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My childhood was for the most part normal. I went to Carthay Circle Grammar School in West Los Angeles. Nearby there was a beautiful, old-fashioned movie house, the Carthay Circle Theater. When I was ten, I landed my first job, which consisted of turning up the seats there (my father didn't believe in giving me pocket money, so if I wanted any, I had to earn it myself). They would screen previews and other movies while I was working, so I was able to see many movies even before the public saw them. I received a small salary and my choice of any candy in the counter. What a great job.
I did very well in school academically, although I was only average at sports. I next went to John Burroughs Junior High School on Wilshire Blvd. near the exclusive Hancock Park area of LA. It was here that I first realized that Jews are a minority.
Before I entered high school, my parents built a new, custom-made home in Cheviot Hills. This was just north of MGM and Culver City and just south of 20th Century Fox Studios and Hillcrest County Club.
I attended Hamilton High School and I worked hard to get into USC, which I did. There I joined a fraternity. George Lucas of Star Wars fame was a frat brother, and there were lots of other interesting characters. Not my style, though, and I quit after a year of being a member of Sigma Alpha Mu, the Sammies. I joined the Crew and rowed for USC. That was my only real athletic achievement, although not a substantial one. After two years I had had enough of the crew. I was probably in the best physical condition of my life, but the other members were anti-Semitic, and the daily Jew barbs became wearing.
I enjoyed the drive to and from the LA Harbor with my friend William S. Milius Jr. He had a brand new Mercedes 300SL Gull wing, a very expensive car in those days in 1958. But all in all, I saw college as mere preparation for Law School, which was my real goal.
For the most part, the education I received from USC was cultural. USC exposed me to a different slice of life than I had ever seen before, because there I was the token Jew. USC had a strict quota system before the days of civil rights. There were token blacks, Orientals, and Jews - and I do mean token. The overt discrimination I experienced there had the effect of validating and reinforcing my drive for money and power, so that I would never have to be at the mercy of bigots. In addition, I developed a measure of compassion for other minorities.
While waiting to get college over with and get on with Law School, I set out to beat the system as best I could. I made it into the Trojan Squires and then the Trojan Knights, which automatically made me a big man on campus. I was the President of the USC School of Business. Great for the Law School resume.
Nevertheless, there were blatant reminders of Jew-hatred. Several times I was invited to private clubs and gatherings where notices, usually engraved on a brass plaque, were conspicuously posted, which stated: "Absolutely No Jews, Blacks or Orientals Admitted." Because I was a "Trojan Knight" and president of one of the schools, they couldn't enforce the rule in my case, but I knew I was admitted reluctantly and would never be "one of the guys." This, however, was not a humbling experience; instead I went out of my way to make my Jewish roots clear and obvious. I wasn't the one who had anything to be ashamed of.
One memorable experience at USC occurred in 1960. I was given what was considered the lowliest job in the Knights, "Head of the Outside Speakers Bureau." The good jobs were "Head of the Yell Squad," or "Rose Bowl Float Chairman." I was to host visiting speakers and guests of no great importance. As a total lark I decided to invite the United States Presidential Candidates to speak at USC. I sent letters to Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. To my great surprise they both accepted and were my guests.
I spent an entire day with each of them. Having been brought up in the manufacturing business, I was a Republican and very conservative. I hated Democrats and thought their positions were silly. (UCLA Law School was to change that viewpoint dramatically.)
Nixon was a cold fish. He said about three words to me all day. Kennedy, on the other hand, was impressive, sharp, and classy. He wanted to know about everyone and everything. He was charming and I was totally won over by him.
I graduated USC and moved on to UCLA Law School. My class of about 75 had the very first two women admitted to the Law School. The professors of this bastion of civil rights and democratic thinking gave them a terrible time. Nevertheless, they became very successful lawyers and then judges.
At the same time that I started law school, I married my wife Barbara. She is a fantastic person, and to this very day I can't understand how I was so lucky to find her and marry her. I am deeply grateful for this.
Barbara had graduated from Beverly Hills High as the star of the art-and-fashion-design department. She was a fabulous swimmer and a member of the synchronized swim team. She would race men or women and defeat all comers. She humiliated many of my fraternity brothers, and we won many bets and free meals thanks to her speed in the water.
