Cruising Catalina Island on a Catamaran

A Sailor Gets a Refresher Course

By: Charter, Cruising Tips

Peter Isler
By Peter Isler
© 2018 Isler Sailing International

In my life as a professional sailor, I log thousands of miles a year under sail and spend many days and nights afloat. But it’s all about racing – I (almost) never go “cruising”. Sure, like any sailor, I dream of heading off into the sunset (say a South Pacific sunset) with my loved ones on a beautiful wooden schooner – cast off the ties of civilization and all that good stuff. But half of my “day job” is probably pretty similar to yours – stuck behind my laptop and tethered to my cell phone – and the other half requires getting on an airplane and flying to some beautiful place to sail on some incredible boats – with some of the best racing sailors in the world. Ah, the good old treadmill.

But over the holiday season this year – I did something quite out of character – a busman’s holiday of sorts. I chartered a sailboat and went… Cruising! There were four of us – two couples, and we decided to go for something different – a 40-foot catamaran chartered from ASA’s long time affiliate Marina Sailing located in Long Beach, California. It was more expensive of course than a 40- foot monohull – but viva la difference – it was a rare New Year’s Eve cruise. And on top of that, in my role on the Board of the American Sailing Association, I thought it would be prudent to experience cruising in a cat – since that’s a burgeoning part of the charter and education business.

Catamaran Cruising

From left to right: Miriam Torres, Peter Isler, Lenny Shabes, Cindy Shabes.


We had a wonderful time – there wasn’t much wind and we planned some pretty cushy cruising grounds – the island of Catalina only 20 miles from Long Beach. The catamaran was perfect. Our friends, Lenny and Cindy had the starboard hull – and Miriam and I bunked in the port hull. Clean sheets and hot water 24/7. That left most of our Leopard 40’s interior (the main saloon) available for lots of good meals, games and general reverie. We averaged about 2 hours a day under way – leaving plenty of time for all the fun you get when you are tied up to a mooring ball or hanging on the hook. The highlight for me was the day we went totally off the grid on the back side of the island. Nestled in a tight cove – at anchor – with just enough room for us to swing – we were a minute’s dinghy ride to the beach where we got to meet one of Catalina’s most famous residents… Up close and personal! Taking a stroll on the dirt path we came around a corner to find a giant bull buffalo grazing – only about one boat length away! After inspecting us up and down carefully he got back to the business at hand and we enjoyed a magical moment with him.

Catalina Island Bison

Now with all the time I spend on boats – you would think that operating a 40-foot cruising cat would be a piece of cake for me. But normally I have a bevy of professionals on the boat (and the shore team) with me, so I don’t exercise some of my boat operation skills very much. It had been about 3 years since the last time I chartered a boat – and on the sail back home I made a list of the things that I wish I had paid more attention to (or asked further questions) during our check out. The guy who checked us out did a great job – but really it takes a day or few living and cruising on a boat to really learn most of a boat’s unique systems. Here’s my list that I promise I will look at before the next time I charter. Most of the points are subjects to make sure you understand before you leave.

Ahead of time:

Here are things to ask the charter company when you are planning your trip – before you start to pack or shop for provisions.

  • Confirm what kitchen utensils and staples are on board. Make a list like you would for going camping and run through that list with the charter company.
  • Confirm how you are going to make coffee or tea underway and at anchor. Our boat had an electric AC drip coffee maker – great at the dock – but pretty useless and cumbersome when underway or even at anchor.
  • Confirm what bedding will be on board. An extra blanket can come in handy on a winter night at anchor.
  • Is there a barbecue? Are all the necessary supplies also included?
  • Towels & soap Imagine cruising for a week with one tiny cheap motel room towel (our boat had great towels) and a tiny bar of soap. You may have to bring your own rubber ducky!

When you check out the boat:

  • Video tape the briefing on your phone (at least the key parts like the electric panel and major systems engine operation). Because it’s guaranteed you will forget some simple little step in some important system.
  • Make sure your full crew attends the briefing – not just the designated skipper and experienced sailors… that way you don’t have to teach everyone again later.
  • Safety Equipment – from life jackets to fire extinguishers – make sure you are the world’s expert in your boat’s safety stuff.
  • Operation of all the boat’s systems Engine, Water, LPG, Heads, Charging etc. This is one you will probably want to video for review… it took me a few days before I was really facile with switching from “shore/mooring” mode to underway mode.
  • Docking – every boat has its own unique low speed motoring characteristics – don’t be too proud to ask for tips from someone who has run the boat before. Docking/mooring/anchoring can be the most stressful time of your whole cruise – so do all you can to set yourself up for success.
  • Extra line and tools. Know what your supplies are on board – and ask the charter company for more if you think the supplies are too thin.
  • Fuel and Water levels and expected consumption. You don’t want to be stressing about this stuff underway.
  • How to moor the boat and how to anchor the boat. Run through all the systems and get the tips from someone who has done it before – they are probably experienced in the mooring situation where you are going cruising so make sure you get all the info. Also ask how/if the anchor chain (or rode) is marked for judging scope.

All in all, we had a great time and saw in the new year in style and comfort. Our boat was fantastic, the weather was mild and it’s always great going to a beautiful cruising ground in the off-season. I want to do it all over again. It reminded me of the famous saying…

Remember – you are never losing when you are cruising!