Catalina for Lunch Crossings
by Duane Strosaker
Catalina for Lunch, the Sixth
Solo Catalina for Lunch crosser.
I chose to do my sixth Catalina for Lunch crossings solo, because
I hadn't done it that way before. Another reason is because I wanted
to do it
the spring, which meant I'd have to be more selective about a day for
weather. With frequent 20+ knot winds this spring, I waited
over a month for a good weather window, and it finally came on Monday,
2009. The forecast was for an unusually calm 10 knot winds and 2 foot
In the dark at 6:05 a.m. I launched through small surf on the mainland
at Cabrillo Beach for the 38 nautical mile day ahead of me, to Catalina
Island and back, a 19 nautical mile crossing each way.
The crossing over was about as good as it gets. There was a beautiful
sunrise over the mountains in Southern California. Being a Monday,
there was almost no pleasure boat traffic. A cargo ship came up the
shipping lanes, but it was a safe distance away. A large pod
of about 500 common dolphin passed a half mile in front
of me. In a feeding frenzy the pod was working the fish from below
and birds were diving down from above.
Closer to the island, a whale passed a quarter mile in
front of my bow and surfaced five times. It was small, black, and the
dorsal fin was set back rather far. I think it was a minke whale.
It's common for wind to blow through the isthmus at Catalina,
and I had around 12 knots of wind blowing in my face for the last mile.
can beat you up on a long day, so I veered to the right to use the
island for protection and skirted back down the shore a ways to reach
Two Harbors at the isthmus. I landed at 11:35 a.m., making for a 5
1/2 hour crossing over.
After a quick lunch at the island, I launched for the crossing back
at 12:25 p.m. Out in the channel, there was only some minor wave chop
and wind coming from the west. I kept my bow turned
a bit upwind to avoid getting blown off course.
About halfway across, I felt some fatigue, but the conditions
looked good and I felt confident.
As I crossed the shipping lanes, a cargo ship approached. I had to
the option of waiting to let it pass in front of me or to race across
its bow. I didn't want to spend 10 minutes or so waiting
for it to pass, so I paddled hard to get across its bow. It's kind
of funny looking straight up the bow of an oncoming cargo ship
less than a mile away.
As I approached the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the wind had reached
at least 12 knots, the wave chop increased, and there were small
I was heading were a half dozen wind surfers zipping fast across
the surface, which is a bad sign for sea kayakers. The wind was blowing
me off course fast. These conditions would be a good workout
then, but I was around 35 nautical miles into the day and out of drinking
water. The distance and fighting hard
get blown downwind combined to kick my ass for over an hour.
to say, I was happy to arrive back
at Cabrillo Beach. I landed through the small surf at 6:30 p.m., making
for a 6 hour and 5 minute crossing back.
Watch my video report of the trip at YouTube.
Catalina for Lunch, Fifth Annual
The "Catalina for Lunch" double team,
For the Fifth Annual Catalina for Lunch, I decided to do things
differently. Rather than a group crossing, like in all the previous
years, I thought it would be fun, not to mention easier, in my Point
Bennett double sea kayak. The best partner I could imagine, Jake
Stachovak, was a go. With the two of us in the double, we boasted
easy it would be crossing to Catalina Island and back the same
day, at total of 38 nautical miles. We were sure it would take
only 4 hours each way. Little did we know what we were in for.
We launched at Cabrillo Beach on the mainland at 6:15 a.m., on Monday,
August 27, 2007. The first half of the 19 nautical mile crossing was
calm. During the second
we had wind and wave chop that slowed us down and made us soaking
wet. We arrived at Two Harbors at Catalina Island at 10:45 a.m., making
for a 4 ½ hour crossing. The crossing took 30 minutes longer
than we expected. We were also tired from the wave chop and chilled
being wet in the wind and not wearing our paddling jackets. It’s
best to arrive at the island with zero wear and tear, so we were more
beat up than we wanted with the return crossing still ahead of us.
At the island, Jake and I ate lunch, warmed-up in the sun, and reorganized
our gear. We also switched seats. I was in the bow seat for the crossing
over, and he was in the bow seat for the return crossing. We worked
well together as a team, and as it turned out, both of us were comfortable
in either seat.
We launched from the island for the return crossing at 12:15 p.m.
As soon as we were out in the channel, we were constantly broached
seas from the left rear. To fight the
double kayak (without a skeg or rudder) from broaching to the left,
we sat on
the left side of our seats to help dig in the left chine and edge turn
the kayak. We also kept our paddles extended to the left and took wide
sweep strokes on that side. All of the correcting was exhausting.
