Welcome to sunny Marina Del Rey! HOORAY! We rejoiced. Well, Pajo and I figured out really quickly that we are now in a part of the California coast that discriminates against real mariners. If you don’t have a shiny million dollar yacht you’d better beware of the meddling authorities. Think, Portlandia meets David Hasslehoff meets Miami Vice..
Unfortunately, we’ve had a hellish experience in Marina Del Rey. We have been victims of a malicious act by Los Angeles County. An act which has left us with over $1400 worth of property damage and held us into a week long purgatory stuck in the harbor. This setback is equivalent to six months worth of cruising. It feels like we have been forced to pay every government entity in Los Angeles County after we landed.
Mariners are the lifeblood of the city we hail from (missing Seattle) and we foolishly expected at least a decent visit here in Los Angeles. What a very different experience here than other ports we’ve visited throughout the Puget Sound and down the west coast. I would strongly advise other cruisers to stop anywhere but here, but that’s exactly what LA County would want. Our only wish now is to share our experience because it is the reality of many of the local boaters.
Here’s what went down.
For those of you who do not know, we are a Seattle couple sailing around the world on renewable energy. We left September 3, 2017 and began traveling down the coast to join the Baja HAHA rally to Mexico. We planned to stop in Marina del Rey to spend Ava’s birthday amongst a few of our family and friends that live nearby. We were also ready for warm showers and clean laundry after a week-long adventure in the beautiful and remote Channel Islands.
We had anchored Cinderella while cruising all over the Northwest, much of the time sans engine. Most recently, we cruised several of the beautiful Channel Islands. One of our anchorages was in Cuyler Harbor on San Miguel Island where we experienced several hours of 20 knot winds at anchor. We also anchored in Little Scorpion at Santa Cruz Island, a super rugged little anchorage surrounded by craggy volcanic rock formations in a tight space. Needless to say, after a week of putting our anchorage skills and equipment to the test, we were feeling confident about our ground tackle and judgement on safely anchoring in well-known and designated areas.
The nice benefit of being back in cell range was that we could check our boat position at anytime via our Garmin InReach. The device sends a signal published to the internet realtime via satellite connection. It keeps our family and friends in the loop and they can watch our progress even if we cannot communicate directly with them. Once ashore, we can monitor our boat’s position at any point in time which we do regularly. Some would even say religiously, or obsessively like a new mother tunes into a baby monitor.
On October 18th at 12:34pm, while we were ashore at Ava’s Aunt’s house, two individuals from Baywatch Del Rey severed both of our anchor lines and stole Cinderella. Pajo watched as the Garmin InReach showed Cinderella en route back into Marina Del Rey Harbor at 4 knots. We quickly realized Cinderella was being towed into the harbor.
We were watching our Garmin GPS tracker in real time, so we immediately called the Harbor Patrol to inquire. The person on the phone had no knowledge of our boat being towed until they looked out the window as it was arriving, meanwhile, we were already en route.
Our heads were spinning as we searched for our boat amongst the many LA County offices. There’s US Coast Guard, LA County Beaches and Harbors, LA County Sheriff’s, LA County Fire Department and so on. All the possibilities were running through our heads. Pajo spotted Cindy’s mast, we had found the right person to speak to, maybe. We had a tense interaction with the officer there, both parties a little surprised and annoyed.
The officer did not have the answers we were seeking. He suggested maybe we were slipping anchor and Baywatch towed us to safety. But that’s not his division and that we would need to speak to Baywatch, even though they both fall under the County umbrella and share the same dock.
We said we were in a bit of shock because we had been watching our GPS tracker and knew the position of the boat the entire time.
The tone of the officer changed and he told us he will contact the Baywatch (the unit that towed us) and that we can come back at 4pm to discuss with them. Meanwhile, only Pajo is allowed to go to the boat to retrieve the registration documents and he notices the sad state of our boat Cinderella. He saw that both of our anchor lines were severed and that our boat had no fenders on the dock, a pile of lonely fenders sitting on the dock nearby.
Pajo took photos of the damage and came back to the officer requesting to file a complaint about the damage caused to our property. The officer quickly brushed us off saying that it wasn’t the Sheriff’s department that towed us, it was the Lifeguards, and so the lifeguards are the entity that we need to speak to about the incident.
