Monday, March 31, 2008

Big Weekend

It was a big weekend for Narrow Escape. On Saturday, it was the committee boat for the first race of the season to be hosted by my club, Little Ships Fleet Yacht Club, and I was the Principal Race Officer.

Then on Sunday, the club hosted its Opening Day ceremonies, and Narrow Escape, proudly decorated, was tied at the center of the Long Dock to takes its place in our planned afternoon boat parade.

Our Saturday race was named the Murray Gordon Memorial, after a long-time member of our 71-year-old club who passed away. It was the second race of the season in the nine-race Long Beach Harbor Invitational series that is sponsored by three clubs, each club responsible for separate races.

The wind was 5-6 knots out of the southeast as we gave separate starts to three classes, sending them on courses of 10.6 nm and 11.6 nm. By the time they finished three to three and a half hours later it was in the upper teens and building, having clocked around toward the southwest.

It took three men on the bow to wrestle the Bruce anchor out of the sticky clay bottom of the harbor. That put the boat bow down, and the outboard bounced in and out of the 1-2 foot chop as I asked the remaining two crew members to stand at the stern to try to get the engine to spend more time in the water. Once the foredeck crew secured the anchor and rode at the bow and moved aft, the boat motored well through the building conditions as we returned to Alamitos Bay.

I spent the night aboard at my slip and awakened to drizzle, threatening skies and cool temperatures. After dressing the boat with strings of signal flags and colored pennants, I motored over to the Long Dock and assisted with preparations for our midday ceremonies.

Decorated and ready to go to Opening Day

We are a club without a club house, a so-called paper club, existing mainly as a venue for official entry into sanctioned yacht races, and bi-monthly dinner meetings of our members as guests at facilities of larger clubs. We do claim as part of our long history, however, a substantial contribution to the origins of the PHRF racing handicap system for sailboats.

Our only facility is a storage shed, leased from the city-owned marina, where we store our racing equipment, our barbeque for after-race festivities, and the paraphernalia we use once a year to convert the adjacent marina parking lot into an outdoor yacht club for our opening day ceremony.

The setting is far more glorious than it sounds. This small section of parking lot is set near a point on Alamitos Bay. The point itself is bordered with the grass lawn and white picket fence of the Navy Yacht Club of Long Beach, where we set up our luncheon tables. Beyond is the small bay itself, bordered by docks full of large yachts on the east, and fine homes of the Long Beach Peninsula and Naples Island on the south and west. In the distance between the two rises San Pedro Hill. And, of course, boats of all sizes are plying the water in between.

It is, however, subject to the weather of the day. On Sunday, that weather was cool, mostly cloudy, and blustery. Speakers had to take care their notes did not blow away. But it was dry. Forecast rain failed to appear.

The opening was well attended by flag officers from other clubs, large and small, and our own members. Our officers were introduced to canon salutes simulated by 12-gauge shotgun blanks, and a pair of pipers played a couple of stirring numbers, finishing with Amazing Grace. Afterwards, perfectly-grilled hamburgers were served on paper plates. As the burgers were consumed it became more and more difficult to keep the plates on the tables.

In the end, the boat parade was cancelled as whitecaps driven across Alamitos Bay by winds upwards of 20 knots pinned the eight-boat fleet hard against each other and the Long Dock.

Extricating the boats from that lee shore was skillfully handled by a combination of crews manning boat hooks from adjacent boats, pushing bows off while others kept stern lines tight, and skippers gunned their engines. The light Santa Cruz 27, a class-winner Saturday, powered by a small 2.5 hp outboard managed to avoid scraping the newly-painted Cal 40, a 2005 Transpac veteran. The Ranger 26 got cleanly away from its sidetie to the J-30, and the J-30 escaped unharmed from alongside the Mirage K-30. The Catalina 310 stepped smartly away from the side of the Ericson 38.

Finally it was Narrow Escape's turn. Three helpers walked her forward along the dock to the end. With a shove at the bow, a tug on the stern line and a healthy dose of forward throttle, she left the dock unscathed and soon was tied quietly in her slip once again.

A yachting season which never ends in Southern California had symbolically begun once more.

A Dodger

I watch while Dan Loggans, right, owner of Harbor Custom Canvas, measures for a new dodger.

