Friday, October 30, 2009

Hello fans of the Commander Salamander!

Glad to have you aboard!

I am a retired AW who lived like a Shoe having done 3/4's of my career onboard Frigates and Destroyers as a deployed Lamps helicopter aircrewman.

I am partway through a description of my return from Navy life in London via my sailboat "Wildebeest III" which we sailed from the UK to St Augustine ten years back.

Our story has us stopping in Leixoes, Portugal.

Thanks for coming by.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sorry about the UA time

"Are you there?"

I have been sorta ill this week, caught some nasty virus along the way. Laid me out for Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday has been a trend for better.

Roger the Shrubber will be arriving from Australia, this evening. Literally by way of Sydney, Dubai, London, Philly (Worse than that unmentionable place in Newark NJ) and finally Jax. I feel for the guy.

I feel for me.

There will be much activity this weekend, will update when inspired.

Monday, October 26, 2009

We stayed in Gijon for a number of days...

There was a serious hunt for leaks and also fine tuning the boat and systems. Turns out that we had a fairly tough go of Biscay, we should have crossed about a month previous. It seems that we were behind the power curve each leg of this voyage.

For example, we were hunkered down in Gijon, and every night the weather seemed to get worse. Winds were high and so were the waves crahing ashore. Gijon wasn't inexpensive, either.

I poured water over every portlight and hatch, and included all of the lifelines and stanchions. Dry.

I couldn't fit into the stern lazarette, so I asked The Spousal Unit to climb inside, I closed the hatch and applied water from a hose.

"Stop, stop, stop the f$%^& water!" She yelled.

We found that Chris had made a loop of nylon webbing that he had placed around the hatch to make easy access in lifting said hatch. (The lever had broken and I hadn't fixed it). The waves would break on the bow, water would run down the deck and drain into the lazarette, which in turn drained into the bilge.

Good. That mystery was solved. We also washed all of our clothes and dried them on the dock. In the afternoons, we would walk down to the market sector and wander about, buying beer, wines and local foods. On one such outing, we found a Chinese restaurant.

"These guys are everywhere!" Said I, "Even in the Middle East, you can find a Chinese restaurant."

We walk in and naturally, they spoke English, so we took a chair and marveled at the great food and the fact we were seeing Asian people speaking Castilian Spanish (Cathtilian Thpanith), and they were very nice and kept my Thervetha topped up. After dinner we continued the evening promenade.

Every evening, especially on Sundays, the entire populace of Gijon would come out in their Sunday best clothes and walk as a family up and down the seawalk. You could tell that this was a time for quiet reflection as well behaved children and proud parents/grandparents would show off their families in a show of dignity I had never witnessed before.

Made us want to walk along, even though I was wearing blue jeans and polo shirt.

In the mornings, we would wrap up the household chores and make for town. We stopped once at some seafood place and discovered Crawfish.

So we grabbed a sack o' crawdad's and headed back to the 'Beest.

First, we talked Chris into leaving the boat for the evening. Then after he departed, we gave our extra special guest a little bath in salty water. One of the bugs was slick enough to climb out of the sink and onto the counter.

We call this photo: A Study of Dinner in Gijon

A little remoulade was made and garlic bread was created in the oven. Dinner was really nice and it was a great way wrap up our Gijon visit.

Wildebeest III needed about forty gallons of diesel, and naturally, no fuel dock. This meant humping four jerry cans one half mile, carrying forty pounds in each arm. All morning long, it was. Plus we paid road taxes on the diesel so it was a double burn. In Europe, at the time, you paid for tax free diesel for marine use. Unless you had to buy at a gas station. Same in America, but they raise price of the diesel so you get no break for the lack of taxes.

Loaded and underway at about 1500, we were off and running like a herd of turtles, about a 100 NM trip ahead of us.

View Larger Map

It was pleasant enough, for the first six hours. Soon the sun was down and the winds started picking up from the North West. We were motor sailing to ensure we got our five knot planned speed.

The crew was kind of nervous, but we passed Ribadeo and a number of ports along the way. You could tell the ports by the bright lights in a dark field of menacing, rocky shoreline.

I took my first break at about 2200, went below and jammed myself between the galley table and the berth. We were bouncing and swinging quite a bit. I did my best to try and sleep, but no; I was going to lay there is this state of hyper awareness, not quite getting rest. I knew there would be a price to pay when I stood my watch, and everyone else would be snugly dry in the cabin. Sleeping.

Chris took his relief at midnight, and I hopped up on deck to a roly-poly sea, with winds remaining at about 18 knots from the North West. I was relieved at about 0300 and snoozed for real for about an 3 hours or so, when we found ourseves in range of La Coruna.

