Mysterious Island: Come Sail With Us


It sounded too good to be true.  But contrary to the old adage about such things, it appears to me that this indeed could be the real thing.

It sounded too good to be true.  But contrary to the old adage about such things, it appears to me that this indeed could be the real thing.

I was checking my post office box about a month ago and after wheeling the combo lock open and pulling out the usual medley of junk mail, bills and God-knows-what, I noticed a simple flyer with a stunning color photograph of a brigantine under full sail upon the blue sea. I recognized the tall ship as being one of several that frequent Catalina waters and noted immediately the flyer was from the Los Angeles Maritime Institute over in San Pedro.  

If you’re on their mailing list you probably got one, too.

“Join us on an adventure of a lifetime as the brigantine Irving Johnson embarks on an exciting voyage to Mexico,” announced the headline on the flyer.

The brochure then went on to describe a two-month voyage aboard this tall ship from San Pedro all the way to Puerto Vallarta (and then some) before returning home.  Prospective passengers had the option of choosing one or more of the four legs.

Interesting, I thought to myself.  Something like this has got to cost maybe four or five grand per leg?  Imagine my surprise when I saw the price was only $1,800 per leg with a 10% discount on any additional legs.

So, within 24 hours I was signed up for Leg #1 of the trip, which sails from San Pedro to Cabo San Lucas beginning on Jan. 15.  If I can swing a few logistics, I will sign on for Leg #2 as well, which leaves from Cabo on Jan. 31.

After a grand tour of the Islands of the south Sea of Cortez (one of which is named “Santa Catalina,” by the way) it winds up in Puerto Vallarta.  The next two legs constitute the return trip to Los Angeles, but visit different ports from the original southward trip.

LAMI Executive Director Martyn Clark is excited about the trip and the potential for such trips in the future.  “It’s something we would like to start seeing (us do) in the future,” he said, adding that similar trips were done by LAMI in the past during their early years.

The organization’s fleet, which includes not only the Irving Johnson, but the brigantine Exy Johnson and the topsail schooner Swift of Ipswich, regularly makes short trips to Catalina and other locations in Southern California.  But the Mexico trip “won’t be like our typical trip of a few hours or days.  It will give people the opportunity of experiencing a genuine sailing adventure.”

The trip will primarily be a fundraising venture for the organization, which was founded in 1992 and which has a long tradition through their Topsail Youth Program of helping under-privileged inner-city kids get a chance to experience “something they’ve never had a chance to experience before.”

The main goal of organization, said Clark, is not necessarily to teach young people about the sea, but rather to “teach them the ropes” about life.

The Mexico trip is open to “youth of all ages,” and since I am 52 going on 47, I was told that includes me.  But be advised should you decide to sign ship’s charters you will be asked to help out with seagoing chores.

Helping out doesn’t necessarily mean peeling spuds all day.  Paying passengers will not only have the opportunity to help with galley duties, but will also have the chance at learning celestial and coastal navigation, helmsmanship, marlinspike seamanship, radio operation and all the other duties required of a ship at sea—or in port.

“You don’t have to go up the mast,” said Clark, “but it may mean you’ll have to take a turn at the helm.”  He added that in addition to paying passengers/crew, the ship will have its full complement of the required Coast Guard-certified personnel.

Although I am not part of the billing and am not affiliated with this organization, I invite you, Dear Reader, to come along on this adventure with me and my future shipmates for truly the adventure of a lifetime.  The organization has set a deadline to gather the required number of passengers otherwise the trip will be called off.  Given the good work done by these people, we don’t want that to happen.

Come sail with us and in the light of a swinging lantern beneath the tropic moon I will regale you with tales of the mysterious island of Catalina, along with a cargo-load of regional tales of adventure of the Mexican coast, from the exploits of explorers like Juan Cabrillo and Sir Francis Drake to the plunderings of privateer captains like Sir Thomas Cavendish and George Compton.

You will, of course, be responsible for any airfare getting to and from your departure or arrival points, but airfare to Mexico is cheap these days.

If you can’t make the trip, you can live vicariously through this reporter since I will be writing a multi-part series on the voyage to be printed in this very column.

You can get more information about the trip from LAMI’s website at

Fair winds and following seas.

Jim Watson is the author of “Mysterious Island: Catalina,” available on Amazon, Kindle and in stores all over Avalon.


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