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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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?






Eight hours into our cruise south, there was no relief from the pounding sea.  At one point, the wheel slipped from the hand of one of the crew mates and the boat was hit on the beam by a large wave spinning us around and creating a new heading of North/Northwest.  This new heading would take us back to San Francisco.  Scrambling to the helm, I noticed the absence of the captain and asked where he was.

“He went below to sleep,” a crew member answered.

This little piece of news was not exactly what I wanted to hear.  I felt new pressure weighing on my already sagging confidence level regarding our progress.  However, the lurching of the vessel must have awakened the captain at that precise moment because he resurfaced to the helm, albeit, somewhat groggy, and took command again.

Back in the salon, I bundled up with blankets on one of the couches and tried to get some shut eye of my own.  With the exception of my mates in the helm, everyone was bedded down for the night in various locations onboard.  I felt a little more relaxed.  Things were under control.

But the feeling was short lived.

Shortly after 2:00 a.m., Tim, who was sleeping in the guest quarters below, arrived in the salon.  The look on his face was not good.  “We have some trouble below,” he said.

My first thought was, what now?

Returning below with Tim I was startled to see Mitch passed out in the head and looking white as a ghost.  There was blood everywhere!  Shaking him, we got no response or movement.  I sent Tim topside to get the captain.  When he arrived there was a shocked look on his face.  He knelt on the deck and hovered over Mitch to check his vital signs.  After a couple of minutes, he looked up at me and said, “I can’t find a pulse.”

What? Are you telling me Mitch is dead?

This was a distinct possibility, one I didn’t want to believe, looking at the scene before us.  And I wish I could say how sad I felt for Mitch’s condition or how sorry I was that anything like this could have happened on the cruise, but to be totally honest, all I could think about were the incredibly serious ramifications that would befall me when we docked.

My mind raced back and forth conjuring up various scenarios – none very good, I might add.  In my life, I have been a risk taker and a positive person, one who thrives on the rush of achieving goals.  I’ve learned that it’s not always easy.  As Peter McWilliams noted:  

“Being uncomfortable is part of the process of achievement and people use discomfort as a reason not to do. We must learn to tolerate discomfort in order to grow.” 

Talk about discomfort!  At this juncture that’s an understatement.  Not being a stranger to experiencing tough spots in my life, this one ranked off the charts of my personal pucker factor scale.

The captain returned to the helm and radioed the Coast Guard.  Their response was that there would be no rescue attempt due to the inclement weather. They recommended we head to the nearest port, which was Monterey.  They also suggested we crack open a capsule of smelling salts under Mitch’s nose to see if he might respond.

By this time, the vessel was alive with activity.  Everyone was searching for the first aid kit.  The kit was finally located under a hinged stair on the gangway leading to the engine room.  How convenient!  This whole exercise had taken on the flavor of a scavenger hunt with Mitch’s life hanging in the balance.

Returning to Mitch, I cracked open the salts.  I was holding my breath hoping Mitch would take a breath of his own.  Hallelujah! As he began to come around, cheers rang out from the rest of the crew.  He’s alive!!

We contacted the Coast Guard again and they instructed us to ask Mitch some current event questions.  Happily, he aced that little test.  We cleaned him up and put him to bed in the master suite for the remainder of the cruise.

Knowing that Mitch was out of danger and safely tucked away in bed raised by comfort level a notch or two, and with some hesitation, I started to relax again.



 …Second in a series from Fire up the Mains

Magellan called the Pacific Ocean Pacifico meaning “peaceful” – because, after sailing through the stormy seas of Cape Horn, his expedition found calmer water here. The Pacific is the largest and deepest ocean in the world. (Wikipedia)


After enjoying most of the afternoon cruising the San Francisco Bay, we arrived under the Golden Gate Bridge. The view from the water was awesome.  All the crew looked skyward to appreciate this incredible engineering marvel.  It was late in the afternoon on an October day and you could see fog just starting to set in.  The effect was almost surreal, quiet and eerily beautiful.

