Eric Zilbert (
Wed, 3 Feb 1999 11:48:02 -0800

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West Wight Potter Website at URL
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O.K. I feel like Tod deserves a story and that Bill Z has thrown down the
gauntlet. If it had been most anyone else I would have ignored the
challenge, but to let a challenge from another Z person go unanswered is
unthinkable. This is not a Potter story, it is about an even smaller boat,
a Koralla Jr. (1971), a 12 ft. resin sailing dingy which I had been
sailing since I was a boy in Marina Del Rey. I just gave this boat to a
cousin last December after purchasing my Potter 19 (one boat per driveway
is my rule).

Two years ago this April I took my family on a grand adventure to Baja. I
had always wanted to visit Bahia de Los Angeles and a fortuitous alignment
of the spring breaks at the University, elementary and middle school gave
us 10 whole days to execute the plan. We drove our 1986 Maxima with Sears
X-Cargo top carrier towing our twelve foot Corralla Jr. loaded to the gills
with water, sleeping bags, fishing gear, outboard, and all the usual
camping gear. It took three days to get down there, and I highly recommend
the trip. We stayed over one night in L.A., then a night in San Quentin,
and then a night at the desert park at Catavina. The hotel there is very
nice, the campground rather austere, the desert was extraordinarily
beautiful and all the people we met were very nice and very interested in
our kit.

The drive was fairly uneventful except that the speed bumps or "topes" as
they are called caused some damage to various parts of the vehicle and
RUPTURED both 10 gallon water containers I had in the trailer. Naturally
our sleeping bags were in there too ... One gallon jugs in their packing
boxes proved to be much more durable.

Otherwise we camped at Raul's camp at about the center of the bay, and
found the bay to be a true paradise for sailing. The wind blew fitfully
most of the time, but could swing 180 degrees in the course of a day. It
also blew all night. We sheltered in a palapa, and though at time suffered
some minor inconveniences (sleeping under the stars while sand blew into
the bags) all went very well. The water is crystal clear but cold in April
(wetsuit advised) but you could look over the side and see 25 feet plus
into the water. We sailed around the seven islands in the bay, chased
porpoises and otherwise had a great time. The fishing was fair, the
claming and oystering outrageous.

Well, as it happened one afternoon, we ran out of several staples - i.e.
beer, tortillas, eggs, and salsa. It was about 3:00. I decided that,
rather than drive over the bumpy road, past the town dump etc. we could
SAIL TO TOWN for supplies. The wind was out of the east at about 15 - 20
knots, and I figured we could easily make the short trip to the harbor and
back before complete darkness. Well, the only member of the group up for
this was the third mate, then 6. We hopped in and indeed made good time,
it looked like a quick single tack to the harbor entrance on a perfect
reach, and then an easy run down to the dock. Heck, we could probably hang
around for a snack and libation before turning for home.

The first problem was a direct result of NOT HAVING A CHART. I was
operating on several days of experience in the bay which did not include
the harbor. To make the best time I set a course directly from our
campsite to the light at the harbor entrance. The boat is cooking, up on a
plane and we are having a ball, when suddenly the centerboard (about 2ft.
draft) hit ground and we are almost thrown from the boat. Luckily, nothing
is lost or broken (many's the time I'd patched up the centerboard trunk).
We begin to proceed gingerly and find, using the centerboard to take
soundings, that the entire bay to the north of the harbor is extremely
shallow and choked with eel grass. We must tack. Getting sea room all
goes well, but we lose time. Had I known about this we could have headed
out close hauled and made good the entrance without any major problems.
Now we were headed dead upwind, and actually had to back-track some as the
shoal was more pronounced at the eastern end of the sand spit which
protects the harbor.

Finally, we round the light point and begin our run into the harbor. I
figure we can still make it back, as we will be on a broad reach or running
most of the time on the way back. However, lounging at the dock is
definitely out of the question.

Did I mention that we left the Johnson 2 hp. outboard back at camp because
we obviously wouldn't need it? Now I'd had a lot of experience being
becalmed in all sorts of boats as a sea explorer and knew the value of an
outboard in these situations (if it worked), but I just couldn't imagine
the wind dyeing at this locale. I mean, I had held the sleeping bag closed
with one hand all night to keep the sand out! Well, as soon as we started
our run into the harbor it happened. We were a good mile from the dock and
the scene turned as calm as a millpond. Glass. Flat. No air. This was
partly because there is a large peninsula to the East which blocked the
wind. By now it was about 4:30.

