Harbor Hosting Some Impressive Transients

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

August 25, 2023

The Robert Gordon Sproul

It’s summer, tourist season, and in addition this year to our friends from the Central Valley, Morro Bay has had some impressive visitors come sailing in.

Recently the Harbor has hosted some large research vessels, a beautiful motor yacht, an historic tall ship, and even a super yacht owned by a billionaire.

While it’s always interesting to learn about these magnificent vessels, getting information can be difficult and Estero Bay News readers may have discerned more or different information than we’ve been able to cobble together.

The vessels that have come for a visit include the Fire Fly Georgetown; the research vessel (R/V) Robert Gordon Sproul; the R/V Fulmer; and the super motor yacht, Nomad. EBN asked the harbor department for information on the vessels and minus redactions of personal information, we were able to piece together some basic information.

• Motor yacht “Fire Fly Georgetown” is owned by Prime Meridian of Marina del Rey and came into port Aug. 13 with a boatload of young men who were here to do training with personal watercraft. 

Fire Fly is 75-feet long and 16-foot at the beam, according to the vessel information card on file with the harbor department. She drafts just 4 feet and was manufactured by Sunseeker International, a British company originally founded in 1969 as Poole Power Boats. Fire Fly Georgetown is a leased vessel that burns diesel.

• The R/V Robert Gordon Sproul (Sproul) came in Aug. 10 for a couple of days break from an offshore project studying plankton, according to a sailor from the vessel, who was otherwise tight-lipped about what they were doing here. 

The owner was listed as Dustin Pierce and her homeport is Marfac on Point Loma in San Diego. A Google search found that Marfac is short for “Nimitz Marine Facility” and is the homeport and technical support center for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. The Sproul is one of four research vessels working with Scripps.

The Sproul is 125-feet long with a 32-foot beam. She drafts 9.5-feet and also runs on diesel fuel. The City charged the Sproul $428 for her brief stay at the South T-pier.

• The trimaran racing yacht, Tritium, came into the harbor July 2 for an extended stay in the offshore anchorage area off Giovanni’s. She’s a sleek, 72-foot boat with a 58-foot beam and barely rises above the water surface. 

The Tritium paid $972 for a 30-day stay in the anchorage area.

• The most impressive of these expensive visitors was the super motor yacht, Nomad, owned by Greek shipping tycoon, George Prokopiou. 

He is the founder of the Greek companies Dynacom Tankers Management, Sea Traders, and Dynamos Ltd., and estimated to be worth over $2 billion.

The $50 million Nomad was completed and delivered to Prokopiou in July 2019 by Amels shipbuilders of the Netherlands. She was built at the company’s Vlissingen shipyard. Her interior, which we didn’t get to see, was designed by the design house, Bonesteel Trout Hall and the exterior was done by Tim Heywood Design.

Nomad is 180-feet long, comparable in size to the ACOE dredge ship, Yaquina. Her beam is over 30-feet and she drafts 11-feet 2-inches, so she barely missed scraping the bottom of the bay when she was here.

Nomad has a steel hull and an aluminum superstructure, with teakwood decks. She’s powered by twin diesel MTU (16V 2000 M70) 1,308 hp engines, and cruises at 13 knots. Top speed is 15.5 knots with a range of some 5,100 nautical miles (at 12 knots). 

She has 115,000-liter fuel tanks, and an advanced stabilization system on board for “exceptional comfort levels at anchor or on any voyage.”

Her water tanks store 17,000 liters of fresh water. She has six cabins, and accommodates 12 guests and sports a crew of 13. Her small tender boat, used to ferry guest ashore when the boat is too big for a harbor, sported four huge outboard motors worth probably around $100,000 or more.

The ship came into Morro Bay, which is the only protected safe harbor (from storms and wind), from Monterey to Santa Barbara, reportedly because the owner really likes Paso Robles wines.

A limousine was seen driving onto the North T-pier to pick up folks off the ship and presumably go wine tasting. 

The Harbor Department charged the Nomad $1,070 for 5 days at the T-pier. That may seem like a lot just for a place to tie up, but City officials are wondering if it’s near enough, given the value of these large vessels and maybe even the wealth of their owners.

“Morro Bay Harbor,” Harbor Director Ted Schiafone told EBN, “has rates for commercial fishing and recreation vessels, but not commercial vessels.”

The harbor has occasionally hosted marine research vessels here, most recently — besides the Sproul — the R/V Fulmar was in town carrying a group of marine scientists to the site of the proposed offshore floating wind farms to conduct underwater sound studies, as part of the environmental review.

Fulmar is home ported in Monterey and assigned to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. She was on loan from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency that oversees the NMS program for the wind farm study, a project being overseen by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

The Fulmar also was being used for another underwater sound study connected with the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, also being worked on now by NOAA; and for another wind farm area off Humboldt County.

At the August Harbor Advisory Board meeting, Schiafone asked the board to form an ad hoc committee to study the issue. “How are other Harbors in California charging for these vessels and use?” was the question he posed to the committee, which is supposed to return to the HAB in 60 days with a report.

In order to change the harbor fees, Schiafone said they’d need to get approval from the City Council. 

“Any new fees or changed fees,” he said, “would need to go before Council for approval. This could be brought before Council at any time.”

According to the current Master Fee Schedule, approved in May, the Harbor Department charges 50¢ a foot per day for transient (temporary) mooring at the T-piers and 40¢ a foot for the anchorage area (the first 5 days are free).

On a monthly basis, commercial boats pay $12.50 per foot for transient slips, and recreational boats pay $15.50 per foot. 

Transient slips are City-owned floating dock slips reserved for commercial fishing boats but the department can sublet them out to any boats passing through, when fishing boats are away from port.

These fees do not include electrical service, which is an extra charge.

So a $50 million ship like the 180-foot Nomad was charged $90 a day to tie up at the T-pier, about half the cost of an average motel room in town.

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