Miss Catalina Memories – Old And New

Miss Catalina VI - Lake Tahoe Concours 2010

For Friday’s story on Woody Boater, Matt featured a great vintage photo of “Miss Catalina V” loaded with babes, which was kindly sent in by Al Schinnerer from California Classic Boats Inc.  Matt also gave Brian & I a jab about our ongoing OCDSD issues (commonly known in the antique & classic boat hobby as “Obsessive Compulsive Deck Seam Disorder”) which we are told is treatable and we are looking into it.  Just kidding of course… There’s never a dull moment at Woody Boater headquarters…

Al’s “Miss Catalina V” photo left me wanting to learn more about the history of Catalina Speedboats. So, we thought it would be fun to track down some more information about the rare “Miss Catalina” series of speedboats… Not because of the deck seams, but because of the history.  I called Brian Robinson and he pulled a few more vintage photos out of his vault for our story.

For our international viewers, according to the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce web site…   Santa Catalina Island, often called Catalina Island, or just Catalina, is an island off the coast of Southern California, just 22 miles (35 km) south-southwest of Los Angeles. Catalina is part of the eight Channel Islands archipelago. The eight islands that make up the archipelago are divided into two groups — the Northern Channel Islands and the Southern Channel Islands. Catalina Island is one of the four Southern Channel Islands. Santa Catalina Island is the only one of the eight islands with a significant permanent civilian settlement – the City of Avalon and the unincorporated town of Two Harbors. The distance from Avalon to Two Harbors is 13.4 miles by boat, 23 miles by road.

The Island is 21 miles long and encompasses approximately 47,884 acres or approximately 76 square miles. The width is 8 miles at its widest point (Long Point) and 1/2 mile wide at it’s narrowest point at Two Harbors at the Isthmus. The coastal perimeter is 54 miles.

Romantic Catalina Island Postcard - Autoette Electric Cart (circa 1953)

Santa Catalina Island has served as the location for the filming of over 500 motion pictures, documentaries, television programs and commercials over the past 90 years. Of those 500, approximately 300 were motion picture productions. Beginning as early as 1911 and continuing with great momentum through the Silent Film era and the introduction of sound to motion pictures, the Island served as location for more than 225 films.  To learn more about Catalina’a long and rich history, which is fascinating, click here.  

For 36 years, the Catalina Speedboat Company provided tours for visitors around Catalina Island using Six – Catalina built Bombard speedboats.  Between 1922 & 1958 the Liberty V-12 powered Bombards brought the thrill of speed on water to the thousands of paying passengers.   

Vintage Photo of Miss Catalina VI in Catalina's Avalon Bay - Image Courtesy of electrospark.blogspot.com - Vintage Americana Vacations

Al Bombard designed and built the “Miss Catalina” series of six boats to an odd length of 29 feet, 11 inches for a specific reason. Back in the day, the US Coast Guard regulations required all passenger-carrying vessels 30 feet and over to be inspected and certified, so Bombard and the Catalina Speedboat Company built the boats one inch shorter.

Vintage Miss Catalina V

Vintage Miss Catalina V - Leaving Port Powered by the Mightly Liberty V-12

In the informative book “Cutwater” by Robert Bruce Duncan, which features a story on Jim Koch’s restored “Miss Catalina V”, Duncan notes – When it was designed and built during the First World War, the twelve-cylinder Liberty Aircraft engine was ahead of it’s time; but by 1938, when “Miss Catalina V” was launched, these venerable power plants had proven a little shaky. Legend suggests that Al Bombard, who served his apprenticeship with Liberty Motors Experimental Service, was concerned as much with practical reliability as romance, and (Catalina Speedboat Co) kept three Liberty engines in reserve, overhauled and ready to go, for every engine currently in service. The Liberty in “Miss Catalina V” holds 10 gallons of oil, burns approximately half a gallon of oil an hour, and blazes through 30 gallons of gasoline an hour.

Miss Catalina V At Speed

Robert Bruce Duncan goes on to say is his book – For Jim Koch, Miss Catalina V’s owner, she’s been a long time coming. The Sierra Boat Co restoration began in 1982. Eight years later “Miss Catalina V” bowed for her second debut at the 1990 Tahoe Yacht Club Concours d’Elegance.

Below is a unique photo from 2007, showing “Miss Arrowhead” bow to bow with “Miss Catalina V” – Two famous Southern California ride boats together on Lake Tahoe. “Miss Arrowhead” a 1940 Chris-Craft 27-foot Racing Runabout, powered by a Chris-Craft A120A Race Engine (846 cu. in., 375 HP at 2800 RPM, Speed: 52 MPH). Birdseye maple dash and second and third cockpit consoles. Dual folding Bugatti-style windshields. The largest and fastest “barrel-stern” ever produced by Chris-Craft. The one existing boat of two built in this style – Al Schinnerer.

