The loudspeaker boomed: "Last call for the 1 o'clock Bay Queen cruise." A few stragglers joined those on the Harbor Village dock waiting to sail the waterways of Ventura.
Aboard the covered motor launch, tourists and locals settled in for a 40-minute trip around the harbor. Capt. Tom Rush, wearing a blue, green and white sweat shirt reading "smooth sailing," backed the Bay Queen from its slip, picked up his microphone and began to relate the history and lore of the area.
Sailing through the marina, Rush chatted about some of the 2,800 craft that call the Ventura Marina home: supply boats for the oil rigs in the channel, 200 to 300 private boats that people live aboard year-round, and commercial fishing boats.
The Los Amigos, the harbor's oldest vessel at well over 100 years, was built in the South Pacific as a sponge diving boat, the captain said.
A monstrous dredge is also docked in the harbor. "It's nothing more than a very large vacuum sweeper," said Rush, explaining how it works.
The big boats intrigued Erik Knoff, 4, of Newbury Park. He'd come aboard with his parents and younger sister. "We come here a lot," said Erik's mom, Jamie Knoff. "There's a lot of things for the kids to do around the harbor."
Slowly the Bay Queen chugged past the Channel Islands National Park Monument, launching ramps and a sport-fishing dock and headed toward the Ventura Harbor Keys.
"Twenty-five years ago this was the site of the old Ventura city dump. A developer came in and bought the dump site and subdivided the land into 827 lots and dug out all the water channels you see. It took about 2 1/2 years to complete the project. When he was through, he found he couldn't sell the property," Rush said.
Another local developer bought some of the lots at auction and built homes that sold for $39,000 to $42,000. "At the present time," Rush said, "prices on vacant lots start at $250,000, and your average home prices here run about $600,000."
From the Keys, the launch headed out between two long, rock-lined jetties, where fishermen were trying their luck. We glided past pelicans, sea gulls and windsurfers toward a detached breakwater, where the boat U-turned back toward the dock.
Rush motioned toward Ventura's safest beach, where swimmers were splashing about. "It's protected by the south jetty walls; so there are no large swells or undertow. It's a shallow beach, which means its usually several degrees warmer than the beaches outside (the harbor)," Rush said.
Through the offshore haze could be seen the tip of Santa Cruz Island, largest of the five Channel Islands that make up the national park. Anacapa, the closest island to the mainland, can also be seen on clear days, Rush said.
Ray Allen, visiting from the Long Beach area, said he enjoyed learning about the area while on the cruise. "I'm drawn to the water," he said. "I like to wonder what it would be like to live here."
The trip ended and we disembarked. Looking back at the clean, well-kept Bay Queen, none of us would have guessed it had been a stick away from fueling a fireplace 10 years ago.
Rush said when he found the boat on a woodpile in Marina del Rey and began to restore it, "everybody laughed at me. They said I'd never get it rebuilt, never get it to float and never make any money with it.
"Two out of three is not bad."
The Bay Queen offers 40-minute cruises around Ventura Harbor, the Ventura Keys and out to the breakwater. It leaves the dock on the hour from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The Bay Queen docks at Ventura Harbor Village off Spinnaker Drive. Adults, $5; children under 12, $3; children under 2, free. For more information, call 642-7753.