Special delivery: Florida to California via the Panama Canal in a Princess F50

Keen kitesurfers Ariel and Cindy Poler bought a new Princess F50 during lockdown to live aboard in San Francisco. Just one small problem – the boat they bought was in San Remo, Italy…

Regular readers may remember that back in December 2020 we wrote about our search for and eventual purchase of a Princess F50 that would become our new floating home in San Francisco.

At the time there were very few F50s for sale in the US and, since Europe had recently gone into lockdown and the dollar was riding high on the world’s currency markets, we got a very good deal on a European stock boat. That just left one small issue, our new boat was in San Remo, Italy, and we were 6,000 miles away in the US.

It wasn’t until September 2021 that we were finally able to travel to San Remo and take possession of our new Princess F50, which we’d named Octavia in honour of the street where we used to live. Now we had to find a way to get our new floating home back to San Francisco.

Shopping around for the best transportation company paid off. We ended up working with the Ft Lauderdale office of Peters & May. They provided great service and their quote was almost 50% lower than the competition’s.

The transport had to be done in two legs, first to Florida and then to Ensenada, Mexico. We decided to keep Octavia in Florida for a few months where we could enjoy her with friends and relatives living in the area, and enjoy a cruise to the Bahamas.

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Princess Yachts Italy took care of moving the boat to Genoa and loading it onto the cargo ship. Unfortunately, bad weather delayed the cargo ship by almost two weeks. This was very frustrating as we had to postpone our trip to Florida several times. We kept monitoring the ship’s progress via Marine Traffic.

Eventually we were given a solid date and travelled to Ft Lauderdale to pick her up. To our surprise, when we showed up at the dock, we were told to board the cargo ship and prepare our boat while it was still in the hold.

We were given vague instructions about how to reach Octavia and were left to go and wander around inside the immense vessel. We had to descend three storeys on a very narrow vertical ladder and eventually found her. Getting the boat ready only entailed flipping all the battery switches.


Finally, after several delays, the cargo ship delivers the couple’s precious cargo

We then went back up to the upper deck of the ship and waited for a crane to lift Octavia from the hold, carry her over the side of the cargo ship and lower her half-way so that we could jump aboard and be lowered the rest of the way down to the water and get on our way.

Diving with sharks

Finding a good marina in Miami had been a challenge. Most marinas are in the Intracoastal and, even though on the charts they look very close to the ocean, the bridges and no-wake zones mean it takes a good hour to get anywhere where we could kitesurf.

After repeated calls to the few marinas in the ideal Key Biscayne area we lucked out with a fantastic slip in the charming town of Coconut Grove. We had direct access to the best area for kiting and wing foiling, and a great setting next to two yacht clubs, good restaurants and a supermarket.


Thanksgiving was spent on the island of Chub Cay in Florida with their three sons

The highlights of our time in Florida were two trips to the Bahamas. During Thanksgiving we went with our three sons to do a scuba course in Chub Cay. We were careful to cross the Gulf Stream on days with minimal wind so we were able to average 26 knots in almost flat seas.

The 70 miles between Bimini and the Berry Islands were surreal, cruising on a flawless turquoise pool only 3m deep. It was unnerving to go so fast in such shallow water but we trusted the charts and soon relaxed into the swing of it.

We stayed in marinas most nights but spent a couple of magical nights at anchor too. In February we went with friends all the way to Abaco, in search of a bit of swell that we could surf.


Enjoying the perfect foiling conditions in Bimini

We were not able to anchor next to the surf spots but Abaco is so narrow that it only required a 5-minute blast in our Williams jet tender and a 10-minute walk to reach a beach with waves for surfing. The beautiful water made up for the rather small surf.

We saw lots of sharks while in the Bahamas, including a school of reef sharks that swam with us while we scuba-dived. We learned to be careful inside the marinas, though, as the sharks come to feed from the returning fishing boats.

In Chub Cay harbour a frantic man came running and yelling at me to get out of the water. The shark that I had seen earlier and assumed to be a mellow reef shark was actually an aggressive bull shark. That was a close call!


The Williams tender proved invaluable for reaching secluded surfing spots – such as Tahiti Beach on Elbow Cay, Bahamas

While in Coconut Grove we also took several day trips to one of the anchorages of Key Biscayne. There is a fantastic fish restaurant there, Boaters Grill, that is accessible by tender, and some good spots for wing foiling. We also entertained friends and relatives on the flybridge right on our slip.

We experienced a few teething issues with the boat while in Florida. Fortunately, we were able to address them all with the support of the relevant vendors, and under warranty. The most serious problem we had was the hydraulic tender platform getting stuck in the down position at a nearby anchorage on a Sunday afternoon.

We had to slowly motor back to the slip and wait until the next day for the technicians to come and replace a faulty sensor. There is no better way of getting to know a system on the boat than repairing it after it fails.


The toys lined up and ready for another fun day on the water

Coast to coast

In April we loaded Octavia onto another cargo ship heading through the Panama Canal bound for Ensenada on the west coast of Mexico, where we picked it up two weeks later. There was no swell we could surf, so we decided to leave for San Diego that same day.

After two hours of bureaucracy at the customs office, we were on our way. The seas were calm but the air temperature was atypically cold, so we put the branded Musto jackets to good use that had kindly been left for us on the boat by Princess Italy.

