“It’s only going to take one day Chris,” said a very confident Jon who had just finished a 10-minute presentation on why Avocet’s wiring is dangerous and how he and Shannon could fix it before our sail to Catalina to celebrate Chris’s birthday. In all seriousness, our wiring situation had been neglected since Chris nor I really wanted to address it after our initial discovery of the mass headache that lied ahead when we were working on relocating the battery charger during our quarter berth project. Long story short, Jon and Shannon (Who together I shall refer to as “Prism”) worked diligently to find every wire’s beginning, end, and purpose while labeling each one along the way. The biggest issue found was our 110 (AC) was sharing grounds with our 12v (DC) side. HUGE fire hazard and electrolysis issue- which explains why our zink’s were only lasting 2 months. Honestly surprised we hadn’t caught fire and sank (ha-ha not really funny)! After cleaning out wires that lead to no where, melted wire, and a battery switch that had cracked in half due to heat, we pulled the trigger on a new panel with help from mama Neely and Prism. 2 days later Prism’s crew helped put it all together and we were no longer a floating firework display waiting to happen. 14 minutes after Jon installed the panel, we pushed off and headed south for Santa Catalina Island.
The air got colder against my cheeks, and my goosebumps prompted shivering despite my 3 layers of hoodies and windbreakers. It was our first-night passage, and I was excited yet nervous of the long night that lied ahead. We made it out of the “crab zone” which is the patch of ocean outside our harbor that is notoriously riddled with crab pots pretty much all the time. I sat on the bow with a flashlight keeping an eye out for obstacles until the horizon was free of glistening pots bobbing up and down. Back in the cockpit, Chris was bundled up with coffee and a book titled The Intricate Art of Living Afloat. “Want a cookie?” I asked as I pulled 7 Walmart chocolate chip cookies out of my pocket. Chris took one, and I shamelessly ate the other 6. Junk food only exists on Avocet when other people bring it aboard (I’m looking at YOU, Jon). Normally when we want sweets I bake, plus we don’t like sacrificing valuable storage to store sugary snacks- okay, the real reason is we can’t help ourselves I.E. I ate SIX cookies in one sitting. Back to the story: I munched on the bad-for-you-yet-so-good cookies while reading Swell by Captain Liz Clark. If you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend it. Sometime around 1:00 a.m. we woke up Prism to take our place on watch so we could catch some much needed “Z’s”. Before waking the sleeping crew, Cleo was being spooned by Shannon and it was honestly one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. I took my fur child to our quarters and fell asleep before Chris joined me.
Before I knew it our 4 hours in dreamland were up and we were back on watch. For some reason I was nauseous (couldn’t be the cookies, could it?) and napped it off until I was awoken by the sunrise. Feeling much better with the sun on my skin, I walked up to the bow to greet the new day. Dolphins joined us when Catalina was in sight and stuck with us for a while. I will never tire of watching them swim so gracefully beneath us and will always yell “dolphins” just like when driving in a car and cows are spotted, I will announce “cows” to the rest of the passengers- it’s just a thing, I know I’m not the only one and I know you know what I mean!
Chris and I were discussing the mooring process when we heard Cleo crying from the top step of the companionway. When I opened the door to investigate she darted out to the toe rail took one look over the side then looked back at us in the cockpit with the most concerned look on her face while letting out the biggest “I hate you” meow! Apparently, no one had told her we were underway (hehe)! It was hilarious but since we couldn’t find her life jacket without waking Prism, Chris scooped her up in his blanket and made her a “nest” which seemed to calm her down. She seemed content with our company and constant doting.