Barbara and I met when I was a freshman and USC and she was still in high school. We fell in love very quickly, and have been together ever since, over forty years. We were simpatico from the start. We finish each other's sentences. If I am lost or confused, she is not, and visa versa. We are soul mates. We are certain that we spent other times, in previous lives, together. There are her dreams, which I know the end of, and mine which she explains to me. There are the numbers 4-4-3 which pop up when we're together but not when we're apart (for example, we'll get hotel room number 443 or 1443; or we'll rent a car and the license plate will be 443, etc.).
I knew the first instant I saw her that she was the one for me. I had agreed to do a favor for my best high-school buddy and go to a party given by my high school club. I was now in college and wanted no part of a high school party. He insisted we go, however, so I agreed to make an appearance with him, and then we'd go on to a movie.
Barbara had just broken up with a long time boyfriend and was depressed. Her wonderful mother, Florence Wilson, forced her to accept dates and go out. She very reluctantly agreed to go out with a nice fellow who belonged to the club because her mother insisted. I was about to leave the party when she walked in. Her beauty astounded me. I walked over, introduced myself, and literally pushed poor Barry out of the way. I danced every dance with Barbara, and got her phone number. The rest is history.
Within six months of our meeting, we jointly owned our first boat. I knew nothing about boats, but had always wanted one. Barbara knew even less about boats, and at first she had no real interest in it aside from the idea of fixing it up together. This has always been the key to our relationship: We enjoy doing things together and being together.
We decided we wanted a speedboat to water-ski. We had never water-skied, bit it sounded like fun. We started to search boat yards and newspaper ads. Finally we found the perfect thing. It was an unfinished hull of a small motorboat. The plywood hull had been lying exposed in someone's backyard for years and it needed lots of work. We bought it for a couple hundred dollars, each of us put up half of the money. The partnership had begun and was sealed with a kiss. Nothing more has ever been needed, nor is it now.
We took a truck from Certified Dinettes and picked up the boat. We took a back corner of one of Certified's large warehouses and built a plywood enclosure around our work area. We then started to work on the boat. We built the seats, and fiber-glassed the hull inside and out. We sewed the upholstery, upholstered the seats, put in the electricity and lights, and so on. Our boat was white and had black upholstery. We bought a trailer which did not fit, so we made it fit with a little welding and reworking. Working together was a total joy, and we fell deeply in love.
We then asked Barbara's father to take us to Las Vegas for a long weekend so we could try out our boat on Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam. We loved it. It became our regular practice to go to Vegas for water-skiing. This was our first boat and our first experience on the water. Calm, smooth, and warm water. We didn't learn very much about boating from that first boat, but we did learn about teamwork and cooperation, which would be necessary for our bigger adventures. That teamwork has made all that we've done together hugely enjoyable and exciting.
We had that speedboat for many years. We used it and loved it. But we were a very long way from being sailors, or even boaters for that matter.
We were married at the University Synagogue in Westwood on June 24, 1962. We honeymooned in Mexico City and Acapulco and returned to our apartment in Beverly Hills. Barbara had decorated it, which was the first demonstration of her talent for interior design. Barbara's father stocked our refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards, so that we didn't have to shop for food for a couple of weeks.
The time came when we did need more food. I asked her to go shopping and offered to give her money. She agreed to get groceries, but said she didn't need any money. This was strange, but I didn't question her as I was running off to law school. Barbara then called the market where her parents had always shopped and ordered groceries, which they delivered. When I came home I was pleased to see the well-stocked kitchen. There were steaks, roasts, and some of the most beautiful produce I had ever seen. Something, however, was wrong. We couldn't afford this kind of stuff, so I asked to see the bill. I was stunned - Barbara had spent three months' salary for only a few weeks' groceries.
I asked her what she had done. She explained that she had simply called Bishop's Market and told them what she wanted. The order arrived several hours later in cardboard boxes, along with the bill. I explained to her that this was not going to work on our budget, and that she had to go to the market to do the shopping. She replied she had already done the shopping, what was I talking about.
