Tag Archives: John Steinbeck

Gratitude Sails South

Sailing vessel Gratitude was underway with three crew by fifteen hundred hours on March 25th. In the first hours the Hylas 46 motored westbound with the ebbing tide toward the Golden Gate Bridge. An overcast sky began to open up and beyond on the Pacific Ocean there appeared the telling detail of a faint blue clearing dusk sky.

Steering desire south

An hour beyond the Golden Gate the flood tide met and forced the ebb into turbulent surrender. Sailors mark the moment their boat breaks free of the San Francisco Bay’s tidal influence, now 12 miles west of Emeryville we make the turn, now the sailing vessel Gratitude is southbound.

By sunset we were 24 miles from home port off Half Moon Bay. My first watch would begin during the early hours of tomorrow, I was to report by zero-three-hundred, this sailor was off to his bunk.

Each of us would stand our watch alone in the darkness of night on a pitch black ocean to spend these hours keeping our other crew safe from mishap or surprise.

Coffee was waiting, I checked the chartplotter to fix the vessels position, heading and speed. On deck secure in the center cockpit I began my watch in water between 3500 to 6500 feet in depth.

South by sailboat

On the Monterey Peninsula Point Pinos Light was visible— every 4 four seconds the oldest continuously operated lighthouse on the west coast flashed through its original Fresnel lens— this crucial mariner’s guide was first placed into operation in 1855— Steinbeck would be proud.

Above were the stars and planets, on the shore Point Lobos was veiled in darkness, a fog bank hung above on the Carmel Highlands and then between was rising a crescent moon that soon vanished into fog.

Our seas mood shifted with the arrival of fog, into this our vessel plunged into an ever colder darkness, the stars vanished, dew dripped from the rigging and canvas, two distinct ocean swells followed us, one from a western edge the other from the shore, together the stern of our boat would swing side to side, then up and down, a kind of corkscrewing without a full turn.

By zero-six-hundred-hours dawn was grudging in its muted arrival, the chill of morning was the worst damp kind of cold, this the kind that cuts through shoes and gloves, nothing could keep out the bite of the ocean air.

The skipper stirred and checked the chartplotter, course is important to confirm, position and speed confirmed Gratitude remained on schedule— speed and distance told us this coastal passage would take 46 hours.

A safe passage for the sailing vessel Gratitude meant our being off the water and in port before a western Pacific cold front whipped its tail and churned up seas and wind into small craft warning chaos.

Our course kept us 20 miles from shore. The continent hidden by fog was more theory than fact, we knew land was there, but the clouds had veiled the steep Santa Lucia Mountains of the Big Sur Coast.

Radar set to 25 miles indicated we were alone on a raucous building sea. A boisterous Point Sur would have its say, it is quite the talker this one— Gratitude and crew followed the rules of self preservation and listened to her every word. Crew do not leave the safety of the cockpit for any reason other than to trim sails, and then we clip on with a tether, every duty attended to was concentrated on keeping the boat speeding south— the self steering system, the sails, no detail went overlooked, first among first’s keep the boat moving at speed, do not tempt the mighty Sur, not here, do not linger for muse, be respectful, bend to this coastal contour and give this untamable lion of the west coast room to roar, we pass southbound through her domain, eternity has left its signpost here, there are no do-overs, you get to be with her then go north or south with eyes wide open.

Best of all the wind was off our stern, blowing us southbound, the worst of it was the sea state was disorganized and unruly, moving about on board took care, there would be no quick recovery, here was this exquisite place to do what you must without error or misjudgment. Motorcyclists know what I mean. These are moments when self-preservation is in play, and that is a good thing for those who can observe fates unbending rules.

Our daylight hours ended as we passed well offshore of Morro Bay. From here the coast veers eastward, the course south was our plot and sailboat’s storyline. Night gripped us again. Winds had subsided, seas began to grow less turbulent, again into the night the vessel Gratitude’s bow cut its way south sending its wake into as inconsequential a wake as a butterfly’s wings upon a garden’s pollen saturated air.

Crew ate supper. Each member took his turn at watch, when off you curled up in your sleeping bag to get warm.

I woke in time to see our vessel approach Pt Arguello. Seas were near flat but a southerly breeze swept up along this piece of coastline from Point Conception. My skipper remained on watch to steady his second mate’s nerves. To our west the oil platforms stood lighted in a dark night. Vessel traffic targets appeared on radar. Gratitude would make quick work here of transiting between these two infamous coastal landmarks.

