My 60th Birthday, January 18, 2024

“It’s not how you get into trouble”

My wife and I and two other married couple friends (first time charterers) were aboard a Lagoon 45 (catamaran) in the BVI.  On January 17, we anchored in Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke, after being unsuccessful on “Boaty Ball”, a relatively new web based way to reserve and pay for mooring balls.  In this harbor 80 percent of the moorings were the orange boaty ball mooring buoys and 20 percent were either white (first come first serve, like the good old days) or white with orange (reserved).

Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke

We arrived to Jost early in the afternoon, plenty of light and not a mooring ball to be had, all the white balls were used and all the orange balls were reserved per the Boaty Ball website.  No problem, several other boats were anchored, we picked a spot between two boats, anchored and drifted back to a good spot.  Sometimes I dive to check the anchor, especially when I back up hard to try to set it and I don’t feel the obvious sudden (whiplash inducing) shock of the anchor refusing to move one more inch.  This time it was not quite set as deep as I prefer and Hunter (my wife, and by far the most experienced crew aboard) hit the engine controls hard in reverse for a couple seconds and the anchor was stuck!

There was a power boat, an older Ocean sportfisherman to the right, and another charter catamaran to the left, both on mooring balls and both plenty far enough away, the moorings were generously spaced and seemed to provide plenty of room to anchor (foreshadowing).

We ate dinner aboard and then tendered ashore to check things out, had a drink at Corsairs,

Drinks at Corsairs

and all went as planned on my last night as a 50 something.  It was about 80 degrees and we all had sun exposure, so the crew decided to sleep with air conditioning, which unfortunately includes a generator (and its noise).

0330 January 18, 2024, one of the crew,  Vicki, awakens Hunter and I with news that it sounded like the boat hit something and there is another boat, very close to our stern.  I get up and flounder for some cover for my now 60 year old parts and come up to the bridge deck to find a mono hull sailboat within a few feet of our port transom, “not ideal”, I thought through the wake up fog“, “that wasn’t even one of the boats that was close to us”.

I quickly came to a point where I could assess the situation and made a decision.  I made the very good (easy) one of “let’s just pull in some anchor rode” and see what that does. 

The wind had been steady southeast trades blowing 30 km/h (we were in the British Virgin Islands) since we boarded three days earlier.  We had bashed naked (no sails) from Hodges Creek Marina in Tortola to The Baths on Virgin Gorda, and moored, then sailed to Norman Island, picking up another mooring.  The wind was howling on the ball and the boats were all moving together as expected, not at 3:30 am on 1/18.

Early on my birthday morn It was dead calm, the boats were just lollygagging around, as if they were boatyard workers on a break.  Nothing was moving with any intention or energy.  So I started the engines and by now Vicki’s husband Dave, Hunter and another crew member John, were up and ready to help.  I asked Hunter to lead the foredeck crew, turned on the foredeck light and navigation lights, and hoped the minimal effort would work.  The anchor was where?  It was unclear but in the few minutes we attempted to shorten the scope, it became clear that was not the right decision.  I don’t think we drug it, I believe our scope was too long for this mooring field and I was in no position to try to assess a shortened scope.  By the time Hunter told me she had pulled the rode in to the bridle, my brain fog cleared and I decided to find a mooring, “we got to get out of here” I told the crew, as we remained 30 feet from the sleeping neighbor.

“Please pull the anchor”, said I.  “It’s in that direction”, says she.  “Please pull the anchor”, says I, slightly louder.  “ “, (crickets), says she and I hear no windlass noise (also not quiet).  “Please pull the anchor”, yells I.  “We are all in this together, as a team”, says she calmly.  I instantly think, privately, well pull the f**kin anchor and I won’t yell, but says I something slightly less rude but still stupid, I am sure.  The anchor comes up and I have distributed two small flashlights to Dave and Hunter and we are on a quest for a mooring buoy.

The advantage of looking for a mooring buoy at 3:30, after almost hitting the neighbor boat, is that it doesn’t matter what color or if it was reserved, they can kick me off in a few hours, but I’m taking it.  We spot one dead astern, maybe 50 yards, crisis averted.  I engage in reverse, still dead calm, don’t need much throttle and will be on a ball shortly.  I hear a quick, repetitive, “soft knocking” sound to port aft.  “Hey Dave, is there a line over the back that is tight?”.  “No, I mean yes”, says he.  “We wrapped a line in the port prop”, says I, and instantly realize I had put the tender to bed, it was my fault there was a line to wrap.  Teaching moment, always secure the lines that can reach the propeller(s), you never know. 

The buoy is now directly to port, still about 50 yards away, still calm and we have the starboard engine, no big deal, slowly we make the port side turn and with a bit of luck, stay calm and approach the mooring  ball with one engine, much easier in these conditions.  Hunter reaches down to grab the ball with the boat hook and with a slightly comical cuss word, raises the top section of the extending, two piece boat hook, the hook end has disengaged, of course. 

Fortunately, during the mooring procedure, I had Dave grab the taught port side dinghy lift line and reversed the engine, the line broke and we had port engine function, or at least some of it.  Teaching moment two: when you wrap a line, try to reverse direction of the propeller and see if it will free itself. My brain worked slowly that morning.  We decide to pick up the ball from the starboard transom, ‘cause we could reach it from there.  Hunter had already been scoping the SUP paddle and its hand hold hook as the back up boat hook, she’s brilliant, but she didn’t tell me about that until later in the day.  We began maneuvering to pick up the ball when the wind woke up, felt like the game maker from Hunger Games decided to up the ante, “They have it figured out, let’s make this more interesting.”

We get our starboard swim step to the ball and pick it up, Dave and I now have a bridle line, through the mooring loop and in our hands.  “We won!”, I think, and the game master sends a gust while we are walking the mooring line forward.  Cuss word!  There is a SUP on the lifelines at my feet, “where is a cleat, I can’t hold this line much longer.”  “Dave, let’s go back to the transom and secure this line”, says I and Dave is on it.  Hunter takes the helm and pivots the boat expertly, and the crisis is averted as we attach the makeshift bridle to the bow cleats. 

I notice the other half of the boat hook in the water, next to the boat we almost hit.  I half jokingly say, “Hunter, there’s the boat hook, go get it.”  She hesitates, says she is scared to jump into the dark water.  She recalls that I was insistent, I recall thinking about jumping in myself, as it seems too easy and close to launch the tender or one of the toys, and the water is warm enough.  Next thing I know, she is in the water and the boat hook is retrieved.  She is the true hero of event.    

We were never in any danger, which reduces the stress significantly.  Most of us were able to go back to sleep and Sarah, the sixth member of the crew, didn’t have to, as she slept peacefully throughout the minor ordeal. 

The next morning, after cutting the small amount of line out of the saildrive’s propeller, I took the tender and played salesman, going transom to transom of five boats on white mooring balls, “Hey, it’s my 60th birthday and I would like to spend it here, are you leaving today?”  All were kind and we traded phone numbers.  I approached the fifth boat, it was the Ocean sportfisherman, named “Super Foxy” with hailing port Jost Van Dyke.  I approached the stern and said “You must have local knowledge”, and gave my sales pitch.  Turns out the guy I was talking to was Foxy, not only was he a handsome and distinguished (meaning gray) gentleman, but he was the owner of the like named restaurant where we would be celebrating my birthday that night.  His friend or captain asked, “where you celebrating tonight?”. “Foxy’s”, says I.  “Have you asked him permission?”, says he. “No”, says I.  “Well this is him”, says he, pointing to the man sitting on the gunnel eating some fruit. 

“Can I celebrate at your place?” says I.  “Ah, yeah mon and you can use my buoy tonight, we goin fishin.” Foxy says in the local dialect.  “Let the party begin”, thinks I.

Fortuitous Jenga block on my birthday

More flattering photo of crew

The Grass is Always Greener

“What a great job you have.  You get to play with boats all the time!”  We hear this regularly.

We feel blessed and have chosen this trade because of our love of boats and boating, but all boats are not fully crewed mega yachts or maintained by fastidious owners.  Some are filthy and stinky.  Our claims business often finds us crawling through boats that were recently raised from the bottom, thick with soot from a fire or grossly fouled from some horrendous accident.  We regularly wear knee pads and it is not uncommon to don long-sleeved coveralls, gloves, boots, eye protection and a respirator (full PPE) and there is another type of unpleasantness, the human type.

Marine surveying is a service business and we cherish out customers.  Good service leads to goodwill and referrals from satisfied customers.  Good service will minimize negative results from dissatisfied customers.  I do not necessarily believe the client is always right but the client is always the client. 

