Little Harbor and the Cowboy Circus

We’ve moved the boat to a nice little protected anchorage down from Cat Harbor called Little Harbor (adjacent to Shark Harbor, where you don’t see a lot of swimmers). According to a coffee mug I saw for sale in the Two Harbors General Store, “the west end is the best end” – and mugs don’t lie. I remember coming to this cove as a kid, and thinking that it’s Catalina’s version of your beautiful tropical beach – protective reef, white(ish) sand, palm trees – except this one has hillsides of cacti and the occasional view of a wandering buffalo.

And to further dilute my Hawaii daydreaming, the small campsite on shore overfloweth with cowboys.  We started seeing signs of a cowboy influx a couple of days ago when I was on shore at Two Harbors throwing away our trash before we were about to leave for Little Harbor. For a minute I felt like I was in another world – instead of your cruisers in t-shirts and flip flops, there were groups of cowboys in full garb – jeans, hats, boots, collared shirts and bolo ties. I received more than my fair share of “howdys” and “morning ma’am”s by the time I got back to the boat. Thinking it was on odd, be it isolated experience, I returned to the boat and we took off.

The first day at our new anchorage, we saw a cowboy riding a horse along the beach, a first for the both of us. Within hours, trucks, trailers and buses headed down the hills into the campsite in what would quickly become a cowboy explosion. That afternoon we went to shore to go on a hike, walking through dozens of men (still with the cowboy gear, despite the heat) erecting tents and drinking beer. We passed a catering truck and a full bar (that was my first indication these cowboys may not be the real thing), slapped with a logo for “Cowboy Circus.” Near the back of the campsite, we came across a long hitching post with over 70 horses, and saddles littering the ground.

Our hike was awesome, so steep that “crawling” might be more appropriate than “hiking” – but the view at the top was spectacular. During our descent we could hear live country music, accentuated by “hootin” and “hollerin.”

The next day the campground was empty until around 4 in the afternoon, we started seeing tiny dots appearing in a row on the distant trails. By 5pm cowboys started spilling into the campsite and onto the beach. That’s when I learned that if you put a cowboy in a bathing suit, you just end up with a middle aged man with a beer belly and a bad farmers tan. Hollywood is smart to leave cowboys in their full attire in western movies, as it’s hard to keep up the mystique of a rough exterior when you exchange the chaps for red swimming trunks.

A few of the men pulled their horses down into the water with them, and clumsily pulled themselves up bareback as the horses climbed out of the surf. Two cowboys, who later introduced themselves as Sherman Stacey and Sharkie, swam out to our boat for a visit. Adam and I were drinking tequila with club soda and lime and playing cribbage in the cockpit. We invited them aboard for some tequila, which happened to be Sherman’s drink of choice, while Sharkie remained floating in the water, rubbing himself down with a bar of soap. I guess he figured he could get in a swim and a shower – a very resourceful cowboy. Sherman was a super friendly and expressive man in his early 60’s who lives on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, the kind of cowboy with a few sailboats and even more country club memberships. His wife got him into horses years back, but his clear passion was for boats. “This boat is f@#*ing beautiful – look at the wide cockpit!” he remarked, and then turned to me to apologize for his language. Adam later told me that he thinks it’s funny when men cuss in our company and then look at me, of all people, to apologize for their language. I think it’s fucking hilarious.

Sherman told us that all the guys on shore belong to what they call the “Caballeros Club,” and that they come out to Catalina the same time every year to camp, socialize and do cowboy stuff. He said that the horses get barged out to the Island and that they spend their days walking the trails, putting on rodeos and gathering at the Two Harbors Bar singing cowboy songs. He said that every five years or so they ride into Avalon, tie their horses outside the restaurants to put on a show for the tourists. He said the “Cowboy Circus” is a ton of fun and admitted that they’re not exactly roughing it. Then he invited us for dinner onshore Sat night, the menu: lobster and filet minion. Needless to say, we’re planning on attending.

a mule!



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