We entered the harbor with no idea where to go and the docks looked chock a block with boats. We found a mooring and settled. The dinghy was still secured, so I did not bother to check in. About 1000, some harbor master came out and yelled at us to move, so we complied. He had us tie up to a moored fishing vessel, so I felt a bit miffed.

It would have been nice if we could get a shower and maybe an afternoon ashore, but not this time.

This is the view off the stern.

We opened some beer and wine and had a little dinner party with our shipwreck casserole. We set Taps at 2100 and had a wonderful rest.

The next morning, up and at 'em at 0600, we decided to get underway ASAP to avoid paying dockage fees. After all, they didn't let us ashore and they probably just wanted the Wildebeest to just go away. Them good deals, ya know.

It was a beautiful morning and the breeze was a gentle 12 knots from the North. We opened up the sails and commenced the down hill run to Oporto, the real target being the fishing village of Leixoes, pronounced La Zhoys.

First, though; We had to get by Finnisterre.

View Larger Map

Finisterre is a cape that juts out into the Atlantic, and the Latin term means "Lands End". This is where you get the influences of Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic ocean beating each other for dominance of the sea both in current and weather. Nasty.

We had dolphins follow us out and it was calm enough at first. About 1300, the winds increased to about 22 knots and it was getting REALLY bumpy. I tried to pull in the head sail and again, just like Cherbourg, the sheet knotted up and began its sine wave battering of the boat and Captain.

A knot formed and whipped into my face. It was like a punch in the cheek and eye and it laid me out and flung my glasses over the side. I quickly moved to get my glasses, which were swirling in the water (onboard the boat) by a drain, and grabbed them back.

I also had a small black eye and fat lip for my efforts.

Back to the fun; We managed to get the head sail rolled up but left the main up for stability and some forward motion. We were motor sailing again.

The swells became enormous, and we would climb up and dive down. They were at least 25 feet and I was nervous, but what could we do?

We reached Finnesterre about 1800, near sundown. Nothing notable, just more rocky cliffs. The swells started easing and we settled into roly poly chop, again. I went below for the first sleep, so Chris could enjoy what we Naval Aviation types call "Pinky TIme". Pinky time helps transition to night time which is of course, Dark AS Hell. It can be disconcerting for someone to just step out on deck, expected to drive the boat when it is as dark as a politician's soul out there.

We noticed a large number of fishing boats trawling back and forth, connected by nets to each other.

Just something else to have to worry about!

It was still quite bumpy when I got the call at about midnight to come up on deck.

"Skipper, there are flares to the west; shall I adjust course to try to help?" Called Chris.

I scooted up on deck, and for sure there was another flare being launched. This was a tough one, I had never been in this situation as a civilian, and certainly my thoughts were in getting the "rescue".

"No, Chris. "Maintain course."

"We have to alter course and lend a hand, its the RULES!" Shouted Chris.

I was not liking his tone of voice. This is my boat and I'm responsible for all on board.

"Chris, this is my f@%&*ing boat, I say what we do. "There are plenty of professionals out here to help that fishing boat. Look at the two that are hightailing to the west?"

"You can hear the Mayday on the radio, the Coast Guard will be here in minutes with a helicopter and we have this mast which will just hazard the rescuers.... Besides, we are five miles away, it would take an hour to get there and it will be over by that point."

I could understand Chris' point, but I knew the risks we would be taking just to get involved. If there were no other boats and no Coast Guard, I would have bustered over to lend a hand, gladly.

About a minute after our argument, a Dauphin Helicopter passed our bow heading to the site of the emergency.

I felt vindicated.

The seas were still bumpy and it was difficult to move around. And we were tired.

Chris announced, "If I fall over the side, don't do anything extraordinary to rescue me. I want you to stay safe."


"Chris, are you nuts?"

"The seas are such that I wouldn't want anyone to risk themselves to rescue me, that's all."

Now I had heard it all!

"Don't be silly, if anyone falls over the side, of course we will make all efforts to rescue. "I just didn't want to get in the way of that other rescue, but for our crew, I would make all effort."

And with that I took over the watch for the next couple hours.

The boat would lean all the way left, then swing to the right. Up the wave and down. Over and over again until dawn, when Biscay had finally lost its grip on us. The seas smoothed out and it was lovely, indeed.


As we began preparations for entering port, we found this stowaway had committed suicide on the Wildebeest. We made much mirth on this Gar.

Aside from the little deal with rolling up the headsail, there were no major flaws in this leg. The Wildebeest had pretty much gotten all of our little details ironed out, and that was a good thing. Chris was leaving us in Leixoes, so the Spousal Unit and me would be sailing alone as far as Rota, Spain.

