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California Dreamin Part 2

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In our first edition of the Ocean Pacific/Jim Jenks story, after years of planning, meetings and a huge dose of California Dreamin’, Jim Jenks had signed the contract to begin the first step toward his dream of building his boat. On July 7, 1983, the Spokane Chronicle had published that “Jones Goodell announced Jim Jenks had ordered a 90′ Ocean yacht equipped to carry a 32′ to 34′ day boat constructed in the Seattle area at their Tacoma yard.” He had hired a captain who shared his excitement, Peter Groesbeck, from San Diego, and the two had become instant friends and partners in the project.

When Groesbeck arrived at the Jones and Goodell yard in Tacoma in the fall of 1983 and saw the 96′ x 25′ hull of the Ocean Pacific, he was stunned.

The grandiose hull overwhelmed him; and he mentally reviewed the daunting project that loomed above him, grappling with the knowledge that no one since Zane Grey had ever attempted to build such a mother ship operation, and in actuality no one had ever attempted to build one of this enormous size.

Renting a condominium in the area so Groesbeck could remain near the project while Jenks traveled back and forth from San Diego, it became Groesbeck’s responsibility to supervise and lead the team of the Ocean Pacific, transforming Jim’s vision for the well thought out combination mother ship and day boat into a practical, efficient and reliable operation that could travel the world’s oceans, fishing either or both platforms successfully anytime, anywhere.

Basic equipment choices included two KTA 1150 Cummins (inline sixes tractor engines) rated at 1800/2000 18 knots; two 40kw Northern Lights generators 1200 rpm; tanks for 7,000 gallons of fuel and 2,600 gallons of water; centrifuge for fuel; hydraulic drum anchor system, equipped with a 190-pound Danforth anchor, 100-feet of 1-inch chain, 600 feet of cable; Sperry Gyro Auto pilot; Naiad Stabilizers with 12-foot fins, Furuno electronics including color scanners on both boats; freezers 6-feet high by the width of the boat less the exhaust alleys; two water makers; two fresh water tanks, one fore and one aft = 1,300 gallons; dive compressor and dive equipment for six; five ton fish hold with a hatch large enough to load large fish; plus two 16-foot Lund aluminum skiff jet skis.

When the Ocean Pacific was launched it was estimated that nearly eight miles of wire had been installed.

The boom that was installed was designed to handle a 10-ton lift, well over the Innovator’s weight of 8 tons. After the launch of the OP, before loading the day boat, they tested the boom’s design by wrapping a chain around a piling and pulling it out of the mud vertically. Before loading the aluminum day boat, it was equipped with chain plates bolted to both sides attached with chain to the spreader bar to keep it level as it was lifted onto the mother ship.

Jenks commissioned Roy and Dick Reineman, professional model builders, to build a detailed scale model replica of the Ocean Pacific with the Innovator on the deck. The two men requested detailed drawings and photos, plus a list of all equipment right down to the furniture in the salon, and their finished product, built to scale, was perfect. The finished replica was delivered before the boat was completed.

Knowing that Jenks, who was out of the country, was planning a big launching party when the Ocean Pacific went into the water, Groesbeck couldn’t resist photographing the floating model and then faxing the photo to Jenks with the following note:

“Jim, we finished the boat a couple of weeks early and the boat yard asked if it would be OK to launch ahead of schedule to make way for their next project, but here are photos of the launch.”

“I was furious when I received the fax,” laughed Jenks. “We had a huge launch party planned for friends and family. I immediately began trying to phone Groesbeck and when I reached him, I demanded an explanation. He burst out laughing as he explained his stunt!”

Several weeks later at the actual launch, Jenks retold the story much to the delight of the invited guests and workmen before the Ocean Pacific slid down the ways into the waters of Puget Sound. “She floated perfectly on her lines,” marveled Jenks. “On a sea trial with ten people aboard and a half load of fuel, she recorded 18 knots on a run down the Sound!”

Final delivery was just before Thanksgiving 1984 for a cruise up the Straits to Friday Harbor for a few days of sea trials and R & R before heading down to San Diego to stage for the first trip south. In the typically rough seas for that time of year, the boat performed perfectly.

“I had never been on a boat that tracked as well as this one does down swell,” raved Groesbeck. “Even with huge seas, looking to the sides, the swells would be topping out as the boat held a steady course.”

