At the end of October, the backlog of cargo ships off the coast of Southern California — all queued up to unload containers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles — reached an all-time high. The Biden administration had already announced that the L.A. port would begin operating around the clock to alleviate the bottleneck, but these snarls are supposed to last into 2022. On board the hundreds of vessels currently idle at sea, waiting days or weeks to dock, are crews that would dearly love to get home.
In the meantime, of course, they’ve grown incredibly bored.
“We figure those guys stuck on the ships could use some live entertainment,” Jason Sereno, a writer, director, YouTuber and frontman of local band the Get Lost Losers, texted me on a Wednesday. He had something big in the works for that weekend.
Through a friend who co-produced a forthcoming rockumentary about the group, also titled The Get Lost Losers, I had learned of their plan to serenade the sailors aboard the boats sitting beyond Long Beach. I had my doubts as to how it would work, but either way, the notion was inspiring. I wanted to witness the effort. And so, on a bright Sunday morning, I drove the hour south to Alamitos Bay Marina, where I found a small yacht called the Tivua. At the prow, Sereno was setting up amplifiers with his guitarist, Anthony Marks.
They both greeted me warmly and said how excited they were to get on the water. Everything seemed to be going to plan. Except Sereno hadn’t learned the lyrics to “Come Sail Away” by the arena-rock band Styx. “He didn’t do his homework,” Marks told me.
“You know, I listened to it a few times, and I thought, ‘It’s just not my thing,’” Sereno explained.
For sound check, they played a different cover: Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay.”
Inside the yacht, I met the owner and captain, Richie, who would occasionally pass steering duties to his brother, Charlie — the pair have an Instagram account devoted to their hobby, with the handle @boatbruddas. Also aboard were Charlie’s fiancée, Jessica (they had to be back ashore that afternoon for engagement photos) and two actress-models, Cody (who features in the Get Lost Losers film) and Dare. The three women were to get on the top deck in bikinis to wave posters that read “Free Concert,” “Songs for the Supply Chain” and “We ♡ You” while Sereno and Marks performed.
At that moment, though, everyone was drinking mimosas. I had one myself and befriended Jessica and Charlie’s husky, Minka, who was also along for the voyage.
Shortly past noon, we left the dock, with Richie warning us that the current winds might knock us around somewhat. Not far past the jetty, the outlines of dozens of cargo ships became visible in the bluish haze above the water. They stretched from here all the way to the ports 10 miles west. Up closer, we could see these boats, which dwarfed the Tivua, rolling in gentle swells.
The first we approached, A FUJI, was out of Singapore. We couldn’t raise them on the radio — likely because no one needed to be in the wheelhouse while they sat anchored — so Sereno simply got on the mic and started the show as Marks began to shred. Scheduling and logistics had kept the band’s drummer, Christophe Zajac-Denek, from joining the trip (it was tricky enough to stay upright on the tilting deck while playing guitar, let alone set up a full percussion kit), but the two men settled comfortably into power duo mode.
“The Get Lost Losers are here for you!” Sereno proclaimed. “Do you wanna rock?” Noticing a man high up on the ship’s stern, he added, “We got one! This is for you out there. Do you like rock and roll?”
If the guy answered, we couldn’t hear it. But the soulful strains of “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” clearly reached him, as he took out a phone and started to film the guys. Sereno had told me they’d picked the song to remind the crew members they had someone waiting for them back home, though the lines “Look like nothin’s gonna change / Everything still remains the same” would surely have additional resonance for seafarers contending with extreme monotony.
From there, we began to tour the area, and although no ships replied to our radio hailings, the first bars of a song always brought out at least one curious listener, and sometimes as many as 10. The only ones unmoved by the music, it seemed, were the seals that slept on the bows of the largest ships. Sereno and Marks cycled through a repertoire that included two original tunes, “Get Lost Loser” and “Fucking Like It’s 1970,” as well as Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and SoCal staples like Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?” and Sublime’s “What I Got.”
They even pulled off Styx’s “Come Sail Away” — with Marks feeding Sereno the lyrics — though after the second take on it, Sereno once again affirmed that he “can’t do that tenor shit.”
The audiences waved, recorded and, in some cases, were able to shout down how long they’d been lingering outside the ports. Eight days, reported one man on the Volans, a container ship out of Liberia. A woman working on a Holland America Cruise ship, empty of any passengers, said she’d been out for three months.
“We have not forgotten you!” Sereno yelled between songs. “We support our brothers and sisters in the working class!” Occasionally, he’d ask if anyone had a request, but it appeared that people were just happy to hear whatever was on the setlist.
The tour was going so well that the time to turn back came all too soon. Although some of that feeling had to do with a bottle of homemade sangria that made the rounds at some point.
As we motored toward the coast, however, I discovered a new appreciation for my land lubber’s life, the flexible schedule and freedom of movement I always take for granted. I also had a stronger sense of how petty our complaints about the supply chain really are — the minor inconveniences of late packages or a sold-out favorite brand are nothing compared to the labor — and, in this case, tedious isolation — it takes to support our on-demand lifestyles.
For their part, Sereno and Marks were thankful to everyone who’d helped them successfully serenade those workers. And while they’d banked good promotional content for their band and movie, it was connecting with people cut off from the rest of the world that they most enjoyed.
“We saw some smiling faces up there,” Sereno said. “I’m just happy we could brighten someone’s day.”
“And if nothing else, you got a boat ride out of it,” Marks joked.
Very true. On the other hand, I still have that Styx song stuck in my head.