Mysterious Island: The “Around the Island race” of 1928

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Over the dozen or so decades that have passed since the town of Avalon first hung out its shingle as a tourist resort, many valiant efforts have been made by those charged with attracting visitors to the Island’s shores to make the town a year-round destination.
No greater effort was expended to achieve those ends than those instituted by William Wrigley Jr., in the years following his purchase of the Santa Catalina Island Company, and therefore 99 percent of the Island, in 1919.

Over the dozen or so decades that have passed since the town of Avalon first hung out its shingle as a tourist resort, many valiant efforts have been made by those charged with attracting visitors to the Island’s shores to make the town a year-round destination.
No greater effort was expended to achieve those ends than those instituted by William Wrigley Jr., in the years following his purchase of the Santa Catalina Island Company, and therefore 99 percent of the Island, in 1919.
Before expanding on his attempts to attract the “tired shop girl, the clerk or the artisan or the boy scout” for the off-season winter months, Mr. Wrigley first set up the local economy to provide non-tourism oriented jobs for local residents.  
Our legacy of mining and quarrying, and our iconic Catalina tile manufactured at the long-defunct Catalina Clay Products division at Pebbly Beach were the direct result of these efforts.
During the 1920s, however, efforts to attract visitors during those quiet, melancholy days of winter began in earnest.  
Events such as the Wrigley Ocean Marathon, hunting of wild goat, deer and boar as well as an intensive marketing program were launched. One such attempt was the Mott Outboard Motor Sweepstakes “Around the Island” race on Jan. 15, 1928.  The event was named for the master of ceremonies Major Lawrence Mott of KFWO radio.
Despite being smack in the middle of winter, the month of January on the Island often features a lovely string of days or even weeks of sunny, warm weather.  Such was not the case, however, on this particular weekend and trouble started brewing early when stormy weather began forming on, yes, Friday the 13th.  
By Saturday, the Northwesterly winds had blown into a full-scale gale and on Sunday, the day of the race, the race committee wisely decided to transform the “Around the Island” race into two round trips from Avalon to Ship Rock at the Isthmus, a course which theoretically kept participants in the leeward and presumably calmer waters of the Island’s lee side.
On the day of the race, Movietone camera crews were strategically placed around the Island and a seaplane flew overhead to keep an eye on things. Once the race began, the 30-odd contestants faced pounding swells.  “All of the contestants received a terrible jouncing,” according to the Catalina Islander story on the event.  
The story adds that many of the gasoline cans stored on the vessels were punctured, filling the cockpits with sloshing fuel. Things got really bad once the flotilla rounded Long Point, thus exposing the craft to the Northwesterly swells wrapping around the West End.  
There, the race became one of “physical endurance, skill and courage of the drivers, rather than the speed of the different motors,” according to the Islander.  It was here, past Long Point, that most of the boats were swamped and all of the contestants—save one—had to be rescued. That one surviving craft was the “Sea Sled” owned by a Raymond V. Morris of San Diego and skippered by Leyland Jenkins, also of San Diego.  
At 2:01 p.m., after nearly four hours of brutal pounding, the “Sea Sled” crossed the finish line at Avalon Bay, earning Morris and Jenkins the winner’s trophy.
Of special (and nowadays quaint) recognition on the part of Mott was the effort by “Miss Loretta Turnbull,” driver of the boat “By Gum.”  She was awarded  a trophy by Jim Fouch of radio station KMIC who exclaimed, “Any girl that will battle such choppy seas in a little outboard motor for more than two hours is entitled to a trophy … ” Despite hearty proclamations of holding the race again at some future date, no attempt was made to continue the race as an annual event. Today, the “Sea Sled” resides in the collections of the Catalina Island Museum, perhaps one day to be exhibited again to the world.
 

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