My car hadn’t been running all week (that is a story in itself), on Wednesday, Dan busted the drive belt on his scooter and had to Uber home from work. Now it was Friday, I’d packing everything we needed for the weekend, Dan came home from work around 4pm and we were ready to get out of the Bay. He walked down the street to go get our one remaining functional vehicle. When he came walking back dejected, he didn’t have to say anything, I knew. He flopped onto the grass in the front yard, understandably defeated. Now his van wouldn’t start. After I’d been saying “we’re on top of the world, most people don’t even have one working car, at least we’ve got options”, we were out of options. All in one week, we managed to break our entire fleet of vehicles. So fuck it, we were determined to go buy something without an engine. What could possible go wrong then?
Disheartened, downtrodden, pissed off, in disbelief, numb… we sat on the front lawn for a few minutes, trying to figure out what we’d done wrong to deserve such bad luck. Eventually, we mustered up just enough enthusiasm to walk down the street with our battery pack and try get the Cabana going. Out of the two vans, mine was not going to get fixed in one night (again, another story in itself) so we were choosing the “easiest” option. The battery sounded sad and even with the second battery hooked up we got no joy but thankfully the battery pack brought her back to life. That still wasn’t good enough though, she was idling like a bitch and it was hard work on the throttle pedal to keep her alive. This was no good, we had a three hour drive to Woodward Reservoir and this was not going to get us there.
Once she started idling by herself, enough that I could take my foot off the throttle, Dan pointed out a pinhole coolant leak at the front of the engine bay that also needed fixing. We were in despair about the rough idling thing, but figured we’d start with the easy thing first. We drove her back into the driveway, creeping into the corner to be out of the way of the neighbours. We worked together, mostly in silence or swear words, until we got the one fucking coolant hose off. Of course we made a big mess in the process and grazed multiple knuckles. I was horrified to see the amount of shit in the pipe, it was full of brown solid bits which meant the whole system was clogged with it, it wasn’t healthy.
While I did more investigation into the rough idling condition, Dan took my roadbike to get a new hose from O’Reilly’s down the road. Dan called me from O’Reilly’s not able to figure out how to make the gears work on my roadie and exasperated I tried to explain but it didn’t make sense to him, understandable if you’ve never ridden a semi-fancy bike before and you were trying to take instructions from a pissed off Aussie. He made it home in the biggest gear possible and in that time I hadn’t even managed to find the EGR valve (thanks super-vague Haynes manual) which was my best guess at the idling issue. Whatever, we started putting the stupid coolant hose back on. Halfway through, Manswelly called me. He was the guy we were supposed to meet this weekend and he’d gone to great lengths to organise a few things for us. In despair, I explained that we were trying everything we could to get there but that we may not make it.
Hose on, we filled the radiator with coolant. To my great surprise, when we turned her over, she ran fine. Why? Fucked if I know! We stood at the open bonnet and looked at each other. It was 8pm, we’d been working for over four hours. Are we going? Yes, we’re going. Dan parked the van back on the street, then came up and we both showered before getting out of town, hoping against all hopes that the Cabana would make it not just out to Woodward Reservoir but bring us all home as well.
We weren’t game to stop for food until after we’d crossed the bay. We were on the hunt for a Chipotle since I was armed with a BOGO voucher and when we turned up at one around 9:30pm that had a sign on the door, I nearly lost it. It was closed. Whhhhhyyyyyyyy??!?!?!? Dan told me to stop being a negative Nancy and rightly so. The sign was to tell customers that they were out of avocado. Geez.
We downed two huge burritos and sucked on a soda, coming out of the depressive coma we’d been in over the last few hours. Food perked me right up and Dan seemed already recovered. Right, now to get to the reservoir. The next 2.5 hours seemed like forever. Not only was Dan watching his temperature gauge, I was looking over at it too, listening for any signs of malfunction, but they never came. Paul Kelly kept us up as we neared the reservoir, driving through fields of corn lit by the moon.
At the reservoir, we were surprised to see that the entrance was manned and taking money and so we handed over $65 to cover camping for two nights and Cleo’s presence, probably our most expensive van night ever! Not that it mattered at this point. Thankfully, Manswelly had told us which site to look for because we’d never have found him otherwise, the reservoir was massive and there were RVs parked all over. We pulled into section “R” just as midnight ticked over and saw a glimpse of our new toy in the shadow of the moonlight. We also saw Manswelly wave to us from his RV, he’d waited up.
We happily met him by the RV and introduced ourselves. He was happy to see us, but not as much as we were to see him. I still couldn’t believe we’d made it. We told him everything that happened and he assured us that tomorrow all would be well, he would show us a good time. We briefly met another member of the club who was camped next to us before we parked up the van with the back doors to the water we could see glistening in the dark. Much needed sleep took us.
