If you’re ever stuck with someone aboard a boat, you might hope it’s John Garza aboard his Grand Banks Alaskan 46 Bella Niki G. Garza is a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton master captain and state fire master instructor. He’s seen a lot over his lengthy career, and he still finds time to give back to the boating community.
I’ve been boating since I was a child on California lakes and the San Francisco Bay. In the ’90s, I fished and deckhanded on a charter boat on Monterey Bay during the salmon runs, and I always wanted to be a charter captain. My journey in true boat ownership began when I bought a house on the water in 1995 with a 50-foot slip. Since then, I’ve owned and run over 25 vessels, from ski boats to large yachts. I started in the trawler world on a CHB [Chien Hwa] 35 and even owned an American Marine Chanteyman 34. I then stepped up to a Grand Banks 42 and onto my current boat, a Grand Banks Alaskan 46.
We use Bella Niki G as my personal yacht for the Pacific Coast Water Rescue team and we occasionally run six-pack cruises on her as well. The first wooden Grand Banks trawlers were built in 1964 at the original Grand Banks facility in Hong Kong. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, Grand Banks produced a series of classic DeFever designed Alaskan trawlers, also wood, from 45 to 55 feet. Bella Niki G is solidly built, well maintained and comfortable everywhere on board. She’s also reliable and easy to handle. We always feel secure whatever the sea conditions.
We use a weekly check-and-run, plus a monthly check and extended eight-hour cruise on the first of each month. Annually, I perform all maintenance as required by charter companies and U.S. Coast Guard safety standards. We inspect the bottom, service all fuel filters and change the oil. Also, my captains group uses a prominent boatyard, J&H Marine in Stockton, California, with ABYC mechanics for all major work.
Bella Niki G is by far the most seaworthy vessel of any of the yachts I run as a 100-ton captain. The only change I would love to make would be an expanded flybridge. Personally, I think this raised-pilothouse-style vessel in aluminum or steel would be the perfect design for passagemaking.
Any time on the water is my heaven. Time spent cruising with family and friends is by far the best part of boating for me. When I’m not doing that, I’m teaching others or running charters on the San Francisco Bay or California Delta. I help five fire departments train, maintain and respond to water rescue incidents. I was a firefighter myself for 35 years, so for me, this is a way of giving back.
I just love sharing my passion and teaching boaters how to be safe on the water, provision correctly and handle emergencies.
My favorite cruising spot by far is to the Golden Gate Bridge and out to the Pacific Ocean. In the right conditions, we always enjoy a coastal cruise toward Half Moon Bay and the Monterey Bay, with the usual guest list of firefighters, rescue swimmers and fellow boaters.
Either a Fleming or a DeFever raised pilothouse.