Hurricane season is ending here in the northern hemisphere. Most of my boat delivery work occurs in the tropics where warm summer water breeds hurricanes. This means that I get the summer off to work on other things, visit with friends and family, take long bike rides and hang out at the beach. That is what usually happens. This summer I starting doing smaller local deliveries up and down the coast of CA. On the upside I know coast well, I’m never away for long and the flights are short one way deals. On the downside, these local deliveries are mostly racing sail boats and you know what that means, no dodger and a lot of hand steering out in the elements. I can get real cold. My high-end foulies make all the difference but it’s still not sailing in the tropics. I feel like I’m actually earning my money, sometimes. And then there are the boats that are just being moved from one marina to another … often because they had been asked to leave.
I got an email from a guy in one of our local marinas. He just wanted his boat moved from Marina del Rey to Marina Salinas which is south of the border. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about the boat because that’s an easy downwind trip. Like we say about the sail to Hawaii, “Just push the boat off the dock and she’ll eventually end up there on her own”.
When I first saw the boat called Noname I noticed that she had not been maintained very well, I mean at all. She was a sloop rigged Yorktown 35 and she was a beater. The decks were green with mold, the sails looked original and ready to fail. Below was not much better. The companionway stairs/engine cover was hardware store plywood and didn’t fit right. That should have been my first clue that this boat was handmade in someone’s backyard.
I offered to work on the boat before the trip at my hourly rate. We talked about the work that had to be done before leaving, the work that should be done soon and the work that would simply make sailing more enjoyable. I suggested a couple weeks of pre-trip labor. We settled on 5 hours. I do enjoy a challenge.
I came down the next day with my tools. I had to clean a spot in the cockpit so I wouldn’t get them dirty. I checked all engine fluids and set out to find all through hulls. The eco-unconscious owner was pumping the oily bilge water into the marina each time he came down to the boat. It’s a simple thing to keep the bilge oil free – keep those marine diapers under the engine. I poured in some of our oil eating microbes that we sell at Lats. He wanted an old battery removed. On it’s way out I bumped a rusted throughull valve. It crumbled and fell away as a jet of water shot up playfully. So there I was, leaning over a battery with my hand on an open hole in the bottom of the boat, no one around to fetch me a plug. I put a piece of plywood on the hole and weighted it down with some tools. I did find a plug onboard which indicated that he was prepared, at least, for sinking.
It was a short trip so I was able to tear my friend Randy away from his day to day. Randy taught me how to sail (as he tells it) and more importantly, taught me plumbing. I was 17 when I bought my first boat with a friend. Randy was walking up the dock when he saw me standing on the deck of our little boat, a coldy in one hand and the “main halyard” in the other. I was looking up bewildered (as he tells it). He offered to take us out and we learned a lot. When we got back he hopped off the boat and continued his walk up the dock. I called after him to thank him. He looked back and said, “I just didn’t want you to hit my boat on your way out”.
I also brought a local guy that had been bugging me to take him on a delivery. I think John expected to be invited on a much bigger adventure. We took fuel at the fuel dock and motored off into the sunset. The motor continued to run all night but our speed kept decreasing. Usually this means the boat has acquired some kelp so we backed down to release it. But the boat remained slow. I checked the packing gland and it was not dripping anymore. I bet the boat had not been run for that long in years. The packing had expanded and clamped down on the shaft. I had to build a tool to release the lock nut.
While I was jammed back behind the engine I decided to remount the exhaust hose. It was loose and shaking and quickly wearing through. Hours later I emerged triumphant. John and Randy were chillin’ in the sunny cockpit, talking and eating cold fried chicken. They had started lunch without me!
John put it in gear and a whirring sound emerged from the engine room. “Nuetral,” is my response to most problems. The gear oil still looked good (which surprised me considering the state of the rest of the engine). It seemed that little bit of extra pressure was too much for the ancient clutch.
Looks like we would be forced to … sail! The rotted old sails went up and there we sat, waiting for wind, for hours. We sailed all afternoon, and thankfully, the wind stayed with us all night. Salinas has a tricky entrance and I had never been there. I was curious to see what the marina looked like. But the wind was dying and we couldn’t risk being trapped at sea for days. We turned into San Diego and tacked up the long channel, the slowly shredding headsail fluttering in the breeze. It was fun maneuvering through the traffic and trimming for more speed.
The wind died off of the Customs dock. We pulled out the oars and rowed the rest of the way. The boat was a kinda big for rowing but we made it to the dock. Just before landing a Customs officer came out and waved us off. He knew it would be hard to get rid of some ugly vagrant boat that was engineless. Still, where was his seafaring attitude, his desire to aid and assist his fellow sailors? We drifted over to the public docks close by. “Arrival coldy anyone?”. But of course.
I called the owner and offered to arrange a mechanic in my home away from home. He wasn’t interested in the easy task of getting the work done in the boating mecca San Diego. I worried, where he was going, he wouldn’t be able to get it fixed. He released us. He must have figured we’d run into trouble because he had a plan B. He came down to the boat the next week, pushed off the dock and called Sea Tow. See, he was now in range of his Sea Tow coverage to get towed to his “home port” Salinas. Clever.
It is one of the kewlest train rides, the Amtrak from San Diego to Los Angeles. For a good part of the trip the train goes right along the beach. We three enjoyed another coldy and some warm train food while the best part of socal drifted by our window.