Hangin’ Wit’ My Homies
Okay…this happened a while ago. So what, I’ve been too busy to re-type it. If anyone’s curious, I’ve been diving with sharks. Meanwhile, here it is, so go get a beer, sit down and have a read of a continuation from my last untimely post.
Note: This, in fact, most of my admittedly chatty, sappy inspirational trip reports are written for a different set of folks in a number of cancer centers or as outpatients at home. I’ve edited from that version the parts dealing with the many, many challenges, and about hopes and dreams. Since I sent this out in its original form in November, two of our extended family lost their battle with cancer, and this is dedicated to them:
Jennifer Peterson, 1984-2003
James O’Malley, 1942-2003
They never got the chance to go paddle.
Thanksgiving at Avalon Bay, afternoon
Thanksgiving Day at Avalon, and there is so much to be thankful for. At Avalon Bay, it’s quiet and calm, far from the noise and confusion on the mainland. On shore people happy people go about their last minute business either shopping for their dinner or queuing up at the restaurants for dinner in one of the many quaint eateries. Strangers wave and wish other a good day, the usual indifference temporarily suspended by the Officially Recognized Holiday. Overall, a calm reigns. But wait, what’s this that’s making its way down to the dock, leaving a ripple of unease in its wake, this localized disturbance in the localized universe? It looks like some wild demonic sort with a woman in tow. Getting closer…details can be made out… A tall sort with a fixed grin and a crazed glint in his eyes, The Madman seems to be agitated and in a hurry. His hair is tousled and his clothes look like a hung-over afterthought. On his back is what seems to be an old seabag with a battered straw cowboy hat hanging from it. The woman in tow seems nonplussed as she follows. It’s obvious she’s his guardian, accompanying The Madman on an outing to the bay from the local mental hospital. She moves along calmly, seemingly untouched by the headlong rush of the apparition before her. Drawn along in the vacuum of his passage, she radiates control. No doubt she’s a trained professional.
The Madman has picked up his pace and is trotting down the dock now and somehow in contrast the woman seems even more calm and dignified. They are an interesting study in opposites. Perhaps some sixth sense tickles the minds of those surrounding him as people turn and eyes follow his determined passage.
Hurrying along now, he jumps onto a deck box and leaps forward around a knot of decent folk, frightening them as he surges for the end of the dock, and look, he’s now talking to himself and waving his arms! He seems to be fixated on the pretty boats on the water. The spectacle becomes too much for him, his fragile grip on reality fails, he starts to laugh to himself, amused by some cosmic joke that only he is able to understand. More turn their heads; eyes are drawn to the sight, smiles frozen in puzzlement…microseconds before some cataclysmic event, a three-dimensional expression defining a social exclamation point. Perhaps this Madman is actually a terrorist? Maybe this mysterious woman following will liven the day by dropping to a knee and shooting him. Oh, that would be cool! Better yet, adroitly fashioning a harpoon from objects lying about and spearing The Mad Terrorist to the railing just like in the movies. What a story the tourists can tell the folks back home in the heartland of America, confirming what everyone knows about California.
The Terrorist stops…his eyes have locked on a sailboat, one of many in the bay. His eyes now narrow to slits as he drops the seabag suddenly. He kneels and with slow, deliberate movements deftly opens the seabag with practiced hands, his eyes never once leaving the sailboat. He reaches into the mysterious seabag, and all eyes are on him as he pulls out…
…a large, glaringly white electronic megaphone!
A terrorist without doubt, there’s got to be some devilish weapon craftily disguised within. Who in their right mind would run about with this Moby Dick sized honker of a megaphone? Might as well be flopping about in dive flippers and blatting away on a tuba for the subtle effect it had, but he smiles and then laughs again as he slowly straightens up. He flips a switch and raises it to his lips. What kind of insane craziness is this? Won’t someone stop him?
The megaphone does. It responds with a growing feedback of electronic noise that builds to a tremendous wail. The Madman/Terrorist pulls it down and glares at it as the woman strolls up to him. Her eyes glance from The Madman/Terrorist, down to the megaphone, and then out in the direction that The Madman/Terrorist was looking. Her eyes focus, her brow furrows in concentration… The Madman/Terrorist lifts the megaphone back to his lips and proceeds to have a heated, one-sided conversation with the sailboat. He demands for it to do things. He’s not a terrorist; he’s clearly clear out of his mind, a bona fide and certified, stamped and stapled whacko. Amid the din, the woman now looks to be saying something to The Whacko. He stops and stares at the sailboat then finish with a spirited expletive.
