The Matey’s Log: A Birthday Voyage. Newport to Ensenada 2011…

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.

Misfit under construction. It was like the Manhattan Project, only more expensive.

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…

Then again, you had to be there.

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.

As Misfit pulls out of its berth at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club and sails out of Newport Harbor, Eric checks in with the race committee boat. “Sail number 35010 checking in!”

As we motored past the harbor breakwater, we caught our first sighting of that wacky photographer in his crazy taxi boat — the most unseaworthy-looking craft I’ve ever seen on the water.

Eric at the tiller negotiates our course at the start of the race. We got off to a very good start. Only one boat in our class got off to a better start. But there was a long race ahead.

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.

Shaun, Geno and Eric are in control in the cockpit early in race. Eric is steering with the tiller. At this point, you can clearly see that most of our competition is behind us.

Captain George relaxes against the lifelines as the sun starts to set. We were making a steady 6-8 knots in light wind – and our hearts were full of hope. Misfit was proving to be very nimble boat.

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.

Several Bloody Marys later, Geno is still at the tiller as sun has just about set.

In the waning moments of sunlight, Shaun trims the headsail. At this point we were flying a spinnaker, still averaging 6 knots in light winds. As far as we knew, we were among the leaders.

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.

As the sun comes up next morning, it’s clear what gets some sailors through the night: Red Bull and energy drinks.

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.

It’s clear that Tom got some sleep during the night, since he looks about as good as Tom can look.

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.

The Matey scans the Mexican shoreline as Misfit sails toward the finish line, coming into Ensenada.

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.

Brad and Tom celebrate surviving the long, cold night and arriving at the finish line in fine, seamanlike style. A hot shower was now just an hour or so away!

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.

Joe also relaxes, enjoying our smooth ride home. Note Joe’s bare feet. He and Tom rarely wear shoes on board. I find that amazing. These guys are really salty.

Since U.S. Customs won’t allow us to bring fruit back into the country from Mexico, George helps out by eating his share of the contraband apples.

The Matey looks a bit weathered and grizzled as Misfit makes her way into San Diego Harbor. It’s been a wonderful weekend of adventure: my first birthday on the Pacific Ocean.

Eric deals with the Customs agents at the U.S. Customs dock. I guess everything was okay because they let us all go. Luckily, the drug-sniffing dog didn’t give a damn about Red Bull.

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Adventure

6 responses to “The Matey’s Log: A Birthday Voyage. Newport to Ensenada 2011…

  1. Kate Tabor

    A wonderful birthday!
    Thanks for this photo/essay. Great pictures, Brad –
    While I never raced, I know the rhythm of the overnight sail.
    The buddy system. Oh, I remember that. My watch partner, David, on the Atlantic crossing was someone I almost hoped would fall over in the middle of the night.
    Lots of stories about him, but the one that your post reminds me of was about marlinspike seamanship and staying busy on the delivery. I was the cook. I was always busy with something to do, and I had a sail palm, some crazy needles, and lots of things to fix – cushions, covers, screens. Jim, the first mate was always busy finishing the frayed bitter ends of line. David looked at us and said the one sentence that marked him as having no future at this: “I watch you guys working, cleaning and stuff, and I’d help, but you’ll just have to do it again when we get to the boatyard.”

    Sadly, I forgot my sail palm on the boat when I left. I had to make it small enough to fit my hand, so I don’t know if anyone else was ever able to use it.

    Sail on, Misfits!

  2. Barbra Zuanich-Friedman

    Happy Birthday (and Happy Greek Easter) to the nicest bit of ‘rail meat’ I’ve met so far….glad you had such a ball on your birthday…

  3. Brad

    Great account of a fine weekend, Matey — don’t forget, the boat-length results aren’t in yet. The Misfit may yet have brass for her trophy case! And we’ve already won one trophy going away: The coveted Claude Dubreuil Drinking Cup — a complex measure of exhilaration+blunders/ingenuity+Grog/Speed*Captain’s Hours Asleep/tactical error^laughs/Useless jibes. Thanks to Capt’n Molls unusually long cat naps and our night at the Shamrock, we were first overall, and in class for the Dubreuil. Take that “Taxi Dancer.”

    • I did not read the trophy category list close enough. Had I known such honors were available I would’ve realized we were at least 10 Bloody Marys and a shot of tequila within the lead! If we win, it’ll be the laughs that put us over.

  4. Love the boomvang rigging. Improv – it’s not just for comedy.

  5. Stewart Figa

    A fine aquatic tale well told -Happy birthday Paul!
    Nice film Brad!
    “We sail the ocean blue,
    And our saucy ship’s a beauty;
    We’re sober men and true,
    And attentive to our duty… ”

    Well…, not exactly sober.

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