How to Sail to Catalina Island (or anywhere)

One of our YouTube subs, WarbirdPylonRacer, asked that I make a video detailing how we sail to the island. Things like what we pack, how much water we take to last however many days we will be there, how we plan our means, etc. We will be making an associated video, but I wanted to get this down on “paper” and get it out to our Facebook channel.

When we plan a trip to the island, there are things that need to be done before we depart in order to ensure safety first, then comfort second. Safety is of course the most important aspect, so that is what we always concentrate on first. Here is a bullet list that is prioritized and below that I will get into more details.

  • Hull and rigging checks
  • Engine checks
  • Sail checks
  • Electrical checks
  • Provisions
  • Sail plan

Hull and rigging checks
Okay, so let’s break this down into more detail. When we’re planning an adventure, the most important thing is that we stay afloat. If you’re not floating, then, well, you’re sunk! You always want to go through the boat and check the throughhulls. Along with that, also check things like the rudder post seal, packing gland, and it is also good to check the cutlass bearing. This is also a good time to check the operation of the bilge pump(s). If you do not have a backup pump, you probably should. We have two bilges – the main bilge that runs from the stern through the engine room, and the smaller bilge that runs from the galley forward. Both have their own bilge pumps.

It’s a good idea to walk around and check the deck fittings, and what rigging you can see. Check for meathooks where the braided steel stays may have come loose from the bundle close to where hardware is mounted. Also, check all your sheets for fraying

Engine checks
Although some of us like to think that an engine is optional, the other mere mortals are more than happy that we have one. This is especially true when you’re anchoring close to rocks. On our Beta Marine, there are only three checks that need to be done before we depart, well four if you include checking the level of fuel. We need to check coolant, oil in both the crankcase and transmission and the tension on the belt. Beyond that, we are free to go!

Electrical Checks
Electrical checks start with the essentials. I first like to check the batteries. We have older lead/acid batteries (getting new Lithiums soon), so I check the water level and voltages. I then move on to check the bilge pumps, if I have not already checked them. After that, the next most important thing is the windlass. This also gives me a chance to check the chain locker and the anchor. I will release and lower the anchor, then raise it completely. I then cleat off the snugger so that it is ready for departure

Sail Checks
Here we will check to make sure there are no tears in either the main or the genoa. You need to do this when there is no wind, for obvious reasons. We usually do it the morning before because the wind is usually dead in the mornings, and that will give us time to fix what is needed. This is also a good time to check the running rigging. Nothing more frustrating than when you’re about to raise the main, but you find the halyard is wrapped around something. Then its time to run the sheets for the jib or genoa. Give the sheet a wrap or two around each winch and cleat them off so they’re ready.

This sort of thing is usually started about a week before we plan to leave. First Mate will write up a menu based on how long we plan to stay – typically around five to nine days. She will loosely plan lunch and dinner, then go to the store and get what she needs. We normally carry a few month’s worth of rice, beans, and canned foods, so we can supplement what she buys with what we have. As usual, we end up eating out a time or two, so some of the provisions come back with us. This is fine because we just add that to what meals we plan when we return.

Also good is to plan how much water you will be using during your adventure. A rule of thumb is that we plan on about three gallons per person per day. We also carry a full load, which is 142 gallons for us. With that much, we can plan on a shower every other day, and even squeeze in a load or two of laundry if we are conservative. We used to carry five-gallon jugs of R/O drinking water, but we recently bought a Zerowater filtering jug, so no need for additional drinking water. When we did bring R/O water aboard we would usually carry about 15 gallons with us. After all, we had to plan for running the ice maker and re-hydration after martini night. The Zerowater filter has made the water jugs unnecessary. I’ll review the Zerowater filter system soon, but it removes EVERYTHING and really leave the water with zero PPM. The day before we leave we will fill all the tanks, with the exception of the main tank that we use, then that one will be topped off the next morning before you leave.

Sail Plan
Sometimes sailors overlook this (we do, too). A detailed sail plan is always a good idea. There is a PDF version on the Coast Guard website that you can just fill in. It has space for information pertaining to departure times, expected arrival times, names of the crew, names if contacts, phone numbers, boat information, and all other essential information that would be needed should something bad happen. You should file this with someone onshore that is a responsible person. In the event that you do not check-in by an agreed-upon time, that person can relay information to port authorities or the Coast Guard, should that be warranted. We try to make sure to email out our sail plan to several people, then designate one to be the lead contact responsible.

The Morning Of
On the morning of departure, there should only be a few things left to check. I top off the main water tank, disconnect shore power, then go below to switch over from shore power to the inverter. I turn off the battery charger so that it will not draw additional current unnecessarily. I start the diesel and look to see that the exhaust is spitting out water. That shows me that the raw water pump is working We untie the slack lines on the leeward side of the boat, then the First Mate unties the forward windward line and I hold the rear line with one wrap around the cleat. This gives First Mate time to board before the boat blows away from the dock. I upwrap the stern line, tie it off, and man the helm. First Mate properly secures all the dock lines. If you forget this, you may end up with one wrapped around the prop. Don’t ask me how I know this.

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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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