MARINA DEL RAY, California. Walking onto the docks of Old Plank Sailing, you can see sails billow in the salty sea wind. Beyond the marina’s protected environment is the Santa Monica Bay. Beyond the bay the ocean is endless, vast, immense, intimidating. With the sheer power to control everything in her path, she is equally calming and terrifying.
Many of us have this love-hate relationship with the great magnificent ocean. Embracing the calm while simultaneously fearing her ageless power. Movies like The Poseidon Adventure, The Perfect Storm and The Guardian showcase a multitude of reasons to fear her waves.
Beyond movies that invoke such fears are opposing ideas. They include thoughts and visions that cause one to wax poetic when contemplating the beauty and peace of the ocean. This is my discovery. The lure of gourmet foods and brisk ocean winds overcomes any fears of the deep, emboldening me and luring me to the sea.
Marina Del Ray
Marina del Rey is full of flavor and unlimited adventure despite being only twenty minutes out of Los Angeles. Here, there is a predictable beach city vibe and locally driven community.
Becoming a fan of the Marina is easy. Taking a seat on the docks of Mariners Village, there are perfect people, seabird and sea lion watching to do. The small waves in the marina bobble paddle boarders and kayakers as they head out into the great unknown, even as stunning yachts and cruisers making their way out to the ocean.
Marina del Ray is, in short, the best kept secret corner in Southern California, here where the marina meets the Pacific.
The goal on this journey is to join the hoi-poloi. To enter into the fantasy world of a personal sailing ship, with close friends and a crew. Where the food, wine and sunset are all spectacular.
Old Plank Sailing
They self-describe as a “boutique luxury sailing charter and aquatic expedition company with gourmet 5 star cuisine.”
Captain and Chef Matthew Mancini is the man behind the boats. Along with his crew of waterman, this experienced group takes small to larger charters beyond the stone walls protecting the boats at the dock from the Pacific’s relentless waves. According to their website their business is dedicated to
“Curating a safe, healing environment where guests feel comfortable, appreciated and connected with nature. The oceans can help to facilitate a deep state of relaxation for the healing of emotional wounds, so you can rejuvenate while enjoying creative foods in a soothing sailing environment.”
Rejuvenation by creative foods while being rocked by the waves. What’s not to like here?
Planning your experience at Old Plank Sailing
Old Plank Sailing offers many exciting adventures. However, for a smaller group or a romantic sunset sail for two is where they excel. But even the experts at Old Plank Sailing cannot control the ocean.
Matthew reached out the morning of our sail with a wonderfully polite message
“Hi I wanted to get your thoughts and options as how we can have the best sailing adventure possible.”
He sent over the link of a “small craft advisory” and myself not knowing even an inkling about sailing, he continues.
“That means they are having heavy winds at 30 mph and seas up to 7- 8ft high with the swell.”
After viewing Google image photos of “swells”: Decision made. Matthew really wanted us to have a memorable adventure. but this type of weather, he concluded, “may be a bit extreme for us.”
Voyage interrupted, but not canceled
Captain Matthew immediately worked with us to reschedule later in the week. Our romantic sunset sail only had a one week window with my out of town partner.
Following very detailed directions, navigating the parking in your designated area near the docks is easy. Marina Del Rey has been working on a major revamp of its docking area and this section was in tip-top form when we arrived.
Captain Matthew will meet you exactly where he says he will and on time because early is on time and on time is late.
When guests first meet Captain Matthew, they will be so pleasantly surprised by the calm energy he radiates. There is nothing pretentious or overbearing about his greeting. The beautiful feeling that you have just met a long lost friend who will take you on an evening adventure stays with you.
Easing into the sea
After boarding “Prima Stella,” getting nice and cozy includes snuggling into blankets while paying attention to the safety information just “in case.” The safety drill over, Matthew transitions from Captain to Chef with a simple “Can I offer you guys wine while I get some hor d’oeuvres ready?”
Chef Matthew brings out a beautiful bottle of Chilean Rosé, one of his favorites. Subsequently, fears of the ocean ebb away like an outgoing tide.
Looking around the marina as you sip wine, you can’t help but feel the magic of this “boat life” you have been missing. The feeling of being transported to a whole new world, located so close to your normal enclave. And you can’t help but wonder why it has taken so long to find this place.
