Discover Prompts: Day 9 – Pairs: The Ducks at San Diego’s Balboa Park

I spent a lot of time at Balboa Park in San Diego with my girlfriend watching the ducks. They were mostly mallards, with a few exotic types from the nearby San Diego Zoo. There were 21 of them for the longest time, week after week, a combination of adults and some yearlings. There is a long reflection pool outside the horticultural building, and the ducks would bask in the sun, or hide under the foliage surrounding the pool, or swim during the active part of the day. They attracted quite a crowd. For the most part, the ducks were paired off.

I don’t know much about ducks except from what I’ve watched. I’ve heard about their corkscrew penises and violent attempts to mate. But what I witnessed most was constant duck drama. A single male duck always wanted to steal the girlfriend/partner from another duck. Maybe he or she was attractive, held to some kind of idealistic duck beauty standard. I say “he or she” because I’m not sure if ducks can be gay or not either. For all I know, those corkscrews might just have a mind of their own and not give a whit about gender.

Often a couple of ducks would be paddling leisurely on the still surface of the pond, making a wide wake behind them, ripples in the shape of a V. Then all of a sudden, a lone rogue duck would outpaddle the couple and attempt to come between them. Most of the time, the male duck would run off the rogue, squawking and raising a fuss, beating his wings, and plunging his neck forward, increasing his aerodynamics, and paddle furiously after the culprit. The rogue would flee, but not too far. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. He’d slyly stay on the fringes, waiting for the male to drop his guard or stray too much to the side, and then he’d quickly zoom in to try to woo her away again. And then the protective male would turn again and run him off, over and over.

Sometimes a rogue duck would try his webfoot multiple times and on many different parties. On some occasions, we would arrive and a full scale war was already in progress. The females were nowhere to be found, hiding in the nearby bushes, maybe tending to the younger ducks. But the males were doing battle. Three or four males might be attempting to oust the rogue duck from the flock.

In the spring, there were baby ducks, usually 6 or 7 to a mama. They would chirp and cheep at such high pitches, it seemed like they were calling to dogs. If anyone walked too closely, the mama would squawk and lead the baby ducks swimming into the middle of the pool. Most of the time, the baby ducks kept right on the mama’s tail. Usually there was a laggard, paddling just as fast as he could to catch up.

I’m not sure what happens to the yearlings. There comes a time when the yearlings must fly off, or that they grow to look like the rest of the adults. I’m not sure what happens to the ducks when they get older, nor how old they look. Do they die under the bushes? Do they have accidents? Is there a duck graveyard, some mysterious place only known to ducks, like with elephants? I could, of course, look all of this up in a book. But sometimes it’s better just to watch, to not know too much. It’s like eavesdropping at a coffeeshop, one of the things I miss during quarantine. You get an idea of what might be going on, but you don’t have the whole story and relying on bits and pieces of gossip and overheard fragments doesn’t give you all the information you need. But still, we piece together a story that makes sense. Or we just make it all up.

I’ve been away from the ducks at Balboa Park for almost 2 years now, and I miss them, probably as much as my girlfriend. This is a memory for two. We are a pair, like the pairs of ducks we watch, wandering through the world, aware of the rogues out there, making sure we keep our wake calm and sensible, basking in the sun when we can, and sleeping under the foliage at night. We need be, we are ready for life’s dramas.

Discover Prompts #8: Curve

Picture a corkscrew. It’s curvy, curved in one direction. Hold that corkscrew horizontally. As you trace the curve, it moves forward and also curves back around to where it started. If you drew a line on the top of the corkscrew, each point on the metal part of the screw would line up, the spaces between are where the metal of the corkscrew happens on the other side.

So picture each of those points being your birthday. You have a birthday. Then the year plays out. You follow the path of the corkscrew. When you reach your next birthday, you are at the same line, the same plane as the previous turn in the screw, but further down the line – one year older.

Everything comes around again. Time moves relentlessly forward, but curves as well, never to return to the same spot, though it will cross along the same plane. Is it any wonder that DNA, the genetic makeup of our very being, is a double helix, two lines of a corkscrew running parallel to each other joined together?

Sometimes it feels like we go backwards. We lose relatives to time. Death comes for all. We lose relationships. Change comes for all. We lose jobs or financial stability. Uncertainty comes for all.

