The Babes of Avalon


I wrote a lot about the boat I built and lived on in Marina Del Rey for 6 years when I was nineteen, but I never told you of the near death experience, or “Survivor Avalon,” adventure that I had on said boat. It was the summer of 1969 and I shared this adventure with my able bodied, and often inebriated fraternity brother crew. We had decided to spend a summer weekend on the Island of Catalina in the bay of Avalon and if all went well, we might all meet some Catalina senioritas as we were told, that was where the babes would be hanging out that summer weekend.

The plans were made and the course was set and a navigational solution was established but things did not quite add up. In that famous song it says, Catalina is only 26 miles across the sea but in fact it was 52 miles across the sea when departing from Marina Del Rey. And, with a boat that only got 1 mile to the gallon and with gas tanks that could only hold 32-gallons, Houston, we had a problem.

But, for fraternity brothers hot on the scent of women lounging in the Caribbean (well, Catalina anyway) little things like not enough gas to get there would not stop us. We had thought of all the various plans that might get us to that now more then ever exotic island as the younger pledges had since gone and described it as a bikini fest. The first plan consisted of going as fare as we could with the gas we had and then hope the coast guard would tow us the rest of the way.

Now I’ll tell you, sitting around with fraternity brothers, having partaken of a few beers, this actually was one of the ten plans that found themselves on the table that night. I mean it was one step above hoping mermaids would find us adrift and tow us to shore. And that idea beat out the coast guard idea, because my ship did not actually have a radio to call the coast guard with. In fact, this being before cell phones, the only form of communication we had, short of yelling real loud and flailing our arms about, was three old automobile flares we had aboard and several packs of firecrackers and a few condoms. I won’t tell you how the condoms would be used to get us to shore because if I did it would be one of those things that would make you a little bit stupider for having heard it. So, after considering these plans, the mermaid idea started sounding pretty darn good.

The next day after sobering up we read the elaborate notes Strawberry, who had elected himself secretary for this adventure, had taken the night before. Notes that now, as we read them back only said, “Gas, boat, find mermaids, get beer, find new world inhabited with bikini clad babes and buy more gas tanks.” The only thing that made sense was the, “buy more gas tanks.” And with that our course was set, my ship, “Galloping Gerdy”, as it was to be dubbed, was to be fitted with five new five gallon jiffy jugs full of fuel, yes five “leaky smelly” five gallon jugs and we were ready to sail or rather motor to Avalon.

I should mention the galloping Gerdy name came about because I had built a lake boat with an outboard engine. It did not have a deep V sea going haul or an inboard engine that would have stabilized it, not to mention the added weight of myself and four crew and all those gas containers, some of which were tied to the bulkheads in the upper cabin. Well, we were bouncing around like a cork looking for a bottle, and thus the name.

I had purchased a compass for this occasion as till then I hadn’t needed one, having not ventured my ship more than sight could see off the shore of Santa Monica Bay. In fact besides living aboard the only place I had taken her was the local surf spots to, well, surf. Now, I must tell you that there is nothing more cool then showing up at a surf spot via your own boat, jump overboard and paddle into the surf from seaward. One day I did this only to turn around and see my boat just behind me heading for shore. I had forgotten to set the anchor. I paddled back, climbed aboard and threw it overboard while I watched the anchor, 50 feet of very expensive chain and 80 feet of rope sink to the bottom of the sea, as I had forgotten to tie the other end to the ship.

My new compass was purchased from a navel surplus store and was said to have come off a US Navy ship that transversed the Atlantic Ocean. Which we did not know at the time posed a small problem with navigation in the Pacific Ocean.

Now let me set the picture, we have 5 five gallon leaky containers of gas, the smell of fuel is ramped around the ship, there may be a few more gallons floating around in the bilge and some of my crew are smoking and not just smoking any old thing, but some are smoking those funny cigarettes that blow up and shoot sparks when they hit a seed. It was the 70’s and well those things happened and when you were sitting on a powder keg it made one a little edgy and so it was no surprise that in very short order some, if not all of my crew, were referring to me as Captain Blythe.

Ushering the most flagrant offenders to the upper deck, well out of the fumes at least, by simply telling them that was where the babes were, I succeeded in maintaining some modem of security and we cast off.

As we left Marina Del Rey we listened to the one 8track tape I had aboard, the Beatles. It played over and over again. Even today I get a little jittery whenever I hear “Mr. Moonlight,” as there wasn’t one. Just the lights of huge freighters off in the distance as in no time at all we had entered the shipping lanes and we set our course to dash safely between two large oilers when suddenly the engine died. All was silent accept for the Beatles playing. I, being the captain and captain of my own ship, and this was my own ship not to mention my home, I realized that we had just emptied tank #1 and all we had to do was switch to tank #2. As this was going on George Godzic had grabbed one of our car flares and after we restarted the engine Harry Van Bommel had to pry it from his fist. One freighter had gotten so close we could almost read its name, Valdez something or other.

All was well after that as I piloted Galloping Gerdy into the wild blue until someone notice that all the other boats we past were going the other way. And after awhile we thought it might be prudent to ask one of these boats, cutting our bow, where the hell they thought they were going because according to our compass we were headed straight for Avalon. One boat answered our quarry and indicated that we were some 30 or maybe 45 degrees off course, and were heading out to deep sea. I can still remember his foreboding laugh after his telling us that.

Now being off course that far was one of those things you would never live down even after discovering the reason for it. The surplus compass was set for the Atlantic Ocean and had to be recalibrated for the Pacific, a small fact I had not known. And we were not 30 or 45 degrees off course but only 6 degrees, enough though to head us to Antarctica although long before reaching it we would be out of, gas, beer and eaten by penguins.

The sun had finally arisen but still no sign of the island. Then we heard a sound coming from the bow, we listened carefully and realized it was just Strawberry yelling, “land ahoy.” And sure enough before long we could all see the island appear like the ghost of an old friend coming to borrow money, right out of the fog. And before long we could see the ships docked in Avalon bay and on some of the ships we could see bikini-clad babes, very promising but… it was not to be.

After a few hours ashore it became apparent that the bikini-clad babes we had been promised turned out to be bikini clad teeny boppers the younger pledges had done us in. Chuck Neito even reported that he overheard one girl say to her girl friend to not talk to anyone over 16. Now, only a few of us had even hit 20 yet. And as we realized to our surprise, old age had set in, and our finding babes was going to be a bust, we decided to do what men have done since the beginning of time suffering rejection and failure in relation to the opposite sex. Go back to sea in wooden ships, get bait, find a bay and go fishing.

And so we did, we spent the next two days anchored off shore of one of Catalina’s fine bays, fishing, listening to Mr. Moonlight, again, and thinking…well of women anyway. At dusk, we’d row ashore and Harold Lusteg would cook up the fish on a Hibachi. And all was well accept for a few incidents I will tell you about another time. After all, I am writing this now so we did make it home safely, well we made it home anyway, let’s just say that then… and so I did.
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