We requested to file a police report or complaint about what had happened and he said that we could not do so through the Sheriff’s department and that we needed to come back at 4pm. We were very angry at this point and so a regroup was necessary. We decided to record conversations with everyone going forward as we suspected we were going to be royally messed with and wanted to protect ourselves. In Ava’s words, “they messed with the wrong boat..”
We returned at 4pm as scheduled and were told by the Sheriff’s office we were granted permission to leave without a tow fee. We returned to the vessel and tried calling Baywatch/Lifeguards to get a report of why we were towed. No response via telephone so we hailed them on our VHF radio while a few other officers showed up at the dock. We hit record on a phone in Pajo’s shirt pocket.
We wait 15 minutes for the lifeguards to meet us at the dock along with a few other officers from the Sheriff’s department. The lifeguards story unfolds. They said they saw our vessel slipping anchor in the anchorage zone outside of Dockweiler beach and that they intended to tow the boat back to safety in order to keep it from washing up on the beach. In order to tow the boat, they said they attempted to pull the anchors up but were unsuccessful “because the anchors were stuck.” Which was curious to us because we were watching the vessel’s location the whole time and saw that it had not moved.
They said because the anchors were stuck, they were forced to cut our anchor lines for the safety of our vessel. To which Ava replied “wow, the anchors must have really been stuck in there then.”
We mentioned that we have a GPS tracker on the boat that we can check in real time and therefor have reason to doubt that our boat was slipping anchor and that we intend to file a complaint with the County and recoup damages. We requested to see an official report about the incident and the latitude and longitude points of our boat when they arrived. They lifeguards said it was not part of their reporting process to take lat/long points and took our information saying they would send us a report. They insisted that our boat was “nearing the surfline” and that we were lucky that they “saved” our vessel. The lifeguards left and we were left with the officers at the dock.
Oddly, now we were free to go without paying a tow fee. Step 1, get our house back, complete.
What now? Where can we got without an anchor? I guess these guys didn’t think of that. We explained to them that because of our loss of anchor equipment, we have no means of anchoring and no available moorage provided by the county and going anywhere would be tough now that we essentially have been left with an unsafe vessel.
The officers granted us a grace period of one night at the 4 hour dock until we could procure an anchor and sail out of MDR. We were told that they were doing us a big favor and not to “milk it.” (these are verbatim words that we recorded throughout our interactions with them!!).
We were beginning to discover that as long as we stayed in Marina del Rey, we would need to pay some entity of LA County at every turn.
It goes something like this… visiting boats are expected to anchor out near the breakwater or pay at the public guest docks at Burton W. Chace Park, which is managed by the Los Angeles County. But if there’s a small craft advisory issued (which there often is in Santa Ana windy season) the harbor is required to provide Harbor of Safe Refuge to all vessels. The only place to find Harbor of Safe Refuge is a first-come first-serve spot at the two 4 hour docks of Burton Chace Park, which also has a 7 day / month stay limit to guest docks. All the other slips in Marina del Rey are managed by the apartment/condo complexes attached to each one, which are leased from the County, all full and not taking any other boats.
So we were allowed to tie up at the 4 hour dock near the boat launch. After talking to many of the other local exiled boaters about our story, we heard countless similar stories of the local authorities damaging property like cutting anchor lines, including bolt cutters for chain and often times at weird hours, putting their lives at risk. While at our exile dock, we heard stories and even witnessed the local boaters being bullied numerous times. We were beginning to notice a dangerous pattern and that we were not the only ones experiencing malicious treatment and discrimination.
Shocked and angered, we got to work trying to move around our bank accounts in order to invest in a new anchoring system so that we no longer had to shuffle our boat around. We were also checking the weather praying for a small craft advisory so that we would be granted moorage somewhere.
We desperately wanted to avoid incurring extra costs with mooring at the park (pay LA County) or get towed (pay LA County) so we proceeded with rushing around getting the things we needed to get done. We also went forward with filing our formal complaint. However we still hadn’t received a formal report from Baywatch about why they cut our anchors off our boat and towed our vessel.
