The EF’n Catalina Wine Mixer
A unique island experience
I have been to Catalina many times, but I must say, this trip was on a whole new level. It checked all the boxes. Several months back a handful of us got together and wanted to do something extreme and adventurous. Something different and unique. Something that would definitely get the adrenaline flowing and qualify as a significant check mark on the bucket list. Something that we would deem worthy of making an annual trip out of. Hey, life is short, get uncomfortable and do stuff that scares you, right? We decided it would be an amazing experience to Jetski across the 30 mile channel to Catalina and primitive camp on a secluded beach on the island. It was a great idea and an epic experience, to say the least. I’m going to walk through our trip and experience from start to finish, details and descriptions and some do’s and dont’s (some of which we learned the hard way). This trip and our choice of transportation, is definitely not for everyone. But, during this post I will provide a decent amount of info about Catalina island and camping to fit anyone’s style. Regardless of your adventure level, I think you will find this informative.
Here we go. The Preparation. This is not a decide on Wednesday and head out on Friday type of trip. It required a ton of planing, coordination and some financial investment. Eleven of us set a date and determined September would be our best option as far as weather conditions and temperatures. 9 of us would be on Jetskis and 2 others would be in a boat, which we later deemed Air Force One. For safety and storage purposes, the boat really played a key part in this trip. Although it wasn’t specifically an “ocean” boat, the 28ft DCB handled the swells and sea just fine. We payed very close attention to the weather and swell conditions all the way up our departure. Morning and afternoon are typically the calmest at sea, so we planned to leave at first light on a Friday morning. A few planning and gear tips. We all agreed to pack as light as possible, one bag per person, backpacking style camp chairs, tents etc. Ideally the goal was to fit everything personal in one backpacking style pack per person. Storage in the boat was limited and we also had to consider weight in the boat as well. We packed a small grill and propane stove, as there are no campfires allowed at any boat-in camping sites on the island. We put together a pooled account where everyone contributed some funds to cover the group cost of food, drinks, equipment and essential gear. (tow ropes, first aide kits, safety equipment etc). We planned as if something could go wrong, it would and ran through all the hypotheticals we could think of. I must say, we did a really thorough job in this area (golf clap).
We delegated roles and responsibilities and we met as a group on several occasions to coordinate details. This was definitely not a trip to take lightly or do on whim. We made sure we had emergency beacons and a GPS Satalite phone with SOS beacon as well. We used the Garmin In-Reach Mini, which is connected to the Iridum Satellite Network and has global coverage. This came in handy later too, cell service was spotty and we were able to text family that we made it ok. Awesome little device for any outdoor adventure. It’s something I will always have with me on my outdoor trips moving forward. Although we did have cell service throughout the trip over the ocean, I wouldn’t recommend this trip without a backup form of communication. We purchased Walkie’s so everyone was in touch along the way as well. Small Drybags were a good pickup for carrying a few personal belongings on our skis. The night before our trip we held a little mandatory meeting and required that everyone was packed up and brought their gear so we could pre-load the boat the night before and have a bit of time in case we missed something. All packed, locked and loaded, ready for the voyage. We were excited.
The Trip. Our entourage of skis and boat pretty much owned the freeway as we caravanned down to Davies Launch Ramp in Long Beach. This is the closest course to get to Catalina (Avalon). We ended up launching and getting on the water at about 8am, a little later than we planned. Again, the earlier the better, the sea is typically calmer. We paired up with a buddy system and did a walkie and gear check. Quick note on the attire on the way over. This will make your trip over either comfortable or miserable. I would highly recommend picking up neoprene wetsuit separates, long sleeve top and separate pants. Some wore full wetsuits, but they were also much more constricting. Those that wore water shoes, quickly complained about their feet being cold. Go with some neoprene booties and neoprene gloves, helped a lot as well. I basically tapped into my dive gear and I was super comfortable and warm. Another key item, goggles. A must. Everyone who wore glasses or nothing at all were miserablly blasted with salt water for hours. Over time it really takes a toll on your eyes. I used snowboarding goggle sand they worked perfect. I also had some custom longsleeve dry-fit shirts made, special for this trip, so we were super fresh and fashionable. Yes, we all matched.
I feel like I’m bouncing around a bit in the story line, but I want to make sure things get noted as they come to me, so forgive me for the sporadic writing on this one.
Important info on the Ski situation. If you have an option, stick with a 3 seater and away from ANYTHING smaller. It was a pretty rough ride for those on the 2 seaters and they were also the ones that ended up running out of gas. We had 10 extra gallons that we brought with us on the boat and sure glad we did. The boat kept the pace and we fanned out behind like a fighter jet formation (hence the boat call sign “Air Force One”). We also thought having 3 of the more experienced ocean goers on the wings and bringing up the rear was a best practice, it helped keep eyes on everyone and it was a bit foggy through the morning. The ride out was super fun, but I would be lying if I said we weren’t a little intimidated at first. Especially at that midway point where land completely disappeared in every direction. We didn’t rush and we enjoyed the ride on the open ocean. One of the most surreal moments for me was when we stopped at the halfway point. The sea was surprisingly calm and the sun was just breaking through the low cloud cover. We all shut down our rigs and just floated in the ocean. Relaxed and enjoyed the moment and the peacefulness. Humbling how small we really are in this big world, just an epic moment. Really puts things in perspective and makes all those daily things we stress about seem quite insignificant.
