Category Archives: Books

I’m currently in the process of getting my first novel published. I’ll give you the inside scoop of the process.

down to the last drop

All of Borrego Springs water comes from rain that falls to the west on the San Ysidro Mountains. In an average year 5000-acre feet of water from Coyote and Indian Creek, water you will seldom if ever see sinks into the aquifer beneath the Borrego Valley. That’s it, try as the good people living in this desert try there is no economically feasible way to get more water to the 3500 people living in this community. And don’t think that a few of the frisky rascals in this isolated desert community haven’t spitballed this problem, one plan included piping water north from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez to a mythical desalinization plant built on the Salton Sea. That almost affordable plan priced out at about $690 million dollars. This piping plan promised to produce some of the most spectacularly expensive grapefruit and knuckleheads in the world.

In the 1980’s the United States Geologic Survey estimated Borrego Springs was using 20,000-acre feet of water per year, a full 15,000-acre feet more than they are getting off the San Ysidro watershed. Pumping resulted in water wells having to be drilled deeper, until you, the devil, or the Army Corp of Engineers can’t go any further. Taking the chance of this lone isolated aquifer getting pumped dry means the town, farms, golf courses, it means the whole ecosystem collapses. 

Up in Sacramento agriculture and industry have fought against legislation regulating the use of groundwater. The result of all this resistance is that for decades, the farms north of Borrego Springs pumped as much free unmetered water as they wanted and there wasn’t a thing anyone could do to stop them.

That little red blob at the bottom is the spot

Wading into water politics is known as a thankless career ending task. Better to kick trouble into the courts, look the other way, change the subject, nothing good will come of getting in the middle of a dispute over water.

Then in 2014 under the gutsy aquatic jujitsu of Governor Jerry Brown the California State Legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The new legislation wouldn’t take effect until 2019, first so that political careers could clear the area prior to the— all hands-on deck— to the barricades moment this new law would foment. Then, so as not to shock the state’s water system the law only gradually goes into effect year by year incrementally until 2040. Any faster and they’ll be issuing a warrant for your water thieving arrest.

The Borrego Springs aquifer depending upon who you talk to has never been better or as others worry is freaking close to collapse. California’s State Water Resources Board is concerned, there are about 150 aquifers across the state and Borrego Springs ranks as the number one worry. We are code red by one assessment and hunky dory by another. Expert hydrologists put Borrego Springs problems at the top of not just the state, but it is at the top of the nation’s list of endangered aquifers. Here is the poster child for a community that has literally been unable to do anything about the farmers north of town pumping the whole kit and caboodle into oblivion.

After decades of fighting in court the various stakeholders have come together and created a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. That was the easiest part, coming up with a plan. Pointing fingers, blaming farmers, cursing golf courses, sharing your tender mercies for black tailed jack rabbits, demanding the miserable varmints from the local water board get there you know what over to the community hall hearing and without equivocation explain what in tarnation they plan to do about this hellacious mess.

What the plan does is spread the burden out among all the various water users. That spreading out and distribution ends up being a stiletto stabbed directly into the economic aspirations of the pumping happy farmers that have long had it going their way here.

Now the agriculture stakeholders are taking acreage out of production and investing in technologically enhanced irrigation equipment. This is the fig and the leaf, the head and fake, to a crisis of Noah’s Ark proportions.

Since the climate is getting warmer and dryer none of this is likely to make the golfers happy, the grass greener or water grabbing easier. Like a husband who has vowed, there is no alternative, at some point you must get by with less or come to the point where you can’t get by at all, because there is no more water and what remains of your love life depends upon a wife that imagines you to be strong as Hercules and as virtuous as Spartacus. If that doesn’t make any sense to you then you just haven’t been married enough.

Anza Borrego Springs State Park is California’s largest. Fully one fifth of San Diego County is comprised of this pristine place. As stakeholders go the park weighs in at 585,930 acres full of roadrunners and rattlesnakes. If the aquifer in Borrego Valley was to fail all bets are off. This is the nettlesome tangle to be found here. Nowhere does it make sense to give up on twenty percent of some of the most magnificent desertscape in the world. There are no pain free solutions for the biggest water users but there is certain agony for everyone if this doesn’t get fixed and fixed right.

At United Nation’s in 2018 the world’s leaders launched a Sustainable Development Plan. The Secretary General pointed to growing demands, poor management and climate change as having increased water stresses and scarcity of water. What our global leaders are saying is that over-pumping of the aquifer in Borrego Springs is a problem found across the world.

One of the peculiarities of the challenge’s modern-day civilization confronts is the sheer size, scale, and scope of our efforts to harmonize our use of the world’s natural resources. Our economic system exerts enormous pressure on people, politics, and nations. We fix one problem then find we’ve caused another one. I’m thinking about the hydropower systems on the Columbia River and the salmon runs that then were unable to make it back to their ancestral spawning grounds. Don’t even get me started on Fukushima.

For at least two centuries we relied upon fossil fuels to power our world only to learn we are now in a race against time to deploy a new energy system for a new century while there is still time, if there is still time at all, there’s a lot at stake, and everything to lose, like the whole planet.

Human beings are not wired up to dwell on what happens when a million-acre wildfire strikes, when a Rhode Island sized iceberg breaks off from Antarctica, or when a pristine piece of California desert is brought to the brink of collapse. What does that even mean? What can anyone do? Change the subject, gripe about the minimum wage, invade a country, fret about the stock market, become a vegan, or eat veal. Looking the other way only works so long, the time comes when action becomes necessary, and inaction would be suicidal. Borrego Springs is the poster child for a place where the time on the clock, the close shave, the near miss meets the last straw.

California is a mix of seashore and desertscape, a canvas where our doers and dreamers carve out their best lives. Our citizens imagine our world’s problems to be over there, someplace else, not here, how can the most prosperous state in the union even have so much difficulty?

We say this often but these two words bounce off, they glance but don’t penetrate, we can’t wrap our minds around what it means to be living through a climate emergency, we can’t imagine ourselves being caught up in a catastrophe that is forcing us to flee for our lives, to run from wildfires to move on from where we live because the wells have run dry. Then, one morning a volcano, Mount St. Helens ejects most of its mountaintop seven miles up into the atmosphere, a spectacular unimaginable event of outrageous scale.

Centuries long megadroughts seem inconceivable, massive climate change caused migrations are for someplace else, not here, they are for over there. This human caused climate crisis can’t be happening until we all get it through are thick skulls that anthropogenic climate change is the result of what human beings have been doing. That’s the hardest part of our journey, understanding that this is our world, this is our nature, this is what is happening, what the world is now going through, what we’re doing to the world, the world we don’t just walk on, but the world we are folded into.

Ultimately this is a head trip, all dreamed up by the turning wheels inside our minds. It is cognitive, born of imagination while failing to fully appreciate the implications, that our ability to accomplish certain things can result in blowback, that what we do isn’t just dangerous, it can be outright deadly. And once we know better, once we understand what we are doing to ourselves, and then being unable to stop because we don’t want to, it is inconvenient, we’ll lose money, go broke, our lives will have to change, even if our behavior triggers a massive extinction event, even then if we can’t stop the harm we are causing, when we’ve reached that fork in the road we have to reckon morally with the likely cognitive design flaws we’ve inherited as a species.

