Lynne Champlin, Coffee, Tea and Me: “Twenty-six Miles Across the Sea” |


I am afraid of water in swimming pools, lakes, rivers and oceans. But although I can’t swim, we spent a lot of our leisure time and holidays on boats. This love of water must be in my husband’s DNA, which he inherited from his navy father, as well as his love of fishing.

Since the mid 70’s we have owned a number of boats of all sizes and brands, including inflatable boats. We’ve hauled them all over Northern California and Baja.

We have been to Lake Berryessa, Clear Lake, Gold Lake, Blue Lake and the Delta where we camped in the meadows and the Pacific Ocean below the Golden Gate Bridge. We have done many fishing trips to Bodega, Vallejo and Sausalito through the Wild Potato Patch. We even ventured out to Alaska several times to go fishing with Tim Berg from Napa.

This month I’m going to tell you about the great body of water that we conquered many years ago. In the late 1970s, Napa had a guest judge from Southern California assist Philip in city court. He and his wife needed accommodation. I asked a friend if he was interested in renting out his vacant house in Silverado. The timing was perfect, as it was during the Kaiser Golf Tournament and the house was next to Johnny Miller and his family. The friend said the judge could use their house but he didn’t want to rent his house. So, the judge offered the use of his house on Catalina Island in exchange. Later, the judge also invited us to visit them on Catalina Island.

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As we had a 25ft trailerable boat with 2 big motors, a galley and a head Philip decided it would be a great vacation trip so we accepted his offer. Plans were made, the boat was outfitted and we headed to Newport Beach to launch. This was going to be our first trip out of sight of land in our little boat. The song says it’s “26 miles across the sea to Santa Catalina”, but it’s actually 32 miles from Newport Beach. I was a little nervous. Did I tell you that our two small children were also with us?Luckily we left the dog at home.

This trip was before cell phones and GPS. Philip bought an RDF (Radio Direction Finder). That and our compass were our only tools for navigation.

The launch was easy. After parking our truck and trailer, we left. Philip tuned the RDF to the Avalon radio station and off we went.

It was a beautiful day, with calm seas and sunny skies. At first, the trip was relaxing and everything was going well. The engines roared softly and we were soon out of sight of land. Philip said he was confident we wouldn’t miss the island and would cruise the Pacific until we ran out of gas.

We were about halfway through, when Philip said those dreadful words, “Uh-oh.” According to the temperature gauges, one of the motors was overheating. We had our marine radio and our Zodiac dinghy for emergencies but to be sure he cut the engine. We continued at reduced speed on the other engine.

About an hour later, Catalina Island appeared on the horizon. I was very relieved to be in sight of land again. Avalon Harbor was straight ahead. We entered the bay where all the boats were moored. There were many businesses lining the shore line. Crowds of people enjoyed eating and drinking outside on restaurant patios.

Our friend the judge had reserved a mooring buoy for us. We found it and moored the boat, Philip shut down the remaining engine. Here we were in a small boat surrounded by huge expensive yachts. We knew many were owned by Hollywood stars who often came over for weekends. Philip happily called our friends on the marine radio and said we had arrived. Plans were made and they would meet us at the dock in their car.

They took us to their beautiful house perched on the hillside overlooking the famous Tuna Club. It was accessible from their lower parking lot by a funicular (a cable car). The house had a spectacular view of the harbour.

That evening we enjoyed the view during dinner. It was a night to remember, especially after they told us Marlon Brando rented their house while filming “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

We camped on our boat for a week and used our canoe to go ashore to meet our hosts for tours around the island. One day was spent cruising around Catalina Island. Philip had discovered that there was nothing wrong with the engine and was able to fix the problem.

Over the week, our son learned a serious boating lesson. Every day it was his responsibility to carry the garbage to the docks and bring back the ice. He knew how to operate our dinghy. But one day he accidentally started the outboard motor while it was still in gear. The result was spectacular. The boat leapt out of the water onto the wooden pontoon. I can still see her blonde hair flying in the wind. It was a good lesson to make sure the engine is in neutral before starting it. The boys on the dock helped him put the boat back in the water. All ended well with no damage to our son, boat or engine.

I will never forget the relaxing evenings sitting on the boat at sunset. Someone on a nearby ship played his trumpet every night. It was soothing. I thought the musician was saying goodnight to all of us moored in the harbour.

We keep “above all” good memories of our stay on Catalina Island. It was as romantic as the song said.

“26 miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is waiting for me.

Santa Catalina, the island of, romance, romance, romance.

*”26 Miles”, Song of the Four Preps


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