Attention, Mr. and Mrs. North America and all the ships at sea. Be on the lookout for Larry Capune, 30, of Balboa Island, Calif., alias Larry Lifeguard, 5'11", 171 pounds, blond hair, wearing red bathing trunks. When last seen, Capune was in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey hand-paddling a 17-foot surfboard from Boston to Miami. He is carrying a transistor radio, a bag of smoke flares and a waterproof World War II knapsack containing a change of clothes, an extra bathing suit, insect repellent, jars of vitamins, road maps and a pair of shoes. If Capune comes ashore to knock at your beach cottage door, do not be alarmed. He is harmless, indeed affable, though he may suddenly swat himself and shout, "Goddamn green flies!" Capune is interested in promoting a "Wet Alliance" whereby youngsters could discover themselves and their environment by paddling surfboards up and down the coasts of the U.S.
Capune is an old hand at this mode of transportation. In 1964 and again in 1967 he paddled 542 miles from San Francisco to Newport Beach, once obliging Vandenberg Air Force Base to delay missile testing for 48 hours. In 1965 he set out from New York to Miami, but his trip ended after a fishing-pier owner in Morehead City, N.C. threw Coke bottles at him when he paddled under the pier, allegedly scaring the fish. One bottle struck Capune in the head, resulting in 25 stitches and a staph infection. Capune sued and won an $11,000 judgment in a case that went all the way to the North Carolina Supreme Court, but he has yet to collect a nickel because the pier owner put all his assets in his wife's name. On his current trip south, Capune plans to put in at Morehead City to ask his lawyer, Harvey Hamilton Jr., how the case is going.
A college dropout, Capune has worked as a lifeguard and as a jack-of-all-trades for a neighbor, Buddy Ebsen—Jed of Beverly Hillbillies and himself an enthusiastic seafarer. When Capune told Ebsen he would be taking three months off to complete the 2,400-mile Boston-to-Miami voyage, Ebsen said he would write the Coast Guard commandant to ask that he look after his young friend. Capune needs all the looking after he can get.
On a good day Capune can travel 35 miles, and he usually paddles from half a mile to nine miles out. He carries no food or water with him, but comes ashore in the evening and knocks on doors until he finds a place to eat and sleep. Because his body is wet, he doesn't get thirsty except on very hot days.
August 20, 1972
Capune launched into the Atlantic on July 1 at Nantasket Beach in Hull, just south of Boston. He had planned to launch in Boston Harbor, but the fog was so heavy he feared he would keep running into islands. Capune made Brant Rock the first night, but got caught by an incoming tide the next morning in Plymouth Bay. He bought two Cokes and some cookies for lunch at White Horse Beach and paddled on before stopping at Manomet to spend the night. The third day out Capune spotted a fat man in trouble on a Sunfish three quarters of a mile from shore. "My lifeguard instinct took over," says Capune, "and I paddled over to him. When I got close, I could see it was a new Sunfish with the dealer's sticker still on it. The fat guy said to me, 'How do I get this thing back where I came from?' He had sailed in circles so many times the main halyard was wrapped around the mast. I finally had to cut it, and the tub of lard was indignant. Here I am saving his life, and he's angry because I cut a $1.25 rope!"
Capune towed the fat man ashore, a task made somewhat difficult because the man wanted to go where he had started out and kept steering the Sunfish in that direction. Capune spent the night at the tip of Sandy Neck with a friendly professor and his family. On the way up the inside of Cape Cod to Provincetown, Capune misjudged the tide and ran aground on Billingsgate Shoal. "I picked up the board, stepped on a skate, hit my head on the board and had a headache for a day," he says.
Reaching Provincetown, he put up at a hotel. He spent the next night at the Coast Guard Station at Race Point, where he was kept awake by a drunken coastguardsman who fought with his shipmates until three in the morning. Beginning to suffer from a heavy cold, Capune set off around the Cape with the water temperature 52°. His morale was equally low, but it got a lift when he landed at Marconi Beach and met the head lifeguard, Dana Hathaway, who said that he had once paddled a kayak from Florida to North Carolina. Capune's morale got another boost when the people on Nauset Beach clapped and cheered as he paddled by, having read about him in the local papers.
At the end of the first week, Capune rounded Cape Cod inside of Monomoy Island. A yachtsman going through the cut invited him to spend the night, but with a four-knot current against him, it took Capune an hour to go a mile, even at 85 strokes a minute.
