Bonding males cast adrift without a corkscrew, and it happened just 26 miles across the sea


I went to Catalina Island aboard the public cruiser Catalina King on Saturday afternoon and came back Monday on our boat, the Calafia, which my sons had sailed over earlier.

Two Harbors, at the isthmus between the two peaks of the island, is the poor man’s South Seas.

Isthmus Cove, on the north, is a jewel of a harbor, connected with Catalina (Cat) Harbor on the south by a narrow stem of land only half a mile long.


Cat Harbor is a long neck of water from which mountains rise on either side. My sons had anchored near its mouth.

Though I am always keyed up for adventure on this trip, the cross-channel cruise was uneventful. The cruiser left on time and arrived on time, two hours later. The crossing was smooth.

I sat in the sheltered lounge and studied my fellow passengers, like Somerset Maugham. Always looking for a story. The boat was running at about 20% capacity. They were mostly teen-agers or young families with backpacks, water skies and packs of food and gear.

One young couple came aboard with heavy backpacks and three small children. The woman trailed behind, half dragging her backpack against her thigh and on the ramp. Her face was gray and drawn with fatigue. When they reached a vacant bench in the lounge she dropped her backpack and stood with slumped shoulders, breathing hard, like a long-distance runner. I was reminded of the liberated woman in Anne Wittels’ book, “Ms.ery,” who tells her husband, “No, Harry, I’m not going backpacking again this year.”

My sons were not on the dock to meet me. I was not surprised. I had told them that if they weren’t there I would sit in the patio bar at the restaurant and drink beer until they showed up.

They arrived just in time to save me from that fate, and we set out over the isthmus.

Our dinghy was tied up at the pier at the inner end of Cat Harbor. It is not easy for a man whose bones are beginning to creak and whose right leg is numb to get into a rubber dinghy. I made it with a maneuver that owed something to the man on the flying trapeze. A young woman standing on the pier nearby was shocked speechless. I hoped it was admiration.


There were 30 or 40 boats moored or anchored in the harbor. We threaded through them, propelled by our little motor, and when we came up to the Calafia I got on board with another act of reckless athleticism.

Our friend Graham Smith was waiting for us on board. He had flown over from LAX to the Airport in the Sky that afternoon, the only passenger on the plane, and had taken the bus down to Two Harbors.

We settled in the cockpit to watch the harbor life. The setting is serene. White boats floating in the clean water. Small peaks rising on either side, yellow and sage green. We discussed the world’s problems, which seemed comically remote. Sex games were beginning on the decks of nearby yachts. The voices of girls screaming in mock fright came across the water as if amplified. We broke out the binoculars and began a perfunctory reconnaissance. After all, we were bonding males.

When it was time to open the wine we made an embarrassing discovery. We had no corkscrew. A boat without a corkscrew is like a boat without a rudder. The nearest boat to ours was a beautiful 51-foot schooner named Friendship. A boat named Friendship ought to give us a corkscrew, or at least open our wine for us. My sons set out with our bottle in the dinghy.

In a few minutes they were back. Not only had the skipper of the Friendship opened our bottle, he had given us a second one. They came back with our open bottle and the gift bottle, raising them in triumph. I noticed that the second bottle was still corked.

“You didn’t get the other bottle opened?” I asked. I am not the skipper of our boat, but I try to contribute in my way.


They hadn’t thought of that.

My older son cooked dinner. Steak and broccoli. It was amazingly good. I wondered if his wife knew he could cook that well. When the wine ran out Graham opened the second bottle with the blades of two penknives. I had heard of this method, but I had never seen it done.

In the morning my older son cooked pork chops and eggs for breakfast. I was worried about cholesterol, but he said my other son would probably catch some fish that morning, and we could have them for dinner. I had tasted the kind of fish we caught from our boat, and I invited everyone to have dinner that night at the Isthmus restaurant.

After breakfast my older son and I went to the isthmus to buy a Sunday Times. We had to wait for the morning boat at 11:30. We were sitting on the beach under a palm tree reading the paper when I saw the woman who had been dragging the backpack. She was carrying one of the children and didn’t look much happier than she had on the boat. I had an idea she wasn’t having a great vacation. Next year, I had a hunch, she would tell her husband, “No, Harry, I’m not going backpacking. . . .”

That evening we dined at the restaurant on fresh swordfish and lowered our cholesterol.