But we’re not moving backwards, even if we’re not achieving our goals or making progress as we intended. Those intentions are merely dreams, goals, ambitions – not reality. They are hopes. And often enough we achieve those hopes. We get the job we wanted. We get the big promotion. We earn more money. We find the partner of our dreams. We get married. We get that house with the picket fence and 2.4 kids and 1.3 pets, and 3 1/2 baths and 3 cars. But then something happens. A recession comes. A job is lost. A health scare leads to scarcity of money. Changes must be made. The house must be sold. The pets grow and die. The children grow and move away. The relationship survives but the shared goals are different now.

The one thing you have through all of this curving and twisting is you. It’s not even that you have to change with the times. It’s hard to see ourselves. We have no perspective. We have to stay true to who we are AND change at the same time – adapt or die.

But a different perspective is that you can’t help but change. You are never at the same point on that corkscrew. Even if you think that you have remained the same, remained true to yourself, haven’t changed, have retained your integrity – everyone is different in some way after a year. The experiences you have had, the triumphs and losses have made you MORE you than ever before.

Change is inevitable. Evolution – that dreaded word that conjures up arguments between faith and science – is merely change. And change happens whether you believe it or not, or whether you have the science background to prove it or not. Change is the one unalterable fact of life.

So celebrate your triumphs, console yourself through your losses, and keep on keeping on. Because time and this world stops for no one, and change will happen whether you are onboard or not.

Below the Common View: A Dachshund’s Guide to the World

This is for Discover Prompts #7 for April 7 – Below.

Photo: Herman the Dachshund / by Author

I have a dachshund named Herman. He’s 17 pounds of double dapple short-haired red with white flash on the back of his neck and a white stripe from his foreheard to his nose, white booties on his feet, and a white tip of his tail that makes his tail look like a paintbrush. His double-dapple darker spots are hard to see but shine brightly (darkly?) in full sunlight.

Herman is a year and 4 months old, born on December 1, 2018. We got him on Februray 9, 2019, when he weighed in at 4 lbs. He’s the cutest thing, and I think we’re going to have to get more storage capacity on our phones or fill them up with Herman pictures.

Photo: Herman the Dachshund / by Author

Since Herman’s arrival, I’ve had to adjust my perspective and keep track of what’s going on below my feet, and even below his own eye level. I’ve never had a small dog before, though I’ve had many dogs in my life. Dachshunds, I’ve learned and read about, are noted for only about 50% obedience. They do what they want, when they want. But he learns quickly and gets used to routine quickly. And if he doesn’t get what he wants, he starts a strike routine of demand barking. And if you try to scold him or tell him no or take a step toward him, he runs. It looks like he’s scared, a little dog running from someone who is scolding him. But he’s really using all the powers of his small frame to instigate a game of chase.

I’m tall, at 6’1,” and imposing to a little dog like Herman who is very small. So when I give him commands from above, he doesn’t know if I’m scolding him or commanding him or playing with him. So I’ve found that I have to get down below him to get him to come to me. I have to get to his level and see the world from his point of view. That means laying completely flat on the ground. Getting on my hands and knees isn’t enough. I still tower over him, so I must slither on the ground like a snake. And even then, if he knows he’s being a trouble maker, he won’t come to me.

But he’s a scaredy cat for a little dog, too. He doesn’t like cars or buses or motorcycles, and we live in the city, so he won’t walk. He just sits and puts all his muscles into not moving at all because he doesnt’ feel safe. He will run and jump and play when we take him for walks in the woods. But getting him to walk on city streets is a hassle. Often we have to give up and carry him, as he shakes in our arms. And if he’s in one of his scared moments, the only way to get him to come to the end of his leash is to lay down on the ground and then he’ll run and climb into my lap to be protected. Of course, he’ll dive into the small carrier we have for him, that he rides in in the car. That’s his safe home.

I’m sure you can tell from the pictures just how Herman can melt any heart. Below my feet, all day long, is the sweetest, most obstinate, most adorable and playful dog that will remain a puppy for his entire life. I’m sure I’ll be writing much more about Herman in the future.

The Left-Handers Guide to Getting Behind

This is Discover Prompts #6 for April 6 on the word Hands. Something about needing and then getting a root canal slowed me down. But I’m on the mend now.

I’m a left-hander. My brother was a left-hander. My paternal grandmother was a left-hander. I know that my grandmother bowled left-handed in Ohio. She was a good bowler, and bowling is practically the national pastime in Ohio, or was back in the day. My brother was a pure left-hander as well. And I, proudly, carry the left-handed trait forward. However, my left-handedness was interrupted by an uninformed though well-meaning grandmother who believed in a right-handed world.

