A while back Alex and I took a few hours and just sailed around Alamitos Bay. It gave us a chance to sail on several tacks as we worked our way from one corner of the Marina to the other. Because it curves around in a roughly “U” shape, it provides good winds most of the time but requires tacking into a headwind in at least two areas for every lap taken.
I found a listing of known Excalibur 26 sailboats and their locations, and Alamitos Bay was supposed to have at least one other. We’d looked for it before and hadn’t found it, but we figured it was hidden in one of the basins that’s difficult to see into.
As Alex and I cruised around, we’d switch positions and responsibilities. If he’d be releasing the sail on a tack, I’d pick up the sail on the opposite winch and hand him the tiller. He’d complete the turn and I’d trim the sail. On the next tack, I’d take back the tiller and he’d trim the sail. A few times we’d try to push upwind too sharply and have to perform a sudden gybe to keep from back-filling the sails and getting pushed backwards. It’s fun for both of us and forces us to work hard at progress in light, sometimes unfavorable winds.
We were passed by a larger sailboat coming into the harbor under motor alone and Alex commented how nice the bigger boat was and asked something about the configuration of a ketch. He didn’t call it a ketch, but it gave me a chance to tell him why it was set up that way and ask him if he knew that we were sailing a sloop.
A few times Alex would see a boat that looked similar to the Excalibur and ask if it was one and I’d tell him no. He finally asked what to look for so he could be sure. I started to tell him that he should look for three small, rectangular ports on the sides of the cabinhouse. The front window would be smaller than the other two.
“What about the sword?” he asked.
“The sword?” I asked back.
“Yeah, the sword on the side of the boat in front of the numbers.”
I was trying to make it a lot harder than it needed to be. We looked for different things to identify boats but the sword molded into the hull side was the single most unique thing to look for on the Excalibur. I praised him for thinking of it and told him that was the best way I could think of.
Just then, he pointed to our starboard side and said, “Look, Dad, is that one, there?”
Sure enough, right as we were speaking of one, we passed a navy blue Excalibur. It was a little rough, and it was slipped in a private dock at one of the multi-million dollar homes. A tarp was placed over the boom and spread to the toe rail to offer some protection from the rain for the cockpit and cabintop. It looked like the main sail was removed from the boom and the forestay had a foil installed but no head sail. There was a fair amount of growth on the underside that was beginning to be visible at, and slightly above, the waterline. It had been turned bow out so it faced us. All of the other boats nearby were facing stern out.
We passed it and made a mental note of where it was. I wanted to see if I could locate it on Google Earth and possibly figure out which home it belonged to since about three houses seemed to be near the start of the gangway. We both felt pretty good that we had finally found the other Excalibur and thought it was cool that our search was over. Now we had to figure out how we could find the owner without appearing too stalker-ish.
Fast forward to the next weekend. We had some plans cancel at the last minute and it left us the second half of the afternoon to go sailing. The weather was perfect. The wind was blowing out of the south at 10 knots, sometimes gusting to 15 knots and the air temperature was about 70 degrees. Five of us went down to the boat for another harbor cruise.
It was a little tight in the cockpit but we were able to position ourselves so we all fit and motored out of the basin. Alex took the tiller and I went forward and raised the main. When I returned, Kayln and Justin unfurled the genoa and we were underway. The wind was perfect for a slow, gentle cruise and we made our way around the Marina.
Very near the navy Excalibur, we spotted another one. This one was dark green and was in similar shape to the other. Both were neglected, but both floated proudly in the water, bow turned skyward like an Excalibur does.
Both boats were tied into private docks to houses on the water. We’ve plotted out the houses that likely own each boat, but haven’t tried to locate the owners yet.
Kayln’s had three boyfriends to date. Fortunately, I’ve liked all three, and because I think she’s been given a somewhat positive example of how men should treat women, she’s attracted young men who treat her respectfully.
Getting to know a new boyfriend isn’t easy for me. I want to like the kid, but I also remember what I was like as a teenager, and know that several fathers probably didn’t like or trust me with their daughter. I have that voice in the back of my head telling me all of the things he’s trying to do and it’s telling me that my angelic daughter can only hold him off for so long. I know. My guilt. My problem.
I was introduced to Justin and we talked lightly a few times but he didn’t really know me and I didn’t know him very well. I knew that he was studying to be a technician. I knew he played and coached football. I knew he liked muscle cars.
About the same time, I was interviewing Shipyards looking for the right one to paint the Excalibur. I would have preferred to find one in the Long Beach area just for convenience sake. I found one and asked for an appointment to take a look at the boat. The representative did not meet at the boat at the time we agreed upon and 30 minutes later, I left and returned to work. Later that day he called me and said he had been held up and not able to make our appointment and he wanted to know if I could come back. My work schedule wouldn’t allow that, so I told him that he was welcome to look at the boat himself and put together a quote. I gave him a very specific list of things I wanted to do and had a figure in mind as to what it might cost.
At some point he did go down to my boat because I found two t-shirts he left for his shipyard inside the cabin of the Excalibur, but I never heard back from him with a quote. I tried others. One shipyard representative told me he was going out of the country for a month and that I should try to call him back when he returned. Others seemed reluctant to take on a small, simple sailboat.
Finally, I called South Coast Shipyard in Newport Beach and spoke to Eric. He seemed interested in getting additional work to his yard and promptly put together a quote for the work I wanted performed. The quote was about what I expected it to be but was somewhat open ended because they would have to access things once the boat was out of the water. I asked when I should plan on shuttling the boat from Long Beach to Newport and he was able to take it within two weeks.
I expected a six to eight week turnaround time. Eric informed me that it would be done in three to four weeks maximum. I didn’t believe him but wasn’t too worried about it. It was the middle of winter and I wouldn’t miss out on much sailing. I did need to bring it on a weekday, however, and so would have to coordinate a day off work.
So, I could easily single hand the Excalibur down to Newport Harbor. It’s usually only a three hour sail, usually with favorable winds and tides, and Long Beach and Newport are almost within sight of each other on clear days. I wanted to have a second person with me to coordinate transportation at both harbors and assist where necessary in case we had to squeeze into a tight dock or moor somewhere near South Coast Shipyard. I couldn’t take either of the kids because they were both in school so I thought about asking one of my friends or neighbors. Instead, I asked Kayln to see if Justin was interested in going along for the ride. He was.
I got his cell number and set up the day. We’d leave in the morning, grab some breakfast, drop a car off at South Coast Shipyard, check in with Eric, drive another car up to Long Beach, sail down and drop off the Excalibur at South Coast, drive back up to Long Beach and pick up the other car. It would give us plenty of time to get know each other.
The weather was forecasted as light and variable winds without much of a swell. Justin met me at my house and I gave him a rundown of the plans and told him we’d eat at Norm’s on the way down. I figured I could load him up on a full plate of greasy breakfast food and then get him onto a little boat bobbing up and down on the water and see what he was made of. He must have been thinking the same thing, because he ate relatively light and nothing that could make him too sick.
The conversation was a little awkward at first. Neither of us are big talkers and neither was making small talk just to make small talk. I figured since he didn’t have a lot of boating experience that keeping the conversation on cars would be safest. The problem is, I’m a Ford guy—have been for a long time. Justin’s a Mopar guy—that runs in his family. We talked as much as we could and things began to lighten as the food came and went. I told him a little about the cars I had—the ’65 Mustang that I shouldn’t have sold and the ’71 Pontiac I loved but had the worst luck with. I didn’t want to control the conversation and sound like a know-it-all so I asked as many question as I could. He shared his build experiences with his Fury Wagon and daily driver pickup and by the time we left I think he was at least comfortable enough to not think I was luring him out into the ocean so I could discard his body.