In the morning, I was happy to wake up with my feet hanging out the van, a breeze coming through the doors and a beautiful view outside. Last night already seemed days ago. Before anyone else nearby got up, I walked out and into the shallow water of the reservoir, Cleo and Dan following. Trying very hard to be sneaky, when we were about knee deep I tried to con Dan into distraction so I could push him under but he saw my attempt from miles away and I ended up in the drink. A refreshing start to what was going to be a hot day.
Manswelly was up by the time we were dressed and we met again, this time properly and straight away he took us straight over to his/our new toy. The bright yellow Hobie 16 catamaran sat atop a trailer, begging to be sailed. Built in 1973, this beautiful twin-hull fibreglass construction was soon to be ours, for the ridiculous price of $500 (trailer included). Manswelly had owned this thing for years but life had got in the way of him sailing it and so it hadn’t seen water in a long time, until today. Dan found this gem on OfferUp and after a few weeks of back and forth, worrying about storage and understanding the condition of the boat and trailer, we’d agreed with Manswelly to buy it.
He started walking us through the ins and outs of the boat and a small crowd had formed around us, made up of members of the Hobie Fleet 20 sailing club that we were soon to join. Of course everyone had their opinion and we were happy to listen to all of them. Apart from Dan owning and sailing a Sunfish back in Hawaii and me being a sailing hand on a 42-foot boat, this was completely new to us.
We soon found out there was enough people standing around that we could put the boat into the water for the first time. With 4 strong men and me, we simply lifted the boat from its trailer and carried it over to the water’s edge. She was light under our shoulders, so you could probably manage with a person on each corner.
Manswelly was so excited to show us how the boat worked we got straight into rigging it up, despite calls for breakfast. Manswelly’s son Ben joined us, along with Mark who was a long-time owner of Hobies. It was an interesting lesson, with Manswelly taking the lead, but Mark quite often whispering in our ear to do things a little differently. I took a back seat, listening intently but letting Dan do the handi-work. I was very aware that it would likely be weeks before we went through this again and so we paid attention. Within only twenty minutes, we had the mast up, both sails raised and the boom tackled to the back of the trampoline. She was ready to sail! Now all we needed was some wind! Talking to Ben, he explained that the Hobie needed only a whisper of wind to get going, so the light breeze that was swaying through camp was perfect.
Over breakfast, we met the rest of the Hobie Fleet, forgetting most people’s names but understanding very quickly that Hobie’s are a special boat that people have a lot of pride in. We’d brought our usual eggs and bacon to cook, but these guys wouldn’t have it, they’d put on a huge spread of breakfast goodies and insisted we join them. There was so much food even Cleo got to tuck into the left over eggs. As soon as we’d downed our last mouthfuls, Ben asked if we were ready to go sailing. Yes!
A week before, I’d met a guy at SLAC who had been a sailer of Hobies for many years though he was long since retired. He’d offered me his life jackets and trapeze harnesses, all of which were probably made in the 70s. He was a well-built guy and his wife petite, so the small/large combo worked perfectly for Dan and I. He wouldn’t take any money from me, but it meant we had absolutely everything we needed to sail our new Hobie.
Though the Hobie is really only intended as a two-person boat, there was enough room for Ben, Dan and I to all be aboard for a lesson. I was amazed at the speed as we pushed off from land and without brakes we had to hurry up and get on as the slight wind took the Hobie out into the reservoir. Wow! Ben ran us through where we should sit on the boat and how and when we would change positions, doing a few tacks upwind to give us a feel for it. Dan took captain’s chair next and did a couple turns. By the time I took the rudder, we were halfway out into the reservoir and needing to turn around, this meant jibing down wind – the dangerous part of sailing where the boom can swing violently. I followed Ben’s instructions best I could but didn’t quite avoid the swinging boom as it switched sides. It clipped the top of my head, but no skin lost and we’d successfully made the turn! We practiced a few more times, me and Dan switching out and hammering Ben with questions, all of which he knew the answers to.
Now for the fun part? Hobie’s are designed for speed and you achieve that speed by going upwind and “flying a hull”. By getting one hull out of the water you can fly over the water. While we couldn’t really fly a hull using the wind with three of us on board, we could still simulate the feeling with two of us on the low side and another on the top. The point of this? So we could flip the boat over and learn how to flip it back. Ok! Me and Ben sat on the bottom hull while Dan steered us into the wind, bringing the other hull out of the water. Slow and then fast, the Hobie tipped until it lost balance and completely fell on its side. We jumped into the water, avoiding the sails and, following Ben’s directions, Dan and I rigged up the flip rope and climbed up onto the top hull to pull her back over. It took the both of us hanging on the rope to get her back on her feet, but she came easily. What fun! We were smiling ear to ear and couldn’t wait to do it again and so we did, this time with me on the top hull. It’s a long way to fall from all the way up there! Another successful flip and we were ready to get back to sailing. Ben took us out to the dam at the opposite end of the reservoir where wind picks up as it shoots up the dam wall. Out here we did get some real speed, but not quite enough to fly a hull thanks to all the body weight.
