I spent my birthday this year sailing southward along the Pacific coastline to Mexico in the annual Newport to Ensenada Race. It was the third time I’d been honored to be a part of this grand 125-mile overnight adventure – and what follows is a photo essay of the experience. The photos were taken by my good friend and fellow crewman, Brad Hall. Somehow, Brad managed to snap great shots at all angles and stay on board the boat.
Brad and I drove down to Newport on Thursday, April 14, to meet the rest of the crew and get another good look at our boat, Misfit – a sleek 1D35 Racing Sailboat. Brad and I had yet to sail aboard Misfit, which had only recently been acquired and modified by our Captain George Moll and the ship’s Master, Eric Schlageter. I’m no shipwright (I’m barely a sailorman) and I cannot describe everything that George and Eric did to re-build and re-design Misft (which is all really cool if you understand these things)– but you can find out by clicking here.
By 4:00 pm, the Misfits (as we would be known in Royal Navy parlance) had gathered at Newport’s Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club for the “Send-Off Fiesta” – a bayside Bacchanal at which…
Next morning, we were all at the dock to prepare Misfit for the race to Mexico. Off the back rail, we flew “The Jolly Claude” flag in tribute to our mighty master of the foc’s’le, Claude Dubreuil, who could not voyage with us that weekend. With Claude in our hearts though not on deck, our sturdy crew of eight was a foursome of matched pairs. (It was easier for me to group us this way while counting heads over the next 24 hours: kind of an unofficial buddy system. You don’t want to find out too late that someone went overboard. Especially at night.)
Captain George Moll and Tom Webber. Misfit is George’s boat, but I’m used to George and Tom being co-Captains. These guys are a classic odd couple. From the moment we hit the water, George is giving Tom grief and Tom is looking for a sandwich. But don’t let their Laurel & Hardy act fool you. These guys are real sailormen.
Joe and Eric Schlageter. Joe is Eric’s dad. They are two of the saltiest guys you’ll ever meet. I’d sailed with Eric many times, but I’d never met Joe until this race. Eric has forgotten more about sailing than I’ll ever know – and Joe knows even more. This is why I love sailing: the opportunity to get to know great characters like Joe and Eric.
Shaun Plomteaux and Geno Beville. The youngsters. The hotshots. They were born in water, of course, but appear to have slid right out of their mothers’ wombs into the Pacific Ocean. Watching them on this race would be a revelation. As hard as they worked, I think Captain George should move them up from midshipmen. Provided their sextant readings were correct.
Brad and Paul. A surfing Santa Barbara boy, Brad’s at home on the ocean, and has been sailing since his youth. As for me, I was born on the west side of Cleveland, and as a kid I built some model boats. We’ve shared many adventures together – and this would be another great one.
The boys and me are on the rail early in the race. A sailboat like Misfit needs a lot of human ballast to keep her balanced as she slices through the water. I, for one, am especially suited to the “rail meat” role.
As the sun continues to drop down toward the horizon, the Matey shows off his brand new Newport to Ensenada hat. We’ve been sailing for about 7 hours, and we’re less than a third of the way to our destination.
Young Geno takes a turn at the tiller, steering the boat while sipping a Bloody Mary in an improvised cup. Oh yeah, the cups. Tom forgot the cups. Actually, I was one of the guys who made the run for sandwiches, vodka and Bloody Mary mix before the race. But nobody told me about cups. (George insisted that he reminded Tom about the cups.) Finally, someone got the idea to make cups out of empty water bottles. It would not be the last instance of MacGyver-like ingenuity on this voyage.
Gorgeous colors paint the water as the sun starts to dip below the horizon. This is the kind of scene that makes sailing so addictive. The beauty and the constantly changing color and character of the water are indescribable.
Joe, “The Ancient Mariner”, greets the morning light, still snug in his foul weather gear. It was a cold, damp night – and once you get cold, you’ll never warm up again. So, foul weather gear at night is a must. You don’t take your “foulies” off until the sun comes up — and you start to sweat.
Taking a nap on the deck, it’s clear that Captain George didn’t get much sleep during the night. But George’s nap posture is nowhere near as uncomfortable-looking as Geno’s was at one point during the night when he was out cold, face down, lying in front of the companiomway. (Red Bull can only get you so far.)
The Matey celebrates the morning of his birthday, April 16th, dressed in his groovy hippy hoodie. The hoodie went on sometime during the night as another layer under my foul weather gear, At that point, I was wearing two t-shirts, the hoodie, and my foulies. I was still a bit cold.
Eric is at the helm as we approach the finish line. At this point, it was hard to tell how we’d finished. There weren’t many boats ahead of us – and a half-dozen could be seen behind us. Hope springs eternal.
At this point, a marlinspike was all that held the boom vang to the boom. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, as the winds died and our boat speed slowed to 2 knots and less, the fluttering of the mainsail caused the boom to bang back and forth – and the bolt that held the boom vang in place was lost. This was the second MacGyver-like bit of ingenuity. (Claude would have been proud.)
On the Sunday return trip, as we motored north to San Diego, Shaun was all about tending to the cordage. It was like something out of a Patrick O’Brian seafaring novel to see Shaun fixing, splicing and braiding the frayed ends of every bit of rope on board.
Eric caught the cordage bug from Shaun and started splicing and sewing, too. I was too busy enjoying the ride to San Diego. Besides, as rail meat, such refined maritime skills are way above my pay grade.
Shaun’s handiwork. I didn’t think anybody did this kind of work since the days of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic wars. Someone should introduce Shaun to scrimshaw. Then again, better to save the whales.
Captain George relaxes as we arrive in U.S. waters. Misfit can motor at between 6-7 knots – and we were lucky enough to have a “following sea” the whole way. (That means we were moving in the direction of the swell.) If we’d been motoring into the waves, it would have been a very wet and bumpy ride.
The Misfits pose before a celebratory meal at the Southwestern Yacht Club in San Diego. (My wife Victoria snapped this photo.) We look none the worse for the wear. Next year, we want to see our shipmate Claude in this photo with us!
And now, here’s a little film that Brad edited from footage he shot during the race – with the same camera he used to shoot those photos! It’ll give you a better idea of what it’s like to be on the water aboard Misfit. Ahoy!
BTW — We didn’t win the race. But I doubt anybody had more fun — or more laughs.