Thinking all was good to go and having already booked our first event, I was confident that Papagallo Yacht Charter would soon be off and running. Not so fast, Chef Len! From the Papagallo’s galley I looked toward shore. There, coming across the parking lot and heading for the gangplank with an official clipboard in his hand, was a Coast Guard Inspector. I knew he wasn’t making a social call. But I honestly didn’t know why else he would be coming aboard. Certainly not another inspection. We had already been cleared in San Francisco Bay. What else did we have to do?

Well, it turns out that we did have to pass yet another inspection. This one was called “Change of Zone” and is mandatory when you move an already inspected vessel from one operational zone to another. In this case, we were relocating from San Francisco Bay to Morro Bay.

In last week’s blog, I discussed the stringent maintenance requirements and safety standards of a commercial vessel with a COI. Never having owned a yacht before, my learning curve was almost as high as Mount Everest. Very steep to say the least. But I was willing to climb it. So, before purchasing the Papagallo, I had talked with other boat owners to glean what information I could to help me prepare for this new venture.

In listening and asking questions I soon discovered that many of the same principles I had learned in the restaurant business would apply to this new venture as well. These experiences can be labeled as “OJT” (on the job training) or learning by doing. It means that the guy who does the work gains the knowledge. Sometimes this is called “Baptism by Fire,” or the “College of Hard Knocks,” but whatever you call it, the desired result is that you get better and better at what you are doing. Throw in a good dose of passion, enthusiasm, and faith and you will naturally accelerate the process. Passing inspections was proving to be an important part of my OJT, another aspect of commercial yacht ownership I needed to understand and master – FAST!

A very valuable business exercise I learned early on when dealing with people in positions of authority is to try and build a relationship with them. A good place to start is to find out more about them. You can do this by engaging them in conversation. It’s quite simple, but a lot of folks miss it.

You should talk more about them and less about yourself.
Show a sincere interest in such topics as their family, the hobbies they enjoy, their favorite sports team, various aspects of their job. The list can go on and on. What you are looking for is their “Hot Button,” what they react to and are interested in. Everyone has one. When you identify it, you will now have a topic that you can begin the process of building a relationship with.

Since this technique had worked for me many times, I decided to employ it with the Coast Guard Inspector. My goal was not to avoid any of the COI requirements or skirt safety issues, but rather to have the inspection go smoothly. What I hoped to accomplish was to avoid the calling out of minor infractions that had little or no bearing on operations.
Let the conversation begin! After several minutes, the inspector mentioned that he had just begun trading stocks and was excited about it. “BINGO!” Hot Button identified! Luckily, in my past life, there was a period where I had been a Day Trader in the stock market. I could relate to him on this level. Before long we were engrossed in a friendly conversation that included trading stories of wins and losses. And from that point on, the inspection moved along smoothly. The inspector issued a couple of minor 835’s to be corrected before we could begin cruising.

Great lesson here . . . it’s better to develop a rapport with people in authority than it is to challenge them with a confrontational or adversarial approach. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
In your business relationships and in your personal relationships as well, it’s good to remember:

“Big people monopolize the listening, small people monopolize the talking.”

Next week’s blog: We Finally Set Sail


When a private yacht, such as the Papagallo, is converted to commercial service where passengers pay to cruise, it requires a COI (Certificate of Inspection) in order to operate as a business.

I purchased the Papagallo because it already had a COI.  Without it, we would be allowed to carry only six paying passengers (a six pack).  Not enough to make a profit.  But with it, we could accommodate 56 passengers and cruise up to twenty miles off shore.  Quite a difference.    

COIs are granted through the U.S. Coast Guard, and the initial inspection they conduct is extremely thorough.  For starters, they check all electrical and plumbing systems, water tight bulkheads and through hulls. Then the vessel has to pass a stability test.  Any area that is deemed unsatisfactory is called out on an 835 Form and must be repaired. 

This process takes time (something you don’t have) and, depending on what needs to be repaired, can be expensive.  So, once a COI is issued, you don’t want to let it lapse under any circumstances.  Keeping it current is a no-brainer if you want to continue operating successfully. 

