Yacht Delivery 101

Maritime Musings

Now that we had a boat, we needed to get her to her new slip! The trip from Santa Barbara Harbor to Long Beach Shoreline Marina added up to about 90NM. With an average speed of 5.5-6knots I figured we could make the trip in around 18 hours. The plan was to leave Santa Barbara @ high noon and make way all through the night to arrive in Long Beach for a nice breakfast, or brunch if delayed slightly. I invited my Dad along for the trip, as he was moving to Arkansas the following week. I figured the “Old Block” would benefit from an extended cruise before he said goodbye to the ocean for a while. He also generates enough hot air to fill the sails if the wind dies down. For safety and the chance to learn a few more things, I hired a delivery skipper to help us bring the boat south. With the night sailing involved in unfamiliar waters, it would be wreckless to attempt the trip ourselves.

It only takes 2 hrs by car...but 18 hrs on a sailboat.
It only takes 2 hrs by car…but 18 hrs on a sailboat.

All the necessary repairs were made the previous weekend, and with the new coupling installed we had mechanical propulsion again. We arrived at the dock just after 10AM to stock provisions and make a final inspection before getting underway. Our delivery skipper, Jared Buxton arrived shortly after us and we went over the plans and details. Jared came highly recommended, both as a skipper and a genuinely great person to be around. We made one quick trip to West Marine to pick up some spare fuel filters. After topping off the fuel tank (it only took 10 gallons) we said goodbye to the ladies before shoving off on our grand adventure. It was just about 1:30 PM when we motored out of the harbor, and not long after I raised the mainsail and Jib and we were motor-sailing along our intended course.

The Old Man and the Sea
The Old Man and the Sea

Within the first 4 hours we were making progress and averaging almost 7 knots. The sky was blue and the wind was fair. All three of us crew had easy smiles on our faces. It was a great day for sailing! We could see the traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway off in the distance to port side and a comment was made how great it was to be well removed from it. It was easy to think more than one of those commuters in the stop-and-go was looking out at us dreaming to trade places. Everything was perfect. We took the opportunity to poison test some provisions and practiced trimming the sails a bit. Jared checked his GPS to make sure we were on our true course. The feel of the boat was stout and safe out in the swells. So far so good!

Stalwart delivery skipper Jared Buxton
Stalwart delivery skipper Jared Buxton

However, one never prepares to fail – one fails to prepare! The Farymann began to sputter with increasing frequency until it was apparent that it was being starved of fuel in a bad way. How could this be if it only took another 10 gallons to fill a 70 gallon tank? We couldn’t possibly be out of fuel in just 4 hrs/25 miles? We still had wind, barely. The sun was headed toward the horizon. Before we passed the point of no return, Skipper Buxton convinced us that a stop in Ventura Harbor was our best course of action. There, we could determine the engine malfunction in safety opposed to trying to troubleshoot in the middle of the ocean, in darkness and without adequate tools or power. The Ventura Harbor breakwater wasn’t the easiest thing to navigate with a stalled engine. When you can feel the spray from the breakers crashing against the breakwater to either side of you, you begin to wonder whether or not you packed enough underwear. However, as Ventura was our Jared’s home port he was familiar enough to get us past the rocks with minimal white-knuckle rail grabbing. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we tied up to the dock.

25 miles out of Santa Barbara the engine failed. We had to limp in to Ventura Harbor
25 miles out of Santa Barbara the engine failed. We had to limp in to Ventura Harbor

Our dock for the night was right below the Anchors Way Boat Yard, and they gave us their blessing to plug into their shore power for the duration of our stay. Since Jared was local to the area he enlisted some help from his mechanic friend and we began the process of solving the engine problem. Poor Dad had enough excitement for one day, so he retired to the v-berth while we went to work. After 3+ hours of checking filters, injectors and hoses it was painfully clear that we had a case of bad fuel. There was no way of knowing how long the previous owner had left the 60 gallons of fuel sitting in the tank. Without proper ports to access the inside of the cavernous tank, we could only imagine the gunk growing within and all along the sides. Our trip into the rolling motion of the open ocean had likely knocked chunks of crud loose, and consequently plugged the fuel uptake. At around 9PM, we called it a night. I woke Dad up so we could go get some hot food at the nearby Rhumbline restaurant (damn fine clam chowder) before they closed. Tired from the day’s adventure and with full bellies of good food plus the diesel fumes – we slept like the dead. Our skipper got to sleep in his own bed up the road that night.

I awoke the following morning just as the sun was coming up to the alarm of halyards slapping on the mast. As I heated  some water for coffee I watched the pelicans fish for their breakfast. I gave a “Good Morning” to a few dolphins and seals that swam by. Over coffee and ham sandwiches, Dad and I discussed possible remedies for the fuel situation, and we waited for our skipper to return to the boat. Soon enough he did, and we assembled everything that had been methodically dismantled the night before. After some discussion, our best option was to hire the local fuel polisher to come down to the boat and clean all the crap out of the tank. However, this wasn’t likely to happen before late afternoon, delaying our departure and arrival time in Long Beach even further.

