Sunday, January 24, 2010

260 Days In - Santa Catalina, Day 2

Morning is introduced abruptly with the water pump battering the space under our bed, like a very large and angry woodpecker. Outside calm envelops. Boats tilt to and fro in the morning sun as it glows through receding fog.

It seems that there has been a leak in the water tank, and low water levels mean no hot showers - just a quick wash. Captain Dad-of-Chris says that if we could listen out for where the leak might be coming from, that would be very helpful.

After breakfast we head out up the coast, hoping that the fog will disappear in front of us. Though it does not quite oblige our wishes, we come out the other side to a view of jagged cliffs and wide open sea.

Mr Wrigley (of Wrigley’s chewing gum) bought a controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company, would you believe. And thanks to him, many say, construction on the island is heavily restricted. So unlike the Southern California coast, who’s natural beauty is hidden behind housing and under golf-courses, a few dwellings scatter from Avalon up into the hills, and there nature takes over.

Day two is a day of seals. While we do get the desired company of a few playful dolphins, it is the groups of seals, lazing in the water with tail and flippers pointing towards the sky, that are the main cause of entertainment. From a distance they look like a shipwreck. We are eyed cautiously as we speed by, often causing shy heads to sink under the water.

Our second night is spent by the other settlement on the island (more of a village than a town), in Catalina Harbour (near the red circle on the map). The inlet almost joins, nearly creating two islands. But not quite. The harbour, therefore, is so cut off from the sea that it is totally calm.

The few other boats belong to people who work on-land, and the place has a quiet, un-touristy feel.

On land we poke round the one shop, look in on the one restaurant and read plaques outside of an American Civil War barracks (in surprisingly good shape). But the highlight has to be the lone male Buffalo that quietly eats grass beside the road, and acts positively shy when Chris pulls out his camera and readies his stalking posture.

In the 1920’s a film crew shipped out a herd of buffalo for a silent western that they shot on the island. Apparently there was not the budget to ship them back where they came from. The herd still live there, doing so well the population has to be controlled.

For Christmas, Chris' dad was given a boat Bar-B-Q. It has special attachments that connect to the boat, and is “just the right size”. As he gets out the box, and thoughts of fresh grilled burgers spread a smile across Chris’ face, there is a call of “did we bring any matches?”

Evidently there are no matches onboard, and every other ingenious idea of creating fire is thwarted. Luckily Chris’ mom packed a lasagne, for just this scenario; we celebrate with wine and a few games of poker. As we head to bed, I remark that the lights have gone awfully dim.

Chris’ dad, always the first to rise, is confronted with a floor of melted ice-cream in the way of boiling the kettle for his morning tea.

Of course the low lights were an indication of less battery power; power that continued to lessen through the night, and result in a defrosted freezer.

Chris and I avoid the clear up, striking out for a very steep hike up a small hillock. And to buy emergency water.

The journey home from our shake-down cruise is calm, fogless and void of wildlife. Peaceful, though somewhat uneventful.

Monday, January 18, 2010

254 Days In - Santa Catalina, Day 1

Chris’ dad likes boats.

When he was a young businessman he had a sailboat for the wild seas off California. When he was father he had a smaller sailboat for the calm lakes of inshore Great Britain. When he could see retirement he had a comfortable Dutch barge for the slow canals of hilly England. And now he has treated himself to a rather plushy (new-to-him) yacht.

He is once again back on the shark infested waters of the Pacific, but this time with a sat-nav and ice maker.

Since their purchase, Chris’ parents have been keen to take us on a trip down memory lane, 26 miles across the sea to Santa Catalina Island; a place that they sailed to many times before moving to grey old England. And, in-fact, the place that they were married.

This is also to be the boat’s shakedown cruise. A term that I appreciated more fully, post trip.

So last week we pack up enough stuff for about three weeks, and toddle off to the marina. There is something very special about being on water, and even more so about being on water where you can only see the haze of land in the distance.

I have only seen one dolphin up close once before: half way around the world in New Zealand’s fjordland.