We got into the car and I took her to Safeway. She commented as we drove into the parking lot that she often wondered what this store was. We went in and walked up and down the aisles. She was amazed at all of the stuff available, and that you could just help yourself and take it off of the shelves. Throughout her childhood in Beverly Hills, her mother had shopped by calling on the phone and placing an order; then the groceries were delivered. Ordinary grocery shopping was a true revelation to her. She went to the market a few times, but soon the novelty wore off and I took over the marketing, which I do to this day.
Barbara attended Beverly Hills High School and graduated with honors at the top of her class. She was so talented an artist that the school made special classes just for her. She took Barbara Art I, Barbara Art II, etc. She was the only member of the class. She did all of the posters and artwork for the school. She received a waiver from physical education by taking a swimming test which was designed by the phys ed department to be unpassable. She passed easily.
She received a full scholarship to Chinaurd Art Institute of Los Angeles. She declined the offer in order to go to work and put me though law school. After I graduated college, my father informed that he would not pay for law school. This was not a punishment for anything; in fact he began to buy us a brand-new Corvette every year (previously I had received a regular Chevy every year). In addition, he provided a credit card for gas and repairs, he gave me a part-time job at Certified, and he provided car and health insurance. I had never been given pocket money or an allowance, so I wasn't surprised to receive no living-expense money, but I was shocked that he wouldn't pay for the law school tuition. I could only speculate on his reasons since, as usual, I could ask no questions. My best guess is that he wanted me to learn to stand on my own two feet, and to have the experience of working for something. If that was the case, it worked. I learned to persevere, and I learned that you have to work hard to achieve success. I also learned what it feels like to have no money in your pocket, and to wear the same clothes for three years without buying anything new. I can't complain that we were poor or wanting, but our income from my part-time job at Certified and Barbara's job as a dental technician didn't come to more than what we needed for a home, groceries, and tuition.
Barbara never complained about this situation. She went to work cheerfully and never, ever indicated that she felt I owed her something for her sacrifice. Some years later she was able to return to her art, and she became a master oil painter, reproducing many of the old masters. Her original work covers a wide variety of styles, classical, naive, and abstract. She has a patron in Beverly Hills who purchases any and all paintings she produces. He pays a nice price for her work. Her works hang in many mansions, and are owned by many collectors. It can be found worldwide. This artistic ability led her to the great success of her interior design business. I am very proud of my beautiful wife, and greatly admire and respect her abilities and character.
My part-time job for Certified was as salesman for the Las Vegas area. I took this particular job because it allowed us to go to Vegas with our boat to water ski. It was during these jaunts to Las Vegas that a mystery occurred, which was not solved for many years. Before we would leave on a trip, or, more often, when we were already in Las Vegas, I would receive a call from my father telling me to go see a certain person at a certain hotel, and that this person would take care of us.
The first time this happened, we were very surprised, but there were, of course, no questions allowed. So we went to the Desert Inn and asked for Manny, as my father had instructed. Manny then gave us two free dinners at the most expensive restaurant in the hotel, and two front-row seats at the floor show. We sat up front and center at shows you couldn't even get into, let alone get great seats for. We saw Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Martin and Lewis, and all the big stars many times. It was free and great fun.
So when my father called and said to go see so and so and such and such a hotel, we went. We were never disappointed. But how was my father, a manufacturer of furniture, arranging this? He never went to Vegas and never gambled. We didn't ask. We knew not to ask any questions.
My mother once said something while we were dining out at a restaurant in LA. We were telling the story of some great floor show we had just seen in Las Vegas, courtesy of my father's connections. My mother asked a simple question as to who did these favors for Barbara and me. My father made one of his famous non-answers in such a forceful way that my mother, who had been brought up by Meyer Greitzer and who therefore knew how to take orders, never asked again.
Las Vegas is a most interesting place. Bugsy Segal, a Jew, built it in a partnership with some Italians. The Mormons operated it; they had no ownership interest in the hotels or the casinos, but they were the operators and managers.