Several days later, they arrived in San Diego and began final preparations for their upcoming trip to Cabo San Lucas and beyond. Throughout December and into January 1984, they provisioned the boat and staged, loading enough fishing tackle to start their own tackle store. Going through a lengthy punch list, they tested and tweaked systems and electronics. Among the many systems needed for the long trips to remote places was a method to dispose of the used oil from the mains and generators.

After much research they simply recycled the used oil through the same centrifuge used to polish fuel purchased in remote places before returning the mixture to the main fuel tanks.

Loading the Innovator took some practice and dialing in. After several attempts, Groesbeck determined that ideally the launching should be at low slack in the morning hours. Prior to launching, port and starboard levels of fuel tanks, bait tanks and fore and aft water tanks were adjusted to trim the mother ship to an 8° port list which compensated for the weight of the Innovator as the boat was lowered to the water from the starboard side.

By mid-December 1984, the boat departed for Baja’s tip with Captain Groesbeck and crewmembers, Kenny Hughes and Fritz Van Borrsum. The cruise down the Baja west coast produced the first wahoo and the first dorado to be landed on the new boat. Then on the Morgan Bank, Groesbeck found a baitball beneath a bird school and slid on it producing instant striped marlin hookups for everyone aboard. Another baitball came up a 100 yards off the bow. He bumped the Ocean Pacific forward enough so the anglers could fish that baitball from the bow while they caught and released 25 stripers, underscoring the fishability of the big boat even with the Innovator onboard. From there they straight-lined to Cabo where Jenks greeted his good friend *Flippy Hoffman, a veteran waterman having surfed and dived all over the world. Charles “Jock” Albright and his wife Debbie had also flown in to meet the boat for the trip to Panama.

“It will be 30 years ago in December, 2014 that we departed,” Albright recalled with nostalgia.

The inaugural voyage was an ambitious itinerary — taking the direct route to Panama via San Benedicto, Clipperton, Coco’s Island and Coiba enroute to the final destination of the Tropic Star Lodge in Panama.

Early the first afternoon, while on course for San Benedicto Island, a U.S. Navy P3 Orion did a couple of low level passes over the unusual looking vessel with a sportfisher loaded on deck. Around midnight, Jenks, who was on wheel watch, spotted a large target approaching them astern.

Soon the steady throb of the engines was interrupted as USCG Cutter Venturess hailed them on VHF radio asking permission to send over a boarding party. Slowing the OP, a 310′ cutter came alongside and dispatched an inflatable. Their boarding party was courteous and professional, but they were curious as to what the operation was about. After a tour of the boat and reviewing the ship’s papers they were on their way.

Resuming their journey toward the Island, they anchored near the lava flow at San Benedicto that afternoon to fill the bait tanks. Bait fishing continued until after dinner as Groesbeck wanted to fill both of the large bait tanks before calling it a night. Leaving those instructions to the bait crew, Groesbeck finally retired. The next morning, it was apparent that the bait crew had taken him at his word; both tanks were loaded.

“There were so many caballito in the tank that they all were side by side with their noses sticking up out of the water,” he grinned. “I think I threw 300 pieces over the side.”

While that was happening, Flippy Hoffman decided to go for a spin on one of the jet skis.

Captain Groesbeck admonished sternly as Flippy sped off. “Stay in sight of the boat, in case there is a problem!” After several laps around the anchored Ocean Pacific, Flippy became bored and turned toward Socorro, soon disappearing around one of the island’s jutting points.

“When I cleared the point I spotted the Royal Polaris fishing,” Flippy recalled later. “The stern rail was crowded with many of the anglers holding bent rods while others waved as I did donuts around the drifting boat,” chuckled Flippy. “As I made my last pass before racing back toward the point, I could see their faces clouded with question as they turned to one another, ‘where the hell did he come from?” Flippy related upon his return to a very grumpy Captain Groesbeck, who after hearing the story could hardly contain his laughter.

Back on course for Clipperton, they began trolling with heavy gear. Each day was filled with howling clickers and bent rods as blue marlin, striped marlin, sailfish, wahoo, dorado, yft’s and other exotics climbed on. Crew and guests settled into the routine of great fishing all day and fantastic dinners each night. It was five days before they finally arrived at the Atoll.

Clipperton Island is seven and one-half miles in circumference and is surrounded by a shallow barrier reef with beautiful coral.

It is virtually “off the grid” — a very remote, beautiful tropical coral atoll that has been visited by very, very few.