We drove down to South Coast Shipyard and checked in with Eric. He was helpful in getting us a parking spot that would be good for the day and avoid parking tickets and he showed us where to dock the boat when we got in. He explained that a boat currently docked in a slip would be moved out and the slip would be open for me.
Justin and I got in my truck and drove to Shoreline Marina. I kept checking the weather for an indication that some winds might be picking up, but the forecast for almost no wind was still valid. We packed the few things we needed and mounted the Tohatsu in the well for a trip that was likely to be 100% via propeller. We motored out of the Marina and into Long Beach Harbor to smooth water and no wind. I raised the sails and hoped for just enough of a puff to shape the sails but for most of the trip we heard nothing but the constant drone of the outboard.
Justin took the tiller for much of the trip and even though it didn’t require much input to keep us going straight, I figured it was slightly more interesting since we were just pushing along the glassy smooth surface. Even past noon, we had no wind to speak of and absolutely no swell.
A glass smooth Pacific Ocean:
We approached Newport a couple hours later and boat and wildlife activity picked up. While we saw no sea lions near Long Beach, at the entrance buoy in Newport we saw dozens. Scattered single or small pods of porpoises passed nearby. We entered Newport amongst a number of returning fishing boats and they brought with them flocks of seagulls.
I directed Justin into Newport and had him steer us up the channel as I lowered the main sail and furled the jib. I had planned on arriving by 3 pm when South Coast Shipyard was still open. We were going to be cutting it close on time but were still making good progress. When we arrived at the yard, the gates were closed and the boat that was supposed to be moved was still in the slip we were heading to. I placed a phone call and within a few minutes the boat was moved and I moved into the slip.
We secured the Excalibur and removed the outboard from the well.
Eric had said they would have the boat out of the water the next day and by 10am I received a call telling me the boat was on the hard and that I could come down and take pictures.
Out of the water for the first time in years:
With the Excalibur in the air, we could go over a number of things to clarify what work would be performed over the next month. While the general condition of the boat bottom was good, there were a number of blisters at, or just below, the waterline that required repair. In addition, we marked the thru hulls that were going to be cut out and glassed over. The cockpit drain and thru hull ball valve were replaced, the number of potential leaks from four to one.
Bagged up, prep work complete:
Work progressed quickly and before I knew it, prep work was done and the paint was being applied to the hull. The Excalibur was by far the smallest boat in the yard at the time but Eric said it attracted a lot of attention and many compliments. I chose a brighter, slightly darker shade of blue than the original and had the stripe repainted in gold. The bottom paint was the same common dark blue that most boats with blue bottoms have.
While I didn’t really believe it would happen, after 3 and a half weeks Eric called to let me know that the boat was ready to be put back into the water and, due to limited nearby dock space, asked that I pick it up as soon as I could. Fortunately, I was able to pick her up and sail her back home the next day.
The trip north (actually west, but it feels north) back to Long Beach started out as still and lifeless as the trip down. The day before, winds had blown from the south at 15 knots. We motored out of the harbor and made our turn for home. Fortunately, within 30 minutes of leaving Newport, we felt the wind pick up and were able to turn the motor off. We sailed the rest of the way home in enough wind to maintain 5 knots on smooth seas.
The boat looks great and really stands out in a marina full of white boats. The plan is to repaint the cabin top and cockpit and perform some glass repairs and modifications in 2015. Till then, we should be good to go.
Except for the hundred other things I’ll need to do between now and then.
As part of the slip rental agreement with Dana Point Harbor, every boat is required to have a safety inspection performed within 30 days of arrival. Like Long Beach, the personnel in the office are very pleasant and accommodating. They were easy to work with in setting up a slip and a few days before I was to arrive, they handled all of my paperwork and I knew I had a home to come to after moving the Excalibur up from San Diego.
Because I hadn’t planned on using the boat much the spring after I arrived, I removed almost everything from the boat to give me more room to accomplish some projects. A little over thirty days went by and I received a call from the slip office reminding me that I still needed to get an inspection done on the boat per our earlier agreement.
“It’s not really something to worry about. It’s a simple inspection to make sure your boat is safe and is performed by volunteers in the harbor,” she explained.
I looked over the list of names that I was given and called a few and left messages. One called back and said he no longer volunteered and another had moved out of town. The third call I got back was from a man named Frank and he was available almost immediately. We made an appointment for the following Saturday morning and agreed to meet at 0900.
I didn’t think much of the inspection throughout the week. My boat was safe. It had just transported me over two days without issue. I expected “a simple inspection to make sure my boat was safe” by a volunteer, another boat owner, and was completely unprepared for what it really was.
Frank, a Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteer, met me at the gangway entrance gate. Where I expected a man in shorts and topsiders, what I greeted was completely different – another story. He wore his blue uniform with shiny black boots. He had an un-inflated air chamber PFD around his neck and waist, held a clipboard, and introduced himself by his first name. My idea of the inspection shifted from that of a simple look over of things to that of being boarded at sea by a huge orange cutter.
“My name’s Todd,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
I paused before walking down the gangway.
“Frank, I want to apologize. If this goes the way I’m thinking it will, this is gonna be a waste of your time. I expected something different and am not prepared for this this morning.”
“What makes you think that?” he asked.
“If the office would have told me to prepare the boat like I was going to sea, I would have. But I haven’t, and I’m not ready. I’m sorry.”
“Well,” he said. “We can do it anyway. I like the opportunity to teach, and if you’re open to it, you might learn something.”
“All right. But please understand, I’m really organized and this is kind of embarrassing for me.”
He just looked at me and gave me a crooked half-smile as we walked past several boats on the way to the Excalibur.
“Now, which one’s your boat?”
“The blue one, down on the right.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I came down here earlier just to get a look at things….Stop here.”
We stopped. I knew he wasn’t going to comment on her clean lines or say she stood out because she wasn’t white like most of the other boats slipped nearby.
“There’s a problem right off the bat. Do you see it?”
While I knew that my boat wasn’t perfect, from 100 feet away, I wondered what he was referring to.
“Regulations say that the vessel state registration ID numbers have to be permanently attached, three inches in height or greater and of a contrasting color. Yours appear to be three inches, I guess they’re technically contrasting….if you consider shiny blue over dull blue contrasting. They can’t fall off, so I guess they’re permanent.”
I couldn’t disagree with him. I knew that I needed new CF stickers and had planned on buying a new set before leaving the harbor again. The number could be made out, however, and that allowed me to justify moving it that way to Dana Point.
“For your boat, you should really have black or maybe white. You can buy lettering at a hardware store or have a set made.”
“I know,” I started. “I’m planning on having a set made up before I go anywhere. Anything else wrong from here?”
“No,” he said.
I led, and Frank followed me the rest of the way. I could hear and feel his boots clopping along behind me. I’d wished I’d done a lot of things differently and been ready for something like this. I knew if I had set up the boat like I was travelling, I would pass whatever he threw at me. Instead, I felt inadequate in my old clothes and tennis shoes while he walked along behind me looking crisp, official and diligent.
When we got to the bow I saw a mixture of dew and dirt that made the cabin top and decks look really dirty. I’d wished I had come down early to wash the Excalibur. I unclipped the starboard lifeline and climbed into the cockpit.
“Permission to come aboard?” Frank asked.
Nope, I thought. I still have some control over this. You’ve caught me with my pants down and it’s completely my fault, but if I don’t want you on my boat, I can say no, and you can stand there and watch me stand in my boat.
“Absolutely,” I said.