There are times that we experience a side of humanity and difficult personalities that challenge our professionalism and social graces. 

The following short story and the text thread that follows is the first story written about one of these experiences, and we have written a lot of stories. (Comments in parenthesis are added for humor.)

The engagement began normally.  A telephone call discussing the purchase of a J/105 sailboat.  The client declined the sea trial, stating “I don’t need to sail it”.  The day before the survey, on a conversation confirming the survey, the client decided to have the surveyor attend the vessel at the marina, witness a cold start and check the engine on the way to the boatyard. 

The survey also started normally in the marina, the engine was inspected prior to starting, a cold start was witnessed and the vessel was operated from the marina to the boatyard.  On the way, a short detour was made to test the engine under wide open throttle and the vessel arrived on schedule to the boatyard.  The boatyard had not received an agreement from the client.  I called the client and he stated, “Really? They’ve only known me for 30 years.”

Ironically, I discussed with the boatyard how important agreements are to us and that we make sure the agreements are signed the day before the survey, which I thought was done in this case. 

The vessel was hauled as usual and the boatyard personnel discuss blocking the vessel as it was going to be out for a few days.  The potential buyer arrives and wants to have the boat out of the water so that he can change the name.  This comes as a surprise as the owner’s representative had discussed a normal “short haul” and return of the boat to the marina.  I called the client to inform him that the captain says the boat is going back into the water, to which he responds, “Well tell him no it is f**king not!”.  This is the first indication that this job would not be normal, and the last (of many) cuss words in this article that will be used.

While the initial response was off putting, I eventually realized, and you will see if you read the text thread, that this is a normal way for the client to communicate. 

I let buyers and sellers resolve issues like this.  The vessel was in fact launched and returned to the marina where the survey was completed.

The client came aboard the vessel at the marina, we gave a verbal debrief and concluded the job as normal. 

I inquired about payment and quoted the price.  The client responded with, “You’re spendy, send me an invoice and I will pay you with Zelle”.  I responded by describing the invoice details, $22 per foot times the length overall (35 feet) and $150 for a sea trial, our normal price.  There were no further discussions and I returned to our office.

All of the further communications were via text, though after several of the texts I tried unsuccessfully to switch to phone calls, 

Text thread follows.

Wed, Apr 5 at 8:09 AM

Client – “yo, they are waiting for you at xxx yacht club”

Kells – “Five minutes away, what marina?” (the “yacht club” is in name only, it is a sailing organization located at a marina)

Client – “Marina xxx I believe.  Google it!”

Kells – “Arriving”

Client – “done.  Howz the motor?”

Kells – “Has some moderate issues.”

Wed, Apr 5 at 3:04 PM

Client – “thanks for today, but your price is too high. First, no industry discount? Second, charging me for a sea trial is just a rip off.  You motored for 15 mins!  Please adjust accordingly”

Kells – “I feel the price is fair and the sea trial was worth doing.  You did not request a discount on the front side and are being charged what all out customers are charged”

Client – “everybody else in the industry knows who I am.  I don’t pay retail and I sure as fxxk am not paying for a sea trial that never happened” 

Kells – “Does everybody else in the industry like your business tactics? We will extend a discount for the sea trial as a courtesy and pay the parking fee”

Client – “ I usually don’t have to engage in this sort of horsesxxt with others.” 

Kells – “Me either.  Would have preferred to address it in person when I gave you the price.  We also need you to complete our agreement.”

Client – “Well now you know.  I am sick and feel like sh– and didn’t feel like arguing.  Knock $300 off and ill pay you today”

Kells – “I reduce the cost by $150 and I’m not charging you for the parking.  I am not going to reduce it any more.”

Client – “Charge me for parking? Are you high? $250 and we have a deal, otherwise, keep your survey.”

Kells – “I went to the marina at your request.  I asked the machine to not charge me because I was working for xxx.  It still charged me.  I don’t appreciate you wasting my day”  (okay a bit snarky on my part but I am human)

Client – “Your decision”

Kells – “No it is your demand for a discount after the fact”

Wed, Apr 5 at 6:14 PM

Client – “Do you want money or not? $700 today for the survey or fxxk off.”

Kells – “I want you to pay what is fair and feel your negotiation is unethical.  I will not support that behavior.  If you want the report which you requested, please sign the agreement and pay the invoice.  The price is fair.  Thanks”

Client – “What agreement?  What price?”

Kells – “We sent you an Adobe sign agreement to your email and a revised invoice.”

Client – “In the spirit of cooperation, ill pay $750 and not a penny more.  Revise the invoice, send me the survey and I will pay. Period. And if not, I don’t want to hear anything else about this.”

Kells – “If you want the survey, sign the agreement and pay the invoice.”

Client – “No thanks.  Please do not contact me again.”

Kells – “I hope you feel better and wish you well.”

Client – “What kind of idiot loses $750 over 20 bucks? Apparently you.  This is going to make a good story on xxx.” (the client is referring to a popular blog he writes)

Wed, Apr 5 at 6:14 PM

Client – “hey fxxkwit, I just found out you tried to rip me off! You charged $750 for another 105, which is exactly what I said I would pay.  And don’t give me any bullsh– about a sea trial – you didn’t do one!”

Kells – “We charge the same to all our clients”

Client – “wrong.  I have the fxxking invoice.”

Kells – “Our rates change over time, we currently charge $22/ft x loa and that is what we quote and charge for fiberglass boats under 60’. 

Kells – “You are mistaken if you think I did anything but charge you what I charge everybody.  We discussed the sea trial in advance, and you declined, the day before you changed your mind.  If you asked for a quote, you would have received exact numbers on your original invoice”

Client – “Fxxk if I did.  I NEVER wanted a sea trial and a fxxking motor to  the yard is not a sea trial. Im writing an article about this right now.  You fxxked up, assh—.  Now go the fxxk away.”  (I never looked for the article, but have not heard it was written second hand)

Thu, Apr 6 at 12:45 PM

Kells – “The rough draft is done, upon receipt of the agreement and payment I will complete it and send it to you. Please feel free to call with any questions.”

After the client signed the agreement and paid the invoice, he communicated with our office via email on Apr 10 at 1:50 PM

Client – “money sent via paypal.  I am expecting the survey today.”

Christian & Company Office Email – “The report is attached.  Thank you for your business.”

Client – “very good.  Thanks very much and apologies for the miscommunication best, xxx”

The Risks of Exploration

One of my children asked for my opinion on the failure of the sub, “Titan” and another suggested I write an article. They are influenced by their life experience of their father actively writing and regularly involved in forensic analysis of maritime accidents, some involving fatalities. It is not uncommon that I team up with engineers, naval architects and other experts tasked with forming an onion as to the cause of loss, and testify about those opinions.

I have not been involved with any submersible projects; “Sub for Sale” on Pawn Stars being the exception. Coincidentally this was also done at the request of my children (who were fans of the show) and is at the other end of the spectrum (in so many ways). 

I understand the maritime desire to explore and I hear the siren song. It is exciting to set sail for a new harbor, chart a course for the first time and to complete a voyage to that destination and be rewarded with a unique experience. Even simple voyages pay dividends. Trying to navigate a 45’ catamaran into Little Harbor, Catalina, going slightly off the beaten track to Anegada, BVI or stopping for lunch at Kopanyee, a floating city in the Andaman Sea and home of the Panyee FC. Though these are relatively simple adventures, they do have moments of exhilaration like dragging anchor toward a sheer rock bluff in the middle of the night, in a monsoon in the South Pacific or even picking up a mooring in close quarters and heavy winds at Avalon. It is rewarding to face a challenge and overcome it. Many humans enjoy the rush of adrenaline, some more than others.

As for the sub “Titan”, I have not done extensive research. I have read articles and watched news reports. Stockton Rush, one of the founders of OceanGate, used carbon fiber in its construction. This is a common construction material in our world. Titan had descended to the Titanic numerous times and had descended far deeper. Mr. Rush was a graduate of Princeton and U.C. Berkeley, was reportedly risk adverse, and clearly believed in the technology in which he perished. A group of other deep sea explorers have warned of problems and cited noncompliance with standards and some questionable use of carbon fiber. He had reportedly decided that compliance delayed progress.

An investigation has begun into the cause of the failure of Titan. Cutting edge exploration has an incredibly high cost. Think of the space shuttle “Challenger” and so many other aerospace projects. There will be lessons learned and technological advances.

No one can know if the juice is worth the squeeze, we all have our own opinion. Sometimes “treasure” is discovered in the outer reaches of space or the depths of the sea that benefits humanity to an extent worth this incredibly high cost. Sometimes it is just the Siren’s Song luring mariners. Risky exploration will continue.