We arrived in Avalon around 9 in the morning. With Shannon’s help, I was able to secure the bowline and run the stern line to the back before I completely lost it. It was heavy, and I now realize that I need to do more pushups. Just like that, we were moored right in front of the pier and dinghy dock with a glorious view of Avalon’s famous Casino. I worked on breakfast while Chris launched the dinghy (Little Wing) preparing to pick up mama Neely and Tess who had flown in by helicopter. The cockpit was soon filled with family and laughter while we enjoyed mimosas to start our celebratory weekend! Jon decided it was warm enough to test the waters and made a not-so-graceful attempt at a swan dive. It’s okay Jon, I give you an 8 for maximum effort. Once we were full from breakfast and morning booze we rowed Little Wing to the dinghy dock and ventured up to the rental house that mama Neely had rented.
After stocking the rental fridge, the rest of the party showed up! We were so glad our friends Clarke, Rob and his lovely wife Brande were able to make it out to celebrate Chris’s birthday. That night was the first night I have ever cooked for a party of 9. At Chris’s request, I prepared eggplant parmesan, bacon green beans, pasta, salad (with Shannon’s amazing dressing) and my mom’s world famous Calypso Bread. Using a full-size oven again was weird, especially since it heated unevenly but luckily dinner was (eventually) served. The galley is my happy place and I find solace in cooking. Oddly enough it was a great way to decompress from our long night passage. The party relocated from the rental to the shoreline and sang their hearts out, for real, you could hear our party from the other side of the cove!
Saturday morning we got dressed and prepared for a full day of exploration and memory making. Chris and I went parasailing which was a gift from Tess and it was a first for both of us. Being 400 feet above the water was a new sensation, and we admired the island from this new perspective. We waved to the family on shore while Jon and Tess were on the boat snapping shots of us dangling in the air above them. It was a rad experience and I’m thankful it happened! After that first adventure, I needed some warmer attire as the dark clouds began to circle Avalon- something that was really cool to watch from the sky might I add! We rowed back so I could change and reunited with the party at Luau Larry’s where we found them inside a cave- not joking, an actual cave which was probably good since we are a loud group. Rob had ordered a signature drink called the Wicky Whacker and was given a hat to accompany his soon to be inebriation. once finished, he the privilege of rubbing a wooden tiki 3 times for a… uh… special surprise. Luckily, we captured that special moment on film! If you are in Avalon, head over to Luau Larry’s and order yourself a Wicky Whacker, only then will you fully understand what I mean!
After our drinks, we emerged from the cave and went to rent golf carts. The first location refused to rent to us due to Rob’s hat (not kidding) and despite the fact that he wouldn’t have been one of the drivers they still turned us away. We tried the other location and secured 2 carts, immediately handing over the keys to the sober drivers in the group and then began exploring Catalina. The lush hillsides, ominous clouds and breaking waves along the shore reminded us of Jurassic park yet Shannon’s driving reminded us of Indiana Jones prompting us to sing (very loudly, might I add) the Indiana Jones theme song down the streets of Avalon. We reached the top of our first lookout and admired the view below. In our sight was our Avocet, surrounded by the beauty of the island. It was most definitely a moment for Chris and me, we looked at each other and said: “we live there”!
We drove back through the main streets and Tess initiated that we all do Chinese fire drills which in retrospect was probably not the best way to conserve our 2-hour rental time with the carts BUT it made for some pretty funny moments! We made it all the way up to the Botanical Garden’s which was one of my favorite places. The Wrigley Memorial at the top provided a breathtaking view and a quality photo opportunity for us all. There was even a solid bronze door that caught Christopher’s attention and I swear he spent a good 5 minutes admiring it. “Think it would fit on the boat?” Sorry hun, no chance this time.
We returned the carts and by 2:00 Clarke and I were getting hangry so we ducked into the closest Mexican Food restaurant to subdue our hanger. The rest of the party joined us and we indulged in tacos, taquitos, quesadillas, margaritas, pina-coladas, micheladas…. you get the point. Our food coma led to cat naps at the rental house followed by a new game I bought Chris as a birthday gift called “Drunk, Stoned or Stupid” and it was pretty hilarious! We realized that our friends hadn’t been aboard Avocet yet, so after a few dinghy trips, we all were sitting in the salon cracking jokes and telling stories. I am amazed that we can comfortably seat 7 adults around our table, something that is not too common on a boat.
