Maiden sailing voyage to Catalina Island

Crew members build camaraderie offshore

Crew of Miss Joy approaching the quaint community of Avalon, Catalina Island. (Andrea Clemett/Lariat)

Crew of Miss Joy approaching the quaint community of Avalon, Catalina Island. (Andrea Clemett/Lariat)

After reading the non-fiction book entitled Tribe, by Sebastian Junger, I finally understood the underlying idea of what tribal societies can teach our modern population about loyalty, belonging and the human quest for meaning. Junger introduces an anthropologist, Christopher Boehm, who found that high levels of the hormone oxytocin are triggered in group cooperation and loyalty. Thus leading the members of the tribe to encourage group welfare by making sacrifices.

With that in mind, I drove into the deep end by deciding to expand my ocean horizons and began sailing for a year with my husband, Hayden. We worked with one another to sail our own little Laguna 22-foot boat, sailing to the San Clemente pier and around the neighboring cities of Dana Point. We signed up for the Cruising to the Channel Island class with Saddleback College.

After three in-class lectures, the instructor, Ric Dahlin assigned crew members to the five yachts from the Aventura Sailing Association. Alongside Hayden, I met the rest of the crew at the Dana Point West harbor. John, a lawyer and his son-in-law Tom, whose goals are to rent Aventura boats to sail on their own and eventually buy a yacht. We also met Gabe, a surfer and avid traveler from San Clemente, who began sailing this spring. Our captain, a lifelong waterman, who focused on sailing for 15 years and taught with Aventura for 2 years.

I laughed to myself before we departed, as I remembered old boating superstitions I once read. They include never leaving port on a Friday, avoiding bringing bananas aboard and giving the boat a masculine name. I figured the name Bonnie Seas encompassed a southern feminine flair and the galley was stocked with the morning’s baking supply from the markets with no bananas to spoil the other fruit. Hence, I stepped onto the boat with my right foot forward first and figured two of the three superstitions equated to the majority rule for a good trip ahead of us.

Leaving the slip at 9 a.m. the ocean’s sheet glass conditions inhibited us from textbook sailing until the afternoon northwesterly winds. We hoisted the mainsail and motored out of the harbor, but with a lack of wind, the bobbing forced me to sit and concentrate on the horizon.

The crew huddled on deck, taking turns steering at the helm while practicing nautical knots required in every sailor’s repertoire. My seasickness eased as we began to get to know one another.

With perfect projected winds, we sailed into our afternoon destination of Emerald Bay. I have a slight hesitation of heeling when the boat tilts over on side as a result of wind filling the sails. Jim teased me as I took the helm, calling out, “uh oh, Andrea, we’re heeling.” Everyone laughed making light of the situation, since I have previously expressed the fear of tipping over my little boat. 

As we eased past Two Harbors, our GPS guided us through the depths of the sea since rock pilings are known to destroy the bottoms of boats. The depths fluctuated from 230 to 165 feet to arriving to our mooring buoy at 20 feet. The bay looked similar to a tropic in the Caribbean, appearing to be the bluest waters I have ever gazed upon in California.

Schools of dolphins swan alongside Bonnie Seas for a look. (Andrea Clemett/Lariat)

Schools of dolphins swan alongside Bonnie Seas for a look. (Andrea Clemett/Lariat)

Everyone packed snorkel gear to dive to a rock bearing sea life outside of the array of boats. Tom showcased a set of carbon fiber fins and when he dove to the bottom he resembled a fluid free diver. The great sailing weather, the winds chilled down the sea to 63 degrees, leaving me a bit cold in a basic spring suit.

After dinner, we talked until 10 p.m. when we called it lights out. Jim revealed that he practiced law and I never would have guessed it by his easygoing, adventurous nature. The yacht only held limited sleeping spaces and Jim insisted on sleeping up on the chilly deck. I felt bad, but, I once read that in order to become a leader, it comes at a cost. One has to put himself at risk to look after others.

The following morning, we set off southbound towards Avalon, with the early south wind blowing at 11 knots. While steering the helm a gust blew my favorite hat off and Jim yelled, “Man overboard.” The timing was impeccable to practice the MOB drills he advised and left us to our GPS to solve this dilemma. One crew member must maintain pointing at the hat or the person in a real-life crisis. I held my arm up and pointed but eventually lost sight of it.

We huddled around Johns handheld GPS and proceeded with a figure eight back to the locked in the location. The white caps of the water made it impossible to locate my white hat.

We practiced a bit more and later Jim’s hat flew off as well. Hayden was at the helm while John was on the starboard side of the boat and scooped up the hat as I maintained my pointer. Jim mentioned his attachment to his camouflage hat and the crew gave a simultaneous sigh of relief in retrieving the skipper’s lucky cap.

Heading into the Avalon harbor the seas splashed against the bow of the boat and the spray showered my windbreaker. We met up with the fleet at the bay of Avalon wherein the boating harbor patrol instructed us to side tie Bonnie Seas to Ric’s boat, Fox Sea. Tom mentioned the quaint community invariably reminded him of an Italian village stacked up upon hillside with brightly colored houses overlooking the marina.

Crew member John taking his turn of lookout duties aboard Bonnie Seas. (Andrea Clemett/Lariat)

Crew member, John, taking his turn of lookout duties aboard Bonnie Seas. (Andrea Clemett/Lariat)

John drove Hayden, Gabe and me on the towed dinghy to shore and we climbed on the dock amongst the party of inflatables. We met another crew member of our fleet, Cynthia, and walked the waterfront strip of restaurants. We headed towards the most visible landmark on the island, the grand casino for a look.

On the walkway we passed a group of girls with bikini printed t-shirts carrying miniature Malibu shots. It felt similar to an Atlantic City weekend of the west coast. To our surprise, we learned that the casino closed years ago and is presently transformed into a movie theater where travelers watched the weekend release of Jurassic World 2.

Aboard Bonnie Seas we listened to a Rolling Stones cover band from shore and reunited with the rest of the crew. We awoke the next morning to Tom’s short-order cooking skills. Together we practiced the various knots that Jim was going to test us on with our eyes closed.

Ric climbed aboard our boat and told tales of Catalina history. William Wrigley of the MLB and gum entrepreneur owned the Island, residing on the southern hillside of the bay. On the opposing side lived Errol Flynn an actor and socialite of the 30s and 40s. Flynn threw excessive Gatsby-like parties that echoed into Wrigley’s mansions ears. Wrigley being a quiet man, avenged Flynn by building the bell tower next door to his house, ringing hourly.

Departing for home, we each had turns at the helm and took a final exam on private areas of the boat. After completion, Jim reviewed the content from right of ways to points of sail. John previously took an Aventura navigation class and asked many questions that sparked my interest. I admired his willingness to learn and humble attitude.

Arriving into Dana Point, the sunshine zapped the energy out of us and the crew prepared for docking. Following the three days the crew maintained egoless attitudes and addressed each person by their first name, which to me represented a mutual respect. We collectively gave helping hands with the sails and communicated our actions before acting on them. At one point of the trip, each person embodied a leader establishing a tribe on the Bonnie Seas.