But after leaving the bridge and entering an area called the “Potato Patch,” our peaceful cruise would come to an abrupt halt.  The Potato Patch is a shallow reef at the mouth of the bay, part of a four fathom bank.  It is 23 to 36 feet deep depending on the swell, and it runs a few miles at the entrance.

Ocean conditions can change dramatically with heavy fog.  The wind freshens and the seas begin to churn.  The ocean is no longer at peace.  Entering the open sea, the Pacific was about to dish out a spanking that we would not soon forget.

The captain motored off shore five miles as he looked for calmer waters.  He wanted to be clear of any rock outcroppings on this part of the coast.  We managed to avoid the rocks . . . and that’s a very good thing.  However, as we continued, the ocean got rougher and the wind grew stronger.

I was learning sea jargon and this particular condition was referred to as wind chop.  This occurs when the height of the waves (swell) increases by as much as two to five feet because of how hard the wind is blowing.

Along with the crew, I didn’t have a clue but would soon learn what real wind chop meant. 

It did not take long to figure out that we were on the receiving end of what the mighty, once-placid Pacific was serving up for our voyage south.   Attempting to move about the salon or the enclosed aft deck was like trying to walk wearing a pair of roller skates.  Tables, chairs, lamps and anything that wasn’t being sat on or tied down went flying.

The galley was not immune to the heavy seas.  I heard it at first and then saw that the refrigerator door had been flung wide open, emptying its contents of beer and snacks into a messy pile on deck.  Cans and bottles rolled first one direction and then another until they either banged against each other or were stopped by a bulkhead.

I crawled to the helm where the captain and five of the crew had found refuge.   No one was sick yet, but many of us were on the edge.   I was sure it wouldn’t be long.  The earlier drinking was about to inflict some severe consequences.

The captain was handling these conditions much better than the rest of us.  Offhandedly, he calmly admitted that the seas today were a little lumpy. LUMPY! WTF! I would hate to be out here if conditions went from a little lumpy, to lumpy or, God forbid, very lumpy.

Jokingly, I remarked, “Are we there yet?”

The captain responded that with our current speed of 7 to 8 knots, his calculations would put us at the mouth of Morro Bay in about 16 hours.  HOLY SHIT!  I can drive it in three to four hours depending upon the traffic, I thought.

Adding to the slow progress, when the captain took a break, one of us would take the wheel.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  As it turns out, there is more than a little skill and experience involved in maintaining a correct heading.  The best any of us were able to do at the wheel was a zig zag course similar to what a merchant vessel did in WWII to avoid a submarine attack.  We weren’t being attacked by anyone, but the sea itself was making up for it.

It was kicking the shit out of us before we had even reached our home port. 

This was turning out to be a very scary start to the Papagallo Yacht Charter business.  My confidence level, as a result of the shit kicking, was in the toilet.  With some quick self-talk, I remembered that all confidence is acquired and developed. No one is born with confidence.

Certainly, mine would be under development on this trip.  I was sure of it.

Next post:     I CAN’T FIND A PULSE! WHAT?

  FIRE UP THE MAINS | Inaugural Cruise to Morro Bay

  “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip”
– “Gilligan’s Island” Theme Song

After finding my dream yacht and buying it, we had to move it.  If you have followed this blog from my first post, prepare yourself for the story of a harrowing cruise down the coast of California.  Due to the length of this story, I will break it up into several posts.  So, don your life jackets and locate your sea legs as we set sail from San Francisco to Morro Bay!

The first crew of the Papagallo on our cruise home

A dozen of my best buddies joined me on this fateful cruise. Most were landlubbers, but we did have an experienced captain onboard to navigate the journey. Arriving at the dock on a beautiful, sunny Friday morning, there was wild anticipation and excitement in the air.  We were about to get under way!

The essential supplies had been brought onboard – snacks, sandwiches, whiskey, vodka, beer and more beer. We were ready for departure.  The broker’s agent joined me on the helm and pointed out where the start and stop switch was located along with letting me know we could load fuel at the fuel dock a quarter mile down the bay.  That was it!  He didn’t explain the various systems or what their functions were.