Last week, I saw more dolphins than I can remember, as they hurried towards our boat to ride the pressure wave in front of us. We even heard them squeal at each other - as if in delight. We watched mesmerised as they played, weaving over and under each other.

After a while they would disappear down into the inky-turquoise sea to join their pod, and we would wait for another group to join us.

Amidst the wonder, disaster strikes. We hit heavy, thick fog.

Chris dad goes to turn on the radar. It doesn’t work. I ask what they did when they hit fog when in the sailboat.

They just kept going, and it was always ok.

So we kept going.

Luckily the sat-nav stopped us missing the island and ending up in Japan.

Once safely moored in Avalon, Catalina’s only town (and one of two “settlements“), we disembark for land. Chris helps his dad pump up the dingy and attach the out-board motor. In the end, we are rowed to shore.

Avalon is a sweet little town, reminiscent of a Devon fishing village; with too many hotels, and shops that sell things you “like” but will regret having purchased, once you are home. Chris takes lots of photos.

As it is January the streets are almost empty, and the bars very quiet; but we find a lovely Mexican restaurant that will serve me my desired fish and chips and Chris the most enormous margarita I have ever seen.

Soaked with wine and food we row back to our little “home” and are lulled to sleep by the banging of buoys against boats.

If you followed the hyperlink, I hope you enjoyed the song!

Monday, January 4, 2010

240 Days In - A New Year

My mother asks me (via Skype), “is New Year’s Eve as much of a big deal in California as it is here?”

Internally I laugh; poor, sweet, ageing mum.

Externally I say “New Year is a big deal everywhere, isn’t it?” My sister, who is silently reading behind my mother, concurs. Clearly neither of us have spent New Year’s Eve in Balboa.

Balboa, as I understand it, is the swanky part of Newport. Newport, as those who have watched The OC know, is the swanky part of Orange County. And Orange County, it is commonly agreed, is the swanky commuter-ville outside of LA.

Balboa has a peninsula complete with beach with surf-able waves, and peer with diner at the end of it; it also has an exclusive island, where stupidly rich people buy ridiculously large holiday houses on the water so they can park their ludicrously oversized yachts next to them.

The high street on (as some trendy locals call it) Bal Isle has quaint boutique shops and lovely restaurants; the peninsula has trendy but well decked out eateries and bars.

Chris and I have agreed to see in the new year with friends who are also legal immigrants. They live in a spacious flat with a view of Balboa. A few weeks before the big night, we discuss the possibility of booking a fire pit on the beach, but the hoards of people seen out on Halloween and July the 4th lead us to conclude that we have left it too late.

So, not wanting to pay to get into a bar, or to spend the whole night squeezed into a corner, having to shout over raucous noise, we start the jollities in their flat and decide to wander into Balboa at about 11 to soak up the atmosphere.

Come 10.30, wine soaked and fully fed, we dress up in scarves and gloves, as if in England, and head off with plastic cups and a bottle of Don Perignon.

The walk to the island is eerily quiet and once over the bridge there is a distinct lack of people and noise. In one “Irish pub” we see a live band calmly serenading a completely seated audience. Confused we head for the ferry that will take us over to the peninsula and the promise of life. But unlike the 31st October there is no queue of cars waiting for the three-car boat.

On the way across a lone party-boat chugs past us; music is playing loudly, but on closer inspection there seem to be about ten people onboard. A lady standing next to us says “it is really dead, it seems to get quieter every year. I think it is because of the drink driving laws”.

And, as we had begun to fear, the peninsula is just as dead as the island. But we keep on, stubbornly believing that the beach will surprise us with numerous parties around numerous fires.

It does not.

There is one party around one fire, and the drunken teenagers seem an omen that pushes us towards an nearby pub that is, miraculously, open. The people on the street outside create a false impression that the place is full, but at least it means we get a table.

Chris goes all out and, donning a party hat, orders a double sized bottle of Corona and the world’s most disgusting chicken wings.

On the way home we pass the Irish pub, now dark and empty. It is 12.30.

Back in the flat, we pop the champagne and settle in for a drunken game of Snapdragon.