“My boots are non-marking,” Frank said.
He sat on the cockpit bench, opened his clipboard and arranged an official looking form onto the surface.
“Now,” he said. “May I see your ownership and registration documents?”
“They’re not here.”
“They’re not. You do know that you are supposed to keep them on board at all times, don’t you?”
“I do know that. And I do have them all. I keep them in a notebook with all of my documents together. I keep the notebook in a back pack that has all of my safety gear. The back pack’s at home.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “We’ll move onto lights. Please turn on your lights and show me what lights you have and explain configurations in different situations.”
“My battery isn’t on board. It’s at home on the charger. Right now I’m bringing it back and forth whenever I go out. The outboard has an alternator, so it charges when I run the engine, but I don’t keep the boat plugged into shore power and I charge the battery at home.”
“Okay, so navigation lights are a ‘No.’ Can you explain to me what lights you require?”
I explained the lights the Excalibur was equipped with and their function and got pretty much everything correct. The boat is not equipped with a mid-mast steaming light and Frank explained that I should plan on adding one to be legal if I was operate at night under motor alone, especially when entering a large port. He double-checked the requirements to make sure that a steaming light was necessary, but when he could not find a definitive answer, suggested to do it anyway. We studied the regulations further and found that if I changed my light switches, and had the bow nav lights on one switch, the stern light on another, and the 360 mast light on a third, I would be legal. When steaming at night, I could turn off the stern light and use the bow nav lights and 360 mast light and be legal.
“How about a sound producing device?”
“I have two air horns and a whistle in my back pack.”
“Your back pack that’s at home?” he asked.
“Okay, onto Personal Flotation Devices. Do you have any of those on board?”
“Yes,” I said. “I have several here, including a child size and my inflatable.”
I pulled out the pack of PFDs and set them out for his inspection. I had eight in all. After a brief inspection of each one, Frank finally checked a “Yes” on his document. The flare kit was in the locker next to the PFDs, so I set it aside.
“Onto fire extinguishers. Do you have one or more?”
The fire extinguisher was set into the sink, not mounted onto a bulkhead. Frank inspected it, determined that it wasn’t discharged or expired and said, “You’re supposed to have this mounted. The reason isn’t just because it should be mounted, it’s so you know where it is in an emergency and you’ll know it will always be there. You knew where it was and got to it quickly, but mounted would be better. Also, it’s not listed here, but I’m going to suggest that it’s mounted in a place that’s near the cabin entrance so you can use it in the cabin, even if a fire’s started somewhere below. Some people mount it so far into the cabin that a fire could get between them and the extinguisher. That’s not good.”
“I understand,” I said.
“Visual Distress Signals. What do you have for inland signals? Do you have a flag or a light source?”
“Yes. I have a flag and a flashlight in my back pack.”
“Okay, no visual VSDs on board. Let’s take a look at the flare kit.”
I opened the flare kit and presented its contents to Frank.
“Oh, Todd. This isn’t gonna work. These look like highway flares and they might be as old as the boat. These other flares are correct and would meet minimum standards, but they’re expired. See the date, here….and here. Not badly expired, but still expired. Do you have any other flares?”
“Yes. In my back pack. I have a flare gun kit.”
“Is this the same back pack?”
“Okay,” he said. “VDS is a ‘no’.”
He checked another box.
“Ventilation. You have an outboard, right?”
“Where do you keep your fuel tank?”
“Next to the engine on the stern, near the rail.”
“Okay. No inboard. No built-in fuel tanks. Do you keep fuel below?” he asked.
“Okay. That looks good. That covers ventilation, backfire and fuel checks.”
“What do you have for anchors onboard?”
I pulled out both of my anchors and showed them to Frank. I identified the anchor line and told him I had 150 feet of line and forty feet of chain rode.
“I didn’t have room in my back pack for these,” I said, trying to crack a joke.
Frank looked up at me, paused, and said, “Nope. I guess you wouldn’t.”
“Do you keep any other method of propulsion aboard. To be legal, you’re fine with the outboard and sails, but I have to ask.”
“Yes. I’ve got an oar in the port cockpit locker,” I told him.
“Okay. How about a bilge pump or other dewatering device?”
I showed him the manual bilge pump, demonstrated that it worked and then pointed out my back up hand pump and then a bucket.
“Good,” he said. “No electric pump?”
“Not currently,” I answered. “I’ve considered it and will probably add one, but I’d rather have a working pump that I work rather than one that relies on a battery that could go dead.”
“Sound thinking. For a lot people, the difference between sinking and not sinking was a bucket and a sponge. Now, the electrical system seems okay. Pretty sparse, but okay. Circuit protection on the switches, but you might consider a fuse panel near the battery bank as well as the protected switches. It passes, though.”
He checked a few boxes with a “yes.”
“You don’t have a heater in the cabin, do you?”
“How about a head?”
“The fixed head was removed and I have a porta-potty in its place. There are no holding tanks on board.”
“Okay,” Frank said. “Almost done.”
He stood up in the cockpit and looked into the cabin one more time.
“Do you have a radio?”
“Yes,” I said. “I use a hand held. It’s in my back pack.”
“Hmmm. The back pack. You use a hand held?”
“For now,” I said. “When I re-do the interior wiring I plan to put in a permanent unit.”
Frank and I spent the rest of the morning talking. He quizzed me on a few things but the bulk of our conversation was just talking. We talked about the coast and Dana Point and a little about my trip up from San Diego. He gave good advice and presented it in a way that was not preaching–just sharing experiences he’d had and related them to how they might help me.
I did learn some new things and felt like the whole experience was actually made better by me not being prepared for his inspection. If I’d had everything in perfect order before he came, we could have easily slid through the inspection and he’d have given me the results and then moved on to whatever he had planned for the rest of his day. Instead, it opened us up to other discussions that really did help me.
I didn’t pass the inspection and didn’t get the CG sticker that I wanted, but did know exactly what I needed to do to pass it and used the knowledge gained that morning to re-do my paperwork and checklists to more closely match the one Frank used that morning and I feel better prepared each time I use it before I pull out of my slip.
As part of my move to Long Beach, I had to schedule an inspection of the boat with the Harbormaster Office staff. One of the people I talked to was very unclear explaining the purpose and timing of the inspection. She was very pleasant, but unclear.
As she explained it to me, I would have to schedule my move so that I would dock the boat at the Harbormaster dock upon arrival in Long Beach. Because I was moving the boat on a holiday weekend, the staffing necessary to perform the inspection would not be available until Monday morning. I asked if I could come down a few days before the move to complete the necessary slip rental paperwork and present my registration and insurance information on the Excalibur. I was told that was not the correct way to handle things and that the paperwork and the inspection would have to be performed at the same time.
I explained that I was uneasy vacating the Dana Point slip, making changes to the boat’s insurance, and moving the boat a day up the coast without some written agreement that I would have a place to come to at the end of our trip. Because it was a holiday weekend, and because the slip had already been held for me, she explained that I could move into the slip the weekend before and then move the boat to the Harbormaster dock on Monday for processing of paperwork and inspection.
This seemed reasonable, and made me feel less like I’d have to anchor in Long Beach Harbor and blow up the dingy to get to shore, so I rolled with this explanation. The move went successfully and despite the Columbia 30 in my slip, by Sunday the Excalibur was tied into her slip and the outboard was home, flushed and resting in the garage on its stand.
On Monday, I called the Harbormaster Office to confirm my appointment for 11:30 am for inspection.
“Hi, this is Todd Lipps, I was just calling in to confirm my appointment for later this morning.”