We put several calls in to the Baywatch division, each person we spoke to not having any knowledge of the incident, it was always someone else who was working that day. After 24 hours of calls, we finally got an email response back from Baywatch with a few phone numbers and an attachment of the formal complaint form. Time for the mouse hunt!
Over the next two business days, we spent numerous phone calls inquiring with several different offices of LA County to procure the incident report including Los Angeles Fire Department and Boating and Waterways to obtain this thing called Nfirs. Basically any time there is a call into dispatch for an incident, it is logged through this system. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we are entitled to this report, you just have to go on a wild goose chase to get it.
We were also waiting for our Mantus anchor that we had to order through West Marine which was slated to be delivered in 2 days. Or so we thought. Pajo was installing a new anchoring system and mounting a windlass to hoist the 200 feet of chain we had on hand so that we were ready for a new anchor.
These few days were very stressful for us. As long as there was a Small Craft Advisory issued, we could be on the 4 hour dock. If the SCA flag went down, we were on a timer. We had to stop what we were doing and figure out where the heck were going to go. Once we even sailed around the harbor for an hour to kill the time that we did not have.
Running out of options and time, we were desperate to stay put and finish projects and run errands we needed to accomplish to get out of town. We also were fortunate to catch Ava’s Aunt’s first big art show at the Beverly Hills Art Show.
Ava had an idea. What if we simply just call the Harbor Master, explain our situation and ask that they grant us ‘safe harbor’ until our anchor comes in at West Marine. Worth a shot.
So we called the Harbor Master, had another long conversation with someone there who was bewildered by our story but could not help us, that’s a different department. She transferred us to another office where we again relayed the story to an Officer Sterlow who told us we were allowed to tie up to the 4 hour dock and to leave a note that he said it was ok to park there due to our circumstances.
Later that evening while we were celebrating Ava’s birthday at a friend’s condo overlooking the marina, we got a call saying that we had an hour to move our boat or it would be towed and that “Officer Sterlow is new and doesn’t know the rules.”
We called back and spoke to a Deputy at the Sheriff’s Dept. who had a lot of interesting things to say. He confirmed our hunch that we were indeed, not welcome in Marina del Rey. We expressed our frustration, that we believe our anchor lines were cut for no real reason other than to get rid of our boat.
We told him We are taking action to recoup damages based on our evidence via GPS tracker data. We explained that we are trying our best to leave but they have made it incredibly hard and confusing for us. We were still waiting on our anchor delivery and in the meantime we have no other safe option for moorage.
In one breath he assured us that we were welcome and that there are a lot of “problem boats” so they have to be tough with the laws and in the next breath asked why we wouldn’t just sail on out of here. Maybe he was confused. Any mariner knows, you don’t sail anywhere without some sort of ground tackle in case of emergencies. Again we were stuck in the Exile Dock purgatory.
The very next business day Monday October 23rd, Ava borrowed a friend’s car to drive the 23 miles (1 hour) to the LA County Fire Department, a fortress with gates and strict public access,luckily I am a white lady driving a beamer or I’d never been allowed in the gates. Meanwhile Pajo stayed on the boat fearful of getting towed or bullied by the authorities. Our options to see the official report from Baywatch were either 1.) mail in a request or 2.) go pick it up in person and pay the $15.00 fee, paid to our favorite folks, LA County. Fortunately for us, we have the right to this information because of the Freedom of Information Act and keep in mind it is our only job to get this document and get out of this place. I can’t imagine any other human having time, patience and resources that we had in order to simply stand up to the County. I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted justice for us, but also for the locals who go through this dance every single day.
Step 2, obtain the official report and compare to our Garmin Inreach GPS data. According to the report from Baywatch, on Oct. 18 at 12:34pm they “responded to an emergency radio transmission… concerning an approx. 36’ Sailboat ‘Cinderella’ dragging anchor and nearing the surfline off Dockweiler Tower 42..” In fact our GPS tracker position has us not moving until well after the report of the incident and clearly under tow moving at 4 knots back into Marina del Rey Harbor. According to our charts and GPS, we were anchored approx. 382 yards from the beach and well within the safe zone behind the surfline. Therefore we have reason to believe that our anchor lines were cut in maliciously, our vessel did not need saving. We are determined to recoup damages caused to our vessel by LA County and any costs incurred while seeking safe harbor.
