On the Water: You LIVE Here?

The family gathering in Guerneville. Courtesy photo

We just returned from a family gathering for my youngest daughter Kaitlin’s 30th birthday. Yikes! How did that happen?

We gathered in a small town called Guerneville, a couple hours north of San Francisco, near the rapidly expanding wine region. The plan was to do some wine tasting and just enjoy time together in between singing ‘Happy Birthday’ 30 times over the extended weekend.

Guerneville is an interesting place with more than a few parallels to Avalon. The economy is seasonal, peaking in warmer months as folks head to the woods for some river time. In the winter it is pretty much dead.

The town is laid out along a single main street with most of the housing bunched in behind. Just like Avalon.

Phone service is spotty, literally. Move a few feet and you might get a signal. Sound familiar?

Like Avalon, Guerneville too is surrounded by water. The Russian River and many of its tributaries define the boundaries to the area.

Guerneville has one large and beautiful market. We have two not so beautiful markets.

Both towns have had recent close encounters with California wildfires. Although such fires can be devastating, there is a path to recovery as we have seen here on Catalina Island and as the wine region is showing now.

EcoTourism and Retail generate jobs for many. Construction and lumber industries provide those with low customer service aspirations a way to make a living, along with service industries and government. Pretty similar to Avalon if you trade the mills for a quarry.

I left Guerneville thinking it is a different sort of ‘island’. On the Catalina Express from Long Beach to Avalon I realized that I was wrong. We may have similarities to towns such as Guerneville, but they are not islands.

As I watched the many visitors on the Express jockeying for position to see and photograph their arrival here, I thought to myself, “What is it about our island that is so special?”

My first thought was that it is an island. Although I have visited many islands, and some are more “magical” than others, most are indeed special, if not for the very fact that they are labeled islands.

I have covered many ocean miles and I can attest to the fact that islands are important waypoints along any passage, often for very different reasons; fuel, food, relaxation and storm refuge to name a few.

I believe part of the island mystique comes from the value that islands held for early world travelers. For ocean explorers an island was a land of opportunity representing new territory.

For the Kings and Queens of the old world, new world territory in the form of islands might mean riches and military power.

For castaways, islands were a source of hope for water and food. For pirates, a place of hiding. For smugglers, a staging area.

For malcontents and criminals, islands were used as prisons. Can you imagine being sentenced in an old English court and given the choice: Dungeon or Australia?

Catalina played an important part in the discovery of the west, playing host to Spanish, French, Dutch, English and Russian sailors as they plied the Pacific Ocean in search of fame and fortune, sometimes to devastating effect.

Fast forward to my trip on the Express, and it begs the question; Is it in our DNA to value islands?

It would not surprise me to find this to be true. I have often wondered how people choose to do some of the crazy things they do: Climb Mt. Everest? Swim the English Channel? Fly over the arctic circle? Move to Avalon? I figure all of us must have some Ferdinand Magellan in our blood.

It occurred to me that our island is valuable for the same reason a nearly perfect diamond has value…they are rare. Although there may be more than 100,000 oceanic islands, there are less than 1000 that can sustain a human population and fewer still that are as ‘nearly perfect’ as Catalina.

We are far enough from the mainland to require an effort to visit, yet close enough to do that in a day or within a weekend. Perfect.

Our distance off-shore creates the mystique and provides the wonder. There is an anticipation among the arrivals built upon their curiosity about a place such as Avalon. You can hear it in the questions that visitors ask; “You LIVE here?” Can you OWN property here? Do the kids go to school HERE? Is there a grocery store?

Pretty soon we will be able to say “YES” to all those questions, and visiting our Vons will be way better than Guerneville’s.

Capt. John runs Afishinados Charters and Catallac Tours – john@afishinados.com – 888-613-7770


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