Our wonderfully iconic “Blanche W.” will be saying goodbye to her millions of fans after 85 years of service, at the end of this summer. Built in 1924 “The Blanche,” as we all call her, has grown old and beyond being able to repair and maintain her to the standards of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Blanche W. is a 64-foot, 98-passenger, solid-wood vessel built just to watch the flying fish. Her World-War-I-era, 40-million candlepower searchlights shine on the sea at an angle that simulates the silver streak of a large predator fish, enticing the fish to fly out of the water and into visitors' memories. Flying fish boat trips are a piece of Catalina history that dates back nearly a century. The excursions started in 1911 after Captain Joseph McAfee shined a light on the beaches at night as he sailed along the coast and noticed that California flying fish would leap out of the water in reaction to the light. He decided to mount a searchlight on his boat and take visitors out at night.
The Blanche was built by William Muller, on Mormon Island in Wilmington Harbor for the Santa Catalina Island Company. It was one of five boats commissioned by William Wrigley for construction after World War I. The others were Empress, Emperor, Phoenix and Princess. William Wrigley Jr. named the boat Blanche W. after his one year old granddaughter, Ada Blanche Wrigley. Blanche was built without the cabin she now has and boasted only an open cockpit with a wooden spray shield and removable windows to protect the captain from the occasional winds and sea conditions.
“In 1942 she found herself in the hands of the U.S. government and spent World War II in the unfamiliar waters of the San Francisco Bay-Stockton area where she worked constantly at shuttling shipyard employees. When she returned from her war-time service in 1946 she was battered and worn; but her integrity was found to be intact and she was lovingly restored.” [Water Lines 4th Q., 1995]
In 2015 Blanche W was the oldest vessel registered at Avalon Harbor — an inspected passenger vessel of 15 tons.
You can venture out on The Blanche on the Sundown Isthmus Cruise and the Flying Fish Voyage during the summer season. Throughout the summer, special events will be held in honor of The Blanche. Watch for special announcements.