Monday, October 31, 2005

Michael Row the Boat Ashore

"Halleluiah!" is the name of my new boat. She is a 23' trailer sailer - about as much as my four cylinder truck will pull. A vintage 1976 Macgregor 'Venture of Newport' model, she's a real piece of classic plastic.

The search had been on for a year or so to find one of these 'wee ships' in decent condition and within my budget. I have belonged to a Yahoo Group dedicated to this particular model. The members were having such a great time restoring and customizing these boats, that I was caught up immediately.

They are not the fastest boats around, but they have a definite charm. The cutter rig sets them apart from most trailersailers right off the bat. Then the sweeping sheer, a real wooden bowsprit and carved trailboards found on most of them renders a very salty appearance. The saltiest generally have a wooden taffrail along each side of the cockpit, and many have adorned their vessels with custom wood hatchcovers and doors, pinrails and grabbars, bronze cleats and cowls, and even teak and holly soles

The VN is too small for extended cruising with a family, but perfect for daysailing, gunkholing or camping a few days with a couple and a small child or two. It originally came equipped with a small galley, convertible dinette table, portapotty, vberth and quarterberth. When I acquired her, Halleluiah! had only the cushions and portapotty remaining, so a galley and table will be one of my first projects. A canvas enclosure for the poptop makes camping a lot more comfortable with 6' standing headroom near the galley and dinette.

A retracting 600 lb keel allows for shallow draft and easier launching and recovery as the boat sits low on the trailer. I will have to step the mast and rig it each time I sail, but I'll make that tradeoff to not pay $300-$400 slip fees each month. Plus, her bottom stays clean, I can work on her in my yard, and she is safer from theft or accident stored in my yard. The mobility factor also lets me change harbors at 55mph instead of 5. That will allow a lot more variety in sailing destinations over the long haul.

Yes, she needs a lot of work to become one of the Bristol wee ships, but she has all she needs to sail and have fun right now. The best part: Halleluiah! she's totally paid for! Life is good with a tiller and a mainsheet in your hand.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Chasin' A Star

The Star of India, pride of the San Diego Maritime Museum, , the under full sail. She truly is a sight to behold. One of the first steel hulled ships ever built, she was launched as Euterpe in 1863 at Ramsey, on the Isle of Man in England. She now holds the honor of being the oldest actively sailing square-rigged ship in the world. Definitely worth the risk of nearly scuttling* my brother's newly acquired classic yacht to get this closeup look. Click the pic for a better view.

*(see"Ahoy Mates" below for more details)Posted by Hello

Ahoy Mates!

Skipper Mike takes a turn at the helm in this true life sea story, chasing down the Star of India off the San Diego coast.

[Disclaimer: The following story may have suffered minor embellishments in previous retellings, under conditions of less than perfect sobriety(pub), so facts and figures from a memory such as mine, could be foggy, usually clearing by noon.]

As near as I can recollect, and IF my memory serves me correctly, it was back in the autumn of 1999. We had heard that the Star of India would be sailing up the coast towards La Jolla on her annual outing. My brother Pat and I conspired to take his recently acquired 1st boat on her Under-New-Ownership "maiden" voyage. Having been born pirates, just a couple of centuries too late, our inclinations were to intercept the Star of India, and, hoisting a Jolly Roger, board her and take her for a prize, plunder and pillage her crew and guests, or maybe just take some pictures. We could figure out the details along the way. The main goal was to go sailing. Pat's good friend (and master brewer), Keith, was also game for some adventure, and came along to help crew and enjoy the day.

So we met that morning at the marina, stowed the ale and other assorted supplies, then loosed the docklines from their cleats as the motor warmed up. Finally, with exuberant anticipation, we cast off. Pat motored us like a professional harbor cruise captain, complete with commentary, out of Quivera Basin and into Mission Bay proper, heading us west towards the channel to the Pacific.

