While the beautiful and historic island of Catalina lies relatively close to our shoreline, there are still many boats sitting in the slips of Marina del Rey that have never made the crossing.
It’s a routine and simple journey for many local skippers, but for others, it’s a test yet to be passed.
For the under-prepared neophyte in an under-prepared vessel, a Catalina trip can be disastrous because when the rubber meets the road, it’s still the Pacific Ocean, complete with the unpredictable pitfalls and surprises that any ocean brings.
On August 27th, three intrepid young men, none older than 14, braved such a voyage in boats shorter than many surfboards. All three are members of the non-profit organization, LifeSail, which aims to teach practical lessons and character-building through the sport of sailing.
While founder Matt Schulz has used nonconventional and novel methods in the past, this was the first time he staged such a stringent challenge for his kids.
Eyebrows lifted when Shulz agreed to allow the three young sailors, aged 12, 13 and 14, to sail 19 miles across the ocean at the helm of their own eight-foot Optimist sailboats.
It was sure to be a long trip, as the boats aren’t that fast and the wind probably wouldn’t come from the most desirable direction. The kids were going to have to be patient if their breezes were light, and resilient if winds were high. With what little freeboard they have, the little boats can be swamped easily and they would have to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
But on that Wednesday morning, Steven Schulz, 12; Daniel Dimal, 13; and Alex Legaspi, 14 climbed inside their one-man crafts and made for the island.
“The training worked out perfectly,” Matt Schulz said proudly after returning to the mainland. “We covered in practice everything they saw that day. They were prepared.”
The trio started out in the morning from the King Harbor area in a nearly non-existent breeze. Their training had prepared them more for big wind and wave circumstances and less for interminable boredom, but the ocean never asks about preferences.
“I was a little nervous and apprehensive,” said Steven Schulz of the anticlimactic start. “It seemed like we were moving backwards and hardly moving forward at all.”
At the rate that the boats were making as the expedition began, it would have taken the entire day and into the night for the kids to make the passage. The lessons learned in this early stage wouldn’t be ones of fearless grit, but of focus, doggedness and simply staying awake.
“One of the guys actually fell asleep and when he woke up he thought that there was a red car coming straight for him,” said the grinning 12-year-old of his teammate’s five-second nap in the lifeless early going.
Fortunately for the kids and the escort boats that were on hand to insure safety, the winds picked up and the trio was able to make some time towards their destination.
Along the way, they saw only one large ship and were fortunate enough to come across a couple of whales rising up for air close-by. They periodically and collectively stopped to bail out their boats when a building swell crashed over their bows. They received five-hour energy drinks when needed, and the young Schulz confidently stated that they actually last only three hours.
After six hours, 37 minutes, one 1 second, the three boys crossed the imaginary line parallel to Ship Rock off the coast of Two Harbors, Catalina and the voyage was complete. They ceremoniously held flares in their hand as they finished and made their way to the island where they were congratulated and fed, in that order.
Upon passing Ship Rock, Steven Schulz unofficially became the youngest person to ever make the solo journey — the record is currently awaiting verification — and for this young salt, the trip is sure to be an enduring memory. Asked what kind of 12-year-old is ambitious and brave enough to set records like these, he responded thoughtfully with a humble lilt, “That’s a good question — I guess this kind of 12-year-old.”