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Discover Catalina just offshore

Santa Catalina Island was made nationally famous after a 1958 song, but SoCal residents can explore it after a mere 26-mile sea voyage from Newport Harbor.

June 29, 2010|By Mike Whitehead

"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.

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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.

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