Huntington Beach — Not Just a "Surf City"
Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Located 30 miles south of Los Angeles, Huntington Beach has a protected harbor with numerous boat ramps and more than 8 miles of Pacific Ocean beach. What more can one ask for?
"This is southern California," a staff Member of the BoatUS Huntington Beach Marine Center will tell you, " so trailer boaters can take a day and detach their boat and walk the piers (Newport or Huntington Beach or Santa Monica) or visit Disney Land in nearby Anaheim or Knotts Berry Farm or, if the weather is right (and it usually is) they can go boating!"
This city of 200,000 takes its name from industrialist Henry Huntington in the 1900's who brought an electric railroad to the area as a way to economically transport agricultural products (barley and celery were two of the most common as well as fish). Last year, the city celebrated its 100th birthday. But before there was Henry Huntington, there were plans to make this area a resort. In fact, in 1901 the town took the name Pacific City in an effort to make it the west coast answer to Atlantic City. Oil was discovered in the 1920's and while the wells on land have long since been capped, the Pacific Ocean horizon reveals numerous active oil platforms just offshore.
Two things describe Huntington Beach: the waves and the pier. Built in the early 1900's, the original Huntington Beach Pier was destroyed by winter storms. Soon, a new and improved pier (this one made of concrete) was constructed with a length exceeding 1500 feet. During World War II, the Navy used the pier as a base of operations to view enemy submarines. In the 1980's, the pier was again destroyed during high winds and now a brand new pier that is a replica of the original design is standing. The pier is the center of all things Huntington Beach.
Surfing is a way of life here. Dean Torrence, of Jan and Dean fame, who had the #1 1963 hit Surf City is a resident and has been active in promoting the Surf City theme (Huntington Beach's web site is www.surfcityusa.com) .There's the International Surfing Museum (located on the Pier), the Surfing Walk of Fame and the US Open of Surfing (July 23-31). But the title of "Surf City" is the subject of a long ranging dispute with another California town to the north. Santa Cruz, is also billing itself as Surf City because that's where the first surfboard appeared. If it matters, a pair of Beach Boys hits mention both places (Surfin' Safari refers to Huntington beach while Surfin' USA talks about Santa Cruz). The debate has reached the point where patent attorneys have become involved.
But with every surfer, there's a wave. And boaters need to understand the danger of coming in too close to the surf line. Long Beach Vessel Assist Captain Ed White says it happens a few times every year, and in some instances, boaters have been killed. Big waves aren't an everyday occurrence along Huntington Beach, much to the chagrin of the surfing community, but newcomers to the ocean should make a point of monitoring maritime forecasts prior to heading for the boat ramp. Usually, beach or harbor patrol boats are stationed near the pier to keep boaters away from surfers and surfers away from fishermen that are casting lines off the pier.
Trailer Boat Access
There are a variety of boats ramps to use. Sunset Aquatic Park in Huntington Beach (located on Edinger Avenue) has a seven-lane launch facility. It will cost $7/day to park your tow vehicle and trailer and use the ramp. The staff at the local BoatUS Marine Center recommends this ramp to customers because while it does become crowded, tow vehicles and trailers are secured behind a gate. If you'd like to leave them overnight, just let the office know prior to launching.
The second Huntington Beach boat ramp is more difficult to find but it is located between Pacific Coast Highway and Warner Avenue. The parking is free and there's always space available (probably because it's so difficult to find).
Other boat ramps in the Huntington Beach area are located at Dana Point Harbor (south) and Long Beach (north) at the Marine Stadium and the South Shore Ramp located next to the Queen Mary ($8/day).
Long Beach, also home of the Howard Hugh's fabled "Spruce Goose" as told in the new film "The Aviator" as well as the Aquarium of the Pacific is less than a 30 minute boat ride away from Huntington Beach (once you clear the harbor, it's 5.7 nautical miles). The Aquarium is home to more than 10,000 fish and mammals and recreational boars can dock nearby at Rainbow Marina on a first come/first serve basis with a three-hour time limit. You'll see lots of boats in this protected harbor as a result of the fact there are more than 4,000 slips in the numerous marinas. This is a busy harbor as ferry boats are making numerous runs to and from Catalina Island, there is a tall ship sightseeing tour as well as a variety of other tourist-related activities.
