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— She tosses the crusts, one by one, down into the sky-blue water behind Cream Puff. A dappled shadow weaves out from the green growth of Paradise's hull. Not one big fish, it turns out: a dozen small ones. They boil the waters like piranhas till Daisy and Donald skid into a landing and grab the bits of toast.

The Grafs are prepared to abandon the ship of their 30-year dream, because they know Paradise, built in Texas in 1942, can't last much longer without a major refit. All the money they had earmarked for Paradise has gone to legal fees.

"This [battle] has ruined my life," Larry Graf says as he leads the way down below decks. We pass the galley with its fridges and freezers and garbage compactors and washer-dryers and a bathroom with a Jacuzzi -- amenities Graf has installed over the years in preparation for "the big trip."

"I've been planning it all my life," he says. He was brought up on a World War I sub-chaser his dad bought for $500. They used to carry people and gear up to the salmon fisheries in Alaska from Seattle. "From the time I was 16, I was determined to get one too," says Graf. "And to fit it out for cruising around the world. I found Paradise in 1967. I've been working on her ever since. Put $200,000 into her so far."

We're down in the engine-room/machine shop. Two six-foot-high Waukusha diesel engines dominate the place, but generator engines, freezer compressors, inter-tank fuel pumps (to keep the ship on an even keel) seem to switch on and off regularly. Milling machines and lathes are scattered between, and neat racks of spanners and drill bits line every bulkhead. "The Waukushas do a gallon a mile," he says. "Range of 8000 miles. I got diesel because it's subsidized in so many countries. She'll cruise at 17 knots. Economy at 10."

He picks up a thick, round aluminum disc from his Bridgeport milling machine. "I'm a machinist. This is a pressure regulator valve. I make about 30 of them a week here for the [nuclear power plants]. I also make wind-generator blades on this mill. I make anchor lights, other deck hardware. I do carpentry and electrical -- that's my training; I studied electrical engineering at Washington State on the G.I. Bill. I do repairs to engines. Figure I could maybe swap repairs for food with fishing fleets down south."

But his world-cruise dreams have been on hold since the mid-'80s.

"This is a lifetime project which came to a screeching halt 15 years ago, when the Port District came out to where we were moored -- in Emory Cove in South Bay -- and made their ordinances. I knew if I didn't fight for anchoring rights, there would be no more place for a boat like this [which is too big for most docks]. That's when I started my research, and we found that they were [legally] wrong! I vowed to fight them to the death. I put all my time and energies to research and uncovered a body of information that was just shocking to me and everyone else. [It showed] the Port District had illegally taken over waters that belong to the people, by way of the Constitution and the Act of [California's] Admission [to the Union in 1850]. We're dealing with powers that can't change. An act of Congress can't change. And a ruling from the Supreme Court is also written in stone."

The Submerged Lands Act, Graf says, draws a specific state-federal boundary line between the end of the Zuniga jetty off North Island to the point of Point Loma. Outside the line for three miles are California waters. Inside are United States federal waters. Any foreign vessel entering into this country has the "right of innocent passage" through the territorial sea and into the bays, harbors, and ports. Once you pass that line, you have to have permission from the federal government.

"But of course the Port District and the state ignores all of that. And they have assumed complete jurisdiction over the bay, in contradiction to the Supreme Court rulings, the Congress, and the [1964-ratified U.N.] Law of the Sea Treaty. We have challenged the Port with these claims, but the Port doesn't answer the charges because it never comes to trial. They've been able to [make sure] the case never comes to trial."

* * *

"This is really not a dispute anymore," says Michael Cowett, the Port District's legal point man for the issue. "The courts have dealt with every one of these issues several times. They have published opinions on them."

Judge John S. Rhoades, in rejecting one of Graf's challenges to the Port, wrote in February 1992 that state and local authorities "may adopt regulations concerning anchoring" if those regulations are "not inconsistent with the federal statutory and regulatory scheme."

"Let's just keep this very clean and simple," says Cowett. "There is no dispute about who owns this land. They're just wrong. I don't know how much clearer I can be about that. There is just no argument that the federal government owns these lands."

That opinion was echoed earlier this year when the U.S. Court of Appeals' Ninth Circuit judge Marilyn Huff dismissed Claire Doucette's complaint. "The court finds the Port District and the State have not acted beyond their authority."

Neither Doucette nor her husband, "Mac" Sperry, has given up. "All together there have been five U.S. vs. California Supreme Court cases that dealt with this issue," he says. "All of which California lost. These cases...established a body of law that will shut this 35-year charade down. My wife is preparing her brief for the U.S. Supreme Court to do just that, if they hear it. If they don't, it's only a matter of time before someone else is heard and the excrement will hit the reciprocating air processor."

But Larry Graf knows the clock is ticking. He's 73 and getting older. There is talk of privatizing this last free anchorage. National City leaders mutter about wanting their own marina and getting rid of the "unsightly" boats off their shore. Not only is the exposed anchorage hostile (Larry has to chain Joyce against the stove on rough days so she can control her cooking), but people are becoming hostile too. And nobody seems to want to listen.

"I don't think the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their case," says Floyd Morrow.

"If the Supreme Court refuses to hear it," says Graf, "that will be it. Joyce and I will take Cream Puff out of the bay and go down to Costa Rica."

Joyce would like to go now. "This fight has destroyed us," she says. "But he won't give up."

"If we sailed away now," says Larry, "I couldn't live with my conscience."

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