RIP to the five souls aboard the Titan. My heartfelt condolences to all their family. A father and son were lost, such a sad event.

Just four days prior to the loss of the “Titan” sub, a migrant vessel rolled over in the Mediterranean, so far 80 bodies have been found and 500 people are missing and these tragedies are not uncommon. They were seeking a new life, like the passengers on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. RIP to all of them. 

Vessel Damage Claim Mystery

Vessel Damage Claim Mystery

Damaged Propeller


A significant part of our business is assisting with damage claims. Normally we are engaged by an insurance claims adjuster, with the task of determining the cause of loss, defining the scope of damage and assessing the cost to repair. Many times we need to solve a mystery or a puzzle to determine the cause of loss. This recent assignment was from an owner.
We thought it might be fun for you to try to solve one.

Background History

The photo above is the propeller at the heart of the puzzle. The owner purchased the vessel ten years ago and had new engines, propeller shafts, and propellers installed within the last two years. Due to performance issues, the propellers were modified after they were installed.

Event Details

The owner was operating this vessel just offshore the harbor entrance when he felt an “impact” and the starboard engine began vibrating. He inspected the starboard shaft on the interior of the vessel and noticed movement/vibration; he had no idea what had happened. He thought he may have “lost a bearing”. He attempted to get a diver to inspect the vessel but was unsuccessful. He filed an insurance claim based on advice from a mechanic and the vessel was hauled and inspected ten days later. I inspected it two weeks later, when it was hauled on its trailer. The significant findings follow pictorially (with some captions to help).

Figure One: Propeller blade’s break surface near hub

Figure Two: Second propeller blade, undamaged 

Figure Three: Third propeller blade, undamaged 

Figure Four: Strut, visibly bent


Have you jumped to any conclusions yet?
The propeller is missing one blade, the blade is broken near the hub and the other two blades exhibit no damage. The propeller and shaft spin freely, with the same amount of resistance as the undamaged propeller shaft of this twin engine vessel.
The insurance company denied the claim and the owner called me for a second opinion. Do you know what happened? What testing could be performed?

The Big Reveal

Don’t continue reading if you have not tried to solve the mystery and don’t want to know the answer yet.
The failure mode of the propeller is unusual and inconsistent with striking a submerged object. A propeller in good condition (in this case less than two years old) should not “lose a blade” due to striking a submerged object. Normally a propeller in motion that strikes a submerged object will contact the object with more than one blade and the edges of the blade(s) will bend or tear. This propeller likely failed due to a crack propagating through the blade or a similar weakness or flaw. The science that could be used in this case would be a metallurgical inspection, perhaps using a scanning electron microscope to determine the mode of failure. Sometimes the science nerds just tell us boat nerds the mode and we have to deduce the real world meaning and cause.
What about the bent strut? This installation includes only the strut for a bearing, a dripless shaft seal, and a hard coupled propeller to a transmission. Remember the propeller shaft spun easily. The strut was installed below a fuel tank before the liner was installed in the vessel and the cockpit covered the fuel tank. It is not an easy task to remove and reinstall the strut.

Here is one more hint.

Figure Five: Inboard aft motor mount, note position of the nut on the stud

Figure Six: Outboard aft motor mount, note position of the nut on the stud 

It is our opinion that the strut was bent prior to the failure of the propeller. The new engine and transmission were installed and aligned to the bent strut and nobody noticed the bent strut.
The aft two motor mount bolts and nuts show the likely uneven alignment, the other engine’s motor mount bolts are adjusted evenly.
It is unclear when, how or why the starboard strut was bent. The vessel is a limited production powerboat and it is possible that the strut was bent during the manufacturing process when it was found to be out of alignment. It is also possible that another event, perhaps a line wrapped around the propeller provided the force to bend the strut, but it is improbable and nearly impossible that striking a submerged object would have broken the propeller and bent the strut.
In addition to the findings above regarding the propeller, an properly aligned propeller shaft, between the transmission and strut, would no longer be aligned if the strut was bent (post alignment) and the shaft would either be bound or extremely difficult to turn. What further testing could be done? If an impact with the propeller had bent the strut, the force would have necessarily been transmitted through the propeller shaft. Pulling the propeller shaft and testing straightness with a dial indicator would show the existence of any bends and a bend at the propeller end of the shaft would prove such a force had been applied.
While neither of the inspections, metallurgical inspection of the propeller’s break surface or dial indication of the propeller shaft have been accomplished, the findings are relatively certain based on logic and experience.

I hope you enjoyed the mystery!

Cabo Passport Incident

In my professional life as a marine surveyor and my personal life, including actively chartering catamarans in foreign countries, I regularly combine boating and travel.  “It’s not how you get into trouble”, I often tell my clients, “it’s how you get out that matters.”  Usually this sentiment applies to sea scenarios, but recently I was able to practice this technique on land.


I flew to the airport in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico on a Monday, for a new boat “warranty” inspection, also in San Jose del Cabo.  My intention was to complete the job that day and spend the night in Cabo San Lucas, enjoying the following day in the warm winter weather, before a late afternoon departure.  Upon arrival to the marina, I took a second job and my schedule changed, but I had already purchased a Cabo San Lucas hotel room for the night.


Maybe it was because I was in the least expensive hotel on the marina, maybe it was because the lights didn’t work in the hotel’s stairway, but for some reason I decided to store my passport in the room safe before leaving for dinner.  This is not a habit, I only do it occasionally and I briefly considered the consequences as I shut the safe door.


I was up early the next morning working on my laptop, not realizing that its clock did not adjust to the time difference.  When I realized that I would be late to the job, I packed quickly and rushed out of the hotel, still hoping to return for a few hours of relaxation.  The jobs took longer than expected and I decided not to make the 30-ish minute drive back to the hotel and instead arrived two hours early for my flight back to San Diego.  I entered the airport relaxed and told the rental car shuttle driver how good it felt to be early and stress free, then I reached into the passport pocket in my brief case.  Something slightly less than total panic but much more than worry quickly displaced the “I got plenty of time feeling”, as I remember the passport was in the safe.  One of my children was having a medical procedure early the next day and I was determined to get home.


Instantly I started considering my options, would my Sentri pass work, could I get my rental car back (and drive like “that guy”), how long would it take to get to my hotel and back?  I knew I had to make decisions quickly as the clock was running.  I told myself to stay calm, “you got this”.

There are two ways from the airport to Cabo San Lucas, a toll road and a free road with much more traffic.  I called the hotel and began the painfully long wait for them to locate the passport.  Mañana time is great for vacation, but does not go well with plane schedules.  I began negotiating with taxi drivers, it is hard to break old habits and I pride myself on this skill, but trying to negotiate in this situation proved futile.  My timing demand overpowered my ability to walk away casually (the show them your back gambit) and wait for the driver with the desire to match my needs.  I hired a taxi at full retail price.


Luckily I was able to charge my almost dead phone in the taxi as we headed towards the hotel on the toll road; I was still on hold with the hotel.  The toll road is mostly a two lane road with occasional passing lanes and has slow trucks, the elderly taxi driver, with good English skills, looked for opportunities to pass, but few came and he expressed his impatience in Spanish.  It became a comedy movie scene.  I tried to get the taxi driver to call the hotel, against his better judgment he tried, we almost wrecked.  One thing about driving and talking on the phone is you get better with practice.  He asked me to call the hotel for him, he had a Samsung phone, and again we almost wrecked while he brought up the dial screen for me.


Those of you who travel to Mexico regularly are familiar with the different phone numbers used for dialing mobile phones versus land lines or from foreign phones.  I travel there often and am aware of the differences, but don’t know them well enough to dial efficiently.  I have to fumble around with a “+1”, “01” or an area code and sometimes, miraculously, after many “that won’t work messages” in Spanish, I connect.  In this taxi I experienced all these problems.  “Keep cool”, I thought.  After twenty minutes I hung up on the hotel on my phone and called them back.  They had found my passport and given it to another taxi driver to head towards the airport.  Then cellular reception failed and briefly I thought I might.


I called the hotel again, while my driver continued toward the hotel, passing the exit to San Jose.  They gave me the passport taxi driver’s phone number, but of course, we were unsuccessful in our initial attempts to reach him from either phone.  Eventually I reached him on my phone but my Spanish was of little help.  I didn’t need “dos cervezas”, “la cuenta” o “el baño”, so I handed my phone to my driver.  I had to stifle myself from micro-managing their conversation, which I barely understood anyway.  We arranged a meeting point at a grocery store, between the two cities, near the exit we had passed a few miles back.  A u-turn on a toll road is possible in Mexico and saved time, a small victory, “I got this”.  We arrived to the meeting point first, the traffic was heavy on the free road, and again some doubt crept into my thoughts.