To keep your COI current your vessel must be inspected top side (in the water) every year and on the hard (out of the water) every two years.  These inspections, especially hauling the vessel, are at the owner’s expense.  They are conducted by Coast Guard personnel who not only check out the vessel, but go through a comprehensive list of other official requirements that include such items as a man overboard drill (MOB), drug program, fire drill, crew training, thickness of hull, and insurance coverage.

Bottom-line, it’s a big, expensive deal!  And I can tell you from experience that these guys don’t miss a thing.  They are quick to issue 835’s for repair and, if serious, this can result in a “NO SAIL”.  That means the vessel isn’t going anywhere because it cannot leave the dock until the 835 is corrected and the repair is re-inspected. 

So, when you cruise on a vessel that’s been inspected by the USCG, you can be confident that it is safe, mechanically sound and sea worthy.  With that said, all you have to concern yourself with at this point is the weather, prevailing winds, and other passengers.  Maybe rubber soled shoes as well. 

You may be wondering why I took the time to share all of this with you since the Papagallo already had a valid COI when I bought it.  Good question!  I thought I was ready to go. I had everything I needed – my chef’s jacket, food and beverage stores, linen table cloths, even music and flowers.  My first cruise was booked and scheduled.  What could go wrong? 


(click on link above to view a video of out of water inspection)

So I wasn’t worried when the Coasties showed up shortly before the cruise, clip board in hand.  The Papagallo had been inspected prior to leaving San Francisco Bay so I assumed we would be okay to operate in Morro Bay.  After all, it’s the same ocean, right?  Au contraire, my friend!

We had to pass yet another inspection – one called the “Change of Zone.”    More on this story and how to work with Coast Guard inspectors in next week’s blog.  Until then, remember:

“Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.”       Thomas Carlyle 

Note:  The inspection process is certainly important and justified.  Whenever I complain about it, my good friend, Jimmy T., reminds me to relax and approach this requirement along with the many other obstacles that pop up while conducting business as: “Just another bug on the windshield of life.”           

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Fast forward three years from my purchase of the Papagallo. I’m no longer a novice yacht owner.  However, Nick, the man who stepped up and befriended me when I was, is no longer here.  He has passed away, leaving a hole in our friendship.  And sadly, with his death, the time we spent keeping the Papagallo shipshape and the sage advice he gave me on maintenance had come to an end. 

During all the time we had worked together I never realized how much pain Nick had been in.  How each task must have taxed his dwindling strength.  He worked tirelessly, never letting me down, right up until the end of his battle with cancer.  And through it all, he never complained.  Not once. 

Looking back, I understand now the urgency he displayed when he was teaching me how to solve problems onboard.  He was always thorough – showing me what steps to take and how to take them when we did repairs – but somehow it seemed we needed to do them faster.  He knew his time was short.  He also knew that I had a lot to learn.  The skills necessary to maintain a yacht don’t come to you over night.  He was a wonderful mentor in every sense of the word.  And a cherished friend.

Today, I spend most of my early mornings alone, drinking my coffee before my work day begins.  I so miss his company – the quiet, calm mornings we spent onboard the Papagallo solving the world’s problems, discussing world events, women, our time in the military, and a hundred other topics.  In the end, Nick was convinced the cancer he suffered from was a result of being exposed to weapons testing in Nevada during his hitch in the Air Force.  He was one of the last of many in his unit to succumb to this dreadful disease.

If he were still here I believe Nick would be proud of my understanding of the various systems onboard.  I think he might even admit that I’ve come a long way.  Everyone on the water front misses him and the great service he provided us. 

Since his passing, I have had to tackle many repairs on my own, including the raw water pump on the Aft Gen two more times.  It was not pretty!  I will never be the mechanical genius that Nick was, but that doesn’t keep me from trying and putting into practice the skills he taught me.

Now, whenever I’m faced with a new repair, I pause for a moment and wait for the small voice in the back of my mind to speak.  It used to be sad.  Now it is respectful.  It asks “WHAT WOULD NICK DO?”