We made our turn west for Santa Barbara. The gods would not be done with Gratitude quite yet, there was still meddle of nerve and nautical judgment to test. Seas were not sizable but they were to our disadvantage, and in the sailor’s vernacular described as square. Square waves two feet in height and two seconds apart hit us right on the nose, in this instance we would tussle with waves growing to 4 feet, short steep surface chop, the short intervals gave the waves a great advantage over our ability to make our way.

Wind was expected to pickup after sunrise but remained in the high teens with gusts to 26 knots, the gusts were seldom, we placed the fate of our plan in the wind remaining somewhere around 18 knots. Setting our sails on either port or starboard made little difference, on one tack or the other the square waves slowed the boat just when all due speed was hoped for.

Crew and skipper tinkered with various pointing strategies, the boat pounded against the waves, progress was hard to make, crew was uncomfortable and Gratitude was struggling to move with efficiency. Outbound 40 hours now we were not more than six hours to our destination if we could solve this puzzle of sea state and wind.

Decisively we pointed west toward the Channel Islands and for more than an hour tried to make our way west doing our best to not to let the hull pound against the rising sea. We tacked back over to starboard, this time pointing south and west trying by steering to not let the waves beat on the hull, here is where a good helmsman earns his bowl of soup and chest sized tattoos.

By noon of Sunday we were one hour from the 46 hours we would need to complete our 300 miles south to Santa Barbara. Calls were sent to the Santa Barbara Yacht Club. A guest dock was secured, by zero-thirteen-hundred-hours the vessel Gratitude’s crew tied her lines to the dock.

Centered in image is Gratitude in Santa Barbara

Safe and in port tucked behind the breakwater we took showers then to nearby restaurants where we could eat warm food, taking a nip now and again, awaiting the arrival of Monday’s storm.

Wednesday we sail bringing Gratitude home to the California Yacht Club, this will be her new berth in Marina del Rey. From this harbor Gratitude will be set to sail to Santa Catalina Island, a whole season of warm weather sailing round trip, first to the island then back to the mainland, most sails will be on winds that allow the boat to reach at speed more often than not upon tranquil seas.

Summer nights out on Catalina Island aboard Gratitude, they come earned by passage— then that moment arrives and warm soft island air lights upon your skin— you are the one place you never had counted on missing, like lost love, like the end of your childhood, like the first time you rode your bike with just two wheels, like swallows, by instinct there is this winged return, and return again, it is in this cove on this island where you can’t miss and most want to belong.

The Bugs of the Sea of Cortez

Another Perfect Day

Anchor holding in San Francisco off Bay View Boat Club. I spent the night on the hook. Here in 1980 I visited the club to attend a meeting of the Dinghy Cruising Association. The DCA trains sailors to cruise by dinghy. Sailing long distances, sleeping and eating aboard a 14’ sailboat requires considerable planning and skill.

Because of the DCA I took my sailboat by trailer to the Sea of Cortez in 1985. There my girlfriend and I sailed off to the islands near Bahia de Los Angeles. Aside from having every kind of bee, wasp, hornet, fly, mosquito, and noseeums feasting upon our flesh it was an altogether unremarkable sailing experience.

Bay View Boat Club circa March 2020

Then while digging out a site for our tent we encountered an unusually significant number of small scorpions living in the soil. Then, there was the matter of the enormous iguana population. Like everywhere we went the iguanas were perched on rock and rim top of every hill and canyon we explored.

Fortunately because of very high winds for 48 hours we were allowed the pleasure of exploring without the insects as they were grounded by the weather. Not so much the iguanas or the scorpions. We had thought it might be prudent to retreat back to the village from where we started but that would need to wait for winds to recede. 

With such violent winds blowing we dragged the sailboat up onto the beach. To secure the boat we collected large volcanic rocks and filled the hull half full to keep the boat from blowing away. Our tent the only safe bug free location on the island failed the first night and we slept with makeshift poles we fashioned from remenants of trees that had been washed up in our lagoon.

An adorable field mouse with a rather unique kangaroo styled set of rear legs spent evenings jumping up and peeking at us inside our tent. It was almost cute, A flashlight was used to dash down to the sandy shoreline at night where the worlds largest outhouse without the house and with the out was located.

Island Magic

Bring lots of bug repellent if you intend to go Sea of Cortez island hopping. Depending upon the time of year there are less or more insects. I’m telling you so you know. As best I can tell this travel tip is rarely mentioned. I don’t know what islands the other writers have been visiting but the islands I visited were the buggiest places I have ever visited until a few years back trying to make my way to shore through a mangrove forest twenty miles out of Key West on another uninhabited island or key as Florida describes them.