My teachers all tried to get me to write with a pencil like a right-hander, with the pencil eraser pointing over my shoulder. That doesn’t quite work for left-handers. We turn our hand around and point the pencil eraser away from us so we can actually see what we are writing rather than have our hand cover up the words while we are writing them. I’m sure you’ve seen a left-hander with the page turned diagonally and his or her arm twisted around, elbow flung out, just to write. And then the edge of the hand that sits on the desk runs over our writing, so we get pencil smear or pen glop all over the side of our hand and smear the writing on the page, too.

My grandmother wanted me to adjust well to life and was a constant companion early. So she taught me how to use scissors with my right hand (“it’s a right-handed world!”). Turns out scissors can be right or left-handed, depending on the edge of the blade and the angle of holding them. Also, she taught me how to throw a ball, with my right hand. Now in my head, I was processing everything left-handed, so it seemed weird to throw with my right hand. But that was my formative experience. In baseball, I can bat left or right handed, but I can only throw right handed and catch left-handed. Turns out, with ball sports where I must throw, and in soccer where I kick the ball, I do so right-handed (or footed).

But racket sports I play left-handed – golf, ping-pong, tennis, racquetball – I play all left-handed. I started learning to bowl left-handed, when I was in a league as a young junior high schooler. Being left-handed in bowling is an advantage because the lanes aren’t worn down as much on the left side because there are more right handed bowlers. But I punched a neighbor kid at school. As I flung at him with my left-hand, he was running away and he turned his back and I caught him on the scapula with the pinky of my left hand. The punch snapped the bone in my hand cleanly in two. By that evening, my hand swelled up and I could move only the tip of my finger – “No, Dad, I’m fine. See? I can move my finger!”

Well, the next day I went to an orthopedist and got a cast that I wore for 6-8 weeks, one of those new-fangled fiberglass casts that could get wet. As I was taking a bath one day, since baths were easier than showers with a cast, I forgot and saw my arm floating in the water. Sure, you could get the fiberglass cast wet, but it soaked into the inner lining and took 3 hours to blow dry. To leave it wet would have destroyed the skin inside. Obviously, I didn’t swm for the next 6-8 weeks either. But the point is, now with a cast on my left hand, I had to relearn to bowl right handed. I still do a pretty good job bowling, but I miss bowling left-handed. I bowl left-handed in my head, but I’m uncoordinated with my footing to actually bowl that way.

I was also in Pony league baseball at the time, and with a cast on my arm, came up to bat. The opposing manager, who used to be my next door neighbor until they moved away, appealed the game saying I shouldn’t be used in the game (we would have lost due to not enough players if I didn’t play). His son (my former friend) was pitched. Kenny was headed for the Majors and I was a lousy player but loved the game. He threw a wicked curve ball that sent me bailing into the dirt every time (I got hit with the ball so many times that standing at the plate was a lesson in terror for me.) But this time, with my cast on my arm, I actually fouled the ball off for the first time all season and ultimately drew a walk.

I still write and eat with my left-hand, and while I consider myself left-handed, my right hand and arm are stronger. I do consider myself more ambidextrous than just mono-handed.

I don’t think righties actually give much thought to their handedness like lefties do. We’re a persecuted minority, of about 10% of the population, with a high degree of genius status. The word “sinister” (defined: “giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen”) comes into English through Old French “sinistre” and ultimately from Latin, from the word Latin word “sinister” meaning “left.”

There is nothing sinister about being a genius left-hander in a right-handed world. And I’m proud of my left-handed roots.

Give My Regards to Broadway

A memory and a tribute to healthcare workers in New York City

Today’s Discover Prompts is about “song.” I’m remembering a duet I used to play with my dad on the piano, “Give My Regards to Broadway.” I’m also thinking of the healthcare workers laying their lives on the line during this pandemic. I’m thinking of you and everyone affected and your great city.

I grew up in the quiet suburbs of the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles during the late 60s and 70s. Thus, I rooted against New York and was actually afraid of New York, the crime, the brashness, the ballsiness of it shown on television. We were more laid back in sunny Southern California back in those days.

My how things have changed. I moved away from Los Angeles before the big population explosion and the deterioration due to crime and freeway traffic. And I finally got my first opportunity to visit New York in 1999. I was terrified. But what I didn’t know was that as Los Angeles was falling into disrepair, New York was cleaning up its act.

