Catalina Island News

Failure to Launch

Afishinados Charters

First let me warn you that this story has a happy ending.  I actually wrote this piece three weeks ago when things were not looking so good for Afishinado.

We had finally gotten a new engine from Cummins, finally gotten the resources and time to install the engine and we were ready to splash the boat. I was pretty excited by all of this, knowing that this would be the first time this season when all of my boats would be in service.

Getting a boat ready to launch is a process, but when all systems are go you gotta be ready to push the button.  I was ready, but the launch ramp was not.  Recent storm surge had destroyed the ramp below the water line.  As a result, we suffered a failure to launch due to forces beyond all control.

Living on Catalina Island has some unique quirks that you will not find in the brochures, one of which is the method by which we put boats into and take them out of the water.  At the Avalon end of the island there are only two ways to do this.

If the boat is small, say less than 10 tons, you drive it to the mole and put your lift lines onto the bow and stern.  Once all appears in order, you call the Avalon Harbor Department and ask for an operator (patrol member) to come to the mole and lift the boat.

I am not sure if it is in the nature of things or simply a by-product of the process, but it seems whenever I make that call it is during a shift change, a lunch break or in the period of time when patrol is moving docks to prevent storm damage.  All bad times to pull a boat or put one into the water.

With any luck, a patrol member will arrive and will get the crane into position to lift the boat.  The rest is just crossed finders as the boat is precariously carried over the railing and into the water.  Once there, a pretty tricky climb down the ladder and into the boat is required.

Simple stuff really, but it always feels a bit harrowing.  By comparison though, this is the simpler of the two boat hoist strategies in Avalon.

The method for pulling anything larger than a skiff is to get the boat pulled at Pebbly Beach.  For this strategy to work a lot of moving parts must be put into play.

First is the weather.  Our current ebb and flow of storm and surge is not conducive to the process.  There is simply too much action at the water line with massive amounts of water pushing in unproductive directions.  So we wait.

Once we have a good weather window we must consult the tide tables.  The best times for launching or retrieving a boat at Pebbly is during extreme tides.  Caleb Lins needs a very low tide to get out on the ramp and use his tractor to clear the rocks and boulders that are strewn about.

Then we wait for high tide and Caleb will use his very specialized trailer to lift the boat from the blocks, drive the short distance to the ramp and then into the water to float the boat.

It is rarely flat calm when this happens so the most important moment is starting the boat and pulling out of the cage on the trailer and into open water.  A successful launch leads to a big sigh of relief.

On July 15th I was ready to make the run and splash the Afishinado after what seemed like an eternal battle to replace a blown engine.  I even installed new electronics in the hope that this would give the old girl a more optimistic future.

Buying a present for your boat in this way is not unlike a peace offering.  There is an unspoken agreement that a really good gift will lead to years of trouble free harmony.

Sometimes the magic works.

Sometimes it does not.

Caleb informed me that he found the ramp to be badly damaged when he was prepping it for launch.  The bottom half of the ramp was no longer where it was supposed to be…simply gone.

This was pretty devastating news after all we had been through over the previous 3 months.  Afishinados was ready to get back into the game, but the world was not ready for her to be delivered.  Truly a bummer.

A few days passed, we had ideas.  Maybe we could get those tracks that the military lays out to build bridges over rivers and make temporary airports in hostile lands.  Or, perhaps we could station a couple of boats off shore with guide lines to literally haul Afishinados off the trailer and into deep water.

I thought about launching at Two Harbors.  After all, they have the ability to pull some pretty large vessels, but there is no way to get there from here.  Even the cranes at the quarry were considered, but there would be no way to get the boat into position for such a lift.

On July 20th, I turned 63.  I generally feel that nobody should work on their birthday.  I try to avoid such at all costs.  But, I got a call from Caleb suggesting that Jim Hoffmann from Jordahl Construction had agreed to supply some steel plates that could be laid out at low tide and then used to launch Afishinado at high tide.

“I can be there.  We are ready when you are”, was my response.

Caleb was not sure this would work, but if the conditions proved right, he was willing to give it a try. 

On July 20th in 1969 we walked on the moon.  I remember saving the newspaper since I had just turned 15 and was thrilled that this big event happened on my birth date.

At 6pm on July 20th, 2017, the Afishinado was launched back into the water aboard Caleb Lins shuttle and with the huge help from Jordahl’s steel plates.  A successful launch is a thing of beauty.  I could not have asked for a better birthday present.  Thank you Jimmy.  Thank you Caleb.

By Capt. John King
Capt. John runs Afishinados Charters and Catallac Tours – 800-613-7770 –