“Yes, Mr. Lipps, you’re on the books for 11:30. Where are you now?”
“I’m at work, I’m planning on coming down there on my lunch.”
“If you’re at work,” she said. “Where’s your boat? Shouldn’t you be on your way here in your boat?”
“The boat’s in its slip.”
“My slip. The one I’m renting.”
“Why is it there? You’re not authorized to have it there. We never let a boat into the harbor until after the paperwork and inspection are done.”
“I was told I could bring it up this weekend, park it in the slip and complete the other stuff today. Because of the holiday weekend.”
“No. That’s not how we do it.”
I was taken aback. “Uhhh…I wanted to take care of the paperwork several days ago but I was told I couldn’t do that until I got the boat here. I was told since the slip was already held for me that I could put it there temporarily.”
“No. That’s not correct.”
“Hmmmm. Well, I’ll take responsibility for the mis-communication. I’m sorry. I’ll be down shortly to take care of things. Rather than meet at the Harbormaster dock, can we do the inspection in my slip?”
“Why do you need to do that?” she asked.
“Well, I don’t have the engine in the boat. I took it out yesterday and have it at home.”
“Your boat doesn’t have an engine? Your boat is supposed to run to get it to the dock for the inspection.”
“That’s why I asked if it was okay to check the boat in the slip. The boat has an engine. It’s an outboard and I took it home yesterday to flush it.”
“Well, you’re going to have to get it to us to inspect it. Can you get your engine running in time for your appointment? We can’t push you back today and you’re not supposed to be here without the paperwork completed.”
“It’s not a problem,” I said. “It only takes a minute to put it in the well. I’ll motor the boat over to you.”
“Are you going to be late?”
“No,” I said. “I’ll be there.”
I’m not repeating this conversation in an attempt to put down anybody in the Long Beach Harbormaster Office. Everyone was polite up to this point. I hadn’t followed their procedures, but I had been told a set of directions that seemed reasonable and attempted to follow them as well as I could. It seemed counter-intuitive not to get as much of the preliminary things out of the way before the boat was brought to Long Beach. It seemed as if Long Beach would have benefitted from knowing as much about me as possible before entering into a slip rental agreement. Am I who I said I was in the application? Did I have a California ID? Did my boat belong to me? Was the registration and insurance on the boat current and in force? It would make sense to put together a package of paperwork for the city to have on me beforehand, and then when that all checked out, I could be approved to move my legitimately owned, registered and insured boat into the harbor. Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t make sense.
In any event, I left work a little early to get the Tohatsu motor out of the garage before I went down to the slip. I went over my paperwork one more time to make sure that everything was in order and when I got to the boat, arranged everything I’d need so it was easy to get to before it was asked for.
Alex and I motored the boat over to the Harbormaster dock and tied up to a side slip. We walked up the gangway and entered the office at precisely 11:30am. I had my backpack with me that held the notebook with all of my paperwork and checklists.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yes. I’m Todd Lipps. I have an 1130 appointment to have my boat inspected.”
She heard my name and looked over to another employee, a supervisor, and made eye contact with her. They both looked at me. The supervisor came over to the counter and spoke to me.
“Mr. Lipps, hasn’t been an easy morning, has it? You really haven’t done things right up to now.”
“I’ll take the blame for everything up to this point.” I wasn’t going to argue with her about anything. “I really tried to work within your rules, but some of the info I was given caused me to think that what I was doing was all right. I’m really not trying to cause trouble. I just want to have a place for my boat to stay.”
“Okay,” she said. “Show me what you have.”
I spread out everything I thought she’d need in the order I thought she’d need it. She mulled through everything but didn’t change the order and didn’t ask for anything else. She seemed satisfied.
“Fill out these forms. You can buy up to two parking placards and two keys if you want them. How many do you want?”
“Two would be great.”
“Okay. You’re going to have to go with …… and ……. for the measuring and inspection.”
We walked back down the gangway, past the racing boat being prepped, past the Harbor Patrol boat, and finally to the Excalibur.
“Cute little boat…” one of them said.
“Permission to come aboard?” she asked.
“Affirmative,” I answered. It all seemed so formal. Affirmative is the answer I pictured a Coast Guardsman giving to another Coastie.
The inspection went well. Any suspicion they might have had about the ability of my boat to move on its own was put away when they saw the new engine and it started on the first pull. The lights all worked. The sail inventory seemed adequate. The measurements confirmed that it actually would fit in the slip they assigned me. The bilge was dry. My bilge pump worked. My flare kit was good. My lifejackets checked out. They commented on my low tech porta-potty.
With that out of the way, we went back to the office and completed the paperwork and I gave them a check for the first and last month’s rent. As tensely as it had started, in the end, everything went perfectly. The telephone conversations I had with the personnel in the office were tough. They seemed uncaring, impersonal, and contradictory. In person, all were pleasant, understanding and helpful. I probably seemed as if I was trying to pull one over on them and was planning on moving a boat into the harbor that was not sea-worthy and that would be a blight compared to all the other really beautiful boats there.
Alex and I motored back to our slip and secured the Excalibur. It felt familiar and comfortable. It felt like home.
At the conclusion of my third year of college, I came a signature away from joining the Coast Guard. I hadn’t had any interaction with them until my Coast Guard inspection in Dana Point. But that, also, is another story…..
The phone call came when I was in the middle of something at work and it took a few seconds to realize who was calling. “Mr. Lipps, this ‘something-something ‘ from the Long Beach Shoreline Marina. I’m calling about your request for a boat slip….”
While the Excalibur was at Dana Point Marina, it wasn’t where I really wanted it to be. Dana Point, however, had slips available immediately while Long Beach was working off of a waiting list. I really wanted to be in Alamitos Bay – an extension of the City of Long Beach Marina system – because it is ten minutes from my house. Driving to Dana Point to work on the boat was nearly an hour each way and the winds there aren’t nearly as strong and predictable as the ones rounding Pt. Fermin.
I’d called about a week earlier and was informed that I was still sixth on the list and that I could expect to continue waiting through the rest of 2011 and possibly into 2012. I was told I would likely end up in Alamitos Bay because that was where a great number of 25 foot slips are located, but construction and restoration there would hold things up for quite a while.
“….It turns out that a slip has become available in Shoreline Marina and you’re the next one on the waiting list. If you approve of the slip, you can have it.”
“Holy cow,” I said. “I didn’t expect this phone call so soon. You’ve made my day.”
She went on to tell me the location of the slip and it was located on the same gangway as a Catalina 30 that I had partnered in previously, only five slips down and on the upwind side. I told her I was familiar with the location. She offered me the chance to inspect it and call her back the next day to let her know if I wanted it.
That evening my family and I went down to the marina to check things out. I still had my gate key from my time on the Catalina 30 and I hoped it would still work. The key wouldn’t work, but I found another boat owner near the slip who was willing to let me in. A downwind slip would have been preferable, but the upwind side had a huge gap between boats because the next gangway was located where the marina angled to another direction, leaving an increasingly larger opening. It was a short slip among a number of longer slips because it had an electrical panel in place. My boat would definitely stand out as a little boat among giants and the large gap would make getting into and out of the slip very easy.
I called the next day and informed the office that I would like the slip. They told me it would become available on July 1st, and because of the Independence Day holiday, I could move in any day after that. We set up an appointment for the measuring and inspection of the Excalibur on a Monday. I was informed I could move it up the weekend before.
Our plan was to get up and drive down to Dana Point on Saturday morning and motor the boat up the coast to Long Beach. My twelve year old son, Alex, and seventeen year old daughter, Kayln, would ride with me. My wife would drive the truck home and wait for us to call when we were in the L.A. Harbor. A few small projects needed to be performed on the boat before we left as well as a last minute clean up and organizing of the cabin. We were ready to leave at 1100 and cast off at Dana Point for the last time.