I had planned a birthday trip for a surprise to see Phantom of the Opera. Once I bought the show tickets, I had to figure out how to get there from Kansas, where to stay, and how to travel between airport and city and within the city, all without a credit card. But once I arrived, I was completely caught off guard by how nice and helpful everyone was, how the city truly does never sleep, and how much I missed city life. Of course, I still have my home grown allegiances to the L.A. Dodgers, but as I was a bit older, I could understand the appeal of a cosmopolitan city like New York. Oh we saw our Broadway show, but we also did plenty of touristy things in the short 3 days we were there, like visit Washington Square park and go to the top of the Empire State Building and walk around Times Square.

I now live in the East and I’ve been to New York city several times and enjoy it more and more each time. When this blog grows up and I’m a famous writer, I’m sure I’ll look back at this time when I’m sucking up to New York as the pivotal moment when I made it.

As the youngest in my family, by the time I was 10, my brother and sisters had all moved out to get married, start families, and/or go to college. My sister Lisa was the last to leave, which left me with my mom and dad to myself. I spent a great deal of time playing the piano without having to fight for it with my sister. My dad played often, especially when he got home from work. He’d sit down and relax, smoking his cigarettes and playing songs he knew by heart on the 1/4 grand cherry wood Chickering piano we had at the time. So in our bonding time, we started playing duets from our piano books.

He could play anything that he heard once, with a riveting “oom-pah” bass and a deft right-handed melody. He had his own style, a cross between 40s and 50s standards and 70s lounge player. I could pick out melodies but had a tougher time with bass progressions. So he usually played the bass and I played the melody. We settled on the song “Give My Regards to Broadway” that we found in one of the piano books.

I think we chose that song because it was familiar to me, mostly from hearing my sister Lisa play it with my dad. The bass was easy and he kept speeding up, especially at some key points where I fumbled to learn the notes. At first, as we were learning it, I was aware that we played ploddingly, like a child learning to read his first books. At 10 years old, I could play piano better than that, but I wasn’t that skilled in the art of duets.

But what I lacked in skill, I made up for with perseverance. One day, everything clicked. My forearms relaxed, I knew the notes, and I could keep pace with dad’s rhythmic bass. He even began to improvise here and there and I’d stay on track with the melody. And then one day, we just let it go. I set the metronome to see what the projected speed was according to the music, and it was much faster than we had been practicing. But we tried and we persevered. Before too long, we had mastered this song. We could play it slowly, with feeling, or we could rip through it loudly and animatedly. And fast. We kept time with each other and could follow each other’s lead. It was truly music in the making every time we sat to play “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

When Lisa returned home from school during break, I was glad to have someone to talk to nad fight over the piano with. But dad and I had cooked up a scheme for her. Lisa always had a bit of a competitive streak with me, and she had several years head start on me in playing the piano and was 7 years of age older. So while I was always baby brother and the kid, she was the grown-up teenager and then college student. Which is to say, she often didn’t take me seriously. But dad and I would surprise her.

I said, “Lisa! Lisa! you have to listen. Dad and I have been practicing, and we can now play “Give My Regards to Broadway.” So we sat down to show her. We played just as painfully ploddingly as one can. One note (pause) one note (pause) one note (pause) Give (pause) My (pause) Re (pause) guard (pause)…….. we played extra slow, and we didn’t miss a note, as if I were a 2 or 3 year old proudly reciting for the first time his ABCs for his big sister. She kinda giggled nervously and said, “Oh, that’s good Lee,” in that big sisterly patronizing way she had.

And then we did it. I looked at Dad and said, “Hit it!” And then we really played it. We played it to tempo and added every flourish we knew and sped off to a grand finale. By this time, we didn’t even need to look at the music. It was all in our heads and in our fingers. I saw Lisa laugh again, nervously in a different way. When we were done she said, “Oh you two!” and stomped off.

We got her, Dad. Yes, we got her.

I’ve had a lot of tragic events in my life. And during times like this unprecedented pandemic, there are a lot of people suffering but also a lot of people helping others, which reinforces my belief that people are ultimately good. It’s hard to see that through the daily partisan fighting in this country, but I’m glad to see so many people come together to battle this horrible pandemic. I’m fortunate to have memories like this one about a key song in my life, about family, about gentle sibling rivalries and good relationships with parents. And I miss my dad greatly every time I think of the piano and of Broadway.

Now in my 50s, I’ve had the opportunity to see shows on Broadway and walk the famous street under the bright marquees. And once our world has found a way to combat this disease, I look forward to once more visiting to “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

Adventures in Sailing, Part 9 – Land-Ho!

