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The saga of the Calypso

The saga of the Calypso

While researching this image of the Calypso, an interesting story unfurled – starting with the handwritten caption on the above photo:

The “Calypso.” The boat which opened Port of Avalon. Aug. 4, 1913.

For several months the Calypso had been making the passenger runs from Long Beach to Avalon – to a wharf the Freeholders’ Improvement Association claimed was private property. In July 1913, the Los Angeles Times reported on the Calypso’s adventures in Avalon.

On July 16, the Calypso arrived to find a new wooden gate blocking passengers from landing. Engineer M. Pettenger of the Calypso, armed with a fire ax, destroyed the gate “sending it in a hundred fragments and dumping the debris into the water.”

Upon arrival the next morning, a large stream of water from a hose denied entry. Pettenger “fought his way” toward the hose. Two women passengers who accompanied Pettenger, “were drenched to the skin.”

Upon arrival on July 18, Calypso passengers were informed they were trespassing and “the matter will be settled in the Superior Court.”

On Aug. 7, 1913, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Avalon Declared Accessible to the World Greets First Arrival and Hopes for Prosperous Era.

Avalon, Aug. 6–”Welcome to our city!” exclaimed E.L. Doran, president of the Freeholders Association today at noon when the Launch Nellie of Long Beach pulled in to the pleasure wharf to land its passengers. Mr. Doran greeted Capt. Malone of the Nellie and also Engineer Pettenger of the Launch Calypso.

By order of Judge Conrey of the Superior Court, Avalon for all time was made and open port Tuesday. Thus ends the historic fight of the last ten years for landing privileges.

The above photo was not published with the Aug. 6, 1913, Los Angeles Times article. Instead, eight months later, this image was published in a March 29, 1914 Los Angeles Times article on the saga of the Calypso:

A small craft without lights moved silently into the inner harbor of Long Beach at 8 o’clock on the evening of December 23, 1912, and docked at the yards of the Pacific Yacht Launch and Engine Company. Working quietly with shaded lanterns, a crew of twelve men, under Capt. W.L. Sassaman, began preparations for launching a boat.

No axes or sledges were used and the boat was lifted with hydraulic jacks. At midnight all was set and the men went back to their launch to await the incoming tide. The water was sufficiently high by 2 o’clock and the crew returned to work. Finally the mate removed the last jack and the vessel started slowly.

The captain called to all hands to clear the boat. There was no cheering crowd present, as usual on such occasions, and no maiden to heave a bottle of wine against the bow. The skipper, the only man on deck, raised his cap as the boat slipped down the ways and exclaimed, “I christen thee Calypso.”

From that dark hour when the Calypso, a swift and beautiful craft leaped into the sea, nothing but ill-luck has followed her. Beginning with her clandestine launching, made necessary by the failure of the construction company and the fact that creditors were attempting to hold the craft, a peculiar series of misfortunes.

The crowning calamity came when the launch was confiscated by the government, January 18, last, at Monterey, on the ground that it had been used to land smuggled Chinese. Immigration inspectors arrested a crew of three men–Capt. Maurice Pettenger, Fred Fox and David Mayne, an Indian…..

The Calypso made her maiden trip to Santa Catalina Island May 11, 1913, and at once gained notoriety by opening the port of Avalon, which had previously been closed to all vessels except those of the company controlling the island. From September to January, the boat was at Long Beach and was used in carrying passengers to the warships and conveying pleasure parties.

The boat suffered a mishap last August when the engine went dead eight miles out of the port of Avalon. The forty-five passengers aboard were taken off at sea by the Virginia, owned at Long Beach. The Calypso with a crew of four men, drifted for thirty-eight hours and finally was towed into Los Angeles harbor.

The Calypso cost $10,000 and was built for speed and to ride in a heavy sea. She is equipped with a sixty-horsepower engine and an improved liquid compass that cost $100. The craft is sixty-five feet long, has a fourteen-foot keel, a displacement of thirty-three tons and travels, under pressure, eighteen knots.

Capt. Sassaman, claiming that Pettenger only owned a one-sixth interest in the Calypso, sued to regain control of the Calypso in federal court in San Francisco. As the case dragged on, Sassaman was able to use the Calpyso for passenger runs to Avalon. A July 27, 1915,  Times article reported on another engine breakdown one mile from Avalon. Repairs were completed at sea.

Through 1918, more short stories of Capt. Sassaman and the Calypso appeared in the Los Angeles Times. In 1916, Sassaman was involved in a bitter divorce. Also in 1916, the deputy United States marshal at Los Angeles sought to have Sassaman arrested in Mexico on immigration charges. The U.S. Navy cruiser New Orleans detained the launch in La Paz. When it returned to San Diego, Sassaman and his crew were arrested, but the charges were dropped.

Several other legal problems were reported, but after 1918, Sassaman and the Calypso disappeared from the pages of the Los Angeles Times. The vessel’s fate is unknown.

Photo above right: The cropped image of the Calypso and photo of Capt. W.L  Sassaman as published in the March 29, 1914, Los Angeles Times. Credit: ProQuest.

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