catalina with shops, restaurants and fuel docks. Visitors will find only minimal overnight accommodations at the Isthmus, with camping and the Banning House Lodge. However, Avalon has more hotels and overnight accommodations.
Looking from the shores of Newport, one can see the tops of Catalina's mountains, but not the harbors. This is due to the curvature of the earth and the reason why you cannot see the lights of Avalon across the Pacific at night. Catalina is one of the eight Channel Islands in an island chain stretching from San Miguel Island located west of Santa Barbara to San Clemente Island, which is the most southerly situated island offshore from San Diego County.
Boaters leaving the protection of the harbor will cross the San Pedro Channel, and sharing the channel are the north and southbound shipping lanes for ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Boaters need to look at their charts or GPS to see where the inbound and outbound lanes are located to avoid tangling with a ship. Furthermore, experienced boaters know to monitor channel 14 on the marine band VHF radio for periodic reports on ship traffic by LA/Long Beach Vessel Traffic Service. Only a fool would try to outrun a ship to cross in front because it is very difficult to judge a ship's speed and distance being covered due to its size.
The best times for crossing the channel are in the morning if you want to motor across, or sailors can wait for the afternoon breeze to fill their sails. Friday evenings can become busy with boaters making the voyage, after everyone has arrived after work for the weekend. Sometimes there is an evening breeze, but usually sailboats have to fire up the iron genny to make a nighttime crossing. The closer you approach the island, you will notice the typical northwestern seas flatten as you enter the protected lee of the island.
If you are heading for Avalon, Isthmus, or rounding the West End or the East End, there is much more to explore around the island's 54 miles of coastline, like Long Point or Cat Harbor, to name a couple. Whether you are new to boating or an experienced cruiser, Catalina Harbor is within reach for a new adventure, but always remember to keep an eye toward Point Conception for large swells, to the mainland for Santa Ana winds and to the south for hurricane-produced swells.
Actually, the first hurricane of the season was named last week as Hurricane Celia, which started as a Category 2.
The forecast for the 2010 hurricane season that started June 1 is expected to be busier than normal by the experts. The water temperatures in the Atlantic are warmer and the Pacific waters are warmer from the effects of El Niño. Hurricanes are fueled by the warm waters that produce the massive energy of the storms, which is why hurricanes lose energy when over land. Additionally, there are concerns that a hurricane through the Gulf of Mexico might pick up oil particles and carry the petroleum miles inland with the storms.
The National Hurricane Center along with the National Weather Service and NOAA have a real-time graphical tropical cyclone activity map on the Internet at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/index.shtml. Just select the tabs for either Eastern Pacific or Atlantic to hover your mouse over any active storms shown on the map for detailed information.