The comfort of having a friend may be taken away, but not that of having had one.                            -Seneca

Miss you man!

                                                                  RIP: 1946-2003


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Nick joined me at the open hatch above the lazarette where the 20 KW aft generator is housed.  Seeing the water covering the deck below, he quickly sprang into action and bolted down the ladder to the compartment. I was right behind him with my trusty wet/dry vac in hand, not sure of exactly where I would be using it. 

Nick placed his hand in the water and tasted it.  “Salty,” he said.  “Your problem might be a bad seal in the Jasco water pump.”  Then he checked the through hull (sea strainer) to be sure it had not failed.  All was good there.  As Nick removed the sound shield panel from the generator for a better look, I vacuumed up the water and oil off the deck.  After that we fired up the engine to check its operation. 

Sure enough, Nick’s hunch was correct.  There was a steady stream of sea water spraying out from the pump.  The water was still doing its job cooling the engine as it was designed to do, but the leak had filled the catch pan under the engine and the pan had overflowed.  As a result there was now enough water on the deck to come within an inch of the float that controlled the emergency bilge pump.  Not good at all.  When that float rises it trips an emergency alarm – not a sound any sailor likes to hear – and the bilge pump kicks in big time to pump the water out of the compartment.    

With the remaining sound shields removed, Nick twisted, grunted and contorted his body almost into a pretzel so that he could wedge himself between the front of the engine, the hull of the vessel and a forward bulk head in order to gain access to the pump.  After carefully climbing over the rudder cables, he was somehow able to squeeze himself into a space measuring fifteen inches wide and thirty six inches deep.  It was so tight that you couldn’t even hang a drop light in it.   

Thankful that it wasn’t me wedged into the space, I slid a milk crate in for Nick to sit on, wondering at the time if we might have to call the fire department to get him out. 

With Nick securely wedged within reach of the pump my job was to hold a flash light in between the various pulleys and to focus it on the bolts that secured the pump to the engine.  This would make it easier for Nick to remove them.  I was also the “tool runner,” an apprentice who fetches needed tools for the job, which meant climbing up the ladder, going forward to the engine room to get the necessary tools and deliver them to Nick. 

As the pump removal progressed I made several trips to retrieve open end wrenches, sockets, drivers, socket extensions, a pry bar and even a propane torch.  One bolt, because of its awkward location, required a special off-set wrench to even get to it.  Normally this would require at least one trip to Lowes or Home Depot, or maybe even an Amazon special order, but we were in luck.  Nick had one on his truck. 

It was my job to retrieve it.  So, off I went to the parking lot, confident of finding the wrench but not having a clue as to what, exactly, it looked like.  After two trips and more than a few frustrating moments for Nick who could hardly move, I finally came back with what I thought was the correct tool.

“Is this it?” I asked, holding it out for Nick to see.  He nodded as best he could and I slipped it in to him.  All was well.  We could keep going. 

Even though I had vacuumed up most of the water, this was still a wet, oily job, the most mechanically challenging that I had ever witnessed.  Nick’s hands were raw and nicked with open cuts that bled.  There were red spots on top of the oil, and I noticed that a pink sheen had formed on the patches of water still on the deck.  We didn’t talk much.  And honestly, I didn’t know what to say. 

As Nick continued to work and endure increasingly painful body cramps, from time to time tools would slip from his hand and clank to the deck.  By lying flat on the deck, I found that I could retrieve them (and get them back to him) by crawling under the generator stand.  Not an earth shaking discovery, but at least I wasn’t just sitting there.        

When you’ve got a lot of space to work in, removing a pump isn’t that great of a task.  But because of the confined space we had to work in, getting this particular pump out was a bitch.  And this was just the start!  We had to get Nick out from behind the engine, repair the pump, and then reinstall it.  MORE GREAT FUN WAS IN STORE FOR US.  

Watching the hands of a skilled mechanic through the beam of a flashlight, I realized just how fortunate I was to be learning from him and how grateful I was for the opportunity.  You can learn a lot from books, but absolutely nothing can compete with the hands-on experience of actually getting in and doing it.   

