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Westward’s Big Boatyard Adventures Part VI

A man in a boat

We departed Port Townsend with a crew of three, at 21:45 the night of December 28th. By 10:00 the morning of the 29th we were abeam Tatoosh Island and had turned south for San Diego.

Steaming through moderate seas and winds, we were twelve miles west of Fort Bragg, California at 10:00 New Year’s morning, and making pretty good time.

The long range weather forecast that I had relied on to give us a calm passage south was proving to be accurate, but that same forecast had predicted that we would collide with a north-trending low pressure area in the vicinity of Point Conception. Point Conception has a well-earned reputation as one of the toughest places on the Pacific coast, and as we approached the NOAA local weather forecasts confirmed that nothing had changed from the earlier, long range prediction.

About fifty miles north of Point Conception the winds began to build from the southeast, the seas rising with the wind until we were slamming into eight foot waves which, with the wind dead on the bow, sent firehose spray against the windows and over the pilothouse roof. We slowed to a stop as we bucked through the larger series of waves, and were averaging less than four knots as we approached the tip of the point. I hoped that once around, and a few miles southeast of the point itself, conditions would begin to ease as we moved out of the main path of the wind and current, and gradually that began to happen. It is 207 miles from Point Conception to the San Diego Sea Buoy, and it took us thirty three hours to cover that distance with an average speed of six and a quarter knots.

We were in a hurry to get to San Diego because our crew mate, Randy Good who had built all of the interior joinery was joining us there to finish the bulkheads and install all of the beautiful Cherrywood millwork he had made in his Vermont furniture shop. On the way down the coast our engineer, Shane Blair had been finishing wiring and plumbing installations so that Randy could focus on wood work upon his arrival.

The day after our arrival in San Diego the predicted storm hit in earnest, and we were all very thankful to be tied to the dock and not in the open ocean. There was rain, wind, hail and local flooding in San Diego. We took advantage of the weather delay to work around the clock at finishing the interior, but in spite of all of our efforts the bulkheads weren’t finished when the weather began to break and we made plans to get underway for La Paz.

Dropping lines at Shelter Island Marina on the morning of January ninth, we moved to Pearson’s fuel dock where we filled up with affordable US fuel before setting off for the expensive world of the governmentally supported monopoly of Pemex.

We finished at the fuel dock at 13:00 and headed out into a sea with only a trace of a residual swell, and headed south once again. We reached the north end of Cedros Island, about half way down the Baja peninsula, at 22:30 on the night of January tenth, and a few hours later passed into the warmer waters we had expected in this area, with the sea water temp rising from sixty-one to sixty-seven degrees in the span of a couple of miles.

Passing Land’s End just after dawn on January thirteenth we began turning east and north as we entered the Sea of Cortez, and arrived in La Paz at 03:15 the following morning. We moored in Marina Cortez and fell into our bunks, very ready for some uninterrupted sleep.

Our first charter was set to begin in nine days, and we had two months’ worth of work to do before sailing. We had sold three cabins for that first trip, but due to separate personal issues two couples asked to postpone their trips until later in the season, so we only needed one cabin to be finished on the twenty-first, and that let us focus on that one cabin. But even then, it wasn’t completely finished when the guests arrived. In fact, we had literally just wrestled the mattress into place when we heard someone on deck call out “the guests are here!”,  Randy and I looked at each other and laughed (a bit hysterically) at how down to the wire everything was running!

There was still cabinet work to finish in that first cabin, but the guests graciously allowed us to keep working during the times when they weren’t in the cabin, and so, by about the third day of the trip the cabin was finished and Randy could move on to the next one. Our next trip required three cabins, and we immediately set out to finish those spaces. When our second trip started we had two and a half cabins finished, and once again one couple allowed us to finish their cabin as the trip progressed and, again on about the third day out, their cabin was finished and Randy was able to start on the final cabin, after which all that remained was to finish the storage cabinets and the rest of the central passage way.

Finally, just before our fourth trip of the winter season, the final piece of trim was nailed into place and it was done. The tools were rolled up and stashed into the lazarettte, and we began to settle into what we hoped would be an uneventful remainder of the winter.

And there you have it, the tale of how, with no money and an inflexible completion schedule a classic yacht was saved and put back into condition to continue to earn her, and our livings. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t much fun. But there were moments of hilarity (“the guests are here!”) and joy and amazement (blue whales diving right in front of our bow, humpback whales diving up into the air as we watched nearby, and a ringside seat as transient orcas tore through a pod of common dolphins).

The many desert sunrises and sunsets we watched were restorative, as was the appreciation of our wonderful guests. And through it all Westward kept going, sedately covering the miles and conveying her passengers across a sea of dreams and wonder until we came to the end of the Baja season and sailed again for Alaska.