We navigated our way back to base, slowly jibing down wind, discovering that the Hobie is at its fastest when pointing into the wind and not much of a Ferrari when going with it. No rush though! We were back on land ready for lunch. The camp atmosphere was a relaxed one. I’m sure half the people there didn’t go out on the water, they were happy just sitting in the shade, drinking and snacking. We made lunch and pulled up our chairs getting to know people under the shade of some trees.
Lunch done quickly, Dan and I went out by ourselves for the first time, with Ben’s seal of approval of course. From what he’d seen, he was confident we’d be able to handle it. He was nice enough to even follow us out in his one-man kayak and he was impressed with what he saw.
We experimented with flying the hull again, this time trying to do it properly. Dan had much more finesse than I did and managed to balance it for a time before we purposely let it fall so we could do some more flipping. It was almost the best bit turning the Hobie onto its side.
We made it all the way out to the dam and picked up on the fast winds out there, getting more and more excited with each tack of the sails about the potential of this boat. We were in pretty low winds and we were going fast, we could only imagine what would be possible in the windy Bay. We navigated ourselves back to base ok after our fast adventure and we happily regaled our experience to our new friends and listening to their tips.
There was some business to attend to now, the official sale. Manswelly gave us heaps of extra gear that he hadn’t been intending to let go, but he was so happy with the Hobie’s new owners that he was being generous. We settled on a final price of $550, which to us was ridiculous considering how much fun we’d just had and that included the trailer as well. Dan and Manswelly shook hands, but I hugged the man, he was the coolest guy to buy a boat from.
Needing some more cash, Dan drove out of the reservoir to find an ATM and in the process did an errand run for our fellow campers getting ice and some other supplies. I sat with the campers while he was gone, Cleo in my lap enjoying the shade. I laughed when Manswelly asked if he could go for a sail in “our” boat and immediately obliged. I watched as he easily made off in the Hobie, getting one hull out of the water as soon as he was in deep water. By the time he came back, Manswelly didn’t want to sell the boat anymore, but I promised him it wouldn’t be his last sail with her, as members of the Hobie Fleet 20 club, I knew we’d be seeing more of each other!
When Dan had been gone for over an hour, I started worrying. His car didn’t start yesterday and so I had all sorts of theories rolling around in my head. With no phone service, there was nothing I could do and so me and Cleo patiently waited. He came back eventually, no car trouble, just had to drive a little further than he thought. Ice delivered, we had another piece of business to attend to, our official inauguration into the Hobie Fleet 20. We paid a small membership fee and ended up with a singlet for me and t-shirt for Dan. We really were sailers now!
The sun was starting to set and the wind had become really gentle as we sat by the water. That only encouraged Dan, he was keen to take the Hobie out by himself. He had more confidence than me! I helped him to push off then off he went, just one dirtbag and his boat with no engine to carry him, only the wind in his sails. I kept my eye on him as long as I could but he ventured far out into the reservoir.
Cleo and I happily welcomed him back to the shore and now that I’d seen him do it, I was keen to go solo too! The wind had dipped a little, which suited me fine because I wasn’t as comfortable as Dan with the sails, but it was a pleasure to know that everything was under your own control and the amount of speed you could get thanks to just a few sheets of material hung above you! As I turned back to shore, I came to a complete stop a few times as the wind truly went down with the sun, but I cruised in, not with as much style as Dan, but I managed.
We admired our beautiful catamaran as the sun set on the horizon and joined the rest of the crew for a huge communal dinner.
My potato salad seemed inadequate against the spread of food everyone else had put out. We definitely ate (and drank) very well.
After dinner, we played a form of charades around the fire which generated a lot of laughs in a nice relaxed atmosphere. Neither of us lasted long into the night, after such an eventful late night and full day of sailing and sun, we crawled into the van around 9:30pm. Cleo happily joined us as we lay in bed, feet hanging out the back, the Hobie’s sails swaying in the light breeze of the night.
Sunday we did more of the same. Another big breakfast, we went out again in a gentler wind and got a little more experimental with our new boat. We attempted to get the balance for flying a hull and Dan tried to flip her back solo after a failed experiment. Not heavy enough, I had to climb up onto Dan to get her back on her hulls. Manswelly took her out as well, but didn’t last long because there wasn’t enough wind for him to fly.
Despite the slower wind, we were determined to play with every aspect of the Hobie and so got our 70s era harnesses out. We made our way out to the dam to find some decent wind and did it right this time with beers in hand. Dan was elated hanging out the side of the boat, with only his feet and harness keeping him connected. Though we couldn’t get the hull off the water, the feeling was special. I took the harness and did the same and we couldn’t contain our excitement, we just wanted to do this again and again!