Borrego Springs is a mirror that’s forcing us to look fearlessly heart and soul into the abyss.   

cultivating delta karma

Sam’s Market on banks of Old River

Twenty years ago, I drove back through the Delta to Berkeley. Life was lush here, tempting, I pulled off the county two lane on Fabian Island. Wind was still, air warm, sun was behind Mount Diablo. I parked in a dirt lot to walk the dog up along the banks of Old River. Swallows darting about, the buzz of insects, life in the Delta is set at a low idle. Stockton was thirty miles east, San Francisco sixty-five miles west, Mongolia seemed just an ocean and continent further over the horizon.  

Sam’s Market, the local landmark was open. Fishermen grabbed their bait and tackle here. Ice cold beer was popular, bag of chips, bug spray.

Next building over a tavern was opening, the paintjob exhausted by sun and time. When I looked inside, I could see a room full of indolent men who had finished chores in the surrounding fields. It was quitting time.

Crop duster pilot bought two beers, “I’ll have whatever he’s having.” We were along a defunct meandering waterway, yesteryears San Joaquin River, bellying up to slake our many thirsts. Behind the joint were smaller shacks, cracker boxes. Farmworkers lived behind Sam’s and the tavern, reckoning they toiled in the nearby fields.

A pair of working women had arrived from Tracy ten miles south. Crop duster pilots once off duty swagger as dare devils all do. Working girls and duster dudes seem to fetch glances and seem familiar, each are persons of interest to the other.

Dike Road along Old River

Small talk next to a field planted with 100 acres of tomatoes needs some streamlining. Mister Fancy Pants showman-juggler could go along or be asked to move along. Thinking it best to coax conversation I nudged my airman, might get the flyer to tell me a piece of aeronautical truth.

Nonchalance is pilot poker face. By now I’m putting two and two together. I try buying my barstool Romeo dusting dare devil a round, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with my generosity, bought the next round.

Jukebox was shutoff. Entertainment would commence soon, what did I know, we are outside city limits, and the clientele and tavern were dead set on enjoying the coming exotic attraction. As unlikely as this worn-out old joint appeared to be, sited right off a two-lane country road sitting right on the famous Old River next to a field of ripening tomatoes.

I was the dandy out of towner in the crowd. I had played a pair of libraires in San Joaquin County, first show was in Manteca then the second in French Camp. I am certain E Vitus Clampus has graced this monument to places all but forgotten.

Houseboats in Delta Heaven

The two professional dancers worked on a platform against a wall in the tavern. Each took a turn. The exotic dancing and skimpy costuming I had not expected, but its unvarnished honesty I found ordinary yet endearing.

Two young women had skills, costumes, music, and courage. I had only been in fancy joints where out of this world strippers worked. This was the first encounter I had ever had with much less pretentious exotic dancers surrounded by farms in the middle of the countryside had come to practice whipping a working man’s tavern into a rural frenzy.

While one danced the other woman walked from customer to customer with a hat. After one dancer finished, they switched roles. The duster pilot was a regular. Each danced just for the pilot. After he explained he’d buy lap dances from both women, customarily he’d get one lap dance early on in the evening and a second toward the end of the night. When he was really feeling his oats, he’d get the pair to dance for him at the same time.

The whole idea of a lap dance is to decrease the range from which a paying customer may best enjoy the pleasure found in exotic dancing. My crop duster pilot acquaintance played along, the dancer tugged on his ears, mussed his hair, ran her finger across the tip of his nose, and dared to stroke his leg, all his while she kept on dancing or hopping up on top his lap for some unbound choreography.

Having no experience with any of this I decided to not look too serious, keep smiling, try not to turn beet red, applause seemed a good idea.

“What are you waiting for?” My duster pilot friend asked. “Ten for one, twenty will get you two.”

Delta plumbing

Imagining an exotic dancer sitting on my lap in a roadside tavern putting me into a moment where what would happen next had put me out of my depth. I was in over my head.

First off all I had wanted to do was buy one beer, and I hadn’t even been able to do that. Being cornered I felt forced to play along, act like I was having fun, be courteous, show the dancers respect, I was duty bound to hold up my end of the transaction.

I was too embarrassed, didn’t know what to do, negotiations were sorted out with help from the bartender, the duster pilot and gentleman in the room. Everybody seemed to be waiting on my decision. Best part of these kinds of entertainments has to do with how much hot water the so-called lady killer can find himself being boiled alive in.

The dancer put on a shirt and buttoned it up, ostensibly, at least there were a few strategically left unfastened. Next, she gets out from her bag of tricks a genuine extra long peacock feather. Her partner spins a tune, a familiar song to the dancer as she moved intricately to each beat while taking my measure. My role was to stop smiling and focus my attention on the dancer and the dance. Teasing and taunting commenced, once she’d finished with the feather, she gave me a pat on the cheek, patting a second time, third time I got slapped, that was popular with the crowd, she puckered her lips blew me a kiss, ran her fingers through my hair, then pawed on my leg with one hand while unfastening the buttons of her shirt with the other. My job during this part of the performance was to look at her hand on my leg, the fingers on her buttons, look up into her eyes while we waited for the moment when that shirt would fly open and who knows when the vice squad was going to fly through the doors and arrest us all. I could see the headlines now— library performer arrested in tavern charged with participating in lewd behavior with exotic dancer.

I had overcome feeling embarrassed, circumstances were considerably more dire. I wanted to be good at this new work I’d been enlisted into. I wanted the dancer to feel her performance pleased, that I appreciated the experience, I wasn’t supposed to indicate that any of this was too frightening, that my dancer wasn’t anything other than the most wanted woman in the world, and if I could dig a little deeper into my pocket that I’d likely bring my first lap dance to a dignified conclusion.

The likelihood of my throwing my life away to shack up for the rest of my days on this good earth with an exotic dancer from Tracy, California had been tested.

I’d already decided I’d tip the second dancer before I got caught then hogtied and dragged into having a second round in this low budget roadside unrequited romance game I’d stumbled upon.

Things you’d never have the nerve to do lineup with things that just happen sometimes. Pulling off along a country road on a late summer late dusky day and there a show business veteran finds himself trying to extend common courtesy to my kindred sisters out hustling much as I’d been doing, working in the small time, for the small crowds, you give a show, you get a show. I took my bows as the curtain fell and walked off out of the tavern into the budding night.

Dumb luck, the human condition and life in the Delta had a head on collision with the naked truth. Doing the one thing you’ve always put off doing so you may leave this mortal plain having completed your life’s purpose, so you are not called upon to return for yet another infinite round of reincarnations, until you put to rest all the curiosities, set down all the temptations, cast out all these yearnings and misbegotten cravings. Fate would not allow my coming to earth and then leaving without buying at least one lap dance. The night out in the Delta was preordained. People who know me best said the fact was that all of this wasn’t just inevitable, it was my karma coming to the present moment to teach my soul. As the saying goes— I learned my lesson.

fixing leaky faucets

Lake Shasta April 2020

A Wall Street hedge fund has sent a posse of potato farming water grabbers out to Winnemucca, Nevada. Water Asset Management was formed in 2005 and is in the business of using water as a for profit investment vehicle.

Access to drinking water is a universally recognized human right. Defending this right and winning this argument at the United Nations was the tenacious Canadian activist Maude Barlow. Drinking water should never be bought, sold, bartered, or privatized. Deeded water rights to underground water shouldn’t be pumped out from underneath one community then piped far off to another wealthier place.

We’re in for a real brawl out here in the American West. For starters we already don’t have enough water. Now we’ve got more people, a growing population and they all arrive at the negotiating table believing they have the best ideas for how to use what little water there is. Water Asset Management is buying up land explicitly for access to the water rights deeded to the purchased properties.

