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3 Sailors Take Roundabout Tour of Eastern U.S.

September 27, 1987|KAREN ROEBUCK | Times Staff Writer

After nearly four months, 6,200 miles and 1,800 gallons of gasoline, three South Bay men proved--in their own minds, at least--that the eastern United States is an island.

"We did successfully prove that the East Coast is an island," insisted John Bertsch, 23, of San Pedro.

Bertsch and his longtime friends, John Cameron, 23, of Rolling Hills Estates and John Mirassou, 24, of Redondo Beach drove a 17-foot motorboat around the eastern United States and Canada.

"If you can drive a boat around it, it's an island," they said.

The three men have traveled extensively in the West and overseas, but had seen little of the eastern United States until this trip. They feared that they would become bored seeing the region by car, so the avid boaters and water-skiers plotted a course they could travel on Mirassou's 17-foot boat, Sunshine.

They left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on May 26 and followed a course that first took them up the Intracoastal Waterway, the series of natural and man-made channels within the U. S. coastline that stretches from Florida to Boston. At New York they headed up the Hudson River, through the Erie Canal to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, then through the Trent-Severn Waterways in Canada to Lake Huron. From there they crossed Lake Michigan and proceeded along the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Tombigbee rivers and into the Gulf of Mexico.

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

For about three years, the trip remained a dream and was just something to talk about over beers, he said. Then he and Bertsch decided to try it. Cameron joined the crew shortly before the trip began.

Some of their friends and many of the people they met along the way were skeptical that they could complete the trip in such a small boat, they said. Some of those skeptics were among the 25 friends and relatives who met the men for a victory party in New Orleans Sept. 12 when the trip ended.

The trio had joked that the Pope, who was also in the city that day, was going to party with them as well.

"We got our picture taken with the Pope and Ron Reagan," Cameron said. "The only problem is that they were plastic."

They met lesser dignitaries during their trip--mayors of a few small towns greeted them at various ports. They stayed overnight with Erwin (Red) Becker, mayor of Evansville, Ill.--population 853.

"We're just a little bitty small town and they ended up here for one night--that's pretty decent," said Becker, who met the three at the Family Tradition Bar and Restaurant. "Maybe it was one of their most enjoyable nights on the trip."

Becker seemed impressed that the men took such a long trip on "such a little bitty Boston Whaler."

"I think the guys had a lot of guts," he said. "It's quite an achievement. . . . There's people out there that will do anything, I guess."

The men dubbed their trip "Only in America," explaining that only in this country could they travel such a long distance without worrying about trouble with authorities, exchanging money, learning another language and carrying passports.

The theme changed temporarily to "Only in North America" when they rerouted their course to avoid storms on Lake Erie and crossed the Trent-Severn canals in Canada instead.

Although the boat quickly became home for them, Cameron said, "We got homesick in Chicago; we had to rent a Cadillac."

The trip was a water-skiing vacation, but preparing for it involved more than buying suntan lotion and packing the boat.

They spent 10 months before their trip 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.

They sold T-shirts bearing their logo and route for $10 to help pay for the trip, which cost about $13,000.

Sponsors supplied about $4,000 worth of clothing, water-skis, sunglasses, motor oil and spare boat parts.

Mirassou said he plans to spend the next three to four months doing promotions for the crew's sponsors and writing magazine articles and a book about the trip. He kept a daily journal while traveling. His book will be nonfiction, he said, although "I might spiff up the storms a little bit."

Bertsch, a public relations major at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, is scheduled to lecture about the trip and its preparations to public relations classes this fall, he said. He also will get three to six credits for writing a 10-page paper about his experiences, he said.

The best part of the trip, they said, was getting to know many friendly people who opened their homes, boats, refrigerators and liquor cabinets to them.

In the deep South, Mirassou said, "There's nothing to go out and do, so you sit around in somebody's living room and talk or on their porch . . . watching the hound dog run around. It's quite a cultural shock."

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