The passport taxi, blue van number “101”, arrived and I was waiting in the parking lot at the ramp from free the road.  The transfer was made and with some aggressive driving through the roundabout, yeah my driver was “that guy”, we were back on to the toll road in plenty of time to catch the plane.  My ability to check my bag of tools was less certain.  I often travel with tools and knew this might be another time I had to choose between keeping the tools or catching the flight, but this time I had a more urgent desire to fly.  The Mexican TSA could certainly use the hammer but the moisture meter would likely be useless to them.  Would I have to check my scope camera?  I returned to the airport less than 45 minutes before the flight and luckily they were not as rigid as most US airports have been recently. I was allowed to check the bag and was relieved that I had solved this minor self-imposed crisis with moderate stress and less than $200.


Whether it’s a boating challenge, a travel issue or life in general, I find it’s important to stay calm, rapidly assess options, pivot appropriately and believe in a positive outcome.  I had time and access to the airport lounge and chose a Jack and Coke as my reward.  I didn’t have time to drink it or the desire to chug it, so I requested and was pleasantly surprised with the offer of a red Solo to go cup.  The agent inquired as to its content as I passed through the gate and had one final smile when she allowed me to board with “my medicine”.


Salvage Boat Race

We are often racing during salvage operations, racing the tide, racing weather, and we’re always racing time. We have been active with salvage jobs during Covid and during a recent round of sea stories during a salvage in the Central California coast, I remembered a very interesting salvage boat “race”. As marine surveyors we usually represent insurance companies and insured’s interests during salvage operations. The historical basic concept of salvage is to reward a salvor for risking their health, life, and equipment in order to save someone else’s property, usually a vessel or cargo. In return for the risk, and usually based on the value saved and level of risk, the salvor is granted a reward.

Two decades ago a Catalina 42 left Southern California for Hawaii. Aboard were the owner, a friend of his, both in their sixties and two of their children, both about twenty. Right away the vessel began experiencing problems including water intrusion and somewhere approximately 100 miles off-shore there was a steering failure. Only one of the 20 year old’s was able to steer with the emergency tiller handle. A decision was made to abandon the vessel and all four passengers were retrieved by a Coast Guard helicopter. The EPIRB (acronym for emergency position indicating radio beacon) was activated. As a representative of the insurance carrier for the vessel we hired a salvage / tow boat to retrieve the vessel and initially had good location information from the EPIRB.

Just after we initiated the recovery of the vessel, we were alerted to a second salvage vessel underway in hopes of retrieving the Catalina and collecting the reward.

Initially I was dismayed and contacted the owner of the company who had dispatched the competitor salvage vessel. He responded that this was “only business” and “may the best boat win”. His boat was faster. I asked an authority, providing the EPIRB information if the location could be selectively provided, i.e. withheld from the competitor boat. I was denied. We, the good guys in my opinion, were not the favorites to win the race but with both tow boats racing toward the abandoned and adrift vessel, the EPIRB signal began to wane.

As the two tow boats approached the area in which the vessel was believed to be, its EPIRB became completely useless. We hired a spotter plane to assist our team and developed a communication protocol so they helped only our team. Without premeditation on the part of the land based team, the pilot of the plane, on his own, provided information to the competitor vessel. We later learned the information was inaccurate.

The hero salvage vessel won the race, found the Catalina 42 and returned it to its home port and its owner. Had the competitor vessel found it, they would have been granted a salvage reward for their effort but in this case instead, they got their just reward, a fuel bill.

A Marine Surveyor’s Voyage Through the Corona Virus

Day 1              December 23, 2020

First day of symptoms, unusually low energy. Work from home.

Day 2              December 24, 2020

Initial symptoms continue, low energy, Christmas shopping.

Day 3              December 25, 2020

Not so merry Christmas. Symptoms increase, mild fever. Contact primary care provider to request Covid test – denied, did not meet testing requirements. In isolation, wife evacuates bedroom.

Day 4              December 26, 2020

Wife and I drive separate cars to Covid test site, take my fifth Covid test.  Contact clients scheduled for 12/28/20. Seller had Covid, buyer is Navy corpsman comfortable with exposure, both request that survey proceeds.

Day 5            December 27, 2020

Symptoms include mild body aches, prior symptoms persist.  Mental certainty that I have some medical condition, no breathing issues causes Covid questions to remain. Physically feel able to work.

Day 6             December 28, 2020

Mild symptoms continue, normal work day and mindset. Perform pre-purchase inspection of 40’ trawler including sea trial from Chula Vista to Shelter Island and back, receive positive diagnosis at the end of job, wife tests negative. Cancelled jobs scheduled that week and mental outlook shifts negatively.

Day 7              December 29, 2020

Work from home, symptoms persist. Heed CDC guidelines for isolation, requiring 10 days from first known symptom and 24 hours with no fever.

Day 8              December 30, 2020

Fever resides, optimism returns, wife tests positive and moves back into bedroom.

Day 9              December 31, 2020

Fever returns, mental state confused, doubt ability to ever survey a boat and write a report again. Skip a scheduled zoom party call, worse wedding anniversary ever.

Day 10            January 1, 2021

Symptoms persist, confirm proper medical care with niece (an active Covid nurse). Eat Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice dish), family tradition for good luck on New Year’s Day. Checked back that we missed this tradition in Bali on January 1, 2020.

Day 11            January 2, 2021

Awakened with no fever, mental acuity returns, work remotely for 3 hours. Cancelled golf outing scheduled for 1/3/21 and advise clients scheduled for 1/4/21 of current situation, all request job to proceed.

Day 12             January 3, 2021

Remain fever free, only symptom remaining is limited smell and taste, retest for Covid, all cleared for exiting quarantine per CDC guidelines.

Day 13          January 4, 2021

Awaken with clear head, no fever and symptoms abating, minor limited smell and taste, Covid test returns negative.  Survey Seamaster 46 sailboat in Ensenada.  Wife tests positive, low grade fever persists until January 8, 2021.

In an attempt to add interesting detail and color to the daily Covid journal, I’m providing relevant family and business history. My wife and I have three 20-something children and a 30-something nephew (and marine surveyor) living in a split level 5-bedroom home. Our room abuts the main living room, dining room and kitchen on the upper level. The children have bedrooms on the lower level. The living room and dining room include large tri-fold doors which open to a deck.

Our family has been fairly Covid aware and cautious, wearing masks, staying socially distant and in a relatively small “germ pod”. The first few months I wiped down the common areas every morning before anyone else arose.

We have a Sunday night family dinner tradition which usually includes guests. Initially this was suspended but utilizing the indoor / outdoor style of our dining room, the Sunday dinners were resumed during Covid. Often visiting 20-somethings and also the more “exposed” children sat outside, while the more at risk humans would stay inside.

Marine inspection protocols were developed which included mask wearing, distancing as possible, ventilation and common sense.

Our business paused when the first lockdown occurred but quickly rebounded due to an unexpected and unprecedented surge in demand for boats. Business and vacation travel was significantly curtailed, resuming with a family trip in November to visit elderly parents. We all tested negative prior to departure and twice during the travel.

Business travel resumed with a day trip to La Paz, Mexico in early December and 5-day trip to Mazatlán beginning December 16, 2020. Both trips included use of the cross border express a walking bridge to the Tijuana airport. We missed the scheduled flight to Mazatlán after arriving at the Cross Border Express 1.5 hours before the scheduled 5:30 am flight, primarily due to the line to check luggage (tools) combined with a crush of vacation travelers. The missed flight caused many hours in the airport. I was  accompanied by my wife on the trip, we both wore double masks, the flight was full.

The Mazatlán job was a pre-purchase inspection of a 2016 107-foot class built and maintained steel luxury expedition type motor vessel with an asking price of over $10,000,0000. We shared one meal with the crew in the galley and spent two nights socializing with friends in Mazatlán. Alcohol softened my Covid defenses.


On the day I received my positive Covid diagnosis I was surveying a 1977 fiberglass Marine Trader 40 trawler in San Diego with asking price of less than $50,000.


Both survey jobs were normal, Covid protocols were mostly adhered to with the exception of travel.

After having a fever in conjunction with other minor symptoms I began isolation, including only briefly and remotely attending Christmas dinner.

