Weddings onboard the Papagallo are just one of the many venues we offer.  Typically, the niche market we serve are weddings for up to 50 people, many of which are second or third marriages. 

The ceremony is performed underway off Target Rock with Morro Rock in the background.  The captain positions the yacht in the lee of Morro Rock which acts as a windbreak.  This makes it a more pleasant experience for the wedding party and guests.

Prior to the cruise, the bride and her attendants gather in the master stateroom below decks where they usually enjoy a bottle of champagne while getting ready for the ceremony. When all the guests have arrived and boarded, the captain gives the order to cast off lines and we get underway. 

Everyone gathers on the foredeck where the ceremony will be performed. With the boat in position, the groom and officiate take their places on either side of the windless.  Because of the limited space, it is standing room only on the port and starboard rail.  The bride’s attendants are the last to join the guests.  With everyone in place and the music ready to play, all await the bride’s glorious entrance.  Because of the narrow decks, whoever she has selected to walk her down the aisle, must enter the side deck first with the bride to follow.

Let the ceremony begin!

When the officiate introduces the bride and groom as “Mr. & Mrs.,” champagne is passed for a toast and hors d’oeuvres are served.  The captain resumes cruising and the party begins.  There is music, photo taking, buffet food, the traditional first slice of cake shared between the bride and groom, and the first dance.  All good stuff as in a traditional wedding celebration but much more intimate, and memorable. 

We have hosted scores of weddings onboard, some more lively and fun than others.

Over the years we have seen flower girls and little children acting as ring bearers, even the bride and groom’s dog standing with them.  We’ve conducted champagne saber services, featured violin solos and highlighted the pageantry of military uniforms.  You name it and we have probably experienced it onboard.

The most unusual ceremony happened on a sunny Saturday afternoon in early Spring.  The weather could not have been more perfect.  The bride’s gown was beautiful.  The air was filled with excitement and great anticipation.  All was in place for a spectacular ceremony.  The food selections for the buffet happened to be some of my favorite recipes, and I was excited that the guests would get to experience them. 

With the yacht in position and all gathered on the foredeck, it was time for the bride to make her entrance.  Everyone was waiting expectantly.  There was just one slight problem . . . she refused to come up from the master stateroom. 

I sent a female crew member down to get her.  The crew member returned and reported that the bride demanded that the officiate and groom join her below decks.  She wanted the ceremony conducted in the stateroom with no guests present.  

WOW! I felt bad for the groom.  The clock kept ticking away.  Still no bride.  Another fifteen minutes crawled by.  Everyone wanted to know what was happening, but no one wanted to ask.    

Finally, after shuffling about making small talk to kill time and avoid asking what was going on, the bride’s father joined her below.  I wasn’t there and didn’t hear what he said, but I wish I had.  What seemed like another fifteen minutes passed.  Still no bride.  What am I going to do with all this food I wondered.  And what about the guests?

Resisting the urge to join the bride and her father in the stateroom, I smiled at the guests and pretended that all was well.  A slight delay.  Normal.

Finally, the bride’s father met with a degree of success.  He convinced her to join her guests so that the ceremony could begin. She in turn made it clear to him that ALL she wanted or would to say was, “I do.” 

The “I dos” were said! 

After the champagne toast, she retreated to the port side of the aft deck and took out a pack of cigarettes.  She lit first one and then another and another, breathing heavily and puffing smoke furiously, as if her life depended on it, for the remainder of the cruise.  I don’t think she talked to another person the whole time.

Because she did not want to eat or dance, we dispensed with a good part of our traditional service.  Was it cold feet, buyer’s remorse, second thoughts, who knows?  We were just thrilled when the cruise ended and the Papagallo, witness to yet another of life’s quirky experiences, was docked peacefully in her spot.  My captain and crew didn’t say a word.  We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders,  and went home.

To this day I have no idea how that union is doing and I can’t help but wonder if they are still together!



Just joining us? Click here to take the full journey!


After being on the hard in Ventura for over a month for repairs, we were homesick and more than ready to return to Morro Bay.  At a cost of $50,000, this by far was our most expensive haul out since buying the Papagallo.  With the repairs complete and Coast Guard approval, all we needed was a good weather window to cruise home. 

Weather is always a critical factor on any cruise.  It must be considered, especially when going around Point Conception.  If there is anyone who needs to know what the weather prediction is, it is certainly the mariner.  Out at sea, changes in weather cause differences not just in temperature but in sea conditions, wind strength, direction, and wave swell.  The sailor who does not pay attention to these changes is a gambler whose luck may run out.  Ultimately he could find himself in a dangerous situation.  Or worse, put others in one. 