Narrow Escape has survived 39 years and who knows how many owners without a dodger. But these last few weeks, while I was wrestling with problems of keeping my outboard firmly attached to the transom, Narrow Escape was being fitted with a dodger.

The engine problem is now solved. A new carburetor restored the Tohatsu outboard to its normal smooth, quiet, powerful self, after its recent ocean dunking. And then a new oil pressure sensor switch turned off the red low oil pressure warning light that came on and stayed on while I was out testing the new carburetor.

That episode was only slightly traumatic. I knew the engine was full of new oil and it didn't sound like an engine consuming its innards for lack of lubrication. Never-the-less, I did make for the nearby fuel dock where I tied up and called the repair shop for reassurance before motoring back to my slip.

I've owned several boats in the past that came with dodgers when I bought them. I always appreciated their protection, while also noting that dodgers can make it more cumbersome to see forward and to move forward.

But it was time for Narrow Escape to have a dodger. She's entered in the Newport Beach-to-Ensenada race later this month and a dodger would make the bash back north after the race so much more endurable, especially since the longest leg, from Ensenada to San Diego, will be motorsailed at night.

Since I had never bought a dodger before, I didn't really know what was involved, nor how expensive they are. I solicited three bids and found that the fastest response and lowest price came from the company whose label is on most of the dodgers in my marina, Harbor Custom Canvas of Long Beach.

It took about a month from start to finish, and it involved a surprising amount of hands-on, at the boat effort.

The first step was a two-man team who came to measure the boat and talk about exactly what I wanted. That resulted about 10 days later with another visit by the same team (which included the company's owner) to install the dodger frame.

Far from being a mere spectator to the installation of a pre-manufactured item, I was a participant in the custom installation of a made-to-fit frame. I wanted it installed farther forward on the cabin than initially proposed. That minimized obstruction of the cockpit by the side curtains, and also allowed the canopy to cover the entire companionway hatch slide. Thus the front of the dodger could fasten to a molded fiberglass lip on the cabin ahead of the hatch area. I also was able to keep the canopy lower so that it would never interfere with the low boom on the Ericson 30. I can see easily over the top while standing and steering with the tiller and through it with plenty of protection while seated.

Teak strips had to be installed on either side of the cabin top to attach the outboard fastners for the isinglass front. And teak wedges were fabricated to match the curve of the cabin at the outer edges, supporting the teak strips.

The frame was left in place, secured with straps, for me to live with for a few days to ensure that it was properly placed before the fabric was fitted.

When I say fitted, that's what I mean. The team next showed up with a wide swath of Pacific Blue Sunbrella cloth and tailor's chalk. They laid the cloth on the frame and marked it up much the way a tailor would fit me for a suit.

About a week later the cloth top of the canopy and the isinglass front section were installed, along with the two vertical posts near each rear corner of the cabin that make the frame rigid and able to serve as a secure handhold for moving in and out of the cockpit. Wide cutouts on either side of the rear frame provide the aft handholds. Curved stainless bars were later mounted fore and aft along each side of the dodger as handholds for walking forward along the deck.

The last portions of the dodger to be installed, a few days later, were the removable side isinglass panels and the covers for all the isinglass segments.

New dodger offers excellent visibility forward, and easy deck access.

In our original discussions at the boat I was adamant about wanting maximum visibility out of the dodger and they did a beautiful job of meeting my demand. The sunbrella borders that are necessary to secure the isinglass panels are barely larger than the teak and fiberglass strips to which they are secured. I find there is no reduction in forward visibility compared to having no dodger.

Looking sharp all buttoned up.

Similar care was taken when they made the remaining pieces of my order. I bought weather cloths for each side of the boat, which fasten over the lifelines running from the rear cockpit gate hooks to the mid-cabin stanchions. They'll work well while motorsailing home from Ensenada by reducing the amount of spray that reaches the cockpit over the sides. I didn't intend them for sailing, however, because they fit too close to the sheet winches to allow the winch handles to be used.

Other tidbits include a new sail cover and a companionway cover. The latter will put an end to an occasional rain leak at the junction of the hatch slide and the folding companionway door. The sail cover replaces the ancient battered cover that worked okay when it protected the thin, ultra-pliable original main on the boat when I bought it. After I bought a new main I had to sew a canvas extension along the bottom of that cover to make it big enough to go around the new sail.

Perhaps it was that experience that convinced me I should never ever try to make my own dodger. Or a new mainsail cover, for that matter.