Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Driving for sails

Kevin and Virginia at the helm of Skylark on San Diego Bay.
Virginia and I had a great week driving for sails. We went from Newport, Ore., to Newport Beach, Calif., with side trips to San Diego and the Napa Valley Marina; around 1,800 miles total in our little Ford Ranger without air conditioning.

Ostensibly, we went to the legendary Minney's Yacht Surplus to get some used sails and other used equipment to finish outfitting our Columbia 43. But really we just wanted a road trip. My wife loves to drive and I like being a passenger so I can look around.
Kevin's beautiful Skylark, a Columbia 50.

The highlight of the trip, by far, was sailing with a virtual friend that became a real friend. Kevin and I started corresponding while he developed his web site dedicated to Columbia 50s. It is truly a labor of love engendered by his beautiful Columbia 50 Skylark, which he keeps on a mooring in San Diego Bay.

We met around 1 p.m., about the time the afternoon breeze starts up on San Diego Bay. Kevin and his friend Blair moved Skylark from her mooring to the dock before we arrived. Even sitting at the dock a Columbia 50 looks fast. Most sailors agree that the 50 was the most beautiful of all the boats produced by Columbia and one of the most beautiful production sailboats ever. Seeing her at the dock while Kevin and Blair prepped the boat for sailing really got my heart pumping.

We went down to the dock and Kevin put us to work taking off sail covers and reeving lines. Kevin's daughter, Lisa, joined us on the sail too. She was home from UC Berkeley on spring break and was a pure delight as well as an enthusiastic winch grinder.
Approaching the Coronado Bridge.

Kevin assigned me the first trick at the helm so I got to work the big sloop upwind under the Coronado Bridge and past downtown. Kevin and Blair kept up a discussion on sailing priorities. It ended with the decision that you could be stupid as long as you didn't make the boat and her crew look stupid. I'm proud to say that, while I wasn't a great helmsman, at least I didn't make the boat and crew look stupid.
The Star of India with the San Diego skyline in the background.

There was plenty to see on San Diego Bay. Beautiful boats and ships, from aircraft carriers and the square-rigged Star of India to other boats sailing on the bay, all held my attention. We even sailed past a Columbia 43 on her mooring. The San Diego skyline and waterfront was beautiful from the water with big buildings, a waterfront park with an enormous statue of a sailor kissing a nurse. Past downtown the buildings and commercial waterfront gave way to moored yachts and Navy vessels.
Virginia at the helm.

At the mouth of the bay we turned back. Kevin assigned Virginia the wheel and went below to make sandwiches with Lisa. Just then, pod of dolphins surfaced within a few feet of the boat. I was the first to spot them and, thinking the San Diego folks saw this all the time, I tried to be casual when I announced their appearance. Lisa was out of the cabin like a shot. "We never see dolphins in the bay!"  she said, "only sometimes in the ocean."
Lisa and Kevin making sandwiches down below in Skylark.

Virginia had the most challenging trick at the wheel sailing downwind. Sometimes the course dictated that she sail dead downwind with the sails wing-and-wing. Blair sometimes served as a human whisker pole until he got bored. We returned to Fiddler's Cove Marina when the sun was low on the horizon. Kevin is a great teacher and we learned a lot about sailing and docking the boat and the best way to fold sails at the dock.

Skylark is a beautiful boat and Kevin has her dialed in for sure. We plan on staying in San Diego Bay for about a month this fall. I'm eager to get to know Kevin, his family and bay better.

On the way back to our hotel, every comment Virginia and I made about the day ended with "wasn't that great!"

We spent the next day at Disneyland We were in line before 8 a.m. staying nearly to the midnight closing. Lest you think we have amazing endurance, I must admit we went back to our hotel for a two-hour mid-day nap.

Thursday was Minney's Yacht Surplus day. We found a very crispy 135-percent genoa and a like-new storm staysail. I couldn't resist the symmetrical spinnaker made for a Columbia 43. It was old, but in perfect shape. We were hoping to buy an asymmetrical cruising spinnaker, but they didn't have one the right size for our boat at the time. I also found a winch that fit the base of the missing winch on our mast. We combed the store and found a few other needed items. It would have been easy to go nuts; the store really has a lot of great stuff at good prices.

I surprised myself because I was anxious to the point of stomach upset over the transactions. (We had a couple sails and a winch to trade in addition to our purchases.) I needn't have worried, Mr. Minney and his three crew members were friendly, patient and helpful. We felt good about the whole experience, which took the better part of a day.

While at Minney's, we also picked up a mainsail and genoa for Harry James, who is restoring a Columbia 38 in the Napa Valley Marina. After a quick visit and overnight stay with a cousin in the Bay Area, we met Harry in the flesh after years of reading each other's postings about boat restoration.

Harry's boat, Sheer, on the hard at the Napa Valley Marina.
Harry has long been an admirer of the Columbia 38 and finally bought one three years ago with the intent of restoring it over one winter. As I said, that was three years ago. But the work Harry has accomplished is top notch and the boat, Sheer, is a beauty. You can read about his adventures here. His plan is to truck the boat to Port Townsend this summer, do the final commissioning there and then sail it home to Alaska.

After leaving Harry, we wound our way to Highway 101 through the Napa Valley wine country. We decided to take the long way home and see the redwoods stopping the night at Eureka. The next day we checked out marinas at Eureka, Crescent City and Brookings for future reference.

It was a great trip with a great traveling companion. The experience made us look forward with even more enthusiasm to when we will be traveling full time on our sailboat.