After checking NOAA for sea conditions, we brought the crew onboard and cast off at 9:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning.  The captain set a heading northwest placing us four miles off shore in the Santa Barbara channel.  The weather report gave us a fifteen-hour window to get home ahead of a low front that was coming in.  Seas were four to five feet at twelve seconds with winds fifteen to twenty knots out of the northwest.  These conditions would be no problem for the vessel or crew and would allow us to cruise at ten knots and get to Morro Bay safely ahead of the front.

In all there were four souls onboard settled in on the helm.  The first few hours of our journey were fine.  We told the usual sea stories, exaggerated past adventures, and embellished on the truth as we wanted to remember it, all normal activities for us, enhanced by the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and the haze of pipe and cigar smoke. 

After the financial shock of this haul out, I was beginning to relax.  Soon we would be home, ready for business again.   

As we made our way north, the weather and sea conditions began to change.  The wind gusts and wave swells increased.  Occasional swells out of the south began hitting our port beam.  This was not in the forecast.  We still had many protected hours ahead.  What was happening?

The seas were beginning to pound us relentlessly.  Ten knots seemed like twenty to me.  But the captain insisted on holding our speed.  “We have to get ahead of the predicted cold front,” he said.  It was very obvious to me that our fifteen-hour weather window for smooth sailing was about to slam shut.  Some weather man’s miscalculation, I thought.  So much for accuracy. 

Heavy ocean spray began pelting the helm windows.  Green water blasted up through the anchor hawspipe, poured out on the foredeck, and then ran down the scuppers both port and starboard. 

The rougher it got, the more the old salt captain seemed to enjoy the ride.  I, for one, did not share his enthusiasm!  There is no joy in hearing the considerable crashing, banging, and clanging taking place aft and below decks, especially when you can’t see what is actually happening.  I wanted to reduce speed, not only to lessen the pounding we were getting, but also to prevent damage to the vessel.  However, the captain would have no part of that and pressed on.

When we arrived off the point, we experienced confused seas at the height of their confusion – swells cresting in different directions at 11 to 14 feet one after the other at close intervals, wind gusting to 45 knots, and skies darkening all around us.  The bright sunshine we were promised when leaving Ventura had vanished.  Along with it, much of my enthusiasm. 

With no warning, seemingly from out of nowhere, a series of large swells descended on us.  As the Papagallo rose to the top of the first angry wave, the captain shouted out, “Hold on!”  Completely at the wave’s mercy, we plunged down deep into the trough, burying the bow under the green water of the next oncoming wave.  The entire boat shuddered.  Our forward progress halted briefly before we smashed through the next wave. 

“SHIT!!” I barked out.  “Cut the damn speed.”  Even now, it’s hard for me to describe the horrific sound of 78 tons of boat hitting a solid wall of water at 10 knots!  You have to be onboard when it happens to experience the absolute terror of knowing that everything around you is about to break apart. 

Before we had recovered from the previous wave we were hit on the beam by another one.  The impact tossed Jim half way across the salon into the decorative fireplace.  He laid there in a heap, groaning in pain, for a few minutes before we could scoop him up and place him safely on the bench on the helm. We found out later he had suffered three broken ribs because of the fall.  At this point Jeff said that he thought “something might have broken loose on the boat deck above.”  But conditions were so rough that none of us was eager to venture up there to check it out right then.   

Once our speed was reduced, conditions onboard improved to the point where the crew and I could check for damage.  I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to know, but I decided that not knowing was worse. 

 So, I entered the galley.  I discovered that the impact had sprung the refrigerator door along with all the cabinet doors.   Broken glass, food stuffs and cooking pans littered the deck.  The worst of this was my fifteen-year-old Balsamic Vinegar and a half gallon of Virgin Olive Oil oozing onto the deck from their containers.   Add a few heads of Romaine and some parmesan and we could have a salad prepared right there! . . . What a mess! 

Aft of the galley, the furnishings in the salon were tossed in a pile resembling the aftermath of an earthquake. The enclosed aft deck also took a major hit with the aft windows swinging wildly having broken free from their restraint fasteners.  The volume of seawater was so great it overflowed the scuppers and flooded the deck.  There were at least three inches of seawater sloshing about the deck, deep enough for life rings that had dislodged from their racks to be floating. 

We secured the aft windows, about all we could do before heading back to the helm.  Cleaning the galley and salon would have to wait until we got to port. 