In order to be a VIP in Las Vegas, you must be a big gambler. I was not a gambler (at all), so Barbara and I had no idea why we were treated like VIPs (which we loved). On one trip, a manager of one of the larger hotels came up to me to see if everything was to my liking and was I happy with food and service. I assured him it was fine. He did not go away and started to repeat himself. It was strange. I finally asked him what did he really want, to which he very humbly asked me to please say hello to "Mr. C" for him.
I told him sure, I would be glad to. I had no clue as to who "Mr. C" was, or what he was talking about. But he seemed very happy. I thought about telling my father about this incident and decided it was better to keep my mouth shut.
Every once and a while, similar incidents took place. Say hello to Mr. C for me. OK. I certainly will, and thanks for the great seats to see Sinatra.
When I look back at our life, it seems clear to me we were seeking a rush of excitement. We obtained a great deal of this from Las Vegas. We had great times and enjoyed it immensely. It is interesting that this exposure turned us off completely to any form of gambling. They do not build those gambling palaces because of the winners. Everyone loses sooner or later. The professional gamblers, like card counters, are excluded from all casinos; only losers are invited.
I did know one person who won. My client, John, was a professional gambler and he made big money. He played only poker and only at private clubs, like the Jonathan Club in L.A. He played only with old rich men who were no match for his honed skills. They played high-stakes poker just for fun, and they didn't care if they lost. John was the only one in the game who wanted the money, and he was very serious about it. It was hard, pay-attention work. John, however, reinforced what Barbara and I had learned in Vegas: Only losers gamble.
Barbara and I purchased our first home in Studio City in a lovely, quiet community. We spent lots of time and effort working on our home. Barbara as an artist was firm in her position that everywhere we lived must be beautiful and finely decorated. This passion was later to become Barbara & Lynne Interiors, her very successful decorating business.
We bought this home when I was in my second year of law school. I did well in law school and worked hard at it. The law was a love by this time. The quest for success and money was still there, but I also enjoyed the law itself. Barbara and I were very happy; we were busy, engaged, prospering and enjoying life. We were short of ready-money, but lived happily and well. We loved our small house and doted on maintaining its smashing look. Our life was relatively simple, and we look back on these days fondly.
My son David was born at this time. I continued to work at Certified Dinettes part-time while going to law school. I studied for the California Bar Exam like a madman. I was not going to fail that exam. I didn't speak to anyone, or do anything else but study for that test for many months.
Then, when I knew I was ready, Barbara and I went to Palm Springs for a couple of days to sit in the sun and rest before the exam. I nailed it.
I then went on the mandatory law firms interviews. I hated what I saw. I decided I would not spend years in a small back room, writing briefs for senior lawyers to take to court. I turned down all the offers and decided to open my own law office. I would be a sole practitioner, and I'd continue to work at Certified Dinettes. So the logical move was to open my office right there at Certified, which is what I did.
Certified was located in El Segundo, just south of the LA airport. It was directly across the street from North American Aviation and Hughes Aircraft. I put up a large sign: Law Office, Richard S. LeVine, Attorney at Law. I got a steady stream of clients from those large manufacturing companies. I handled divorces, criminal cases, adoptions, civil matters, contracts - you name it and I did it, and I loved all of it. It was a great arrangement, because I had a steady salary from Certified while I built up my law practice.
I learned the ropes of the legal system, my way around a courthouse, and how to behave in a courtroom. It was fantastic. I enjoyed every minute of it. The more time I spent being a lawyer, the less time I spent working for Certified.
Most of my clients were working folks. I would become involved with them, committed to being a good lawyer and doing a good job for them. UCLA had instilled in me the ideal of protecting the underdog. I worked far harder and spent much more time on behalf of my clients than I could bill them for. I did a good job, and it paid off with a nice practice. I started to get referrals.
For the first year or two I did all of my own typing and filing; I was the secretary as well as the lawyer. I learned all the little details and ins and outs that it takes to be a good and successful lawyer. I filed the papers myself at the County Clerk's Offices. I highly recommend learning anything this way, from the ground up. In years to come all of the accumulated information served me well. No one could give me the run-around about the details, because I had been there and done all of it myself. Nevertheless, I was pleased when I could afford a receptionist/secretary.
