The Palo Alto Boat Works

1. In The Beginning. . .

In the beginning there was LA BAÑERA. When I was in high school my buddy from way back, Doug Balcomb, and I were hot rodders. We built cars and raced them at the local drag strip. Following high school we abandoned that pursuit while we worked our way through college. After that was behind us we were in the mood to try something different.

“Why don’t we get a boat?”

“A boat, you say, humm . . .”

In the local paper under classified ads we  found a boat listed for $100.00. We made a call and met the owner at the Palo Alto Harbor. It wasn’t much, but what could you expect for that kind of money? It was an old steel lifeboat that someone had poured concrete into for ballast. There was a fin welded to the keel and two stubby masts with faded red canvas sails rigged in a lateen manner. We paid the price, borrowed an outboard motor, motored out to the middle of the South Bay, raised the sails and learned to sail by trial and error —lots of errors.

Little did I realize that this little adventure would set a course for much of the rest of my life. Because of it I developed an interest in things nautical, and that led me to join the Navy when my number came up. The Navy led me to . . . ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because the boat was just a big (22 feet) open hull we named it LA BAÑERA (the bathtub). But, being as we were former hot rodders, we were not content to leave well enough alone, and almost immediately set about to make some improvements. The photo below, circa 1960, is the earliest one I have and it shows that the foresail has already been converted to a gaff rig:

LA BANERA circa 1960

LA BAÑERA circa 1960

(click on image for larger view)

In the following year we made an extensive list of improvements including:

1) A complete deck with dog house.

2) Berths and a wood-burning stove below.

3) Installation of an old Kermath one cylinder inboard engine.

4) A completly revamped rig and new sails (gaff rigged schooner).

Because we were not exactly wealthy, this was very much a do-it-yourself project with used equipment scrounged here, there and everywhere — hot rodders are good at that. The old photos shown below should give a rough idea of our efforts:

High Tech

High Tech

The Dog House

The Dog House

The Bunks

The Bunks

Gradually things began to take shape:

(click on image for larger view)

Boat and girl Friends

Boat, Doug and Our Girl Friends Lynne Harley and Linda Tanson

Boat and Crew

Boat and Crew

Stern View

Stern View

Here is one my favorite photographs of all time. I realize it won’t mean much except to a few relatives and close friends, but to me it is sort of a “happy days” shot of my youth when we were all so innocent:

The Hull Maintenance Crew

The Hull Maintenance Team

From the left: Lynne Harley (destined to become my wife several years later), next is me, followed by my sister Irene (see Irene’s Creations under The Gallery), then Doug Balcomb and his brother Stan. As I remember, the photo was taken by Doug and Stan’s father, Jean Balcomb, and shows the ways of the  Palo Alto Boat Works at its original location in the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor. The following photo shows LA BAÑERA at her best:

LA BANERA at her best

LA BAÑERA at her best

One little prank that we used to pull was to take our girl friends sailing in the late afternoon and sort of accidently on purpose stay out a little too long. The tide would run out and leave us stranded on the mud flats overnight — darn! However, it was always nice and . . . well, cozy down below. As I remember, one set of parents once called the Coast Guard to try and find us, but what could they do without any water!

We eventually sold LA BAÑERA to a woman who thought it was so cute! She wanted it for her kids to play with. We tried to explain to her that this boat needed almost constant attention in the way of maintenance. She passed that off with, “Oh my kids will do that.” So we just shrugged and accepted her money (I don’t remember the amount). I do recall seeing the boat, perhaps six months later, and it looked like a derelict — long abandoned.

All in all, we had a lot of fun and learned much in the process.

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Saturday, December 12th, 2009 LA BAÑERA No Comments