I usually mention an inspirational quote in all of my posts, so I’ll pass along what Thomas Edison said:

“Most people miss Opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

That day Nick and I worked.  Really worked.  Hard.  And, we were victorious.  We had successfully removed the Jasco pump.  As a result, our clothing was rank enough to foil the Oxi clean challenge as seen on TV.  I changed clothes and tossed my salty, oily jeans and T shirt into the dumpster on my way home.  LIFE IS GOOD!     


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Nick Reminds Me


                   -Join us next week down the hatch to fix a problem

Expanding one’s comfort zone is, well, very uncomfortable.  You feel out of place, unsure, almost like you don’t belong.  A chef by trade, my comfort zone was always centered on my work in the restaurant business, more specifically, the kitchen.   That is what I had done from an early age and where I was comfortable.  I knew my way around.  No party was too big, no dinner too complicated.  I could handle whatever came my way.  I knew what I was doing.

Now, with the ownership of the yacht, I would be thrusting myself into learning and developing entirely new skills centered on the nuts and bolts of mechanical operations.  Something I knew almost nothing about but was determined to master.  Financially, I had to.  As they say:

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” 

That could not be truer for me in my new role as a yacht owner.

At age 55, entering a new phase of my life at a time when most men my age would be winding down toward retirement, I had decided to give a lifelong dream of yacht ownership a shot.  Was I crazy?  Would it work?

I had to try.  Ironically, something I had read from an unknown author came to mind:

“Those who are doing what they want to do and are continuously expanding their comfort zone at every opportunity, experience no more fear than people who are passively trying to keep life as comfortable as possible.”

That quote is so true!  And, I had the added advantage of having Nick right there  by my side guiding me through the process of yacht maintenance, supplying support, encouragement, direction, and teaching every step of the way.  He was in all ways a real life mentor.

As my training progressed from one project to another, I found myself uncomfortable most of the time learning these new skills:  uncomfortable yes, fearful no.  There is a difference.  Being uncomfortable is a very expected and natural feeling when attempting new things or learning new skills.  Accept it and keep going.  On the other hand fear can prevent you from moving forward.  Don’t give in to it.

If you’re experiencing uncomfortable feelings with whatever you’re trying to accomplish, recognize that they’re normal and try to embrace them while you concentrate on working your way through to a successful outcome.  In the end, you will feel so much better.  You will savor a sweet victory and perhaps even enjoy a well-deserved celebratory cocktail.

Initially, I had embraced my feelings of doubt when changing the engine oil.  Now that it was done successfully, we took the Papagallo out for a little shakedown cruise in the bay.  Returning to the dock, I opened the lazarette hatch and, to my horror, discovered that the deck below was covered with two inches of sea water.  NOT GOOD!

You might remember I mentioned in a previous blog that one of the cardinal rules in boating is to always keep the water on the outside of the boat.  Well, seeing all that water sloshing about between the port and starboard side of the vessel – where water is definitely not supposed to be – made me very uncomfortable.  And, honestly, I did not view this situation as a “new opportunity to expand my comfort zone.”

The only thought that raced through my head almost as fast as the water continued to pour in was:  “HOLY SHIT, THIS LOOKS SERIOUS.” 

This incident clearly illustrates that one’s comfort zone expansion rate is subject to ups and downs!

Join us for next week’s blog “NICK TO THE RESCUE REPAIRING THE RAW WATER PUMP IN THE AFT GEN.” And, don’t forget to hit the subscribe button to receive updates right to your inbox each week! 



With Nick onboard as my mechanic, the first order of business was to change the oil in the 871 Detroits.  He informed me that this is standard practice when purchasing a new boat, and I quickly learned that it’s also an expensive one.  Officially, this was the beginning of chapter one in my maintenance education and the first of many dollar investments required to keep the Papagallo properly serviced.

I was learning first hand, as the saying goes, that:

Owning a boat is like a hole in the ocean you pour money into and that anything with the word “marine” means break out another $thousand. 