We came back for lunch, but I wanted another stint and I took Hobie out again by myself. Poor Cleo wasn’t having a super exciting weekend, but I think she was happy just to be outside. Halfway into the bay, I was surprised to hear Dan’s voice. He’d borrowed another guy’s single-sail Hobie and was chasing me! What do you call two sailboats going in the same direction? RACING. He had no chance, I was way faster than him with the two sails but he did his best to keep up. Mid-afternoon, we head back into base to call it a weekend.
The whole crew was in the process of packing up and we weren’t looking forward to saying goodbye to everyone. Manswelly ran us through the de-rigging of the Hobie and so we paid desperate attention, taking a few photos as he went through it all, it only took a half hour, but I was sure it’d be a two hour job the next time we attempted it.
With the sails and mast down, we had six people this time to help us carry it onto the trailer which made it easy work. Once nested on the trailer, a few ratchet straps and ties secured her in place and ready for the trip home.
Hugs all round to the people we’d spent the weekend with, I was sure we’d see them all on the water again, hopefully before the end of Summer.
Now to get home. I was still nervous about the state of Dan’s car and we had a few stops to make along the way.
Only a week before, we’d given up hope on the Hobie dream because there was nowhere for us to store the 16-footer. We’d tried multiple different avenues, finding nothing but cost and waiting lists involved with various storage solutions and none of my mates had space at their places. I’d actually messaged Manswelly to tell him we wouldn’t be able to buy it was looking that dire. But then, at the last minute, someone responded to Dan’s ad on Craigslist looking for storage and it was a Hobie enthusiast living in Petaluma. Stephen explained that he had property in the suburb north of San Francisco and plenty of space to store a Hobie cat. He’d talked on the phone with him and he sounded legit and so we were going to tow the boat there where it would live. We didn’t really have a back-up plan if Stephen didn’t come through, so we were just winging it.
On the way, we went via Bethel Island which wasn’t really on the way but far enough out of the Bay Area to justify a side-trip instead of a special trip. It was here that we’d looked at a Prindle 16 boat for a similar price and put a deposit down because we didn’t want to miss out. That was entirely my fault, Dan had proposed a hand-shake deal, but I was so caught up in the dream that I wanted to throw money at it. Having now bought a different boat, we were keen to regain our $100. Dan had contacted the guy and explained we hadn’t been able to find storage (a lie) and if we could have our money back and he was ok with it. That’s all good, but we couldn’t very well show up at this guy’s door with a different boat! And so, just outside of Bethel Island, we pulled in at a gas station and parked the Hobie in the corner. I stayed with the boat on the side of the herb while Dan went off into Bethel Island to retrieve our dollars. I called Mum and Dad to pass the time and after 45 minutes I was concerned. My phone battery going dead and stranded with a boat, I called Dan, no reply, then left a message. Had the car died again? Had the boat guy killed him so he could sell Cleo on the black market as a fighting dog?
An hour after he’d left me, Dan came back, $100 in hand. Apparently the guy had just broken up with his girlfriend and needed somebody to vent to. Sigh! Whatever, we’d got what we wanted. We hitched up the Hobie again and drove over to Petaluma. We had planned to get a big tarp along the way to cover the boat while stored, but we were supposed to meet Stephen before sun-down and we were cutting it close so made straight there.
Around 7pm we rolled into town and called Stephen per his instructions. He guided us to his property, confusing us when he acted a little like Big Brother because he could see where we were on the road from his place. We drove down the narrow driveway and knew we were in the right place when we saw other Hobie cats around the house. Stephen was a 70-something year old with a passion for Hobies. The first thing he noticed was our trailer and when we told him how much we’d paid for the whole package he’d agreed it was a good deal.
He directed us to the back of the property where there was plenty of space for our Hobie. Dan expertly parked her in next to a tree and we got out to meet Stephen properly. He was a lovely guy and a keen sailer. He had plenty of advice about sailing, rigging and was happy to help us new enthusiasts out. Things were finally working out?
We spent an hour there with him, making sure everything was tied up and secure, then took the numberplate off the trailer for the registration before we head out. The sun pretty much gone, we drove south to get home. It was a long drive to close out a long weekend but we made it, Dan driving all the way. We’d bought a boat!
And so, Mobie joined our dirtbag family. She got her name from Manswelly, wanting to call her MOB for “Manswelly’s Old Boat” and so Mobie seemed fitting. We’ll be lucky to get in another sail before the end of Summer, but I’m sure she’ll show us and many others a great time on the waters of the Bay and the lakes of Northern California.
August 18, 2018. 37°50’15.5″N 120°50’56.0″W.