Photo by Markos Mant on Unsplash

The longer the trip to Hawaii took, the more on edge we all became. Imagine 11 unbathed teenagers and young adults, diminishing food supplies, an irritable captain, a navigation chart with a criss-cross line for our trail and no land in sight. We did what we could to bide the time, reading books, playing cards and games, negotiating with each other for trades of snacks. But still, there was no land in sight.

The captain worried that we might be too far south and miss the islands completely. That could cost us days of sailing, put us into an entirely different wind pattern and jeopardize our fuel resources, though he planned on the most conservative side possible regarding fuel. It didn’t help that our primary VHF radio didn’t work and that we knew it while we were still on the West Coast.

We had a pool going as to when we would sight and arrive at land. The date I had chosen was on track according to our chart and progress, and I wanted that money to pay my poker losing debts.

After 20 days at sea, the captain was looking for land. It should have been right in front of us, but we still couldn’t see it. One day while changing sails to account for the fluctuations of the wind, I saw a big fish, bigger than any I had ever seen. It was a dolphin! Soon there were 5 of them, a welcoming party. The trimaran had a swing on it that we could let down underneath the netting between the pontoons. We took turns swinging and petting the dolphins.

I won a Spam eating contest, 16 slices. We were down to the dregs of food at this point, coffee cake and peaches for breakfast.

Our traveling companions, Sea Vista, had reportedly made it in the night before, though they left a week earlier than us.

By the afternoon on day 21, we finally saw land! The mountain top peeked through the four day fog bank in front of us. The celebration began with washing down the boat and cleaning our sleeping compartments. We were able to use fresh water to take showers, a refreshing change from salt water baths.

We made it into Hilo under cover of night. We docked next to Gene’s boat, SeaVista and rushed out to a restaurant to eat. My sisters had and their friends sailed on Gene’s boat, but they had left the boat. A complete mutiny had occurred. I tracked down Lisa and her friend Jack, but Leslie and Theresa had flown to Maui. Restaurant food filled us up and we made it back to the boat for some well-needed sleep in the marina at about 4:00 am.

There is more sailing to do through the islands, but now we bask in having made it from the West Coast of the continental United States to Hilo, Hawaii, a 22-day voyage.

Adventures in Sailing, Part 8 – Nighttime at Sea

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

Adventures in Sailing, part 8

Nights on the Pacific Ocean were absolutely fantastic. The stars shone brighter than I had ever seen since the sky was free from any city light pollution. We practiced taking sights with our sextants. We were under strict orders to always wear our life jackets and to attach our hooks to the lifelines and always keep one hand on the boat, basic boating safety.

One night, on a late watch with the captain’s daughter, I could not keep my eyes open. I was so tired, partly because my bunk was used as the dining table through the day so I never had a comfortable place to nap. The deck was too hot and too noisy with the day’s activities. We had two hour watches and I remember not being able to keep my eyes open. All of a sudden, I got a slap across the face. It startled me awake and I turned to Christy, thinking she had hit me to wake me up.

In the cockpit was a flying fish. It flopped around at the bottom of the cockpit and I saw its wing-like fins. I had thought flying fish were just a myth, something adults tell kids. But here was one, saving me from embarassment as I was falling asleep on watch.

Another night, I was finally getting a good night’s sleep when I heard the ship’s bell calling everyone on deck. The wind had whipped up and it had grown cold. Our boat had far too much sail out for the strength of the winds, and we needed to act fast to reduce sail and manage the boat in these rough seas. The captain said this was merely a small squall. To me, it seemed like a mighty storm, the ocean turned to angry gray-black monster ready to swallow us up and dash us to pieces.

We worked as a team to pull the jib down, which landed in to the water, making pulling it on deck all the more difficult. The mainsail was much bigger but since it was in the middle of the boat attached to the main mast, it was in less danger of blowing around. Once we got the sails down and in their bags, the sailboat slowed. We still made 3 knots with just our bare masts, but it felt as if we could better control the ship. At the time, it seemed as if this storm would never end, but it only last a few hours, after which the seas seemed relatively calm. We put the sails up, reefed in case the storm returned, which was unlikely, and we began surfing the waves again.

I wasn’t the strongest kid, with my skinny arms, but I had great leverage and was able to pull my weight during this mini crisis. The activity made me forget about seasickness, and my adrenaline kicked in. It was definitely a highlight of the trip, though I can still remember feeling scared having never experienced a sea squall before. Later in the trip, we would be challenged again when making the 24-hour trip from the big island to Maui, but all in due course.