Medically we consulted with a close friend of the family who is a doctor and an active Covid nurse. We stayed hydrated by forcing fluids, took extra vitamin C, D, zinc and one aspirin per day. We regularly checked our temperatures and oxygen levels (with a pulse oximeter). We ate three regular meals even though our appetites were reduced. Some of the meals were s

mall and some of the low energy levels may have been related to limited caloric intakes. We rested extensively, tried to get vertical and move around / take a short walk each day and tried to return to positive mental health, a challenging aspect of the disease on many days.

All four children tested negative twice subsequent to my positive diagnosis and were a god-send in their support during the brief voyage through the corona virus.

I have no intention of providing any advice including medical, travel or behavior. We received many wishes and three delicious and appreciated pots of soup from friends. I received many inquiries as to the experience and its severity and thus was motivated to produce this account.

I also have no illusions that our experience is typical, and am eternally grateful for the relatively mild symptoms, intend to continue exercising caution and remembering the unfortunate families who suffered far more significantly in this crisis.

A Scary Story

A Scary Story

Do you see anything wrong in this picture?

How about now, compare the two propeller shafts


How about now?
This is a broken propeller shaft. It broke ½” aft of the transmission coupler keyway.
The 30 year old boat had a relatively new owner, he had reversed out of his slip and had operated at approximately 15 minutes at low speed. The failure happened as he throttled up in forward and felt something unusual on the steering wheel. This was the propeller contacting the rudder.
He then noticed that he had lost power from his port engine, though the engine ran and the transmission shifted normally.
A quick check of the engine room revealed that the port propeller shaft had slid out of the shaft seal, allowing a 2.5” stream of water into the engine room.
Fortunately experienced boaters were aboard along with emergency wooden dowel plugs, one of which fit nicely into the shaft seal hole.
This averted any significant water intrusion event, the vessel was hauled shortly thereafter limiting the damage to the broken shaft and bent propeller.
It defies logic that the propeller shaft was strong enough to assist in reversing the vessel out of its slip, but broke shortly thereafter while operating in forward. Logically one would think, if the shaft was that close to failure, it would have failed in reverse.
The lines across the break surface of the shaft are called beach lines. These are where a crack in the shaft has propagated across the face of the break surface, or through the shaft, until the point of failure.
This particular failure is unusual, as most propeller shaft failures occur at the key which allows connection to the transmission coupler or the propeller.
Boats maintained “in class” are required to pull their propeller shafts every five years. Most recreational vessels only pull propeller shafts if a problem develops. Another problem which is common with stainless steel propeller shafts is anaerobic corrosion below the shaft seals and strut bearings, caused by long periods of disuse and the unfortunate weaknesses of stainless steel.
This recent failure resulted in relatively little damage, due to the operator recognizing the problem quickly, inspecting the engine room and most importantly having proper emergency response equipment aboard.

Emergency wooden dowels and installation tool


As boaters we don’t always get to park at our home, yacht club or marina. Your active boating life will necessitate parking someplace else, and you’ll be thrown in with the mass of Southern California drivers searching for coastal parking. More and more of which is fee based.
After nearly 30 years of marine surveying, driving to a different boat every day, it would be logical that I would become savvy at parking near them. Yeah, no… but I am learning all the time.
Decades ago my car was towed from Humphreys on Shelter Island, about a month after they started to control their parking lot. I didn’t believe the newly posted “will tow” signs. Since then, I made it decades until recently when I received tickets in Long Beach and Oceanside.
In Long Beach, a nine iron away from the Queen Mary, I fed three quarters into the meter. When I noticed no time, I wrote a note for any potential enforcer and put it in my dashboard. I even had a witness. The note was no deterrent and a ticket appeared. My initial request for dismissal and my subsequent appeal both rejected, even with a witness statement and a copy of the note left in the dashboard. The denial said the meter was “working properly”.
The Oceanside ticket resulted from my apparent negligence of placing the parking receipt face down on my dash. My initial request for cancellation, including the credit card receipt for purchasing the parking ticket, was rejected. I just put the appeal in the mail, motivation for this story. Wish me luck.
In addition to moving your car to a space with a functional meter and putting the receipt face up, I have learned other useful parking tidbits.
There are often free areas in the vicinity of paid spots. Near our Shelter Island (San Diego) office there is free unlimited street parking. There are free lots on all three corners of the Shelter Island. There is free parking in Spanish Landing, close to San Diego boat shows and Harbor Island (and the airport). Keep in mind that these lots have limitations, displayed on signs, usually to prevent overnight and long term parking. In your area, keep an eye out for where the workers park, usually we know the best spots.
Professionals/vendors often receive discounts in commercial parking lots, including those for large hotel chains. Many marinas allow vendors to purchase keys, a wise decision if one must return to a marina repeatedly, without a boat there.
Keeping the environment and parking difficulties in mind, consider car pooling and bicycles (yes even those colorful eyesore rental bikes and scooters). And then there are times like 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Parade of Lights. My suggestion for all of these: ride share.
PS. Alav ha-shalom (R.I.P.) Carleton Levitetz, a local boat broker with a humorous personality and unique style

Cecil Lang Story

I first met Mr. Cecil Lange in La Paz, Mexico while surveying a Cape George sailboat he built in Port Townsend, Washington.  The Cape George boats he built were very traditional, stout and full of wood.  It was both a pleasure to meet the builder and helpful to have such a knowledgeable person to answer questions.


A few years later I was handling an insurance claim involving a C & C sailboat grounded in Bahia Santa Maria, just north of the entrance to Bahia Magdalena (Mag Bay).  Honeymooners had run aground, I never asked what had distracted them.  My initial response to the adjuster was to total the boat, but he said it had gone aground in soft sand, remained upright and had a military guard to prevent looting.  At his request, I was off on another adventure and this time I would be a pseudo “salvage master”.


I flew in to La Paz and got on the cruiser’s net on the VHF to gather local knowledge, several boaters were interested in the operation but few had any useful skills or knowledge, until Cecil responded.  In an hour I picked him up, he had a small bag; I think he brought a couple pair of clean underwear. He jumped in the Jeep and we were off.


He and I searched out and purchased all the suitable line in Mag Bay, luckily found and hired a Chinese/Mexican shrimp boat captain and engaged in a difficult negotiation with the leader of a small fleet of pangas (the common Mexican runabout).  We constructed an elaborate web of lines to help pull the boat “gently” off the beach and devised a way to get the tow line to the shrimp boat, we planned to pull at the next high tide.  We overcame many difficulties typical of salvage operations, difficult access (long panga rides and long hikes over dunes), salvage logistics and extremely limited resources.


Finally we were ready for the pull and Cecil was aboard with a couple locals from the panga crews. I was directing from the beach, like Mutual of Omaha’s Marlin Perkins would watch for trouble while Jim wrestled the wild anaconda, except the age thing was reversed (Cecil being my senior by some 30 years).


After some initial success and pulling the C & C into the surf line, the web failed.  In short order Cecil tied the towing line around the mast and the tow resumed.  When the boat made it out past the surf line I was temporarily at ease and was amazed by Cecil (at the time in his 70’s) riding the bucking sailboat joyfully through the surfline.


A panga took me out to the C & C only to discover the boat was taking on a significant amount of water, the battery level was low and the engine’s water pump was not pumping water (the impeller was shot).  We decided to change the impeller as darkness fell.  We wanted to conserve the little battery power we had to start the engine, so we used an oil lamp for light to change the impeller while taking turns on the manual bilge pump.  Surveyor’s note – sometimes these seldom used old school boating basic tools are invaluable.  Once we changed the impeller, the engine ran fine, the alternator gave us electricity, the electric bilge pump worked and the shrimp boat towed us in to Mag Bay.
Cecil was an invaluable asset to the salvage and his ride through the breakers is a memory that will hopefully stay with me forever.  He reminded me of Slim Pickens riding the bomb out of the plane in the film Dr. Strangelove (watch here).
The struggles we overcame and success enhance the memory, but the adventurous, Kiwi, boat building marine surveyor Cecil Lange’s involvement was by far the best part.


