Catalina Conservancy Ball Makes History

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Despite foul weather grounding more than 100 guests on the mainland, the Catalina Island Conservancy Ball carried on in grand tradition. Photo courtesy of the Catalina Island Conservancy

Just 26 miles across the sea, Avalon Harbor is one of my favorite retreats. There’s nothing quite like sitting on the stern of a gently swaying vessel, gazing at the magnificent, pristine views of Catalina, which thanks in great part to the Catalina Island Conservancy, have been left widely undeveloped.

So when I was invited to attend the 17th Annual Catalina Island Conservancy Ball with my friend Karen Rhyne, I jumped at the chance. Karen, who sits on the Newport Beach Harbor Commission, is a fellow boater who shares my love for Catalina and support for efforts to preserve it much as it was 40 years ago.

Not only that, I’d been hearing for years that the black tie affair was a must-go; here was my chance!

Entitled “History in the Making,” this year’s Ball, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Conservancy, was sponsored by the Balboa Yacht Club. It was slated to be one of the biggest and best ever.

So the plan last Saturday was to meet at BYC in the early afternoon, board the Newport Flyer, which had been chartered by the club to whisk us over to Avalon, enjoy the festivities and then whisk us back to Newport at midnight.

That was until Mother Nature intervened.

As the tail-end of last Friday’s severe rainstorm remained along the coast, extreme winds and large swells continued, so by late Saturday morning, Karen called to tell me that due to the foul weather conditions, the Flyer had pulled the plug on crossing the channel to Avalon. As a result, more than 100 guests were left stranded on the mainland, including the band and entertainment.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

But lemonade was yet to be made from the lemons which had been tossed in to our plans,  and along with other members of the Balboa Yacht Club, we decided to celebrate back at the clubhouse anyway, black tie and all.

By the time we arrived at BYC around 6 p.m., the catering manager had somehow cleverly copied the table centerpieces in the dining room to match as closely as possible those over in the Casino. A live feed via and a few computers on both ends were set up to give those of us stranded on the mainland an opportunity to see the beautifully decorated Casino ballroom and all the festivities live.

And since the auction is a big part of the fundraiser, guests at BYC bid on auction items at the Ball via Skype and on their iPads and smart phones.

On the other end of the channel, thanks to the spontaneous generosity of Geoffrey Claflin Rusack, who provided his private plane to fly the band and entertainers to the event via the Conservancy’s Airport in the Sky, the Ball carried on in splendid fashion.

Of course, no matter which side of the channel we were on, it all boiled down to raising much-needed funds to support the ongoing efforts of the Catalina Island Conservancy. Despite it all, not only did the event sell out in record time, it ended-up the top grossing Ball in the history of the event.

Lemonade indeed.

Established in 1972, the Conservancy’s mission is “to be a responsible steward of our lands through a balance of conservation, education and recreation.” The Conservancy is the oldest and largest private land trust in the state of California, and protects nearly 90 percent of Catalina Island including 50 miles of unspoiled beaches and secluded coves. It is the longest publicly accessible stretch of undeveloped coastline left in Southern California.

Catalina Island is home to more than 60 animal, insect and plant species not found anywhere else in the world. It is visited by more than 1 million people annually, and more than 60l000 schoolchildren each year visit camps on Conservancy lands.

The Conservancy is a leader in conservation programs that protect and restore endangered species and threatened habitats. It conducts educational outreach through two nature centers, its Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, guided experiences in the Island’s rugged interior, and its award winning radio series “Isla Earth.”

For more information, visit the Conservancy’s website at Columnist Lynn Selich can be reached via

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