Not being an experienced mariner, I wondered if there shouldn’t have been just a little more training involved before heading out to sea.  But, what the hell, I had an experienced captain onboard, didn’t I?  We should be fine.

NOT SO!  Turns out this was the first of many red flags that would surface, not only on this cruise, but also on starting up Papagallo Yacht Charters.  In the back of my mind, faintly at first but growing louder, buyer’s remorse was beginning to make itself heard, coupled with doubt and fear.  What had I done?

My lifelong dream was just beginning and my stomach was in knots.  Not really that unusual – I had experienced similar feelings with each restaurant I opened – but still, this was a little different.  I knew nothing about yacht ownership, and those haunting words, “Are you crazy?” flashed across my subconscious, reminding me of a comment I heard years ago at a motivational seminar:

Fear or worry is interest paid on a debt you may not owe. – Anonymous


With that reassuring thought the lines were cast off, and after loading $2,000 worth of fuel (filling only 20% of our tanks) and setting a course to the Golden Gate Bridge, we were on our way.  The open Pacific lay ahead.

the cruise from San Francisco Bay to Morro Bay

Motoring across San Francisco Bay could not have been more spectacular.  We cruised along with beautiful sailboats tacking back and forth, supply barges pulled by tugs, and ferry boats transporting their passengers to their destinations. The Papagallo, as old as she was, cut through the light chop of the bay with magnificent elegance.  A proud, grand old girl stretching her legs across the water. Folks waved to us and the radio crackled with questions.  Who were we?  Where were we headed?

My crew of “wannabe” sailors held their beers high, delighting in the attention and expressing salutations to all as we flew by.  It was glorious for all of us, regardless of our lack of sailing experience.  I was living large and in the moment, NOW, acting upon a boyhood dream.

Closing this segment, I leave you with a favorite quote of mine. I think of it frequently and thought of it then as we were about to leave the bay and get our feet wet in the mighty Pacific:

 “Live now – you could not step twice into the same river for other waters are ever flowing onto you. Thus it is with time.”  Heraclitus – 544 B.C.

Next segment – The Pacific, Not Very Gentle

Chef Len

$ Where’s The Money $

After several years of searching for the perfect yacht, I was ready to make an offer on the Papagallo II.  My first yacht purchase — Let the negotiations begin.

In 2005, it was a buyer’s market in the yacht universe. I am not quite sure that it isn’t always a buyer’s market when along the water front you often hear:

“The two happiest days of owning a yacht are the day you buy it and the
day you sell it.”     -Author Unknown

I certainly was happy preparing to make an offer on my dream yacht.  There was not too much back and forth when submitting my offer.  The offer presented was $150,000 less than the asking price, and even at that, we would be investing over a half million dollars.  This would be the largest purchase I had ever made,  eclipsing the amount we paid for our home.

When the offer was submitted I asked Graham, the broker, to deliver a letter to Ernie Gabiati, the seller.  In it, I told him how much we liked the yacht and explained our plans for a charter business.  We would not change the name.  Her legacy would live on, and thousands of guests would enjoy the time spent onboard.

BINGO! Ernie’s response was, “I want that young man to have the yacht.”  We agreed on the price and had a deal.  Ironically, Ernie passed away three days after escrow closed.  As fate would have it, I believe Ernie wanted his Papagallo moved to a good home.  He knew we would give her just that.

After the acceptance, the scramble was on to secure the funding.  A look at the Gentieu coffers painted a bleak picture indeed.  We only had one third of the money needed.  Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to the bank I go!   My past experience with bankers, when financing my restaurant startups, was sketchy at best.

During the application process for a loan, bankers voice all the reasons why they are reluctant to fund.  Then miraculously, when you are up and running, they are more than willing to supply capital, a Catch 22! 

The question in my mind was:  Would it be any different for this venue?

Through the course of the application process, all the negative chatter was set in motion.  My own business attorney, along with my good friend, Ron, who owns a local winery, joined the chorus chiming in with, “Are you crazy? It will never work”.  Taking a step back and assessing the situation I noticed that this seemed to be a reoccurring comment attached to my idea.  Oh Ye of Little Faith!

