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Jack Smith

A complex plan falls apart when the party of the second part fails to meet the party of the first part on time

September 02, 1985|JACK SMITH

We spent Monday morning aboard the Calafia in Cat Harbor, on the far side of Catalina Island.

It was not as crowded as it would be on Labor Day, when landlubbers would set out by the hundreds from the several marinas along the mainland coast to crowd into the harbors of Catalina.

Voices rolled across the water to us from other boats. Our radio was playing Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony. On a nearby sloop a woman was scrubbing the deck, while a man watched her, pointing out spots she shouldn't miss and occasionally sloshing the deck with a bucket of water lifted from the sea.

"He's really got her trained," my son said.

Youths were out wind surfing, skidding over the water with their colored sails like dragonflies. From its anchorage near the opening a big yacht named Thursday's Child made ready and sailed out.

We busied ourselves with the work of taking in our anchors, bow and stern, raising our sail, and preparing to leave. My daughter-in-law had neatly cleaned her galley and stowed her utensils. She might not be as handy as the woman who was trained to scrub the deck, but she was becoming a good sailor.

In all this business I remained an observer. At noon we were ready to sail.

It was a lovely day. The sky was blue, with gauzy clouds. The sun was bright on the hills that enclose the harbor. The clumps of eucalyptus on the isthmus were bronze and green, so characteristic of the Southern California landscape.

My daughter-in-law was reluctant to leave. We were part of a complex plan. My wife and our older son and his family had gone down to our house in Baja in our younger son's van, which they had picked up at Marina del Rey. We expected to reach our slip at the marina by 6:30 p.m., and to be unpacked, have the sails covered and the boat scrubbed down and be ready to leave by 7:30. By that time my older son was to be there with the van, and my wife was to be there in her car, to drive me to the Long Beach terminal, where I had left my car.

It was very simple, really. All it required was that both parties be on time.

"They'll be late," my daughter-in-law predicted. "If we have to wait, I'd rather wait here than at the marina."

I assured her that my older son was reliable, and, besides, my wife knew how I hated to be kept waiting.

"They'll be there," I said.

The other side of Catalina Island is not often seen, except by small-boat sailors. It is steep and rocky, with its pink, rose, tan and pale green strata tilted sharply by some prehistoric continental agony. It is too abrupt and craggy to offer building sites, and it looks much as it must have looked to Cabrillo 460 years ago.

We rounded the western end of the island, passed Eagle Rock, and set our course due north for home.

My daughter-in-law put out her line, and each of us said our own prayer. She prayed she would catch a fish; I prayed she wouldn't. Lunch was still before us, and I was afraid she'd cook anything she caught, no matter how inedible it might be.

My son tried sailing, but there was no wind; we had to motor home.

About an hour and a half beyond the island we were overtaken by a powerboat that had come down on us from the west. He pulled up on our port quarter and shouted across the water. He was trying to get to the Isthmus and he was lost. He didn't know which way he was going. Could we help him?

My son shouted back. He should set his course at 180 degrees--due south, and he would hit the western end of the island.

The man shouted his thanks and wheeled away, heading south. There are some strange people out there.

A few minutes later a big sailboat under power turned and came directly at us on our starboard beam; it seemed certain to hit us when my son shouted and the boat veered to port, cutting behind our stern and almost cutting my daughter-in-law's line. I wondered if the people on the sailboat understood French. She was furious.

We passed through a school of porpoises; a flying fish surfaced off our starboard bow and skittered over the water for what seemed like a hundred yards; a huge oval-shaped fish rose into view, directly below us and just under the surface, on our port side. (My son said later it was either a sunfish or a moonfish; he wasn't sure.)

My daughter-in-law screamed in excitement and begged the fish to take her bait. He declined, however, and what I'm sure would have been a scene of great calamity, trying to land that enormous fish in our little boat, not to mention cooking it, was providentially averted.

Sometime after 5 we saw the white bridges of two oil tankers off Redondo, and then the Edison smokestacks, and by 6:30 we were in our slip.

They unloaded the boat and wrapped the sails and hosed the boat down and lugged their gear up the pier and made a huge pile of it on the curb by the parking lot.

It was exactly 7:30. Our mission had been accomplished.

The other party was slightly more than an hour and 30 minutes late.

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