As we chugged out to sea between the rock jetties of the main channel, we spotted the Star's topsails over the north breakwater. She was 2-3 miles offshore, northwest of us, and on a southerly heading. Perfect for us. She must have already made the run north to La Jolla, and now she was returning to San Diego Harbor, about 5 miles south. We hoisted sail, killed the engine, and set a SW course to intercept. That put us on a starboard tack on a close reach.

This old boat of Pat's was fast! It was based on the plywood Thunderbird design, but 30' LOA gave her 4 more feet in the cabin than the standard T-bird. Her classic hard chined lines gave an easy movement through the water. It was as if she were on tracks, heeled over comfortably on the freshening 10-15 mph breeze. A few white caps were scattered on the wind ripples and a gentle 1-2 foot swell. Just another beautiful day in San Diego. We are all smiles, and life is good!

It would take an hour or two before we closed in on our target. Since we were lacking in suitable armament, and had no Jolly Roger to fly, we were forced to abandon any plans of piracy on the high seas. We'd have to settle for some closeup photographs as the new objective of our mission. Pat, being quite the amateur photographer, was gearing up for some good shots. Keith and I were enjoying the moment.

As our courses converged, it became apparent that sailing next to the Star of India was about as good as it gets for the casual sailor. Surrounded by a festive flotilla of adoring fans, she was quite regal as she led her little regatta southward. Many of San Diego's classic yacht fleet came out for the occasion. Salty topsail schooners from days gone by glided gracefully between the glistening modern sloops. In a matter of minutes we'd gone from solo sailing on a fast close reach, to a leisurely broad reach surrounded by this eclectic entourage of sailing vessels. Ketches and cutters and sloops and yawls darting in from every direction, trying to get a good look at the Star. Manuevering among them took my full attention. With all the targets to choose from, Pat couldn't click the camera fast enough.

Before we knew it, we had all reached Buoy #1 to enter the San Diego Harbor. With the afternoon sun sinking lower, it was time for us to say our farewell to the fleet, turn around and head back north. It had been quite a parade. I was still on the helm while Pat clicked a few distant parting shots. Fortunately for all of us, Keith decided to go below to replenish the refreshments on deck, when he stepped down into a rising tide. It seems there was a foot or so of sea water and assorted flotsam sloshing around inside the cabin.

He calmly turned around and hollered up something like, "Hey Pat - Are the cabin's floorboards supposed to be floating around like this?"


We were miles from port, and neither the radio nor, evidently, the bilge pump were operational. The Star and her flotilla were already nearly half a mile away from us. We were for, all practical purposes, alone once again. We could have fired a flare gun I suppose, but we were still afloat and making way. So who needed the embarassment of a rescue? Certainly not us, at least not yet. Actually I don't think the flare gun idea occurred to any of us. Prayer did: "Oh dear God in heaven, give us strength and please don't let us sink!"

I was still recovering from a minor heart attack from a couple months previous, and I already had the helm, so it was decided that Pat and Keith would frantically bail, while I pointed us home. So they bailed and they bailed, and bailed some more. It was grueling work but, to their relentless efforts the inner tide eventually succumbed, and the floodwaters were gradually reduced to bilge level.

It seemed like once we had turned around and headed back to port, the water was no longer coming in. This was confirmed by close monitoring over the next few days while she was back in her slip. Pat finally determined the water's source of entry was from an outboard motorwell, but only when we were on a starboard tack and heeled over far enough. I think the very next project for Pat was wiring in some new bilge pumps, then raising the wall of the motorwell.

Quite the maiden voyage there, Pat. That's one we'll not soon forget.

To commemorate the event, I had to award Pat my copy of perhaps the funniest book I've ever read, "The Boat Who Wouldn't Float" by Farley Mowat, just to razz him a bit. Make a note if you're a sailor or ever dreamed of being one, to find and buy a copy. You'll never again be so richly entertained as by those few bucks spent on it. In fact, do NOT read it if you've just had surgery - you will bust a stitch laughing out loud.

So that's my sorry sailing saga. "All's well that ends well" I always say. And now, wherever and whenever I sit down to a good stout, I always have to toast it, "This one's for you, Keith!" Posted by Hello