For Tony Nichols the far side of Catalina Island is the place to be this time of year, and he has the ticket to get there. The vice president of the Orange County Chapter of the American Cetacean Society waits all year to go on the trip that allows him to spend all day watching gray whales migrate along the island's coast.
At 9 a.m. Sunday, Nichols and 200 other aquatic wildlife seekers will depart Newport Beach aboard Catalina Flyer on an eight-hour journey around the island. From 40 feet above the waves these whale watchers get the best view of the ocean at the same time as a beautiful view of the undeveloped side of Catalina, Nichols said.
The society has been offering this trip since the organization was formed in 1977. The yearly outing helps raise funds for the group's ongoing efforts to preserve sea life. It would not have been possible without the use of the Catalina Flyer and help from the guys at Davey's Locker at the Newport Landing.
While on daily whale-watching excursions, ships have to stay aware of the time after one hour because they need to turn back to get back on schedule, Nichols said.
"For this trip you don't have to worry about getting back on time," Nichols said. "You can stay with something remarkable as long as you want."
The boat is so large that passengers prone to seasickness should have nothing to worry about, Nichols said. "It's like a hotel on the water. You barely feel the swell," he said.
The ship drops regular passengers off at Avalon and then goes east around the tip of the island toward the shoreline facing the ocean. They head for the west end where the colony of sea lions lives. Caroline Heath from Fullerton City College will explain their natural history.
Also, the yacht geologist Bert Vogler, who serves on the society's board of directors, will discuss rock formations and the makeup of this offshore island. Orange Coast College professor Dennis Kelly will talk about the local dolphins, and Nichols will lecture on gray whales.
Dolphins usually start popping up as the ship rounds the east tip leaving Avalon, Nichols said. Along the Pacific-facing side of the island, viewers see the colors in the rocks and cliffs.
"There's great lighting in the canyons," Nichols said. It is a wonderful opportunity for photographers, he said.
"It's much calmer water," Nichols said. "Many times we can see the entire outline of the whale through the clearer water."
The ship only carries beverages and light snacks, so remember to bring a sack lunch, Davey's Locker manager Norris Tapp said. Passengers do not get another chance for a meal until the ship loops back around the island and stops again in Avalon. Everyone gets a one-hour break for food and shopping in the city while the staff cleans the yacht for the return trip.
But be careful not to miss the boat or else "you're stuck," Tapp said. Those who miss the boat can catch the Catalina Express but will get dropped in Long Beach instead of Newport, Norris said.
Only half the spots have been filled, but reservations are required, Tapp said. Tickets range from $40 to $70. Get there by 8 a.m. because the ship leaves at 9, he said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Whale-Watching Day Trip around Catalina Island
WHO: American Cetacean Society, Orange County Chapter
WHERE: Davey's Locker, 400 Main St., Newport Beach
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
COST: $70; students and seniors, $60; children under 12, $40; ACS members, $60 with proof of membership. Cash or checks only. Make checks out to ACS/OC.
CALL: (949) 673-1434