Catalina trips still on

NEWPORT BEACH — Though confusion surfaced when Catalina Flyer took its main boat out of service for retrofitting, the company is using a backup catamaran to ferry offseason passengers between Newport Beach and Avalon.

A tour boat built by Geo Shipyard Inc., in New Iberia, La., has taken the place of the Catalina Flyer, which is being retooled outside of Seattle.

Steve Forbath, one of four captains, delivered nearly 100 passengers to Avalon on Friday.

The Catalina Flyer is having two new Caterpillar engines installed in its pair of hulls to comply with environmental regulations that are trying to put a cap on smog emissions from all diesel vessels operating around ports and harbors.

Although the 10-year-old old pair of engines "were fine," Forbath said, regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency and South Coast Air Quality Management District require that diesels be refitted every decade, something the Catalina Flyer operators got a head start on in mid-September.

"Luckily, this is our slow season, but we've still had to turn away customers on the weekends because this boat isn't as big as the Catalina Flyer," Forbath said, referring to the 149-passenger boat, the Catalina Adventure.

The cat also has "The Boat: City and County of Honolulu" painted on its side in big bold letters.

The catamaran previously was used in Hawaii. Tourists on Friday snapped pictures of it, joking that they were going to send the photographs home and tell relatives that they were in Hawaii instead of in Southern California.

In all, the trip by either boat takes about an hour, traveling at 29 knots, or about 30 mph.

The repairs to the Catalina Flyer are expected to be finished by February, at which time operators will again switch out the boats.

The Flyer, which can carry 600 passengers, was built in 1988, whereas the new boat out of Hawaii, was built in 2006.

Forbath said that in addition to the new engines, there will also be several upgrades made to it, including the installation of new gear boxes.

The Catalina Adventure was originally bought by two brothers who had intentions of using it to ferry passengers to and from Marina del Rey, but that plan fell through and they ended up finding a place for it under contract in Hawaii, Forbath said.

If you're interested in visiting Catalina, tickets are $68, but Forbath warns that reservations should be made for the weekends.

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