A personal note here concerning captains:  The captain is the authority onboard any vessel. He has the rank and experience to give orders.  But first and foremost, his responsibility is to keep the crew, passengers, and vessel safe.  On this day, I believe he acted in a wreckless manner by not reducing speed soon enough in heavy seas.  I was not sure of his motive or what, if anything, he was trying to prove.  I do know that owners think and act differently than hired captains.  Having just spent $50K on repairs, I did not want to expose the boat to unnecessary damage.  When it’s all said and done, he gets to go home and I’m the poor bastard who has to clean up and repair damages. 

Upon inspection at the dock, the crashing sound Jeff had heard topside was that of the dink being ripped from its’ cradle.  Secured to the boat only by its davit cables, it could not withstand the blunt wave force.  It had given way, almost like myself and my crew.  This cruise ended after fifteen crushing hours at sea . . . a trip that normally takes twelve. 

This is a longer than normal post for me, but it’s difficult to round Point Conception in 500 words or less.  As a result of this cruise I was soon back on the job replenishing precious points to King Neptune’s insurance account for the Papagallo!




It’s 7:00 a.m. The sun is already up.  I am onboard the Papagallo – easing into my day, having my first cup of coffee and smoking my first cigarillo.  It’s very different than all the years I’ve spent in restaurant kitchens.  Standing quietly on the foredeck and gazing out over the sea, I think how lucky I am.

I witness the harbor awaken.  Another new day.  The same as any other, but very different.  The Sea Otters are having breakfast, banging clams and crabs against a stone brought up from the bottom and placed on their chests for the task.  Fishing boats pay them no mind as they start their engines and head out in search of the catch of the day, much like they’ve done for hundreds of years.

Scores of pigeons take flight from one roof top to another.  Who knows why?  That’s just what they do.  Curious Harbor Seals cruise by.  They are looking for leftovers, snacks, their next meal.  Across the bay I see a group of healthy Sea Lions jockeying for position on a floating dock.  I can hear them barking to each other.  I wonder what they are saying, how they communicate, who’s in charge.

I hear the cries of seagulls.  As if led by a conductor, they harmonize with the sounds all around them.  Nature’s orchestra is tuning up, getting ready for the day.  Ever watchful, the seagulls glide effortlessly through the air, expert fliers aware of all that is below them.  They are a blessing and a curse I think.

The salt air I breathe is refreshing, invigorating.  It clears my head.  Allows me to think.  Encourages me to dream.  On windy days it fills the sheets of sail boats, gloriously, spreading them wide and full enough so that they whine with pride. 

This is my wonderful office.  It’s like no other, and I never take it for granted.

With my coffee and smoke finished, I leave the deck and begin tidying up the boat.  We have a cruise scheduled for the evening.  I precheck all the systems onboard, then enter the galley to begin my cooking day.  All our parties have preset menus chosen by the party host.  Because our menus for each cruise change, my food prep is always interesting, never boring.  And unlike service in a restaurant setting, we know the number of guests and their menu selections well ahead.  There is no guessing. 

Most of our cruises begin with hors d’oeuvres that are served with cocktails or beverages chosen by the host.  These are followed with a five-course offering either buffet style or full service.

After the cruise, when the last bite of dessert has been eaten and our guests are departing, I receive yet another reward – smiles and comments on what a wonderful experience they’ve had.  “This was a magical evening,” the comment we hear most frequently, is music to my ears.  For a chef, those words are as important as receiving payment for the function.  In my fifty plus years in the food business, accolades from satisfied guests never get old.  They are a huge part of why we do what we do.  Keep ‘em coming and I will keep cookin’.  It’s my passion and pleasure to serve every guest onboard the Papagallo. 

After all, our professional team is in the business of making magical evenings happen!  

Chef Len

 *Looking for a the perfect gift for that foodie in your life? Join me on my journey through the years in my book, “Chasing the Heat.” Now on Holiday special for 9.95! Click here to check it out! Laughter, insight, inspiration and time tested Chef fav recipes! Perfect Christmas present!* 




Before any cruise with passengers onboard can begin, we follow a strict routine to ensure safety and proper mechanical operation, no matter how long it’s been since the last cruise.  This is standard procedure.  It also means that there is a lot going on behind the scenes, things our passengers never see.  

One of the key areas we check – the one we begin with – is the Engine Room.  This is the beating heart of any boat and is probably the most important functional area.  If there is a problem here, the 78 tons of the Papagallo won’t be leaving the dock. 

So, we begin by checking the water levels of the main engines and generators.  After that, the oil level of the engines and transmissions are checked to be sure they are at proper levels.  If water or oil is needed, now is the time they’re added.  Failure to keep these critical levels up can cause overheating and subsequent damage to the equipment, resulting in costly repairs.