Commercial and Recreational Fishing

What does our water future look like? For starters financializing deeded water rights is turning our common resource into a privatized water grabbing for profit scam. After urban water users’ rates get jacked up you can bet the farm lobby will go seek new water subsidies to offset the higher cost of production. Once consumers start squealing about how much a half gallon of milk has gone up, how expensive a loaf of bread has become, why every politician beholden to Big Ag will be lining up to make water cheaper for farms and ranches while sticking the bill to the urban taxpayers.

From the BBC, Marsha Daughenbaugh, 68, of Steamboat Springs wedge issues agricultures priority access to water use, “Ranching is not only an economic base for us, it’s a way of life.”

What does that mean? In 1994 a telephone operator in New Jersey was practicing a way of life until AT&T cut 20,000 jobs. Telephone operators would have had a better shot at keeping their way of life if they’d been saddled up and sitting on a horse while they were doing their telecommunication’s work.

Look we already have all the dams we’ll ever need, but we can’t finesse our way around a drought and expect to fill old or new reservoirs with water that doesn’t exist. The solution to fixing this mess is not complicated, everyone is going to have to use less water. That’s the new way of life barreling down on every enterprise and individual living West of the Pecos.  

Swallows playing in the Delta breeze

Due to overallocations up and down and all along the Colorado River a hands-on realistic water use plan will be needed for California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Utah is going to be a more petulant childlike player on account of their whole humankind’s dominion over earth delusions, but we’ll set their fundamentalism aside for the moment.

Alfalfa and cotton farming needs to be relocated east where there is sufficient supplies of water. More crops need to end up on our supper tables. Eggplant, squash, watermelon, pineapples, strawberries, onions, spinach, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes all use less water and are not just suitable for human consumption these fresh vegetables are healthier for both people and the planet.  

Stanford Law School’s award-winning Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Program is training lawyers in the byzantine area of water law. As it sits right now outlawing alfalfa farming is illegal. Allocations are based strictly on whether there is or isn’t any water. There are rules about how to use the water but there are no rules about what to grow with the water. Water law is a tangled-up snake pit of economically threatened special interests.

Even if I can tell you cotton and alfalfa need to be shutdown, it is one hell of a long way further to settling that hornet’s nest of a mess in court with an enforceable decision, but that day is coming, and it will be arriving sooner than the water grabbers might have imagined.

In California pumping water from aquifers is undergoing a thorough rethink. This is known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Passed in 2014, agencies had until 2020 to file their plans to make groundwater resources sustainable by 2040. Those plans are subject to review and by political career ending loophole to be reassessed every five years.

Right now, a Limited Liability Company in Napa County can pump scarce and ancient groundwater, grow grapes then export the wine to foreign markets while stashing their profits offshore at a post office box known as a Caribbean tax haven. In other words we are a long way from a glidepath to sustainability.

California Water Alliance wants more water diverted from the Delta then piped to their members further south in the San Joaquin Valley. They almost pulled it off, but the courts stopped the water heist before the former administration could do further harm. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley Delta “is the most valuable estuary and wetland ecosystem on the west coast of North and South America and is the hub of California’s water delivery system.” Without the Delta there is no such thing as California.

Fishermen dependent on the salmon that would no longer be able to find suitable spawning grounds, which is a polite term for going extinct. Farmers running short of water do not care one whit about what happens to salmon in Northern California, that is not their problem.

In dryer and warmer low rainfall years farms need to be fallowed then put back into production in years when there is sufficient water. A real greenwashed-Astroturfing lobby group the California Water Alliance won’t have it and if diverting Delta water means driving salmon to the brink that’s just somebody else’s radical environmental activism hurting the economy.

Whether a citizen fishes or farms for their living both laudable enterprises but diverting water and then driving fish and fishermen to extinction and bankruptcy because you want to grow more subsidized cotton is a tragedy wrapped in a self-inflicted existential disaster.

None of this is ours to keep, it is ours to pass along to future generations. If while we continue to grow our economy and we were to decide salmon are expendable, then we’ve in some toxicologically bizarre way just admitted that we are expendable nothing is worth saving, except for holding onto the power to choose. Extinction events are not reserved for the unlucky few, man’s rapacious nature contains the seeds of self-destruction.

Largest system of dikes in the United States

In 2019 a misguided Federal cabinet member unilaterally ordered scarce water to be diverted from the Delta to farmers further south. Courts in Fresno halted the illegal diversion.

“This water grab was led by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist and counsel for the Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the Central Valley and a significant beneficiary of the weakened biological opinions.” The weakening was done under the cloak of anti-science activists in the former administration.

For now, there is an uneasy stalemate and with the inexorable increasing temperatures and ever decreasing moisture levels in the soils of the American West. Urban areas are about to fight tooth and nail, from one farm field to the next over ever more scarce water. The drought is on and our water wars are only going to get worse. As the announcer says, “let’s get ready to rumble…”

penny-pinching beasts

Sunrise somewhere over Seattle

Biden’s infrastructure bill, the American Jobs Bill has $16 billion designated for capping unproductive oil wells and for cleaning up abandoned mines, most of the money would end up being spent in rural America because that’s where most of the hole punching and mine digging occurred.

That’s fine and dandy but I’d go a mile or two further on this project. Since we’re already out here maybe this program could be designed to help stabilize the economies of so many of the rural communities that have for too long been ignored, neglected and are lurching from one crisis to the next.

Here’s what we do…

First if you are now or ever have been a communist sympathizer, you might want to reconsider. Are you an advocate for a leaner, meaner government? All this passion for penny pinching, beast starving bathtub drowning obsessions of the past four decades have left our government too small and the fossil fuel industry too damn big. This goes by another word, it’s called inequality.

Fair minded citizens trying to keep up with all the bankrupting wildcatting oil well abandoning shenanigans know the industry has painted our country into a tight spot. We’ve been left with a big mess with untold climate emergency consequences. In other words, central planning has screwed the pooch and the consequences are that the taxpayers got some land to restore and oil well capping to do.

If you haven’t noticed or maybe you have and just don’t give a flying sexual intercourse of two or three our nation has been growing. You can tell by sprawl, gridlock and the number of cranes hovering over our urban landscape. We’ve got a big mess that is even bigger than the previous mess, which happens to be the stinking mess I am talking about, and like it or not we are going to have to pick up the tab. Bellyachers can put a sock in it starting now.

Inequality is a Scourge on our democracy

I’d like to digress just for one moment. Senator Rand Paul opposes fixing our country’s infrastructure unless it is to do with a fence Mexico is never going to pay for. Doing nothing to fix our rotting infrastructure is notably deficient of sentience, or as the colloquial saying goes, doing nothing is just plain dumb. Thank you kindly.

Let’s continue…

So here is what I think might be useful to maintaining the peace and quiet in this trigger happy hopped up on Fox News Television nation. I propose we hire good men and women who want and can hold a job, bring people in that live nearest to these abandoned oil wells, pay them plenty good, the less education in their resume the more likely they are to be hired, hire more of them and one hell of a lot less of those with higher educations. If you have an advanced degree you are not qualified.

Now I don’t want them to eat crow or humble pie, but I do want every single solitary one of these employees to understand that this is good work, important work, and their generous salary will help hold the union of our nation together. Spending the $16 billion dollars will put hundreds of thousands of our finest on the front lines of the fight against the creeping climate change emergency we are facing. And remember this is just one small piece of a much bigger plan to build our country back better. You got a problem with that then you likely live in a gated community and are stinking mad about everything. Get over yourself.

