Catalina Island During a Storm

On our fifth night at Catalina Island during our last sail there, we experienced a winter storm while anchored on the back side at Cat Harbor. Not a particularly bad storm, but more of a series of squalls that passed through the island. We had just installed a Mantus 65 anchor and were anxious to test it, so this would be the perfect time!

Understanding the wind patterns at Catalina Island is important for anchoring there. Whether it be Avalon or the Isthmus in the front side during Santa Ana winds, or the fact that when the wind funnels into Cat Harbor on the backside it can increase by 50% or so, you should know the details of how the wind affects anchorages so you can have a safe and uneventful time.

On this adventure we planned to spend the first few days on the front side of Catalina Island on a mooring ball at Fourth of July Cove, just next to a few sailing buddies. We planned on snorkeling and copious amounts of alcohol abuse while eating more than our fair share of high-calory snacks and good foods. Our trip was going according to plan and we were having a great time!

After having a good time on the front side, it was time to sail around to our favorite anchorage on the back side – Cat Harbor. The front side can be more interesting because there are a lot more boats there, but the hustle and bustle tend to wear on you when you just want to get away from it all. So, we sailed around and anchored in Cat Harbor for the night. Because someone was in our favorite spot we opted to anchor in about 60 feet of water. We were more confident that we would not drag because our new Mantus 60 was shackled to the chain at the bow.

We had initially let out a 3:1 scope because there weren’t any storms forecast that we knew of and Cat Harbor is so calm. We had a lot more feet of chain to let out, if needed, and also about 100 feet of rode. We noticed some dark clouds rolling in around 2 in the afternoon, so we checked the weather once again and found that there was in fact a storm blowing in that evening. After taking our dog Friday ashore for her last land break, we hurried back to the boat before the rain started, and made it just in time.

Within about two hours of returning to the boat it was about 6 o’clock and the winds started blowing. From our experience I would estimate the winds to be easily 30 knots and gusting to 40. One of our friends later told us that they were crossing during the storm and experiencing sustained winds of 22 knots, so with the funneling effect of Cat Harbor, the winds could have easily topped 30 knots and gusts higher. As we started whipping back and forth in the wind and gusts, I went forward to drop the additional 30 feet of chain.

The rain has started by this time and there was also an almost continual barrage of lightening throughout the sky. This is so unusual for Southern California that people ended up talking about it for a few days. Although the boat was whipping around a lot we did not drag at all – not even a foot. Our Mantus 65 dug deeply in and held us throughout the night. This was especially comforting considering the fact that we had anchored in deeper water than at any other time at Cat Harbor, and had out a total scope of about 3:1. I did an anchor watch until about 2 a.m. but it was really unnecessary, although in a good blow you really have to stand watch.

Cat Harbor is considered the best place to hole up during a blow even with the funneling effect of the surrounding land. One of the main reasons is that the ocean swells are almost completely broken up by the harbor. Every now and then you get a bit of roll, but anchoring there mostly feels like you are in a marina!

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About Captain Tom

Over 10 years sailing and over 3500 miles under our keel. Was an engineer (EE) for over 30 years, then after moving into management, decided that the corporate world was no longer for me. Ran my wife's law office for 15 years and recently retired. Now we live aboard and sail the California coast, soon to leave for the Sea of Cortez.
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