|Windward Passage sailing downwind with skipper David "half deck" Johnson at the helm. (Courtesy John Fuller and Team Wi / Daily Pilot / November 7, 2013)|
By Len Bose
November 7, 2013 | 8:48 p.m.
While cruising the harbor this week, I was looking around for Newport Harbor's 10 most interesting boats of 2013. As most of you have noticed, I have quite an attraction to Windward Passage. That's when I picked up the phone and gave her skipper, David "Halfdeck" Johnson, a call and asked for a interview.
"Sure, Len, why don't you meet me at the boat at 2 tomorrow?" David said over the phone. Hearing this, I became rather excited that I would finally be able to go aboard one of my all-time favorite yachts.
I met David about 10 minutes early in the marina's parking lot where the boat is berthed, and we walked down to the boat. You can't help stopping in your tracks when you first see Windward Passage and take in all her beauty.
David is one of three sons of Cooper Johnson, who was a very prominent member of the Balboa Yacht Club for many years. David's brothers are Dougall and Gordo Johnson, who both work in the marine industry in Newport Harbor.
David started sailing sabots as a kid and then moved up to some of the more active classes in our harbor. Some of David's past sailing instructors were Andy Rose and Tom Purcell. "I was also fortunate to sail with Bill Taylor aboard his Rhodes 33 Mistress for many years," David said.
From there, David started sailing with Morrie Kirk aboard his two-toner Hurricane Deck in many of the Mexico races and always skippered the boat back. While sailing on Hurricane Deck, he met Dick Deaver and teamed up with him. "Dick would always invite me on the different racing programs if I would deliver the boat back," David said.
One day, David started to restore a Rhodes 33 and decided to strip the boat down and protect the wood with a West System epoxy resin. "Most of the local Rhodes owners told me I had ruined the boat," David explained. Today, most wooden boats have the West System epoxy on them.
About this time, David started painting boats and became U.S. Paint's West Coast tech rep for about 10 years. When that job ended he went to work at Basin Marine shipyard. While working there, he quoted a job to paint Windward Passage, which had just been purchased by a local resident who was planning on bringing the boat to Newport Harbor.
Once the boat had arrived in town, he went to work on painting her interior. "That year, a rather large winter storm came in, and the docks we were berthed at seemed to be falling apart. I called the owner, who was out of town, and later that day moved the boat to where it is now. I've been here for 22 years now," David explained with great pride in his voice.
During this time, the boat has had two owners and David has become part of the boat. He has captained it for 22 years and the boat is now 46 years old. Most days, the boat gets a soft water rinse and then gets dried. "L.P. paints prefer not to be waxed, and keeping the boat clean is the best way to make the paint last longer," David said. "One of my secrets is to use 'Der Shiney Stuff.' It's a super gloss sealant glaze that we use every three months on the boat's hull." Other daily maintenance routines include running the boat's systems, checking the bilge and following the scheduled maintenance list.
I then asked about some of the most memorable sails he has had on the boat. "When I did Transpac, we were surfing down the Molokai Channel in 40 knots of wind and doing over 25 knots of boat speed," David explained enthusiastically. "Recently, after the boat's last refit, we were sailing into Long Point, Catalina, in about 20 knots of wind with the jib reefed in, doing about 11 knots of boat speed upwind."
After a good two hours on the boat, I walked away in utter amazement at its condition and David's attention to detail. In my 30 years as a yacht broker, I have never seen a boat in this type of Bristol condition. There have been many times over the years when David and I could not agree on who had inside overlap at a mark while racing. But I have to give it to him this time — no one knows how to take better care of a vessel than David "Halfdeck" Johnson.
If you would like to see the interior of Windward Passage and learn more about the boat, go to my blog at lenboseyachts.blogspot.com.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.