LEISURE LETTER 57: WEST-NORTHWEST - PART 2

LEISURE LETTER 57: WEST-NORTHWEST - PART 2

There we were in the middle of the straits at high noon, Santo and I, not quite shipwrecked but floating without wind, the engine seized up and the schools of scaly fish swimming all around us. Lurking in the depths and out of sight was a shark, or at least I thought so, awaiting our sure demise when one of the container ships would suddenly appear large and looming on its course to run us down. The offshore freighters move deceptively fast, such that what might resemble a dot on the horizon one moment, left unnoticed for long enough would go on to assume the proportion of a Behemoth moving stealthily toward you – all of a sudden you would sense the shadow passing over the deck, the terrible sound of its mechanics, and then . . . Oblivion. It was as if Davy Jones and his whole retinue of pretty ocean monsters were expecting us from below, those perennial hosts of the deep.
Adrift as we were at the edge of the Gulf Of Santa Catalina, I reckon we had no more than seven miles to reach Avalon. By then the island stood out fairly clear and well defined, from the heights of the quarry and onward, rising to a zenith atop the ridgeline on the south end, now falling down and further down the spine of the sleeping giant to that last point of departure, known as The Isthmus, where the land temporarily disappears before shooting up again through a haze of yellow vapor seeped out and proliferated in a sickly, skyborn trail from the city of Los Angeles. Dead ahead and somewhat obscured by the remaining span of atmosphere stood the old casino – the beacon of Avalon – solitary, stoic, yet still shining in solar resplendence, as would one of those Apollonian temples of old.
“Keep the bow aimed at that casino!” Santo shouted above the engine’s murmur once we got moving again, even reaching out with one of his hands – “I can almost touch it!” In his seeking way, Santo always seemed to be reaching toward one island or another, hoping to bring it closer to himself or else pull himself closer to it by some impossible effort of the will. And so was I. But all the same, I kept my hands firmly planted to the wheel until we reached the far limit of the shipping lanes. At that point we had gotten through the worst of it.
With only three miles left to go, we came to enjoy one more small victory in the endless sequence of loss and gain stretching way back into the past. A mere puff of wind: a modest blow out of the southeast as soon as we hit Avalon Knoll. It was all I could’ve asked for. Once again, the sails. “Cut the engine,” said the captain. I killed it. Whhhoooosssshhh we went, cutting through a sea of liquid blue diamond, leaned out and smooth slicing through the soup. It's the only decent way to arrive at Avalon, as far as I’m concerned, by wind: tuna or no tuna. We were there in a jiff.
 “Mooring for one night,” Santo told the Harbor Johnny upon arrival, while once again I furled the jib. Our trusty vessel of this vintage had made good time after all. “Follow me!” said Harbor Johnny. And we went a-following, a-motoring through a vast world of boats, in search of the mooring ball which would become our home for the time being.
Here there was every kind of boat you could imagine – even the boats came with boats – inflatable zodiacs happily steered and zipped about by the laughing, sunburnt vacationers looking to get their island kicks. The most impressive by far was Shogun, a 200 ft. megalith supposedly owned by an enigmatic east coast banker with ties to the Kremlin and Hong Kong. Shogun, being the largest ship, was moored furthest out, affording it an unobstructed straight shot to the sea. Passing by the stately ship, I gave Santo a nudge – “Look Santo . . . Shogun. Perhaps you and I board later for a game of high stakes poker––” I winked: “And backgammon too! Million dollar buy-ins!” Santo merely laughed, offering a kindly pat on the back and assuring me, “It’s going to be some time before you’re ready to board any Shoguns my boy; but you will someday, I promise.” Santo, ever the advisor, was probably right. 
At long last we made it to our mooring ball, paid the harbor Johnny and got the rig tied up flush and functional. Followed immediately by a celebratory Campari Soda in the sun. Projecting from the waterfront some hundred or so yards away were the jarring pulses of the most awful dance music controlled by one of the DJ Johnnys from the downtown dayclub. Reclined on one of his ornate, possibly imitation Turkish pillows, Santo sparked a fat Cuban cigar, possibly imitation. “This place . . .” he sighed wearily, shaking his head whilst blowing out a cloud of thick blue smoke “. . . If you were to pack up all the riff-raff of Disneyland and express-ship it to Capri, you might end up with something like this place. . . . I love it.” 
That being said, we sat a while longer until our tans turned red. Soon the sun began to fade and fall behind the ridgeline: time to get going. “Fetch me the walkie,” Santo mumbled. “Harbor patrol, harbor patrol,” he spoke into the static continuum. “Hello, this is harbor patrol, what can we do for you?” “Shore boat for two passengers please. Mooring 46. Thanks.” “You got it, over and out.”
Five dollars will book you passage from the moorings to the old dock with shore access. The taxi driver arrived before we could even put our boots on, slamming the aluminum gangplank from his craft to ours. “Evening fellas,” said taxi Johnny, “any plans tonight?” “Tuna club . . . Marlin Club,” Santo mumbled. “There should be a decent band at the Marlin tonight,” said the friendly taxi driver. “Good,” Santo mumbled once more. And we sped off.
Only to debark upon the shore at sunset, two pilgrims in search of that impossible island. We walked like transients with sea-gum legs, rubbery, disbanded, only the cowboy boots preventing our ankles from collapsing. 
“Santo . . . my legs . . . I can’t walk,” as I clasped the railing. 
“Enough of that!” he barked, “you’ve only got the sea-leg willies . . . you’ll get used to it.” 
“But Santo . . . I feel like I’m floating––”
“Float on, my boy!”
And so, with the orange sun aflame behind the hillside, and the whole town of Avalon cast in a benevolent twilight shade, Santo and I slipped and sailed our gummy, rubbery way through a crowded waterfront corral of tourist bric-a-brac, en route to the casino that was like some long lost temple of Apollo, to have a closer look. “I just want to touch it,” Santo mumbled.
To be continued . . .

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