Setting forth from Chatham to Cotuit, Capune ran into a 30-knot wind and small craft warnings. Deciding to go ashore he spotted a small beach between rocks and headed in. A maid answered the door of the house back of the beach and called an older lady.
"What town is this?" asked Capune.
"This is not a town," said the lady. "This is a compound."
"You mean this is an institution for retired people?" said Capune.
"Not all of us are retired," said the lady. "This is the Kennedy compound. My name is Rose Kennedy."
She invited Capune in. He explained he was Miami-bound and very cold and tired. The lady called her daughter, Eunice Shriver, who arrived with a beautiful girl, Karen Brucene Smith, who turned out to have been Miss U.S.A. in the 1971 Miss World contest. "That was pretty heavy stuff," says Capune. Eunice, Miss U.S.A., Capune and all the Shriver and Kennedy kids had dinner at a Howard Johnson's and afterward watched movies at Rose's house. "There were zillions of kids," says Capune. "The first movie, Now You See It Now You Don't, was for kids. The second one, Butterflies Are Free, was rated PG, parental guidance. While the lights were out, I heard a man come in, and he sat next to 12-year-old Timmy Shriver. It was Senator Edward Kennedy.
"When the movies were over he said hello. I slept in a magnificent bedroom in a canopied bed. The next morning, which was Eunice's birthday, the wind was blowing like crazy and Eunice said, 'Rest a day.' Timmy Shriver and I decided to go bicycling, and as we came out there were tourists all over the place just staring." Capune learned that the Kennedys used to store up old tennis balls and belt them out of the compound at the tourists. Capune said he knew of a sneaky way to souse tourists. In town he bought 10 feet of surgical tubing, a big funnel and balloons. Back in the compound, he constructed a giant slingshot, filled a balloon with water, set it in the funnel and took aim at a tree some distance away. The water-laden balloon landed with a satisfactory splash just as Eunice rounded the corner. Timmy Shriver quickly hid the slingshot and everyone, including the kids, went for a sail on Teddy's 54' Islander. Capune took the helm for 20 minutes. Everyone then went to Teddy's for a cookout (hot dogs and watermelon). There was also a partial eclipse that day. "Everything seems to happen at once to me," says Capune. Still hungry, he and Timmy raided the Shriver refrigerator, ate candy bars and watched the Democratic Convention on TV.
The next morning, advised of the best current to Woods Hole by Teddy, Capune got his surfboard from Rose Kennedy's front lawn, received a farewell kiss from Miss U.S.A. and headed west. While paddling in a heavy wind and rough seas, Capune listened to his radio. "The program was called Tell It To Bob," he recalls. "There were all these kids calling in complaining they had nothing to do. I thought, you stupid kids, nothing to do, and here I am battling the ocean. I pulled inshore at a house, asked for the phone and called this Bob character. I told him what I was doing, and he didn't seem to believe me. When I got back on my board, I turned on the radio and heard Bob say that some idiot had just called in."
At Woods Hole the Coast Guard gave Capune bum advice on currents, and he got carried into the Elizabeth Islands. With the rain heavy and visibility limited, he put in on a deserted island where he saw "a beat-up old house, barbed wire and a PRIVATE sign like something out of a movie." He knocked warily on the door, which was opened by a pipe-smoking lady. "When you're tired," Capune says, "a thing like this really throws you." The island was Naushon, the lady Mrs. Hoima Cherau, a member of the Forbes family that owns almost all the Elizabeth Islands. When he was leaving the next morning, Mrs. Cherau asked him to deliver a letter to the Wilders on Nashawena. She said it would take four days otherwise. Capune delivered the letter and traveled to Cuttyhunk. "I met President Garfield's grandson there," says Capune.
Paddling from Cuttyhunk with only 100 feet of visibility, he headed toward what he thought was a rock. The rock turned out to be a freighter, and the nose of the surfboard glanced off the hull. Capune landed at Horseneck Beach in Massachusetts where a park official refused to show him a map or a chart. "I want to get out of here!" said Capune.
"I'm going to Miami."
"You crazy kid, you're not leaving here! You're a nut, kid, a nut!"
Capune went back to the beach where a guard stood over his surfboard. "I'm leaving," Capune told the guard. "That board is below the mean high tide line, and you have no jurisdiction. If you want to fight, I'll fight."
