“Hey, that’s different.” I said to myself staring out the passenger window of our friends’ car. “A guy in the park back there is wearing a ushanka and swinging his large dog in a hammock next to a teepee surrounded by temporary fencing.”
In a neat, clean park next to Dana Point marina, just 100 yards away from where Del Viento lay at anchor, we rolled slowly by the man-dog-hammock-teepee scene. The guy looked up with a big smile and waved and I called a pleasantry out the window, “It’s a dog’s life, eh?”
“Oh, you gotta see!” he called back, waving us over. “All of you, get out of your car and come see!”
The guy’s enthusiasm was like a hook. We stopped the car and did what he asked. The girls rushed ahead of Windy, me, and our friends, Jim and Jan. By the time the four adults ambled over, the guy had Frances in the hammock with his 75-pound German Shepherd and Eleanor asking to join them.
“Ray, the Mayor of Baby Beach,” is how he introduced himself. Ray has the gift of gab and is not so much a storyteller as someone with an endless supply of fascinating, outrageous vignettes he uses to expound on any subject. All of them are too incredible to be believable, except that there is a veracious quality to Ray’s delivery and, well, you just can’t make this stuff up.
“That’s a nice looking dog, she sure looks happy,” we offered.
“Nice looking? Oh, my gosh she should be. This dog is…” and Ray continued on about the dog before us. Apparently our girls were nestled up in a hammock with a $25,000, registered, pure-bred dog born in Germany and descended from the highest order of world-class, Schutzhund-trained animals. I had trouble following along, but there was something about a wealthy couple and months that Ray spent caring for this dog without pay, about a contract he wouldn’t sign, about an unexplained urgent need someone expressed much later to make sure Ray had the dog. He named her Bruna and she looked remarkable to me.
Switching subjects, I asked Ray about security concerns at the public dock were we’d tied up our new Portland Pudgy. I mentioned we didn’t have a means to lock up our dinghy, but I was going to get some chain.
“What kind of chain you need?” And he was off before I could answer, heading for the box truck he said has been his home for 13 years. He disappeared in the back. I noticed the license plate on his truck: BRUNO. He reappeared with a 2.5-gallon plastic water bottle and looked me dead in the eye, “I’m going to get you some chain. While I do, please get me some water.” He handed me the water bottle and pointed to the outdoor sink and spigot on the pier. I don’t know what I tried to say to politely tell Ray not to bother, that I would buy some chain later, but he was gone again, rummaging around in his home.
When I returned from the pier with Ray’s water, he had several lengths of chain laid out on a towel. He picked up one with a hefty padlock attached, “This is what you need. I may have the key for this lock, but you’ll have to go through a bunch of keys to find it. Are you ready?” I nodded.
The length of chain he handed me was perfect, exactly what I needed. I went through about 50 keys he gave me, looking for a match, but nothing fit. He seemed disappointed. “Okay,” he said, “you take this.” He handed me a very nice, shrouded, stainless-steel lock with a key in it. “The key is bent, you’ll have to be careful with it, or replace it, but it’s yours.”
“Oh, I don’t know…”
“Take it. If you take this lock and chain, tomorrow I’ll have three more handed to me. That’s how it works for me.” I convinced Ray to accept a $10 bill I found hours earlier and he regaled all of us with more tales before we said goodbye.
The next day, we confidently locked our expensive, unregistered new Portland Pudgy with my new chain and padlock to the public dock and left. When we returned later, it was gone. I scanned the harbor and channels and beach and rock jetty. There was no sign of it. Windy searched from the top of the pier. It had vanished. I noticed Ray’s truck was gone.
A woman sat fishing on the dock where we’d chained our dinghy. “Hi, did you see anyone take a yellow dinghy that was chained to this dock?”
“They got it, came took it away.” She pointed to a sign posted high up on the rafters of the pier above. It listed an Orange County ordinance number and a warning that this was a dock for temporary tie ups, no more than one hour.
“The harbor patrol took our dinghy? They cut our chain? How long ago?”
She nodded, “About 30 minutes. Sorry.”
We found our sprightly yellow dinghy locked to the dock in front of the harbor patrol’s office, at the other end of Dana Point Harbor. The deputy we spoke to wasn’t taking this lightly.
“Your dinghy was impounded by the Orange County sheriff’s office. The fee for towing it over here is $150 and the storage fee is $50 per day. I can release it now for $200, tomorrow after 10:50, it’ll be $250.”
“Ouch, yeah, none of us noticed the sign restricting parking to one hour, it was pretty high up there, the dock was empty…can you issue a warning?”
“No. I’ll need proof that you own the dinghy to release it.”
“The paperwork is on the boat, at anchor. The dinghy is how we get to the boat. Can you give me a ride out to the boat?”
“No, we can’t take any passengers.”
“Okay, so I’ll have to swim. Do you take credit cards?”
“No, cash or check only.”
On the way back to the pier, wondering how we would get to Del Viento, we stumbled on Ray, parked in an adjacent lot abutting the beach locals call Baby Beach. We told him our tale of woe. Within minutes I was standing in my street clothes on Ray’s priceless, unstable, one-of-a-kind, varnished wood stand-up paddle board headed for Del Viento. It was the first prototype by some guy who owns a company that entered the market early. It really is a work of art, with Maori-inspired designs and puzzle-piece-shaped scarf joints. Ray has a two-foot-tall plastic owl—the kind that fail to keep seagulls off boats—strapped to the bow.
I returned with our ownership paperwork and we stood around shooting the breeze with Ray for a bit, eager and anxious about getting back to the Sheriff’s office and my long row back to the anchorage. Just as we finally said goodbye, Ray asked us to wait. Two county employees were driving by in a golf cart and Ray called out a string of insults and obscenities to them. The employees stopped and began work on a public shower drain 25-feet away. Ray called out again.
“Get the hell over here. Don’t even pause. Don’t get me started or I’ll take you down.”
One guy approached Ray, “What the hell do you want?” And he glanced at us, the little family of four huddled 10 feet away, waiting for something.
“The sheriff impounded their dinghy, I need you to tow it back for them. Can you do that?”
And I’m thinking, “No Ray, we’re going to go ahead and pay, I don’t want to steal it back from the sheriff….” but I said nothing.
And then the county maintenance guy asked me when we were going to be at the sheriff’s impound dock with our paperwork. I told him we were headed there now and he said he would meet us. And sure enough, when we got over to the other side of the harbor, two county maintenance guys were there in a county boat, waiting for the sheriff to release our dinghy to us.
As they towed me all of the way back to Del Viento, I thanked them and made small talk. But I was distracted all of the while with the notion that maybe Ray really is the mayor? I mean…no, of course not…but maybe…? I thought to ask these county workers, but didn’t. I know the Mayor, he’s a friend, and that is good enough for me.
Windy with Ray, his truck, and SUP. Ray said Dana Point tourists often confuse him with The Most Interesting Man In The World, a character in a Dos Equis beer commercial.
_I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at _