Our friends the "Fair Rose of Sharon" from Denmark would be in Leixoes along with some others we had met in Brest.

Finally, some fun!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ok, my travelogue ain't all that

Sorry for digressing with the California trip. It was a good time, and really, the high points were reconnecting with AW friends from 21+ years ago... That and staying at the Hotel Del Coronado in a fifth floor full ocean view room with a commanding view of the Beach, North Island and Point Loma.

Sucks to be me, right?

Mister Peabody says, "Into the Wayback Machine, Sherman".

Finally, we had completed repairs on the Perkins 4-108 diesel, loaded food and water, and in a very breezy Friday afternoon, we began to get underway for La Coruna, Spain.

For excitement, we got pinned by the wind to the dock, so we had to get the help of three people to shove us off. WE got underway, drove over to the fuel dock and loaded up with a full bag of diesel, 50 gallons, and four 5 gallon jerry cans.


We passed through the entrance of the Bay of Brest in blustery 15 knot winds, with a light (but growing) chop. We came about on a of 200 degrees heading south-south west for Spain.

Dinner was a large can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. What a mistake...

I had always enjoyed Hormel Products, especially the non refrigerated microwaveable foods. We had stocked up with 20 cans of Beef Stew because we knew them to be tasty and fast, filling meals.

Our problem was that after eating our bowls of stew, we were feeling a bit ill from being bloated and the sea sickness was finding its way into our souls.

Chris puked about every ten minutes, and I was not far behind with my sympathy puke. Actually, I was able to keep the technicolor yawn down, but felt like it could happen at any moment. It was important to me (anyway) that I keep up the appearance of stoic resolve. But during my off watch times I was bundled up on the floor, out of sight from Spousal Unit and Chris, barely keeping dinner down.

About 0200, I was feeling much better and was on the helm and noticed some strange lights up ahead. It was large and I could sense it was an Aircraft Carrier, but I kept quiet. The lighting wasn't quite right but then they vanished.

Maybe I was hallucinating.

I was relieved by the spousal unit and went below for another snooze. About twenty minutes later she called me up asking if there were any big ships in the area. I replied that there were, possibly an Aircraft Carrier. I came up on deck, sure enough, a big object with the lighting that a smaller ship would show.

It's called "Deceptive Lighting". Makes a ship look like it isn't. Only problem was that a hatch (Door; to you land lubbers) had been left unsecured and I could see passageway lights.

The decision to let a feminine voice challenge the ship via VHF was made, particularly that the Carrier did not respond to my calls an hour back. These Navy folks will answer a Lady, for sure...

She gets on the VHF and calls, "Unidentified Warship; This is U.S. Sailing Vessel Wildebeest Three to your North... I am heading South, what are your intentions?"

All of a sudden, I could hear hatches being closed and the regular navigation lights came on! It was the French Carrier, "Charles De Gaul" and they pushed the pedal to the metal and departed almost instantly, without a reply on the VHF 16.

About an hour later, I heard the DeGaul calling another vessel, and they identified themselves as the "French Warship DeGaul". Too cool.

WE continued pinching against the winds on our heading to La Coruna, but the winds were coming out of the South, so it was difficult to make way towards our destination. Fortunately, the wind had dropped to about eight knots, so it was comfortable, and we were motor sailing.

The sun came up and we all felt decidedly better, so we kept trying to make South-South West for the Western Part of Spain.

Clouds started building up through the day and we reefed our mainsail and tried tacking in the building winds. About 1700, the wind had built up to about 25 knots, and we rolled up the sails and motored into the growing chop. I was getting worried. We tuned into the BBC Shipping forecast on Chris' handheld. They mentioned winds of 16-20 knots. We wondered where in the Bay of Biscay could these winds be? They were gusting above 30 knots and concern was definitely growing.

The special deal with Biscay can briefly be described as such:

Bay of Biscay, vast inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, southeastern Europe, bounded on the north and east by France and on the south by Spain. The maximum width and length are 640 km (400 mi). The southern coast is precipitous and rocky. In the southeast between the mouths of the Adour River and Gironde estuary, the coast is low and sandy, with many lagoons. Low marshland prevails for 320 km (200 mi) north of the Gironde, but beyond the Quiberon Peninsula the coast is moderately elevated and rocky. Numerous streams run into the bay from the mountains of Spain and through the rivers Loire, Charente, Gironde, and Adour in France. The chief ports are Gijón, Santander, Bilbao, and San Sebastián in Spain; and Bayonne, Bordeaux, Rochefort, La Rochelle, Nantes, and Lorient in France. Among the principal islands in the bay are Belle-Île, Noirmoutier, Ré, and Oléron. Navigation is difficult and dangerous because of the prevailing northwestern winds and a strong current.

