Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Harbor Report: Plenty to do in El Niño prep

By Len Bose

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by our Harbormaster Lt. Mark Alsobrook and Harbor Resources Supervisor Shannon Levin to come up with a story to best prepare our harbor users for the upcoming El Niño.

Deputy Jason Middlekauff
We scheduled a meeting at the harbor department and I called some of the people from around town that could best inform me on this year's "mother of all El Niños" that is about to descend upon us. I talked to several people to gather the best tips, including dock masters, shipyard owners, insurance agents, a dock and pier builder, a mooring company, harbor commissioners and City Council members.

A meeting to discuss our concerns was attended by Alsobrook and Levin along with Sheriff's Deputy Jason Middlekauff, who has been working our harbor over the last 14 years, Newport Harbor Yacht Club Dock Master Anthony Palacios and Balboa Bay Club Dock Master Troy Heinemann.

The latest forecasts are calling for well above average precipitation throughout California in January through March, and the recent forecasts have shifted toward a wet December as well.

Notice mooring ball, thimble, swivel and wire seized shackle
As a group we came up with the following consensus of recommendations that we felt were important for the harbor user.

1. Make sure your dock and mooring lines are all in good shape. We recommend you purchase your line from New England Ropes rather than off the shelf. Three-strand nylon line works best, I like the black because it stays cleaner than the white line. This line is made for this purpose and will outlast a bargain brand line. On your mooring its best to splice in a thimble at the end of your line that attaches to the shackle and swivel, then onto the mooring ball. Make sure you place seizing wire through the end of the pin on the shackle. The recommended chafing gear for your lines is old fire hose. This works better than leather or nearly anything else you can come up with.
This is bad, notice the old ring, this line will break in the first blow

2. Make sure your bilge pumps work and that the float switches will not get stuck in the up position. Clean your bilge, fiberglass, absorbent pads, oil, engine coolant, old wires and nuts and bolts. If not cared for, these things can give you a headache when your bilge pump cycles on.

3. If you have not replaced your mooring ball to the ball buoy then it's time to do so. Chuck South, from South Mooring Company, told me that a new ball buoy will cost you $300 installed. The old ring buoys are over 20 years old and there is no way to inspect the rod that runs through them. The ball buoy's chain that runs from the ground gear and can be inspected. Ball buoys should be replaced every 10 years. Also, keep in mind if you recently purchased a mooring permit you should not assume that the mooring tackle is strong enough for your boat.

4. Do your due diligence this year and take that Genoa and main sails down and fold them, then place them in their bags below decks. Take the flybridge canvas down for three months. Loose canvas and sails will do more damage than you possibly can imagine.

5. Sea lion and bird deterrence will need to be secured to the boat with extra care.

6. Your boat's insurance policy should be up to date. The city plans on following up to make sure all mooring permit holders have insurance.

7. Inspect the cleats on your boats. Not all boat manufacturers place backing plates under the primary mooring cleats. These cleats can get worn down over time. A good friend of mine's boat broke free during a storm when the primary mooring cleats bent.
West Newport piling issue, the dock got stuck
 on a low piling at high tide. 

We also focused our attention on private, marina dock and pier permit holders.

1. Check your dock cleats by hitting them with a hammer and making sure the bolts and backing plates are in good condition.

2. Check the condition of your dock. You might not even have a boat on your dock but you should still check your pilings, gangways rollers and pins. One idea would be to give Swift Slips a call and pay them to inspect your dock. Pete Swift recommend people check the pile connection and overgrowth of mussels on pilings. Check on flotation — if the dock is low in the water now, it will get even worse with the additional weight of wet framing. It will also tend to collect debris like branches and trash and put more of a strain on the pilings. This is especially true in the back bay areas where in the past docks have been torn out and swept into the turning basin off Lido Island.

3. During king tides, be careful not to tie your boat to the dock too tight. When low tide arrives the dock lines might hold up the floating piers. "This past week we had a king tide which brought on many high tide issues, pilings being too short and gangway wheels being lifted into the air and electrical getting wet and shorting out," Swift said.

4. If it appears we have a large storm approaching you should consider disconnecting your shore power cord.

Bonus tips
1. Never stay on board during a storm.
2. It is a good idea to store your dingy on land this winter.
3. If you are in doubt, don't go out. You have to boat within your skill set.
4. Frequently visit your boat and inspect your dock.
5. Keep a heads-up for flotsam when boating both outside and inside the harbor after a storm.
6. Check out the city of Newport Beach's "El Niño" preparations at
You can check out my blog site at for photos of above recommendations.

Sea ya

LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist for the Daily Pilot.

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