For temporary relief, I frequently threw in a right stern rudder
stroke to overshoot our heading.
Waves occasionally washed over the deck, and splashing from the choppy
conditions soaked us. Fortunately, we wore our paddling jackets on
we were able to
stay warm. Halfway back across the channel, Jake and I took our sunglasses
off, because all the splashing made them too hard to see through.
Due to the wind direction, every time Jake took a stroke on the left
dripping off his paddle blew into my face. I told Jake to keep paddling
normal, because nothing could be done about it. I
felt like I was suffering "Chinese water torture" almost the entire
With us getting blown downwind and correcting our heading, we finally
had beam conditions and tracked nicely the last few miles. It felt
good to paddle
equally hard on both sides and not have to edge the kayak. Getting
blown downwind continued so far that we had to hook back and fight
a headwind the last
mile or so. As we approached Cabrillo Beach, wind
surfers whipped by all around us.
It felt good to hit the sand back on the mainland, where we arrived
at 5:15 p.m., making for a return crossing of 5 hours, much longer
than we expected. It was a good suffer. As tough as it was in the double,
we were glad we hadn’t done the crossings in those conditions
in single kayaks. Instead of 9 ½ hours on the water, we
probably would’ve been out there 13 hours.
See additional photos at: http://duane.smugmug.com/gallery/3383997.
Catalina for Lunch, Fourth Annual
The "Catalina for Lunch" team, from left to right,
Duane, Dave H., Bob, George, Kiran, Dublin Dave,
Kathy, and Henry.
The fourth annual Catalina for Lunch was completed on Saturday, August
5, 2006. Once again, a new record was set for the number of participants.
We had eight people: Dublin Dave O’Connor, Bob McMurray, Dave
Houser, Henry and Kathy Pilcher, Kiran Nimmagadda, George Manolakas,
and me. With the exception of Kiran and George, everyone had completed
Catalina for Lunch before. Kiran and George had never even crossed
to Catalina before, and they made new personal records for miles
paddled in a day.
Things didn’t start so easy, at least for Kathy. In the dark
at Cabrillo Beach, we launched in the surf at 5:30 a.m. The surf was
mostly 2-3 feet and occasionally some 4-footers were popping up. With
the darkness, it was hard to see the waves to time paddling out between
them. As Kathy launched, she was body slammed perfectly by a 4-footer.
She came out of the kayak, and as her kayak washed up on the beach,
Henry and I grabbed it and dumped the water out. Showing an amazing
amount of mental toughness, Kathy, all wet and cold, speckled with
sand, and in the dark, didn’t waste a second as she launched
again, this time perfectly, for the 38 NM day before her.
We were all launched and on our way 5:40 a.m. The crossing over to
Two Harbors at Catalina was delightful. The water had only a slight
ripple, and there was barely a breeze. We didn’t even need our
compasses, because there was a perfectly clear view of Catalina the
whole way across.
Like usual on my crossings, we used my group crossing procedures,
with everyone taking rotating one-hour shifts to lead at the front
of the group and set the pace. More than a few times, I had to crack
the whip to get people stay behind the lead, but in the end I think
it was appreciated by all, because it helped keep the group working
together and paced.
At 11:40 a.m. we landed at Two Harbors, making for a 6 hour crossing
with a minimum of wear and tear. During our 1 ½ hours on the
island, we posed for a group photo, had lunch together, and split up
to walk around and relax a bit.
We launched for the crossing back at 1:10 p.m. On the crossing over
to the island, we all talked about how nice it would be if it were
just as calm for the crossing back. Wasn’t that wishful thinking?
I’d describe the crossing back as moderately rough. We had breaking
waves the whole way back, and often the waves washed over our decks.
The wind was ranging between 12-15 knots. Because the wind was on the
beam, we ferried into it for a while. During the last couple of hours,
I let the ferry slip, and we ended up getting blown down wind about
1 ½ miles.
In the choppy waves, quartering seas and wind, Dave Houser was having
difficulty handling the kayak he recently built. About a half hour
before we landed, he noticed his bow was diving a lot. He had George
check the front hatch, and there were gallons of water in it. George
pumped the water out, and Dave was able to make it the rest of the
way fine. He
later discovered that there was a split in the sheer seam, and he has
no idea how the damage occurred.
