It’s at the point of being rare, talking to a stranger in a bar and realizing, from the start, that you’re having an interesting conversation. I’m at the Harbor Bar (that’s Pillar Point Harbor to you, landlubber), taking a rest-stop from a short camping trip. This is a working fishing harbor and the bar is crowded with men. Standing next to the wall is a tall fellow with blond hair, mustache, beard, wearing a checkered wool shirt, jeans, drinking beer and talking to two buddies.
His name is Joshua Gift, he’s 33 years old, four years married to Christal, who has a seat at the bar. Follows is his story.
“I crab during the winter. In the fall, if there’s a tuna run, I work a tuna boat if I can get on one. Salmon fishing now. I’m on a boat called the Aurora. It’s a 50-foot, steel, Monk-type boat, capable of fishing for just about anything that you can pack in it. The boat I live on with my wife is a sailboat.
“What I want to do is get a live-aboard boat, cruise around the Pacific, and be able to fly home to my own salmon boat during salmon season. Fish one season a year. People are able to cruise the Pacific on less than $10,000 a year, easily. That includes airfare to go back and forth.
“I went to college for computer graphics, graduated with an associate’s. Worked, for a brief period of time, in advertising. Went up to Seattle for awhile, wound up living out of the back of my pickup truck. Moved to Northern California [Mendocino County], worked construction for six months. Somebody offered me an agriculture job, medical marijuana. I worked on a medical marijuana farm for three seasons.
“I started going down to San Diego in the winters. At the end of the third season, the owner picked up a coke habit. You can’t have a controversial business that is state legal and not federally legal, pick up a drug problem, and expect things to be okay. I decided to leave.
“To San Diego. This was 2006. I was at a party at Black’s Beach, which is just north of Pacific Beach. I meet this guy and mentioned I wanted a boat. He said he knew about a 26-foot trimaran — ‘I haven’t been on it, but I hear it’s in good shape.’ He told me to go to Pepper Park in National City and look for somebody by the name of Sharky.
“Sure enough, Sharky was there. Short, gray-haired, overweight dude with a little stainless steel flask full of rum and already had a buzz on at 8 o’clock in the morning. He said he wants $200 for the boat, a 1965 Piver trimaran.
“It was out at anchor, so I borrowed his rowboat and rowed out to it. I looked at it pretty good. The bottom needed to be scraped, but that only costs $40. I went onboard and found sails, found all the cushions, and they didn’t smell. There was a stove built in and all the parts to the boat, inside and out, were there. So, I gave the guy $200, he gave me the pink slip.
“I started working for another live-aboard. He supported his 70-foot schooner and family by buying abandoned boats in areas like Oxnard and San Diego. He’d move them to a friend’s dry dock in Santa Barbara. Fix and sell. I was one of the people he hired to move boats.
“The boats had to have sails. Of course they had to be floating. The inside didn’t matter. I brought my own sleeping bag and oftentimes sleeping mat. They had to have a rudder and a way to steer. And a way to get the sails up. I’d get $200 for a trip, made 20 trips for him over the course of a year.
“Other than that, I sailed from place to place in my own boat. The rules of anchoring around San Diego were tough. You couldn’t be out at anchor for more than 72 hours. You could stay for 72 hours in Mission Bay, Glorietta Bay, A-8 Anchorage, and a few other places. When you left one spot you couldn’t go back there for a week.
“You have to know what you’re doing. You have to know what to do in case of an emergency. Three o’clock in the morning, you wake up because the bilge alarm is going off. Get out of bed into a foot-and-a-half of water. The bilge alarm suddenly quits because the water got over the battery and you need to find the leak and get as much water out of the boat as possible. In the dark.”