It was going to be called Lemuria

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

Chris Dixon’s Ghost Wave tells the tale of the home of the biggest rideable wave on the face of the earth, where a small team almost created their own country:

In 1966, California newspapers began reporting a startling story. A B-movie actor and several California businessmen were making plans to build their own island. The chosen locale was 100 miles off the California coast, on a massive, submerged island known as Cortes Bank. Ostensibly, the goal would be to mine a rich vein of seafood, especially abalone. Only an accident kept them from building their island nation. It was going to be called “Lemuria,” the name of a lost continent. But the media coined another, more compelling name: “Abalonia.”

Cortes Bank has long been considered a valuable yet perilous spot. Ships need to dodge Bishop Rock, which lurks a few feet below the surface, marked by a warning buoy. The site fosters a rich environment of sea life, making it a diving destination today. It’s also a legendary surfing site, because Cortes Bank produces some of the tallest surfable waves in the world. For Joe Kirkwood, Jr., Richard Taggart, and Bruce McMahan, the attraction was the sea life: They hoped to build an island outpost where they could harvest and ship seafood plentifully and cheaply. However, they didn’t know about the waves.

The group was an eclectic bunch. Kirkwood was most famous for appearing in film versions of the comic strip Joe Palooka. He was also a talented pro golfer, and owned a bowling alley. Taggart and McMahan were California abalone canners. Also involved, among others, were savings and loan group president Robert Lynell and aquatic expert James Houtz.

Their plan was to drag a decommissioned World War II freighter, the SS Jalisco, to Cortes Bank and scuttle it in a shallow area. Afterwards, they would haul rocks and even garbage out to the Bank, to create a terra firma from which sweet, fleshy abalone could be harvested. And they would rule their new nation of Abalonia. In October 1966, Taggart gave the verbal equivalent of a shrug to the Los Angeles Times. “I know it sounds fantastic,” he said, “But we’ve consulted experts in international law and they say there’s nothing to prevent us from starting our own country if we want to.”


  1. Lu An Li says:

    This was tried. Minerva Reef. Ran a cruise ship aground on a dredged sandy area of the South Pacific. An independent nation operating according to Libertarian principles. Eco-tourism, light manufacturing, minting precious metal coins, gambling casino. Lasted three days and then the local islanders took the place over.

    How about growing cultured pearls?

Leave a Reply