All the while I kept my hand in the dinette business. I had that flair for invention and machinery which my grandfather, Meyer, had so inculcated into me. I would spend hours in the factory, clad in overalls and working on systems and equipment, and then I would go into my office, put on a suit, and go to court to try a case, which I usually won.
One day, a client's husband barged into my office, pushing his way past the receptionist. He was carrying a shotgun. I thought it was all over for me. I had recently obtained a divorce in favor of his now ex-wife, and he had been ordered by the court to pay my fees. He was angry and tearful at the same time. I jumped out of my chair in fright, at which point he threw the gun on my desk. He also threw a set of keys on the desk and said: "These are my motorcycle keys, and this is my shotgun. Now you have everything I own." He turned round and left. I sat down in shock and then felt a flood of relief. The motorcycle turned out to be a very nice Honda 250. I had never ridden a motorcycle before, but would learn. The shotgun I immediately sold.
Another time the receptionist came in to tell me that there were two curious looking men in the lobby to see the lawyer. I brought them in to my office and sat them down. They introduced themselves as Pete and Billy, no last names. I asked, they refused. Pete opened his jacket and places a large pile of money on my desk. He said, "This is a retainer for criminal work we want you to do for our employees." I started to ask a few questions, but they simply got up and left without saying anything except: "When anyone calls and says Pete and Billy told me to call, take care of the problem the best you can. If you need more money, tell them and someone will bring it." I never saw Pete and Billy again. I never spoke with them again. I represented them for many years.
Every once in a while I would get a call from the Federal lockup in San Diego. It was a Pete and Billy call. Someone had been arrested for smuggling people into the US, Mexicans looking for jobs. No drugs, just people. These smugglers are known as coyotes. They look at themselves as providing a service to the poor and disadvantaged people of third world countries.
A plea bargain usually resulted in a small fine and never any jail time. Most of the criminals that I represented for Pete and Billy were nice, average folks. Everyone made good money on this illegal trade. Eventually, the telephone calls stopped. No more Pete and Billy calls ever came again. I had many thousands of dollars in unearned retainer fees in my trust account.
A few years later I received a picture postcard from a classy hotel in Switzerland situated on Lake Lucerne. The card said: "Please come and spend a weekend or longer on us, at our hotel. Pete and Billy." I didn't take them up on the offer, but next time I'm in Lake Lucerne, I think I will.
Another interesting client was Natalie Mryhvold, whose son is now number three at Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world. Natalie was a schoolteacher and was chasing her no good ex-husband for child support, etc. They had lived in Washington State, where Microsoft is located now. The son would bring in his mother to discuss her case. I spent far too much time for far too little money on this case because I liked the people. Fortunately, their money problems are now over. (I never did catch the bad guy husband.)
I learned quickly that there is no "standard" case of any kind. Each divorce had its own unique twist and story, and each criminal a totally different angle. It was fascinating.
Between working for Certified and working at my law practice I was kept busy, but not busy enough for me. I started to look for other excitement. At first it was the obvious hobbies, skiing, tennis, etc. I started taking long weekends to Mammoth Mountain to ski with Barbara and our son David. We loved skiing and the mountains.
Within a year or so these distractions were not enough. I needed another challenge, and I found it in real estate development.
Being in the manufacturing business, I had a great edge in that I could borrow at very good rates and terms to purchase industrial buildings as a "user." I would buy a building and put some Certified Dinette operation in it for a very short period of time to meet the requirements of the loan. I would then either lease out the building or sell it at a profit after holding it a short while. It was exciting and also profitable.
Within a couple of years the tail was wagging the dog, and I was deep into the industrial real estate business. Most of my time was real estate related. I still practiced law, but with less enthusiasm.
At about this same time, Barbara and I sold our home in Studio City and bought a new home in Tarzana. That's right, just like Tarzan. It was where Edgar Rice Burroughs had his ranch many years before. Tarzana is in the western part of the San Fernando Valley. I looked at it as an investment, as that was then my mindset. I made a great deal. Metropolitan Insurance was the seller and threatened me with lawsuits for years, alleging that I took advantage of them. A billion-dollar company with hoards of lawyers and they alleged I hoodwinked them. They screwed up and I drove a truck through the loophole.