POKEMON Stop – Stop

“Pokemon, STOP!” is the plea from a San Diego marina. A Pokemon stop is where players of this augmented reality game go to collect Pokemon. As a parent of 16, 18 and 20 year olds, I became aware of the game several months ago, but have not played the game. I have observed the capture of a Pokemon in my living room.
I did little research for this article and like boaters scoffing at the depictions of boating in movies and television shows, Pokemon players can poke fun and poke holes at the facts in this article. Who cares, warning to techies, this is not Mr. Robot.
While driving to a boat in Coronado I noticed a gathering of mostly young people in the grassy median on Orange Avenue. My son / apprentice informed me that this was an intersection of Pokemon stops; the gang of players was oblivious to the passing cars.
When I first noted the sign (above) at the marina I thought they were joking and were actually hosting a Pokemon event. How wrong I was. Turns out the players were a major nuisance.
The Pokemon stop that quickly caused overcrowding issues at the marina is apparently the result of an adjacent park. Niantic Inc. designed this game to be played while walking and thus many of the stops (and gyms) are located at public parks. Most agree this is a positive part of Pokemon Go. Young people actually leaving their dark computer dens and getting outside.
However, sometimes all the players see while outside, are the Pokemon. Just before sunset, at a beachside bluff, two young people arrived, quickly caught their Pokemon and departed just before the sun made a magnificent departure. The youngsters had succeeded in getting out of their digital den, but missed a colorful exhibition of nature and a chance at a green flash.
There are stories of Pokemon players walking off cliffs, perhaps a Darwinian thinning of the herd. Players should be conscious of the inconveniences and impositions caused by their play. They should not trespass, block gates and sidewalks or be unaware of other problems they cause as individuals or groups.
And boaters should be happy these young people are outside, walking around and socializing. Perhaps we should take a cue from the Pokemon Go players and leave the house, go to our boats, untie the lines and enjoy the great outdoors. In the words of a famous Southern Californian, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Pokemon Go is a fad which is already fading. The troubles at the marina have abated; the players and boaters are learning to co-exist.

Puerto Salina

Located at kilometer marked 73 (km 73) is the only port between the U.S. Border and Ensenada, Mexico. But don’t plan on using this as a port of refuge unless you are driving a personal water craft.
The marina was built approximately fifteen years ago. Problems with the silting of the channel, intermittent dredging and modification of the jetty were mentioned during a handful of marine surveying jobs we performed there in its early years.
In the last several years I have seen a sandbar across the marina entrance and I stopped and spoke with general manager in July 2016. Mr. Paul Hernandez, the general manager of Marina Puerto Salina, stated that the current shallow water channel problem has existed for four years. He stated that the water depth reaches 3’ on low tide and entry and exit from the marina is still possible at high tide. He stated that the owner of the marina is currently focused on a project in Cabo San Lucas and thus the marina has been neglected and the condominiums remain unfinished.
Researching the marina I noticed an article in The Log from May 2013, discussing the shallow water entrance.
During my visit I spoke with an unknown individual aboard a vessel named “Warlock”. He stated that the vessel has been in the marina for nine years and stuck for the last six. His vessel is a 60’ power boat which like draws 5’.
There are thirty to forty boats in the Marina and we have noticed very little activity. On a July 13, 2016 visit there were a few locals at a convenience store there was no activity on a launch ramp or in the marina except for the gentleman aboard “Warlock” varnishing a cap rail.
On August 28, we did notice a jet ski operating in the marina channel. I have recently been told that there are tax benefits in Mexico realized for unfinished properties. I was told that sometimes properties are left partially unfinished, i.e. rebar exposed from raw cinder blocks, because the tax benefit is eliminated once the property is finished.
While I have no idea if this tax benefit has any bearing on the state of Puerto Salina, it is clear that the condominiums remain unfinished and the harbor entrance is un-dredged and too hazardous to provide a port of refuge or planned stopping point between San Diego and Ensenada.
Other bits of Baja California Norte News: I surveyed a boat at Puerto Salsa, just north of Ensenada in the last few months. As an active marine surveyor in this area since 1993, it is rare that I visit an established boat yard for the first time. This commercial port hauled a 120’ passenger vessel that had its engines and generators replaced during the haul out.

An Interesting trip to CUBA

My wife and I, two bilingual (Spanish) children and a non-Spanish speaking adult couple took a 10-day trip to Cuba in April 2016. I thought boaters would be interested due to their sense of adventure, travel inclination, island lore and some boating trivia and activities.
We arranged our trip ourselves, but encourage the use of Canadian travel agents. We flew out of Tijuana through Mexico City to Havana. In Mexico City we wrote our own official permission slip. The U.S. still allows visits for one of twelve purposes. We traveled under education / people to people, and will keep our itinerary for five years in case the State Department asks for it.
We visited Havana, Varadero and Vinales. The other couple visited Guardalavaca. They flew Cubana Avacion to Holguin, including a flight on a Russian built jet. This is in the area of Guantanamo Bay. Besides a 7-hour delay, their flight was normal.
We stayed mostly in houses or rooms rented through Air BNB (Casa Particulares). We found the Cuban people to be extremely friendly. There has a slight rise in petty theft recently, but we felt very safe. The Cuban’s were willing to speak openly about all subjects, including politics. Chinese we encountered in a previous trip to China were reluctant to speak so openly, though we speak much more Spanish than Mandarin and the language barrier was certainly a factor.
Interestingly no Cuban that we met had ever been off the island. An average to high-end job pays $25 a month. It’s hard to pay for a trip off the island at that pay rate even if one could navigate through the complexities and time consuming paperwork. The average Cuban works to pay for the food.
The food was mostly poor. Prices were fairly standard, but only in the occasional private restaurants (Paladares) could we find good food and to find them you had to dig deeper than just asking the taxi cab driver or taking the advice of a restaurant hawker on the street. Most buildings are in a state of disrepair. And the cars are a mind-boggling time travel experience.
Cuba has three eras of cars, the American era of the 1950’s, the Russian era of the 1970’s and the current era of the Chinese cars and busses. Every imaginable American car from the 1950’s is operating on the streets of Cuba, some with original engines and many with German and Japanese diesel engines.
The beaches were nice as one would expect on a Caribbean Island. We swam in a fresh water fed cave. We boated in an underground river and we experienced spectacular views overlooking cigar tobacco farming valleys. We watched a farmer roll a cigar and we smoked plenty of them.
We took a Hobie Cat on a snorkeling excursion to a coral reef. On that day diving visibility was moderate, the reef was average but fish were plentiful. The guides were throwing bread into the water and laughing at the tourists’ reactions to the boil of fish around them. I couldn’t help myself and joined in, throwing more fish food about the unsuspecting tourists, contributing to the fish mischief. Our guide tickled a lobster out of a hole to bring home.
I visited a marina in Varadero. The marina was new but empty. A handful of private yachts were scattered in the outer portions of the marina and a dozen 100-foot Fountaine Pajot passenger carrying catamarans were in the front row. The government runs most of the tours. The rum, the cigars, the restaurants, hotels and rental cars are all predominately operated by the government and most prices on these commodities are fixed throughout the country.
The yate “Granma” holds a special place in Cuban history. Eighty two rebels embarked on a miserable 1,200 mile journey from Mexico to Cuba aboard the 43’ boat. The rebels included Fidel and Raul Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. The Batista government knew they were coming and tried to find and stop the “Granma” but it landed in Cuba, discharged its passengers and gained entrance into the Revolutionary Museum in Havana. A lot more impactful than the local smuggling pangas.
The private economy is beginning to develop but in this regard Cuba is far behind China.
There were only a few street hawkers. They generally were selling black market cigars, rum and promoting restaurants. I encountered nobody selling any drugs or prostitution, as is common in many countries. I was told prostitution is active, but it is illegal and not publicly promoted.
There are two currencies in Cuba, one is the national currency (Moneda Nacional or CUP) and the tourist currency (CUC). Tourists trade their money only for CUC and U.S. dollars are hit with a 10% exchange fee in addition to the normal money change fee of 3%. Bring Mexican Pesos or Canadian Dollars, they only get charged the 3% fee. Money changing is a government service and the rate is the same at the airport, banks or hotels. Use of American credit cards is very limited and also subject to a financial penalty.
The official U. S. Government position for bringing products back from Cuba is a $400 limit with only $100 of cigars or liquor. My buddy is enjoying his $100 box of Cohibas.
I decided that if I was Cuban, I would be a diving guide. I would get to boat, dive and interface with people regularly. I would get a little extra money from tips and eat lobster for dinner.

Another Use For Vodka

Another Use For Vodka

This month’s article was inspired by Mr. Jim Montrella. Mr. Montrella owns a 2000 Formula 31 PC express cruiser in Dana Point Harbor named “H20 Man”. I met him when I handled an insurance claim for his insurance company and he called us a year later when he needed a condition and valuation survey on the same boat. He keeps the boat in good condition and during our recent inspection he mentioned that he uses vodka to purify his boat’s water system.

I have been around boats a little while and have been blessed with talking about boats with tens of thousands of people in the last three decades, but Jim was the first to mention this trick. I had always deferred to chorine bleach. I had been told early in my career, perhaps during marine surveying catastrophe duty after Hurricane Andrew (August 1992 – South Florida), bleach could be used to purify water and would not be injurious to humans when consumed.