In summary, the County Lifeguards towed our boat, the County Sheriff may request a dockage fee when the boat is towed to their dock, the County requires us to pick up or mail in a rewuest of the official report and to pay a fee, then once you are out of luck, the only moorage available is at the Burton Chace Park which is run by the County and requires a fee of $1.15/foot and limited to a seven-day max stay within a 30-day period. Seems interesting.
Which brings us to today, as we write this our frustration and anger is fueled by 105 degree heat as we sit paranoid and stuck as County prisoners on our boat. With help of a total stranger’s kindness, we found a slip to moor the boat for a few days until we get the anchor in (which by the way, has been delayed now twice from the West Marine warehouse). And even though we are safely docked, we are still fearful of being towed or bullied as it seems common place for boats they don’t like to see around.
We filed a formal written complaint with LA County so we’ll see how that goes. Until then, we are appalled by the treatment of the local boaters who live here and have been eye witness to several occurrences of discrimination. These local boaters have showed us nothing but kindness and generosity and even humour during our time at exile dock. They are like a little family and I do hope this account of our experience exposes the injustices that are going on here as well as awareness for the public, accountability and a full investigation into the LA County Baywatch and Sheriff’s blatant abuse of power.
Until then, we want to tell our story in hopes that this treatment and discrimination towards local and traveling boaters will ultimately be prevented in the future.
We were lucky to also meet some real mariners that are still left in this city but who are being pushed out due to the city’s waterfront development and more wealth coming in. Thanks to the kindness of total strangers, we were able to find a few nights of peace of mind until we could get our new anchor and leave.
Ironically enough, walking around the city we noticed the commodification of an age old maritime symbol – the ANCHOR plastered on every cutesy tee shirt and artisanal sandwich menu. Puke. We cannot wait to get out of Marina Hell Rey and get down to Mexico, lessons learned!
“Honestly, I would rather flog sails in the middle of the TSS lane than sit here another day in Marina Del Rey,” said Pajo.
Items we lost that are now sitting in the bottom of the ocean:
Three-Strand Rope/Chain Anchor Rode, Chain: 1/4” did. x 20’L, Rope: 1/2” dia x 300’L
Three-Strand Rope/Chain Anchor Rode, Chain: 5/16” did. x 20’L, Rope: 5/8” dia x 300’L
Mantus Anchor – 35lb. Galvanized Steel Anchor
Danforth Traditional Anchors 22 lb
Total cost of damaged / loss of property:
$1,303.61 (before tax)
+ $94.51 (CA Sales tax)
= $1,398.12 total cost to replace our equipment
Here is a quick crash course reference for those thinking of stopping in Marina del Rey Harbor:
The US Coast Guard retired an anchorage in Marina del Rey in 2015 which means there is no longer a public anchorage within the harbor.
Burton Chace Park has several mooring options, pumpout and really beautiful greenscapes and barbeque stalls. It’s bustling with family gatherings and celebrations. The staff there is very helpful and we had a great experience with them. There is even free WiFi in the park and it is close to grocery stores and West Marine. We also had a very positive experience with the employees there.
According to the Burton W. Chace Park website, the rules are as follows: “These docks are available for use by vessels transiting the coast, those seeking refuge from inclement weather, or those laying in for minor repairs, replenishing supplies, or visiting. A portion of these docks – posted as ‘Park Dock, 4-hour maximum’ – may also be used by locally based vessels under a casual visitor status. Overnight and 4-hour guest docks are available for visitors on a first-come, first-served basis… with a seven-day maximum stay within a 30-day period… commences upon arrival.”
Boats who are anchored outside are allowed to tie up at two of the park’s designated 4 hour docks, once every 24 hours or while there is a small craft advisory issued. The pumpout here was not working while we were there and you need a code to get into the gate and to use the facilities.
Do not expect to see a lot of sailors. In fact, expect jaw dropping multi-million dollar yachts and flashy power boat parties, and model photo shoots. On the back deck of every catamaran, gaudy orange plastic home depot buckets to keep the harbor seals away, we got the sense these boats rarely move.
Basically, if you must stop here, make it brief and do not anchor outside, these guys are the worst.