Why You Should Bail On The Catalina Wine Mixer

Have you ever taken a boat to Catalina? I’m not talking about the ferry, I’m talking about a speed boat. Well that’s what I did this weekend. Was it fun? Yes. Was it a huge undertaking we entered into with little prior knowledge and were seriously over our heads? Absolutely.

A friend of a friend named Dehn told me that he bought a boat. I was super excited, seeing as my family’s been lake boating since I was 13. That said, ocean boating is a whole different ballpark. He said he put together a group of about six people for a trip to Catalina, so I figured, why not? New friends, new experiences, some potentially cool Instagram flicks, what could possibly go wrong?

Turns out the answer is: a lot.

Well I arrived bright and early but turns out, everybody else had bailed. Our crew consisted of Dehn, myself, and my friend Caroline. Who had never been in a boat before. We loaded up the car, put some gas in the boat, and booked it over to Long Beach where we would launch (aka put the boat in the water).

Problem #1: Get the boat into the water.

I was ecstatic as we pulled up, but that feeling evaporated when he said, “Alright, let’s wing it.”

“Wing what?” I asked.

“Getting the boat into the water,” was his cavalier response. “I’ve never done this before.”

Not once. This is his first time dropping to boat in the water? The maiden voyage was supposed to be all the way to Catalina?? There are many times in this life where winging it is acceptable, for example: your first kiss, baking a cake, etc. One example of when it is not appropriate to wing it: dropping a truck-sized boat into the ocean!

I frantically dig deep into the recesses of my brain finding any information I have on dropping a boat into water. I was able to conjure up just enough murky memories of pre-teen Kirsten lazily watching my dad prep a boat for launch to help Dehn back the hitch into the water properly (after a good 10 crooked attempts) and let ‘er float (always put in the plugs before you touch the water & have some dock lines ready).

Problem #2: Starting the boat.

Warning: Much more difficult than it appears.

Once he climbs in the boat, he joyously pats himself on the back for his hard work and sticks the key in the ignition. The engine doesn’t turn over.

At this time, he YouTube’s ‘how to start a boat’ [yes, the difference between successfully starting the boat or floating off into oblivion was YouTube] and discovers what a blower is. I’m swallowing my anxiety and telling myself that I will not die today. Caroline, however, is the fricken image of serenity being blissfully unaware of any potential dangers. After his tutorial, the boat roars to life.

Problem #3: Driving the boat.

Turns out, Dehn’s not such a bad driver. Apparently years of surfing taught him how to read waves in a way that at least kept us from capsizing. I poured myself a heavy drink, buckled in, and we started making our way towards the island.

We begin our journey at a glacial pace (the first time driving a boat on the ocean is quite intimidating, you know) so slow the boat doesn’t even nose out of the water.

On average it should take you about one hour to get to Catalina on speed boat. It took us 3 whole hours. 

Silver Lining ~ Smooth sailing on Catalina.

After three hours of mild sea, we made it! The next goal was to figure out how to park the damn boat. His anchor line was short so I didn’t think it was a wise decision for us to just drop anchor anywhere we pleased. Fortunately, we were able to rent a mooring station for a small fee.

We get hooked up a wave of relief washes over me. We hit the shore, jumped in the water, drank some beers, and for a minute I thought this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

The other two were having such a good time on the island I had to remind them that we needed to leave around 3:00 to get back before sunset. Both of them told me that I was being paranoid, so naturally we didn’t leave until about 4:30. Assuming that it would take us three hours to get back…

Problem #4: Racing against the sun.

Of course we did not account for the fact that it would be more difficult getting back, and that the weather would not be as gracious. The rolling waves are massive, and water is splashing up over the hull like nobody’s business. After about 30 minutes, me and Caroline are soaked to the bone. Aaand we have about 3 1/2 hours to go.

As we near the shore the sun is setting at an alarming pace. I am watching the golden ball slowly, slowly disappearing under the waterline as we are desperately clawing our way behind the brake line. Lucky for us, we crossover right as the sun is officially setting.

Problem #5: Get the boat out of the water.

All three of us are shivering hard because we have just driven four hours soaked, cold, and windblown. And now it’s dark. And now we have to figure out how two blonde chicks and a male novice get the boat back on the hitch. Again, I dig deep into the recesses of my mind for scraps of times my dad did this. At the time, I couldn’t have been bothered to notice, but now I’m the authority. God help us all.

Right as the sun sets, we pull up to the ramp. He backs the hitch into the water (after about 15 attempts) and we collectively scramble to reel this baby in. After deeming it unacceptable for Dehn to drive the boat onto the hitch (somehow flooring it sounded unsafe for such a green driver), Caroline and I pulled the boat in with two lines. After one of us almost getting yanked into the water (me) and three angle corrections (‘pivot!’ seemed the only thing appropriate to say at this time), we managed to get the boat hooked up and out of the water successfully.

It was about a 12 hour day that, while fun at times, could have gone horribly awry. By the time we got home I was burnt, soaked, frozen, sticky, and utterly exhausted.

Papa’s Advice: Don’t get on a boat unless you know the captain has actually driven a water vehicle before. “Wing it” is not in the cards unless you’d like to personally relive Castaway. If you do hit the ocean for whatever reason, check out the Coast Guard app. You can track your exact location, so if you need to be picked up you can send out a signal and they’ll find you in minutes.

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