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Navy crew welcomed to Malibu for shore leave

Surfers in Malibu are used to sharing the waves with paddleboards, sailboats and the occasional Russian billionaire’s 390-foot yacht. On Friday they were startled to see a 505-foot Navy destroyer anchored off Surfrider Beach near the Malibu Pier.

The destroyer John Paul Jones was making the Navy’s first-ever port call in Malibu and giving its 270-member crew shore leave there for the weekend.

The community-organized Navy Days is offering sailors free shuttle rides up and down the 26-mile-long city, beach volleyball and kayak excursions, and discounts at shops and restaurants Saturday and Sunday.

Photos: Destroyer at the Malibu break

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The crew and their families have been invited to a barbecue at Sharon Gee’s family-owned Malibu ranch. Athletic facilities and an art museum at Pepperdine University will be open to crewmembers, and 10 university shuttle vans will offer sailors transportation to Sunday morning church services.

“Some crewmembers have signed up for museum tours at the Getty Villa,” said City Councilman Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, who operates a Malibu surf shop. “This is not your same old Navy.”

Planning for the sailors’ salute began a year ago when Wagner was serving as Malibu’s mayor. The Malibu Chamber of Commerce, the Malibu Navy League, Pepperdine and businesses such as HRL Laboratories soon joined in the effort.

The hardest part was persuading the Navy to send the John Paul Jones north from its San Diego base, Wagner said.

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“It would cost $1 million if a movie studio wanted to do this,” he said. “This is something that probably won’t happen in our lifetime again.”

Chris Cegielski, the destroyer’s commander, acknowledged that he wasn’t able to just whip out a Navy credit card for fuel and the other assorted costs of anchoring the warship 1,500 yards off the pier.

The ocean is about 100 feet deep out there, but only about 25 feet deep at the end of the state-owned pier. The John Paul Jones requires a depth of at least 36 feet, according to crewmembers.

As a welcome to the ship’s crew, Navy Days organizers and supporters lined the end of the pier with 50 of the American flags that go on display annually at Pepperdine to commemorate the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

A Malibu Boy Scout troop posted the colors, the Malibu High School girls’ chorus sang the national anthem and local leaders offered welcoming speeches and framed resolutions as Cegielski led the first contingent of sailors — all in their dress whites — off a water taxi and onto the pier.

“To be able to see it off the coast is spectacular,” Malibu Mayor John Sibert said of the destroyer. “It’s important we recognize the people who keep us safe.”

Surfers in wetsuits and fishermen carrying bait boxes and tackle paused to watch. Visitor L.B. Lee of Colorado Springs, Colo., was at first puzzled by the John Paul Jones banner stretched across the end of the pier.

“Is that for John Paul Jones, the bassist for Led Zeppelin?” he asked. When he heard that the destroyer was named for a Revolutionary War naval fighter, he laughed.

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“I’d have run and gotten my camera if the other John Paul Jones was here,” said Lee, who was in town so his 17-year-old son Jason could tour Pepperdine.

John Paul Jones crewmembers said they were anxious to tour Malibu.

“I just want to see a couple of restaurants and see the beach,” said Joseph MacDonald, who is from Jacksonville, Fla., and works with electronics on the ship.

Ship’s services crewmember Juan Landin of San Bernardino said he was hoping to bump into a few celebrities while on shore. “Charlie Sheen pops into mind,” Landin said.

Amanda Villegas, an anchorage operator from San Antonio, agreed.

“Would I like to see Charlie Sheen? Definitely!” she said. “I was very excited that we’re going to see the beautiful people.”

But if they don’t run into A-listers, that’s OK with Marilyn Kennard, a Bessemer, Ala., native who serves as the ship’s command master chief.

“I expect to see movie stars and celebrities,” she said. “But if I don’t, that’s fine.”

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Photos: Destroyer at the Malibu break

bob.pool@latimes.com


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