Log #20—Catalina Island: Criminal Activities in Paradise
Early Wednesday morning October 13th (1999) as we sailed southeast along Santa Catalina's western shore, I slipped a CD by the Four Preps into the stereo. The Preps sang:
miles across the sea,
Thanks to Brad Renner for finding this CD for me. In order to get his mitts on it, Brad had to sing the tune to someone in management at Silver Platters in Seattle. Little did he know it would be used to escort us into Avalon Harbor. Jenny wanted to know if I had a CD for every island we were planning to visit.
Avalon turned out to be quaint and commercial, with an emphasis on commercial. With precise efficiency the harbor patrol boat pulled alongside and assigned us one of the 700+ mooring buoys in the harbor. My crewmates bewailed the crowded harbor, making subtle and repeated comments like "that other harbor looks nice," and "I'm not into this." As skipper, I insisted that occasional social interaction with civilization was important. And so we hooked mooring buoy #147.
Because Avalon has strict environmental controls, the same little harbor patrol boat returned, and Mr. Harbor Patrol Guy entered the boat and placed bright yellow-green dye tablets into both toilets in both heads, which we then pumped into the holding tanks. The purpose was to catch and penalize anyone who released his or her holding tank into the harbor. The penalty included a $500 fine, and banishment from Avalon Harbor for one year-strict retribution by any standards. Of course, this would not be an issue for us, because we were all educated, reasonable people who always wanted to "do the right thing." Dye tablets, indeed.
A $10 (one-way) harbor taxi ride to town confirmed that violent capitalism had broken out on the island. Pizza parlors. Ice cream shops. Trinket stands. Golf cart rentals. T-shirt kiosks. Everything and anything could be had for the money. Following my crewmates, we followed the walkway north of town to a small somewhat secluded bay where we dined on chicken BBQ and a basket of fresh deep-fried calamari, ala palapa. After an hour or so in the fresh air my companions said, "why don't we anchor here"? To which I replied, "that's a great idea."
Having cleared our transfer with harbor operations, because we all wanted to do the 'right thing,' we were back on the boat (another $10 trip) with the mooring lines released and the engine running, on the verge of departure, when, to our horror and dismay, we spotted an aqueous cloud of bright yellow-green dye adjacent to the boat. Our boat.
Confusion ensued as we immediately retraced our actions from the last five minutes. Let's see, two of us were on deck, and one of us below. Two crewmembers turned to the suspect, I mean 'other' crewmember, who had been below, and witnessed a profusely verbal stream of professed denial and innocence, such that neither of the non-guilty had never seen before. With delicate questioning, it was determined that the suspect crewmember, in the cautious attempt to ensure that no effluent and criminal dye escaped from our hull, turned a combination of holding tank handles in just such a way that it, well, released effluent and dye from the holding tank.
We looked silently at each other; all thinking the same thing: Maybe we could just leave quickly and no one would notice. I hastily threw the engine into gear and muttered something about moving over to the next row to remove us from the scene of the crime. Another couple approached in their dingy. "We thought it was a big piece of plastic in the water, so we came over to look." So much for not being noticed.
As we made our escape, I mean, motored calmly out of the harbor, we were struck by a tinge of guilt. "We shouldn't just leave," someone professed out loud. "We should call them and let them know what happened." Everyone agreed that this was 'the right thing to do." And so, as skipper, I radioed the authorities and confessed that we had an … accident, but that we had emptied the tanks before arriving in the harbor, and had not used them since. Certainly our prompt and open self-confession would count for something.
Extenuating circumstances did not impress the authorities. "What buoy are you on in the north harbor?" an official voice inquired. "Twenty nine," I responded. We tied off to buoy #29, in silence and guilt, we counseled each other that would appreciate our honesty, which would result in a reprimand, but certainly not full punishment.
Nice try. But no such luck. Like typical dumb criminals, we not only committed the crime, but also turned ourselves in to the local authorities. All they had to do was answer the radio. "Hi. My name is Ernie. I just robbed your bank. But it was an accident." "Where are you, Ernie?" asked the sheriff. "In front of the bank," Ernie replied. You could hear him smiling through his words. "Stay there Ernie. We'll be right over." Ernie stood in front of the bank smiling, until they hauled him away, never to see the light of day again.