Oh to be on the water again, under those clear skies and those bright stars, in that warm air. The sea becomes a part of every sailor, and even though I was beset with challenges throughout this trip, the sailing bug crept into my soul and has never left.

Adventures in Sailing, Part 7 – The Day-to-Day in the Pacific

Photo by Oliver Sjöström from Pexels

Adventures in Sailing, part 7

The day-to-day in the boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can become quite dull. Oh, give me that dullness all year long.

In the first part of this series, I described our encounter in the doldrums. But when we had wind, there wasn’t anything quite like sailing in the Pacific.

It grew warm quite quickly on our trip. It’s late June and we’re heading south and west from southern California to Hawaii. Take a look at a globe to see — yes, even you flat earthers out there can learn from a globe.

Our days were very regular. I slept on the dining table, stowed down to become a bunk. My bunkmate was Tonya, the skinny blonde hard rocker partier teenager a couple years older than me. We slept in our own sleeping bags, head to foot. At 16 and inexperienced in the ways of the world (euphemism alert!), I didn’t quite know what to do with myself on this crowded vessel. At any rate, we were saved by the daily schedule — table up at 6:00 am for a 7:00 breakfast, and table down at midnight for lights out. That gave us 6 restful hours for the night, 4 of which were taken up with my watches. I drew the unfavorable watches of 12–2 am and 4–6 am, due to my lapse from seasickness. Fair is fair — or since the captain made the rules and the watch and cleaning schedules, there was no arguing.

We had our meals at 7:00, noon, and 6:00 pm. There were also snacks through the day whenever they happened to be done. For chores, we each had to care for our own bunks, and then we were assigned chores: bright work (polishing anything metal), washing the dishes and cleaning the galley, cleaning the head and head compartment, scrubbing the decks and pilot area, and whatever other cleaning activities had to be done.

On our way to Hawaii, we had the wind at our backs, trade winds, and often we sailed wing on wing, with one sail out and the other out on the other side, like a giant wingspan. The wind was behind us, pushing us to Hawaii. The effect is that there was very little slapping noise of the water on the boat, and we surfed the waves. We’d reach the crest of the waves and then the boat would surf down into the trough and we’d repeat, gently, all day long. It was warm (sunscreen was absolutely necessary!) but we did a fair amount of sunbathing. If we got too hot, we could dunk a 5-gallon paint bucket into the water on a rope and haul it up and douse ourselves.

Our boat was a 42-foot trimaran with three pontoon hulls. Between the hulls up front, there was netting that could be lounged on. Also, there was a swing, and we could hook the swing up between the pontoons and swing into the water. On other days, we tied a milk jug to a rope and let it out the stern of the boat and had target practice. We each bought several boxes of bullets, .22 gauge. I had never shot a gun before, but this was great fun. We also flew a kite that we tied off aft and just let follow us.

There wasn’t much to see except vast amounts of blue water and blue sky with various configurations of clouds. Every once in a while, we’d see a large vessel some ways off, not close enough even to see us.

We spent time playing games — Scrabble, Dominoes, Othello, Backgammon, and cards. We read a lot and listened to a single cassette tape over and over by The Kinks — I still remember most of the songs and words. I read Tolkein’s Return of the King and books about Star Wars and Battlestar Gallactica. I must have had English major aspirations even then because I also read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

After our adventures in the doldrums and my card playing fiasco, we began to itch for land. We still weren’t quite halfway there. The captain showed us the course he had plotted on the chart — a zig zag due to our collective inexperience at the helm that cost us a great deal of time. We also had a pool going as to when we would land. For most of the trip, we were on a course to make the date I had for landing, so I was excited that I would win some money to recoup my gambling losses. We settled into a fine routine.

One of the personal items we were asked to bring were snacks. The food situation didn’t turn out as well as he had hoped, so snacks were a premium required for us to keep going. But they also entered “the market,” a bartering system that could last days, especially with some of these stubborn sailors. I had the premium treats and had also bought quite a few boxes of bullets, which were great items to trade for food. At one point I had Almond Roca and See’s Suckers, which went for a premium. It took Dave and me 1/2 hour to come to an agreement: he would give me 3 pieces of beef jerky and 2 boxes of raisins for 1 almond roca and 1 See’s sucker. Then Dave traded a box of bullets for the rest of Cloud’s gorp. I loved that gorp, so Dave and I bartered some more. I remembered I had chocolate chips which I could put in the gorp, but Dave took the gorp off the market, but he wanted the chips. Cloud ran out of bullets again, so I traded a box and a half of bullets for his yogurt peanuts. All in all, bartering helped the time go by and was great fun.