My only experience with oil changes before owning the Papagallo had been limited to taking the car to be serviced at a quick lube.  This ran between $30 and $50, depending on sale specials – a proverbial drop in the oil pan compared to what I learned these engines would require.  Each 871 engine would need seven and a half gallons (that’s right, gallons, not quarts) of Dello 100 oil at a cost of roughly $21 per gallon and another $35 for the oil filter.  That works out to be $192.50 each or $385 total just for the oil and filters.  And we’re not even talking about labor yet.


Nick’s first instruction was that I remove the deck plates next to each engine.  He was checking to see if there was a drain line fastened to the bottom of the oil line that would make the removal of the oil easier.  I did this.  No such luck.  There was no drain line.

Moving on, we were ready for Step B:  pumping the oil out through a dip stick port at the rear of the engine.  After a quick visit to his truck, Nick returned laden down with five gallon buckets, tubing, electric pump and an extension cord.  Everything we needed, proving that nothing is ever as easy as it looks when it comes to maintaining a boat.

While the engines were idling (they needed about ten minutes to heat the oil prior to the pumping extraction) it dawned on me why Nick’s clothing was covered with grease and oil.  My shirt and blue jeans would soon be christened with petroleum lubricant and suffer the same fate.  There was no way around it.  Changing the engine oil on a yacht is a messy job.  What’s more, it takes a couple of hours to complete.

When it was done Nick explained that we now had a bench mark to refer to that  would indicate when the next change was due.  And in spite of the oil and grease, the nicks and bruises to my knuckles, and stiff cramps in my knees, I felt good.  Really  good.  I had successfully completed my first action step in learning the systems onboard.  It was a great feeling.  I could do this.  I knew it.

Action feeds and strengthens confidence.  Inaction, in all forms, feeds fear.

As I worked with Nick on this first project, I had paid close attention to every detail, no matter how small.  Wrapping up, I asked Nick what I owed him.  He gathered up his gear and shrugged.  “I’ll catch you next time,” he said.

It was a comment I would hear many times on our future dealings.  When he completed work, you would have to force payment on him.

Changing the oil that day was the beginning of a wonderful relationship between Nick and me over the next three years.  I will always be thankful for that time and our association.  I’m not really sure what Nick saw in me, but early on, it became apparent he was more interested in seeing me succeed than in charging for the work he performed.  Somehow, something on that first day just clicked between us.

It is rare indeed to encounter a person like Nick along life’s journey.  We would go on to spend many mornings onboard the Papagallo enjoying coffee and conversation before either of us started our work day.  Nick not only extended a helping hand with his guidance and teaching, but also a hand of friendship.  The action phase of my training would move into high gear, and I knew that success, moving ever closer to reality, was within my grasp.

“Success requires heart, soul and effort.  You can only put your heart and soul into something you really desire.”  – Author Unknown

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WELCOME ABOARD, NICK | “Man, am I glad to see you.”

My search for a good marine mechanic began at the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol office.  When I inquired there, the officer on duty enthusiastically pointed to a guy standing on the North T Pier.  “You need to talk to Nick, the best mechanic on the waterfront,” he said.

(Ace Mechanic, Nick Howell.)

Leaving the office, I quickly approached Nick and introduced myself.  His appearance left no doubt in my mind that he worked on engines.  In fact, he may very well have just crawled out from under one.  His face, lined and rugged, sported at least a five day stubble and was smeared with grease.  His hair, also greasy, was a mess.  And the coveralls he wore looked as if they could stand on their own when taken off at the end of the day.

This guy’s the best in the harbor?

I did my best to hide my doubts, but this was honestly my first impression of Nick.  I was more accustomed to dealing with mechanics at car dealerships whose uniforms and service bays were spotless.

I extended my hand as I introduced myself and explained that the Papagallo was my new yacht and that I would like to hire him to help maintain her.  He did not shake hands, commenting that his were too greasy.  And the body language between us indicated that he was hardly that impressed by me or my new yacht.  Not a good sign.

I knew that the first impression is all important.  It only takes a minute or so when you meet someone, but it usually sets the tone for the future with that person.  It can determine whether you move forward – or not at all.  SHIT! The message I was receiving from this first impression was not encouraging.   My hopes of securing Nick’s services were dwindling.

