Arriving on the Boat (Doree Days - Part 1)

The Doree, an 80 foot long steel sailboat floating in the harbor between the Newport Beach peninsula and Balboa Island, my temporary floating California home for a stint.

The way I happened upon this boat links back to my travels with Bridget earlier that year, specifically in late January or early February, 2012. We'd hitched down to the Florida Keys with ambitions of finding a boat we could catch a ride with on route to South America, or at least in this sort of direction. Besides hanging out at docks and marinas, posting "Crew Available" signs on cork boards and talking to sailors at nearby bars - we also posted digitally to a website called CruisersForum.net, among other sites.

Our efforts mostly fell short, our time frame changed and our travels took us instead along the road to Baja, Mexico. Bridget flew back to Australia that April and my travels continued bouncing around the states. I was in Bozeman, Montana in August when an email reached me from a guy named Mitch to this effect:

"I have an 80 foot steel sailboat floating in Newport Beach. We'll be heading to Panama, I'm looking for crew to help get her in shape and set sail by late October. You'll live on the boat while fixing it up and food will be taken care of."

We sent a couple emails back and forth, getting some more details, explaining that Bridget was gone now, that I had about zero boat experience and that I'd also probably split for a couple weeks in October for the Northern California harvest.

This was all good by both of us, I was set to arrive after enjoying Montana and going on one last hiking trip in Washington with some friends. I'd get there when I'd get there, and that was fine. After hiking and crashing a concert in Washington, riding down to Sacramento with friends, I was set to hitch south to the boat.

My friend dropped me off in the early morning just south of Sacramento where my morning of much walking began. The on ramp was not working well where she left me on route 99, I walked and walked and finally decided to walk across town to get to Interstate 5 where I figured there'd not only be more traffic, but traffic heading all the way south towards LA and beyond.

At last I made it and walked down to the freeway itself since the on ramp was a bit deserted. It didn't take long for a state trooper to see me and stop, tell me I couldn't walk along the freeway, then give me a ride back to the deserted onramp. I thought perhaps I'd be waiting a long time to get my first ride.

Good times dictated otherwise though, I was presented quickly with a small RV pulling over, an Indian guy heading towards Paso Robles. We cruised along talking, that soon faded to just the sound of the road and the view of the desert until he dropped me off, now halfway to southern California.

I managed to get another ride fairly quickly from a guy who'd just recently gotten out of prison, he was heading down to his new home in Huntington Beach. We talked and cruised, as we got closer to urban sprawl he'd decided he could take me right to Newport Beach, saying it wasn't too far out of his way.

I'd sort of thought I'd have spent the night at my sister's in Hollywood or my brother's in Orange County. Southern California hitching, inbound or outbound, can often be a mess given how dense it is, how the roads twist and split in all directions, it's hard to anticipate where you'll end up and how long it'll take. I had to jump on the opportunity to get straight to the boat, so I gave Mitch a call, he responded and said I was fine to arrive straight away, he gave me the information on which dock to go to and all was good to go.

We paused in Huntington Beach at the guy's house first, he had to check on something, he also offered me some hot pockets and cheesecake which were much welcome in my empty belly. By the tail end of sunlight we were back in the car, into Newport Beach, over the bridge to Balboa Island and down Coral Avenue to where it dead ends at a dock. I thanked him and pulled out my backpack after calling Mitch, then walked to end of the dock ready to start this new chapter.

Soon the little dinghy was buzzing towards me in the dark, Mitch waving at me, me hopping in and balancing on the side taking a seat as we introduced each other and buzzing back towards the boat. Mitch looked about in his late thirties, short blonde hair, a little bit stocky and just a bit shorter than myself. He seemed laid back as we talked, crossing the harbor and soon approaching the Doree, one of the longer and larger boats floating in the area I could see.

We pulled up to the back of it where we hopped out and tied up, two other guys were on board sipping some beers and talking back and forth, Jake and Benny. We got introduced quickly, then Mitch showed me around the boat. We stepped into the cockpit first, then down the steps to the galley. On the right was a big counter with a stove and a sink, on the left was the start of an L shaped couch they'd just started to build and a temporary mini fridge. There was a bunch of food spread across the couch, ramen in this sort.

"Help yourself to whatever food you want, it's yours, make yourself at home", he told me, "Grab yourself a beer if you want". I grabbed one from the fridge and continued the tour. Past the galley was a narrow hallway. The first door on the right was a closet sized bathroom, what was meant to be a bathroom, nothing was installed quite yet. The next door on the left was a room with a bunk in it covered in tools. "It looks like a mess in here, but everything has it's place", he said of the tools scattered about.