I’ll want the employees to understand our tax dollars are replacing the oil companies’ royalty payments, lawyers’ fees, and insufficiently funded Bonds that were not up to the task of fixing the predictable mess this industry has made of our landscape.

I’d argue any worker that hates on our country while pocketing wages while employed in this program be confronted by their choice of television viewing habits. We should dream up some kind of oath of employment, you know something simple like: I promise to fix what the oil and gas industry has left broken and to the best of my ability appreciate the wages I am earning and the wisdom of the taxpayers of our great nation for having the integrity to step up and give me a job, help put a roof over my head and food on my table. I promise I will work on holding the private sector accountable in the future, and as we do hold these big fat liars to account, and when all our work is finished and built back better, we may resume seeking a more perfect smaller sized government and union.

I’m all too sure most of what I’m proposing makes plain old horse sense but likely wouldn’t pass muster with the local, regional, state, private or public entities that are hellbent on preserving a citizen’s right to gripe and grumble about near darn every damn thing under the sun.

Let me just take a moment to say that Senator Rick Scott is miserable at his job and before all that misery this rascal sucked $300 million taxpayers’ dollars out of Medicare and put what was fraudulently skimmed from the federal government into his own greedy pocket. Florida’s phosphate pond problems were on his watch too. Enough said.

Bridges are Infrastructure

This next issue is a serious as a heart attack. There are some dangerous unhappy unhinged young single men in the United States that need opportunity. Many are located near all these holes that need capping. Getting a bored unproductive young man stood up and doing something productive might help with all those other problems we all would prefer not to think about. We might try to get this buckaroo off fentanyl, might get him to dial back on his porno watching, videogame addiction and maybe take that big fat wallet he’s got full of fresh earned honest wages and ask some philly out for a romp around town seated next to him in that new electric powered Hummer he’s just purchased for cash. Forming relationships is healthy, walking through the world alone is harmful to a persons mental health.

Almost every single solitary plug nickel, dime and quarter has ended up going to the Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Billy Gates, and Elon Musk. Time we shower the workers with half a chance to make a little something for themselves. I want more daycare and I want as many women hired in the oil field operation as is humanly possible. As a kid I hated going to an all-boys school and darn if working with a lot of different kinds of people isn’t just healthier for everyone concerned.

Saturday morning, I woke up in Seattle where I had been for a week visiting my daughter for the first time since February of 2020. I’m all over the American West these days. If you didn’t know the stinking gridlock you experience where you live is just as awful everywhere else. In Seattle I tried driving across Ballard back to Capitol Hill and it was no less a grind than trying to go east on Melrose when you are trying to get your sorry butt out of West Hollywood.

Let’s get a wiggle on we’ve a whole wide wonderful world to enjoy if we could just stop with all this nonsense about not ever fixing the stuff that needs fixing. Roads, bridges, water pipes, sewer lines, and could we get serious about upgrading our dilapidated airports. Passing through New York’s JFK shouldn’t be a virtual terrorizing Grand Theft Auto looking dystopian close encounter with a post-apocalyptic reality. We are so much better than all of this.

Meet you and yours at the water cooler and would you all talk about these urgent matters. We have a nation to rebuild.

Wagon Wheel Saloon Gossipmongers

Nothing Much Happens in Light of Day

Judging mind is what afflicts most of my waking day. As environmental activists go there appear to be various kinds and types. Good weather is a terrible thing when you need awful weather to help fill reservoirs, swell rivers and provoke useful flash floods.

To quell certainty and consult with higher authorities I swing south to the Mexican frontier and pull into Patagonia, Arizona where I will speak with the town’s grizzled survivors of past and present confrontations.

All five hundred citizens live in mesquite and cottonwood splendor up in the higher country. Sonoita Creek runs when it runs at all along Patagonia’s northern boundary. An Australian mining operation in the Patagonia Mountains is good news for jobs and not good news for contaminated waters that runoff into Harshaw Creek. The bone dry headwaters of the Santa Cruz River are to the west, further yonder is Nogales.

Santa Cruz County has been losing citizens for most of a century. Ranchers ran too many head of cattle until the rangeland collapsed. A century later recovery is slow and fat times and big herds are long gone.

Daylight comes pull on your pants best start with coffee at Gathering Grounds. If you want to know what is and isn’t going to happen in Patagonia word will spread from here reverberate off Santa Rita Rd to Roadrunner Lane then crash land by dusk at the Wagon Wheel Saloon.

Gossip and speculation arrive as the simple truth later that day all dressed up with exaggeration and outright falsehoods. All this speculative ruminating heals small town solitude. For some the hands of time crawls, for others clocks stand still, here in Patagonia all this slow aching wait will make a stash of whiskey go missing.

Dogs Ride Shotgun

There is no rush hour, no crowds, no lines, no waiting. If you suffer from an automotive breakdown the only reason it is not fixed this instant is to do with the mechanical philosophy employed by the talented souls that have dedicated their waking hours to fixing the problems you alone have caused. All these worn out used machines didn’t just get like this, something has caused all this wear and tear, all this put off maintenance and mindful neglect. You will need more time to be more ashamed of yourself.

You’ll be directed to get a room at the Stage Stop Inn. Supper is served early, don’t wait too long, because by then the cooks finished and steadying their culinary trials at the Wagon Wheel before walking back to their tin roofed adobe with its brightly painted green front door.

Younger souls arrive by mistake and a handful try to make a go of it and stay. At one time most had come by Volkswagen bus. All the full timers see the many who seek a life here and the few who find one to be part of Darwin’s great insight into survival. Patagonia is not the Galápagos Islands but by closing time at the Wagon Wheel people in the parking lot out front enjoy a few last cuss words while throwing stones to scatter pesky javalena.

The lithium mine up on Thacker Pass in Humboldt County, Nevada is about to break ground. I am in here in Patagonia to put the open pit mining troubles in the Great Basin up for discussion down here in the Sonoran.

Water contamination is always a concern when an open pit mine is involved. Once a mining company can see the first glimmer of the end they’ll belly up go bankrupt, defund the miners pension plan, look to stash their profits into untouchable accounts and leave as much of the mess for governments to cleanup, there is no profit in buckling under to authority.

Socialists, communists and libertarians are epithets, Chevy, Ford and Dodge pickup trucks reflect upon the vulgar purchasing decisions of the drivers. There is no such thing as elective surgery in Patagonia or Thacker Pass, there are no surgeons, no hospitals and no health care system at all. You drive to Nogales or Winnemucca if what you want to do is go on a date with a doctor.

From space looking down on Thacker Pass Lithium Mine

Still, here we are up on Thacker Pass, about to jump off the cliff and commit to a Canadian mining company’s proposal to bring lithium out of the ground, refine the ore and then ship this battery making compound to markets here in the United States.

A band of blockaders have set up camp on Thacker. Here told they say that no good can come from this project, that humankind needs to forget about the automobile and imagine a less mobile life that is more in line with how we’ve been doing it since we first arrived on this planet. Nike stocks are up and Goodyear Tires stocks are down in this groups solutions to our planetary problems.

Like Patagonia up on Thacker once the mine swings into production water will be pumped, refining process requires water, then the waste water will need remediation and a safe journey back into the ground. Lithium mining operators up here must get this right, have the know how to do just that, and all we need to do is hold them to it.

