Double Dipping with the US Coast Guard

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Tue 12 Jan 2016 19:18

Position: 32 43.53 N 117 11.14 W
At anchor San Diego
Wind: calm
Sea: calm Swell: nil
Weather: cloudy, mild
Day's run: 4 nm

This morning we had to move to another anchorage. The La Playa anchorage off the San Diego Yacht Club is normally only open to yachts on the weekend, but during strong wind warnings, as we had all last week, it remains open for small craft to shelter in, hence we were permitted to remain there. Now the wind warning and the weekend is past we had to leave by 0900 this morning.

I got the anchor about 8.30 and motored over to the customs and police dock, there to empty out the holding tank and top up the fresh water tank, and on completion proceeded to the fuel dock at the western end of Harbor Island. On the way a large US Coast Guard rigid inflatable with a very threatening machine gun mounted on its bow, gunwales lined with heavily armed, kevlar vested, dark blue bodies, chiselled faces, black shades in the place of eyes, approached with blue lights flashing wanting to board and inspect. How could I refuse such a polite invitation. They asked me what the best way to board was and I replied, “You all look young and fit, anyway you like.” Their heavy soled steel capped boots duly stomped on board. inspected my bilges, all clean, my paperwork, all in order, my safety equipment, life jackets not USCG approved, but they seem satisfied with the Australian standard. All smiles, they left. I noted their inspection in Sylph's log and we continued on to the fuel dock.

At the fuel dock we topped up with fuel so that we would have as little to do as possible when it came time to depart. While I filled the tank the fuel dock attendant had witnessed the boarding and we quipped about the USCG clearly having too little to do to be boarding an innocuous little yacht such as Sylph in such heavy numbers. Maybe it was a training mission. Meanwhile, RC decided to make the acquaintance of two dogs, which resulted in him obtaining some much needed exercise as he scooted over the coach house roof and onto the dodger. Fortunately the dogs thought it wise not to follow further.

Once fuelled up, we continued on our way. Just short of the anchorage another smaller Coast Guard craft approached, once more blue lights flashing. I looked around, and there off to starboard lie the large white mother ship, the US Coast Guard Cutter Petrel, keeping an eye on its little chick as it accosted this threatening foreign duck. Shit, they must be bored today!

I explained to this red headed version of a US Coast Guard Robocop that we had just been inspected. He asked for the documentation to prove that I had been boarded. I had not been issued any such document, but produced my log where only minutes before I had recorded the inspection. The chick radioed this unexpected news to the mother hen and continued the search. Bilges, still dry, paperwork, yep, still in order, safety equipment, 'Where's your life ring?' Hmm, I had one of those once, but they seemed pretty pointless to me as a long term single hander. I mean, if I fell overboard, who was going to throw it to me? I explained my logic, but red-headed Coast Guard Robocop responded, 'Its the law!” But … OK, I do have a recovery sling here somewhere. Now where did I put it? In the lazarette I think. There is a bucket of water with a dirty rag soaking in it sitting on top of the lazarette. I take the rag out of the bucket, throw throw the water over the side … “WhaAt was in that bucket, Sir?” “Er, dirty water.” I respond. “Are you sure?” “Geez! I'd be pretty stupid emptying a bucket of oily water over the side with the Coast Guard on board wouldn't I? Have a look over the side – its clean.” This did not seem to satisfy RHCGRC one jot. (Later it occurred to me that maybe he thought I was a drug smuggler. What a cool idea, hide the drugs ght under everyone's noses in a bucket of laundry water. Who would look there? I hope I do not need to add that this means of getting myself sent to jail or worse is not something I intend to pursue anytime soon.)

The search continues. I empty the contents of the lazarette, no life buoy. Hmm, where did I put that thing. I explain to red-head etc. that I have sailed from … OK you all know, so I won't bore you, but RH was unimpressed. I start pulling the quarterberth apart next, when fortunately Mother Duck radios in confirming my claim that I had already been inspected. RH looks at me sternly., “It's Federal law. We will let you go, but you have to have your ring on deck.” “Yes Sir!”

They depart. We continue to anchor.

Area 'Alpha Niner' it is called, an anchorage set aside for visiting yachts. On the plus side, a dubious plus in my opinion, is that it is reasonable close to the city. On the negative side of the ledger it is right next to the San Diego international airport. On the other side of the river lies the US Naval Air Station. Three huge aircraft carriers, as in the sort of huge that only the US Navy is capable of, are on the air station's docks. There is no shortage of aircraft bludgeoning the air into submission (not one sea-eagle, soaring silent, anywhere).

Once secure at anchor I row to another nearby yacht, Double Angel, to ask advice as to where to go ashore with the dinghy. Jim, her owner, portly, friendly, advises me, amongst other things, that the dinghy docks lie beyond the US Coast Guard station that dominates the greater part of the shore line hereabouts. It is a bit of a row, but no worse than Sausalito in San Francisco Bay. Once ashore I go for a walk, my primary goal being to find somewhere with a free internet connection. I have two tasks. One is to complete some paperwork for entering Mexico, and the second is to talk with a friend. I walk past a maritime museum. It looks interesting, a couple of square riggers and two submarines, one of which is an old Russian Romeo class, if my memory from navy training still serves me. But not today, the admission price is $16 and the sun is low. I find the city strange. Lots of high rises - apartment buildings, banks and office towers, but very few shops. The streets are sparsely populated, an eerie uneasy feel pervades. I eventually find a Starbucks coffee shop. One cup of coffee and one cup of tea later, I have completed my two tasks, though not entirely to my satisfaction. We have been too long in port, we need to be sailing again, free of unthinking bureaucracies housed in large concrete blocks.

Back on board, I, imago of my species, bash this new keyboard into submission, while cat sits on the table, looking sideways at something, the opportunity to sit on my lap, I think.

All is well.