Thursday, July 28, 2005

Catalina Cruise 2005, Part 1

Catalina Cruise 2005

Getting there wasn’t half the fun, but a couple of good days on the water are far superior to a typical day at the office. Because of a shortage of vacation time and crew (Gerald was backpacking at the Philmont National Boy Scout Ranch), I chose to fly out to join the cruise in mid-progress on Wednesday, July 20. My plan was to fly to Los Angeles via Phoenix, take a van shuttle south to San Pedro, and get on the last Catalina Express ferry of the day from San Pedro to Avalon on Catalina Island to meet the Catalina Cruisers. On Tuesday, a message was left on my phone stating that the departure time for the ferry had been changed from 5:00 to 4:30 so the ferry could visit Two Harbors en route to Avalon. Since I’d allowed for a couple of hours of slack, this didn’t seem like it would be much of a problem.

Wednesday morning I put in a few hours at work, rushing to get some last-minute projects settled for the week. Leaving Babe at the shuttle lot, I was quickly through airport security, had plenty of time for lunch, and arrived in Phoenix several minutes earlier. Things began to unravel, though, in Sky Harbor, when Southwest announced that my connecting flight to LAX had mechanical problems and that plane was still on the ground in San Antonio, Texas. So much for my careful plans!

In Phoenix, I took the precaution of calling someone at Catalina Express. The response was that, yes, they’d left the message about the time change and my departure time was 5:00. Unfortunately, the person who answered was rather confused and didn’t have the right information, as it turned out. The flight wound up about an hour and thirty or forty minutes late; after catching my van shuttle and forcing our way through rush hour traffic, I was dropped off at the ferry terminal at 4:45 – and learned that the ferry had indeed left at 4:30 and was indeed the last one of the day. I faced missing out completely on sailing back to the mainland with the Cruisers.

Fortunately, there was a 5:45 ferry available from the Catalina Express terminal in Long Beach, so I bought a ticket for it and called a cab. A cab from the company I’d called showed up within a few minutes, so I hopped in and told them to take me to the Long Beach Catalina Express terminal near the Queen Mary. Before long (and about $18 later) I was there – only to find out I was at the wrong terminal. The Catalina Express terminal near the Queen Mary was called their “landing” terminal, but the ferry I needed to catch was at their “main” Long Beach terminal a mile or two across the harbor. Just as I learned these unpleasant facts, another Checker Cab pulled up to unload passengers, so I caught the cab. This driver was a maniac, who would have set the land speed record between the two terminals had he not been surprised by the installation of a median that required him to drive a few blocks further before making a u-turn to get to the terminal entrance.

Queuing up for the ferry among a crowd of mostly Avalon locals, I noticed that many of them had been doing lots of heavy shopping. Also noticeable was a small US Coast Guard patrol boat in the harbor. It was rigid-inflatable motorboat about twenty-four feet long with a small pilot’s cabin amidships. A skipper was at the helm in the cabin, and a second Coastie was strapped in the bow behind a heavy machine gun. That wasn’t all the security we got, either; a second patrol boat escorted the ferry all the way out of the harbor area and three pistol-packing Coast Guards-people (two guys and a gal) rode the ferry all the way to Avalon and back.

Reception was good on my brand-new cell phone as the ferry pulled out of its dock at 5:45, so it was time to make contact with my fellow Catalina Cruisers. First I tried calling the cruise leader’s cell phone (since I didn’t have the cell number for the skipper of the boat that I was to join). It was quite disappointing, therefore, to hear a recorded message that he was going to be out of the office during the week and that I could call someone else for help with my real estate needs. Not to worry, though – I had written down cell phone numbers for several of the Cruisers. So I made more calls – and got more answering messages; I called five people and was batting zero for five, with nary one real sailor to answer me.


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