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5,700 Miles on the Water : 3 Men in a Boat Set Out to Prove East Coast an Island

May 17, 1987|KAREN ROEBUCK | Times Staff Writer

Three slightly tanned men jumped into a 17-foot motor boat. One untied it from the adjoining houseboat, another took the wheel, the third cracked open a beer.

They took an easy cruise around King Harbor in Redondo Beach, yelling to other boaters, pulling alongside seals and talking about the more exciting trip to come.

"We're proving that the East Coast is an island," said John Mirassou, 24, of Redondo Beach, "because if you can drive a boat around it, it's an island."

Planning a Book

The three adventurers hope their novel idea will develop into a book after the four-month, 5,700-mile trip on the eastern waterways is finished.

The first leg of the trip will take place on land. On Monday, Mirassou, John Bertsch, 22, of San Pedro, and John Cameron, 22, of Rolling Hills Estates, will leave for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., towing Mirassou's outboard-motor boat.

About a week later, they will put the boat, Sunshine, in the Atlantic Ocean and follow a course that will generally take them up the Intracoastal Waterway to the Hudson River; up through the Erie Canal; across four of the five Great Lakes; down the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Tombigbee rivers and into the Gulf of Mexico. They plan to arrive in New Orleans Sept. 12.

The Intracoastal Waterway consists of natural and man-made channels within the U. S. coastline that, on the Atlantic side, stretches from Florida to Boston.

"We're very experienced on the boat," Mirassou said, "but we have no idea what we're up against."

They have scheduled nearly 70 overnight stops, including several in Canada, and enough time for sleeping, sight-seeing and partying. They'll take the essentials--"mosquito net, sleeping bags and tuxedos. That's about it," Mirassou said.

The three men, who have been friends for years, have traveled extensively in the West and overseas. But they have seen little of the eastern United States, so the avid boaters and water-skiers plotted a course they could travel by boat.

"We came up with the idea about four years ago," Mirassou said. "It's a fantasy that's coming to pass."

For a long time, the trip was just something to talk about over beers, he said. "Last year, John Bertsch just came up to me and said, 'Let's quit talking about it and do it,' " Mirassou said.

Became a Mission

Some skeptical friends had doubted that they would actually try the trip, so, he said, "we turned a kind of fun trip touring around America into a mission."

While the three acknowledge that the trip is mostly a water-skiing vacation, preparing for it has involved more than buying suntan lotion and packing the boat.

The men have spent the last 10 months lining up commercial sponsors, informing police departments and yacht clubs of their pending arrivals and trying to set up visits with dignitaries and interviews with the media.

Sponsors have supplied an estimated $4,000 worth of the equipment they will take, including clothing, water-skis, sunglasses, motor oil and spare boat parts.

"It really is better than Christmas," Bertsch said.

"The sponsorship really helps," said Bertsch's mother, Mary Samaras, "because they're basically running on the idea and the fortitude. . . . Older people, my age, would have loved to do a trip like that when they were young."

But Mirassou, who turned down an offer to renew his contract as a sales representative with a bank in Las Vegas to take the trip, said his mother didn't share Samaras' enthusiasm. "My mom thinks I should be working."

Bertsch, a senior at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, will be on summer break and practicing the "retire now, work later" philosophy. Cameron, a recent USC graduate who decided only recently to go on the trip, said he has a job lined up when he returns home in September.

The three have been taking shorter trips on the Sunshine for the past four years. Bertsch said: "Your parents always say, 'You're not going on that damn boat again,' so we said, 'We'll just take it all summer.' "

They estimate that the trip will cost about $20,000 and have allocated $50 a day each for expenses, including gasoline. They have been selling T-shirts bearing a logo showing their route and their trip's theme, "Only in America," for $10 to help defray costs.

The theme was chosen, they said, because only in America could three young men travel such a long distance without worrying about trouble with authorities, exchanging money, learning another language and carrying passports.

Welcomed by Members

They plan to offset costs by staying with friends and relatives along the way, sleeping on the boat, and getting guest privileges at yacht clubs. They also hope that club members will give them information about water conditions, hazards to avoid--such as sand bars--and docking facilities along their route.

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