We began to back out of the slip and I wanted to swing the nose around. A puff of wind and a rudder that didn’t react quickly enough at the slow speed we were moving prevented that from happening. Instead, we swung further nose-in. The boat next to mine had a tender tied onto the stern which partially blocked the waterway. The Excalibur was heading right for it.
I yelled to my daughter, “Are we gonna hit that dinghy?”
She leaned over the port side. “Yes.”
She continued to watch the imminent collision unfold but didn’t move to push off the dinghy.
“Well, do something to stop it,” I said.
She gave me a look like she had no idea that we could do anything about it and still didn’t move.
“Push off the dinghy!” I yelled.
She leaned over the toe rail and appeared to be reaching for something, but then the rudder bit and we swung out of the way, though now facing backwards.
“Screw it,” I said. “We’ll back out of here.”
We backed the rest of the way into the channel, swapped ends, and continued on. My son, daughter and I all looked at each other and laughed. Like most things, the tension came quickly, then ended quickly, and then we laughed about it.
Dana Point Harbor is calm and well organized and a very quick trip to the open ocean. In the few minutes we had before exiting, we discussed what jobs we’d each do as we raised the sails. Kayln would work the tiller and Alex would be ready to release the topping lift when I told him to. I’d raise the sails and secure and organize the halyards.
The weather forecast was good – typical June gloom, overcast until midday, then increasing sun with winds picking up in the afternoon. The sea condition was forecasted as calm with two to three foot swells. Conditions outside of the harbor were as expected with dead calm winds, but the swells were a little larger than expected and consisted of a confused jumble of waves approaching from different angles. We turned into the wind and I handed Kayln the tiller, told Alex to get ready, and jumped up onto the cabin top to work the mast. Kayln kept us on course and Alex released the topping lift as the main was almost to the top of the mast. I raised the head sail, the smallest sail I had, organized the lines and hopped into the cockpit to bring in the port sheet. Everything went properly and I told both of the kids to settle in for a while.
The head sail I had was practically a storm jib. It was really too small to be used in the calm conditions we expected, but would be fine to balance things out while motoring and might be ideal if the winds really picked up in the afternoon. We moved out to sea a bit to give a cushion of space between us and the coastline and finally settled in on a west heading. The winds remained calm and we alternated between half-filled sails and completely in irons but the motor pushed us on.
Around noon Alex asked if we could eat the sandwiches we made the night before. We were all hungry. When I took orders the night before, Kayln said she wanted a turkey sandwich with cheese, cucumbers, ranch dressing and mustard. It sounded horrible to me, but many things do, so I made them to her order. Alex wanted to take his leftover Subway Chicken Marinara and an extra peanut butter sandwich. He ate his Sub, I ate my plain and dry turkey sandwich and Kayln ate her monstrosity.
Alex picked large chunks of tomato from the Sub and threw them overboard. “I’m feeding the fishes,” he said.
About fifteen minutes went by and Alex went below to play on his handheld gaming system. Kayln stared at the shoreline and became very quiet. I attempted to pace myself to another, larger sailboat about ½ mile ahead of us. More quiet. Then Kayln put her head down on the cockpit cushions and appeared to go to sleep.
Alex moved forward and arranged a bed on the V-berth. From the open companionway I could see him napping. His body shifted back and forth as we pushed through each wave.
I enjoyed the quiet and tried to alter course slightly to fill our sails and make up ground on the sailboat still ahead. We had narrowed the gap.
Alex stirred eventually and came back to the cockpit to see where we were. I spotted a pod of dolphins off our starboard side and pointed them out to Alex. He pulled out his cell phone to take pictures but wasn’t fast enough to catch them as they broke the surface of the water. About fifty dolphins passed us and disappeared between the Excalibur and the shore a few minutes later.
Kayln woke up, yawned, and had a distressed look on her face.
“Did the fresh air make you tired?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I’m really seasick.”
“It’s not that rough,” I said. “When did it start?”
“Right after we ate. Where are we?”
“Almost to Newport.”
The clouds dissipated and the sun broke through. With the sun, the winds increased and for the first time of the day, our sails filled and I felt a slight surge with the added power. We moved faster and the Excalibur heeled over slightly to the starboard side.
Another larger sailboat exited Newport Harbor and took up the space between us and the coastline. This was a bigger boat, 40 feet or more, and had several couples on board. We inched past them.
“There’s the pier,” I said to Kayln, trying to keep her attention on the horizon. “And there’s Hoag Hospital. And if you look way out in front of us, you can see the Huntington Pier.”
Since we lived in the town next to Huntington Beach, it seemed like home, familiar, and, I hoped, comforting for Kayln. She sat up straight and took a few pictures with her phone.
“Dad,” Alex said. “Do you want something to eat?”
I asked him to hand me the crackers. I ate a few and offered some to Kayln but she turned them down.
“They’ll probably help. Why don’t you try a few?” I said.
She declined again and took a sip of her water. Alex ate several crackers before putting them back in the cooler.
The Huntington Beach Pier grew larger and we continued to outpace the big sailboat. Dana Point couldn’t be seen behind us any longer. I passed the pier about a mile offshore checked the windex. The wind was moving slightly south and increasing in speed.
We heaved to and began motoring straight out to sea. I wanted to set up a nice broad reach to take us all the way into Long Beach on a single tack.
“What are you doing, Dad?” Alex asked.
“We’re heading out to sea so we can sail into Long Beach.”
“We’re turning the engine off?”
“Cool,” he said.
Twenty minutes went by before we were in position to turn again. We tacked and turned off the engine, placing the gear selector in neutral. Without the blaring motor we were able to hear the wind and water. It was calming and exciting at the same time. The sails filled and we accelerated quickly towards Long Beach. I trimmed the sails to allow us to hold the tiller straight and maintain the heading we wanted.
The wind increased and our speed picked up and all three of us shared the port cockpit seat as we heeled over and crashed through the sea. We were moving faster under sail alone than we had with the motor a few minutes earlier. I trimmed the jib to stay in tune. Only small adjustments were necessary. The small headsail ended up being the right sail for the conditions.
We passed by a large group of personal and commercial fishing vessels. They were on the fish and hundreds of sea birds orbited above them and took turns diving into the ocean. The last fishing boat in line was heading back towards the harbor and we passed it. We were, in turn, passed by a kite surfer.
Our speed increased as the wind increased a little every few minutes. With the increase in wind, however, the fetch waves grew bigger and mixed with the swells. The hull would crash through wave after wave in a predictable pattern and then an unexpected wave would meet the bow and send back a cascade of water, soaking the three of us. If felt good, however, and focusing on our direction and looking for other boats seemed to distract Kayln enough to improve her stomach’s condition. I was having a great time. Alex was having a ball shifting positions and finding a spot on the upwind rail and balancing his upper body and lower body on the edge of the hull. I could have stayed on that tack for the rest of the afternoon. The shoreline sped past us until we crossed off shore of the inlet to Alamitos Bay and was finally sheltered behind the LA Harbor break wall.
The wind continued to blow but the water calmed considerably. Without the resistance of the chop and swell the Excalibur picked up speed again. I was amazed by the light pressure on the rudder necessary to hold us on course. Weather helm was minimal and I hadn’t reset the trim on either sails. The boat really handled well.
A stronger puff of wind increased our heal angle and I heard what sounded like a pop, then five seconds of something tearing. Our speed wasn’t affected by it at all, so I continued on.