Meanwhile…at Armstrong’s not far away…
Rikki and I are sitting in gentle repose; we’re sharing a table with an older couple from Flagstaff, Arizona. We have picked this table for the view it gave us out over the bay and dock, which we occasionally scan for our friends to arrive from the airfield on the shuttle. There’s a genteel calmness that permeates the air about us but not for long. As we were talking a loud electronic shriek echoes over the water, causing eyes to flick about quickly. Then a loud, senseless cascade of noise follows that then stops as suddenly as it started. Seconds later a single distinct, amplified word, the only one intelligible of the torrent that has assaulted the sensible repose of this, our patio community. Far be it for I to repeat it in that all you, gentle readers, are of cultured elegance and fine breeding. As expected, conversation stops and eyes glance about in a plethora of emotions ranging from shock to horror, and Rikki and I look at each other in alarm, our smiles strange lopsided things frozen on our faces like something cut from a magazine and glued on by a blind drunk on a drinking binge. A pause of microseconds, then like jack-in-the-boxes, we stand up and excuse ourselves from the couple and babble that we’re late and must really run. You see, we both recognized that voice. We rush out onto the road and make our way to the dock area where we had left the Zodiac, anxiously scanning the area around us.
Getting to the dock we notice a disturbance out near the end. A disturbance…we’re drawn ever faster to it, like moments before the inevitable plunge from a waterfall, the chaotic current drew us along. We’re passing groups of people walking quickly the other way anxiously glancing over their shoulders. I’m reminded of rocks in a river, and in a few minutes we see Diane leaning on the railing, laughing and shaking her head in great amusement. But our eyes were on the apparition before us, in fact everyone in the area was frozen in place watching him standing up on the railing and looking out at the anchored boats, cursing and waving about vaguely a huge white megaphone in his hand. And with that, our dear friends, Ernie and Diane, had arrived.
Thanksgiving Afternoon at Avalon Bay- A Quick Getaway!
“Hey, what a surprise! We came out to see the nuclear explosion and look who’s here!” I say.
“Hi!” Rikki added brightly.
Diane turned to us, wiping her eyes from laughing. Ernie jumped down, his grin from ear to ear.
“Look! See!” he said to Diane, gesturing with his megaphone, “I knew it’d work.” Ernie tossed me the megaphone, “Here you go. It’s all yours now.” Ernie looked over to Rikki, “hey ya sweetie.”
“We heard you from WAAAAAY over there!” Rikki exclaimed to them, and pointed across the bay to Armstrong’s, which we all looked over at. I could hear Diane starting to laugh again behind me.
“Did you now?” Ernie said, then smiled at us warmly, “Sounded pretty good, huh?”
“He was yelling at the wrong boat.” Diane added and Ernie turned around which got her really laughing again.
“You know, maybe we should think about easing out of here?” I noticed that we were still being noticed.
“Yeah, maybe that’s a good idea.” He opened the seabag and I tossed the megaphone to him, which he tossed right back. We played catch for a quick minute till Diane interceded and took the megaphone from Ernie. She rolled her eyes and walked off with Rikki. Ernie then dug around with his arm to the elbow, then came out with a warm beer which he tossed to me, pulling another out for himself, opened it, and hefted the seabag onto his shoulder. As we walked down the dock a disturbing thought struck me.
“Hey, I don’t think its okay to have a beer like this.” Ernie burped then looked down at the Red Stripe in his hand.
“What? There’s a law against warm beer?”
We got to the Zodiac without any hassles and dragged it in, got on, and I took us out the wrong way at top speed, then weaved around outside amid the offshore anchorages for a bit, slowing down behind, boats, then speeding up in the gaps.
“Where…are…we…go-iiiiing?” Rikki yelled back at me from the bow over the wind and noise.
“Hiding our tracks!” I yelled back, and then weaved around some more around the north anchorage and finally eased around to Descanso Bay where we had anchored. After settling the two in and putting away the goodies they brought with them, Rikki and Diane fixed up some snacks as Ernie and I undid the outboard and put it away, then winched the Zodiac out onto the arch extension davits. It was such a nice day, that it was shame to waste it. We were obligated to go around to Our Secret Spot and so The Great Race naturally came into existence.