Looking back on it, Nick’s main business was keeping the fishing fleet up and running. These owners and captains knew their vessels well and shared that knowledge with Nick.  That sharing was key to the mutual respect and camaraderie that had developed between them.  It was equally obvious that I was just getting acquainted with the Papagallo and to date, had comparatively little knowledge of her.  Nick knew this.  And although he never admitted it, I believe Nick’s first impression of me was:

Here’s a fancy pants yacht owner who knows nothing about boats and is a wanna be captain.

The truth is that Nick had a point.  I didn’t know anything about boats.   Part of Nick’s impression was right.  But as far as being a “fancy pants,” my many years in the restaurant business would soon prove that assumption to be false.

Instinctively, I knew I needed this guy more than he needed my business.  Success would hinge on being able to nurture the relationship along and proving that I was a serious yacht owner.

Nick finally agreed to meet me onboard the following morning to discuss a maintenance program for the Papagallo.  This was a good sign.  My anxiety eased a bit.  Just knowing he had at least agreed to talk with me regarding his services was encouraging.

These early stages of setting up Papagallo Yacht Charters were very stressful. I had to remind myself constantly that:

You have absolute control over but one thing and that is your thoughts.

At this point in the business, it was essential to direct my thoughts to achieve positive outcomes because, as Henry Ford said,

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

At this point there would be no turning back — I am going to be successful at making this work!

Stay tuned for next week’s blog as Nick joins me in the engine room to change the oil in the 871 Detroits.

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As the Papagallo Yacht Charter business began, so did the first of many challenges to the strength and the depth of my convictions – mastering the systems of the Engine Room. It was a real stretch for me both physically and mentally. To begin with, I was inept with anything mechanical and had been all my life. This was one of the reasons I had entered the food service industry in my early teens.

The Engine Room provided me with an opportunity to learn a whole new vocabulary that described the working parts of the equipment along with what functions they served. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to learn this, but I knew that I had to.

In the very center of the compartment there are two 871 Detroit Diesel main engines. Located in the hull of the vessel are six through hulls. They service the head (toilet), fire suppression system, both main engines, holding tank and water maker. As the name indicates, these through hulls are bronze valves that open up to the sea, either to let salt water in or waste water out.

The cardinal rule on any boat is: Always keep the water on the outside. If a through hull fails, you will most certainly violate that rule, and your vessel will be perilously close to sinking. These hulls are so important that during Coast Guard inspections special attention is paid to how well they are maintained. Knowing the danger, why on earth would you ever want to let salt water enter the vessel through the hull? Actually, there are several good reasons. One is to fight a fire. Another is to help cool the main engines through heat exchangers. You might also want to use salt water to operate the head system, and you may need to convert salt water to fresh water through desal.

By now you may be thinking that this is getting complex, what’s it got to do with running a yacht charter business? And you might be right. But at some level I knew that I wouldn’t succeed if I didn’t understand the basics of my boat – if I didn’t know how things worked.
Just looking inside the Engine Room and I can tell you from personal experience that Engine Systems – and the shitload of equipment required to make everything work the way it is supposed to – are not only complicated, but damn complicated.

I would need to learn how all kinds of pumps worked: fresh water, raw water, bilge, (listening also for bilge alarms) and one of the most important, the fuel pump which requires a fuel manifold plus endless sets of fuel filters to check. Also on my list I would need to know about battery banks, the fire suppression system, stack blower, salt water head system and holding tanks.

Add shaft packing, cutlass bearings, anti-corrosion sensors, generator and a heater boiler to the list. But wait. We’re not finished yet. There is the electrical panel that supplies 110, 220, 12 and 32 volt currents, plus a transformer, reverse reduction gears, an inverter, paralleling solenoid, air compressor, constant volt chargers, stabilizing fin controls, racor filters, and especially important when you want to shower, the hot water system.
And to maintain and repair all this stuff there is a two-decker tool chest crammed full of every wrench, screwdriver, fitting and anything else known to mankind for servicing engines and keeping a boat afloat.