Gee, that doesn't sound so bad, does it?

The winds drive the Atlantic Ocean into this large bowl. The problem is that the depths in the ocean are averaging a couple thousand fathoms, but Biscay is about a hundred fathoms! Plus you pile up waves, which reverberate off the rocky coast add some extra winds and you have the recipe for disaster, if you happen to be on a sailboat.

Define "Embayed": (navigation) Pertaining to a vessel in a bay unable to put to sea or to put to sea safely because of wind, current, or sea.

This is a condition where the current and wind will not let a sailboat into safer waters. Usually, if you have no motor you will crash into the rocks.

By sundown, the winds were 35 knots gusting to 40. We rolled all remaining sails and battened down all hatches and covers. I turned the boat into the wind and settled into a routine of smashing into the waves head on. We rocked violently in the moonless night and would have to turn my head each time I heard the crash of a wave, because the spray would rocket into my face. The seas tried to make the boat broach to either side, which would really risk our safety if we lost control.

This was turning into the worst sailing/boating situation I had ever been involved with on my own.

The knot log said we were maintaining about four to five knots, so I presumed we were heading west, which was good. By morning, when the winds had calmed we could resume sailing to La Coruna.

I traded two hour watches with Chris, and it was a mess. I slept in the cockpit so I could be available in a second's notice to help.

Finally, the longest night (This side of SERE School) was fading, the winds and seas were beginning to ease. Time for breakfast!

I went below into the tossed cabin and searched for something fast, portable and good. I found a large can of fruit cocktail and managed to get one spoon. The boat was moving around too much to get more utensils.

Climbed back to the cockpit and opened the can and the three of us shared the one spoon and devoured the tasty fruit.

I tried to snooze for a half hour to regain my energy, but it was still too bumpy to do anything down below. At 0930, I noticed the engine starting to sound a little muffled. Time to do a proper security check of the boat. I went forward and opened a floorboard to inspect a through hull and found water. I shut the valve (in case it was the leaker) and moved quickly to the engine room. I opened the door and gasped.

Water was up to the oil pan. The bilge was about three feet deep and water was up to the OIL PAN!!!!!

Had I not looked, we could have lost battery power and have really been in a pickle. I checked the circuit breaker panel and noticed the "Bilge Pump" switch in off position. I switched it on. It tripped off.

Again and again.

I grabbed for the chart to plot our position. We were sinking.

I called up in the most calm voice I have ever muster; "Could you start pumping the hand pump, hmmm?"


"Just start pumping, ok?"


I heard the sounds of pumping and I started plotting our position. See, during the night, I knew that we were far from land and did not do my normal hourly position plot. I presumed that we were about fifty miles further to the west than what we were. The GPS clearly put us at 150 miles due South from Brest. We had beat ourselves up and stayed in precisely the same spot all night, and to make matters worse we had burned about ten gallons of diesel for nought.

And we were sinking.

"Hey, the pump jammed!"

This was when I went very calm and started to think fast. We had a life raft, the wind and water were still choppy, the boat was still afloat, so we can still fight to save her. I noticed the water level had not risen, so maybe we were going to be ok... I climbed into the cockpit and made the news known to everyone;

"We are 150 miles from anywhere. The main pump is inop and the hand pump has clogged... We are in a lot of trouble because we have a leak and I don't know where it is. The good news is that the water is not rising so we seem to have stabilized, the bad news is that we are out of helicopter range for rescue. We will have to save this boat, no choice."

"Chris; you have the watch until I relieve you. Spousal Unit; I need you down here to pass tools and help me. I am going to pull the battery and tie it aside, then I will pull the pump out and see if I can fix it..."

(I don't really call her Spousal Unit, That's her title but OPSEC requires I keep real names to minimum in this story)

The Wildebeest had three type 4 Delta Gel-cell batteries, each was bolted down to a wooden platform. Each battery weighs at least eighty pounds, so you want them to be tied down securely. The platform the batteries were installed on covered the bilge and consequently obscured the bilge pump.

I disconnected the #3 Battery cables and wrapped them in rubber and set the cables aside I unbolted the battery tie downs and pulled the battery away from it's mount and dragged it over by the nav station. The Spousal Unit sat next to the battery to make sure it did not slide back towards me. I unscrewed the battery table decking and opened an area I could reach into to get the pump. There was about two and a half feet of water over the pump, I found it and asked for a straight edge screwdriver. Using two hands I guided the screwdriver to the hose clamps and loosened. I got the pump free from the hoses and pulled it up to where I could see it. I disconnected the power cable and began to figure out how to clean and rebuild the pump. It was filthy with clotted oil, which the water had spilled from the engine bilge.