We all landed back at Cabrillo Beach at 7:40 p.m., making for a 6 ½ hour
crossing back, but not without carnage. Not only did the first person
to launch that day have surf carnage, but so did the last one to land.
The tide was high and 2-4 waves were dumping right on the sand, so
a quick exit from the kayak was necessary to avoid being hit by the
next wave. Kiran landed a bit sideways, and before he could get out
of the cockpit, a 4-footer dumped right on him. His body was like a
rag doll as it was slammed onto the sand and the kayak rolled over
him. I’ve never seen a harder hit on a dumping beach break, and
I was hoping he didn’t break his back or neck. He was able to
walk out of the surf on his own, and I grabbed his kayak. When asked
if he was OK, Kiran reported that only the side of his face hurt from
hitting the sand. Afterwards, I joked that he had more sand in his
ear than we had on our kayaks.
Eight people is a large group, especially for crossings this long,
but because everyone was strong and worked together, the size of the
group was never an issue. With the choppy water and long mileage, there
was a lot of suffering going on, especially during the last few hours
of the crossing back, but nobody complained. This group really was
See additional photos at: http://duane.smugmug.com/gallery/1744235
Catalina for Lunch, Third Annual
The "Catalina for Lunch" team, from left to right,
Duane, Dave H., Dublin Dave, Henry, Kathy, Jake,
We had seven sea kayakers, our largest group yet, and our first woman,
a fifty-six-year-old nonetheless, for the Third Annual
Catalina for Lunch.
Joining me this year were Henry and Kathy
Pilcher, Dave Houser, Bob McMurray, Jake Stachovak, and Dublin Dave
Kathy, and Dave H. were
crossing to Catalina Island. Bob, Jake and Dublin
Dave were back for their second Catalina for Lunch.
We launched through the surf in the dark at 5:35 a.m. on Saturday,
August 27, 2005. The surf at Cabrillo Beach was mostly two feet with
some three foot sets. Because of the darkness, it was hard to see the
waves coming to time paddling out between them, and some of
up punching a few waves on the way out.
As we began the crossing, our bow wakes and paddle strokes produced
bright bioluminescence in the water. Daylight came a half hour later.
Catalina Island was already visible. The water was smooth, and the
It was going to
be a good day, but we had no idea just how good it was going to be.
During one of our early breaks, we could hear constant splashing in
the distance. At first we didn't know was making the noise.
Then far on the horizon, we could see hundreds of dolphins jumping
straight up out of the water, more than a body length high, like they
were trying to catch birds rather than fish.
Better yet, we spotted blue whales, not just once but three different
times, between six to nine miles into the crossing. First, one surfaced
and showed it's fluke a quarter mile in front of us. A while later,
heard one blow to our left and saw it surface several times about a
quarter mile away. Not long afterwards, we heard a blow to our
right about eighty yards away, and we saw one or two of them surface
several times before one of them slowly and gracefully raised its fluke
dived. I was able to get photos this final time.
About three miles from the island, friends of Henry and Kathy's were
able to find us in their boat. Then in
Two Harbors, friends of Dave H. found us in their inflatable. It was
nice to know people where watching out for us.
During the crossing over we had calm weather until the last half hour,
when we were slowed down by a headwind coming through the isthmus.
We arrived at Catalina Island at 11:25 a.m.
After posing for the traditional group photo, we enjoyed lunch on
the island. Then back on the beach, we answered a lot
of questions about kayaks and the crossing
from people visiting the island.
We launched for the crossing back to the mainland at 1:00 p.m. During
the first couple of hours, there was some wind and choppy water with
breaking waves, but it wasn't bad. Then by 3:00 p.m. the conditions
turned rather calm for an afternoon in the channel.
Even with good conditions, 38 NM is a long distance to paddle
in one day. Four or five hours into the crossing back, most of us,
including myself, asked ourselves why they hell are we doing
this. But when we landed back on the mainland at 7:20 p.m., I saw nothing
but smiles and a lot of pride.
See additional photos at: http://duane.smugmug.com/gallery/764240.
Catalina for Lunch, Second Annual
The "Catalina for Lunch" team, from left to right,
Jake, Lee, Duane, Don and Bob.
Joining me for the Second Annual Catalina for Lunch were
Jake Stachovak, Lee Shurie, Don Russell and Bob McMurray. None of them
crossed to Catalina Island or paddled 38 NM before. But I knew Lee,
Don and Bob were mentally and physically tough enough to do it. I
Jake before, but he was highly recommended by trusted friends.