We neared the Queen Mary and I explained to Kayln that I would turn us into the wind so I could lower the sails but that I needed her to concentrate and keep us pointed towards an anchored barge off our port side. I pulled the engine starter and set the Tohatsu in gear at a speed a little above idle and began forward on the cabin top. I looked up and realized what the noise was that I’d heard a few minutes before. The gust stressed the jib and tore it from the trailing edge inward about two feet.
“Release the sheet!” I yelled to Alex. The look on his face matched Kayln’s as we nearly collided with the dinghy earlier in the day.
“The line. On the cleat, there. Let it go.”
He continued to look at me but didn’t move.
“The rope. Right in front of you. Get it off the cleat and let it go!”
“Alex, listen. I need your help. Get the end of the line off the cleat just like at the dock and let it go so I can lower the sail.”
He finally realized what I wanted him to do and performed it perfectly. I let the halyard go and jumped forward to collect the jib on the foredeck. It stopped coming down after a few seconds and began inflating with air again. I looked in front of us.
“Kayln, keep us going straight. Your letting us go to the right.”
“Huh?” she asked.
She had lost her focus and was allowing us to turn with the wind.
“I can’t get the sail down if you don’t keep us going towards that barge. Get us straightened out.”
She did. And the sail fell onto the deck. I inspected the tear. It wasn’t repairable.
Kayln did a better job as I brought down the main sail and Alex asked if he could stand at the helm to take us the rest of the way into the marina. I gave him a little more throttle and he got us all the way past the rock jetty at the marina opening before I took over. We were in a group of three boats all entering at the same time.
We putted in and very easily coasted down the slip row. About a third of the way in, I realized that someone was occupying our slip. I turned back out and circled behind the boat in my slip and tried to hail the occupants. They weren’t far away because they left everything wide open, but they weren’t aboard, either. The Yacht Club was holding a race the following morning and I figured they were there.
A double slip a few spots away had room for a second, smaller boat and I placed us there temporarily. We tied onto the starboard side cleats and began cleaning and securing the Excalibur. The folks in my slip never came back to their boat and so I left mine in the double slip for the night. I came back the next morning and they were gone so I moved my boat into my slip.
I needed to have my boat inspected by the Harbormaster the following day, but that’s another story.
The motor that came with my Excalibur sailboat was an old 8 hp long shaft Johnson SeaTwin. It had given the previous owner troubles on almost every outing. It got so bad that he began to carry an extra battery and a 50 lb. thrust trolling motor to get him back into the marina after fishing or sailing. I knew that the Johnson engine, even if I had it a while to work on it, would never become the reliable engine I would need in order to motor from San Diego to Dana Point. So, I decided to replace it.
The search for a light, quiet, smooth, economical new outboard began. I had experience with Johnson and Evinrude outboards, and even though they are regarded as great motors, my experience with them has been negative. I owned a 40 hp twin that I threw money at in an attempt to make it run reliably. I worked on it for weeks and had it running great in the driveway, but out on the lake I would get far enough away from the dock to make paddling back inconvenient and it would invariably either die, or run on one cylinder, or not rev much past idle. On the other hand, I had a Honda 50 hp triple on the same boat that was near new when I bought it, ran smooth and quiet and was plenty powerful for the aluminum runabout it propelled. It never gave me problems, but I had to be very meticulous with fuel system maintenance. If I didn’t drain the carburetors after each use, the gasoline would spoil, gel and clog up the idle jets, necessitating replacement because the orifices were so small that they couldn’t be cleaned out.
I needed to decide how powerful I wanted to go. While I would have loved to have a 15 hp motor in place, that wasn’t practical. I took rough measurements of the well opening and tried to determine if any 15 hp motors would fit. The housing and foot of each motor seemed big enough to make fitment difficult, if not impossible. In addition, I did not want to leave the motor in place in the well at all times, which meant I would have to pull the motor after each trip or outing. Even if I could get one to fit, the 15 hp motors were just too heavy to manhandle from my truck to the boat every trip.
The next size down in terms of overall size and horsepower was the 10 hp or less twins. Most of these are rated at 9.8 or 9.9 hp because some lakes don’t allow motors 10 hp or larger. In other areas, there are additional taxes on 10 hp or larger motors, so even though they may seem less, all are about 10 hp. All of these motors are two cylinders and all weigh about 95-100 pounds. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to carry each one and move it around a little as well as see which model fit best in the well, but that wasn’t possible. None of them are so heavy that I can’t manhandle it, but I’m 43 years old now, and my ability to lift and move a 100 pound motor isn’t likely to get better as I age. Even though I really wanted a two cylinder, I felt that a 60 pound motor, even one with only about half the power, would be the better choice.
The first motor I was inclined to buy was the Honda. The lightest motor they offered was only available as a 5 hp assembly. The other manufacturers offered 6 hp motors, and even though 1 horsepower doesn’t seem like a big difference, 5 horsepower is only 83% of 6 horsepower, so the Honda was eliminated. I considered Suzuki’s 6 hp outboard but could find very little real world review of its performance, and so eliminated it. This left the Tohatsu, Nissan Marine and Mercury outboards. All three of these are manufactured by Tohatsu. The Nissan Marine motor is considered the premium brand version of the Tohatsu. It is identical except for color and stickers and costs about 5 – 10% more. The Mercury is manufactured by Tohatsu using the same mechanical parts but it has a different hood and a different tiller control.
I decided to purchase the Tohatsu branded outboard and while it has been a good choice for the boat, it was not the best choice for the move from San Diego to Dana Point. My budget allowed me to purchase a brand new motor and I added the alternator kit to charge the battery set and the sail-pro elephant ear propeller to push the slow, heavy sailboat. A single cylinder four stroke is best used for short periods of time to get the boat into and out of the slip and harbor. The Tohatsu 6 hp protested every minute at full throttle and left a ringing in my ears if I kept if there for a long period of time. On the other hand, I never felt severely under-powered with this motor and the sail-pro propeller. I would not have been able to lift the 9.8 hp out of the well several times in a day as easily as the smaller motor. The size of the leg of the larger engine would definitely result in more drag when under canvas alone and with the engine in the well.
At 65% throttle the Tohatsu is relaxed and quiet and relatively smooth and gave me an honest 4 – 5 knots. I covered approximately 70 miles over the water in two days. I ran the engine a total of fourteen hours and burned exactly eight gallons of gas. An average of nine miles per gallon and five miles per hour over the course of the trip is respectable. Later, it burned less than 1.5 gallons while motoring 20 miles up the coast in a dead calm.
When I got the engine home I checked the amount of oil in the engine while I changed it. I burned almost no oil and the color of the oil was still acceptably clean at the fourteen hour mark. The longer it ran, the smoother it ran. The only time the prop even hinted at coming out of the water was when it was heeled way over and turning–a situation I probably won’t be in again.
I was not satisfied with the steering friction lock and experimented with several ways to lock the steering in the straight ahead position. The friction lock works well for adding or subtracting effort in moving the tiller handle from side to side but is not intended to hold the motor in a single position. A lock separate from the friction adjuster should be available on all smaller outboards, even if it is in the form of a bracket that can be purchased and added later.
My solution continues to evolve, but the first finished version worked well on the trip from Dana Point to Long Beach recently. I decided to fabricate a bracket that wrapped the tilt tube and bolted to the upper engine bracket in two spots. It worked and would have been very strong, but would have required removal of the tilt tube bolt in order install or remove. I wanted something that I could easily disconnect with hand tools without separating the motor and drive assembly from the mounting plate.