We were getting closer to the islands all the time and waiting for the mountain peak to peek through the clouds. There was a heavy cloud bank in front of us, and we should have been seeing the islands, if our charting was correct. Or, we were too far south and would pass it completely.

Lazy days at sea with calm weather is something I remember fondly, though my journal betrays that I missed Big Macs, the Dodgers, and was unhappy at being picked on constantly. I was a dorky kid — 16 and still wearing a plastic Dodgers helmet (I had not yet discovered fitted baseball caps), and I was reading some 3rd rate sci-fi magazines and Tolkein’s first-rate fantasy.

There are still plenty more sailing adventures to share, including a brief scary squall, riding with the dolphins, and finally sighting land.

Adventures in Sailing, Part 6 – Hawaii Bound – But First, The U.S. Navy

Photo by Darren Nunis on Unsplash

Adventures in Sailing, part 6

Our 12 person crew on the 42-foot trimaran Columba, headed to Hawaii, were off to a slow start as we rounded the southern edge of Catalina island on our 2nd day. The winds accelerated and we headed to San Clemente island at the end of our 3rd day. The skies grew gray and a red sun set ahead of us. San Clemente loomed in front of us. As the seas grew rougher, I wrapped myself in my wool blanket, staving off seasickness as best I could, hunkering down aft as the waves soaked my blanket. It was a miserable start to our trip, but I hadn’t given in and gotten sick yet.

I had KP duty after dinner, and being down below made me queasier than ever. Our dinner of green beans cooked in salt water upset most of us — what was the cook thinking? She was trying to preserve our limited supply of fresh water, but the salt water ruined the dinner and most of the crew got sick. I still held out, knowing that the second I got sick, I would be sicker than I ever had been at sea.

On our way around the southern tip of San Clemente island, a noted restricted area as the island was used for bombing practice by the U.S. Navy, we saw two boats ahead, one a smaller vessel and the other large. As we approached, we heard a loud blast — BOOM! followed by another and another. We heard the whistle of a projectile sail overhead, and we were close enough to hear the thud and see the explosing erupt on the island — live ammunition. And then they stopped.

We were sitting directly between the island and a U.S. Navy battleship. When the projectile whistled overhead, the captain muttered to himself, “Goddamit!” We were a day’s sail from the mainland, and our radio wasn’t working properly. One would think before we headed to Hawaii, that we could return to land and make sure that the radio was in working order. But that was the Captain’s call to make.

The bombing was spectacular, even if frightening, but it stopped as quickly as it started. The smaller boat, a PT cruiser, approached and yelled to us.

“What are you doing? You’re in restricted waters and must leave immediately.”

Through yelling and pantomime, the captain made it clear we were headed toward Hawaii. Personnel on the PT boat pointed for where we should go — he pointed back toward the mainland. Not one to argue with the U.S. Navy, the captain ordered a change of direction, and we set the sails to head toward San Diego.

At this time, I finally succumbed to my seasickness, barfing over the stern of the boat, over and over again, wrapped in my striped wool blanket, hanging my head over the back of the boat. I wasn’t going to move for anything, and I was witness to the entire scene.

After about an hour, the PT boat approached again and said, “I thought you said you were headed to Hawaii. Go that way!” He pointed west. Again, not to argue with the Navy, the captain ordered a change of direction again, setting our sails for Hawaii.

When we cleared the southern end of San Clemente island, the waters had grown rougher and the winds increased to 40–50 mph. Our boat was tossed but this was no 3-hour tour. Our weeks’ long voyage was just starting. We saw two battleships once we got around the southern tip of the island. They sat some distance from each other, at 9 and 11 o’clock from our bow with the island at 3 o’clock. We sailed into the rough night.

After we had gained some distance, we heard the first of several loud booms! The whistling of the projectiles was in the distance now and not directly overhead. We saw the explosion on the island, the flames erupting with the explosion, and then we heard the noise. And then the power of the U.S. Navy was on full display. Once out of their way, the battleships unleashed a fury on that island that I had only ever imagined. It was the greatest fourth of July spectacle I have ever seen — bombs bursting in air, or rather on the deserted island, a wasteland of artillery shells.

