We almost never pay for a mooring ball. After all, the reason that we bought our new Mantus 65 anchor is because we really love anchoring out where ever we wish. The Mantus has not failed us yet. However, we needed to sail to Avalon on Catalina Island and the anchorage there is completely unprotected, so we opted to pay for a mooring ball for a few days. Little did we know what we were in for.
The first night was nice. We arrived on Saturday about four in the afternoon and were met at the entrance by Harbor Patrol who informed us that the Santa Ana winds were whipping up and that they would only sell us one night. The next day we would have to play it by ear to see if there were going to be any Santa Anas coming in. We had planned to stay on the mooring ball for four days while First Mate took care of some business she had on the island, so we were a bit worried that we may have to leave. We found our ball and tied up for an uneventful evening.
The next day the weather was calm and there were no signs of any Santa Ana winds, so we went ashore without worrying about anything aboard. Later that afternoon we went back to the boat for sundowners and had a nice evening. We started wondering what the big deal was about the Santa Ana winds. They had not been an issue and in fact, the wind was very light. It wasn’t until the next night that we figured out what the harbor patrol was talking about regarding the Santa Ana winds.
As it turns out the Santa Ana winds are not the issue. The problem starts when the winds blow offshore at the mainland. The winds whip up wind waves that are three to four feet. That doesn’t seem like much until you realize that the wave period is about two seconds. When you put that together with being on a mooring ball we could see how a boat could pop a cleat and slam into other boats causing a lot of damage. And there is also the matter of how uncomfortable it is.
We were awakened about two in the morning when the chop started rolling in. Our Morgan started hobby horsing up and down in a very uncomfortable way. About every 15 seconds or so we would start rolling side to side very violently. I went up in the cockpit to see that all the other boats were being tossed about like toys, too. From small sailboats to 50-foot power boats – none were immune to the force of the chop. That is when I noticed our skiff was floating away. It broke loose from the cleat it was on and was slowing drifting towards the bow. I ran (crawled) to the bow and wrapped one arm around a stanchion and while laying down reached as far as I could over the side. Although I could not reach the skiff when the Morgan was bouncing up, when it came down I could just reach into where the painter was. On the last bounce before it floated out of reach I said a prayer and blindly reached down as the skiff came up. Just like that the painter was in my hand and I was able to secure the skiff. Whew! About 30 minutes later a large powerboat threw the lines off and motored past us and out of the harbor. Evidently, the captain and crew had enough and decided to take their chances out in the open. We gave it a few hours and decided the same.
Before we could untie and sail out I needed to climb down into the skiff and pull the outboard into the up position. Normally this is a non-event, but with the chop both the boat and the skiff were being wildly tossed about. It took me about five minutes to wait for the right moment to step onto the boarding ladder and into the skiff. I worked my way back to the outboard and pulled it up. Then I had to wait for just the right moment to climb back onto the ladder to get back aboard. As the skiff was bouncing up the Morgan was bouncing down and vice-versa. When the skiff was down I had to stretch my arms to be able to hold on to the side of the Morgan. I almost fell in once and had to retreat back into the skiff. Finally, I managed to step onto the ladder and was able to board. Good thing because if I would have fallen in chances are the Morgan would have slammed me around pretty good.
We tossed the mooring lines off and slowly motored through the remaining boats. Once we made it into deeper water the chop was a bit less, but still bad. I went forward and raised the main, and we changed course to motor around the back side. With the main up the motion was MUCH gentler, and by the time we rounded the western tip and turned we had a following sea and all was right with the world once again.
Sad thing is that no one mentioned that the problem with the Santa Ana winds was not the wind, but the wind waves. Not one person. We’ve experienced Santa Ana winds for many years now, but never heard that this could cause problems on the front side of Catalina Island. We will probably never go back to Avalon again, but if we do we will certainly not sail there when the Santa Anas are in season! That night and the next morning were the worst times we have ever had aboard, and we never want to repeat that.