Looking out five decades to the mining operation exhausting the lithium up on this mountain, nobody knows for sure how many batteries will be built with this ore, but plenty guess, my best guess is near about one billion automobiles plus or minus one billion to be about right.

Here you see how far you’ll have to go to get away

I keep trying to wrap my judging mind around our effort to pull our world out of the carbon trap we’ve set. Outside the Wagon Wheel Saloon in Patagonia I propose that the best whiskey drinking solutions often tend to end by being read fairytales by frolicsome partners.

I’m seeking a proper solution here. For both operations, one near Patagonia the other up on Thacker Pass water treatment and filtration, we make damn sure we are running a wholistic system that doesn’t endanger our future since we are doing this because our future is already endangered. Screwing this up even more is as stupid as stupid gets, hope you wildcatters in the Permian are listening.

Second, we put more teeth in bonds mining company’s are legally required to post. Right now they can do some no good dirty double crossing and just as you near the time you start winding down the mining company and its assorted subsidiaries scatter like jackrabbits with the loot and vanishes without a trace. We’ll need to sharpen our contracts, make sure a promise made is a promise kept, put into a contract, put a royalty on the product, stuff that into an untouchable account and when time comes pensions, cleanup funds and other assorted closing costs are fully cared for.

Friends I’m afraid that’s about all the spleen, chewing tobacco and my favorite pet ring-tailed coatimundi stories I have time for. Slow walking across the field to Train Track Trail my rig is parked my bunk waiting where I’m going to rest my judging mind and allow for some night hour dreams to shelter me from life’s storms.

Buckets of Rain Buckets of Tears

Last summer’s monsoons in the Southwest last went missing . Last weeks Southern Colorado-Northern New Mexico snowfall in the headwaters to the Rio Grande while welcomed offered little relief. Most of New Mexico is in severe drought.

Reservoirs in Marin County, California are so low water agencies are within a week of enacting mandatory conservation orders similar to those caused by the drought in 2013-2017.

On March 23rd California State Water Resources Control Board mailed — “warning notices to agricultural water rights holders urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures.”

Utah’s governor is urging residential water users to begin conservation measures. From Ogden to St. George the region has been hit hard by a lack of rain and snow.

Lake Powell is less than 38% full with its water level down by 129 feet.

Napa Valley California’s premier winegrowing region rainfall totals are off for a second year. The last time the region was hit with a two year below normal rainfall season the Valley Fire of 2015 erupted and became one of the state’s most destructive wildfires in history.  

Our dry winter has impacted water wells too. The United States Geological Survey has released a study that warns of 200,000 water wells in California were tested and that scientists found increased levels of arsenic that exceed Federal safety standards. Arsenic increases risk of cancer.

Colorado’s Front Range got clobbered two weeks ago by an epic winter snowstorm that has moved the states drought status from severe to water customers now expecting that there will be no water restrictions.

There is no such luck for Colorado’s Western Slope where ranchers and farmers near Grand Junction remain in desperate straits.

Up and down the line circumstances are dire. An estimated 75% of the land in eleven states here in the American West, a vast geographic area encompassing almost half of the nation’s landmass is facing the driest spring in the last seven years. Electricity produced by hydropower is being cut back, vast tracts of agricultural lands will be forced out of production, fish populations will be damaged, and this year’s fire season has the potential to eclipse last years record setter.

California’s economy is diverse. Agriculture in the state accounts for 3% of the gross domestic product while using 50-70% of the states water. Agriculture dependent Modesto, Manteca, Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield will all take a huge hit to their local economies.

As the pandemic winds down, as the virus is brought to heel the damage caused by water scarcity will destabilize California’s economic, social and political outlook.

Arizona, Nevada and Utah continue to attract new residents just as a once in every 1000-year megadrought bares down on the region.

Water rights awarded a century ago in the midst of above average rainfall years have been over allocated. Governments at all levels have maintained a hands-off approach, the politics of the situation is fraught, worse still when there have been subsidies made available for water and crops those incentives have proven misguided.

Water interests in the seven states near the Colorado River are tangled in tense ongoing negotiations with a deadline of 2025. The drought, wildfires and climate emergency only complicate matters that much more.

Water regulators in Marin County have called for a halt to permitting new water hookups for residential housing. California already faced with a shortage of affordable real estate can ill afford to worsen the situation, but in Marin County reservoir capacity is limited and mandatory water rationing is expected to begin soon.

Water needed for a growing residential population continues to expand exponentially across the region. Las Vegas and Phoenix in the last three decades have increased threefold, each from one million to three million. Southern Utah is bursting with new residents. Colorado’s Front Range sprawling expansion has favorite Rocky Mountain destination resorts jammed to the hilt.

Because of the climate emergency the American West is at an inflection point. “Tucson Water Director Tim Thomure. He still oversees the utility as interim assistant city manager.” Addressing the loss of Colorado River water Thomure claims Tucson’s water resources remain sufficient. Assistant city managers have a job to do and elected official to keep in office. His assessment is an outlier.

Tucson and Las Vegas will be forced to seek funding to build desalination plants. This is my opinion, my informed guess, there is not enough water in the Southwest. Expensive purified desalinated water will force residents to put in place stringent water conservation measures. Water pipelines will route across the desert to tap sea water from the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean.

High priced water will force rural grass crop growers out of business. Food crop planting will increase. To conserve water fields will be laser leveled and drip irrigated. Moisture sensors plugged into nut trees sending signals back to software enhanced computers will turn water on and off automatically based upon moisture content measured by remote instruments.

Scarcity will force agriculture to make hard choices, crops will be rationalized, there are sure to be other regions of the state or nation better suited for growing specific crops.

Another dryer warmer winter has come and gone, spring rains are deficient our water deficit is large and the water in our reservoirs is low. California is 50% of normal for rainfall, about 60% for snowpack. With no water to irrigate many crops will go unplanted. Other fields with grapevines or orchard crops will use what water that is allocated to keep their root stock alive until next year.

There is a agriculture lobby group, California Water Alliance that has been behind efforts to ship more water from the delta near Sacramento south into the San Joaquin Valley’s colossus Westland’s Water District. The more water diverted the more fish die, the more salt intrudes into the domestic drinking water reservoirs. The only constituents for these diversions are the enterprises that could use the water for their private profit. Big urban citizens, sizable majority’s don’t want the fish killed off or salty drinking water coming out of their faucets.

In California there are still twenty million acres that haven’t burned in over a century or more, they are dangerously dry and overgrown, one mistake, one lightning strike and the American West will burn on and on.

Groundwater will in the next few years start to be regulated and pumping is scheduled to be cut back. The Colorado River is flowing at a historically much lower rate while the needs of a growing population that depends on this resource continues to grow. Push has come to shove, bullet biting never popular is here and the unavoidable tight spot has arrived.

I can tick off a dozen moves our water managers are going to be forced into this year.

Hotter and drier conditions in Napa Valley are disadvantaging the famous Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is ripening too quick, concentrating sugars that are too high, making the wine too sweet to tame. Winegrowers are planting further north in the higher latitudes.

Interesting times are here. Putting things off won’t do, we are short of water and out of time, we meet the moment by making difficult decisions. The meek will not inherit this hotter and drier earth.

diagnosing art brain

Artists find fitting in to be littered with warning signs. Ordinary day to day life triggers the creative mind. Some events pull us closer while other experiences repel. There is always this foreground-background dynamic. Point to what is standing out, a particular detail is where the talented mind leaps.  

