Finding Catalina

Reprinted from the Catalina Islander March 25, 2016

The Catalina Islander is a weekly community newspaper serving Avalon, Catalina Island (California), and its mainland friends, since 1914.

In 1983 Jimmy Buffett wrote a song called One Particular Harbor which almost perfectly describes my relationship with Catalina Island. I was raised in Northern California and always had a fascination with the ocean and beach but neither of my parents were ‘beach people’. Never the less, it seemed I was destined to find my one particular harbor. My mother never learned to swim, but insisted that her sons would become swimmers, so as a youngster I got swimming lessons. It was fine with me because I loved to be in the water and it was the first step towards finding Catalina.

There have been many turning points in my life that have made an impact… even at a young age. In the 1950’s there was a TV show called Sea Hunt (1958-61) starring Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson, a retired Navy Diver who had all sorts of exciting adventures. By our modern standards, the SCUBA diving sequences and special effects would be seen as amateur but to a boy of eight with an imagination it was magic. Many of my diving friends reference Sea Hunt as their first introduction to SCUBA and credit the show for sparking their interest in diving. After seeing Sea Hunt, I had only two goals in life… to become a SCUBA diver and to own a boat (he had a cool cabin cruiser named Argonaut on the show). I was too young to learn SCUBA but quickly learned to snorkel and when I turned seventeen I took a SCUBA class and got certified. I did my check out dives in the cold, dark water of Monterey Bay and at that point in my life I had no idea a place like Catalina existed… but I was getting closer!

When my local dive shop sponsored a boat dive trip I signed up. We boarded an old rusty boat called the Emerald and headed out to sea. I don’t recall where we dove but I remember the Captain saying we would get a mooring in Avalon for the night. It was a hot, sunny summer afternoon when the boat pulled in and I’ll never forget my first impression of Catalina. The harbor was full of beautiful boats, many had music playing, there were girls in bikinis everywhere… on the beach, walking downtown, dancing on boats… everywhere!  When I ordered a beer at a local bar the bartender wasn’t overly concerned about seeing an ID (things were a little looser in the 1960’s). On top of all this, the water was clear, warm and provided great diving! I found Catalina Island and it was a very positive experience. After that, I returned as often as possible.

As my life progressed, I got married, had children and Catalina remained an important part of my life. Every visit to the island was viewed as an adventure. My children learned to swim, snorkel, SCUBA dive, paddle board and play golf here. We brought our friends so we could share the island with them and over the years have made many local friends. It was about twelve years ago when we realized the dream of buying our own home here. While we don’t live here full time, we now get to spend considerably more time on the island.

I write historical fiction novels and have traveled to many places encountering interesting people along the way… many have inspired characters in my books. Places like Key West, Saint Augustine, Port Royal, and Avalon have long and colorful histories that can provide a backdrop to a story. I have also found the best stories are told around a campfire, on a fishing boat or at a local bar. If you don’t hear a good story in places like The Marlin Club, The Lobster Trap, Coyote Joe’s or The Locker Room, well, you just aren’t listening!

Many years ago I found myself sitting at a bar, having a few beers with Joseph Wambaugh, a very well-known author… which is a separate story in itself. My first book was in the beginning stages but I was struggling with some aspects of the craft. We talked about writing, etc. and I learned some things from him about listening to the stories around me, but more importantly, seeking stories out and remembering them. Many of the tales heard can be inserted into a novel through a character in the story. I also learned writing is a process that can’t be hurried and all about ‘writer’s block’… when you just can’t make the process happen.

Fortunately I have Catalina. Maybe it’s the weather, the people, the relaxed atmosphere, the cocktails… but there are two places I never have writer’s block; Catalina Island and aboard my boat! So I’ll just keep coming back to Catalina… like Jimmy said in the song, ‘I know I don’t get there often enough but God knows I surely try.’ 

Mark Marchetti, Author and Catalina Island Resident

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