In June of 1924, the 64-foot Blanche W, built by William Muller Boatyard, on Mormon Island, in Wilmington Harbor, arrived in Avalon Bay to begin her first summer season of a 91-year-long career of providing Flying Fish trips, tours to Seal Rocks and cruises to Isthmus Harbor. Over a million passengers enjoyed riding aboard the Blanche W, sitting in the mahogany bench seats for a cruising along the island’s coastline to catch the odd spectacle of fish with “wings” leaping out of the water and taking flight. It’s remarkable sight to see flying fish. But now as the 2015 summer season grinds to a halt, the Santa Catalina Island Company will retire the Blanche W.
In 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard will perform an out-of-the-water inspection of the Blanche W and it is anticipated by SCICo, knowing current Coast Guard regulations and changes in boat structure from the 1920s to present day, that the Coast Guard will request some changes for the 91-year-old wooden vessel that would not be economically viable to continue operating her as a tour boat.
What does the future hold for the Blanche W? Well, the Island Company isn’t quite sure, they are looking at several options. She means a lot to SCICo and the decision is not being taken lightly.
Soon the Blanche W’s final summer season will come to an end, but before having her extensive end of the season maintenance, the Blanche W will have a special cruise for all who have worked on her. So many friendships made over the summers and happy memories made while working on the Blanche W.
She was one of five boats commissioned by William Wrigley for construction after World War I. The others were the Empress, Emperor, Phoenix and Princess, all retired many years ago. The Blanche W was built for the Flying Fish tour, Wrigley wanted a faster boat than the Catalina Flyer, the Blanche W’s competitor, owned by captain Joseph McAfee who originated the flying fish tour.
The Blanche W was named after William Wrigley’s first granddaughter, Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner.
The Blanche W has had several captains over the years. George Gemilere, was her first captain. Then the three Hernandez brothers – Marcelino, Andy and Sam, and most recently, for the last 17 years, Michael Armstrong.
During World War II, she went to work for the U.S. government transporting shipyard workers in the San Francisco Bay-Stockton area. In 1946, she returned from her war-time service battered and worn from the experience, but was lovingly restored.
The Blanche W, still a popular tour excursion, will be missed by many, all who have fond memories of those night-time rides to watch the flying fish dart out of the water, delighting children and adults alike. In all the world, no trip like this.