Lifeguards to Recreate 70-Year-Old Stunt at Sea San Diego lifeguard Darrell Esparza and four colleagues are set to retrace a 1934 stunt where two lifeguards rowed from San Diego to Santa Catalina Island, then sailed back with improvised sails.
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Lifeguards to Recreate 70-Year-Old Stunt at Sea

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Lifeguards to Recreate 70-Year-Old Stunt at Sea

Lifeguards to Recreate 70-Year-Old Stunt at Sea

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A team of San Diego lifeguards is retracing the strokes of two lifeguarding pioneers. The men have rowed in fiberglass dories from San Diego - about 70 miles north off the coast - and then about 30 miles over to Santa Catalina Island, rowing as many as 11 hours a day.

In 1934, lifeguards Emil Sigler and Bill Rumsey made the same trip with no navigational aids. This new team has a compass, maps and GPS.

We reached one of the lifeguards, Darrell Esparza, on his cell phone in Avalon on Catalina as he prepares to head home. He says the first part of the trip was by far the hardest.

Mr. DARRELL ESPARZA (Lifeguard): We were against current. We are against wind. And the sea was still a little bit unsettled from a couple of days before. Because two days before we left, there was a significant amount of wind on the ocean. So, even though it was glassy and there were no whitecaps when we started, the seas were still rocking and rolling quite a bit, which makes it really difficult to row, and the boats moving from side to side. So, it was just really a long day. We didn't expect to be in the boat for 11 hours. We thought we'd knock it out in about eight and a half.

BLOCK: Was there a moment when you just thought, boy, this may have been a really bad idea.

Mr. ESPARZA: Yeah. Nobody said anything out loud, but I'm sure it was on everybody's mind. But when we got to ocean side, we all talked about it and, yeah, we all said, maybe we bit off a little more than we could chew.

BLOCK: You had to admit that.

Mr. ESPARZA: Yeah.

BLOCK: When you rode into Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island, your destination, what was that like? What was your arrival like?

Mr. ESPARZA: It was pretty emotional. They watched Avalon came out in their boat and they have a monitor on the bow, which is - it's like a gigantic water canon. And so they turned on their lights and their sirens. They fired off the water canon. There's a huge arch of water. We have been a little bit emotional but we're kind of tired. But you could just feel that the sense of accomplishment that we finally made one of our major destinations, which was Avalon.

BLOCK: Now, you're not wearing gloves, is that right?

Mr. ESPARZA: No. We're not wearing gloves.

BLOCK: Now, look down at your hands and tell me what they look like.

Mr. ESPARZA: Like old fisherman hands right now. They're not that bad. There's no blisters anymore, there's just calluses and some, you know, dead skin flaking off. We didn't want to wear gloves, because if you get used to gloves and you lose them, then you could pretty much mentally mess yourself up when you're tied to something like that. So...

BLOCK: And what have you been eating?

Mr. ESPARZA: Well, combination of some bananas. And what's really, really good is when we're out there rowing you need, you know, some good carbohydrates. So, we've actually been sustaining ourselves in times of great need with a can of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli. Those things taste like fillet mignon after a while, after rowing. But there's just something about a can of beef ravioli that just taste really good when you're working really hard.

BLOCK: What did you know about the trip from 1934 - that the two lifeguards who did the trip in 1934 that you're copying now?

Mr. ESPARZA: Emil Sigler and Bill Rumsey decided to do it just on a whim. Nobody knew they did it. They didn't tell anybody. They just did it.


Mr. ESPARZA: We heard about this through one of our lifeguard lieutenants named Nick Lerma. He's been collecting memorabilia and historical photos from the past. And in his research, he came across the story of Emil Sigler and Bill Rumsey who did this row. Actually, Emil Sigler is still alive. He's 97 years old. We basically decide to do this as a tribute to one of our great legends -one of our great watermen lifeguards.

BLOCK: What does Emil Sigler think of your trip?

Mr. ESPARZA: He thinks it's great. He's in a wheelchair right now. He speaks really low, but he's pretty much altogether, and he's looking forward to us coming in. And he really wants to be on the beach when we finish.

BLOCK: Well, Darrell Esparza, good luck with the trip back.

Mr. ESPARZA: Thanks.

BLOCK: Darrell Esparza and his fellow lifeguards expect to sail their dories back to San Diego, just like those early lifeguards did, starting tomorrow.

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