Bullet Across Time and Water – The Yawl Jada

During the opening credits of the Disney fantasy film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the semi-alive vehicle is portrayed as a former racing car during the early years of both auto racing and automobiles themselves.  Loosely based on a book by Ian Fleming (yes, that Ian Fleming) this film, elaborate in his musicality and childhood imagination still required to define that those things that are seen as aged and defunct can hold both a place of championship in their youth and a octogeneric renaissance in their future.

As a parent, a cursory search regarding the Disney film online revealed to my surprise that those opening film credits were by and large historical fact.  There was a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in fact there were several with, just as the film shows, illustrious careers in the early years of auto racing.

With the deck of the yawl Jada occupied by a sold out group of passengers, I thought about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because Jada in part is just that, a thoroughbred racer of days gone by, today enjoying a carefully maintained life that harkens back to then but also stirs the imagination of just what is possible tomorrow.

Capt. David Berg pilots Jada over San Diego Bay.

With decent winds, Jada was easily carving a path across San Diego Bay.  From a passenger point-of-view, an exhilarating cruise towards the open ocean and back with reach of the shadows of the Coronado Bridge.  I don’t consider myself a small craft person, in fact, they are still quite alien to me.  I found myself constantly trying to figure out a place to stay out of the way of the crew, while trying in part to associate and question them at the same time.

In the trim of her sails, the cut through the water and heel of hull, one could feel it.  I could.  Jada wasn’t even breaking a sweat, and I dreamt of the yawl vacant of passengers so Captain Dav!d Berg could put the spurs to her.  Jada is a greyhound of the water, crossing the bay, one can catch a glimpse of what it may have been like when the Lipton Cup was a popular event during the early 20th century decades in San Diego or the Tranpacific race to Hawaii.  Names like Butcher Boy and Dauntless, bound across the victory books and in there if one looks, one can find Jada.

My first exposure to Jada was this time last year, as Jada was a participating vessel during the Port of San Diego’s Festival of Sail at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.  I worked the mooring barges that the visiting ships were berthed at, working maintenance mostly, but find myself all too often in the role of liaison and ambassador.  Two boats stood out regarding owners and crews, American Pride and Jada.  I don’t include Pilgrim of the Spirit of Dana Point, a working relationship with these vessels and friends aboard them biased that opinion.

Jada enters Chowder Bay for a close-up view of the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

The crew and owners of Jada stood out, and as I discovered MMSD volunteers Gene G- and Connie A- both had working relationships with them, the opening salvo of friendliness was established.  Jada struck a chord in me, as did her crew.  She was a unique vessel, classic, wood and spoke of knots per hour while moored.  I had been looking for writing alternatives outside of what I had been doing for the museum and the Jada fit the bill.

Suffice it to say, a year later that article has not materialized, but recent personal developments have re-opened a window to that possibility.  Since last year, Brad Maybury had an open invitation to sail aboard her and I finally accepted that offer.  This blog, is a step in that direction.  If anything, hopefully this can simply get their charter operation more business.

She was laid down in 1938 at the Stevens Brothers shipyard in Stockton CA.  Designed by Philip Rhodes for Delbert Axelson of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, a gift for his son, Jack,  Jada was built of Port Orford cedar planks over white oak frames, her overall length is 65 feet, her cast iron keel drafting 9.2 feet while displacing 49,000 lbs.  With teak interiors and decks, she is accommodated by a hard-dodger cockpit cabin.  Originally rigged as a stays’l schooner, her name is derived from the combination of Delbert Axelson’s son Jack and his wife, Alda.  The actual pronunciation of Jada has been wide and varied.

According to her current skipper, Dav!d Berg adds, “every 3rd frame is accompanied by a bronze framed sistered to the wood. Most of her chainplates wrap completely around the bottom of the hull, so the shrouds are pulling on two ends of the same plate [A] very unusual and special design.”

Jada's original stays'l schooner rig is recalled in this photograph.

Jack Axelson raced the schooner actively thru 1950 along the California and Baja Californian coast with minimal success.  By 1953, George R. Sturgis of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club became her third owner and recognized her sail rig handicapped her racing performance and converted her to a yawl, she raced in five Transpac races (placing second in her class in 1955 and 1957) and won the Tahiti Race in 1956.

As Capt. Berg narrated along the way, the skipper’s range of knowledge and willingness to share, taught me a few unknown things about the bay and the sights seen from the deck.  I’ve gotten to know Dav!d through facebook over the past year, he’s even submitted photos to the Euterpe Times.  His tallship experience is more vast than his appearance lets on having both served on Californian during her pre-MMSD days and as mast captain aboard the 1877 iron-hulled Elissa.

USA-11 Stars & Stripes

Several times we were passed by the America’s Cup Boats, both Stars & Stripes (yes, we have two actually) and Abracadabra.  The breadth of sail technology between Jada’s 1953 yawl rig and wooden hull contrasted sharply with the carbon-fiber exotics of the 21st century.

As we came back to the comforts of Harbor Island, there was an adrenaline of the mind that wanted me to jump from the deck and get to my computer. But another side wanted myself to stay put and ply the waters on their next charter later in the day.  The mind reels when it is filled with fascination and thrill.

This blog see-saws between review and history, I am aware of that flaw to this entry.  Yet it recognizes both her thoroughbred career and the hard work put in by her owners and crew.  And that small group of people also share and exemplify a level of friendliness that one would like to hope is representative of San Diego as a whole.

More information regarding the Jada and charter options are available at:


Published in: on August 4, 2011 at 2:05 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…

    […] still required to define that those things that are seen as aged and defunct can […]…

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