The Noob Files

Writer and new sailor David Blake Fischer fumbles out the channel, backwinds his jib, and drags his fenders on his Cape Dory 25 in CW’s exclusive series for cruising newbies.

Noob Files

Excited, inexperienced, and often afraid, David Blake Fischer is the quintessential noob cruiser. He hasn’t crossed oceans. In fact, he’s only really crossed Santa Monica Bay. But his lighthearted, often hilarious takes on his early sailing misadventures about his Cape Dory 25, Delilah, are sure to entertain and inspire new sailors everywhere.


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Tomorrow’s probably going to be an unremarkable day of sailing. Odds are, I won’t have 15 knots on the beam. I probably won’t see Willy do a flip over the harbor break wall, catch a double rainbow, or curate a sailing experience that’ll wow friends. Yep, in all likelihood, tomorrow’s conditions will be “blah.” The sailing will be “bleh.” I’ll motor back inside the marina feeling “meh.” And it’s not only okay, it’s often for the better.

As I write this, we’re closing out four weeks of crap weather in Southern California. In any “normal” place, rain and 55 degrees wouldn’t elicit sympathy. But this isn’t a normal place; this is Los Angeles. Out here, cloud cover is breaking news. Rain feels apocalyptic. When temps dip below 60, we put onWHAA earmuffs, listen to Joni Mitchell and shelter indoors.

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I was at the marina recently, prepping Delilah‘s sunburned, 50-year-old teak for varnish. It was Tuesday morning in Los Angeles and, for a few precious moments, I was showing all the signs of a competent, mechanically capable man who can do his own boat work.

One foot on the dock, the other on the boat, I leaned, reached and began to remove a small section of old varnish from Delilah‘s toe rail. But, as the boat drifted on its dock lines, my reaching turned to stretching; stretching turned to an ever-widening, yoga-like stance; and, soon, I was doing my closest approximation of the splits. I fell on the boat. My heat gun fell in the drink. Birds scattered as a small, high-pitched scream came out of me. 

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The author in his dinghy in Cat Harbor

Sleepless in Cat Harbor

Noob cruiser David Blake Fischer sounds off on anchoring, low tides, full moons, and keeping your shirt on.

The trip is over. All is well. I almost slept. 

After two nights at anchor on Catalina Island, I’ve got a bunch of photos that make me look way cooler than I am in actual life. 

The sail over to the island was a breeze. On a clear, So-Cal morning, my pal Thaddeus and I motored out Santa Monica Bay, close hauled across the San Pedro Channel, then boomeranged around the back of Catalina Island. At sundown we slipped into Cat Harbor, found a cozy spot in ten feet of water, and dropped the hook. 

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Noob files boat

Boat-Name Bingo

Our “noob” cruiser grapples with the question of whether to rename his boat. Hilarity ensues.

A recent study found that 60 percent of couples fight over their boat name. Just kidding. I made that up. There was no study, and there were no documented fights, but, come on. Don’t you think there would be? I mean, just look around: Making LuffBreaking WindTina Tuna … These are actual boat names, chosen by actual people, splashed with paint onto the transoms of really unlucky boats. I sheet you knot: some people go out of their way to ruin a good boat with a bad name.

Some boat names are nouns, others are puns, and many of us wonder why. Why name a boat Bow Movement? Why name a yacht Mistress? Am I Feelin’ Nauti? Not really.

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When I first got my boat, I imagined heading out to sea on all sorts of heroic adventures. In my dreams, I climb the mast barefoot, tie complicated knots, and sail off into orange sunsets. In my dreams, I’m tall and handsome: a skilled sailor who’s totally unafraid on the ocean.

Then, there’s me.

After 18 months with Delilah , my Cape Dory 25 ,  I’ve barely sailed beyond California’s Santa Monica Bay. I can’t tie perfect bowlines or take hunky, sunset selfies. And, in wind over 15 knots, my heartbeat feels like footsteps behind me.

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They say baseball is in decline. Bowling too. I won’t miss bowling, but I would miss sailing. So, I’m doing my part to save the sport: taking my kids out on the water every chance I get, hoping they’ll catch the bug and discover the magic of sailing for themselves.

Last week, Ezra and I shoved off from Marina Del Rey on our first ever father-and-son cruise to nearby Catalina Island. Every parent knows the weight that comes with managing the expectations of an excited kid. Will the trip live up to the hype? Will he love cruising? Hate it? Want a boat of his own? Swear off sailing and his weird, boat-obsessed dad all together?

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Sailed solo into the dock the other day. Just crushed the thing. Cracked the dockbox and took a chunk of paint off Delilah’s bow. That’s the great thing about singlehanded sailing: You don’t need anyone’s help to make mistakes.

Days later, I had another award-winner. Was coming alongside the marina guest dock, tried to spill wind, messed up, panicked, and came in with so much stank I had to leap off the boat and lasso a cleat cowboy-style. Afterward, the sheriff came by.

“Everything good?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “You came in pretty hot.”

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“My dock mate has a Beneteau 235. So, naturally, I’m jealous.

Ash’s boat is just 23 feet overall—a foot shorter than mine—but has an honest-to-God cruising interior. The table converts to a bed. The head transforms to a nav station. Looking around, I saw cubbies and shelves and a small galley. If I tilted my head, I could almost stand.

So, yeah, I’m pouty, ’cause I’m over here on my Cape Dory 25, contorting on a settee with no seatback, using an empty shoe to hold my beer. I’m not tall, but in this little cabin, I feel colossal. Add my wife and our two kiddos, and now we’re playing Tetris with our bodies. “Whose leg is this?” I ask in the darkness when we “sleep” aboard.”

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