Capune paddled on in fog and wind. He went into Newport, where the water was filthy. "They dump everything," he says. Jim Ferris, on board the Whisper, which had finished 10th in the single-handed transatlantic race, invited him aboard for champagne. While in Newport, Capune paddled up to Solange, a cement-hulled boat that had left Hull a week after him on an around-the-world trip, and shouted, "Let's see who gets to North Carolina first!"
Outside Newport a destroyer narrowly missed Capune, who was paddling in the wrong direction for Point Judith. Correcting his bearings, he put in at Sandy Hill Cove where he watched a baseball game and got word from the Coast Guard that his father wanted him to call home. "I called collect, and it was the first time he ever accepted."
Capune almost got lost on the way to Block Island, but was pulled there by a tide rip. From Block Island he cut across to Montauk Point where he got lost for real until he came across a boat named Cricket in the swells. "Where am I headed?" Capune yelled.
The answer came, "France!"
Back on the course once more and having passed Montauk Point, Capune met with various receptions along the south shore of Long Island. In East Hampton he could get only five hours sleep as his hosts sat up playing cards. In Southampton he kept landing and landing only to be shooed off the beaches of private clubs. Desperate, he headed inshore for the fourth time and, encountering no opposition, sought out the club manager.
"I want food and water," Capune said.
"I can't serve you," said the manager. "You're not a member of the club."
"I'll pay," pleaded Capune.
"All checks are signed. No money exchanges. I can't serve you."
"Sir," said Capune, drawing himself up. "That is against the law. You don't have to feed me, but according to federal law you have to give me water."
The manager still refused. Capune eyed a footbath, but was leery of what germs he might pick up, and so, thirsty and hungry, set off on his surfboard again. He put in at Cooper's Neck Beach for lunch, then went on to Quogue, where he met a girl who invited him to spend the night with her family.
Off Fire Island, he spotted the 15th shark of the trip—"a good six or seven feet"—and hit the beach. "The next thing I see is a boardwalk called a street. It's Fire Island Pines, and I see these strange guys with little dogs pulling little red carts behind them." Setting off toward a gaily colored hotel, Capune rented a room ("$23.85 with tax") and then went to eat. "It was tea dance time," he says, "and there were these guys wearing women's bathing suits and dresses. I was getting the willies. I went into a boutique to talk to a girl, and she says, 'The queens are here.' I asked, 'Where are the queens?' and she said, 'There's a queen over there.' I went up to my room on the top floor and locked myself in. During the night there were five knocks at the door, and voices asking, 'Harry, is that you?' In the morning I went down for breakfast, and they charged me $4.80. I got my surfboard and went back into the ocean. At the next place I see a guy on the beach and I say, 'Where am I?' He says, 'Cherry Grove.' I said, 'Fella, this is one place I don't want to stop.' By now I had to talk to someone straight. At Ocean Bay Park I came in and talked to a man with a family just to keep my head."
Capune thought of going into New York Harbor and on up to the Statue of Liberty, but was afraid that the polluted waters could infect a cut on his arm with a disease or two that science would never cure. Capune got the cut his second week out when he moved a refrigerator. "Whenever I stop, people always ask me to help move the refrigerator."
Capune cut 28 miles across the Atlantic from Long Island to Jersey to avoid New York Harbor. Still a mile and a half out from some Jersey community, he ran straight into sewage boiling up from an outfall pipe. He was also harassed by several schools of large bluefish that made passes at his fingers. Then, at Long Branch, fishermen on a pier threw heavy sinkers at him. Capune went ashore, called the police and accompanied them to the pier. "Everybody played mum," said Capune. "You can really hurt a guy with a sinker." In Atlantic City, Capune met with a far better reception, receiving the key to the city.
Heading south, Capune was prepared to pay off an old score at Stone Harbor. While passing along the coast in 1965, he had been arrested there on two counts: failing to stop for a lifeguard's whistle and surfboarding in a no-surfing zone. He was also threatened with a charge of inciting a riot when bathers thronged around chanting, "Let him go! Let him go!" He was found guilty of failing to stop for a lifeguard's whistle and was obliged to pay a $35 fine. For this trip, Capune registered his surfboard as a vessel with the State of California and would regard any attempt to stop him or seize his craft as impeding navigation or piracy. The registration certificate lists his craft, CF 1503 EG, as "hand" powered.
Capune's worst moment of the trip, he hopes, is behind him. It came in Hyannisport when the Kennedys suddenly learned from a newscast that he is a registered Republican.