Often alienated by the mundane, trapped in the tedious practicality of chores, when frequent impulses send the talented misfit on a quest for a more ascetic interconnection with the world.

The art brain is full of tripwires, people who care about what trials we endure will try to breakthrough, “you’ll be alright, you’ll settle down, a lot of us were like you when we were young.”

The admonitions are not helpful.

Nonconformists with a creative bent appear to be intentionally uncooperative, unwilling to be realistic about what to expect from a world that is optimized for the benefit of so many other more fundamental activities. A piece of art gives flight to the human spirit but is nowhere near as vital as is our access to running water and flushing toilets.

Most emerging artists don’t even know what’s wrong. Life is weird, things non-art addled brains seem to be able to tolerate are unendurable to the art freaks. Worse still are the creatives who haven’t settled on how to use this cognitive muscle. Some flit from poem to play to oil painting, they are surprised to learn that everyone else isn’t compelled to have such a penetrating appetite for wanting to manifest this vision so clear in their minds.

If there is early trauma in an artist’s life too many choose to leave the wound open and create from this tormented location. Because wounds stick out, command so much of our attention, the temptation to live in these wounds can distract from the real journey of living beyond these injuries. Gatekeepers daring to get in our way often feel the artists vengeance. Retaliation is all too human. Artist’s breakaway from what has harmed and scarred, once they’ve broken free, they can go their own way.

Bernard Moitessier writes after a year sailing solo at sea, “I found a little temple from forgotten times, lost in the faraway forest… But how can I tell them? How can I tell them that the sounds of water and the flecks of foam on the sea are like the sounds of stone and wind, helped me find my way? How can I tell them all those nameless things…leading me to the real earth? Tell them and not frighten them, without their thinking I have lost my mind.”

In 1967 the mystic sailor would sail non-stop for 37,455 miles. Moitessier abandoned the solo circumnavigation race, slinging a rock with message to a passing ship that he would not finish but instead would sail on in hopes of saving his soul. The sailor’s sailor finally came in from the sea putting his anchor down in Tahiti.

The French-Vietnamese Moitessier imagined his sailing was an opportunity to merge his soul to the wonder of passagemaking. Like Mount Everest rounding Cape Horn is a serious undertaking and has a history of killing mariners who have tried.

Painters showing new work at galleries may or may not sell, if they do, they may not command a fair price, perhaps they find success one year then what they feel is new and better work falls flat the next.

Try as they might to conform, working as art instructor they are viewed as quirky and difficult, they may or may not be offered a permanent position.

Pursuit of a career in show business because an insistent nagging voice, because you have no other talent, you cannot manage to impress attempting anything else, you are hired and soon dismissed, you are desperate and barely show any interest in doing anything else. You suffer mood swings, remain silent for days on end, and male or female it doesn’t matter you have a vague sense of being pregnant and the due date seems certain and near.

Interview after interview, it is the same, this isn’t something the actor wanted to do, it is something they had to do, nothing else worked.

I had gone by sailboat to find Moitessier along the Richmond waterfront. Holed up in a warehouse he was building his new boat Tamata. Joshua had been dragged ashore in a freak storm in Cabo San Lucas.

Happy as ever, waving, lending a hand to secure my bow, Moitessier’s young American friend, the street performer had come looking for him. Sitting on a jumbo bollard smoking cigarettes, recounting how having lost everything standing on the beach the situation hopeless then selling Joshua to some Dutch sailors for salvage rights. Moitessier knew when to let go.

Moitessier thought my working along the waterfront in Fisherman’s Wharf where I could play my comedy show for tips from tourists was a worthy path. How I had managed to fashion a simple live show that was good for the soul of the common man. How I had conjured up some way to make ends meet, to keep the “hungry cows” away. Moitessier knew along my path were hidden rocks and hazardous seas, the great circumnavigator had extra courage to share. Two rascals living by the seat of their pants determined to bet their lives, hoping against all odds that with some luck charm and faith in self they’d live to tell.   

More first timer north

Port San Luis Harbor, the sea surface- still, smooth. Sea lions barking from their perch on the jetty. After coffee we slipped the line looped to the mooring ball ring and motored north 24 miles.

Humpbacks and sea lions were feeding off the entrance of Morro Bay.

The guest dock at the yacht club was available. We were side tied, registered, deposited our dock fee, the crew walked up to the business district. The Shine Café is not to be missed.

Speaking on the phone to Passage Weather my router was amused, he had thought the best tactic when slipping north past Point Conception was to tuck inside, my decision to go 18 miles offshore in his judgement is where more difficult conditions can be encountered.  I explained that fewer tacks meant there was less chance for error, maintaining steady boat speed would get us north with all due haste. My router laughed sympathetic to my judgement, the point of the matter is the tactic worked.

The router had much to discuss about the nonstop 110-mile leg from Morro Bay to Monterey. Due to incoming weather north off Point Sur it was agreed I would depart tomorrow by 1400 hours. Conditions for this leg were forecast to be difficult, three different swells, one predicted to measure 8’, from three different directions would be converging making the motion of the boat uncomfortable. My router thought our best chance was to pass Point Sur at midnight, winds were forecast to be low, but off this part of the California coast predictions are made with less confidence.

Communications would be intermittent, cellphone signals are sketchy in this remote area, texts could get through if not too far off the coast, voice calls almost never. Here too is where VHF radio broadcasts switch from Coast Guard Station Los Angeles to San Francisco. On my charts I had marked all known emergency anchorages.

Given the hurricane driven southern swell the router advised if I was unable to maintain my course north to retreat to San Simeon. That was the fallback plan, retreat, regroup and then retry. If I were able to slip past Point Sur, the remainder of the passage to Monterey would require much less of boat and crew. And once again because of the low-pressure system setting up in the North Pacific the router advised this was our one and only best chance to make Monterey before this window closed.

The main was raised and we were able to motor sail until off San Simeon. Wind dropped to dead calm. West of our position there was a fogbank, then its leading edge overtook us, it would be pitch black soon.

Our attention turned to the chartplotter and I confirmed the autopilot was steering to our first waypoint off Cape San Martin. There was no traffic on the display, but I was only using AIS, the vessel was not equipped with radar. Visibility was estimated to be 200 meters or less. An encounter with an undetected vessel was unlikely. Standing watch was intense, our vessel yawing into the confused seas was wearing on the crew.   

As desolate and empty as this stretch of coast might be, as unlikely as it would be to encounter any traffic, even knowing all of that, this is the one time in the whole of the summer where radar would have proven its worth.

The Yanmar burned a tick less than ¾ gallons per hour. A large pod of dolphins joined our boats northbound course, contrail like bioluminescent streaks appeared as the dolphin chased the bows wake throughout the night. By this time while we were standing watch in drizzle. My crewman had not spent a night at sea before, I could not leave him to stand watch alone, not in these conditions, not tonight. I brewed coffee, brought out snacks, checked and rechecked our heading and coordinates then fixed the time and position on paper charts.

Approaching Point Sur, the AIS transponder signal of a seagoing tug pulling a barge could be seen on the chartplotter. I radioed and after a proper back and forth I worked out a plan with the pilot to pass port to port, keeping a good mile distance apart.   

By Point Lobos visibilities were in transition, first the light of dawn, the fog giving way to overcast, sunrise was monochromatic, black then gray, feint blue silhouettes along the shoreline.  

Seaweed was sucked into the raw water filter. We shut the motor down long enough to clear the debris. I checked fluid levels visually inspected the engine, all seemed shipshape, restarted the Yanmar to resume making our way north atop an undulating sea.

