THE HAWAIIAN CRUISE
After retiring in 1983, the author in order to alleviate a severe case of boredom, decided to buy and rebuild
an old wooden boat. While searching through a list of books on the subject in a bookstore far from the sea,
the book CRUISING IN SERAFFYN by Lin and Larry Pardey was found, examined and purchased. After
review, the author decided that cruising would be in order rather than rebuilding and further, should be more
fun. At the time it was noted that Seraffyn was a Lyle Hess designed boat and by chance also noted several
Hess designed boats for sale as advertised in various sailing magazines, namely two Northsea 27s. The
Northsea 27 is of fiberglass construction and is as indicated in the photo above, both boats were constructed
by Heritage Marine of Long Beach, California, now out of business. After inspection by the author of both
boats and a hull survey on one, an offer was rendered and after some negotiations, a sale/purchase was
completed. Unfortunately, the author relied on his own judgment in regards to an engine survey, this
judgment was somewhat faulty to say the least since after 20 hours or so, the engine burned almost the
entire oil supply.
Since a future cruise was planned, it was decided that an engine overhaul was necessary, so an engine stand
of wood was constructed and the engine was removed from the mounts in the engine compartment to the
cabin. Then using a boom vang attached to the boom above, the engine was hoisted out of the cabin and by
the way of the boom and the topping lift, and then swung out over the dock and lowered onto the stand for
overhaul. After following verbatim the instructions on how to overhaul diesel engines in a book by Nigel
Calder, MARINE DIESEL ENGINES, the little 8hp inboard Yanmar was overhauled, the problem was a
cracked piston skirt. After reinstallation the engine started on the second stroke.
The purchased boat had been single handed all the way to New Zealand and back to the U.S. by the first
owner, retired Patent Lawyer Rolf Pitts. The first owner was by necessity a purist, his only navigation
equipment was sextant and compass, there was no autopilot aboard, he had a system of tying off the jib
sheet to the tiller by the use of surgical rubber bands and rope lanyards and apparently, the system worked
since it was all singled handed work. Apparently the first owner was a skilled navigator since while in the
U.S. he taught a class in celestial navigation. Since then, the author has not at any time seen a cruising boat
so bare of cruising essentials and apparently this was due to the impecunious condition of the previous
owner. Further, the engine was essentially a rusty hunk of iron which was surprising to say the least for a
man with an engineering degree, okay maybe for a man with a law degree but not an Engineer. He had both.
So after overhauling and cleaning the engine, adding a monitor wind vane, re teaching himself celestial
navigation, and after many trips to Catalina, reading all the books on the subject, the author was of the
opinion that he knew all there was to know about cruising. So then a cruise to Hawaii was planned.Â All of
the necessary stocking, provisioning and planning was done to include a weather check the evening before
departure and in addition, the author consulted with a friend and obtained some detailed instructions as how
to heave a boat to in heavy weather. The next morning dawned bright and clear and passage was
commenced from the Cabrillo Marina in San Pedro, CA.to and around the west end of CatalinaÂ Â arriving
late in the afternoon, there was no wind and passage was by motor sail. After rounding Catalina, the wind
piped up to such an extent that the engine was shut down, sails set and the monitor wind vane was engaged,
the wind increased in force to about 18 to 20 knots and thus the boat remained underway all that night, the
next day and the next night The second night, the wind increased considerably, some where between 30 to
40 knots, the main was double reefed and shortly thereafter, the jib was secured altogether therefore putting
the boat in a semi-hull to position with a reasonable motion, there were no seas breaking over the boat.
Therefore, the author decided he needed some crew rest and retired to the aft lee berth, this was just before
sun rise on the third morning out. After about an hour of rest, the author awoke to notice water flowing
along the lee liner which consisted of wooden strips so therefore, the author got up to investigate and noted
that the boat was heeled over at a considerable angle, the lee toe rail was well under water and the wind had
again increased, swells were breaking over and onto the boat causing a considerable din and crash on the
fiberglass hull. As the author was considering his options, there was a loud roar and hiss as a giant wave
broke over and on top of the boat, probably a ton or so of salt water, causing the boat to roll to lee to such
an extent the mast was well under water. The impact was a loud crack similar to a rifle shot which threw
the author against a wooden support thus lacerating the right cheekbone, can goods were tossed up out of
the floor lockers, water mixed with oil flowed about the boat and the satnav was tossed out of its mount.
Waves were crashing down and breaking over the boat to such an extent that there was a fine mist coming
from the portholes and water was squirting between the hatch boards and over the top of the boards and
into the cabin onto the lee berth.
The author then struggled out to the cockpit, blood dripping from the lacerated cheek down onto the foul
weather gear, the log was checked and it was noted that the mileage from San Pedro was 208 nm, the wind
was blowing to about 50kts and the waves were up about 10 to 12 feet with white crests and square. An
attempt to heave the boat to by back winding the jib in accordance to the instructions of a friend however,
the bow simply would not swing around to position so the engine was cranked with an immediate low oil
pressure light. After Checking the engine compartment, the source of the oil in the cabin with the water was
noted, an oil line had broken and apparently while motoring the first day most of the engine oil was pumped
into the bilge. Due to this problem and also due to the considerable amount of water in the cabin, it was
decided to abort the cruise and return to San Pedro. At this point the author was somewhat concerned with
his predicament and thought that if he could get close too land, the boat would be beached and he would
hitch hike home leaving the boat to the tender mercies of the locals. The boat was the brought about and left
in a hull to position with only the double reefed main up, jib secured, making about two knots forward in the
direction of land.