By the time the boat was safely anchored, the sun had set and the kind of darkness found only on the open sea cloaked the Ocean Pacific like a down comforter. Debbie and Flippy pinned a couple of caballito on 50’s, which were promptly snatched by some huge, unknown species. Flippy’s fish came unbuttoned while Debbie’s took her to the knot and quicker than it takes to tell it, the sickening snap proclaimed the game over. A trooper, Debbie grabbed another outfit and hooked up another monster. Still stinging from the first defeat, she hunkered down, pushing the lever drag to sunset only to have the rod fail with a loud snap, fish: 3; anglers: 0. The group was convinced they needed to regroup with cocktails, dinner and a good night’s sleep.

The following morning, as the bright tropic sun chased gray light away, everyone stared at the tremendous volume of bird and sea life surrounding them. Trolling around the Island it quickly became apparent that predators outnumbered the food sources as birds, fish, porpoise and sharks competed aggressively for every scrap of food, ultimately requiring a change in strategy. They switched from the normal surface type of lures that the birds wouldn’t leave alone to diving lures. Later simply drifting outside the surf line they were catching large yellowfin, wahoo, rainbow runners and jacks … fishing was as good as it gets.

Continuing to troll, they headed toward Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica, where there was the added bonus of finding a huge floating log loaded with dorado, giving them the great opportunity to practice with ultra light tackle while catching a few for dinner.

At Cocos, they enjoyed the scenery, dazzled by the waterfalls crashing into the ocean, the pristine diving conditions as well as killer inshore fishing.

For three days they explored the Island on jet skis and the skiffs and found excellent yellowfin tuna and wahoo plus a few blue marlin congregated along the drop-offs.

The next Island on the itinerary was Coiba and as they traveled in that general direction they crossed over a spot where two 1,000′ deep fingers intersected. There they hooked five blues for seven strikes in less than 3 hours.

Arriving at Coiba they spent some time fishing while anchored at the Club Pacifico. Fishing at the Hannibal Bank they caught black marlin, sailfish and tuna, before departing for Balboa, Panama where the Albrights and Hoffman would catch their flight back to California.

“We shake our heads in disbelief at all the memories,” Jock recalled when I spoke with him recently. “It was the most awesome fishing trip Debbie and I had ever experienced.”

After re-provisioning, the Ocean Pacific headed for the Tropic Star Lodge at Piñas Bay, where they essentially hung out and spent some time trying to break I.G.F.A. sailfish records on 4-, 6- and 8-pound test line. During their stay, Jenks was introduced to Jerry Dunaway and invited him out for dinner and a tour of the Ocean Pacific. He was impressed by the mother ship operation Jenks had created.

Many years later, after Dunaway had his own mother ship operation, the Hooker and Madam, he was quoted as saying, “The Ocean Pacific set me on the path of creating my own mother ship operation that could also travel and fish the world.”

By late spring they had returned to Balboa, Panama and headed up to Acapulco where several of Jenks’ business associates joined him, fishing their way up Mexico’s coast to Zihuatanejo for billfish and dorado before flying back to California.

The crew was left with the responsibility of taking the boat back to San Diego in May. After traveling more than 7,600 nautical miles, it was time for a complete system check before departing on the next leg of the trip. In San Diego, they would have the summer to prepare for the longest single transit without landfall of the voyage –2,535 nautical miles to Hilo, Hawaii in September of 1985 — the beginning of the planned ambitious South Seas adventure.

Throughout the summer the crew checked and rechecked equipment, loaded supplies and supervised the replacement of the aluminum boom that had become bowed from lifting the Innovator during the trip south, replacing it with a much more sturdy steel one.

Taking advantage of the local good tuna and striped marlin bite, Captain Groesbeck and crew, guests and friends, fished frequently aboard the Innovator, allowing them to dial in the systems on the day boat.

Waiting for the ideal weather window, Ocean Pacific departed in mid-September, setting course for Hilo, Hawaii. The excited crew gathered in the enclosed wheelhouse, where softly on the VHF they could hear the Catalina Gold Cup Tournament control conducting roll call. This reminder of what they were leaving didn’t diminish their anticipation of their first South Seas trip ever.

Everyone settled into the routine of wheel watches while cruising at approximately 10 knots. For the first 600 miles the swell was on their beam, and then the wave angle became more favorable. Trolling each day they caught a steady stream of first albacore, and then dorado, as the water warmed. They lost a large blue at a thousand miles and released one eighty miles out of Hilo.