I watched with awe at the power of the unleashed fury, moaning that I wanted to go home, not from fear of the Navy but from the overwhelming seasickness as the rough seas grew. I remained perched in the stern of the boat all night, soaked through in my rain gear under my wool blanket. Moving wasn’t an option, and I had nothing left to throw-up, just bile.

Morning brought light but no sun as the day remained gray and the waters rough. We made good time, 9–11 knots, but the cross currents kept me sick. I couldn’t get anything down and I struggled to swallow pills. The captain finally gave me some coca-cola syrup for my stomach, and the first mate gave me some pills for seasickness—I wrote down “Boukleden” but I don’t know what these miracle pills were — which I managed to swallow. I tried to sleep as the rest of the crew went about their assigned chores and watches.

In the afternoon, I felt better. The skies cleared and I adjusted to the seas, which grew calmer but with steady winds. It grew warmer too as we headed south and west.

In the late afternoon, we were buzzed by a navy reconnaissance plane, flying slow and low and snapping pictures to see who we were, the trespassors of the restricted zone from the night below. Somewhere in Washington D.C. or the vaults of the Navy in San Diego is a picture of the sailing vessel Columba and its crew of 12 heading to Hawaii, June 24, 1980.

This auspicious start to the trip was met with one thought — maybe they could stop and pick me up and take me home. Seasickness is the worst. As anyone who knows who suffers from seasickness, dying isn’t enough. Compared to seasickness, dying is the easy way out. Kill me twice to put me out of my misery.

Cloud’s miracle pills and coca-cola syrup helped, and in a day or two I finally gained my sealegs. I suffered from a headache for most of the rest of the trip, but I persevered and saw the trip through. I had no choice. There are no Motel 6s between California and Hawaii.

Adventures in Sailing, Part 5 – Bon Voyage – Columba Sets Sail

Photo by mali maeder from Pexels

Adventures in Sailing, part 5

At noon on June 22, 1980, we left Ventura for Hawaii, with a scheduled stop at Marina Del Rey to pick up Andrea, our cook. Friends and family saw us off on the dock and our actual departure time was 12:20 pm. I know this because I kept a journal. As I look back on this trip, my memory has merged and altered events and in some cases the images in my memory are more satisfying than the quotidian details of our trip. But truth and memoir are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Writing memoir is a lot like coloring. The truth lies in the sharp black outlines of the experience whereas the details can be colored in with different colored crayons, or pastels, or pencils as the artist chooses.

There were 12 of us, each with our nicknames: Captain Jack Mathias, Christy Mathias, Andrea (cook), Cloud (Ishmael — 1st mate), Dave (McGruder — 2nd mate), Don (Dandy), Sue, Karen, Linda (Lovelace), Tonya (Tucker), Gary (Geraldine), and me, Lee (Lee-bones, Riverboat Gambler). Sue and Karen were valley girls, thin and self-absorbed into sun-bathing. Andrea was a bit older than the rest of the crew, probably in her late 20s and I don’t remember her having a nickname. The three of them didn’t have nicknames. Gary, Christy, and I were high schoolers. The rest were 1st or 2nd year college students.

We spent three hours sailing against the wind and current getting to Anacapa Island, part of the Channel Island chain off the coast of California, heading south. We made our way around Point Dume near Malibu and headed inland toward Marina Del Rey where we were picking up Sue. We arrived just after midnight and then found a slip for the night.

We slept in and then washed the boat down in the day, went out to eat, had a visit from Mrs. Mathias and then headed off at 3:30 pm not to see land again until we reached Hawaii in the later part of July.

The trip out was uneventful. That first day, the winds died completely and the boat moved very slowly. In fact, we bobbed like plankton off the coast of beautiful Catalina Island. The sight I saw when I fell asleep was the same sight I awoke too. We hadn’t moved at all. The captain didn’t want to use the motor so early in the trip. In the sea, you live and die by the winds.

We spent the 2nd day merely bobbing next to Catalina, perhaps making 1/2 to 1-knot per hour. By the end of the day we began rounding the southernmost tip of Catalina and adjust our position to head more southwest than south. We were headed straight for San Clemente island, the southernmost of the Channel Islands.

San Clemente is a restricted island, used for Navy bombing practice. Our route took us directly into the path of U.S. Navy Battleship doing night time target practice on the southern end of San Clemente island, just one of the many mini-adventures of this trip. We would have a memorable encounter with the U.S. Navy.