I got out the one wooden paddle and we limped in. Finally we arrived at
the dock. The locals were very impressed at our fortitude and our small
boat. We ran to the store on the dock and guess what - NO TORTILLAS and NO
ICE. W e inquired as to where these could be obtained. The store we
needed to go to was the one farthest up the valley away from the dock. We
ran. We got the supplies plus a popsicle for the mate. Got back to the
dock and shoved off. Amazingly, the wind had shifted 180 degrees and we
were able to run out of the harbor. We made the turn north around the
light just as the sun touched the hills and the full moon rose out of the
sea. The breeze kicked up and as we went into the bay there were
whitecaps. The mate and I are hiking out for all it is worth and the boat
is really ripping. I lose my favorite Aussie hat but there is no thought
of going back for it. The wind builds. I note flying spray. Water is
breaking over the bow. We are wet, and it is GETTING DARK! The mate
tending the jib is getting somewhat concerned. I am too.

In sailing the bay the previous days I had taken note of the location of
our camp relative to the hills behind it and an island, so I knew the range
I needed to make. I was sure I could find it in the bright moonlight and
all would have been well except for one small miscalculation. You see, I
have been plagued since third grade with a rather severe astigmatism.
Corrective lenses have helped me greatly. Well, it so happened that I had
set out wearing SUNGLASSES. Not having thought about the possibility of
returning in the dark, I failed to bring the regular specs. So now I have
a choice, either resolution or brightness, but not both! I am constantly
taking them off and putting them on, cursing frequently. The mate takes
note of this but does not seem unduly alarmed.

As I strain to pick out our camp the wind pulls another trick and
progressively shifts from east to northeast and finally almost due North.
We have to tack again. We are on a starboard tack preparing to come about
when WHAM! We run aground on a shoal again. Luckily, the mate is hanging
onto the jib sheets for life, but he is thrown hard against the port
shroud. I go sprawling face first amidships, catching the thwart in the
middle of the boat across my chest. We are wet, its is dark, and we've run
aground. Now it must be almost 7:00.

The mate begins to cry. He really looks like he's going to lose it,
big-time. There is horror in his eyes, maybe even going into shock. I
tell him everything is going to be O.K. IF HE DOESN'T PANIC. I tell him
it is essential for him to work the jib so we can tack back to camp (this
was not true, I could easily single hand the boat, but I have found that a
job to do can take ones mind off of the disaster one imagines). Amazingly,
he stiffens right up and gives me an "O.K. Dad". We get off the shoal and
continue tacking about 50 to 100 yards offshore, looking for camp. I am
praying that the first mate (wife Lisa) has had the presence of mind to
luck. But I know we are close. It is now about 8:00 p.m. I continue to
alternate between glasses on, glasses off.

It turns out she panicked completely and drove into town shortly after
dark to find us. While I speak Spanish fluently, she can only order tacos
and beer and ask where the restroom is. She finds a group of Americans
having drinks down at the harbor (where I had hoped to snack before
returning) and asks them "Did you see a small sailboat come in?" They
apparently missed us, and said no. Then she asked if it was possible for a
small boat such as ours to make it back to the location of our camp safely
under the current conditions and in the dark. Being accustomed to large
and powerful engines and having no knowledge of sailing they say "No way,
not possible!" She goes to the local police and makes it known that her
husband and young son are somewhere out on the bay in a tiny sailboat.
They assure her that everything will turn out O.K., they will keep watch at
the harbor and give us a ride back to camp if we need it.

Well, we make landfall without further incident, about 50 yards to the
south of the ramp. We tow the boat along shore to our customary anchorage.
When we walk triumphantly into camp with beer, tortillas, salsa and ice,
my older son is there but not Lisa. He gives us "what for", big time.
Later I calm the first mate when she returns.

Epilogue: I think I learned, or was reminded of, some important points on
this outing. It always takes longer than you think, get a chart or ask
locals about hazards, don't think your boat is a car, take a motor, bring
spare specs, have a plan for what to do if it gets dark, especially for
those on shore. David, the mate on the trip is now our most avid and
confident sailor. He adores the Potter. Lisa looks forward to seeing more
whales and dolphins. I must say that though somewhat uncomfortable at the
time, I never doubted the boat or my ability to complete the trip. All in
all I count it among the greatest experiences of my life, though I do miss
that hat!

Hope this met your need for a story, Tod. Do you have any good ones Bill?

Eric E. Zilbert
Agricultural & Environmental Education Program
Dept. of Agronomy and Range Science, UCD
Davis, CA 95616 (530) 752-5943