Many paper towels and degreasing agents later, I took the magnetic switch apart, cleaned it and reinstalled. I pulled the pump apart ripping out the little fibers and strings and gunk which had jammed the pump. I reattached the switch and pump assembly and reconnected power and dug my arms into the bilge again for reinstall.

I got up to triumphantly turn the circuit panel switch to "on", and the switch tripped.

And again and again.

Pulled pump back out and redo the whole process.

Finally, after about three hours of hard work, the pump came to life, and the water was drained in no time at all. And there was no new water filling in. I wondered where the leak was?

Saved again!

By now, it was about 1300 and we had a briefing for the crew. Every stitch of clothing was sopping wet, no storage area was untouched by the previous flood. We were still in the middle of nowhere, with a boat of questionable sea keeping ability. The winds and seas were what they were, gonna have to suck it up and sail. We can't make it to LaCoruna, but surely there is another port, right?

The mainsail was raised to the third reef and the headsail was rolled to it's third reef, this was a short as the sails can be... The Wildebeest is a Sailboat; Let's Sail!!!

The Spousal Unit opened up the Cruising Guide to the Costa Del Muerte, the rocky Northern Coast of Spain and found a safe harbor; Gijon, Spain. It had a breakwater we could sail into and best of all; It was directly South of us. That meant we could set the sails tight and sail into the wind (the fastest point of sailing) and hold a course of 180 degrees. The wind was from the West and was about 26 knots.

The Wildebeest began her run South with a bone in her teeth and the smell of Land in her nostrils. We began going as fast as eight knots, with the swells hitting us off the starboard bow.

Night began to approach and the winds began the same nonsense from the night before, only this time, we were in fighting mode. No more cowering with the motor on and sails rolled up. The shipping forecast still told us that our winds were 16 to 20 from the Northwest. Our winds were 26 to 32 from the Southwest.

While Chris and I were standing watch, about an hour on and off, the Spousal Unit stayed below charting our positions and draining water from the storage lockers with a bucket.

About every fifteen minutes I would hear a pathetic sounding, "Bucket, please". And I would open the hatch slide, grab the bucket of slimy water and pour it out of the cockpit.

She kept up at this for over eight hours while the boat rose and shook with each blow she received from the rollers coming from the open ocean. And she could not see what or where we were going, just marked the chart every half hour and held on tight. What a trooper!

Steering was tough. We were trying to move on course of 180, but the seas would smash into us trying to turn us left. The winds would gust which would try to pull us right. It was a fast balancing act, where the wheel would be spun hand over hand in what ever direction needed to keep course stability. The nose of the boat would climb a swell, reach the peak and fall left or right, depending on what the present force was.


I would sharply snap my head to the left and a burst of water would spray the back of my head, which had coveralls and a hat to keep me relatively dry.

Feel the boat start to turn to the left, speed picks up muscle the boat's heading to the right... and;


Turn your head or take a punch to the kisser!

"Bucket please"

All night long.

0600 came and the clouds began to thin, we could actually see the star and the imminent sun rise. We had survived the night. Our spirits began to rise and coffee smells began to rise out of the open cabin. The winds had dropped to a very manageable 15 knots and the seas were smoothing out. The Wildebeest was very easy to handle and she was keeping her speed up, we had another 25 miles to go to harbor and it was a beautiful day to be sailing.
The sun was warm as it rose and the winds dropped even more, I started to consider continuing on to La Coruna. Which was promptly rejected by She Who Will Be Obeyed.

"We're going to Gijon".

"Ok, fine."

View Larger Map

We arrived in the port town of Gijon Spain at about 1400. I signed us in and we were assigned a berth. We tied up and tried to find some dry clothes.

View Larger Map

The last twenty seven hours saw us travel about 180 nautical miles, easily the best distance we had ever seen. In retrospect, it was the finest sailing I have ever done in my life.


We got some dry clothes on, pounded the pavement to a "Theederia", where there was some seafood tapas to be had.

Our waiter spoke no english, but he ordered the best value platter with the Fruita Da Mare and brought out wines and beers for the three sailing vagabonds.

We noticed that the Waiter would stop by a table and grab a bottle, which looked like a bottle containing hooch. He would solemnly stare straight ahead and pour into a pint glass, about a quarter full. The Waiter would slam the glass down and the patron would grab the glass, pound down as much as he could in one gulp. Then with careful disdain would fling the dregs over the floor.


I had to have me some of that fire water, oh yes!

