Tidings From Newport Harbor

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As the Newport Indy’s new boating columnist, I would first of all like to thank Editor Roger Bloom for the opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned and experienced in 60-plus years of boating in and around Newport Harbor.

In fact, I have been boating in Newport since before I was born.

After I was born, I began racing sailboats with my older brother, in 1957. I continued racing on my own from ’61 until around ’66. I purchased my first boat in 1972 – a 20-foot Skipjack – and pleasure boated and sport fished around here and Catalina.

For a few years in the ’70s, I was a commercial swordfisher, in 26-foot to 34-foot wooden boats. In those days, I helped spot the fish and ran the boats, while my friend harpooned the swordfish. Headed and gutted, the fish averaged 500-600 pounds. Since then, the state allowed airplane spotting and gillnetting, which overfished the population, and now a 200-pound fish is considered big. The feds also licensed Russian and Japanese long-liners that trolled 30-50 miles of baited hooks, and these helped deplete our fishing grounds, too.

For the past 35 years I have worked and boated in the Harbor. For the past 10 years I have crewed on J-boats and a Schock Santana 30/30 sailboat.

What a great life!

In Newport Beach, of course, we have a world-class – and world famous – small-boat harbor. Our sailors are world-class, too, from world champion race car driver Briggs Cunningham campaigning for the America’s Cup, to Bill Ficker winning it, to the many local sailors who have competed in the Olympics and brought home gold. Bruce Penhall, raised in the Harbor area and a world champion motorcycle rider, also was an offshore powerboat world champion, and held the world speed record for monohulls several times.

Sometimes, too, a large vessel causes a stir in and around Newport. Just a few weeks ago, we motored up to the San Pedro anchorage area to meet and greet the battleship USS Iowa. What a spectacular sight! A restored World War II-era PT boat operated by the local Sea Scout troop was among the other greeters. (A small Coast Guard boat kept watch and intimidated all vessels to keep them 200-plus yards from the big ship, even when it was at anchor, and some of us boating patriots felt that was a little overbearing.)

But the Iowa is only the latest big ship to excite the local community. About 30 years ago, the promoter of the Lido in-the-water boat show brought in the SS Catalina. The tugboat towing it from LA Harbor took longer than expected and arrived at a very low tide. We had been hired to stand by and assist if needed with our restored antique tugboat, the Walrus. The Walrus was built in 1906 and had been the tug for South Coast Shipyard in Newport Harbor for about 50 years.

Upon the big white steamship’s arrival, we were sent ahead to sound the bay for towing to the site. My thought was towing at low tide would be pushing the envelope. As it turned out, the ship did run aground and ended up being towed to Lido Village at the next high tide.

But what a magnificent ship that was! The public could tour the ship – which has run thousands of LA Harbor-to-Avalon trips – including the VIP cabin, which had hosted presidents, royalty and other dignitaries.

Around 1967, the city of Long Beach purchased the Queen Mary. As many of you know, Joe Beek was the founder of Balboa Ferry operation. We in Newport Beach were thrilled to find out that Mr. and Mrs. Beek were on board the Queen for the final voyage to Long Beach. In addition, it was planned that the Queen would change course to come in close to Newport on the way into Long Beach.

Many boaters from Newport formed a large armada to greet the luxury liner on its passage. My parents let me skip Newport Harbor High that day and venture out with the other yachts.

Now, I had been with my dad years earlier at the launch of the Beek family yacht, the Vamos. The family brought Vamos out to greet the senior Beeks as they passed. We were next to the Vamos, in Bill Berteliet’s boat, and could see the senior Beeks waving to their family.

By the way, Vamos was designed, if memory serves me, by the famous Ed Monk. Monk, and now one of his sons, is well-known for commercial and pleasure boat trawlers that are stout vessels with economical and conservative power packages.

So I hope you have enjoyed my writing about some of the history of boating and the people of Newport Harbor. I’m looking forward to discussing more about the Harbor’s history and present-day activities, as well as boating in general, in the coming weeks. Any comments, news tips or shares about the “good ol’ days” are welcome and can be emailed to [email protected].

Sea ya!

Skipper Steve

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