In the summer of 1987 a lot was going on. Astronomers at University of California discovered the of birth of a galaxy, Stars camp; Stripes brought the America’s Cup back to home to the US, and I was going to Catalina Sea Camp at Toyon Bay. My main ambition to go to camp was to get my junior certification in SCUBA, the rest was trivial in my young mind. Nevertheless, I was pretty apprehensive about the camp experience, let alone being away from my family. Who knew what to expect? I had friends back home, I was already a big fish in a small pond, and now I had to swim in the open waters of meeting new people? Ugh!
Let’s step back to where it all began. In 1985, my father owned an airplane, a Cessena 182 based out of Oceanside, CA and Ross needed a ride to Mexico. Permission slip in hand, and homework in flight, we took Ross Turner, founder of CIMI camp down to the Sea of Cortez to supervise a 7/8th grade school trip in a small town called Bahia de Los Angeles (unfortunately Guided Discoveries no longer offers this program). Arturo, our guide and owner of the Ridley’s and Leatherback Turtle farm Sanctuary took us by the hand for a tour of night snorkeling and daily nearby island tours. The school kids stayed in a large hostel bunk style. Each kid learned the rudimentary means to hoof 5 gallon buckets of sea water from the ocean to the toilets a 100 yards away, gross. Once, a strong girl came up behind a struggling boy and ripped that bucket from his hands, “woman-handling” 5 gallons to the toilet. Ok.
We explored multiple islands with marine ecology and inter-tidal zones, along with night dives right off our porch. That particular night snorkeling adventure, we came across a Tiger Eel and various marine species. Arturo, our guide, shared his turtle sanctuary and turtle hatchlings from would be poachers. For a kid, this was unimaginable. We were inundated with knowledge and inspiration. Of course, I was two years younger, while these kids were in 8th grade. I had a few years of growing up before I was old enough to go to sea camp.
We returned from that trip with a short flight stop to Toyon Bay on Catalina Island’s famous steep runway. Not for the faint hearted! There we met Jean-Michel Cousteau and his wind turbine boat, the Alcyone. We also met Environmental that was there to re-introduce the Bald Eagle to Catalina Island. What an experience! Shark cages on the Alcyone and baby Bald Eagles flying over Catalina. Several months later we were “channel surfing” as we do at home on the tube. National Geographic on assignment was featured on TV and there was the story of Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Bald Eagles, not to mention Kristy’s bright face with Ross and CIMI camp in tow. They filmed CIMI camp with kids working their masks and snorkles, and I distinctly remember a beautiful arial shot of Toyon Bay and Catalina Island. After an adventure like this, who could resist going to Sea Camp, right?
At 12 years old, I could barely fit into the scuba equipment, let alone my wetsuit. I was a small guy with big ambitions. Catalina Sea Camp at Toyon Bay was such a big place for my little body. We were engulfed by a small canyon, filled with roaming Buffalo on the soccer field, along with housing, class buildings, and administration around the campus. The place was buzzing with tons of new exploring. We developed a routine, much like school, but it was fun. Eating, classes, and fun campfire story telling filled the voids. The girls were looking pretty- we had a dance night and made best friends forever. The 4th of July we hiked to the side of the hill to watch the fireworks as far as the eye could see on the mainland. One night there was a campfire with a story of E-ot-tsu. Later on in life I only remember that it became later morphed to that with Harry the Killer whale. My least favorite experience turned out to be the nurse. She was the sweetest person, but she ultimately crushed my dreams. My first try at diving I was totally geared up, and Nurse Rachet stopped me cold feet. I had asthma. Although I had a permission slip from my doctor, it didn’t help and they were not about to take the risk. I was told I could not SCUBA at the camp, but I could be in sailing class. My eyes wet and red, I couldn’t believe it. There was nothing worse that someone tearing away at your dreams, at least from my perspective. But, even the worst experiences turn out to be the best stories. It wasn’t until later at camp I became best friends with her daughter that attended the camp at the same time. Today, we are all still very good friends, even nurse Rachet!