I ended up with several acres of prime land with a fantastic view on the edge of Corbin canyon, a pristine ecological no-build zone. I built a swimming pool, tennis court, green houses, gardens, stables and a huge lawn the size of a football field. It was a fabulous house which I paid $52,000 for, and sold for eight times that much. We loved that house. We were living in the country with the entire wildlife attendant thereto, yet we were still in the city.
We used it extensively for entertaining clients and friends. I had several regular tennis groups, my favorite being on Sunday morning. Having a tennis court allows you to play with other players far above your own level. I loved those doubles matches, which were followed by a lovely al fresco brunch under the Gazebo after the match. It was great.
The good life was in full swing. I had most of the goodies which people list as the things that will finally make them happy. And yet, I was not satisfied. My home was truly an estate. Our cars increased in flash, status and price. Yet, something was missing and we had no idea what it was.
It seemed like a good idea to get a larger boat. The speedboat was nice, but it was time for something with sleep accommodations onboard. We decided to purchase a small cabin cruiser. After a short investigation we bought the Roberta, a 27-foot cabin cruiser.
I thought I knew more than I did about boats and the sea. We obtained a slip in Marina Del Rey, which was only several miles away from Certified. The seller offered to teach me about the boat, but I arrogantly told him I knew what to do and didn't need his help.
So the very first time we took the boat out of the slip for a ride around the marina, we ran out of gas.
Barbara figured out how to turn on the VHF radio, which is the main method of communication on board all boats no matter their size. Even aircraft carriers use VHF radio. There is a standard frequency, channel 16, which you monitor at all times, and which is used for emergencies and to hail the US Coast Guard. Once you make contact with whomever you want to talk to, you then switch to an unused working channel for conversation. The Coast Guard wants you to stay on 16 when talking to them. If they want to switch channels they tell you. That much I had gleaned from a few boating magazines.
We knew we needed the Coast Guard as the Roberta was drifting into the rocks of the breakwater. No real danger, except for the possible damage to the hull and the costs to repair it. Not to mention the embarrassment for causing damage due to the simple failure to check the gas gauge. I was a rube.
Barbara got on 16 and called the Coast Guard. "Hello, Hello Coast Guard, we need help!" Within a moment a crisp voice responded:
"This is the United States Coast Guard Marina Del Rey Station calling the Hello."
She responded, "Hello, we need help. We are out of gas and need a tow."
"United States Coast Guard to the Hello, what is your position?"
"Hello Coast Guard. We are just inside the breakwater and drifting toward it, please help quickly!"
"United States Coast Guard calling the Hello. Which breakwater, which harbor?"
"Hello Coast Guard. Marina Del Rey Harbor."
By the time she put down the microphone, there was a sturdy launch along-side of us, giving me orders about where to tie the tow line. On all boats, rope is not called rope, it is "line." The Coast Guard sailors were chuckling not too discreetly at my stupidity and lack of knowledge. The Coast Guard was calling us the "Hello" because that was the first word we used in our transmission, which is supposed to be the name of our vessel. We should have said, "Roberta to the United States Coast Guard," etc.
My arrogance as a lawyer and businessman did not take any of this well. I was quite grumpy, but followed their instructions. They towed us to the fuel dock.
The attendant was ready to put in the fuel, except I did not know which type I needed or wanted. More embarrassment. He came on board and looked at the engine and told me gasoline. Super or regular? Super I guessed, as I hadn't a clue.
At this point in my life I knew nothing of engines and automobiles. I knew about machinery but not engines. When something went wrong with my car, I took it into a great mechanic who was a very nice and honest man. He would fix it. I would give him a credit card and that was that. I was certain I could arrange for the same type of service for a boat. Which was correct except for one minor problem. There are no service stations at sea. If you break down when just out of the harbor, or near shore, that is, within a couple of miles of shore, it's no problem, you call the US Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard service and towing is free, unless you abuse the privilege, in which case they give you a ticket. Just like a traffic ticket, but more expensive. In an outrageous situation they will send you a bill, which can be more than the value of the boat.