Thanksgiving Afternoon-The Great Race
Ernie and I were going to launch the kayaks and paddle around the south end to the Palisades while Rikki and Diane would motor/sail around. Whoever got there first would be the winner. Simple. Ernie and I launched the kayaks, brought up the gear as Diane and Rikki cleaned up, then stowed everything. I started the motor and idled up to the anchor, and after a little bit of persuasion, freed it from the rocks and made way around Casino Point with kayaks in tow. The girls came topside and we let out the mainsail and jib, still motoring along to help us along till we got out in the breeze. At about a mile off Pebbly Beach we brought the sails down and turned the engine off for good, then with some effort, got in the kayaks. A following sea kept banging the yaks into the stern, but still, we made it off without a dunking. As the girls raised the sails Ernie and I hung around watching the main come out of the boom, then slowly they made way to the south as we paddled along behind, and always good to see was the harnesses go on. After much bantering, and a wave, the race was on.
Seas were fairly large and bouncy out where we were. A current from the north and the winds pushed us along as we angled to the southwest to intersect the shore at Jewfish Point, named for the one-time abundance of not jewfish, but really gigantic giant sea bass. In the early days of the last century, these honkers were hauled out, 7-9 feet long. But that was in the distant past, they’re exceedingly rare these days. All that is left are the faded black and white photos in the bars in Avalon. As we separated the girls got out the megaphone and made all sorts of noises that we couldn’t understand, but the thing was definitely loud without doubt. We waved and then kicked up the pace.
Getting inshore the water calmed down a lot and we were paddling along inside or through the occasional kelp forests and just enjoying the whole thing. Inshore, the coast was a mix of small beaches tucked into small bays amid the long, rocky shore. Getting closer to shore we began to see the bottom and occasional schools of small fish. Miles offshore the girls were on a tack to the WNW and we were clearly far ahead of them. So much so that at Seal Rocks we stopped to slowly paddle around and explore. At one point we had the inevitable seals swim under us, rolling around to look up at the kayaks suspended on the surface over them. Ernie shares my fascination of white sharks and we talked about the growing population of pinnipeds on the coast, and the protection now in place on white sharks. We, as several others, believe that there will be proportionally more white shark sightings and interactions in the years to come. Ernie said he couldn’t wait for it to happen. Ernie is my kind of guy-all action.
We paddled on and decided to mess around and paddle even closer to shore just outside of the waves, climbing over the small swells with a whoop, passing the East End Light brooding up on its perch amid the cliffs, of which began to tower ever higher inshore of us as we paddled round the south end. Soon Church Rock was visible, actually a group of rocks, which we paddled out to explore. As we got out there we noticed that the girls were on a new tack coming in and we decided to paddle out to intercept them. About a half-mile offshore we stopped as they sailed by us yelling and waving on a course to the NW. We turned around and paddled hard after them but La Aurora was making along nicely and left us behind. We had a view that neither of us had seen before; my boat under sail and she was a sight to see- nicely making way with hardly a wake. The girls were waving and yelling as they pulled away so we yelled and waved back. We watched as we paddled after them as the girls put her over on a new tack nicely and then as they cruised away we heard more megaphone noises and a distinct and definite Elvis Presley “Thank you, thank you very much.” That would be Rikki. Ernie had a big smile when he looked at me that said that the megaphone was a good idea. As we kept going we talked about either racing for the end or exploring Church Rock. The rocks won.
As we got close we got into kelp and occasionally could see the dark rock bottom. There were a few fish around but we both saw several nice-sized crabs running about on the kelp at the surface. We paddled around the rocks and then inshore to clear water, then along to Binnacle Rock which signals the start of the long, west-facing cliffs that are the Palisades, which rise sheer from the ocean on the west side of Catalina.
The Palisades are part of the Catalina Escarpment: a long escarpment of 70-80 kilometers in length that is part of the San Diego Trough Complex. Personally, I believe that the complex is just a small portion of the Agua Blanca fault system in Mexico, which I further think is a growing transform fault that will eventually be traced along the coast to where it will rejoin the San Andreas Fault. In fact, mark these words, the Agua Blanca fault, an active right-lateral fault that is currently seismically quiet, has a total offset of around 15 kilometers. I believe that it splits with one leg becoming the San Diego Trough where it then runs north to land somewhere in LA, the other leg becoming the Coronado Banks Fault, which in turn becomes the San Clemente Fault; eventually I believe that it runs out-a transform fault in the making. While I’m at it, for the record I’m convinced that the Rose Canyon Fault runs south to connect to the San Miguel-Vallecitos Fault in Mexico, and north I think it joins with the Elsinore Fault somewhere. Several years ago in my last career path, I had written a series of highly controversial emergency management plans for large earthquakes from these faults. Last year the Oceanside and Thirty-Mile Blind Thrusts were confirmed, and though I wanted to, nary an “I told you so” came from me. Just remember, you heard it first from me!