The air compressor is turned on in order to provide air pressure to operate the air horns on the boat deck.  Air horns are required for sound signaling and can be invaluable in extreme fog conditions or to alert other craft in various other situations.

From a passenger’s perspective, the most important system onboard can be the head (restroom).  Our heads operate with a pressurized tank of salt water that enables the toilets to flush to a holding tank.  After the cruise is over this tank is emptied when the Papagallo returns to the marina. 

The battery charger gauge (constavolt) is an important piece of equipment that few passengers ever see.  It is checked to be sure there is enough charge to turn over and start the main engines.  If the gauge indicator is not strongly in the green, the engines will not start.  This means that we’re not going to leave the dock until it’s comfortably back in the green zone again.

To check for seawater in the bilge (never a welcome sight!), we lift a deck plate and raise a float by hand to be sure the bilge pump is operating properly.  Its job is to pump water out the side of the vessel and in very extreme cases, keep us afloat.

Remember that all of this is taking place before any passengers are boarded.  Also, before any active cooking can begin. 

Once passengers have boarded, we officially begin their cruise with a brief safety talk.  This is to put them at ease and to acquaint them with the Papagallo and “being at sea.”  We cover such things as how to move about the vessel, where the life jackets are stowed, and how to operate the head.  We also go over what to do if someone goes overboard. 

After this talk is completed and people are nodding their heads to signal they’ve understood it and have no questions, the captain gives the order to cast off lines. 

Here again, we follow a strict procedure.  The lines are always cast off in sequence.  The aft line first, then the aft spring line, followed by the bow line and finally, the midship spring line, the last one.  Once this is done we give one long blast followed by three short blasts from the air horn to signify that we are under way and backing out of our slip.  These are traditional nautical signals that are universally recognized.  Because of the 72-foot length of the Papagallo, we station a deck hand aft both on port and starboard to watch for other traffic as we back out.  Any sign of trouble or impending collision is immediately relayed to the captain giving him time to act to avoid a mishap. 

Once we are cruising the bay, it’s time to party!  We open the ship’s bar and our wait staff begins serving a wide variety of hors d’oeuvres for our passengers to enjoy.  The crew remains professionally vigilant throughout the cruise, watching for safety issues that might come up with any of the guests or other craft around us, but does this unobtrusively, never dampening the fun onboard. 

As you may have realized by now, cruising on a commercial yacht is very different from attending a party or banquet in a restaurant setting.  Our passengers tell us “it’s like being rich and living in luxury,” an experience they won’t soon forget – and one they never thought was possible before boarding the Papagallo!   

Won’t you join us on a sea cruise aboard the Papagallo….Oo ee oo ee baby oo ee oo ee baby, etc. etc.”


Want to experience a cruise personally? Check out our public events here and book your cruise today.

Chef Len


Everyone agrees – wine and food just naturally taste better onboard a yacht!  And wine pairings, along with winemaker dinners, are a big part of our business.

We work with several local Paso Robles Wineries.  The first step in creating a menu for one of their events is to carefully review the actual winemaker’s tasting notes for the varietals they’ve selected.  These notes are like a guide sheet.  They highlight specific characteristics of the wine (bouquet, body, acidity, finish, etc.) and provide a place for me to begin.  My goal is to match the best possible food selection to the wine so that the wine is complemented but not overwhelmed.  In the case of dinners, the food and wine must come together in harmony as the meal progresses and complement each other throughout.

With the limited space and refrigeration storage in the galley, our menu selections can be challenging.  Their success depends on detailed planning, exact timing, and spot-on execution during service.  These three factors are extremely important in creating gourmet food onboard.  We do not have the benefit – or luxury – of the space, equipment, and extra staff that are available in a restaurant setting.  Our operation requires super organization, focus, attention to detail, and team work.  If any one of these is missing, our customer’s experience can be affected.

The sample menu shown is for a five-course pairing we offer onboard, typically serving 30 to 36 guests cruising the bay for three hours.  As you read over it, keep in mind that the food preparation for this menu all takes place in 66 square feet.  That’s five different courses during the cruise, one course served every half hour.  How do we do it?

Most of the courses are prepped and partially cooked earlier in the day.  Just like in a restaurant, they are finished at service time.

When serving Abalone, I have two large sauté pans on the range.  I start cooking eight servings in one pan while the other is heating up.  Abalone cooks very fast.  While plating up the first batch, the next is being sautéed.  This process is duplicated (often four times) until everyone is served.  When the guests have finished the course, the dishes are collected, returned to the galley, washed, and made ready for the next course.

With a salad or cold plate selection, we arrange the plates on every bit of counter space available, creating more space by placing a chopping board over the sinks to accommodate more plates.  And then we literally work right out of the refrigerator to plate up.