BoatUS Member Michael Berry recommends Long Beach for a day trip packed with scenery and activities. "Once we have launched from Sunset Marina in Huntington"
Beach, my wife and I like to cruise the San Pedro Harbor and check out all of the shipping and cruise ships as well as lots on unique live aboard boats buried back in the harbor. On occasion, we will tie up at a guest slip at Long Beach Shoreline Marina and have lunch in one of the restaurants. We then drop anchor behind the oil rig islands or by the Queen Mary, fire up the bar-b-que, turn up the sounds, break out a couple cool ones and spend the night on board." The "oil rig islands" Berry refers to are four islands with active oil wells that have been decorated with different colored walls about a mile offshore. They are named for astronauts who died while being a part of the effort to reach the moon (Island Grissom, Island Chaffee, Island White and Island Freeman).
`Just 22 miles offshore from the Huntington Beach harbor entrance, Catalina Island is an easy day trip for a trailer boater, provided the weather cooperates. Most boaters will leave Huntington Beach early in the morning for the 90-minute run out to either Avalon or Two Harbors on Catalina. This time of year, it isn't uncommon to see migrating whales making their way north after spending the winter in the warm waters of Mexico. If you aren't staying overnight on a mooring, the seasoned boaters recommend getting underway for the return trip no later than 2 in the afternoon.
"A majority of the day trips from Huntington Beach are to Catalina," says Ed White of Vessel Assist, "and if the weather holds, this is the best time of year to make the trip because its still the off season for tourists. People like Catalina too because the fishing is so good." Huntington Flats is just outside the harbor and is usually marked by the fleet of boats drifting with lines out in search of halibut or shark. Between Huntington Beach and Catalina are a number of oil platforms which attract a variety of sport fish. One is located just outside the Huntington Harbor entrance, another is about four miles beyond that and there are still others about midway to the island."
When entering or leaving Huntington Harbor, boaters will pass a National Wildlife Refuge on one side of Anaheim Bay and the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station on the opposite side. Both require strict adherence to keeping a safe distance. The refuge, on 91 acres is part of the pacific flyway for migrating birds and is home to a number of endangered species, including the Clapper Rail. If you venture too close to the shoreline, a harbor patrol boat will be alongside for a course correction.
At the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, navy ships are loaded (or unloaded) with ordinance. All civilian vessels are required to stay inside the marked channel which runs along the southeast edge of the inner harbor area. The maximum speed is 5 knots and every vessel must remain under power. This isn't a place where you are allowed to anchor or drift says Weapons Station Public Affairs spokesman Gregg Smith. "No smoking, photography, radio or radar transmissions is permitted," he says. " Due to the limited maneuvering space available within the channel the following additional rules apply: no swimming, diving or fishing; no jet skis, wave runners or similar craft; no vessels under sail and no hand-powered watercraft." Whenever Navy ships are traversing the channel (either entering or departing) civilian access to Anaheim Bay is restricted. This usually takes no more than 25 minutes to complete. During this time, harbor patrol or marine police will be stationed on boats both inside and outside of the channel to keep the area clear. Recreational boaters can receive updates by calling the Weapons Station Status Line at (562)-626-6000. Avoid the huge mooring buoys on either side of the channel once you have passed the Weapons Station. They aren't lit at night and have surprised a number of unsuspecting boaters who have wandered off course (these buoys are used for naval ships if needed).
Sailors that are motoring through Anaheim Bay should be aware that the Pacific Coast Highway Bridge, located about a half mile past the weapons facility while inbound, has only a 26 ft. clearance. The mast will have to be lowered in order to pass beneath.
Advice from a Pro
"Maybe it's because it's April and boaters are out of practice," Vessel Assist Captain Ed White muses from his office in nearby Long Beach, "but the majority of calls I receive this time of year is a worn down battery. This is the time of year when fishermen are going after sand bass in the ocean and after they buy bait (usually from a floating bait barge near the fishing grounds) they'll run their bait pumps (located in live wells) with the engine off. After a while, they try to restart the engine and there's no power because they didn't switch the battery from "both" to a single battery. That's the most common problem I handle."
Huntington Beach may be arguing for the surf city title for years to come. But for those with a boat to tow, the present moment isn't creating any waves whatsoever.
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