On Saturday, September 25, 2004, we launched at Cabrillo Beach through
small surf in the dark at 5:30 a.m. I took the first one-hour shift
steering with a lighted compass and setting the pace. The bioluminescence
from our kayaks and paddles in the water was bright. Small
fish, probably anchovies or sardines, were jumping out of the water
and hitting our kayaks. After paddling a half hour, we took a quick
water break and turned around to see the city lights on the coast.
Daylight was welcomed and we settled into the routine of taking rotating
one-hour shifts steering by compass and setting the pace. Quick breaks
were taken at the top and bottom of every hour. The group worked so
well together that it ran itself.
Conditions for the crossing over were calm, but visibility wasn't
great. We paddled for about three hours before being able to see Catalina.
The channel was also unusually devoid of marine life. The water was
clear, though. As we paddled into Two Harbors at Catalina, we
could see kelp, bright gold garibaldi fish and rocks on the bottom
about 30 feet down.
We landed at Two Harbors at 11:30 a.m., giving us a six hour crossing
of the 19 NM channel. After taking a group photo, we had lunch together
at the restaurant and walked around the quaint boating and camping
We launched back for the mainland at 1:00 p.m. Earlier,
I had told the guys that Catalina is infamous for jamming skegs. As
Jake and Lee (two of the three skeg kayaks) launched, they
discovered their skegs were jammed. Fortunately, they were
able to quickly fix them for the long paddle back.
As we left Two Harbors, a couple of older, well dressed boaters on
the pier asked us if we can roll our kayaks and paddle them across
the ocean. We told them that we had just paddled over for lunch and
were paddling back now. They didn't believe us. Jake performed
a roll for them as we waved bye.
At first, we thought we would be lucky and have calm conditions
for the crossing back. But by 2:00 p.m. the usual afternoon conditions
in the channel hit us. We had winds up to 15 knots and whitecaps,
which were occasionally washing over our decks.
With the wind and waves quartering us from the left rear, Don's skegless
kayak was weather cocking. I didn't want his left arm falling off from
corrective strokes, so I moved the gear in his front hatch to the
back one, and then I moved all of the gear in the back hatch as far
back as possible to alter the trim. His kayak tracked a lot better
We changed our heading
20 degrees into the wind and waves to prevent them pushing us
off course. The mainland wasn't visible until 4 1/2 hours after we
launched. Our 20 degree heading change was just right.
The sky was pink while the sun was setting at 6:47 p.m. Once it was
dark, we had a nice view of the city lights in front of us. We landed
back at Cabrillo Beach at 7:30 p.m., giving us a 6 1/2 hour crossing
Catalina for Lunch, the First
The "Catalina for Lunch" bunch, from left to right,
Duane, Dave, Mike, and George.
A persistent problem I have is when I’m bored, I pull out a nautical
chart and plot evil things to do in a sea kayak. This time it was “Catalina
for Lunch.” The title may sound benign, but it consisted of a
19 NM crossing from San Pedro on the mainland to Two Harbors at Catalina
Island, lunch, and then a crossing back to the mainland the same day.
By emphasizing the glory rather than the misery, I was able to lure
three others into my evil plot. They were “Dublin” Dave
O’Connor, Mike “Boat Bender” Brown, and George “GPS”
The four of us launched from Cabrillo Beach on Saturday, September
20, 2003 at 5:25 am. It was still dark, and the fog was thick. Due to
a strong red tide, the bioluminescence that trailed from the kayaks,
paddles and small darting fish was an amazingly bright florescent green.
Daylight came soon and the fog lifted. The conditions remained beautifully
calm the entire crossing over. Along the way, dolphins were numerous
and widespread. Frequently, they jumped out of the water and swam right
by us. We landed at Two Harbors at 10:50 am. The crossing was so easy,
we felt like we had cheated.
The tiny town of Two Harbors was bustling with boaters and campers,
and when they inquired, we were more than happy to boast about dropping
by only for lunch. That was the glory, but where was the misery?
We launched for the crossing back at 12:00 noon. Like usual, the conditions
turned worse for the afternoon. With 15 knot winds and breaking 3 foot
wind waves coming abeam, the dolphins were gone and misery finally found
us. The wind was blowing us off course. We had to fight the chop and
occasionally brace to avoid capsizing. On top of it all was fatigue
from the mileage.
Our kayaks hit the sand back at Cabrillo Beach at 6:15 pm, just in
time for dinner. We were all tired but glad to have done it. For Dave,
Mike and George, new personal records for mileage in a day were achieved.