The second version included about one half of the original design. It required me to replace the single tilt tube bolt with two stainless steel bolts so that one side would continue to be bolted in place if the bracket was unbolted and completely removed. I lined up a piece of square tubing with the tilt tube and angled it upward to meet with a second piece of square tubing that had the hole drilled for mounting to the engine. After measuring both pieces several times, I welded the two pieces together so they met at the correct angle. I then finished each edge by closing off and sealing the square tubing and used round tubing to close and seal the bolt holes. After an hour or so of grinding and sanding, the fit and finish was correct and I sent it to the powder coaters to have a corrosion resistant gloss black finish.
I placed stainless fender washers and rubber insulators at each point of contact between the engine and bracket and bolted it in place. I used nylock stainless nuts to allow for the insulators to be pre-loaded, but not fully compressed, and not loosen. The insulators act as a cushion to absorb some of the natural rocking tendency of the power head.
After installation, I measured again and am confident that it is pointing straight ahead. During the second extended motoring trip, from Dana Point to Long Beach, the engine lock worked perfectly and did not transmit excessive vibrations to the hull.
If only Tohatsu would have offered this in the first place.
I am working on a third version that will lock the engine in place but allow minute adjustments to the angle of the engine if they are necessary.
The Tohatsu 6 hp was a good choice and I am confident it will serve me well but I still would like to work a little more at fitting a 10 hp non-tiller motor with cockpit mounted permanent controls in the Excalibur.
I did read a report from a poster on a sailing forum that claimed to have tested the Tohatsu 6 hp motor and found it to be woefully underpowered. I can say that my engine has adequate power for my sailboat. It pushed me against the tide out of San Diego Harbor and through the rolling swells out of Oceanside Harbor. I am sure, however, that it could be put into realistic circumstances where it would be lacking for power. I would not push it into a heavy surge or up against breaking waves.
The Tohatsu motor has proven to be a reliable, very efficient, adequately powered motor for my Excalibur. It is smooth at lower power settings. On the other hand, like all single cylinder outboards, it does vibrate when pushed hard and is loud when mounted in the well.
I went down to Chula Vista to check on the boat on the first weekend in March. Because I was two hours away by freeway, I couldn’t run down to take a look any time I wanted. I’d wake myself up in the middle of the night with questions about the condition of gear, equipment, rigging, etc. Some things were easily remembered, other things got fuzzy in just a couple of days so I prepared a checklist of things to go back over and drove down on a Sunday morning.
The previous owner met me at the Marina and cleared out the last of his things. It gave me a chance to closely check out the three jibs the boat came with and raise the main for a last inspection. Everything looked good. A small tear was present in the storm jib that would require repair. The hull paint was chalky and faded but a run over an area with some compound resulted in a decent shine so a weekend of polishing will likely get me by until I haul her out for new hull and bottom paint. The initial inspection left me with the impression that a very recent previous owner went through everything and had it pretty well set up. My current inspection confirmed this.
The running rigging was all fairly new. The sails, with the exception of the storm jib, were only a few years old and still in good shape. The rudder is firm and smooth and the tiller handle recently replaced. The standing rigging was older and was to be one of the first things addressed when I get her to Dana Point. It is, however, solid and balanced. The deck has minimal cracking and no soft spots and was repainted within the last few years. The mast does not seem to have settled the deck and the mounting hardware looks to be relatively new. The varnish is starting to chip in some spots but was completely redone within the last few years. The electrical system was all redone fairly recently and although I found some things I’d want to improve on, it looked pretty good. The bilge had minimal water…fresh water from recent rains, and the new manual bilge pump cleared it out quickly. Three thru-hulls were present–sink, head, deck drains. Two were almost new and in good condition. The valve for the deck drains is older but turns freely and seems to solidly seat in open and closed positions.
I’d planned on moving the boat the last weekend of March. I’d go down a day before, prepare everything for the trip, install and run the new Tohatsu outboard motor, sleep on the boat and leave early Friday morning for the first leg to Oceanside. As it often does with sailboats and airplanes, the weather dictated something else. California received more than average rainfall this winter and several systems were supposed to move through over the course of the week preceding the planned move. A strong system moved through at the beginning of the week and another strong one was supposed to move through the following weekend, so Thursday, Friday, and Saturday wouldn’t work out. It did, however, look like I could sail all day to Oceanside on Wednesday before a small storm moved onto the coast, and then leave early Thursday morning after it moved through, and before the next one came through on Friday. So, I closely watched as the weather forecasts juggled clear and wet days.
On Monday evening, the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday plan looked like it would work and I drove my truck down to Chula Vista on Tuesday morning and met a diver at noon for a hull cleaning and last minute inspection. I spent the rest of the day cleaning the cabin and all of the cushions and placing everything I wouldn’t need, including the old engine, in the back of my truck. I installed the Tohatsu 6 hp outboard in the well and rigged up lashing lines for the tiller and outboard in case they were needed. In addition, I found a jib sheet that was partially torn, so I removed the existing sheets and installed a new set.
By Tuesday night I had everything together, ate some Chef-Boyardee Ravioli from the microwave and attempted to sleep in the dinette bunk. The odd sounds of the marina and the anticipation of the trip the next day left me awake most of the night. I did manage to get an hour or two of sleep and got up at 0500, moved my truck, grabbed a quick shower in the marina, drank an instant breakfast drink and set up the jib on the bow and cast off as the sun was coming up.
Leaving on Friday morning would have put me out about the peak of high tide and allowed me to ride the tide out of San Diego Harbor. Leaving on Wednesday put me out of the marina just past the peak of low tide and forced me to push through the incoming tide all the way out of San Diego Harbor.
I motored out of Chula Vista Marina and began my turn to the right to stay in the deep channel. I didn’t turn sharp enough. 100 yards out of the marina, I ran aground. I felt the sand and silt begin to grab at the keel, turned the tiller sharply and put the engine in reverse. It wasn’t enough, soon enough, though, and I was stuck.
With the outboard in reverse, I rocked the hull from side to side. I could move the hull and felt a little free movement. I put the engine in neutral and walked forward onto the cabin top and raised the main sail. I held onto the mast and leaned out as far as I could and was able to rock the boat but not free it.
I finally realized that I may not be able to free myself without help, and called for Vessel Assist. Two boats with fishermen motored past me; at least one person in each boat shook his head in disbelief. Vessel Assist was not available to come down to the southern end of the harbor for 45 minutes to an hour so I watched the tide creep up the channel marker posts.
Vessel Assist: “Sailing vessel making assistance call, are you or your boat in imminent danger?”
Me: “Negative, Vessel Assist.”
Vessel Assist: “What is the nature of your call, sailing vessel?”
Me: “I’m on the shoal down by the entrance to Chula Vista.”
Vessel Assist: “Ohhhhhhhh.”
No other comment from Vessel Assist was needed. When the tide had risen several inches, I tried again and was able to free the boat and moved over a few feet into the deep channel and began my trip. Again.
Just before I got to the Coronado Bridge, Vessel Assist caught up with me. The agent asked if I was the blue sailing vessel that was on the shoal near Chula Vista but he already knew the answer. I answered and told him how as the tide came up I was able to break free on my own. Rather than treat me with ridicule, he was really helpful. He pointed out several other areas to be cautious of and said he had gotten caught down in Chula Vista during some really negative low tides like we had that Wednesday morning. He wished me a safe trip and left me to help a cabin cruiser with an engine that shut off and would not restart.
I fought the current around the corner and at 60 – 70% throttle was only able to move about 4 knots. The rest of the trip through the harbor was uneventful and I finally exited San Diego Harbor at about 1030. It seemed to take forever to get out of the harbor and it was a relief to spot open water in front of me.
