Sunday, February 14, 2016

Harbor Report: Still a need to be prepared for El Niño

Deputy Ron Reyes

Len Bose

It baffles me how often boaters will see a threatening weather pattern approaching and do nothing to prepare for it. I felt I was prepared for the forecasted weather that was coming on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, and yet I made some rather big blunders that cost me time and money.

While observing the harbor late afternoon on Feb. 1, just after the wind storm had subsided, I quickly noticed who had not read my column, "Plenty to do in El Niño prep," on Dec. 5. Looking up the harbor I could not help but notice all the sails that had come unfurled or untied due to the high winds.In the dying breeze these sails make soft flapping sounds. I can somehow see the dollar signs flapping from their torn edges. While driving off the peninsula the cars on the road looked like they where covered in a light layer of snow, which was actually sand.

The following day I started to hear about the damage that had occurred across the harbor, so I touched base with some of my best sources to get their observations.

This is what can happen when you don't take down your canvas 
One of my first stops was with Dave Beek from Island Marine Fuel, located next to the ferry landing on Balboa Island.
"In the late morning [that Monday] I was on the fuel dock with my father, Seymour Beek, and we were seeing winds at a solid 50 knots with gusts into the 60-knot range," Dave Beek said. "My dad commented that he had never seen the wind stay that steady for that long."
Dave Beek also brought up the fact that he had never collected so many kayaks, paddles and boat fenders that had floated up to his docks.

"The breeze was kicking up well over 40 knots late afternoon [Jan. 31]," said my good friend Matt Stanley, who is a dock master on the east end of the harbor. "The wind waves were coming up and over into the shore boat and in that type of breeze there is not a lot I can do to help people with their boats."
Stanley also reported that one of the boats in his mooring area had broken free because the chafe gear had slipped down and sawed through fresh mooring lines.
There was another boat nearby that broke free because the mooring lines were old and just blew apart.
While we were talking I noticed a powerboat, in a nearby mooring field, that had all its canvas up surrounding the fly bridge. The fly bridge enclosure looked like it had a bomb go off with the canvas bow, the stainless steel frame that supports the canvas enclosure, left unrecognizable.

I also had a chance to talk to deputy Ron Reyes from the harbor department. Reyes has been a deputy for 17 years and has been assigned to the harbor department over the last 6 1/2 years. Reyes felt the breeze start to pick up early on [the morning of Jan. 31] and by late afternoon felt gusts of 45 knots. During this time the harbor patrol made 60 service calls, 20 of which where boats that had broken free of their moorings and one sunken boat.
Photo by Pete Penso
"We were overwhelmed by the amount secondary boats that broken free such as dinghies, kayaks and other small boats, Reyes said. "It consumes a lot of our time sweeping up all the smaller vessels."

While talking to Reyes I learned that there is an old tattered, red storm warning flag that is framed in the harbor patrol office with all recorded wind strengths inscribed on it.
In 1974, there were recorded gusts of 50-plus.
In 1978, we had recorded wind gusts of 90 knots.
In 1982 and '83, we had wind gusts recorded at 60-plus.
Reyes and I both believe that El Niño is by no way over; rather it is just winding up for its next punch. My gut tells me we will have at least four more of these big clearing westerly winds this winter and spring.
Reyes was quick to remind everyone to head out to their boats this week in this warm weather and check on them.

My mistake this round was not going to my boats, berthed in slips, just before the breeze came through with a vengeance. My dock lines were too tight and I could have called more of my friends and reminded them to check on their boats.
I decided to stay inside and watch the harbor web cams from my desk. I have to give it up to our harbor patrol. I know I watched them on both sides of the harbor at the same time from my monitor.

For a quick review of El Niño preparations, go to

I am headed out to sea Feb. 19 in the San Diego to Puerto Vallarta Yacht Race aboard the Santa Cruz 50+ Horizon. This is one of the best teams we have put together and we are very excited about the race.
You can follow us from the San Diego Yacht Club's website, Also, look for a link to the race tracker or on Facebook SantaCruz 50+ Horizon.
Wish us luck and good winds.
See ya.

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

Video taken by Pete Penso

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Harbor Report: The overqualified Noel Plutchak is making our harbor cleaner

Learn just how easy it is to use our pump out stations
Len Bose

I have a story for you this week that you will not see coming and I will do my best to stray away from all the pun’s that can flow from it. Over the last year I kept hearing about the person who has been maintaining our boats' pump-out stations around the harbor and what an outstanding job this person had been doing.

He is Noel Plutchak, who moved to the Los Angles area in 1974 and began working at USC in the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences department. Later that year he moved over, as chief scientist, to Interstate Electronics, where is stayed until 1992.

He moved next to the Raytheon Co. and later ran his own consulting firm. Today he works for Blue Water design group, which provides planning for marina and waterfront resorts. As a side job, he maintains our harbor pump-out stations for the Chuck South Mooring Co.
And I thought I was overqualified to be a part-time dock master.

Every three months Plutchak makes the rounds to inspect all six pump-out stations and is on call when one breaks down. Each station takes about an hour to inspect for pressure and flow rates.

"These things are really key, if the pumps are performing or not," Plutchak said.
He also checks oil levels and grease fittings and looks for corrosion.
If you are a regular reader you already know that one of our problems at the pump-out stations is boaters placing the nozzles into their bilges and sucking out hazardous materials, such as motor oil, engine coolant and transmission fluid, not to mention fuel pads, nuts, bolts and razor blades.
Sharp items can cut the vacuum hoses inside the pumps at a replacement cost of $1,000 apiece. Over the last two months, at the 15th Street stations, two hoses have needed replacement.

We are still trying to save every dollar we can to improve our harbor. If you happen to see someone bringing a pump-out station hose from below decks, take down the type and name of the boat and send them in an email to or call the harbor department.

I asked Plutchak what not to do when pumping out waste.
"Do not open the valve until (the) nozzle tip is in place," he said. "I have watched boaters open the nozzle, then take the hose and nozzle over the deck flange without making a good connection. With the vacuum valve open, the waste will rise quickly and spray out the side of the nozzle until inserting the nozzle into the flange properly. Make sure you do not open the nozzle until the tip is inside the flange."

The same advice works when removing the nozzle from the deck flange. Turn the vacuum off first, then remove the nozzle. It is also good practice to gently lay down the nozzle on the ground because many nozzle tips are made from hard plastic, and if banged onto the ground will crack.
Next, take the water hose and place a couple of gallons of water into your holding tanks, and then pump out the fresh water. This will clean your holding tank and the pump-out equipment. Return the vacuum nozzle and hose to the stand and turn off the pump. The fewer hours on the pumps, the longer they will last.
Now, if you are like me, and you are wondering how a chief scientist can ever pick up extra work as a pump-out station repair man, then you will have to thank our harbor resources manager, Chris Miller.

While Plutchak was working for Mooring Systems Inc. in 2006 and 2007, Miller worked with Plutchak on another harbor project. And when we received our new pump-out stations a couple of years ago, Miller knew just the person to call to take care of it.

I have not met Plutchack yet but from what I have heard from around town is “he is the sh*t” and over the phone I head a person that loves our harbor and is doing his part in making it a cleaner harbor.

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