With several stops and taking our time, it took a little over 2 hours of travel time to get to our camp location. There are 9 boat-in camps located on the island. Here is a link for some additional info on the sites https://www.visitcatalinaisland.com/things-to-do/two-harbors/boating/boat-in-camping/ ALL of these sites are PRIMITIVE. No facilities, shade, restrooms, mooring lines etc. You are responsible for packing in everything you would need for camping at these locations, including a portable restroom or WAG bags. There are no trash containers either, so EVERYTHING you pack in you must pack out, even your shit, yes your shit. Like your literal shit. If you can’t deal with that, do not plan to make take this trip. I had a chance to have a long conversation with one of the rangers, Randy I believe, and unfortunately one of the biggest problems they face is having to clean up other peoples bodily waste. Not cool, don’t be those people. Pack out everything you pack in, leave no trace and if you have the opportunity, make the place better then you found it. Golden rules that will ensure these places stay clean, beautiful and pristine for others to enjoy. This will be the planet your children grow up on, just keep it real.
We stayed at the campsite called Italian Garden A. It was the largest of the 3 sites at Italian Gardens which accommodated our group of 11 perfectly. Italian Gardens B and C sites are both similar, secluded and beautiful, just smaller. This site also happened to be one of the closer site to Avalon Harbor, which was a short boat ride if you needed facilities or to resupply in town for anything. I was really impressed with the site overall, great secluded location without ANY ability for neighbors. Hey, sometimes thats exactly what you need, seclusion. Sleeping tip: Bring an inflatable or foam sleeping pad, the beach is entirely rock. From our google earth scouting, it looked like sand, but NOPE, it’s all rock. It’s also one of the roughest sections of beach on the island as far as the waves go, so we learned. The ocean swells just happen to hit this beach a little harder than other areas of the island. Nothing to crazy, but it made for an interesting time of loading and unloading the boat.
We didn’t bring the proper mooring gear to secure the boat offshore, so we had to find another place to secure the boat. This was a big inconvenience as we had to shuttle people back and forth on the skis. Hindsight, bring proper mooring gear and heavy anchors and this wouldn’t have been a problem at all. The overall location was amazing though. A long stretch of private beach all to ourselves with amazingly clear water and gorgeous views. Nothing like waking up 15 feet from the sound and views of ocean waves. Honestly, there’s not many places locally in Southern California where you can experience that closeness to the ocean. We relaxed, we fished, we grilled, we played some games on the beach, we snorkeled. We took early morning rides on the skis and played around in the coves. Explored the island. We ate, drank and enjoyed each others company. It was an experience and adventure that we will all remember. One we will definitely look back on with a smile and a chuckle.
Catalina is a really awesome place to visit and experience all together. I have been other times as well and even just spending the day there is great. I know this particular trip might be challenging for some, so I’ve decide to also include some general info about the island and other things to do, as well as a simpler camping option or suggestion. First off, the little town of Avalon is beautiful. Lots of great places to eat and many of the hotel options have great ocean views. A good way to get around the island and explore a bit is by golf cart, which are easily rented. There is an offload tour that takes you around the island and up to some pretty rad view points on the island as well as it’s history.
There are Buffalo on the northern part of the island that were once brought over to shoot movie scenes and ended up calling the island home. If you’re a Scuba fan, the kelp forests are incredible to dive and the visibility is pretty good. Many divers shore dive right off the Casino point. Fishing off the coast of the Catalina is very popular. Hiking on the island is another very popular attraction, the Trans-Catalina Trail starts in Avalon and traverses the length of the island, 39 miles. There are 5 campgrounds along the trail that make backpacking this bad boy a fun adventure and a nice way to disconnect for few days, permits are required through the Catalina Island Conservancy.
Another option that you could consider, if you wanted to experience some primative camping minus the boating/skiing in to the island would be renting kayaks. There’s a company that will rent kayaks and help coordinate camping adventures on more of the remote parts of the island. You take the ferry over with your gear, work with them for the rentals and even have kayaks in tow to transport your gear. They provide a really good amount of information and assistance in getting something like this planned, check them out at www.kayakcatalina.com Hope you enjoyed this unique little Catalina adventure, we sure did. No one got lost, no one got hurt and no one died. I would do this trip again in heartbeat and with a much higher comfortability level after this successful run. Can’t wait to go back and do it again. Cheers to the next adventure!
As I will say after every post, please be mindful and respectful of these locations and the islands ecosystem. The island has experienced a few really bad fires, which is why it’s heavy on fire restrictions. So please follow all rules, they exist for a reason. As more people venture outdoors these days, we really need to make sure nature is respected and more people like you are spreading that message. Always practice leave no trace and if you have the opportunity, please help make this place better than you found it. Its our mantra when we go out. More people making a positive impact goes a long way and inspires others to do the same. Tag us in your clean up efforts and we will try to get you some gear as a HUGE thank you!