Hi-di-ho! Speeding Over the Bay We Go!
In a previous blog, I reminisced about spending time on the Boardwalk's old Pleasure Pier. It joined the Boardwalk where the Pirate Ship sits today.
Since the beginning of Fred Swanton’s beachfront enterprise, a series of pleasure craft have tied up to the Pleasure Pier to transport visitors over the blue waters of Monterey Bay. Swanton himself commissioned the Sinaloa, a 70-foot, twin-screw motor launch, to make daily, two-hour runs across the bay to Monterey. It also ferried passengers to the pleasure ship Balboa, anchored several thousand feet off shore during the 1907 and 1908 seasons.
Captain Charles Edrington took over the boat concession in 1909. Captain Edrington’s power launch, the J.C. Elliot took visitors on three-mile excursions on Monterey Bay. In 1910, his 100-passenger launch McKinley took guests on longer trips around the bay, including to Monterey. Lunch was served during those trips.
In 1919, William Johnson leased space on the Pleasure Pier, offering boat excursions out to "the whistling buoy" and exhibits of marine curiousities fished out of the Bay. In 1925, two speedboats, the Spendthrift and Vagabond, were delivered to local fisherman John Faraola for summer use at the Pleasure Pier. The boats were 38-ft long, their 90-horsepower engines thrusted them up to speeds of 35mph.
In 1931, a younger generation of the Municipal Wharf’s prominent Cottardo Stagnaro fishing family decided to diversify by operating speedboats from the Pleasure Pier. They launched the Miss Stagnaro in 1932. It was 28-ft long and could reach speeds of 25mph with 16 passengers aboard. The Sea Stag I joined its older sister boat in 1935. Slightly longer at 30-ft, it could accommodate 18 passengers on trips over the bay at speeds in excess of 40mph. Both boats took Boardwalk visitors on exhilarating excursions and also ferried sea-sick fishermen between the Stagnaro’s deep-sea fishing barges and the Municipal Wharf.
Both Miss Stagnaro and Sea Stag I were requisitioned by the US Navy and taken into Pacific wartime service in 1942. I don't know their ultimate fate.
Following WWII, the Stagnaros launched the Sea Stag II in 1946. Bigger than its predecessors, it was 38-ft long and could whisk 40 passengers over the bay as its 700-hp engine propelled the craft to 45mph. The Sea Stag II was reputed by its owners to be the largest and fastest commercial speedboat in the world. This is the boat I remember riding in as a young kid in the late 1950s.
A familiar spiel - "Hi–di–ho and away we go! Fast...thrilling...safe...sea-going...speed boat rides going right out....at the end of the Pleasure Pier" - blared from the loudspeaker on the pier’s ticket booth. It was a time-tested way to draw curious visitors out to the end of the pier. The boat also had a siren mounted near its bow that beckoned beach and Boardwalk crowds to gaze seaward for a glimpse of the outgoing and incoming craft.
Malio "Stago" Stagnaro was the skipper. I remember him as a happy and contended man, doing what he loved most. In between boat rides, he sometimes would come to my family’s Bright Spot food concession near the Fun House for a refreshing lime sno cone treat. He always graciously invited me and my family members to come out for a ride before heading back to the pier.
As a young boy, I was reticent to just descend the stairs to the gangplank and floating dock that jutted out from the end of the Pleasure Pier and take him up on his invitation. I had another tactic, though, that worked most every time I hankered for a ride. I would make up a fresh lime sno cone and dash out to the end of the pier. Looking for Stago, I did my best to make eye contact, hoping he would pick me out of the crowd of onlookers as I waved my green ice concoction for him to see. When our eyes did connect (and sometimes we didn’t), Stago would wave me down and I’d be dockside in a jiff. He would usher me onto the boat, in the front seat next to where he sat at its controls. There I would wait for the boat to fill with excited passengers and he would enjoy his sno cone.
On a warm day, the seat upholstery could be hot, too warm to initially sit comfortably. I would reach over the boat’s side and try to touch the tranquil cool water. Beach and Boardwalk noises were muffled by the distance. I began acclimating to a special realm of summertime beach fun. A center door into the boat’s bow revealed ropes and safety whatnots along with the skipper’s personal belongings. The engine sat midway in the vessel. Passenger seat sections were fore and aft of the engine well.
When it was time to go, the engine would come to life and signal the deckhand (often Stago’s son) and the boat was pushed away from the floating dock. Once clear, Stago slowly eased it east along the beachfront with siren wailing as he gradually increased speed. From the trailing loudspeaker one might hear - "There she is....and there she goes....at the rate of 45 miles per hour...over the blue waters of Monterey Bay...See the bay the speedboat way...hi-di-ho...and away we go!"
Once opposite the Castle on Seabright Beach (or Castle Beach), Stago headed the craft out to open water and ever faster over the bounding billows. Wind-driven swells caused the boat to hit hard at times, mid-hull, signaling a choppier ride than might be expected. I recall we headed toward Seal Rock and Lighthouse Point. Then, with a big Italian grin on his weathered face, Stago piloted the vessel out to the mile buoy at full speed in a wide arc. Whether they expected it or not, passengers in the aft section were usually drenched by ocean spray as we bounced along. My front-most seat protected me from the dousing, but I could hold on and stand up for a taste of wind-swept ocean spray when I chose to. The engine’s roar made it impossible to carry on a conversation.
Around the buoy and back toward the shore we would go, gradually decreasing speed as we drew near. Cruising back along the beachfront from Twin Lakes (before the Yacht Harbor) toward Main Beach, the siren wailed again signaling the 30-minute voyage would soon end. Once passing the Pleasure Pier, Stago guided the craft around in a slow, clock-wise circle to ease alongside the floating dock with experienced precision. After securing the boat, the deck hand and Stago assisted passengers in disembarking. Once emptied, I would gratefully thank Stago and bounce up the gangplank onto the pier and Boardwalk, satisfied that my lime sno cone did its job!
In 1962 a very severe spring storm inflicted serious damage to the nearly 60-year old Pleasure Pier and the structure was closed to the public that summer. 1961 marked the last season that speedboat rides were a special Boardwalk thrill. I’m glad I had the chance to ride the Sea Stag II when I did.
The Pleasure Pier was dismantled at the end of the 1962 summer season. With that, speedboat adventures were forever entrusted to the memories of its former passengers. I’ve just shared my recollection. How about you? Any stories you care to tell of speedboat rides over Monterey Bay?
‘till next time –