Saturday was one of those days when everything just goes right. I’m still mapping out each step to take to pull the galley out of the Excalibur, and think I have a good checklist put together to do it, but I want a second person with me to assist by vacuuming up the wood and fiberglass shavings as we cut it out of the hull. Alex is the logical choice for the second person, but he had plans on Saturday morning, so I took a little ride.
I haven’t mentioned it much here because I consider this a sailing blog, but in the spirit of giving up a little bit about myself every once in a while, I’ll talk briefly about my other hobby. I ride motorcycles. I commute on them, tour, and ride for pleasure.
A while back I began coaching Pop Warner football and coached the line for four seasons with the team that Alex played on. Getting back into football at a level way beyond that of a casual fan awakened a desire to compete that had been pretty well dormant for the twenty years or so since I had played . There aren’t many venues available for mid-40s men to resume a career playing football and my body wouldn’t last very long back on a field taking and giving hits, so I had to find something else.
It turns out a guy can still compete against himself using a motorcycle.
The Ironbutt Organization – www.ironbutt.com – recognizes individual achievements in long distance riding and organizes rides in which participants gain points by efficiently navigating and riding from point to point. I got involved a few years ago when a friend and I rode from Westminster, California to Benson, Arizona and back in about nineteen hours. That first ride totaled 1078 miles. I completed it on a 2006 Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom that I owned at the time. Rides start at 1000 miles or more in 24 hours or less and grow from there. Another popular ride length is 1500 miles and riders can complete it in 36 hours, or 24 hours if the rider can get the right combination of route, weather, luck and drive. The rides can be as short as a single 24 hour period or as long as ten or more days for the really advanced riders.
The rides are physically challenging, but the mental aspect is much tougher. The rider has to stay on point and continue to push on mile after mile. Preparation is very important and most riders know exactly where they’ll stop for fuel, food and rest as the ride progresses. A few days before I leave for a ride I begin to wonder how tough it’ll be and will often think back eight or ten hours in the current day and wonder if I could ride for that time straight. I’ll wonder if I can do it.
Once I’m on the move, though, I don’t think about the total time on the bike. I push from one fuel stop to the next, never thinking ahead further than a single stop, usually not more than three hours away. The first third of the ride is exciting and relatively easy. The middle third can be the toughest, and usually the last third is spent talking to myself to stay alert, but having an end in sight gives the motivation necessary to push through to the end.
I’ve completed multiple 1000 mile rides and one 1500 miles ride in 24 hours – some solo and some with another rider. I sold my DL1000 shortly after the first ride to purchase a more touring-oriented motorcycle and completed a 1000 and the 1500 mile ride on it, a 2012 Kawasaki Voyager. After I abandoned a subsequent 1500 mile ride on the Voyager, I decided that in spite of it being a nice bike, it wasn’t the right bike. I traded it in on my current ride, a 2013 Honda Goldwing. It is the right bike. It does everything I want it to do and is by far my favorite bike.
In early June I’m planning to ride to Denver, Colorado for two days of Lexus meetings. The distance from Westminster to Denver is just over 1000 miles.
So, with a few hours to kill on Saturday morning, I mounted my camera to the bike and took off for a little ride through Long Beach, up to Torrance Airport, around Palos Verdes, through San Pedro, across the Vincent Thomas and Gerald Desmond Bridges, and used the 710 and 405 freeways to get back home in Westminster. See the video below for an accelerated recap of my ride. Don’t blink.
2013 Goldwing–for rides short or long
Alex got home in the early part of the afternoon and I asked him if he wanted to get in a sail that afternoon. He said, “Sure.”
I explained to him that I wanted for him to be on the tiller as much as possible and start getting a feel for what the boat was doing as we changed direction and sail trim and how it affected the experience of being on the helm. A year ago he would have said that he didn’t want to, that he was good with just going along for the ride and working a winch a little. Now, at 15, he was good with controlling the boat on his own.
We worked as a team getting the Excalibur ready to sail, and were ready to back out of the slip less than 30 minutes after arriving at Alamitos Bay. A slip neighbor came over and asked us if we wanted him to help back us out. I was happy for his help and Alex steered us up the slip row out towards the channel. On the way out we had to dodge a radio-controlled sailboat whose owner didn’t realize we were approaching his little boat.
We gave him right-of-way because he was under sail alone and we were being pushed out by the Tohatsu.
In the channel, we dodged a number of one-design boats heading back into the Long Beach Yacht Club slips after their race and once clear, raised our main, released the topping lift, unfurled the genoa and shut down the outboard.
The weather last week up until Friday evening was miserable. Most of Southern California was near or above 100 degrees and Santa Ana winds blew from the north across the desert and into the bowl that houses most of Los Angeles and Orange County.