Overwhelmed and dazed is an understatement of the way I felt. My head was spinning painfully, as if I were drunk. I was too confused to even know where to start. Gradually, as my head began to clear, I called the boatyard in San Francisco to get the number of the captain who had overseen the maintenance of the Papa G. for the previous 15 years.
With some pleading, persuasion, and a dollar stimulus, he agreed to visit us and explain the many systems onboard. Over a weekend, my captain, Paul, and I received a crash course from Captain Dan. We affectionately nicknamed him “Captain Cool” because of his extensive knowledge and the great stories he shared during his tenure as captain of the Papagallo. By the end of our time with Captain Cool, my mind was numb, and my head felt as if it would explode from the overload of technical information we had received. And I will never forget Dan’s departing remark to me:
“Len, six months from now you will know this engine room like the back of your hand.”
RIGHT! Hard to believe, but his remark turned out to be true.

Even with all the training from Captain Dan, it was very apparent that we would need a local marine mechanic to help us maintain the vessel properly. As fate would have it, I met just such a person: Nick Howell, a Morro Bay legend. Not only was Nick a great mechanic, but he turned out to be a wonderful mentor to me in our early years of operation.  The  photos are of a bronz memorial in NIcks honor located on the boardwalk just down from where the Papagallo is docked.. Very  fitting the front seat out of his pickup truck. We love you Nick and thank you for all your help.

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.” -Bob Proctor

Join us on the next blog post when Nick brings clarity and confidence to his new and totally inexperienced trainee mechanic.



How does all this equipment work?

After the search, purchase, and relocation of the Papagallo, we were ready to begin our special event charter business.  The most important question prior to getting here, one that should always be asked and answered honestly before opening any business, is:  “WHY.” 

My WHY was asked long before buying and owning a yacht became a reality.  It began with a small boy’s dream, a boy who knew nothing about the practical aspects of owning a yacht, but didn’t let that stop him from dreaming about one.  And as he continued to dream, and later to focus on achieving that dream, his personal “why” came true.  That boy was me.

I did not have enough money to buy a yacht, nor did I have any concrete idea of what, exactly, the right vessel might be.  

Not to worry!

My WHY, my personal dream, was of paramount importance.  And so is yours.  Your WHY question needs to be answered first, well before the “what” and the “how” of starting a business or any new endeavor.  Because if the WHY is not strong or big enough (it’s good to dream big), your how and what will make little difference in achieving success.  They will just be words.

And along with the need to answer WHY, we will focus on some very important key words like desire, passion, enthusiasm, commitment, visualization, thought, and faith in future posts.  For now, I encourage you to visualize and personalize a strong, unwavering Why and then prepare yourself for success.  It will happen!

I know what I’m talking about, because it happened to me.

When we docked the Papagallo and tied her securely in her new berth, I looked around and took a deep breath.  “Now what do I do?” I asked myself, not at all sure that I knew the answer.

Then I remembered what most yacht owners agree on – the single most important compartment on the vessel is its engine room.  Most of a yacht’s operating systems rely on a well maintained and properly functioning engine room.  This being my second day of ownership, that seemed like the best place to begin.  I would start familiarizing myself with all of the systems housed there.

After opening the dogged hatch to the engine room, I stepped in on the deck plates.  My first impression was one of amazement.  How can so much equipment be squeezed into such a small space, I wondered.  The more I surveyed this compartment, the more my feelings went from utter amazement to being overwhelmingly dazed by the complexity of it all.  And to think, I was the proud owner!

Ask me to prepare a chocolate soufflé, lobster thermidor or fresh abalone dish.  Duck soup.  I’m in familiar territory.  Cater a wedding reception for 200 – not a problem.   But try to understand or even pretend to have the vaguest idea of how all this equipment crammed into the engine room worked and, more importantly, what it operated?  Totally Greek to me.  Obviously, the limited training we received at the boatyard fell short.  As a new yacht owner I needed to know more than where the stop and start switches were.

YIKES!  I knew I would have to learn the systems.  I needed to get a handle on how these systems worked before I could ever leave the dock with future passengers onboard.  Making a quick management decision, I realized I would have to hire someone in order to gain a working knowledge of how everything was supposed to work.