I noticed two sail boats behind me. One didn’t make any ground on me and eventually turned south towards the Coronado Islands. The other was much larger, a 45 – 50 feet racer with poles bare and the motor pushing it along at 8 – 10 knots so it didn’t take long for it to overtake me. At the time, I was managing about five knots under the main and outboard. As they passed me, closely on the starboard side, I nodded and waved. They returned the wave and looked proper in matching racing gear and jackets. I, on the other hand, looked pretty silly in my straw hat, large life vest, shorts and running shoes. It wasn’t the last time I’d see them up close.
I wanted to stay as close to the edge of the La Jolla kelp beds as possible without taking too much of a chance of getting caught up in the weeds. I turned to the west and the bigger racing boat continued south. I monitored his position by watching his mast on the horizon and eventually he turned to the west and began to reel me in again.
The ocean was calm, flat and there was almost no swell. I opened up the Tohatsu a little and experimented with throttle settings and checked my speed with my GPS. The Excalibur would move at 4.5 to 5 knots over the water at 65% throttle and could go about six knots at full throttle. The amount of noise and vibrations at full throttle was enough to become uncomfortable after long periods of time, so I varied the throttle settings every fifteen minutes or so.
After a while, the racing boat passed me on the port side. Two of the three men were on deck and waved to me again.
The winds increased and shifted to the southwest and gave me very favorable winds towards Oceanside. I raised the jib and reduced throttle a little. After trimming the sails I was able to maintain a steady 7.5 knots under canvas and motor. It was a very relaxing cruise up the coast and after a few hours I spotted the Carlsbad Power Station. Originally I had planned on making the trip in one leg if I could make Oceanside by 1400 but that wasn’t going to happen.
I didn’t get close to any other vessels until I was almost to Oceanside. The winds had increased, I could see a light squall line to the southwest and two converging swells were beginning to toss me around. I knew I should lower the jib so I decreased the throttle, placed the nose into the wind and lashed the tiller.
The lashing didn’t keep me straight into the wind, however, and the steering friction setting on the outboard loosened up enough that I began to motor around in a wide circle while I lowered the jib. I muscled the sail down onto the deck and heard the outboard r.p.m.s increase as I heeled over far enough to loosen the grip of the prop on the water. With a bungee cord tightly in my teeth, I was able to secure the jib on the foredeck, worked my way aft, released the tiller and straightened the outboard, then lashed it to prevent it from moving side to side more than a few inches.
Two power boats were making their way into Oceanside Harbor and I moved myself into sequence behind them both so I could mimic their lines and approach angle. The swells were not breaking but were meeting at the harbor mouth and caused a lot of jostling around as I motored in under the main. Once I cleared the harbor opening things settled down quite a bit. A light rain turned into a steady downpour as I neared the guest slips.
As my speed decreased in Oceanside Harbor, I wound up my drag line and placed it and the fender at the tail of the line on the lazerette. I approached the guest slip with the main still raised. I would have liked to lower the main, but didn’t feel I could turn into the wind in the narrow opening and get the sail lowered without someone on the tiller, so I approached the dock at an upwind slip, next to, much too close to, a really pretty Cape Dory.
The main was producing too much power and I placed the engine in reverse in an attempt to slow me down a little. I didn’t notice that the fender on my drag line had fallen in the water. It very quickly ended up in the prop and the engine stalled. I was committed to my line but the wind was pushing me too close to the Cape Dory so I released the main, shoved the tiller over and missed the other boat. I was able to circle around one more time and ended up two slips upwind on the downwind side of the slip. This was a much better position and I was able to set her gently against the dock and port side fender and secure the two port side dock lines before I lowered and flaked the main.
I was tired before the excitement but now was ready to fall into the bunker and sleep the entire night. In a steady rain, I secured the boat, removed the outboard, untangled the fouled line, cleaned up the cockpit, and headed below for a sandwich.
I called my family to let them know I made it safely to Oceanside. As I ate my sandwich and treated myself to my first Diet Coke of the day, it went from dusk to dark. It was after hours and the Oceanside Harbor Police had other duties to perform rather than worry about checking in the little blue boat in the guest slip. As I ate my sandwich I monitored radio calls on 16 as the Coast Guard was dealing with a disabled boat off the coast that was abandoned by half the crew in a dinghy who went off looking for help. Now the other half was about to get help but no one knew where the dinghy had ended up. A man left his boat in a dinghy to get help for the rest of his family, who waited for him in a perfectly secure, floating power boat.
I didn’t hear the resolution of the incident before turning off the radio, putting on some dry clothes, and lying down on the dinette bunk. I listened to the rain and the port fender squeaking against the dock most of the night.
I hadn’t slept much because of the noise the fender, a foot or so from my ear, made all night. I did manage a little sleep in the early part of the morning after texting some family in the mid-west to check in with them as they were getting up to start their day.
The sun came up and the clouds had cleared away during the night. There was fog off the coast but not a cloud in the sky. I drank a breakfast drink and ate an apple for breakfast, dressed and wandered up to the harbor office to pay my slip fees for the night. The woman running the front desk was very friendly and the $26 I paid her was a bargain.
At the boat, I began to prepare things for the day. Because I knew it should only take a few hours, and after the adventure I had the day before when I lowered the jib, I kept that sail tied down onto the bow and vowed to leave it there unless I really needed it.
A couple appeared from the nearby hotel and entered the Cape Dory. Fortunately they had not been present as I dodged their beautiful boat in my rodeo entering the guest slips the night before. They said hello, got into their boat and fired up the inboard. I watched foamy waves splashing over the breakwater and decided to watch the Dory leave and see how rough it would be getting out of the harbor. They left the harbor under power only and I watched their mast slowly make way out of the harbor while moving way up and then way down every ten seconds or so.
I didn’t want a repeat of Wednesday morning, but figured that if they made it out in a full keel cruiser, there should be enough water depth for me. I raised the main, started the outboard and pushed away from the dock. The tiller didn’t feel right and was not reacting to my commands like it was supposed to. It moved clearly one way but banged against the stops to the other. In the meantime, I was in the middle of the harbor and not heading in the direction I steered. I unlashed the outboard and used it steer me back to the dock. When the dock lines were secure, I looked in the engine well and did not see the rudder at all. At first I thought I lost the rudder. It took me a minute to realize that I had secured the tiller out of phase and had turned it backwards towards the bow.
Two mornings, two dumb mistakes. It was easy to correct, though, and I pushed off the dock and headed back to the harbor opening. When I reached the mouth I expected to see six foot breaking monsters coming into the channel. There were large swells working their way into the harbor, but they were not breaking and I while the Tohatsu labored over each wave, I made steady progress out of the harbor and in a few minutes was steering to a heading of 310 towards Dana Point.
The seas were smooth but there was set after set of big rolling swells. They were deep and tall but round on top and spaced out every fifteen to twenty seconds and did not give me any trouble.
Pod after pod of dolphin kept me company on Thursday. While the day before I saw about 100 dolphins, on Thursday between Oceanside and Dana Point I saw about 1000. They were everywhere and kept me entertained all the way up the coast. Many swam within my reach off each side of the Excalibur.
The boat casually motored to the northwest. I passed San Onofre and quickly saw the details of the hills around Dana Point. The swells remained but the seas were calm and the sky was clear and winds light and crisp. I lowered the main outside of Dana Point and idled into the harbor. As dramatically as each morning started, Thursday afternoon was calm and the boat gently coasted into my slip and allowed me to step off the deck and casually set the dock lines.