We may not have been able to surf but we soon discovered that our wake was perfect for the local dolphins. They seemed to really enjoy surfing it, reminding us of the wing-foilers that surf the wake of the cargo ships entering San Francisco Bay!


Ariel passes Point Conception at the helm of his new floating home/kitesurfing base

Approaching San Diego, the US Coast Guard asked us to stop so they could come alongside in their tender. They were very courteous and, after checking our documents, welcomed us to the US.

We stayed at the very friendly Southwestern YC in San Diego. We spent the next day washing the boat, getting supplies and dealing with a few minor maintenance issues.

The following day we left for San Onofre. We had heard it was a popular spot for foil surfing. Unfortunately, the break was super crowded with regular surfers and the weather was unusually grey and cold so we decided to continue to Newport Beach.


The yacht clubs there had no space but the city marina had a great slip. We docked with the stern facing out to enjoy the picturesque harbour but our 50ft shore power cable couldn’t reach the electrical outlet.

Luckily, there was a nearby West Marine store so I launched the tender and zipped over there to purchase a 25ft extension. The most unique aspect of Newport Beach is the myriad of electric boats of all shapes and sizes that cruise around the harbour at 3 knots, full of partygoers enjoying drinks, food, and music.

Our friends from Topanga joined us in Newport Beach. They are also surfers so the next day we went to Point Dume, in Malibu.

We anchored right next to the break and had a fun SUP foiling session there. After a late lunch we left for Marina Del Rey, where we stayed in the slip of Louis and Marianne, a charming couple we had met in Newport Beach, who had graciously offered their slip to us.

Sea lion patrol

Santa Barbara was our next destination. The limited number of guest slips from the city marina were available on a first come first served basis, so we got there early to secure one.

A large territorial sea lion made for an interesting docking manoeuvre as it wouldn’t let Cindy jump off the boat to secure our lines! Eventually, it left of its own accord and we were able to dock.

Filling the fuel tank was also a bit of a challenge as the pumps were broken so we had to fuel directly from a truck on a very high pier. Good thing we carried plenty of fenders! Our next stop was Cojo Anchorage, right next to Point Conception. We were looking forward to foiling the Hollister Ranch break there.

There was a lot of kelp, so we took our time to find a spot with as little kelp as possible to anchor in. It was windy, so we went wing foiling. The best section of the break was too kelpy for the foils but it was still a lot of fun and exciting to be winging next to the “Cape Horn of North America”. Two days after we left, it blew 50+ knots there!

The anchorage was quite rolly, so we didn’t get much sleep – which was just as well since we wanted to leave at sunrise for Morro Bay. There was a small craft advisory starting the next afternoon, followed by a gale warning the following day.


Waiting for the wind to abate at Morro Bay, California

Morro Bay was pretty much the only harbour we could reach in a day and we were a bit nervous because the Morro Bay Yacht Club didn’t take reservations nor had much dock space. And sure enough when we arrived the dock was fully occupied.

Fortunately, one of the boats was moving to a mooring buoy that afternoon so after spending the day at the city’s day-use dock we were safely tied at the yacht club where we spent the next four days waiting for the wind to ease.

The dock didn’t have 240V shore power, so we had to turn on the generator a couple of times a day to recharge our batteries and use our AC systems. This wasn’t a big deal until the third day when no power would flow from the generator to the boat’s main panel. An hour of troubleshooting got me nowhere, nor did the very helpful folks at Princess Italy.

But then they messaged me and suggested that I check an unlabelled fuse behind two panels, the second of which was secured with six bolts! When I eventually got to it, it did the trick and we had power once more.

It was very windy during our stay in Morro Bay, so I went wing foiling inside the harbour. It was a fun slalom course between mooring buoys, sea otters, sea lions and kelp. I also got lots of cheering from the locals.

The Morro Bay health store turned out to be fantastic for our final provisioning. They even had the cashew milk that Cindy likes! And we met a young couple on their way to the East Coast aboard their 35ft sailing yacht, which had been their home in California for the past five years!

Homeward bound

Our friend Marcel came from Florida to join us for the remainder of our trip. It took us six hours to cover the 120 miles to Santa Cruz. The sea was a bit confused from the wind of the previous days, so we had to slow down a bit to avoid a rough ride. This was the longest segment of our trip, and the coldest. We saw a few whales and plenty of dolphins.

Santa Cruz was buzzing with activity. We got a great slip and were delighted to have shore power again. We checked out Pleasure Point, which was packed with surfers, and enjoyed great local beer and food.

The weather was forecasted to deteriorate the following afternoon and we were eager to get home, so we decided to skip Half Moon Bay and go straight to San Francisco.


Fifteen months after their search for a boat began, Ariel and Cindy celebrate Octavia’s arrival in their home city of San Francisco

Fifteen months after we started our search for Octavia, it was very emotional to finally go under the Golden Gate Bridge and into our marina. We celebrated with shots of Venezuelan rum.

The slip worked beautifully. The views from the boat are as spectacular as we anticipated and the proximity to the harbour entrance means that we can go wing foiling directly from our boat – something we did the very next day.

We are now looking forward to spending a couple of days per week aboard Octavia, to host our friends and use it as our “base of operations” in San Francisco. We are also starting to think about some local adventures, such as the Farallon Islands, Drakes Bay and the Sacramento Delta. We’ll report back on the next stage of our adventures in a future issue.

First published in the August 2022 issue of MBY.