We managed to communicate to the Waiter that we wanted a taste, he shook his head like we would be sorry and gave me the business.

He pounded the glass and I started to sip and the waiter said, "NO, NO"!

He motioned I needed to pound it down in a fell swoop.

So I did.

It was English Hard Cider.

Like Strongbow.

We were in a "Theederia", which is spelled "Cideria". Duh!

Lessons Learned:

One: Know your boat and all systems. I got lucky because I vaguely knew how to find the bilge pump.

Two: Have back ups. I should have known that the shower drain pump was just two feet away from the bilge, I could have cut a hose attached to shower pump and pumped out the bilge in less than fifteen minutes. Also, I could have used the engine water pump to do the same.

Three: Make sure you know of any modifications and how they can mess up your boat. Someone used a loop of line and wrapped it around a lazerette hatch. This defeated the sealing characteristics of the hatch, thus letting in hundreds of gallons of water that was unnoticed until almost too late.

I am responsible for all that happens when it goes bad, credit goes to those who were instrumental in keeping us not only afloat, but to actually go and have the most glorious sail anyone can ever hate. The Spousal Unit and Chris were the stars!

We did 180 miles in 27 hours. We have never matched that performance, since.

We have full respect for the Bay of Biscay. Most sailors know it is the most treacherous waters in Western Europe. It can lull a person into sloppiness, then slap the cluebat of reality upside yo' head!


One day after we arrived, the rescue boats were bringing in boat after boat. There was broken masts, broken legs and broken spirits. Some said they would never sail again. One boat had a skipper have a heart attack and his wife tried to sail into Ribadeo (Next Harbor to the West of Gijon) harbor without good charts. Our Danish friends from "Fair Rose" tried to help guide them in. The story ended badly with the lady crashing her boat on the deadly rocks with no survivors.

Wildebeest III had no idea of the deadly drama going on just twenty miles away. We had barely made it in safe before the big blow started, which was occurring while we enjoyed seafood, beer and Cider.

Gotta take the good deals, even if they don't look like good deals.

We were just starting on our adventure...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Leaving Oakland and going North to Napa

Home of Napa Cabbage, better known as Bok Choy (Whatever that is).

As we drove north, I notice new bridges. The Bay bridge is under construction and a completed new bridge is the Carquinas Straits.

All with a (I think) $6.00 toll. Six bucks. Of course, the wealthy have no problem coming up with such a measly amount, "I'm important...., my trip is important. "But we think that the poor should really consider using Public Transit. "It's for the benefit of our planet."

Oh well. I pay the six bucks and like it. After all, so many State Government Employees are relying on the tourist buck to keep them and their Union well paid.

Up Hwy 12 we go, looking for our first Winery. It's 1030 and we are gettin' a great thirst.

Stop at some tourist trap and purchase a Napa Valley Map which is a five buck cartoon poster with a couple roads actually slid in for effect.

I hate being a tourist, it makes me feel like a Sophomore Prom date to a Senior Class Football Star. This can not end well... Hold on to your wallet folks!

We make a stop at the Franciscan Winery (Not to be confused with "Christian Brothers", another famous wine)

We read this sign and prepare the pocket book for the first tasting. It costs about twenty bucks each for what we are about to receive, but if you join the "Wine Club", (Which requires a subscription), the tasting is free.


Small talk is made with the Wine Server Dude, and we get on with drinking Franciscan's best. We depart with a couple bottles and a quarterly subscription for six bottles, delivered for $325.00.

Uh oh. This is not a good start.

Off to Montelena we go, via a stop at some cafe for lunch in Calistoga. Here is a view of Mount Helena:

This is the front of the Winery:

We entered the famous winery, which was portrayed as the "David" to France's "Goliath" of wine reputations in the film, "Bottle Shock".

Montelena charges $20.00 for tastings, and they have made the most of their notariety from the film. I purchased an autographed DVD of the film and left a bunch of money behind as a tribute to Montelena's fine wines.

After getting a full tasting session, we departed for more Calistoga action, which brought us to the Geyser.

Cue the cheesy tourist!

This was a semi-bad decision. I knew that the wine country was littered with geysers (See "Geyserville")

About every 30 minutes, visitors to the Old Faithful Geyser of California are treated to an eruption of steam and scalding water spraying 60 to 100 feet in the air. There are only two other "old faithful" geysers in the world that have earned the title due to their regular eruptions. On the geyser's grounds, there is a gift shop, exhibit hall, snack bar, picnic area.
We showcase the famous Tennessee Fainting Goats, Jacob's Four-Horn Sheep, and Guard Llamas in an endearing petting-zoo environment.