Casseroles and braised dishes are prepared earlier and refrigerated.  While serving other courses, they are returned to the oven to heat for service. The timing of this is critical due to the lack of oven space and the time necessary for reheating.

While all this is going on, the wine is flowing and our guests are enjoying each course, anticipating the next one.  Everyone is making merry – even us.  We appear relaxed, able to handle each course easily.  No undue fuss.  No hint of the tightrope we are walking in the galley and the tasks we are juggling behind the scenes.  We have a mental commitment and mindset to make each person’s experience special, because we know that great food and wine served onboard a yacht by a professional team is special.  It’s not like your everyday restaurant experience.  That’s why we strive to make our wine pairings and dinners happen with no hint of stress or pressure.

But the food work in the galley is just one part of the incredible dance that’s taking place onboard.  Guest service has its own set of challenges, enough for another blog.  In the meantime:  “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez.”  (Let the good times roll)

Chef Len 





Having finally jumped through all the hoops to satisfy the Coast Guard inspectors, we began dinner cruises onboard the Papagallo.
Our official crew: an experienced captain (minimum 100-ton ticket), chief steward (my wife), bartender, one wait staff person, and a chef (me). The five of us would be working together in close quarters while under way. It is essential that the crew is tight – more than in any land-based restaurant. Everyone needed to know what their duties were. In addition to performing them well, each person would need to know boat etiquette and safety procedures while serving guests onboard.

My work space is the galley, a six by eleven foot area just aft of the helm. It is called “galley up,” which means that it is located on the same deck as the salon. For a vessel of this era, our galley is considered large. REALLY??

Although the Papagallo’s galley is little bigger than a walk-in closet, I was proud to be standing there, looking out across Morro Bay. Things had finally come together. This was really happening. I took a moment to take it all in, the purchase, the voyage, the inspections. Now we were here, about to begin. I could hardly believe it. Soon I would be preparing my first gourmet meal onboard. I don’t think I’ve ever felt better about a challenge. Maybe a little in awe of it too. I wanted to get started right away, but first I had to figure out where I was going to put things and exactly how I was going to proceed!

For safety reasons Coast Guard regulations require that all the cooking equipment is electric, no propane or open fire. Surprisingly, our galley looks a lot like your kitchen at home. None of our equipment is commercial. We have a four-burner range top with a three-rack oven below. Above the range is a ceiling mounted microwave. There is a side by side refrigerator/freezer, a dishwasher, ice machine, and a two-compartment sink complete with garbage disposal. Everything is powered by a 20 KW generator located in the lazarette aft.

The space for food prep and plating consists of two, three by two-foot, granite counters, one on each end of the galley. Oddly enough, there is ample cabinet and drawer space. Boat manufacturers make use of every available square inch because they have to.

Having worked my whole career in commercial kitchens where the cooking equipment was gas fired, this galley was going to take a little time to get used to. Most chefs prefer to cook with gas rather than electric. It’s immediate. On when it’s on. Off when it’s off. Some chefs are so adamant in this preference that that they stand with arms folded across their chests and tell you flat out that they won’t cook on anything else! And up until now, I was firmly entrenched in that camp. That rigid attitude, of course, will scuttle any opportunity of chefing on a commercial yacht. And did I mention the ability to be flexible in adjusting along the way toward reaching your goal?

When it comes to flexibility, there is a lot of wisdom in the Chinese Proverb: “The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher.” Onboard the Papagallo adaptability was becoming my middle name, and we did have a pitcher onboard – as well as a lot of water all around us.

But one of unexpected benefits of working in such a small galley space is that everything is at your fingertips. With a single turn, you can grab a sauté pan or any number of cooking utensils without taking a single step. Then, when you’re done with it, you can just as easily pop it into the sink or dishwasher. In this tight space, there is just enough room for one person at the range. This makes it unnecessary to share the space with other cooks as in commercial kitchens.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, it’s essential to remain flexible and creative when following your business plan. My restaurant experience has been a huge help in this area. It has allowed me to make all kinds of adjustments in order to achieve my goal of creating memorable meals for our guests. And I know that I’ve succeeded every time a guest peeks into the galley, looks around, and then shakes their head in amazement and exclaims, “I can’t believe you cooked such a great meal in this tiny space!” These triumphant moments are what keep my dream alive. They are like a good dessert that makes you want to come back for seconds!

Next week’s blog: I will take you through cranking out a five course Food and Wine Pairing Menu for 35 guests onboard in our 66-sq. ft. galley.

Just joining us? Start from the beginning here!

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.