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Secret Coves: Little Harbor

Little Harbor, Catalina Island

Little Harbor - a natural, fair-weather anchorage on the back-side of Catalina Island.

WARNING! Little Harbor is a nice cove to visit on calm days. The Coverunner bears no responsibility for mishaps to any skipper and his vessel. It is your responsibility to survey the cove, account for the weather, waves and tides before visiting. I haven't surveyed the whole cove. I may just have had dumb luck!

Little Harbor is a natural cove situated about 6 miles east of Catalina Harbor on the backside (south facing) of Catalina Island. I'd noticed it on the chart and was curious to see if I could anchor Shearwater (34' Catalina sloop, 5 foot 7 inch draft) in it.

It was a very warm, dry November. I'd already visited Santa Barbara Island, Santa Cruz Island and harbor-hopped down to San Diego where I picked up a crew of two. Barbara was a visiting biology student from Germany and Peter was traveling the world on his bicycle. They were at a snack bar in the marina planning a visit to the Anza-Borrego desert. I asked them if they wanted to go instead to an island. They of course, said yes!

They turned out to be excellent crew. They helped sail the boat to Catalina Harbor, contributed to meals, and sanded and oiled the teak. Each night, all three of us would pile into my little black sabot dinghy and sail (and paddle) to the dock, walk to Doug's Harbor Reef (past Buffalo in the dark) where we drank and played Scrabble in the bar all night. Barbara, a very outgoing woman organized a trip to the USC Marine Biology Institute and invited a couple of talented resident songwriters to the boat for a concert and a party. Those two weeks ended with a strong northeastern wind storm that kept us up all night. Boats around us dragged their anchors. We only stayed in place because a cruising couple from Vancouver had laid their chain over ours. The next morning when they re-anchored (we woke them up at 3 am when they started to drag towards the cliff) they brought up our 18 lb. Danforth. It had bent in half around their chain.

After the wind storm I figured I had a few days before any severe wind would re-occur, so I sailed them to Newport Harbor, bid Peter and Barbara farewell at a dinner house and returned alone to Catalina Harbor. I then decided to do some reconaissance of Little Harbor by dinghy. I made the wet, bumpy ride in the sabot using a 2 horsepower Tohatsu I'd picked up in Newport. Using a lead line, I made soundings at the entrance and in the center of the bay and found 15 feet of calm water with no dangers that really concerned me.

The next morning I upped anchors and sailed to Little Harbor, arriving by noon. I took down the mainsail, rolled up the headsail and ran the jib sheets aft through the stern pulpit and tied off each end to the top-center spoke of the wheel. I put the engine at idle and into forward gear, ran to the bow and steered the boat from the bow by pulling on the port and starboard sheets, all the while peering down into the water looking for obstacles. I managed to get into the center of the small cove, run back to the wheel turn the boat around to face the sea, crept up to the natural breakwater, dropped the bow anchor just short of the breakwater and fell back on the wind. I then took my twisted danforth anchor, chain and added some other line to shore by dinghy and wrapped it around a pile of rocks on the beach.

The cove faces south where the constant southwest or west swell and wind can blow into it. It's definately a fair weather anchorage. It's bounded on the west side by a high rock cliff. The natural breakwater is connected to the cliff on the west side and runs across and in front of the rock promotory on the east side of the cove, leaving about a 30' gap at the entrance. There's another small bay about a thousand yards wide to the east of the cove. There's a pile of rocks (sometimes covered) that runs in line with the breakwater in the middle of that other bay. The entrance is between the breakwater and the pile of rocks. A sharp left takes you between the promotory of the cove on your starboard and the end of the breakwater on your port side.

I had only surveyed the center of the cove, figuring it would be deepest in the center. The next day I was joined by a 25' Searunner Trimaran who with his shallow draft anchored in the lee of the west cliff, out of the southwest wind and some of the swell that rolls over the rocks at high tide. As the wind picked up in the afternoon blowing on my starboard foward quarter, I worried about breaking loose and swinging into the cliff on my port side. Next visit I'll see what kind of depth there is on the west side of the cove.

At low tide the cove is as calm as a swimming pool and a great place for a swim or snorkling. There's a nice curved sand beach to pull your dinghy up on. Little Harbor has a campground controlled by rangers from the Isthmus with fire pits, palm trees, some grass, outhouses, and an open-air, cold, freshwater shower on the beach. The tour bus that runs from Two Harbors (5 plus hilly miles away) stops there a couple of times a day on it's way to and from Avalon. So, you could reprovision at the store if you wanted to stay awhile.

I spent a few days snorkling in the cove. The beach on the east side of the cove is open to the swell and also has a sand beach. I paddled on my surfboard around the promotory and found there were little 2-3 foot shorebreak waves peeling off the rocks. Nothing great, just a takeoff and a pounding on the sand. But, to an addicted surfer it's like smoking old butts out of the ash tray. A long dinghy ride out to the end of Ben Weston Point brings you to Ben Weston Beach which faces into the west swell and reportedly has good surf that the locals enjoy. I must visit on the next trip.

On the third night I had settled down to sleep around 9 pm, the tide came up and the swell rolled in viciously over the submerged natural breakwater. I was tired, but couldn't sleep anyway since the boat was bouncing around. I was worried that the swell was going to get worse, so I got out of bed, got dressed, retrieved the stern anchor stuck in the rocks at shore (now deeply underwater). I had to get out of the dinghy and stand on the rocks in three feet of water to unwind the chain from the rocks. Getting that mess back on board, I motored up to my forward anchor, retrieved it, somehow got out of the cove in the dark, sailed the hour to Catalina Harbor and in the dark, blindly found a mooring to hook up to and got to bed by midnight. My cruise was about to end. Soon, I had to return to work after being out sailing for six weeks. But, I had a plan to keep sailing. I'll tell that story at a later time.

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The Complete Guide to Catalina Island

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Camping at Little Harbor

Catalina Island Camping: Accessable by Boat/Kayak

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Buffalo at Little Harbor

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