The combo of the hot weather and winds created the perfect environment for the local pyromaniacs to crawl out of their basements and set fires. Dozens of homes were lost in Southern California and San Diego County had more fire activity than they’ve seen in a long time. Most of the fires were set intentionally.
On Friday night, though, the winds shifted and started coming in from the west and the temperature dropped dramatically. The west winds gave us an opportunity to tack out of the harbor and into the Catalina Channel. We would have been able to sail a single tack for a long time, tack once and return to the harbor downwind, but that wouldn’t have given Alex much of an opportunity to practice different points of sail, so we worked on tacks, the occasional gybe, and made our way back to Alamitos Bay.
Alex on the tiller:
We decided to check up on the Excaliburs we discovered last year and work our way through the bay. Because the weather was so nice, the surface was covered by kayakers and people on stand-up paddleboards. Several times we had to tack away from one of them in order to avoid running them over but still maintain some type of wind that would allow us forward progress.
We tacked onto the course used by one of the Gondola pilots and crept up behind him. Our speed was greater than his. The driver continually looked over his left shoulder, growing increasingly concerned. We tried to acknowledge that we knew he was there, but the sails and rigging blocked enough of his view, that I don’t think he did.
When we were close enough for him to admire the newly-finished wood on the Excalibur, we tacked away again, setting us up for a line close to the dark green Excalibur. It continues to be neglected. The tarps that were fairly fresh the last time we saw her were beginning to shred allowing loose strands to orbit above the cabin in the breeze. It did have a few features that I didn’t notice the last time I went looking for it. Typically, the Excalibur has a single thru-hull above the waterline on the stern for the bilge pump exit. This Excalibur had two. In addition, it also had what looked like an engine exhaust port very low on the stern, barely above the waterline. To my knowledge, no Excaliburs were equipped or fitted with an inboard engine. Could this be one?
The navy blue Excalibur remained tied to the same dock as before, only this time it was covered with additional tarps. It does not appear that it has been used since we saw it last, either.
The sun was falling to the horizon and we decided to head in. I asked Alex if he wanted to sail to the slip rather than lower the sails and motor in. He didn’t really understand the significance of us doing that, so he shrugged his shoulders and said he was fine with that. We furled in the genoa and made our way to the slip row under main sail alone.
The breeze was about 5 knots, steady, and directly on our stern. With the main sheeted way out, we crept up to the entrance of our slip row. The same group of men that were piloting the radio-controlled sailboat earlier had their little boat out again at the mouth of the slips but this time saw us coming and steered their boat well clear of us.
I had told Alex that since we wouldn’t have an effective way of stopping, it was important that he be ready to jump off the starboard deck onto the dock and get us slowed down enough to prevent us from crashing into the dock head. Alex stood up on the cabin top and one of the men gave him a “thumbs up” as we passed by them. A little further down the row two men were in the cockpit of another sailboat and one hit the other in the arm and said, “Hey. They’re sailing in. They’re sailing in.”
I told Alex that I would be turning the boat from port to starboard several times to de-power the main and create drag to slow us down a little before turning into the slip. He nodded that he understood and held onto the outer starboard shroud, ready to jump off as soon as we turned in to the slip. I made the turn in and released the main sheet to further de-power the main. Alex jumped off the deck and had us stopped almost immediately. He walked us forward and we tied the Excalibur to the dock with the lifelines we had left on the cleats.
One of the spectators walked over and said, “Very impressive. Nice job, boys. I’d’a slammed it into the end wall. Very impressive.”
“I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened,” I replied. “ But, thanks.”
With the boat tied down and the main still sheeted way out to port, we readied to lower the sail. When I raised the sail, I’d coiled the halyard line and hung it from a mast cleat. I partially uncoiled the line and pulled the main down a little to begin flaking it over the boom. Alex was trying to do as much of it as he could, but because the sails are still relatively new, they are very stiff, and don’t flake very well.
Alex struggled and asked if we could switch places. I began arranging from the clew and Alex pulled down on the luff. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the still-coiled halyard begin making its way up the mast.
“Whoa. Stop,” I said to Alex.
It was too late. The coil was several feet over our heads.
“Oh boy,” I said. I looked around us to see how many of the previously impressed spectators were pointing at us and laughing. None appeared to notice yet.
“Quick, Alex. Get down in the cabin and grab the pole with the hook on the end.”
He couldn’t find it at first and I attempted to look casual as people walked by on the sidewalk 60 feet to port. One of the men with the radio-controlled sailboat was making his way towards us. Alex was still below and I made eye contact with the man as he got closer, willing myself not to look up and give away what had happened to us.
He might not have noticed.
“You guys looked good out there. The boat’s real pretty,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. “It was a great afternoon.”
He walked away and I thought I was in the clear until he turned around.
“If you need to borrow my pole to retrieve that halyard, let me know…”