Salton Sea’s La Barca Grande

Around 1967 my Dad, EE (Don) Stickles, bought a boat in San Diego. Not sure where in San Diego, but obviously somewhere in a marina in that area.

Now my Dad was a somewhat unusual man. He had served in the army as a radio and radar repairman. He was honorably discharged in September, 1944. From family stories I learned he had never finished the eighth grade but had learned electronics in the military and went on to start and run Valley Communications in Brawley, California. He also got his GED and eventually taught classes in electronics at IVC, a junior college in Imperial County. He was also in the Civil Air Patrol, owned his own airplane, and when he became interested in boats, started a Coast Guard Auxiliary in Imperial County.

I don’t remember how much it cost to buy the boat, had it loaded by crane on a lowboy trailer, trucked to our house in Brawley and unloaded by crane, but I’m certain it was expensive.Picture of the boat the La Barca Grande

When the crane unloaded the boat, Dad had it turned over upside down with the hull up. He then rented a sandblasting machine and sandblasted the hull down to the mahogany planks of the hull. These planks were approximately four inches thick. He then purchased a fiberglass machine that simultaneously chopped up fiber roving and sprayed that and resin to the hull. The fiberglass was approximately one and a half inch thick. He then replaced the drive shaft and propeller with new bronze ones.

When this was completed he rented a crane and operator to turn the boat over right side up. He then completely rebuilt the Chrysler Straight Eight Marine engine, refurbished the forward bow cabin that had four bunks and a toilet, extended the top cabin from the bridge and painted the whole boat, inside and out. The boat was eight feet wide, over nine feet tall and thirty eight feet long.Old picture of the La Barca Grande

This whole process took approximately a little over a year. When it was ready, he rented a crane and truck and had it delivered to North Shore Marina at the Salton Sea. It took all day to get to the marina from Brawley and the next day the boat was lifted off the trailer and set into the water at the marina. This was the only place at the Sea, that was deep enough for the boat and close enough for the crane to reach from dry land to the water. Around this time my Dad had been to a few meetings of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors and had gotten permission to dock La Barca Grande at Red Hill Marina. His only requirement to dock it there was to take the boat out the channel which effectively dredged the mud that accumulated in the channel. He did this a few times a month so that the channel was clear for other boats.The La Barca Grande

The first time we traveled to Red Hill Marina with the boat, my Dad, my older step brother Sam and I left North Shores and headed to Red Hill. We took our time and even stopped a few times to fish. When we got just outside the channel, my Dad unloaded a little “life boat” he had installed on the roof of the main cabin complete with a winch to load and unload the boat. He got in the boat and went on in the channel to a vehicle he had parked there to return home. Sam and I were going to sleep on the boat overnight and my Dad was going to come back in the morning to bring the boat into the channel for the first time. That was the plan anyway.

The Sea is a large inland lake but relatively shallow. When the winds start to blow down the mountains from the West, the water gets quite choppy. Sometimes it’s not just choppy, but the waves become enormous and close to each other. That’s what happened this night. About midnight the winds began howling and the sea was ferocious! We knew enough to start the engine and keep the boat headed into the waves to keep from capsizing. We couldn’t go anywhere but back to North Shore as there was no place to berth a boat of this size. Oh, another problem we encountered was the packing gland bearing where the drive shaft connects to the engine was overheating. So to keep it from burning up, my job was to keep a rag filled with ice from the ice chest covering the bearing to keep it cool. It helped keep my mind off the raging storm, but I was reminded of the predicament we were in whenever I looked over at my brother and saw the pools of sweat around his feet on the carpet he was standing on. He had a death grip on the helm. We made it to North Shores just as it was beginning to dawn and the wind started to die down. We docked and my brother called Dad on the two way radio to tell him what was going on.Black and white picture of La Barca Grande

After a short nap we headed back to Red Hill where we met Dad just outside the channel. He loaded up the little life raft and we proceeded up the channel. La Barca Grande had a draft of two and a half feet, which means it needed two and a half feet of water minimum to float. As we entered the channel, the water behind us turned brown from all the mud churning up. Then, much to our amazement, the boat started to lean on its side! We were soon standing on the wall but Dad kept the throttle on and we kept moving forward. Then, it really got weird. Fish, mostly Tilapia, started jumping out of the water and dozens fell into the fantail of the boat, making it very difficult to keep our footing. We tried scooping them up and throwing them overboard but they kept coming. Eventually we made it to the marina and Dad turned the boat around and we headed back out the channel. La Barca Grande still leaned but not as much as when we came in. Did this a couple of times and on the third time in we came in upright.

I had a lot of good times on this boat but after I graduated in 1969, I just lost track of La Barca Grande. Went looking for it a few times in the late seventies but never saw it or heard of it again.

One Comment:

  1. That’s a neat read, I remember seeing the boat at your house but I never knew the story about it. Thanks for sharing, GOD Bless

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