It took them 10 days to complete the 2,500-mile journey averaging 9.8 knots and consuming 3,500 gallons of fuel.

Once the ship’s paperwork was completed in Hilo, the boat was relocated to Kona on the weather side of the big island and tied to the Excursion Boat buoy where Jenks had planned a combination Open House that would be highlighted with a special ship’s blessing from a Hawaiian Kahuna in keeping with local traditions.

In Kona they witnessed a Coast Guard Cutter unloading tonnage of dorado. According to the crew, they were returning from a Maintenance check of a NOAA Weather Buoy 600 miles SW of the Big Island. Captain Groesbeck called the local Coast Guard office inquiring what the coordinates of the buoy were. He was informed that was classified information and not available. Next, he asked for the name of the person who was speaking.

“Why do you need my name?” muttered the yeoman.

“If I happen to collide with the buoy in the dark, I want to be able to tell the investigator the name of the Officer who refused to give me the location,” Groesbeck countered. He was put on hold and a few minutes later a voice began, “Latitude….., Longitude….” and the phone went dead as it was placed in its cradle on the other end. This was their next stop when they departed several weeks later.

“As soon as we left Hawaii, it seemed as though Ed Dempsey, Jeff Millet and I were catching something every time we turned around,” Jenks recalled. “While still a few miles from the buoy, there were so many dorado the water was green. Dorado, blue marlin and wahoo climbed on any lure in the water behind the boat. After filling the freezers, we continued on our way.”

Our next planned stop was Christmas Island. We had heard the local Hawaiian commercial boats often traveled there to catch wahoo.

The night before they arrived, Jenks had rigged five Penn International 20’s. Before departing San Diego, he had ordered five cases of split-tail mullets, already dressed, from Florida.

“We had five rod holders across the stern so early the next morning after we arrived at Christmas Island,” Jenks recounted, “I began putting out the baits one at time. Drrrrrrr first one out, Drrrrr second one out. As I’m putting the third bait out, the first one and then the second one goes off. I reach over, throwing them in gear as I let the 4th and 5th baits out. By the time I return to the first rod, it is already spooled and no one else is on deck!”

“As I ‘m struggling to sort all the rods, at least five huge free-swimming wahoo hit the transom with a thud and land on the swimstep. They flop around until they slip back into the water. All the while I’m hollering for someone to come out and help me. Spooled on the first two I have the third to the boat and look around but there is no gaff on deck! Finally Kenny comes out for his morning cigarette and sees all the commotion. He snatches a gaff from the locker and sticks one of the wahoo, throwing it on the deck. When it was over, loose lines fluttered from the rods. What a welcome to the South Pacific! We woke up everyone on the boat and we must have caught 30 to 40 that day!”

Later that same day, they anchored in front and caught bonefish in 17 fathoms. They sent one of the Lund skiffs out which returned in less than an hour. The anglers were asking for heavier tackle after losing every popper they had trying to catch “GT’s” (giant trevally) casting on the reef.

This seems like a good place to stop for California Dreamin’ part 2. Stay tuned for part 3, the third installment as the Ocean Pacific spends the next three years cruising the South Seas, fishing the Barrier Reef for two seasons, and then returns once again to San Diego, topping Jenks’ adventures off with a quickie trip to Guadalupe Island for bluefin in 1989. Early in part 3, Captain Peter Groesbeck returned to the states to supervise the manufacturing of the Innovators. He has been a tremendous resource for this project. Thanks, Pete. We also owe a big “shout out” to Jock and Debbie Albright for the photos and additional information for this segment.

*A pioneering surf traveler, Hoffman was often credited as being the first surfer to travel the coastline of Baja California and Mainland Mexico seeking new surf resources. An early adopter of SCUBA, Hoffman was an inveterate diver, working commercially off San Clemente Island harvesting abalone until his death in 2010. http://www.surfersjournal.com/journal_entry/phillip-flippy-hoffman-1930-2010

Refer back to Part 1 of California Dreamin’

Part 3

Part 4

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Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world records and in his first year as a member of the Tuna Club of Avalon, he received more angling awards than any other first-year member in the club's 109-year history. He's been involved with many California angling clubs and is the Baja California Representative for the International Game Fish Association. 
Gary's a conservationist as well as a writer and photographer. In addition to two books on saltwater fly-fishing, hundreds of his articles and photographs have appeared in publications around the world. Graham has devoted his life to finding new fisheries and developing new techniques — all of which he shares through his guiding, speaking, photography and writing.