The problem takes on a whole new dimension when you actually go offshore. That is, more than 100 miles out to sea. Then there is no one to call. The US Coast Guard will not come, nor will anyone else. There are commercial salvers who will, for a great deal of money, come to your aid . . . maybe.
We were planning to go no further than Catalina Island, which, as the song goes, is 26 miles from the coastline. I had already learned my first lesson of boating, which is: Be Prepared. I had, I thought, learned that lesson well. Little did I know how far I was from understanding what "prepared" at sea means. But the learning process had begun. We never ran out of fuel again, ever. I became a fanatic on keeping the tanks topped off with gasoline. I learned how to check the oil and keep it full, how to check the battery fluid, and how to do the other things most teenagers can do to their cars. I started to read books on boats and maintenance, and I bought the local charts and guides to that area.
We were finally ready for our first trip to Catalina. This was our first venture out of the harbor and on to the ocean. We picked a calm day and calm sea conditions and took off with some nervousness. We watched the compass almost non-stop with a fear that we would miss the island, motor off, and become lost. Really an unrealistic worry on a clear and sunny southern California day. We found Avalon Harbor at Catalina with no problem at all.
You must check in with the harbormaster when you arrive at all harbors and marinas, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the arrangements and rules. We managed to dock at the harbormaster's office with little damage to the hull. Not pretty, but not terrible. We tied up the dock lines inexpertly, but we were tied up. The harbormaster assigned us to a mooring. There is no anchoring in Catalina Harbor. That was good because I had no idea what to do with an anchor. For that matter I had no idea what a mooring was or what to do with it either.
The moorings are set out like a parking lot in lines with driveways in-between. Each mooring has a large metal float, usually a steel ball with its number written on it. After getting a small map of the harbor with our mooring marked, and paying our fee for the weekend, which was not cheap, we set out to find the mooring.
After some difficulty we finally found it. Now what to do with this large metal ball. Barbara and I looked at each other; we hadn't a clue. We were lucky that boaters tend to be friendly and helpful. A nearby yacht saw our confusion and came over in a rowboat to help us.
A mooring is usually a very large chunk of concrete or steel, often old truck engines or similar scrap metal that is placed on the bottom of the ocean. It has a large chain that attaches to the large floating metal ball with the number on it. There are then one or two smaller chains or a rope attached to the ball with a swivel. The idea is to pick up the rope or chain and attach it to a deck cleat at the bow of your boat. You are then effectively attached to the bottom and will not drift away. The boat will swing in an arc around the mooring depending on the direction of the current and the wind.
The friendly yachtie in the rowboat came over and asked me to hand him my boat hook. I did not have a boat hook. What's a boat hook? It's a long pole with a large metal hook on the end which you use to pick up the mooring line which is hanging down below the mooring ball and which you need to tie up your boat, you dummy. Oh, well, um, I don't have one of those. He rowed off to his boat and came back with a boat hook. He then quite easily caught the mooring rope and handed it up to me. It was a large thick rope of about one inch in diameter. It was green and covered in green slime and seaweed.
I was quite unhappy handling this object, but there was no choice and I took it with great thanks to our savior of the moment. I tied the line to the deck cleat like you would tie a rope to anything. Not a proper marine knot. It quickly came undone and we were adrift.
The next problem was I did not have a rowboat or dinghy. Again something which we hadn't considered or planned for. I shouted for help and now the not-quite-so-pleasant fellow returned with his boat hook and again fished up my mooring line. This time he instructed me on how to tie the line to the cleat so that it wouldn't come undone. We were finally securely tied to the mooring. We had to call the water taxi on the VHF to get a ride into shore, and then back again to the Roberta.
Soon afterwards, we went to Catalina with our friends the Hartley's. The plan was to get a mooring, but there were none available. Now what should we do? The harbormaster directed us to a place where we could anchor on the outskirts of the harbor. By this time I had bought an anchor. We found the spot and set the anchor. Basically you tie off the end of the anchor line to a deck cleat. You then motor up to the spot where you want the anchor and drop it in the water. You then put the boat in reverse and back down until the line is taut. You then put the boat in neutral and you are anchored. We did it and were anchored.