Quickly getting lost in your surroundings, you notice a few sea lions that have taken claim of a dock, listening to their interesting and loud language.
Tip: take a deep breath and embrace this moment of venturing out to something new and adventurous.
A music playlist perfect for the waning day entertains as Chef Matthew dips below, reemerging with a dish of crumbly cheese graced with a balsamic glaze topped with sprouts.
Back to being Captain Matthew now and back at the helm – which is next to your seating area – our host really creates a togetherness vibe. New friends enjoying what the wondrous ocean lays out for the evening.
Matthew does a beautiful dance of feeling out his guests with light conversation and instilling a comfort of freedom on this sail. Politely he points out guests are welcome to head to the front of the boat for more “personal” time. However, I recommend staying all bundled up and enjoying some wonderful conversation about coastal facts beyond and wine.
Leaving California behind
Sailing out and without the coastline in clear view, it is easy to believe that you have left California to live the Mediterranian dream of life on the water. All the day stresses float away far behind, almost as if you have dropped them overboard without a life vest.
The soft sounds of waves splashing up against the boat working in unison with the subtle rise and lower motion of the ocean. Close your eyes and listen to the wind catch the top sail so perfectly as if both were truly made to coincide. Breathing in the new air – the briny air as the Captain says – is experiencing a new sense of peace.
Beast or Beauty?
Sit back and take in the beautiful connection happening with the “beast” of the ocean, realizing she is actually a “beauty.” You just need to respect and trust her. In a smooth swift, barefooted movement, Captain Matthew seamlessly juggles the tasks at hand to turn the boat around. Now being put in a tie with the setting sun, you scarcely realize you are holding your breath in awe.
To get the opportunity to see the California sunset on the water at a level eye’s view is “electrifying.” Your little arm hairs stand straight up from the electricity of the sun’s daily chase of the moon.
“Every spark returns to darkness. Every sound returns to silence. Every flower returns to sleep with the earth. The journey of the sun and moon is predictable. But yours, is your ultimate
As you start your sail back to the beloved marina, Captain Matthew smiles a knowing smile. Any time spent on the seas is better than any time spent anywhere else.
As you enter back into the Marina there is a quiet shift from the rolling waters outside. Slowly gliding back into the docks, you gaze as lights start to come on from homes and apartments along the water. Seems as if they are lighting our path back home. Maybe it sounds a bit mushy, but we feel transformed, at one with the ocean. We understand Captain Matthew’s knowing smile.
One final culinary experience
Docked at the marina but not ready to disembark, Chef Matthew surprised us with some of the Baja Kanpachi fish he has. Transformed, the marina comes to a different life at night. The distant conversations of other captains is about a day at sea and the beauty it held. From houseboats come dinner scents, laughter, and music.
The first course comes out in minutes. Chef’s skills from his sushi days were in full form and did not disappoint. With a friendly hand from below deck he delivers us a raw Kanpachi. It is delicately topped with olive oil, a little sea salt, and dill.
The second course is yellowfin tuna sashimi with olive oil and red pepper flakes.
The buttery texture and simple flavors compliment the fish exceptionally! The perfect consistency and flavor of the fish is mind-blowing. Immediately you will be swept into the magic of the sustainable, responsible Omega Blue farm-to-table solution to clean and healthy fish!
A flaky sweet center at journey’s end
Our final dish is a white fish fillet. It is grilled to a perfect crispness on the outside, while remaining sweet, flaky and moist on the inside.
As impressive as the Kanpachi was raw, you will be hooked on the seared edition. Scrambling to pick chef’s brain on flavors and simplicity, he quickly reminds me of the quality of the fish.
He notes that this was his last day to eat this batch. Adding to our amazement, that explains its lack of a “fishy” flavor.
A journey’s end made for Kings and Queens.
Just as the day’s sail was launched into the unknown, it has ended with delightful memories far past any set expectations.
New Friends you will have, Captain Mancini and the beast turned beauty of the big blue.
If you go:
Old Plank Sailing
13552 Fiji Way
Marina del Rey, California, USA
Text or call Captain Mancini to: 818.644.0081