So I blindly followed that advice and have repeated it to many boaters over the years, until this past August when Jim mentioned vodka. Jim is a very active boater and as his boat suggests, he likes to keep it maintained well. I had to take him seriously and I did a bit of internet research.
Most of the research deals with survivalists and some was very technical. Did you know alcohols precipitate proteins and solubize lipids? (I’m betting two of you did.) I tried to get a feel for our specific interests, boat water tanks and it turns out many people use vodka for this purpose. Basically there was no consensus on the proper amount but the ethanol in vodka is effective against a wide spectrum of bacteria. The impurities remain in the water, so it is not a replacement for the much more expensive option of a water maker, but for the purpose of purifying the tank and system, it is effective.

Vodka is the most commonly used drinking alcohol because there are no additives in common vodka. I am thinking Popov level of vodka makes more economic since than Grey Goose and certainly don’t use flavored vodka. Make sure you don’t have any recovering alcoholics coming aboard, lest they unknowingly lose their sobriety.

I asked two doctors about this method of purification. One is an old friend and one I randomly met recently on a golf course. It was very interesting that they both gave the same answer to my query, why waste the vodka?

Based on the research, I feel vodka is an effective additive, and the benefits outweigh the draw backs. I certainly am more comfortable drinking vodka than I am drinking bleach. The smell of bleach is unpleasant and though I prefer tequila, I can certainly tolerate a bit of vodka, especially if it reduces the chance for unpleasantries like giardia.

By the way Mr. Montrella has recently begun chartering that smartly kept boat of his, so if you are interested in a boat ride up Dana Point way, send us an email and we will forward it to him. I can’t guaranty that he will have recently cleaned his water tank, but his boat will be in good condition.

The Joys of Boating

The Joys of Boating

Task Completion photo“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” is the only thing I have ever read by Scottish novelist Kenneth Grahame, but how profound. If you are reading this, perhaps you agree.

I recently inspected a 1960s era wooden power vessel being purchased by a young couple from a young couple. “Young”, by the way, is getting older every day. I find sharing experience and knowledge of boats deeply rewarding. Being allowed to assist in this particular transaction, interacting with these hopeful and energetic souls and experience their mutual joy was profoundly rewarding in a Kenneth Grahame way. I was filled with satisfaction and appreciation and smiled as I walked out of the wood boat yard, at the end of the row of boatyards, and carried my tools the short distance to my car.

Perhaps its maturity, but after 25 years of messing about in boats (as a marine surveyor), I love my job and am eternally grateful for opportunities like that one.

In the past few years I have been involved in two “refit projects” simultaneously. One is a San Diego built wooden 38’ sailboat and one is a Japanese built steel 45 meter motor vessel. The sailboat is being refit to be structurally sound and suitable as a live aboard, the motor vessel is being refit from a commercial boat to an expedition yacht. Hugely different projects but at their core they are the same.

The meetings with the owners concern things like the ability to accomplish passages safely, have accommodations that make the most of the available space, and toys that maximize the fun while aboard. I love brainstorming with the owners about their ideas, both conservative and wild, especially when we can make the wild ones come true. While the passages may be different, one to Catalina and one across the Pacific, the passion for adventure is the same. The accommodation considerations varied from a larger head with a real door to a choice between four or five guest cabins, they both involved give and take and some amount of marine prognostication. The tender choices ranged from either a rowing, sailing or combination dinghy for the sailboat to a choice between a diesel outdrive or a gasoline jet drive as the third tender for the expedition yacht; we all knew how much fun was going to be had on the little (relatively speaking) boats.

Working on boats, being on and in and near the water is a way of life and a calling. Perhaps some of us truly are “of water” and feel comforted by being close to and involved with it. Water is an essential element in many spiritual systems from Pagans to Native Americans to Taoism. It is said that water is the strongest element as it can flow around obstacles without changing its nature. And water seems to be one of the sources of harmony with boaters.

The completion of boating tasks, from choosing a boat’s name, to replacing a water pump impeller to larger varnish and paint project brings task completion satisfaction akin to home projects but with a bit more romance. The joy that accompanies the clanking of wine glasses after the brushes are clean or the mooring lines are set is somehow deepened by the sea.

Kells Christian is the principal marine surveyor of Christian & Company Marine Surveyors, Inc. Christian & Co. is a full service marine surveying firm specializing in yacht surveys, pre-purchase, condition and valuation, damage surveys, litigation support and consultation.

Tribute to the NuTone Blender

Tribute to the NuTone Blender

thY9PE9H7ZThe Nutone blender is a built in blender consisting of a motor which is mounted below a countertop with a rectangular stainless steel counter top fixture. The counter top fixture includes a round switch and a matching round cover for the rotating driver. Its flush mount and brown and stainless finish matched well with salmon countertops and avocado green appliances. The Nutone blender is one of the most iconic accessories on 1980’s motor vessels. It is a nostalgic device from my boating youth that brings a smile with each encounter.

Prior to my marine surveying career, which began in 1990, I captained several motor yachts in Florida. Most of these yachts were built in the United States or Taiwan, and most were equipped with the Nutone blender. In hot Florida climes, frozen margaritas and rum runners are logical first steps for a novice captain and bartender and thus began my love of the Nutone.

If you are unfamiliar with a Nutone blender, you haven’t paid attention when you were aboard vintage motor yachts. As iconic as the slinky and the pet rock, but much more practical, the Nutone is also a food processor and knife sharpener. That pipe smoking, smartly dressed yachtsman that you see walking down your dock has a Nutone on his vessel.

It should be noted that these blenders were not sold exclusively to vessels in hot climates. Lake Havasu City boat builders have no choice but to include this accessory as a standard option. “60 miles per hour with a blender” is a modern sales pitch in the desert, but the Nutone sales force cornered the world wide motor yacht market in the 1980’s. It was not only the most prolific blender aboard but the most prolific non-essential piece of galley equipment, far exceeding the Broan trash compactor.

Oh, what a cyclonic sales force Nutone must have employed in those whirl wind days. To this fantastic sales team and their incredible market share we have one clear and obvious salute… Cheers!

A Childhood Horror Story

A Childhood Horror Story

XvoQxOXhSCdelVbl[1]My children were probably 6, 8, and 10 at the time. We were moving our small sailboat boat from San Diego to Oceanside and were loading for the trip. The ten year old boy was stepping on with an armful of bedding, his Gameboy precariously perched on top of the pile. The Gameboy slid off when he was stepping up onto the boat from the dock and it fell into the water. Oh the horror! He reacted as if a limb had been severed, falling to the dock and wailing.

His eight year old brother wisely and immediately pushed his Gameboy further down into his back jean pocket. Unfortunately, during the continued provisioning, it worked its way back up and it too went into the water. Now we had a true family disaster to deal with.

Though I knew the electronics were likely irreparable, I dove in and retrieved the two games. We washed them with fresh water immediately and left them in fresh water until we later opened them and cleaned them. There is no happy ending, they were not resuscitated. We did learn some things about the inner workings of electronics, but it was a very small consolation to the two damaged youth.

I once dropped a cell phone in the water the day I bought it and paid extra to have the contacts transferred, remember those days?gb03_wash[1]

So what’s the best way to not experience this type of disaster? Prevention! Conscious forethought. Don’t put the “treasure” on top of the pile of clothes or in an otherwise precarious location. Note to self: use your wisdom to help your less experienced children and guests make smart choices. Ask yourself, do I really need to answer that call now? Can it wait until I am on shore or on the boat? We all drop our phones, usually they survive, but their survival chances are decreased on a dock. This is most relevant to live aboards and marine professionals who are often walking the docks.

If you do drop something at the dock, it is almost certainly retrievable. At the moment it enters the water, make a mental note of its physical location, i.e. five feet past the dock cleat. In many southern California harbors the bottom is mud and most objects drop straight down, sink slightly, but remain visible. If you are not a diver, there is often a diver in the marina, cleaning a boat, who is happy to make a couple extra bucks retrieving your treasure. The depth is often only 10 – 12 feet and easily reachable, don a mask (and perhaps a wet suit) and go get it. Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t get sick from swimming in the harbor.

If you are at anchor or adrift the recovery is much more challenging. If you are underway the odds are slim. If you have a weighted marker (float and weight connected with a line) ready to go, toss it. Noting a GPS location is not usually enough to recover an object without a lot of grid work searching and/or luck, but it is better than nothing. A floating marker buoy can also be used to mark an anchor and rode that won’t come up, so you can return and retrieve it later.