On wing at dawn a Laysan albatross, a true pelagic bird was nearer to shore than is common buzzed our boat while skimming the seas surface hunting for breakfast. With a wingspan measuring seven feet, the unanticipated encounter with the winged aerialist was auspicious, a sign, having gone seafaring off the coast was all to the good, the sloops presence intriguing, as legend has it the albatross possesses the soul of a mariner, and when spotted by a sailor will bring them good luck.

Sleepless the crew spent, relieved to be out of the cold foggy night, one hundred and ten miles north, this marathon leg was completed at noon, total time from Morro Bay to Monterey was 22 hours.

Taking a guest slip at the harbor crew fixed early afternoon supper aboard, drank more Irish. Spirits ran high knowing the most difficult stretch of coast was behind us. A pair of weary sailors were in our bunks asleep before sunset.

Passage Weather agreed staying over in Monterey one more day to rest fit with the forecast. Tomorrow was not promising for sailing but looked favorable for motoring as the seaway was lying down and winds were predicted to be light. To make Emery Cove I needed the Yanmar to give her crew 16 hours.

Departing Monterey at first light we pushed north. A pod of killer whales were just off the entrance likely hunting the resident sea lions. Seas were rolling but smooth, there was no fog, we could see our way along the coast, stand watch, eat, drink coffee, bring the passage to a proper end.

Night fell as we neared Half Moon Bay. The fishing fleet was out west of us with working lights shining on the black horizon. The sky was overcast but not cold. We transited north steering buoy to buoy. Approaching the entrance near midnight, the final port of call, the welcoming sight of a fog veiled Golden Gate Bridge, after such a long series of days working our way north, after all the changes and worries a passage puts a crew through, it changes a sailor’s perspective, the most common sights are made with new eyes.

Even if on arrival we would be slowed to a crawl in the teeth of a monster ebb, that would be the fact of it, how I had mistimed the entrance in the wee small hours of the morning bucking a fierce ebbing current, my navigational error the results of eagerness, a testimonial to the returning sailor’s impatience, where the point of the matter I’d argue is that we had lived to tell and had made it back.

Aside from a refrigerator compressor failing, autopilot pully belt breaking, and one overlarge cockroach put to an untimely death there is little else to tell except for perhaps the brand of Irish the skipper and crew had sipped to such fulsome abandon. 

I remember getting the boat secure at the dock, my crewman getting picked up by his impatient lover, my getting out of my gear, crawling beneath the bed covers, and then the incessant dreaming, and then more dreaming, the same wanting dream.

No sailor can shake off the want of returning to her, none that I know can forget her bustling harbor, it isn’t possible to cast such beauty out of our memory. The serenity at midnight, the lapping sounds of waves against the hull, held close sleeping in her arms, the temptation is sure to be too full of want and desire, the balmy nights too sweet, the lure of Avalon’s pleasure too pure.

First timer goes North

Avalon August 2018

Avalon kept tugging at my wanting. How balmy tranquility tucked into a snug harbor on a mooring ball becomes a summer fling you cannot jilt. Before dinner we motor to the dinghy dock and walk Pebbly Beach Road out and back to Lovers Cove. We slip into the Lobster Trap for dinner and drinks. After we take the dink back to our sloop and dig into our bunk. This is how the want of a never ending summer on Santa Catalina Island ruins a good for nothing sailor.

Long range weather forecasts were pressing on my timeline. I had purchased the services of Passage Weather to route my 1997 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36.2 north to San Francisco Bay. The professional router advised moving north 100 miles to Santa Barbara to take advantage of a window that once closed he warned may not open again for weeks.

From Avalon our first leg was north to Marina del Rey. We dropped guests off. The following morning, we motored west to Channel Island Harbor. Late in the afternoon we hoisted sails and powered into steep chop, motoring would have been arduous. Pushing off from the guest slip after getting groceries we sailed to Santa Cruz Island taking a route south of Anacapa Island. Running out of sunlight we set our anchor in Prisoners Harbor. A rookie mistake by the way, I’d passed Smugglers Cove, while here there was a swell wrapping around the headlands making the night uncomfortable. For all that bit of hell on anchor at sunrise we aimed precisely magnetic north to Santa Barbara. Every mile north is hard earned.

Eileen returned to Los Angeles by train. That late afternoon a crewmate arrived to help bring the boat back to San Francisco. Provisioning as men without spouses are wanting to do is accomplished without the divine guidance of our better halves.

After dinner I was on the phone back to Passage Weather confirming forecasts remained unchanged and that I should depart at dawn and point west up the coast to Cojo Anchorage.

Afternoon breezes filled in, the last 8 miles the sloop beat into a raucous windblown whitecapped chop. A sunny blue sky brushed with brilliant white clouds aided morale, the pounding against the sea was met with good cheer.

Point Conception, fortress like, impermeable, impassable, almost impossible loomed in our worried minds. Banging into a blustery afternoon to anchor at her entrance acting out a dress rehearsal for the big show that was schedule to open at dawn tomorrow.

The weather router followed our progress tracking us with the AIS transponder aboard. Connectivity in Cojo is plenty good. That evening my router texted, “Sweet Seas, departing first light, no matter the conditions hoist anchor and be underway by 0600.” 

The weather router had urged me in Santa Barbara while speaking on the telephone to put trust in his sailing instructions and depart as planned, to not freeze up and remain on anchor in the morning at Cojo. I remember his last words, “Conditions may seem extreme when you depart, but they are forecast to moderate before increasing in the afternoon when a small craft advisory is scheduled to go up. You must leave as planned. Is that understood?”

By this time in the trip, I had put 800 coastal miles under my keel. Near all had been sailed reaching and running. Ahead, the uphill challenge, saving the stoutest part of the voyage for the end, forced to confront the Pacific Ocean dead on the nose, addicted and softened by lulling about in Avalon I had time to imagine all manner of sailing catastrophe, seasickness and profound regret for having ever dared to believe I could get my moderate displacement sloop safely north to home port. “What were you thinking?” I could never quite shake off the bite of doubt.

Perspective

Former Emeryville Yacht Club commodore Linny Martinson and her husband Marty aboard Perspective had been on a mooring ball north of us in San Luis Rey Harbor. As we arrived in Cojo they departed south for Santa Barbara. Winds in our rigging were howling, the noise kept me awake, I was up and down in my bunk, I tracked Perspectives progress by AIS and when they arrived off Point Arguello radioed Linny about 0300 hours, to get an update on sea state and wind pressure. Marty was asleep below. Linny at the helm running downwind reported 30 knots with gusts even higher. Making good progress by 0500 hours I stood on deck spotting their navigation lights as they passed running downwind bound for Santa Barbara.

I ate a bowl of oatmeal, another cup of coffee, I swallowed more Dramamine. My routers voice ringing in my ears, “no matter the conditions, hoist anchor, you must leave as planned.”

At first light, 0600 hours we got the hook up, trimmed the shortened sails to close hauled heading west out like lambs into the teeth of Point Conception. Never tacking, sails drawn in tight, traveler eased. By 0830 hours we were eighteen miles offshore careful to stay away from the oil rigs. Chop was short and steep, swell was to 6’, winds had been easing all morning and now blew steady at 22 knots gusting enough to test my faith in what a clevis pin could withstand. Crew had found their sea legs, we were holding up, we remained tentative, on guard but in good spirits. Tacking over now we headed north for the first time since Santa Barbara close hauled the bow pointing high in the gusts, enough I could tell that we would clear Point Arguello. By noon we were making our way back to San Francisco in the firm hand of a fair blow and lively but manageable seaway.