Providence moves in strange ways.  After a couple of weeks on the banker’s treadmill, gathering reams of paperwork and tax returns along with offering up my first born, it was time to take a break from the process.  Retreating to the tranquility of the upper deck of our home in Cambria, we shared a bottle of Silver Oak Cab with our friends, Don and Sherrie.  The conversation centered on my enthusiasm for the yacht purchase.  Don raised two questions.  How much? and Where was the funding coming from?

Instinctively, I wondered if these questions were going where I thought they might be headed.  Thankfully, my hunch was right on.  Don offered to loan the funds needed – and with no bank involved!  A week later, he wrote a personal check in the exact amount to buy the Papagallo.  Don and Sherrie were our angels that Sunday afternoon.

“If you’re not actively involved in getting what you want, you don’t really want it.”
–Peter McWilliams

Next blog – Fire Up the Mains.  Set the course for Morro Bay!

Chef Len

My First Yacht Purchase “Big Step”

Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps”  – David Llyoyd George

Photo courtesy: Kindle Lynn Reeder

After a life long dream of owning a yacht,at age 55,that opportunity presented itself. I was working as the Executive Chef at Linns restaurant in Cambria, Ca. A wonderful job, great people, good salary, really the perfect spot to finish up my career. A few years into that job I became restless leading to a discussion with my wife on why we should buy a yacht and open a yacht charter business in the neighboring town of Morro Bay. ARE YOU CRAZY?! My boyhood enthusiasm for yacht ownership was met with a great deal of skepticism, resistance, and what ifs from my partner of 23 years, my wife Midge. In fact, there was little to no encouragement from friends and associates, most thinking this would be a phase I would get over.


In 2005 my search led me to KKMI boat works in Port Richmond San Francisco. There was a 72 ft. Burger Flushdeck motor yacht for sale, hauled out for inspection. It was owned by the founder of Gallo Salami Co., appropriately named the Papagallo II. After spending an hour or so touring the vessel, I decided this was the best yacht I had located out of all the yachts looked at so far. It had all the features we needed to begin the charter business, most importantly a current COI enabling us to carry passengers for hire.

Upon leaving the vessel I told Graham, the broker, I would be making an offer by the end of the week. A huge smile appeared across his face as he commented how glad he was that I liked the yacht. He went on to ask what I was moving up from, a sailboat or cabin cruiser? Replying, I said neither one, and that my boating experience was limited to paddling a 12 ft. kayak  around San Simeon cove below Hearst Castle. His smile quickly turned upside down .He asked  if I had any idea what it took to operate a 72ft. yacht  and said that morally he needed to express his concerns that I would not be up to the task.

His concerns and honesty were duly noted in my quick response I informed him that after 40 years (now over 50 years) in the restaurant business I was no stranger to hard work and was also a quick learner. Besides, if I put my money down I will figure out a way to make it work. After  shaking  his hand his smile returned  I jumped in the car and headed  home to share the great news with Midge that our yacht had been found.

The entire trip home was spent rehearsing the sales pitch I would need to get Midge over the hump or better yet ONBOARD! Arriving home I could hardly contain my excitement sharing how wonderful my day was and we were going to be off on a new adventure. ARE YOU CRAZY! Not exactly the response I had planned and hoped for. If her body language was any indication of acceptance it was painfully obvious I would need to move to a full court press mode. Pleading my case I convinced her to agree to visit the Papagallo for a sea trial. Enlisting the help of some very close friends, Tom and Arlene, for moral support, we drove to San Francisco. Graham met us at the dock helping all onboard. The captain set a course to the Golden Gate Bridge on a spectacular day on the bay. Graham with all his wisdom provided snacks and chilled Champagne as we motored along, a setting remincent of the show “The Rich  and Famous ” . As it turns out the ladies were very enthralled with the experience, commenting “we could get used to this.” I could  Touch, See, Feel, Taste, Hear,and Smell that the deal was done. Now all that remained to be done was to come up with the money – a minor detail for dreamers. WHERE”S the MONEY? Next blog.