The Harbor Reef Bar and Buffalo Milk Cocktails Make For A Fun Party Location
Natalie Wood remains a mystery 30+ years after she drowned off Catalina Island and she’s back in the news after a Los Angeles coroner changed her death from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other underdermined factors.”
There’s a lot of speculation about exactly what happened that Nov. 28 night in 1981. Did she get into a fight with husband Robert Wagner or guest Christopher Walken (or both)? Was foul play involved?
After all, could she really have been drunk enough to fall off the boat and drown? The water is not that deep in the harbor and if she did go overboard, surely she would have come up sputtering and calling for help. It all seems too simple to be true.
This is what a few friends and I were discussing at a party after the new coroner’s report was released. We’ve all been to this part of Catalina (Two Harbors) several times together and know it’s an entirely plausible explanation.
“Have you ever BEEN to Two Harbors,” our one-time skipper said, raising his voice for emphasis. “It’s quite easy to get drunk enough to fall off a boat!”
At this time, someone else joined in the conversation and said, with a bit of pride in his voice, “I’ve done it!”
We all laughed, because we have all done it at one time or another.
Well, actually I didn’t fall off the boat when I was drunk. I executed something a bit more creative. I fell off the dingy getting onto the boat.
I’m still not quite sure how I pulled that one off, because the dingy had pulled flush against the stern. Somehow, I missed a step and plunged straight down between the step ladder and the dingy. When I rose to the surface, I grabbed the ladder and climbed on board. I was wet, it was well past last call, and although my camera that was in my pocket was ruined (fortunately the pictures were not, as I learned digital chips are waterproof) I was unharmed.
So yes, it’s entirely possible to get drunk and fall of a boat – and boat – in Two Harbors. It’s just that no one was around to see or help Wood, and apparently she tried to pull herself into the boat’s dingy, but that’s no easy task when you’re already in the water.
What makes Two Harbors the kind of place where you can fall in the drink in the first place? After all, it’s not exactly New Orleans or Mykonos. It’s a small spot with a general store, cafe and restaurant a small beach. It’s sort-of secret haven for private boats, far smaller and more private than the popular main town of Avalon. The only “hotel” is a 12-room building called the Banning House; the rest of the accommodations are in a campground. Or one a boat.
At peak times, there’s only a couple hundred people in Two Harbors. A lot of the time, there’s only a couple dozen (and considering it’s a summer place, the latter is likely the case when Wagner’s yacht grabbed a mooring ball that Thanksgiving weekend).
There’s only one bar.
But that bar is fun. It’s primarily just an outdoor deck and you drink Buffalo Milks and beers under the sun and the stars with fellow sailboating people. At the time of Woods’ death, it was called Doug’s Harbor Reef; now it’s the Harbor Reef Bar. By day there’s a snack shop to the side and by night a pretty nice restaurant. In the back, there’s an inddor bar with a dusty pool table.
But it’s a kick-back fun place to party and it’s easy to have a few too many Buffalo Milks. Especially for its crazy, crazy event the first of October called Buccaneer Days – here’s a link to the party scene – when people dress as pirates and wenches. Full ferries come over from Los Angeles, the last one not departing until midnight.
So it’s easy to envision Natalie Wood having too many cocktails and falling off a boat. As well as Wagner and Walken passing out after having more drinks on the boat and not noticing her missing for a few hours.
It’s very sad, of course, that she drowned. And it gives everyone pause when they (or shall I say “we”) take an unexpected plunge.
But certainly don’t let that stop you from going to and partying in Two Harbors. You just need to find a friend with a boat, and if you fall off it, make sure there are people around to help you back on it.