Until May 28, about the only way to get from Orange County directly to Avalon in less than 90 minutes was to hire a helicopter or a seaplane. The only regular seagoing passenger line in the county, Catalina Passenger Service, had run a plump-looking boat called the Catalina Holiday from the Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach to Avalon, but the trip took 2 1/2 rolling hours.
Today, however, Catalina Passenger Service operates a boat that looks--and operates--like it belongs on "Star Trek." Called the Catalina Flyer, it is a $3.5-million, 118-foot, all-aluminum catamaran, the largest catamaran in North America. It can accommodate 500 passengers on its three decks, and includes a private stateroom that can be reserved ahead of time for 125 people.
But the good part, particularly for those travelers who would rather visit the dentist than spend time on the swells of the open sea, is the boat's speed. It can make the trip from the Pavilion to the dock at Avalon in 75 minutes, cutting exactly in half the time it took the single-hulled Catalina Holiday to make the crossing.
The adult round trip fare has gone up from $22 to $28 but, said Bob Black, Catalina Passenger Service president and general manager, "the people don't seem to mind because they like the idea of getting there faster and having more time to spend on the island."
Through the end of November, the Catalina Flyer will make daily trips to the island, leaving the Balboa Pavilion at 9 a.m. and leaving Avalon for home at 4:30 p.m. Runs will then be suspended until the day after Christmas, said Black, when the Flyer will begin daily service on Fridays through Sundays.
Black said the company is considering making daily winter runs beginning in January.
Speed, Black said, means competitive edge.
"That was our main idea," he said. "To get speed. With a catamaran hull, you can go a lot faster. We do an honest 26 knots now. Also, being all aluminum, it's lightweight and it gives you more room on the boat while being able to carry the same number of people as the Catalina Holiday. You can move around.
"We felt that if we didn't go with a boat like this, the other carriers were going to be doing it soon and we were going to be left behind."
There is a smaller catamaran that makes the run from San Diego to Avalon, but Black said his main competition comes from lines that make multiple daily runs from Long Beach and San Pedro. Those boats, though they travel a slightly shorter distance to Avalon (the trip from Newport Beach is figured at between 26 and 27 miles), sail about as fast as did the Catalina Holiday, and carry fewer passengers.
The double hulls of the Catalina Flyer don't eliminate motion, Black said, but they do modify it.
"It's a lot more stable than the Catalina Holiday, which used to roll a lot," he said. "It's a better ride, but because it's so light, you get a bouncing effect instead of a rolling one."
The trip home, however, in a following sea, "is a piece of cake," Black said. "You're moving right along with the swells."