Marina del Rey charter service is giving free rides to those displaced by fire

By Gary Walker

Fast-moving flames tore through a Pacific Coast Highway bus stop near Corral Canyon Beach and the Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market
Photo by Mia Duncans

Watching on television as the Woolsey Fire destroyed hundreds of homes and engulfed more than 90,000 acres from Malibu to Ventura County, Milton “Skip” Rutzick thought about what he could do to help some of those displaced by the disaster.

A certified charter boat captain and owner of a yacht charger service in Marina del Rey, the power to help was in reach: Capt. Skip, as he’s known in the marina, decided to offer boat rides — for free — to evacuees who wanted to return to their homes or businesses but couldn’t get past road closures. As of Wednesday, Rutzick had ferried nearly 20 people from Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey to various parts of Malibu.

“I realized the magnitude of the fires and the limitations that people have on getting there. I knew that people had been displaced and wanted to check on their homes, on their neighbors — wanted to find family and wanted to get supplies in,” Rutzick explained Tuesday as he piloted one of his two charter vessels, a 62-foot powerboat called
The Duchess.

Rutzick’s first trip was transporting a woman with medical supplies to Zuma Beach on Monday morning. On Tuesday he ferried six people to Latigo Canyon and two people — Zan and Claude Marquis, owners of the Point Dume Plaza Shopping Center — to Paradise Cove. Wanting to check on and assist their commercial tenants and neighbors, the couple took fire extinguishers, sleeping bags, flashlights and emergency medical supplies.

Claude Marquis, a medical doctor, said many of the businesses are “mom and pop type tenants” who have invested their life savings in their businesses. “They’re very concerned about whether they’ll be able to reopen,” she said.

“They’re contacting us to see if they’re still in business or have they been wiped out. We’re getting a lot of phone calls and we don’t know what to tell them,” added Zan Marquis. “So we’re going to see what’s needed and to help.”

A couple of miles off the coast from Paradise Cove, the acrid smell of burned hillsides was already apparent. White smoke drifted through the canyons like the tendrils of a lingering ghost and a charred hilltop stood in contrast to surrounding greenery.

The vessel has been operating so close to burn zones that The Duchess First Mate David Carter said he’d found some embers on the boat after its first trip.

The Duchess wasn’t able to dock at any of its drop-off points, often due to the hazards of rocky coastlines, so Rutzick’s passengers have had to reach shore in creative ways.

“Two of the guys that we brought almost to Latigo Canyon swam to shore, a dingy that was in the area took another three to the shore, and the last three got off at Little Dume and they had three friends with kayaks waiting to pick them up,” Rutzick said.

Those determined to return to Malibu have done so in defiance of evacuation orders that had not been lifted.

A passenger who lives on the hillside above Zuma Beach caught a ride with Rutzick in order to set up a shelter in her home. Rutzick said that upon arrival he got radio confirmation from Marina del Rey Harbor Patrol and Marina del Rey Baywatch that lifeguards would assist her, but then lifeguards at Zuma declined to help, saying the mayor of Malibu had instructed them not to let anyone back into town.

“We took one of our kayaks down, got her, her dog and her medical supplies in the kayak, and sent them toward shore with some strong wind currents. Fortunately, when she got near the shore the lifeguards did come out and help her. I heard from her later that day and she said everything had worked out great,” Rutzick said.

With help from Carter, Zan and Claude Marquis executed a tricky boat-to-boat transfer from The Duchess to a Baywatch Marina del Rey lifeguard rescue boat that took them to shore.

During the two-hour ride up the coast, the couple had expressed worry for two tenants in particular.

Lily Castro, owner of Lily’s Malibu, fled oppression in El Salvador and dealt with enormous personal setbacks to operate a popular restaurant. “She lost her husband to cancer, then a daughter to cancer, and now she might lose her restaurant,” Zan Marquis said.

Owners of the ice cream shop Le Café de Plage Malibu, Sophie and Bernard Benita, “have put their life savings into their business,” said Claude Marquis. “They sold their business in France and are trying to get established here. Their children are in Santa Monica College, and they’re really trying to become a part
of the community.”

On the way back to Marina del Rey, smoke began to rise over the hills south of Pepperdine University, a striking reminder of why Rutzick is ferrying people up the coast.

“We’ll be here as long as people need us,” Rutzick said.

Call (310) 570-8902 or visit theduchessyacht.com to reach The Duchess Yacht Charters.

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