A final short safety reminder, in an emergency at sea, choose your VHF versus the cell phone as the mobile phone emergency operator will route your call to the Coast Guard anyway and you can save a few valuable moments by communicating directly with the first responder.

Three year old Captain

Three year old Captain

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson docked their 1988 60’ Egg Harbor Sportfisherman as they had many times.  They docked bow in, and secured the stern lines.  Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were walking forward to secure the bow lines, when the vessel lurched astern, breaking both stern lines.

As an immediate response, Mr. Johnson facilitated Mrs. Johnson’s attempt to board the vessel.  With her agreement, he launched her, she almost made it.

Mrs. Johnson made it onto the cockpit gunnel but did not make into the cockpit.  She fell into the water, grabbing a hold of the trailing stern line.

Mr. Johnson remembered a neighbor’s standup paddleboard stored on the dock nearby.

He hustled over, launched the board and paddled toward the still moving sportfisherman.  He approached the cockpit and attempted his own boarding.  Unfortunately, his attempt also failed and he ended up in the water holding onto the same line with his wife.  The vessel continued on an arcing course through Marina del Rey harbor.

The vessel eventually came to a sudden stop against a dock.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were able to climb out of the water and secure the vessel.

The accidental Captain was their three year old son.

Thankfully, there were no injuries and boats are repairable.

While the damage to the transom and cockpit deck was significant, this is the type of accident for which insurance is sold.

This true story caused the undersigned to reconsider old behaviors.  I have always left engines running until all lines are secured, thinking that I would prefer to have the engines available quickly.  In certain incidences turning the engines off once in the slip, may be more appropriate.  No doubt the Johnsons will alter their procedures and the family now has a story to tell forever.


The vessel is a 1939 100’ Camper & Nicholson sloop. It was built in Gosport, England and was reportedly purposely sunk during World War II to prevent it from being damaged. After the war it was raised and put into its designed purpose as a “proper gentlemen’s” yacht, it was raced extensively and it entertained extravagantly.

Its ½” teak planks are bronze bolt fastened onto steel frames and the lines of the vessel are truly classic.

My job was to determine the condition of the basic structural components, as a restoration project had begun a decade prior and had been aborted. My client is an Australian interested in restoring the classic yacht to its previous glory.

The vessel is tall, no ladder or scaffolding structure had been erected and thus I was lifted onto the vessel with a mechanical “cherry picker”. I had a lot to do and requested a “pickup” three hours after I was deposited on the deck.

The vessel is in rough condition as a result of the aborted restoration project and the decade of neglect. As is my custom in situations like this, I carefully proceed as I may encounter hazardous conditions, open hatches, deteriorated soles, corroded supports etc…

As I entered the port V.I.P. cabin, I noted a hatch in the sole which was partially covered by the cabin door. As I swung the cabin door shut, to access the hatch, I noticed there was no knob on the inside of the door. Great!… Brilliant!… Idiot!… Oh crap!…were all thoughts that went through my head as a realized I was locked in a cabin, in the far corners of a boat yard, high up on an old project boat that had been around the boat yard for a decade. It was unlikely I would be able to contact anyone directly if I needed help escaping. I knew the cherry lift operator would return eventually and of course, I had my mobile telephone as a back up plan.

I attempted to open the door using a wooden hanger, bent and clamped around the square stem for the door knob. I couldn’t turn the latch but I was able to push the stem of the handle out of the door, so it was no longer accessible.

Plan two developed quickly as I noted a bilge access hatch which was open. As fate would have it I was unable to lift the hatch that I had closed the door to access. The bilge hatch was small and I did not think I could fit through it. I thought about becoming stuck or lodged in the hatch and decided I would keep my mobile phone at the ready in case my embarrassing predicament was increased by getting stuck trying to escape.

I was amazed at how easily it was to fit through this relatively small hatch and I was quickly (and luckily) able to extricate myself from the predicament.

Of course, this is not the first time, that hatches and hatch covers have presented problems in my career.
An unsecured lazarette hatch once fell and struck the back of my head. The impact from the hatch did nothing but my instinctual flinch caused the front of my head to strike the hatch edge, resulting in ten stitches above my right eye.

I once became trapped in the head of a relatively small express cruiser during a sea trial. The door latch mechanism malfunctioned after I had entered it and though others aboard the vessel were not far from me, they likely mistook my knocking for help as normal percussion testing, which had been ongoing throughout the survey. Eventually they did come and rescue me after I patiently waited on the only available seat.

A few basic safety lessons I have learned regarding hatches, doors and openings in the decks and soles of vessels:

1. Announce that you are removing any deck or sole hatch to everyone around and if possible provide a watch to prevent anyone from falling in the open hole. This is all the more important with a greater number of passengers.
2. When entering a hatch or any enclosed space opening, take precautions to prevent reductions in your options for egress. i.e. make sure the door or hatch stays open. Even though a hinged hatch seems to be securely open, a rocking boat can change the gravitational influence and shut the hatch. Some hatches latch or lock when they are shut.
3. Follow confined space protocol to maintain health and safety, consider possibilities for slippery surfaces, low oxygen levels, sudden change of lighting conditions and whether the benefit of entering that space is worth the risk.

When we enter spaces such as tanks or barge holds, we have the area inspected by a chemist and declared safe for entry. We also maintain a watch while we are in the area, so that assistance can be rendered if/as needed for any unexpected occurrence.

Jet Lev

Jet Lev

So I am driving home last week, listening to the public radio station, and the economic reporter is using an analogy about jet packs. He says when he was a kid jet packs were the exciting invention for the future and we were supposed to have them readily available by now to fly over to a friend’s house. He said instead of jet packs we have the possibility of fueling our cars with algae, not as exciting.

Fast forward a few days to Saturday, April 28, 2012. I am in Newport Harbor, Newport Beach, California. I am being transported on a tender from Balboa Island to a boat on a mooring near the car ferry (that runs from Balboa Island to the peninsula) to do a job aboard a boat on a mooring. The job is done and I get back in the tender and what do my child like eyes behold, a man on a jet pack.

My client, who is driving the tender, is unfazed and simply and calmly states, yeah he’s out here all the time. images[5]“What?” I exclaim! I absolutely must get a closer look, I am riveted and amazed. The jet flyer is hovering low to the water and then up 30 feet in the air. The flyer gets the attention of a small boat full of rambunctious young ladies and he returns the attention by tilting his water jet stream toward them in a flirtatious manner. The wisp of water spikes the volume of audible delight coming from the group in the boat.

I am equally rapt. I pull out my camera and plead for the operator to get me closer so I can take a picture of this flyer. He is cool. He is flying around Newport Harbor on a water jet pack. Finally a jet pack in action, tangible, practical? safe?…

I briefly researched the device on the internet this morning; it is called a Jet Lev R200. I assume the R200 is to make it sound science fiction-like or technological. On the Jet Lev web site the inventor, Raymond Li, is quoted “When I was 14 years old I saw James Bond fly a jet pack in the movie “Thunderball”, and have dreamed of flying one ever since.” Me too!

The Jet Lev Southwest (Newport Beach) web site ( lists current pricing at $250 – $300 for the first flight and about $200 more for each further flight, where you can advance your skills to include “submarines” and “walk on waters”. The web site also uses words like, “safe” and “stable”, and phrases like “ease- of- use” and my favorite, “your dream of personal flight”.

That’s it, dreams of personal flight, just like Raymond Li, I have that dream and I am sure he and I are not alone. Sure most of those dreams did not include a jet pack, but now they might.

I continued my research and found out that there was an epic fail of the Jet Lev at a San Diego boatshow live on a Fox 5 San Diego TV news cast from July 2011 ( The operator attempts to take off from the dock, bumps the reporter and then nose dives into the water. The news’ anchors reaction is hilarious and of course it brings up the question of safety, but the guy is out of the water and flying in an instant. The web site explains that he accidentally bumped the emergency kill button (as found on a personal water craft or small boat).

So in my exuberance, I tried to show my home made video to my two sons this morning. The 16 year old tells me he is sleeping and to go away. I don’t even get him to open his eyes when I bring the video to him on my lap top. My 14 year old is willing to watch my video and the professional videos on the web site, but has seen it somewhere in his “youtubing” in the past. Neither shares my enthusiasm; perhaps my 11 year old daughter will follow her dad when she gets home from her sleepover? My narration of my home made video of the jet flyer includes allusions to the Jetsons and Gilligan’s Island, lost on my children. Well I still have my shared (childhood) dreams with the announcer on PBS and I am certain that one warm summer day in 2012 I will be flying over Newport Harbor and I will pay the up charge for the Go-Pro video recording as a fond reminder and likely a great piece of personal comedic nostalgia for my children and theirs.