A New Carrier for Catalina Island
A new era in freight shipping in Southern California began recently as a new company, founded by three veterans of the maritime industry, has begun service between the Los Angeles area and Catalina Island.
Avalon Freight Services, a partnership between the operators of Seattle-based Harley Marine and Long Beach, California-based Catalina Express, debuted freight service between San Pedro and the island city of Avalon on April 1.
The company is owned and operated by Harley Franco and brothers Greg and Tim Bombard. Franco is the chair, CEO and president of Seattle-based maritime transport Harley Marine Services, which runs the largest tug boat operation in Los Angeles.
The Bombard brothers' family has provided passenger transport between mainland Southern California and Catalina Island for nearly a century, most notably via their Catalina Express passenger ferry service.
Under the new Avalon Freight Services venture, cargo is shuttled to and from the island, from San Pedro, California, about a 26-mile trip each way. The company operates 7:30 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday and 10 am to 2 pm Saturdays at the San Pedro/Port of Los Angeles Warehouse. The Pebbly Beach Warehouse on the island operates from 8 am to 4 pm weekdays and 8 am to noon Saturdays.
The new business venture came together as the lease on the Santa Catalina Island Co.'s Avalon freight site was nearing its March 2016 expiration. The Santa Catalina Island Co., which is the island's biggest landowner, issued a Request for Proposals from various freight providers, and in December 2014, Avalon Freight Services was selected for a 10-year dock and warehouse space lease, beating out existing freight service provider Catalina Freight Line, which had held the contract for four decades.
While Catalina Freight and another company, Curtin Maritime Services, were also awarded licenses to deliver cargo from the mainland to the island, only Avalon Freight inked an exclusive deal with Catalina Island Co. for access to the needed dock and warehouse space on the eastern end of the island.
As a result, although Curtin Maritime and Catalina Freight have licenses to deliver goods, they don't have the required dock and warehouse access.
Upon being named the dock site's new tenant, Avalon Freight began to research, secure and build the company's facilities and vessels in order to meet the April 1, 2016 launch date.
Over time they managed to put together a solid foundation for the company, highlights of which include:
• A new mainland facility at Berth 95 within the Port of Los Angeles, with freeway access and within close proximity to other passenger arrivals and departures via ferry or helicopter.
• A new 7,500-square-foot warehouse.
New custom designed vessels, including state-of-the-art hull design.
• A new self-propelled landing craft, named the Catalina Provider, that meets EPA Tier 3 emission standards and allows for transportation of freight or evacuation of residents.
• A new ramp barge capable of carrying 30 percent more freight than the previous freight provider, and fitted with a 90,000 gallon tank to transport potable water.
• A one-way channel crossing time of three hours, faster than that of the previous operator.
Both Harley Marine Services and Catalina Express are well known throughout the Southern California maritime industry and have solid reputations. Harley Marine has received dozens of awards over the past 25 years, with the most recent being the Coast Guard Rear Admiral William H. Benkert 2016 Environmental Protection Award.
Also earlier this year, Franco was honored as the 2016 Distinguished Business Law Graduate from Lewis & Clark Law School.
Catalina Express has also won multiple accolades over the years, including company president and co-founder Greg Bombard receiving the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce's Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2007.
"I've known Greg and his brother Tim, who have been in the maritime industry in Southern California well over 25 years. They've owned and operated a very good quality passenger ferry service to and from that island. Their reputation was always impeccable," co-owner Franco told Pacific Maritime Magazine in an exclusive interview. "And so when the RFP – request for proposals – came out and we had a chance to talk, it really made a lot more sense for us to go into this together."
The Bombard brothers have a unique perspective, since they were both born and raised on Catalina Island.
"We're basically third generation of vessel operators. My grandfather moved to Catalina in 1919 and he operated vessels to and from the island, as well as around the island," Greg Bombard told pacific maritime magazine. "And then my father had a lease on the Two Harbors area, which is the west end of Catalina Island, and developed that area."
"We've got a lot of history in Catalina and we had a good idea of how we could help the community do it as well, or maybe turn it up a little bit and make it better," he said.
Bombard and Franco both said that their individuals companies' experience and good reputations were factors in Avalon Freight Services winning the Santa Catalina Island Co. contract.
"Harley has grown from one tug and one barge to a large number of vessels in and around the United States. He's always run a very strong company," Greg Bombard said. "Putting the partnership together, we felt we developed a great way of taking on Catalina Island. All of us have our expertise in how to develop this operation. That's why we put our proposal together, and at the end of the day it looked like people agreed, and they were ready to give us a chance to see how we do."
"That's what you need when you start a venture like this – someone who understands the local needs and flavor," Franco said.
Avalon Freight's initial fleet of vessels includes two deck barges, one tug and one landing craft. The landing craft is self-propelled and has an extended ramp as well as additional cargo space compared to older barges used by the previous cargo shipper. It is powered by Tier 3 engines.
One deck barge is virtually brand new and is pushed by a 1,800-HP tug that has brand new Tier 3 engines and generators.
"The boat's been completely redone," Franco said, "we took it down to bare and replaced everything and upgraded everything and it's a brand-new boat, the Lucy Franco."
Also, Avalon Freight purchased a deck barge from the previous freight operator to handle bulk materials like gravel and construction materials that the island occasionally needs.
"We are capable and have made multiple runs in a day," Franco said. "If we had to run (operations) around the clock, we're in a better position than anyone has been in the last