The next room on the left was a small room only big enough for the single bunk inside, I was told that's where Jake was sleeping. Across from that on the right was a door to the other bathroom, the one that worked. The toilet anyways, there was also a shower stall in there that wasn't working yet, the sink wasn't working yet either, there was no running water working quite yet.

Past the bathroom was another bunk in the hallway, no door or anything. Finally at the end of the hallway was a door that opened to one big room at the very front of the boat. A bigger bed on the right side and what looked like it was supposed to be a bed on the left that was currently covered in wood and scraps.

"This is where you'll be sleeping. You actually get the nice mattress, it's one of those memory foam kinda deals", he told me. I was actually a bit surprised, it seemed like the nicest room on the boat, I figured one of the other guys would have claimed it.

We headed back on deck and on top of everything where he showed me what they'd been scraping off. The entire thing was covered in this non-skid material that had to be removed so we could eventual knock out any rust we could find and re-paint the whole thing.

Mitch was the third owner of this boat, it had been custom built a decade or two before by one guy who eventually sold it to a second owner who somewhat successfully turned it into a fishing boat before neglecting it for some years, letting it sit and begin to rust a bit up in Long Beach before Mitch ended up buying it, he'd had it close to a year at this point.

With the little tour over we all stood out on the back deck sipping beers and talking. Mitch had found Benny and Jake on the same website where he'd found me just as recently. Benny was a recent film grad living in Santa Barbara, he was a bit taller with short dark hair, he seemed excited about this whole boat prospect and talked about trying to film some of the journey. He still had a job as a pizza delivery guy and planned to come down to the boat some days of the week and spend his weekends up north making money until we split.

Jake was around 24 give or take, he'd been in the Navy for a short stint, because of this he had the most boat knowledge between the three of us. He was a bit shorter than me and fit with scraggly brown hair, confident on the cocky side, right at home here on the Doree.

After not too long Benny and Mitch were hopping in the dinghy to head back to shore. While Benny was going to make the drive up to Santa Barbara, Mitch was heading to Hollywood where he was living with his girlfriend there. His typical schedule was to join us on the boat most weekdays helping out and bringing supplies as needed, heading back to Hollywood each night.

Jake hopped in the dinghy along with them to take them back to the dock, leaving me alone on the boat for the first time, if only for ten minutes or so. I moved my backpack to the front room, still not feeling right unpacking, in fact I never totally would, it just hadn't been in my nature for some years now. I stood up on deck sipping down my beer looking up at the stars, around at the other boats, the houses on shore - this was new. This was my "home" now, for the next month or more in the harbor and for the foreseeable future, on this boat anyway, down to Panama and beyond, I still had no idea. I had a room, roommates, or something like that - people that would be in my life consistently for more than just a couple days or weeks like the past five years of my life. This was new - not getting an apartment and a job in some city, but new all the same. I had no idea what to expect, but still I imagined the possibilities.

My thoughtful state was cut by the buzz of the dinghy motor, Jake arriving back and tying off. "Yes, some bro time!", he said. He cracked another beer and I did the same, "We can't drink it all, Mitch is bringing some people on board tomorrow", he pondered our stash of cans left, "but we can still drink a good amount".

We spent the night drinking down what we figured was our allotment, sharing our stories, how Mitch found us and our anticipations for the trip ahead. He prided himself on his knowledge of the seas and boats, "Ask me anything!", he said as we went around the boat and he put nautical names on the cables, switches and all of it.

"We'll have beef eventually, we'll fight it out, that's just how it goes living on a boat together for this long, brothers fight", he was intent on this notion. "I don't like Benny, he's young and naive, I don't trust him.", he added. I found this kind of funny, since Jake only had a couple years on Benny. I'd find Jake felt this way about just about anyone younger than him, also holding an instant grudge against anyone who'd gone to college. He'd gone straight to the Navy and thought school was a waste of time, without exception.

He seemed to like his drink plenty, which was fine by me. We had plenty of talk of rum to come, more beer in the days ahead and what opportunity could possibly lie in the shores around us when we weren't on board improving the boat.

Finally we'd drank our share of the remaining beer and there was nothing left to do except sleep. I laid in my new bed, a slight buzz from the beer and this recent turn in my life. Sea lions barked in the distance as I pondered all sorts of thoughts while fading to sleep, gently rocking along in this big boat, the Doree days were ahead of me.

September 4, 2012

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