Sailing To Catalina Island

The breeze blows in your face from the open sea. And the captain calls out instructions to the crew on the schooner.

It sounds like a step back in time, but anyone can be a part of sailing the open waters on the Dirego II — a 73-foot wooden schooner.

The Dirego II sails out of Long Beach, Calif., on leisurely 3-day trips to Catalina Island, some 20 miles offshore.

The Dirego II sails out of Long Beach, Calif., for trips to Catalina Island.

The two-masted schooner originally was built around World War II in Maine and has traversed the world a few times before settling into Southern California waters about five years ago.

The name Dirego means, “to lead,” but some say it just means, “there I go,” which sounds like the boat’s name. And there it does go to Catalina about once a month from spring until late fall.

A Weekend Adventure
The boat leaves from Long Beach on Friday morning and returns late Sunday afternoon. The adventure entails a four-hour plus cruise (depending on the winds) across the Pacific Ocean to Catalina Island. The boat weighs anchor at a few ports along the shore for guests to swim, snorkel, kayak or take one of the many water taxis to shore. All the meals are included and are prepared onboard by manager Len Daniello. The all-mahogany staterooms are small, but comfortable and the crew tries to attend to your every need.

Most of the crew are volunteers who took sailing classes on the Dirego II. Horizons West Adventures, which runs the tours, also offers multi-day sailing classes. The crew just loves sailing and thinks of the trips as perks in addition to working the sails and helping with meals. The only paid members of the crew were the captain, Rob Gregory, who doubles as a grade school teacher when not sailing, and first mate Chris Frost, a computer consultant.

The ship stops at a few ports along the shore for guests to swim, snorkel or kayak.

We had nice weather for our adventure, although we encountered some strong winds on the trip over. We motored out of the Long Beach Inlet seeing fishing boats heading for big bait boats out on the water. You’re welcome to bring along fishing equipment, just make sure you have an up-to-date fishing license. Saltwater licenses are required for anglers in California. We also saw seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the buoy markers, and seagulls fly overhead. Dolphins and whales sometimes swim near the ship.

Crew/Guests Raise Sails
As we headed out to sea, the crew made fast work of raising the sails. Guests also are invited to help raise the sails. We noted a few pleasure cruisers heading to the Island. You might even encounter a massive cruise ship headed to Mexico on the way. If you prefer the faster route, tour boats make the crossing to Catalina from several ports in less time. Or you can fly because there’s a small airport on the island.

During our crossing, Daniello and crew served up a scrumptious buffet of sandwiches, fruits, and drinks on the teak deck. It’s BYOB and they’re happy to keep anything chilled. The strong winds on the way out to the island made for some cool temperatures. Make sure to bring jackets and light pants to wear. Also sunscreen is a must along with a hat that won’t fly overboard.

Catalina Island seemed to appear out of the mist when we got close to it. We sailed along the outer coast for awhile before dropping sails and motoring to port at Isthmus Cove at Two Harbors.

After checking with the harbormaster, we anchored just outside the harbor and took a swim in the azure waters. Water temps are about 70 degrees in summer. We had some time before dinner so we hailed one of the water taxis and went to shore to stretch our legs. It costs anywhere from $2.50 to $4 for a one-way trip.

It was a nice weekend so the harbor was crowded. We walked around the beach area and stopped in the general store for an ice cream. You also can rent paddleboats and kayaks here or just sit on the beach.

The old Yacht Club at Two Harbors was built in the 1850s and was used as a prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. There are old carvings in the wood paneling of those bygone residents. It also was used by the navy during both World Wars and was bought by the Yacht Club in 1952.

That night we had a delicious dinner of seafood stew and peach pie and were rocked to sleep by the gentle swaying of the waves.

Visiting The Island
Tours buses are available from Two Harbors to visit the island. Since Catalina is so small, just 20 miles in length and eight miles wide, only permanent residents are allowed to use cars. On the tour, you can stop at any of the coves to swim or snorkel. There’s also lots of flora to investigate, and for those who want to take a longer vacation on the island, there are campsites available.

The following night we sailed to Long Point and relaxed under the stars and watched other boats catching fish. In the morning after a breakfast of eggs and fruit and breads, some of the passengers snorkeled in the kelp beds in search of seals. The animals obliged.

Our last stop was the bustling town of Avalon, which was full of shops and small eateries. Kayaks and other boats also are available for rent here.

The sail back had perfect winds for a pleasant ride.

We saw several dolphins jumping in the distant waters. Some guests helped “steer” the vessel, watching the compass and water depth. The Dirego II helped us to feel like the adventurers of old.

Making The Trip
For more information, contact:

Horizons West Adventures
182 Marina Drive
Long Beach, CA 90803

The company also offers evening cruises, other island trips, and sailing classes.

Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce

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