Yachts in Newport Harbor Come and Go

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I attend a group meeting on Sunday mornings on the oceanfront on Balboa. This summer the weather has been delightful, especially in the morning before the afternoon heat arrives.

One recent Sunday, there were many yachts were cruising just offshore. While we usually see one or two boats go by, there were 20 or more in an hour and a half.

The 42-foot Grand Banks trawler, the Jim Webster, went by. Since new, this yacht has been the race committee boat for the Newport Harbor Yacht Club. Soon to follow was a fleet of sailboats under power. They would soon shut off their engines, raise their sails and prepare for their Sunday noon race start. There was a slight breeze as they motored by, but as it turned out later the wind became pretty strong. This makes for good boat speeds and intense racing.

There are a couple of buoys about 100 yards offshore around 15th Street, and a small school of porpoises were near the buoys, feeding on a fairly large ball of bait. There was movement atop the water but the usual finning, playing and jumping out of the water was absent I suspect due to the feasting below the surface. While porpoise usually are moving in one direction or another this school stayed in place for at least 45 minutes with various birds hovering over the action.

A short time later a very large yacht started to come near our area on a course for Avalon. It became apparent it was the 125-foot motor yacht Primadonna.

This is the third Primadonna that Gary Primm has had built recently. The other two were much larger. I believe it was Showboat International magazine that featured this very yacht, as it had the other two about seven or eight months ago. The magazine is published out of London and most of the very large yachts they show are in Monte Carlo, Cannes, or the Greek Isles. What impressed the writers were the clever design and layout which made the yacht seem much larger.

It soon was out of sight as the visibility was about five to six miles at the time. The yacht appeared to cruise by at over 20 knots.

Primm has had many yachts and homes on the Newport Harbor bayfront. If I remember correctly, he lived near Peter Rothschild on Linda Isle. My father-in-law did some interior work on a Pacifica he purchased from Pacifica Marine in Mariners Mile. This would have been before 1988, which is about when they closed their business.

Pacifica sport fishing boats were 36 feet to 65 feet and all made in Costa Mesa. They were, and still are, known for being well designed and very stout. My father-in-law said they installed three different engine packages because the yacht contract called for the boat to achieve a 50-plus mph top speed. Later I found out why.

The owner’s neighbor, Peter Rothschild, at the time owned the 55-foot motor yacht Lemon Peel. The Lemon Peel was built by California yacht builder Elliott. While Elliott was well known for building some of the finest sport fishers the West Coast has ever known, Lemon Peel looked like a Cigarette “Go Fast” race boat blown up to 55 feet. The Lemon Peel was yellow, very unusual at the time, and went over 50 mph.

About the time the Pacifica was being fitted out, Peter contracted with us to lengthen and widen his dock. About six months later his 82-foot yacht Solar Wind was launched, and the family sold their oil company and refinery, Powerine Oil. Solar Wind was much slower, which I suspect was because fuel was now going to have to be paid for. Lemon Peel had been sold just prior to delivery of the new boat and his neighbor wasn’t able to challenge Peter to a race to see who had the fastest boat on Linda Isle.

Peter used the new boat extensively and I heard went to Cabo San Lucas several times. Several years after launching he was returning home from Catalina and the yacht caught fire just before the Newport Jetty and burned to the waterline. The same thing had happened a year or two earlier to Frank Sinatra’s yacht Christina as he was returning to Marina del Rey. Peter built another Solar Wind, used it just as extensively for the next six or seven years, upon which it was sold.

Prior to the Solar Wind and Lemon Peel, Peter had a high-performance diesel engine business, I think was called T.C.X., and it was in Costa Mesa. The company was way ahead of its time, and he was the first I know of to race in offshore power boat races with diesel engines. In those days, diesel engines were still quite bulky and heavy. With the gas engines being lighter and more horsepower, the diesel race boats were never quite competitive to win races. I believe the several race boats he built were named Thunderball. The much deeper engine sound of these racers were quite apparent.

In the last 25 years, General Motors and Mercedes have invested heavily to lighten diesel motors and increase tremendously their horsepower. This has enabled the modern day megayachts to travel at two to three times faster than before. Peter was way ahead of the curve, but his pockets weren’t as deep as GM’s and Mercedes’. In addition to the newer high-performance diesel engines, a few megayachts have added a third turbine engine in between. These turbines have 10 to 20 times more horsepower than the two diesels in the yacht. This system has allowed a 140-foot megayacht, Never Say Never, to achieve a 75 knot top speed in the Mediterranean.

This weekend make sure you see the latest yachts at the Lido Yacht Show.

Sea Ya,

Skipper Steve

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