At Last: Ferries Will Link San Diego, Catalina Island

Times Staff Writer

The long-anticipated launching of ferry service between San Diego and Santa Catalina Island--which seemed sunk for the year--will occur after all, starting Wednesday.

The new, three-hours-each-way, ferryboat service will be offered at $39 perround trip, officials from California Cruisin' said. California Cruisin' was one of two companies that last September announced plans to begin a high-speed ferryboat service between the island resort and San Diego.

But financial difficulties, due principally to unexpected delays in fixing a ferryboat, cast California Cruisin's plans into doubt, and its owners looked to sell the company.

Obstacles Overcome

As late as last month, negotiations between the firm and prospective buyer Robert Giersdorf, a Seattle-based cruise line owner, were bogged down. But since then, the obstacles have been surmounted and Giersdorf has bought the majority interest in the company, which will retain its name, according to Charles (Chip) Boyd, 46, former president of California Cruisin' and, under the new ownership, its general manager.

Boyd last week declined to state the purchase price. "The negotiations were long and hard," he said, as he sat in the company's offices in San Diego, which had been essentially dormant for several months.

The firm is accepting reservations for seats on its 212-passenger Spirit of Alderbrook, a 2-year-old, $1.5-million vessel previously used for trips between Seattle and the Alderbrook Inn on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, Boyd said.

By jumping into the new market first, California Cruisin' will have a year's head start on its competitor, Catalina Cruises of San Pedro.

Catalina Cruises is the major ferryboat operator in Southern California, transporting about 70% of the 1 million tourists who annually visit Catalina. It is also the company that was heavily courted by the San Diego Cruise Industry Consortium.

The company had planned to initiate a San Diego-to-Catalina service this summer but scrapped those plans last month because a high-speed boat capable of making the trip in less than three hours could not be built in time. Instead, Catalina Cruises expects to begin service in June, 1988.

Terry Koenig, general manager of Catalina Cruises, said last month that the company was fearful that a 3 1/2- to 4-hour boat ride was too long.

"We were afraid that people wouldn't like such a long ride," he said, "and that that would take us out of the market forever."

Boyd said California Cruisin' has gotten approvals from the state Public Utilities Commission and the Coast Guard and that its ferryboat has undergone sea trials.

In September, Boyd said he wanted to inaugurate the approximately 72-mile San Diego-to-Catalina trip by the end of October using another boat. He said Tuesday that unexpected difficulties in repairing the vessel, including a substantial amount of rewelding, had caused long delays and soaked up much of the company's money.

"What we thought was going to be a five-day job turned out to take six or eight weeks to complete," he said.

Hopes to Expand

The new service will leave San Diego's B Street Pier Cruise Terminal each day at 7 a.m. and depart from the Catalina city Avalon daily at 6 p.m. At some point later in the summer season, Boyd said, the company hopes to add a second, larger, 300-person-plus ferryboat that would allow it to expand to twice-daily service.

"That all depends on the wind, waves, weather and variation in the market," he said.

The Spirit of Alderbrook will contain a bar, snack foods and probably some television sets, he said.

There currently is ferry service to Catalina from Long Beach, Newport Beach and San Pedro. Service from Redondo Beach has been proposed, but is not expected to begin this year.

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