BY: Len Bose
The Catalina Flyer's overall length is 124 feet with a 40-foot beam, her draft is 9 feet, 5 inches and she cruises at 30 knots. She is powered by twin 2350 Caterpillar turbo diesels and can make the trip to Avalon in 1 hour, 20 minutes with more than 500 passengers.
The Catalina Flyer is Newport Harbor's ride to Catalina for the general public. I had a chance to interview Capt. Steve Forbath of the Catalina Flyer this week.
Forbath grew up in Costa Mesa and was first introduced to the harbor by attending Newport Beach's recreation sailing class in Naples Sabots at the age of 7-8.
He graduated from Estancia High and then proceeded to UC Santa Barbara for his bachelor's degree, then UC Irvine for his master's.
Forbath started working aboard the Catalina Holiday when it opened in 1978. By 1980, he received his captain's license and then took the helm of the Catalina Flyer.
|Captain Steve Forbath|
Because of the Flyer's size, the vessel has two captains on board at all times while underway. The first captain is in charge of the wheel house, announcements and the helm. The second captain is in charge of the engine room and passengers. Should the vessel encounter limited visibility, both captains are in the wheel house.
While underway, the first captain is constantly monitoring the sea state, engine gauges, GPS, auto-pilot and radar while all the time keeping a visual lookout for small recreational boaters and marine life.
Forbath recalled a couple of years ago when a large 90-foot blue whale had died and drifted into one of the jetties off Newport.
One of the lifeguard boats was towing the whale back out to sea when a couple of 18-to-20-foot great white sharks picked up on the whale. The sharks came up from behind the whale, then jumped out of the water, biting into the whale then spinning violently, thrashing back and forth, until they broke a large piece off.
There have also been times when the Flyer has come upon an unsuspecting Fin Whale on the surface and had to dodge it, giving the passengers the opportunity to go eye-to-eye with the whale as the two went their separate ways.
I asked him what had been some of the most interesting flotsam he'd seen over the years.
"While departing Avalon, about three miles off the island, I noticed what first appeared to be a rather large person on a Jet Ski heading straight for us off our starboard side," Forbath said.
"The next moment I realized it was too big to be someone on a Jet Ski and tried to hail the object on the radio, channels 16, 13 and 14. Just about this time the Coast Guard started to question my inquiries over the radio, when a very strong U.S. Navy voice came over the radio and said this encounter never happened, and the periscope of the submarine quickly submerged under the water."
I asked when the weather might be too rough for the Flyer to make the crossing.
"This winter we canceled more days than I can remember because of wind and swell," Forbath said. "We are concerned about the passengers, we just don't want to hurt anybody. It's all about our passengers' comfort.
"People get scared, they suddenly stand up and try to run and fall down. The boat, knock on wood, can handle anything in this area. We have to keep the passengers comfortable so it becomes more about the sea state rather than wind strength. There have also been times when the winds will come out of the Canyon of Avalon and we cannot get into harbor and I have had to return to Newport before because the harbor has been closed off.
"Some of you might recall the fires in Catalina over the last 10 years," he said. "One night we had to stand off Avalon all night in case we had to evacuate all the residence from town because of the fire danger."
I asked if there was anything he'd like to say to the recreational boater that would make his day easier.
"Keep a safe distance, we move much faster than you would think we do," Forbath said.
The captain and I talked more about our deliveries up and down the West Coast and shared similar stories of challenges while at sea. Forbath can talk the talk, and for someone who has been around as long as he has, I am quite sure he can walk the walk.
We are all very fortunate that he is one of the captains that runs the Flyer here in Newport Harbor.
I am headed out on the Santa Cruz 50 Horizon again this next week down the coast of California in the California Offshore Race Week. It is a three-race series starting from San Francisco to Monterey, then from Monterey to Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara to San Diego.
Please wish us luck again, it always helps.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist for the Daily Pilot.