I prefer my adventures to be not too hot and not too cold. Not too dry and not too wet. Not too dull and not too exciting. I think adventure by sailboat is most often in the range of what we might all consider reasonable. But, you know like all those workshops you attend, all the bolt cutting, emergency transponders, life rafts and flare guns you stow aboard but seem to never use? Maybe you just might want to reconsider why a previous adventurer is suggesting you be prepared.

About two miles up the bay there is a cruise ship terminal. Offshore there is a ship that has been ordered to standoff the coast. Aboard a passenger has died as the result of contracting the coronavirus. Death is no laughing matter. Heartbroken survivors of the deceased will forever be changed by this event. Still we are going to need to to buck ourselves up and get up and get on with our lives. I’d imagined sailing alone on the bay for a few days would provide a respite.

Downtown San Francisco

I’m seeing a weekend of weeding in the garden, a walk with my wife on a trail, and lots of popcorn and binge watching some as yet unseen Netflix series. This might be a good time to remain in place, at least here in Northern California. I think we all know people who haven’t changed one thing yet. That won’t be true much longer. Take care of yourselves out there.

It’s in the Bag

Packing bags. Leaving on a jet plane. Last night was spent reading Steinbeck’s account of motoring south off Point Sur. The date was March 11, 1940. 

It is one thousand miles from Monterey, California to the southern tip of Baja. Durban to Cape Town measures a thousand miles. New York City to Key West is near the same. 

The French-Vietnamese sailor Bernard Motiessier departed Durban in 1954 ran into the teeth of a gale and for two weeks made no progress to his destination. Only a stubborn few have spent fourteen days off the coast of South Africa battling a stout blow to a draw. 

There is not a zero probability of encountering a gale while making our way south to Cabo, but the chances are slim. High wind could kick up. Given our boat’s displacement we will not likely be pressed too hard. Capability matters when you match a boat to a blow. 

Always have a backup plan. If the first plan becomes untenable try the second or third or fourth. Back in 1954 Moitessie’s could not approach the harbor because of the violent seas nearest shore. Better to stay in deep water than try and approach the coast.

Moitessie lost his most famous boat Joshua while in Cabo San Lucas when the anchorage was suddenly overtaken by unanticipated storm waves. Sketchy weather reports were ignored. That evening local conditions were docile. By nightfall the fleet of sailboats that had not departed were dragged onto the beach where pounding waves finished them off one by one.

The hard won wisdom we earn in our years of messing around on boats is all prequel. First sign of difficulty we will use our boat and judgement We’ll be ready. This is the pleasure of sailing.

To La Paz

Organizing our gear for our trip from San Diego to La Paz is near complete. Having spent ten weeks sailing the coast of California over the past two years makes preparations many times less complicated.

First off there is the matter of flashlights. Aiming a light into a darkened storage locker solves most every kind of first order of problem you can encounter. A second pair of readers, backup sunglasses are a must. 

One toothbrush is fine. One razor is optional. Sunscreen and moisturizers help. Chapstick is a necessity.   

My ragged, dogeared Penguin paperback 1981 reprinted edition of Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez will make the trip. Bernard Moitessier’s Sailing to the Reefs earns an E-ticket as does  Hiscock’s Around the World in Wanderer III. 

Two couples will be making the coastal passage. Each of us will stand a four hour watch every twelve hours. Standing watch will not be a burden.

 The gods would find sailing past Turtle Bay without visiting a boondoggle. Uncorking a protected anchorage is to have a taste of respite from the constant motion while at sea.

This is where will go. We will set sail from here. Here is all hopped up about troubled leadership in Washington. Preparations for Thanksgiving are in evidence. When will it rain and where will the next wildfire strike keeps California on a knife’s edge. 

All of these urgent concerns will soon be off our stern. Our passage will be the meat of the matter. Our time in La Paz will consist of a three days. 

Walking La Paz is on our bucket list. What we will want to understand about this part of Mexico we can learn by exploring on foot. 

Our passage measures somewhere near nine hundred miles. One week sailing add a handful of days at anchor, take the dinghy to shore to walk and explore. By my reckoning if the weather is fair we will celebrate Thanksgiving nestled in the water off La Paz. 