The author then went below, replaced the loose can goods and other provisions that were thrown up from
the lockers, the satnav was replaced onto its mount but was damaged when it was thrown out onto the
cabin sole and there fore did not work. The bilge was not up to the cabin sole but was high and was pumped
out. Later it was discovered that the source of the water in the bilge was a stuck anti-siphon valve in the
bilge pump thus allowing water to be siphoned into the boat and then sloshed up into the cabin when the boat
rolled. When the engine was overhauled, the author had noticed an extensive rust spot on the oil line but
decided not spend the time ordering a new one due to the impending cruise, this is where the line broke.
Then, an acute case of seasickness commenced and continued for the next three days or so to such as
extent that neither food or water could be retained and it seemed that every time the author passed the head,
a period of retching ensued and as indicated this went on for several days.
The boat was in a hull to position for about two days and three nights, the wind never abated, on an average
of 5 to 10 minutes or so, the waves would break over and down onto the boat with a crash and roar with a
ton or so of water on topside and as outlined above, water would squirt through the hatch boards and mist
through the portholes. The author during this period was quite concerned, some would call it fear
particularly when the sea would break on top of the boat and the boat would roll thus placing the lee toe rail
well under water. In flying, terror only lasted a few seconds, you were either dead or escaped, in this
instance it lasted for days. Due to the seasickness, the author became dehydrated and began to grow weak.
Also, during this time, due to the generosity of the previous owner, a year old radio direction finder set was
left aboard and after tuning in radio station KNX of los Angeles and a San Diego Station and then crossing
the bearings on the chart, a fix was obtained indicating the boat was about 125 miles off the coast of Baja
and above Isla San Martin.
On the morning of the third day, the wind abated to about 20kts or so the author went topside in order to get
the boat underway only to find the jib sheet fouled around the spreader bars, the author by this time was in a
very weakened condition due to the dehydration and inability to retain food or any type nourishment or
water. After a struggle, the spare sheet was attached to the jib but since it was mounted to the rear of the
mast, the jib could only be partially set but never the less, the boat was under way. Soon thereafter, the
author was able to retain water, then orange juice and then thankfully food and some strength was recovered
and the boat was underway and under sail for the next two days.Â Sometime during this period, the author
was able to clean himself, shave and remove the blood caked beard and clean the blood from the foul
weather gear, when the boat was sold in 1996, there was still blood stains on the teak cabinetry. During the
late afternoon of the second day, the boat became becalmed and that night the lights of airliners were seen
overhead going in only one direction, and therefore the author was confident that the boat was off the west
end of Lindberg Field, San Diego, even though no city lights could be seen. Leaving on the anchor light, the
author went below for a well deserved rest but was awakened at about 3:00A.M. by the sound of the wind
and the boat was again put under way on a west to northwest wind of about 18kts. This continued all day
until in the early evening after sundown, the boat again became becalmed but this time shore lights, a seawall
and a hill could be seen which appeared to the author as being San Pedro but later proved to be Dana Point.
The same routine as the evening before was repeated, the author was again awakened at about 3:00 A.M. by
a rising wind and again the boat was put underway in the predawn darkness. As visibility increased at
sunrise, for the first time in about eight days the author got a positive fix in that the office buildings of the
Irvine Center were recognized and subsequently Newport Beach and the entrance to the harbor.
The wind increased and now the boat was on a close haul, hard on the wind proceeding on a west to
northwest heading taking aboard water with the lee toe rail well under in an effort to complete the passage
and make San Pedro. Since the entrance to Newport Beach harbor was abeam, it was decided to give it up
due to the rising wind, enough was enough so the boat was jibed over to the opposite tack traveling at hull
speed to the harbor entrance. An effort was made to short tack up the narrow harbor channel in the strong
northwesterly but due to extreme fatigue, the boat was anchored well out of the channel and the harbor
patrol was called on the VHF requesting a tow to the transient anchorage at the end of lido Isle. After about
two hours, harbor patrol arrived and the boat was towed to the transient anchorage for a well deserved rest.
The following morning, the dinghy was launched and the author proceeded to shore and called a friend who
arrived the next day and helped the author sail the boat back to San Pedro. Another friend was called and
she seemed surprised and taken aback by the author's return stating "I guess you want me to come and get
you". Well, that was not exactly a hoped for greeting under the circumstances and the author wanted to go
home before the next morning so his answer was in the affirmative. She then stated that she had given her
landlord notice and was going to move into the author's house while he was on the cruise and since he was
not in position to negotiate, he acquiesced. Prior to departing, arrangements had been made with the friend
whereas her two college student children would house sit for the author who was under no illusions as to
the likely condition of his house on return but also considering the tender mercies of a burglar,A decided the
children would be the best of two poor choices and damages would be considered as just part of the cost of
going. However, the friend moving in with her children was not part of the bargain. Nevertheless, she
moved in but after about three weeks the author decided love and romance from afar with mileage in
between had been better and suggested to her that she would probably be happier elsewhere. Recriminations
ensued, she flounced out making it quite clear that love and romance was concluded between us, and it was.
Photo by Mark Beiley
Rolf Pitts, 73, of Port Townsend died Jan. 17, 1999, at his home.
He was born Aug. 22, 1925, in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of California with degrees in engineering and law.
Mr. Pitts served in the Navy during World War II. Later, he worked as a patent attorney for North American Rockwell, retiring in 1980.
He is survived by his companion, Penny Brown of Port Townsend; one son, Rolf of Grants Pass, Ore.; one daughter, Marina of San Francisco; and one brother, Don of California.
A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Jan. 30 at First Presbyterian Church in Port Townsend. Arrangements are under the direction of Kosec Funeral Home.
Memorial donations may be made to Key City Players, 419 Washington St., Port Townsend, WA 98368