Northbound with Crew at Helm

All the morning Sweet Seas had sped close hauled to her homeport at over 6 knots. Much of the afternoon was spent reaching toward the Bay of San Luis Obispo, sheets were eased by Lompoc, the boat rising and falling, a hefty steepening swell on the beam, the trim sloop plunging ahead romping, on this point of sail she was making good progress, a steady 8.5 knots.

Taking a mooring ball at San Luis Rey Harbor by 1600 hours we had completed the 60-mile passage in 10 hours. Exhausted but exhilarated, I recorded in my log that Sweet Seas had been generous to her crew providing us with an unforgettable day of high intensity sailing.

A weary but chatty crew spent the night drinking a bit of the Irish, making dinner, raving about our days sail, going over the charts, preparing for tomorrows 24 mile jump north.

As the most experienced sailor aboard, I had to be the skipper of record if my claim to bringing my boat north was to hold up, if I could prove by firsthand experience that I could muster the skill and stamina. I would need more time at sea with her to learn more, to grow my confidence, to test our relationship. The boat is a good one, this sloop wants the same as she gives—treat me with skill, pull on my lines, I will take you where you wish, I’m eager to go, I’m fresh and fast, today you made your boat happy, today something has changed, I won’t soon forget…   (Pause)

sailing the soul

By my 29th birthday I had reached an inflection point. Doors opened moving me closer to my goal. I wanted to be a street performer, to drift from place to place, spend my waking hours building the best of the best shows.

Every day, seven days a week I would practice my skills, rehearse routines, write jokes and work the phone building another tour.

Then a voice, a warning— you’re losing your balance, look at you, you’ve become dull and overworked, burnout is everywhere— Unpleasant, moody, preoccupied, I had no attention span, I was unavailable. As some said— I didn’t have a life.

Standing at a crosswalk I noticed a flyer stapled to a telephone pole. I tore one of the dangling shreds of paper with a telephone number and called. Staff answered my questions, offered to take my name, I had a spot reserved in the next class. I knew nothing about the sport, but now I was registered, I was going to learn how to sail.

First thing was to purchase Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, and a second pamphlet, it was a more rudimentary beginners guide to sailing. There was a short session in a classroom, the instructor went over the basics at a chalkboard. There was a break for lunch. In the afternoon, the class broke up into pairs and practiced setting up and putting away the 14’ sloop rigged keelboats. On the first day we never left the dock.

By the second week of class everything happened on the water.

Sailing broke the fever of my one-dimensional life. Smiling more, breathing remained a little forced, I was learning to get on a boat and go play with whatever the winds and tides would give me. Sailing was my teacher, the sailboat was showing me how to be comfortable in my own skin. After four weeks I was now an official beginner, free to charter the school’s keelboats and go play with the breeze.

Maestro, built 1959 restored by this sailor

I continued taking classes, by now I was reading about first aid, practicing man overboard drills, and how radar could help keep you safe. I completed a course in coastal navigation.

Another navigation student, ambitious and eager, asked if I’d like to take a day long celestial navigation workshop in Sausalito. Crossing oceans on a small sailboat seemed improbable, risky, farfetched. “It’s not that dangerous, if you took this celestial workshop, you’ll at least have the choice of whether to go or not.”

A reed thin Frenchman greeted us at the harbor. His steel ketch I would later learn had first departed Marseille in 1963 while I was still just a child. The lipstick red steel hull and white deck fit with purpose in its slip, standing out among the other vessels, appearing to have been sailed farther, the standing rigging stouter, the running rigging gauged for heavy weather, the vessel Joshua was an ocean boat, the first I had ever seen.

Running low of money Bernard Moitessier sailed from Tahiti to Sausalito in search of work. The famous sailor was soon engaged as a gardener, boat repairman, and celestial navigation instructor.

The lack of money vanished from the French circumnavigator’s life. Sausalito would offer a helping hand. Moitessier’s new fortunes he described as the dragons, hungry cows and holy trinity, self-fashioned expressions he used to identify his demons or allies. Moitessier understood that there were battles a dragon like soul must confront, or when the hungry cows of poverty move too close, or the sense of the Divine to be found while playing with the sun, the wind, and the water.

The thinking style of a boy growing up on the Mekong Delta had been tempered by experiences unavailable to a childhood spent sailing on the Chesapeake. Moitessier appeared to be all French, his Vietnamese mother’s influence was more visible in the way he used his mind, his perceptions, instincts blending the Eastern religion and philosophy he had absorbed coming of age in Southeast Asia.

Seated below deck in Joshua’s salon Moitessier rolled out the chart he had used to navigate from the South Pacific to California. Weather reports were received by shortwave radio. A threatening storm formed and had clocked toward Joshua, then for a few days followed coming close to overtaking his ketch. Moitessier tracked the storm’s movement by radio reports and with each change in its position marked the low-pressure system in pencil with a larger and larger X.

Crucially he could tune the radio to a station that transmitted tones that identified Greenwich Mean Time. Knowing down to the exact second in a minute what time it is as measured by atomic clock and then simultaneously capturing the angle of a celestial body, most often the sun, a navigator can with great accuracy calculate a line of position. To obtain an exact position the navigator uses the sextant to measure a second and third celestial body. The vessels position is fixed somewhere in the triangle formed by the three lines.   

Empowering other sailors to navigate by the stars suited the gypsy spirited Moitessier. If a sailor could take accurate measurements with a sextant, they could safely cross oceans, find islands, arrive at a predetermined destination. With this skill the gentle Frenchman had given others the means of filling their sails with wind and setting off on a voyage.  

In the era of the clipper ships sailing long distances was common. In 1965 Moitessier’s record breaking return sail from Tahiti back to France was the first and longest voyage of its kind for a small sailboat. The feat is often likened to climbing Mt. Everest. What the Frenchman described as The Logical Route daring to return by sailing around Cape Horn was a feat many times riskier than anything I had ever imagined, this was the first time I had considered that crossing oceans by small sailboat could make a sailor’s life more whole and fulfilled. I’d thought sailing to be a pastime, a watersport, something to do with an afternoon. Placing sailing into the center of my life wasn’t a consideration.

The clever Moitessier had let go the invisible lines I had been using to hold my imagination back, his astronavigation student had been set adrift. Imagine what changes you could go through by using the stars to help find your way through a world you had yet the courage to explore. Bernard Moitessier’s thinking was uncluttered, he had sailed his boat anywhere, taking voyages for the pleasure of knowing more about who he was while offshore at sea. Being in his presence, the distinctive quality of wit and whim, outnumbered by less experienced sailors, there was only one French-Vietnamese circumnavigator, only one of the many below deck was prepared to hoist sails and go now.

Even a simple afternoon sail in the estuary had new meaning. With the winds bit in the boats teeth, filling the sails, the sound of the hull rushing headlong through water became elixir and anthem. My time spent off the water had changed too. Sailing was amending my constitution. I had been guided back to a bigger sense of story, willing to entertain a more purposeful adventure, my fearing unknown horizons had been tempered by Moitessier. The possibilities of what a sailboat could do, how a passage could enable my life created a better version, a more resourceful self, I became someone who was more willing to strip down to the bone, a less guarded new sailor had learned how to unlock his mind, open his heart, and embrace the world of change.