We arrive Saturday. We will provision Sunday and weather allowing will sail south for Ensenada


In the Love shack

loveshack two small

 

Where Lover’s Go…

Everybody has had their eyes wide open. I knew since I was drifting the high plains town to town that we were a country in flux. That was in the ‘70’s when drifting from show to show was what a young up and coming juggling act did. I’ve seen the belly of this beast for forty years. We’ve been sold a bill of goods peeps. The very serious people in charge have backed the armored truck up to the vault and they’re getting ready to pull away with what is left. It isn’t even remotely plausible to suggest that inequality is simply happening by some kind of accident. Inequality is policy. Cut the taxes, offshore the jobs, cut support for education, wipe the unions out… I don’t think I need to go on. We are losing the fight to preserve our democracy and who knew we were going to have to fight bankers and oilmen and their astro-turfed pseudo grassroots think tanked con-artists. But, here we are and you know what they say about what you should do when you find yourself digging a hole? Let me end todays thought with this idea. The tragedy is realizing that this happening and doing nothing, the comedy is chopping the greedy muck-a-mucks back down to size. Serious business is always at the root of comedy.

Lambrusco with a Steinbeck Chaser…

Green Performer working with the Sporting Green

In 1975 in the Mission Gardens at Santa   Clara University the season’s final show with the Royal Lichtenstein Quarter-Ring Sidewalk Circus ended my year long stint with the foundational experience of my new variety arts path in life.

A Sidekick in a Big Show

By 1977 I had a new show and played dates for the next three years with the talented and beautiful Mari Dempsey. This was a big show, lots of equipment. We were doing sketch comedy, and the irrepressible Dana Smith was if you can believe it was doing sketch comedy in iambic pentameter! That was heavy on the sketch and light on the comedy.

Between 1974 and 1980 there was one 18 month gap where I was not on the road touring full time and year round nationwide. Our material ranged from acrobatics to mindreading, puppetry to performing dog tricks.

The Duo Between Sets

We got good notices as these things go and they were vital to keeping a show like this on the road. There still wasn’t any videotape yet and so bookings were all done by press clippings, letters of recommendation, and the dates you played.

Self Awareness as Puppet

Yes, the road didn’t disappoint. Mari and I got ourselves into more than a few tight spots. While in Washington D.C. our luck ran out. After a weekend of less than successful shows we were down to our last ten bucks. We found a discarded copy of The Grapes of Wrath in Georgetown. We walked to a liquor store took our last ten spot and bought a bottle of Lambrusco. We went back to the truck climbed into the back drank the wine, and shared the book. It was the end of our money but it wasn’t the end of the world. It was our life. We were doing what we wanted to do.

Make-up goes away at the end of 1979

 BANKRUPT HEART                         THE SECOND NOVEL

Finn looked at Ry’s face. He seemed more relaxed. The harbor oozed tranquility and
coaxed an unhurried demeanor from the people who lived there. Seagulls sat
resting on the metal boat shed roof, mallards explored afloat on the water,
while crows hopped about the docks, there was always a chance something to eat
would turn up. The harbor was juxtaposed next to the rush hour freeway where
traffic was headed north at a crawl bumper to bumper. There was a treasured
serenity as the boatyard emptied of the men and the women who had finished up
their work for the day.

Bankrupt Heart Copyright © 2011 by Dana Smith

Game Changer

Dwellers on the Threshold

 

“They cannot see themselves well enough to form a true liking and since we automatically fear and dislike strangers, we fear and dislike our stranger-selves.”

                                                John Steinbeck

                                                From About Ed Ricketts

            I’ve my own personal theory of the timing of maturity’s arrival. It seems to arrive more often sooner in some than in nearly half of others. Some of us never grow up, and some of us arrive better late than never. Some of us vow to stop doing stupid things, to listen with greater care to our aboriginal inner authenticity. For example in some they are born with a womb, and with this furnace of creation literally interpenetrating their bodies they can be rendered mature instantly. This is just an opinion, not to be taken too much to heart. Now, for those of us who are not gateways that bring life into this creation we have to work at getting serious about this thing from a different angle. At some point we look up from whatever it is we’ve been toiling over and we survey things. One thing we notice is the thing beneath the likeness we see when looking in a mirror. Then, sometimes, not always, and only if the viewer chooses to listen do we hear this voice, and it is this voice that suggests our visit here is not going to last forever and we might just want to be a little more careful about the way we spend our time here. Once testosterone’s vice grip is loosened from the instincts, it is as if a fog has lifted, and things that rendered maturity mute at once are provided a voice. I have witnessed this miracle of late life onset maturity myself, and it is really something to behold. Of course maturity sounds kind of silly, humorless, mature people can take themselves serious, and this is not the destination I am talking about at all. I’m suggesting a more wondrous mindscape… it’s the Big Bang, the whole enchilada, the unified field. It is that instant flashing across the frontier of your own self awareness when you are moved by something bigger than YOU…the veil is pulled back and at long last you glimpse and hold the thing right in the grasp of the minds eye…it is your souls version of rock art. You laugh like a coyote at the moon. That’s a game changer…