Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Fly'n Hawaiian

The Fly’n Hawaiian:

Blind Ambition Meets Reality in the Pacific Ocean

By:  Glenn Peck and Ted Lyman


Has anybody else been following the story of the once local vessel Fly’n Hawaiian?  Both of us have been aware of this strange tale for several years now. When an update was reported in the SF Chronicle a few weeks ago, we got together to share our personal memories of this boat. They were raucous enough to warrant a Blog entry (of course, you will be the judge of that.)

The story starts five or so years ago and is set at the Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael. A guy who obviously has a name but prefers to go by “Hot Rod” got the idea to build a boat and sail it to Hawaii and beyond.  That he goes by the name Hot Rod suggests how this story plays out—which is to say that it doesn’t end well. But what a story it is up to that point.

Glenn used be a charter captain out of Loch Lomond Marina and continues to fish there. He followed this story more closely than Ted, but both of us have been intrigued over the years to the point that this story must be told.  Ted saw the boat up on the hard and under construction on a couple of layovers he had in that marina over the years going to and from the Delta and the Bay.

Hot Rod, who is maybe in his 50s, and his son, probably in his 20s, apparently needed to build a boat and get out of Dodge. It isn’t quite clear what they (or he) were running from but clearly the voyage was necessary. There are some clues about the threat they faced buried here and there in the tale. 

But first, about the boat itself; there is no evidence of plans as such and plenty of evidence of weak vision and poor execution. The basic idea was a catamaran, about 65’ long. It would weigh something like 8,000 lbs., a huge thing, but this of course wouldn’t be known until it was “finished".  It was to be un-powered except by sails hung on two masts salvaged from somewhere—the idea was apparently to build a bastardized, ketch-rigged sailboat that would be very heavy but have no engine.  It was a bad idea from the get go.

You could say it was built like any two amateurs would build a house, which is to say there would be lots of 2x4s, some more 2x6s, sheets of plywood and other materials most commonly found at any Home Depot. Upon his inspection, Glenn noticed some of the finer points of this build: construction grade Douglas fir, rough finish plywood, and various metal hangers under the decks to hold all the bits together--the kind of strapping meant for rafters, floor joists and the like in a house.  There was no fiberglass or other source of strength in evidence. To make sure that it would have lots of sun light inside, Hot Rod threw into the mess a huge sliding glass door toward the stern, thinly glazed. Two sets of sloping stairs dropped down from this door to the water. You get the picture.  The boat seemed to have no  curves at all—that is to say it might have been built without a band saw or any tool designed to make for the slightest shape.  You could say that the primary tools were t-squares and straight edges.  You could also say that the Fly’n Hawaiian was butt ugly.

Now, Glenn knows something about how to build a boat. Most of you have seen his work. Newer CIYCers might want to look at your 2015 club directory.  Take a glance at Glenn and Marsha's Lil’Toot.  It was originally built in 1919 in Sausalito as a fishing boat.  Many of you will remember what that boat looked like when Glenn started what became a complete top to bottom, side to side rebuild.  It took the better part of seven years of nearly daily work at his shop on Bethel Island to make it the classy and beautiful vessel that it is today. The boat was re-planked with proper Port Orford cedar and other correct boat-building materials. You could say that Lil’Toot is a show piece, built the way a boat should be built.  Maybe this is why Glenn took such affront at the debacle that was taking shape as the Fly’n Hawaiian. For a long time he thought it was a prop for an upcoming movie—maybe with a story line like that of Waterworld or Mad Max.

Hot Rod first became known to the world beyond Loch Lomond Marina a year or so ago when the local newspaper reported that he had been arrested for assault.  Apparently the marina’s harbormaster had had it with the Fly’n Hawaiian taking up space in his otherwise beautiful parking lot and drawing a lot of comments, none particularly positive.

A fight ensued and Hot Rod bit the harbormaster’s finger to the bone.  He was arrested and spent some time in the cooler. The newspaper later reported that the boat was stuck aground just outside the marina entrance near the San Rafael channel.  Maybe Hot Rod got evicted while detained. Whatever happened, the next thing formally reported is that the Fly’n Hawaiian was anchored just off Sausalito, no doubt causing considerable bitching among the people of that village more used to looking out at a world class view every day.

Seemingly during his stay on the hook in Richardson Bay, Hot Rod lined up a crew of like-minded people for the long-planned voyage to Hawaii, Tahiti and the South Pacific in general.  These guys weighed anchor a couple of months ago and set off on their ill-advised voyage. The recent SF Chronicle story completes the tale--the voyage ended in December 120 miles west of Monterey.

What was the weather like so many miles off the coast of California in the middle of winter? Can you imagine huge waves climbing those stairs and coming aboard through those huge patio doors?  One can. Were they on a shakedown cruise to get the bugs worked out?  Not likely being 120 miles off the coast and on a course pretty much direct to Hawaii.

What is known for sure is that five people were lifted off a dismasted and thereby seriously disabled sailboat by a Coast Guard helicopter. The boat was apparently left to drift or whatever is it's destiny after such a problem in the Pacific in the dead of winter.  Hot Rod and his erstwhile crewmates  survived what was clearly a bad dream. Where is the Fly’n Hawaiian today?  To our knowledge, there have been no reports.  It is either on the bottom or headed there.

Lessons?  Where do you start?