Living one’s dream is not always smooth sailing. You can expect doubt and fear to be constant companions in the early stages of a new business.  When in doubt, call someone. Failure is not an option. 

In next week’s blog, I will introduce two new players, “Nick the Wrench and Captain Cool,” to the cast of characters as the Papagallo Yacht Charter startup gets underway.

Stay tuned.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Credited as a Buddhist Proverb.


Miss our post from last week? Catch up here! Just joining the journey? Start here!

Chef Len


The Fourth and Last Segment of the Papagallo Yacht Purchase

After nineteen hours of a chilling cruise down the coast of California, we arrived at the mouth of Morro Bay.  It was 9:00 A.M. on a Saturday morning, a day I will never forget.

We woke Mitch to join us on the deck as we prepared to dock.  He looked a little worse for wear but managed to stand using the railing for support.  It was a dazzling sight, this beautiful, gleaming, classic motor yacht with flag pendants fluttering in the wind.  As we headed toward the dock the water was calm.  The sky was clear and there was nothing in our way.  The captain sounded several blasts on the air horns announcing our arrival.  Wives, friends and family had gathered on the gangway to celebrate our arrival and to welcome us home from our stout-hearted passage.

And what an arrival it was!  All 78,000 pounds of the Papagallo slammed right into the dock.  The noise was so loud that I was sure people could hear us for miles around.  Our “smooth landing” was more like a controlled crash.  When you think of it, this was a fitting end to our perilous junket.  Luckily, we suffered no major damage and the dock was okay too.

The crew was exhausted and quickly abandoned ship to head home for some much needed rest.  My wife, Midge, eager to learn how the trip had gone, joined me onboard.

“You don’t want to know,” I said.  “Why don’t you head home and I’ll join you later and we can talk.”  I was tired but glad to be home.

All was quiet onboard.  I retreated to the aft deck to ponder the future of my dream of starting Papagallo Yacht Charters.  My dobber was down just a tad.  Looking about, I noticed a half-full bottle of Crown Royal on the counter.  What the heck.  I had earned it, hadn’t I?

A little hair of the dog might do me some good.  I poured myself a double. 

After finishing the drink, I tidied up a bit, locked the boat and headed home.  At the top of the gangway I was greeted by a friendly visitor, the owner of the restaurant and party boat business next to our dock.   He admired the Papagallo and asked if I was stopping overnight on a cruise south, as many cruisers do in the harbor.

No, I told him.  I was going to open a dinner cruise business here in Morro Bay. 

Hearing this, his attitude quickly turned negative.  Obviously, I would not be receiving a Chamber of Commerce welcome from this neighbor.  Then he broadsided me with a pessimistic barrage of all the reasons why my new business venture would fail, ending with a smug “You won’t make it six months!”

His words stung.  I had just spent over a half million dollars, endured a hair-raising, learn-as-you-go cruise south where one of the crew members almost died, and now this SOB was telling me I would fail.  His comments could not go unchallenged.

With the Crown Royal kicking in and my self-control shot, I let him have it.

“Let me tell you one damn thing,” I spoke as slowly as I could, staring him down and struggling to keep my anger in check.  “My middle name is Perseverance, my friend.  And you can bet your ass that I’ll be here a helluva lot longer than you ever will.

I told him that “tenacity” was a trait I had developed early on in the restaurant business and that I had a boatload of it.  Also, that even my lowest-end party onboard the Papagallo would far exceed the high-end of what he was offering to guests on his boat.  Rubbing it in further I told him to just wait and see – I would be sending business his way. 

Still fired up, I boasted:

 “Six months from today, I will invite you onboard to celebrate my success over a nice bottle of wine . . . my treat.”

He grunted a few more discouraging words, shook his head, and then stomped off, sure that I was going to fail.  Six months later, we enjoyed that wine.

By perseverance, the snail reached the ark.  Charles Spurgeon 1834/1892


Next week’s blog:  The Engine Room . . . How Does All This Stuff Work?