Miss Arrowhead & Miss Catalina V - Lake Tahoe 2007

“Miss Catalina VI” (shown as the opening cover photo – and below) is the last of the six Miss Catalina series boats built by Al Bombard’s Catalina Speedboat Company between 1922 and 1939 on the island. Owen Owens purchased the completely rebuilt Miss Catalina VI in 1975 and brought her to Lake Tahoe from Santa Barbara. Today “Miss Catalina VI” cruises the lake frequently while providing Lois and her family with many fond memories of Owen. The boat has been an annual addition to the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance for many years.

Miss Catalina VI - Lake Tahoe 2010

Our Miss Catalina story wraps up with a link to a great video called The Golden Era Of Catalina Speedboats (click here) by Doug Bombard and the eCatalina.com web site. Doug speaks of his father and the history of Catalina Speedboats in his own words… Very cool stuff.

Thanks to Brian Robinson for providing the Miss Catalina V photos, and to Electro’s Spark for the vintage photo of Miss Catalina VI in Catalina’s Avalon Bay.

And of course thanks to Al Schinnerer for sending us the photo that sparked our curiosity. I’m sure Al could tell us much more about the history of these interesting speedboats from Catalina Island, and I hope we will have the opprotunity to ask him when we are in Lake Tahoe later this year.

15 replies
    • Rick
      Rick says:

      These days you’d pull the engine, call it a green environmentally friendly tour and give each passenger a paddle. And they’d be happy about it! Maybe even add a salad bar in the empty engine bay.

  1. Philip Andrew
    Philip Andrew says:

    Fantastic story Texx. Really interesting. I never knew about the islands. Looks like theres another place to add to my list of places to go. Love the old Kodachrome look of the shots.
    I was lucky enough to see Miss Catalina at the 37th Tahoe concours and took some shots of her. She was my ‘ best boat ‘ choice in fact. Later on the Sunday I was invited out on the water in a Capri by a lovely fellow and we were able to watch Miss Catalina roar past a couple of times.
    I sent the pictures to your gmail.

  2. Texx
    Texx says:

    Thanks Phil, I look forward to your pictures from Lake Tahoe.

    My first visit to Catalina Island was in the late 70’s when I lived in Manhattan Beach, CA. It’s a very cool place. I must admit that old wooden boats were the last thing on my mind when I made the trip over to Catalina in the 70’s… HA

  3. randy & ginger
    randy & ginger says:

    This gets my vote for one of the best Woodyboater stories ever. My limited knowledge of Catalina was that it was the place where Natalie Wood drowned, that’s bad…

    loved the video, pictures and links..

    thanks all.

  4. James
    James says:

    Thanks for yet another Great story! Glad the video got a mention too; Brian sent it to us, and then we talked to Doug Bombard about the ‘friendly rivalry’ between the Miss Catalina’s and Roland Reed and Perlita Too. That competition was the reason why Reed did the twin supercharger installation on Perlita’s Scripps V12 motor. Doug was quite ‘cagey’ about who won the most races! Some cool history there….maybe someday we can get Perlita Too and Miss Catalina together at Tahoe…..

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Thanks James… The opportunity to get Perlita Too and Miss Catalina together again (in the water) after 50 years would be fantastic. Like opening another page in a history book.

      I would like to “Call Shotgun” on that story… With Caroline’s approval of course.

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    wolford bus for sale says:

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  6. Bert Eisenhour
    Bert Eisenhour says:

    Memory Lane – Having enjoyed the thrilling adventure of
    the speedboat ride to Catalina as a youngster, I found the info and video to be a nostalic return visit to one of the most memorable pre-WWII vacations with my family.
    Somehow, I had remembered the Liberty Aircraft engine as a V-16 (as opposed to the V-12 which is mentioned in
    the descriptive materials).
    As I recall, the return trip was made via a passenger boat.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Bert – Thanks for your insightful comments. Our sources indicate that the Liberty Model L-12 (V-12) was used for the Catalina boats.

      We think the only V-16 that was used in a marine application was the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine during WW II.

      Thanks again!

  7. Jon Brown
    Jon Brown says:

    Well, I’m a little late, but would like to add, thanks for the memories. I spent every day summer of 1963 on the pier as a 14 year old just to be around those speed boats. I was there when the owner at that time, Bob Teasley, brought the “6” back from a rebuild on the mainland. I got to do a “meet the steamer” run with Bob and Al Bombard driving (I was the only passenger). I even got to help them change a water pump one afternoon which was my thrill for that visit. I think that was close to the last summer for them. Happy to see they are still out there, but I heard a rumor those wonderful Libertys were replaced. What do you know about that and their current location. Thanks again for the article.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Jon – Thanks for sharing your fond memories of those days on Miss Catalina with us here at Woody Boater. Great stuff!

  8. Weston Owens
    Weston Owens says:

    Very interesting to learn about my family’s boat’s past. Thanks for publishing this article.

  9. Jim Geoghan
    Jim Geoghan says:

    would love to build a model of Miss Catalina 5 does anyone know where I can get plans?

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