Pure tourist cheesiness. The cashier worked hard at giving every customer a discount through the Automobile Association, Student ID's and finally my retired military ID. Decent guy. Head out the back door and see the ruin of a 75 year old concrete tub, which had been in use (back in the day) as a therapeutic spa. The tub was empty except for a bunch of change littered on the grainy bottom.

No one was interested in risking a scalding for five bucks worth of coins.

We lurked about ten minutes and the geyser began to flatulate steam and sputter hot water. That felt good to use flatulate in a clean sentence!

The hot water began to grow forth until finally it was about thirty feet high, and it sustained its ejaculation long enough to take at least five pictures, including a shot of the two of us in front of the steaming tower.

After about four minutes, the water slowly began to subside and with a couple of apologetic bubbles, folded up shop.

That left a quick tour of the grounds, in which I stared a llama who flatfootedly ignored me. We spent three quarters buying corn from a gumball machine and fed the fainting goats, who seemed starved more for attention and pettings.

In an adjacent pen, there was a famous "Stump Goat", which I guess resembles a "Post Turtle". The feeling I had was that I had enabled a family that owned the geyser to enjoy the fruits of the Geyser's labor, and we had the benefit of seeing goats, llamas and a magma heated steam vent. For twenty bucks.

Man, I love America!

We burst into laughter at the whole silliness and left the Geyser park for a local store to purchase food and wine for the evening meal which would be enjoyed at the Washington Street Lodging.

By the way, if visiting Calistoga, try to stay there. The room had a starboard list, but the accomodations were really nice and at an excellent value. There was an original copy of the book, "Mrs. Miniver" in the room. Too cool!

Next morning, we had a light breakfast in the room and departed at 1030 for the Cuvaison Winery, just down the street from Montelena.

Now, the rain was a pouring, and the winds were picking up as a result of a vicious low pressure system. Not conducive to wanting wine, but we soldiered on. After all, who's gonna drink the wine if we don't?

Paid the fifteen bucks or so, and started down the list. The Zinfandel is incredible!!! We bought a couple bottles and departed Calistoga for Yuba city via Hwy 20.

Drove the wet surpentine road up to Clear Lake then vectored to 090 degrees and headed out of the hills into the Big Valley. Winds were picking up to about fifty mph, as we followed the straight road to Yuba City, where my father and sister reside. I commented that the Southern Wind was blowing so hard that the steering wheel had to be held to the two o'clock position, sort of like the condition on a sailboat called "weather helm".

Arrival at Yuba City was approximately 1500, turns out Dad lives about three blocks from Hwy 20, so we got a room at the Best Western ($65.00!) and went by for a visit.

We stopped at Nicholson Winery. This is what was on the rack.

I did not know PBR came in a 24 oz can!

We departed Novato at 0430 the next morning for San Diego. Discovered the U.S. 101 does not have a freeway through San Francisco anymore, you get dumped off and have to make it through downtown.

Made a stop for breakfast at the Madonna Inn at 0930, drove the Pacific Coast Highway through Santa Barbara, Ventura and Oxnard. Continued through to Malibu and Santa Monica. Hopped on the beginning of I-10 and got to the San Diego Freeway and wound up here:

Built in 1888, it is the premier hotel of the West Coast. They filmed "Some Like it Hot" with Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis at this very hotel and beach.

We were given an upgrade for a room in the original building, fifth floor king with complete ocean and beach view. There was no warning of what we were getting into...

I spun that couch to face the windows, opened them up and commenced relaxation!

Our room is on the left corner up top.

Airplanes did the approach to North Island the same as they did when I was flying:

Check out the view from space; You can see that those unintelligible little sand dunes have a message for satellites!

View Larger Map

Gator Freighter on Friday morning off of Coronado

Friday night dinner at Hotel Del with Pat and Robin. They look as good or better than 20 years ago. It was as if the time had no meaning, it was so nice to see these folks again!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Hobo's in California

After a Friday of packing and general running about, we found ourselves holding reveille at 0300 for a 0415 departure for the airport. Our destination being San Francisco; Baghdad by the Bay, Land o' Open Minded Gentle Liberals (Yes, I know. They aren't)

The first flight was pleasant enough, we made it to Dulles by 0730. We waited another hour and caught the non-stop to SFO. Being a "free" flight, we were jammed in steerage with our newest friends, spending five hours enjoying their general closeness and the wailing children.

Why would a loving parent bring little children on a plane? Is it to punish the rest of us for not making the choice of raising lovely, well behaved kiddies? Or is it that you feel obligated to share the love and beauty of two year olds? Either way it kept me aware of the moment. Each long moment.

Did any of you know that a two year old will wail at 130 decibels when their ears won't adjust to the altitude? Hmmm?