Time ticked by and we were once again ready to go out and party. Tess had signed us all up for Karaoke at the bar next to Luau Larry’s called El Galleon and after a few rounds of drinks, it was hilarious to watch our friends and family perform. I say “watch” because I have social anxiety and don’t usually do well in the spotlight, but as crazy as it was… I was somehow roped on stage to sing 1 song with Chris. I think between the 6 singers in our group they sang all of the classics. At one point in the night, the table next to us asked if our group practiced which made me giggle because I know how talented the Neely’s are and it’s hard to believe that they are just “that good” at performing! We shut the bar down at 1:00 a.m. and after blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Chris was ready for bed.
A long night of celebratory drinks led to the following morning of dehydration and exhaustion. Chris and I pulled ourselves out of bed to see the family off. That was the last we saw Jon and Shannon since they have made their way back to Prism. It was emotional for Chris since he misses his big brother being around, but we were very thankful to have them join us on our first-night watch and long passage. By 11:00 a.m. Chris and I were the only Neely’s on Catalina Island. We soaked up the bad decisions from the night before with Pizza at a place that overlooked the moorings. The wind picked up and the rain came down as we watched the Budweiser flag on Avocet violently flap back and forth, all from the warmth and dryness of the restaurants’ booth. When there was a break in the weather, we headed out to get some shots of the arches by the casino and then decided to get some sleep.
It rained all night. The pitter patter of the rain falling on deck was soothing as we rocked back and forth so gently. The winds howled and halliards from boats farther away sang. We woke up when the rain ceased at 6:00, stowed the cabin and released ourselves from the mooring at 6:30. The sun was barely showing itself over the horizon as I prepared the much-needed coffee. I handed Chris his mug while he maneuvered away from Catalina. We waved goodbye and set our course for 314 degrees North. However, the wind was coming directly from that initial heading and due to the high winds (20 knots), it was too uncomfortable combined with the 5 ft. swell every 5 seconds which was more closely described as chop. We could only make up to 4 knots with the motor and our small prop which is hard on us as well as the boat so Chris decided to bare off and make 3 to 4 tacks upwind before we got clear of the island which was shifting the winds against our favor. When we got out of the lee of the island we were greeted with clean air. We were close hauled on an upwind tack that brought us all the way home. It’s amazing how many things you can do to keep yourself busy while spending 11 hours at sea. I almost finished reading Swell but couldn’t bear to read the end quite yet so I switched to playing the ukulele. Chris napped, then I napped. He read his book, then filmed a bit. I grabbed the camera when he set it down and filmed him in his element. Cleo laid in the sun under the dodger. Chris named all of our clothespins with a sharpie (an idea he gathered from Prism). We discussed future projects and plans. Right when we were running out of things to keep us busy we were joined by a large group of dolphins. I made myself comfortable on the bow watching them dance below us and leap out of the water. I laid flat to get a close look and meet them eye to eye. Nature amazes me.
We arrived back in our slip at 6:00 p.m. and I prepared dinner while Chris topped off our barely used water tank. It’s amazing how virtually doing nothing all day can be so exhausting. Cleo ran outside and seemed very comfortable with the fact that we returned home since she stretched out on deck. As I write this, it has been a week since our Island getaway and we are so incredibly excited to share the footage with you. Luckily Jon helped us film while we were there so we can make some sort of a video recap for you all that you can find on our youtube channel! Mama Neely and Tess are back in the snowy mountains, our friends are home in the central valley, Jon and Shannon are making their way back to Prism all while Avocet’s crew is busy drafting the plans for our next escape and working hard to fund it all. Chris and I are both another year older, another year wiser, and another project closer to pushing off and beginning our wild circumnavigation journey. We thank you all for all the support and birthday wishes! Cheers, ~Marissa, SV Avocet