Soon after tying off to buoy #29 the little harbor patrol boat returned. Only this time, Mr. Harbor Patrol Guy wasn't smiling. This time, I had to step onto his boat, with 'identification' and 'documentation.' Once on board, he sped us away to a neighboring buoy, where we tied off in solitude. Not only was I being reprimanded. I was also sent to the principal's office.
Mr. Harbor Patrol Guy started in on me. "I hate doing this," he said. "Why didn't you just leave?" he demanded. "Jeez, you called the operations office and reported it."
"I wanted … to … do … the right … thing," I muttered incoherently under my breath. He collected his citation book, made himself comfortable, and stared at me through his sunglasses. "We don't like to give citations," he said, "because we want people to come back." There was only one implication here: we weren't coming back to Avalon.
He handed me a photocopied letter, with the stern words, "read this before you sign it." The letter stated:
City of Avalon
Avalon has been designated an EPA no-discharge area. Strict enforcement of this policy ensures Avalon's continued reputation for clean and fresh waters and beaches.
Discharge has been observed coming from your vessel. In accordance with Avalon Municipal Code Section 10-2.503(i) your vessel is excluded from Avalon Harbor for a period of one year from today.
I read silently, slumped over the piece of paper. As a young boy, I remember watching a TV western starring Chuck Conners. Chuck stood out in front of the fort as the authorities ripped his stripes from his uniform, pulled his brass buttons off his chest, and then crushed his snappy cavalry hat under foot. For the first time in my life, I understood how Chuck felt.
Mr. Harbor Patrol Guy snapped me back to reality. "Do you understand the letter?" he asked. The words "do the right thing" dribbled weakly from my lips, but this time, the audience wasn't listening. He now turned his attention to writing up my citation.
The citation confirmed that I had violated the Avalon municipal code 10.2 503(i). At the top of the piece of paper he handed me, I read the words "notice to appear." Not only had I committed the crime, turned myself in, professed guilt, and then humiliatingly ostracized from my peers at the principal's mooring buoy. I also had to come back and appear in front of an Avalon judge.
At this moment, I did not point out that the only way I could return to Avalon was with my vessel, which had just been banned for the next 365 days.
Instead, I dropped to my knees and apologized profusely. And then told him that I wasn't going to be able to return to Avalon by November 19th. He then suggested I write a letter, or phone the court, making sure that I referred to citation # 241852.
As the Harbor Patrol Guy dropped me back at the boat, I wondered what to say. 'Thank you' didn't seem quite right. So I concluded with "see you," and a feeble, limp-wristed wave.
Since hearing the Four Preps sing about Santa Catalina at a young and tender age, I have always thought of it as the Island of Romance. No more. From now on, Santa Catalina will always be the island of effluent misdemeanors.
As Chris says, "life is a beach, and then you gybe." How true. Time to gybe.
Escape to San Diego
We awoke around 3:30 Friday morning, October 15th, to make the passage to San Diego. With no wind to fill our sails, we motored along toward our destination throughout the entire day.
Mid-day, under overcast skies that obscured the mainland 25-miles to the southeast, we were approached by an exhausted owl. He or she tried several times to land on the boat, only to find slippery surfaces incompatible with small talons. On the third attempt the owl aimed toward the mast, missed, and then fell a short distance to the dinghy, which was lashed to the deck with nylon line. The blue nylon line provided a soft penetrable target for the talons.
She rode with us for three hours—sometimes looking forward, sometimes glancing sideways—but mostly keeping an eye on us. At Point Loma she successfully flew toward terra firma, most likely for a long rest. A good omen that we were able to offset our mishap at Avalon by saving a life. It was more than an acceptable trade-off.
After arriving in San Diego, Jenny returned to San Francisco and Chris returned to Oregon. Thank you for your friendship and support.
Dan and Debi, my close friends and new crewmembers for Mexico and Central America, arrived on October 17th. We'll remain here making repairs and preparing for the next phase of our adventure, which will start some time mid-November.