It was then that I gave Dad an Honorable Discharge which he was relieved to accept, albeit disappointed we wouldn’t finish the trip together. With everything he still had to do before the move, he just couldn’t be in both places. My Stepmother drove up from Long Beach to collect him just about lunch time, so we all went and got a burger before they departed home. Our crew was now two, but Jared and I went to work preparing the vessel. The fuel polishing team arrived as planned and went through several filters of decreasing tolerances to ensure most of the particulates in the diesel removed. It was dark by the time they were finished, so we made a plan to leave first thing the following morning. That allowed us some much needed R&R that evening, along with some well deserved Guinness in tall cans.

We were underway the next morning at 8AM. With roughly 70NM to go, we motored out past the breakwater and raised the sails. The wind came over starboard and put us on the perfect tack to our way point. It could not have been a more beautiful day for sailing. Buxton and I traded off at the tiller while swapping stories. As we flanked the Santa Monica Bay we began to spot grey whale spouts and flukes. A marine layer along the coast obscured the land, so it was just us and the sea with no land in sight. It was marvelous. We nearly averaged 8 knots at our half way point, making excellent time. We cut the engine to let it rest for a bit, still we averaged 6 knots with just the main & jib. Out of the blue a pod of at least 120 dolphins paraded right through us, jumping and diving from our bow to stern. It was incredible. I was completely in the moment, laughing and reeling like an teenage girl.

Whooo Hooo!
Whooo Hooo!

The next point of land that appeared from the fog bank was Palos Verdes, and the sun was sinking closer to the horizon. We were nearly there! But this meant we were nearing the Port of Los Angeles and the challenges of busy shipping lanes too. Of course just as we passed Palos Verdes, the Farymann started the all too familiar sputter again. Jared jumped down into the engine room. While we still had wind, I unfurled the jib to preserve our adequate angle from the rocks, but the incoming tide pushed us ever closer, pushing on the transom with every swell. The portable diesel tank Jared arrived with in the morning now became a major player. By bypassing the tank with another clean fuel source, the engine was up and running again – and not a moment to soon.

As the sun fell away, the infinite lights of San Pedro and Long Beach brightened. The water was now dark, along with the shapes of big tankers, ferries and all the random fishing boats around us. Just like a bright, white canoe in the sky, the sliver of moon above was tilted on its side floating amongst the stars. I took that as a good sign that the gods of the sea were on our side. Up in the distance,  dark shapes shifted along the horizon and darkened the lights behind them  – just as black holes do with the stars that fall behind their path. We got a better sense of how BIG they were by the number of lights they momentarily extinguished. There were some BIG boats out that night – the kind that wouldn’t even feel our tiny vessel crushed beneath it. Among the countless blinking lights and beacons of different color and intensity were the breakwater markers we were looking for. Choosing the wrong set of lights would be very bad. Nevertheless, with the help of GPS we found them and aligned ourselves for safe passage through the harbor entrance. Mere seconds later, the handheld GPS unit was completely out of power – we laughed!

Two of these lights marked the harbor enterance
Two of these lights marked the harbor entrance

Roughly an hour and a half after sun down, we made it past the breakwater into the calm waters of Long Beach Harbor. The marina was in sight! The only challenge was finding our slip for the very first time in the dark. I had a rough idea, stronger than a hunch, but the maneuverability of a boat in tight spaces doesn’t allow for a great deal of error or do-overs. I called Jackie as she was patiently waiting by our new slip and asked her to signal us in – her cell phone light worked great! We kissed the side of the dock a bit (it’ll buff right out) and floated right in! We made it!

VenturaToLongBeach

I was happy to see my darling wife, who had been doing the widow’s walk in my absence. The 3 of us shared a Guinness together while decompressing. It was a grand adventure indeed, but man was I tired. We scooped up all the Jared’s things and gave him a ride to the Long Beach Airport where he rented a car for the quicker way back up to Ventura. The following morning I performed all the essential duties to get our slip officially assigned. After it all, it finally sank in – we have ourselves a damn boat now!

But wait, there’s more! In closing, I must sing the praises for our delivery skipper – Mr. Jared Buxton. Not only was he experienced in the art of sailing, but his mechanical aptitude and intestinal fortitude were a necessity on our trip. Raised in an established boat building family from Maine, he has more time on the water than people decades older. His Maine accent comes and goes but his professionalism is ever constant. Furthermore, as accomplished shipwright, if he can’t fix the situation – he can damn sure fix the boat. In hindsight, I cannot imagine having anyone else skipper our delivery. I shudder to think what could have happened had we hired someone without his unique skill-set. It’s no wonder he was so highly recommended. I’m happy to offer up my endorsement for him as well – both as a skipper and a great guy to know.