Since there were no rooms available onshore, the Hartley's had to spend the night on board with us. We had dinner and went to sleep. In the middle of the night Barbara woke up and felt we were moving. I was sound asleep and felt nothing. She insisted we were going out to sea. I got up and looked, and sure enough she was right. We were drifting out to sea. Now what? I was upset and distraught. Barbara was calm and gave the instructions. We turned on the motor and went into the harbor and called the Coast Guard. They turned a light on us and directed us to their large cutter. They tied us up along-side and said we could stay the night.
At six AM they woke us up with a few loud raps on our hull. We're leaving, they announced. They untied us and we were now on our own. It turned out that our anchor line had been cut. The end was still tied to the deck cleat, but the line was cleanly cut. It had probably been done by another boat's propeller. We were anchorless again.
Regardless of all of these mishaps, I was starting to think of myself as a boater. I did not yet know the term "yachtie," which applies only to people who live full time aboard their boats and sail around from place to place. One who simply owns a sailboat or motor yacht is not a "yachtie" in any sense of the word. But this was my first step toward joining that very small club.
We enjoyed our weekends at Catalina Island very much. We went back frequently, many times by ourselves, but often with friends. At first we had the friends sleep on board with us, but that was too much closeness for Barbara and me, so our guests stayed on shore at a hotel, which made everyone far happier.
One problem we had to learn to live with was the use of the toilet facilities. Land people don't really think about what happens when you flush the toilet. Where does the waste go? It just disappears, right? Not so on a boat. When at sea you open a valve and the waste is discharged into the sea. This is standard for all boats of all sizes, including cruise ships and aircraft carriers. You can't discharge waste into a harbor or a marina, so you have to turn a valve or two, which causes the waste to go into a storage tank on board. Then, when you get out to sea, you again turn a couple of valves and pump out the waste into the sea.
Catalina was very strict about waste discharge into the harbor. If you did so and were caught, there was a substantial fine. The size of the holding tank can cause problems if there are many people on board using the head. When it's full, that's it, and no one can use the toilet until the tank is pumped out. This became a problem with guests onboard while in a harbor such as Catalina. People do not take it well when told they cannot go to the bathroom. It was easier to put them in a hotel ashore where the toilet is not a problem.
Sometimes the harbormaster would come on board and place a dye marker tablet into the head. If you pumped your head inside the harbor you put out a huge dark yellow stain into the water. The harbormaster then came quickly and gave you a ticket for five hundred dollars for the first offense. In California they will come and impound your boat if you do not pay the fine.
The Roberta was great. We loved using her, but even for such a small boat the costs of upkeep were staggering. When you took into consideration the actual number of days that the vessel was used and out to sea, the cost per trip was huge. As John D. Rockefeller said, "If you have to ask how much it costs to own and operate a yacht, you cannot afford to own one." How right he was.
At this point we knew that we loved the ocean. We loved being at sea. We did not yet have any thought whatsoever of living on board a boat; it was simply a diversion, one that we very much enjoyed. There were the drawbacks, such as seasickness, but medications, "patches," and home remedies helped a great deal.
Barbara would have groups of her girlfriends on board, sitting at the dock in the marina for lunch, or to play cards out on deck. My father would go down to sit and relax and enjoy the life of the marina without ever going anywhere. The entire family enjoyed the Roberta. We loved the smell of the ocean, which was fresh and invigorating, especially in the early morning. The smells change, which we also loved and looked forward to. In most harbors the smell is putrid and has no relation to the smells on the ocean or in a pristine harbor. We also loved the sights of the ocean and the colors on the water at sunrise and sunset. The patterns of the swells and the waves and their interactions were always different. The fog coming in over the water, and then the rising of the mists as the day warms enchanted us. The sounds of the waves against the shore we found mesmerizing. We did not tire of any of it, and couldn't get enough.
We tried a couple of times to go out fishing and were totally unsuccessful in every way. It was messy and smelly. You needed fresh bait and all the equipment. We gave up our attempts at being fisherman quite quickly. The smells of the bait, and even the very few fish we did catch were unpleasant to us. The smells at the bait dock were totally unacceptable and enough to keep me from ever fishing. We went ashore and ate at a good fish restaurant when we needed a fish fix.