I could only smile in quiet knowledge that these nice parents get exactly what they deserve for keeping a child trapped on an airplane.

We arrived at 1215 Saturday morning, our luggage was promptly at the carousel with no wait. We crossed over to the rental car train and were at National by 1240. After fumbling around with the self check in machine, we found ourselves in a blue Chevy Equinox by 1255 and headed out to the Hwy 101, going South to the San Mateo Bridge.

I could not believe how efficient the good people at San Francisco International were, and how we might try to export some of that to Jacksonville International Airport.

With any good fortune one enjoys, it must be tempered with the knowledge that bad news is just down the street. We arrived at the Claremont Hotel by 1345, knowing that I had scheduled a 1300 Check In time via a phone call in the past week.

Our. Room. Was. Not. Ready. "My apologies." Sayeth the nice desk dude.

We went to the "Paragon" Restaurant for lunch, hoping room would be ready by three o'clock.

Checked in the room, which was sufficiently posh, especially after we had been charged $259.00 per night.

This is when we took the chance of a little afternoon kip, as we knew a full evening was planned. Naturally, the maintenance staff was busily trying to prepare our floor for guests. Yelling back and forth en Espanol, they worked feverishly in the passage way doing good works.

I know, because I was awake for the next two hours noting every joke and cheer given. Only a pendejo would be snoozing in the middle of the day, ¿Qué?

This was just like being in the Navy! Only costing much, much more. Like cash and our fragile sanity.

1900 came soon enough and we shifted into glad rags. This was when the Staff became curiously absent. Maybe a Tsunami was inbound, I can't be sure. There certainly was no one apparent at the Concierge Desk. Or the Front Desk for that matter. Next time I will try to riffle the cash drawer.

We went outside hoping to find a doorman who might call us a cab. A cab would be good because there will probably be a little bit of boozing, and we mustn't drive after imbibing.

Nope. Not even a doorman to call us idiots, for expecting a doorman to call us transportation!

Claremont Hotel has succeeded in not meeting expectations. Thrice. We shan't darken their towels, again.

Soooo, we drove the Chevy to the Emeryville Marina to meet Christopher and Chris for drinks and dinner. They were great hosts who showed us their 30th floor penthouse, which has a bay view from both sides. I got vertigo walking past the windowed walls and it was quite breathtaking to see all the San Francisco Bay!

Christopher had gone through High School and College with the Spousal Unit. It was great fun to meet up with these nice cats, and they were a really great at hosting the party.

Dinner was to be at Trader Vic's, which was conveniently located by the boats in the Marina.

Our first drink; A Stinger Bowl!

Our hosts; Christopher and Chris.

A great party had broken out, and a Stinger Bowl was a good way to begin.

We enjoyed some wonderful Peking Duck appetizers and started in on dinner.

Our Chef;

More later!


View of Condo; It is the tall building on right, the condo was top and right corner.

Here are more views of Bay:

Morning view of Port of Oakland and NAS Alameda the second is a view of Angel Island and the ruins of the Berkeley Pier

Claremont Hotel;

To summarize our visit to the Hotel; We were less than impressed by the Hotel's Staff and how we were not "valued guests". It seemed that the wedding parties were a bit more important than the paying guests, and we could never find a member of staff when we needed one. The room was nice, the view fun but there was something missing with this experience.

The next day, Sunday, found us hurtling up Hwy 24 and the Caldicott tunnel. We were on a mission to find new jackets for us, and a bottle of wine for our visit with Erik and Mary.

Erik was an aircrewman with myself at the HS Squadron back in '83. We were good friends and had become Navy Reserve Recruiters at NAS Alameda. I departed Alameda in late '86, and moved to San Diego. We loosely kept in touch for a couple years, but I had been out of contact since mid 1989. That was when I moved to Mayport Florida. In the meantime, Erik and his bride raised a family and made a very successful life for themselves in California.

Military dot com was the conduit for reconnecting, so I thought we might visit in California. Plus, I was worried that the years may have made reconnection impossible, so we made sure to not be a inconvenience.

SWWBO got careful directions over the Blackberry, which I wound up botching. I followed a unnecessary sign and took an extra lap around the Sacramento/ San Joaquin Delta. Once arriving, we were warmly greeted by Erik and Mary, and naturally, I noticed that they looked better than I did. My looks are a result from Pabst Blue Ribbon and good foods. Erik looks like the water/snow skier he has always been.

Other than our friends having raised a fine family, there was no difference from twenty years ago. What great fun reconnecting!

We all made way to Berkeley and dined on Indian food and wrapped up Sunday.

Monday was going to be the first day in the Wine country...