Mishaps continue for hapless skippers on California coast

Bob Quall is a two-time United States Tennis Association national champion, and a former Merced County Superior Court judge. You can email him with comments or suggestions at: robertquall@comcast.net.

My boat, the King Midas, the summer of 1967, was moored in the San Diego harbor after an attempt to sail to Santa Barbara failed because of a dead battery.

However, with a new co-pilot, Ren Tryal, I was excited about our second attempt to sail the King Midas up the coast. Ren, a federal narcotics agent, had confiscated a machine gun and ammunition from captured drug dealers off the coast of  Santa Barbara., near the Channel Islands. He was pressuring me to mount the gun on the bow of the boat. The plan was to take the armed gun vessel out into the channel and intercept suspicious boats on weekends. Ren said that it would be exciting and only a little dangerous. …  He claimed he would have information that would indicate, for sure, boats that contained hidden drugs.

Now, believe it or not, I am not crazy enough to man a warship with my co-pilot, Ren, and patrol the open seas. I put a nix on his plan and told him to be ready to sail the following Saturday. This time I came prepared. We had extra clothing, food, and and plenty of tools. Both of us had prepped on using the shore to shore radio. We even had water plus the cokes I had from the last trip. We would sail once again into the Newport Beach harbor and stay overnight on the boat, arriving in Santa Barbara the next day. Perfect plan.

The King Midas left the San Diego harbor smoothly and headed for Newport Beach. Ren wanted to pilot the craft for the first part of the trip. After a couple of hours I decided to catch a nap on one of the two beds situated in the bow. We had been sailing along for about four hours at almost maximum speed. I had drifted off into a deep sleep, but the engine explosion caught my attention! I yelled to Ren to shut down the engine, but it had on its own ceased operating. I don’t know much about engines, but when we couldn’t get it started, I knew with the loud screeching noise that woke me up, the engine had thrown a rod! The radio worked, so we told the Coast Guard we were disabled and we needed help! We were probably 35 miles from the San Diego harbor, but only five miles off shore.

A different Coast Guard cutter arrived after four hours and asked us why we were dead in the water. I told him I suspected a thrown rod. The captain said that we were so far from the San Diego Harbor that he would drop two mechanics onto our boat to fix the engine. The two sailor mechanics took the head off the engine and confirmed my suspicion, holding up the bent rod.

For some reason that I can’t remember, the Coast Guard captain called for another boat. He said he would tow the King Midas back to San Diego, and since we had no car in San Diego, he would have us dropped off at a closer port, Costa Mesa. We could hook up with the disabled boat in the next few days.  Wonderful.

Within minutes the Coast Guard captain of the second boat, dropped us off in the Costa Mesa harbor. We did have a problem. It was now early evening and we only had 10 dollars between us. I think we had left our wallets with our wives so they could once again get a motel.

Forget food, we needed a place to stay overnight! According to the police, we walked around the harbor front for over an hour. Finally, I reminded Ren that I was a deputy district attorney and he was a federal agent. I told him that we should go to the local police department  and see if it contained some jail cells.  “Great idea said,” Ren. Within minutes we spotted the police department and headed in. Sure enough, the watch commander was at his desk. I explained to him our occupations and that we were in need of housing.

Grinning, the commander said that his patrol cars had been tracking us for over an hour. That because of our clothing and lack of direction, the cops were wondering what was going on. We were acting very suspicious with no apparent direction! No kidding. The commander said that they had a trustee cell currently vacant and we were welcome to spend the night. We could even shower if we wanted.

We declined the shower offer and Ren took the top bunk and I the lower. We skipped an evening meal but the trustees made us a delicious breakfast, including pancakes. Our wives picked us up midday on Sunday and we headed back to Santa Barbara, minus the King Midas.

Score: Two failed ocean voyages with the King Midas back where it started from!

To be continued: rebuilt engine, irate and furious sail boaters in New Port Beach harbor, no gas, sinking of the King Midas!

Robert Quall is a former Merced County Superior Court judge and Merced resident who helped establish the Maasai Medical Mission non-profit organization. The group takes annual trips to impoverished regions of Africa to provide healthcare services and other support.

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