Anyway, there we were gliding along over long oily swells coming around Binnacle Rock when we noticed that the girls were on a nice tack back with all the sails out. Ernie and I decided to put the pedal to the metal and it really became a race. It was close but we, the super-stud guys that we are, won the race easily, arriving in Our Secret Spot a good 10 minutes before the girls. To be fair, the girls furled the sails and motored in the last bit, which entails a careful approach through the narrow channels in the kelp, then turning north just offshore, to then head back out at an exact spot (our secret). That’s why we call it “Our Secret Spot.” The water gets deep fast to a series of rocky shelves, the idea is to idle out and let the anchor go then back in, setting a stern anchor if needed.
Our Secret Spot is close to shore and protected by kelp forests to the south and north, and from the typical winds by the towering cliffs. Ernie and I got aboard and tied the kayaks off the stern, then tossed the Zodiac over. After that we sat back to enjoy the late afternoon as we fixed our Thanksgiving dinner of broiled yellowtail steaks with a lime sauté. From the goodies brought out by Ernie and Diane came different stuffings, sweet potatoes, fresh string beans for Diane’s string bean thing, and fixings for a salad that I have to describe and highly recommend that Rikki found in a Sunset magazine:
Fennel-Orange Salad with Green Olives (yes, green olives!)
4-5 oranges (navel seedless, like the kind from our backyard)
12 oz of a fennel stalk (anise for some of you), discolored ends trimmed and tossed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pitted green olives
Peel and clean the oranges and then cut into ½ inch thick slices, arranged onto a large platter. Use a sharp knife to slice cleanly. Use a mandoline and slice the fennel into thin strips, arranging over the orange slices. Drizzle olive oil evenly over fennel then salt and pepper to taste. Scatter olives over the salad. Serves 4-6.
We ate dinner after watching the sunset and then relaxed over drinks as I cleaned up. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing like being on a boat. The gentle rocking of the seas, great company, full bellies, and soon we were sprawled over the settee and couch, happy and content, yakking about the yakking and Rikki’s yellowtail, the shark, goings on in the entertainment biz, till it was time for bed. Another wonderful day.
The Next Day’s Decompression Stop-Why Being On The Water Is So Good
The next day dawned misty but soon warmed up and the mists cleared away by a gradual withdrawal to sea. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing like waking up at sea. After the required coffee kick-start for some of us who are paying the price of our youth, the day was hanging out on the boat, a necessary requirement for Ernie and Diane to decompress.
The kayaks were tied off forward and lines tossed over for whatever wanted to get caught. Morning wore into afternoon; Diane read passages from a novel she was reading that I gathered further evidence for why it was extremely important to flee from ‘civilization’ from time to time. Ernie was relaxed with his Pina Coladas. I sipped my cheap beer and hung the hammocks from the boom for the girls. Occasionally we would get nibbles, a couple bites that we’d then winch in small bass or rockfish that we’d toss back. We tossed over the folding crab trap after the inevitable struggle, and tossed in the food scraps. Later in the afternoon we roused ourselves from our near-comatose states to ready things for a dinner picnic and row to shore for a beach fire.
We all piled in the Zodiac, rowed to shore, braving the pounding 6-inch high wavelets and set up camp, digging a fire pit, and dragging up firewood from up and down the beach. Ernie looked at the beach critically and decided that we should bring the Bushmaster over one day and practice firing at targets. Practice does make for perfection. Rikki rowed me back over to the boat for the comforters and the rest of the food and the fishing rods and gear, and by the time we got back, the fire pit was ready. We tossed out the lines as Rikki went back over for the camp chairs and the forgotten spits for the marshmallows. These things are important.
Though it’s not related to paddling, we did admire our boat in the approaching sunset offshore, kayaks streaming from her stern. So much so that we walked up the beach till the boat was against the sunset. I know I’ve said it before, but there’s nothing like being on the water. Ernie and I talked about a night paddle as we got the fire going and broiled the last of the yellowtail. The sunset was cut short by the fog that seemed to stall on San Clemente Island. It was right about then, right when the fish was done and all the food was ready, right when the fire needed stoking and a chill demanded that we gather round the fire that the croaker started biting as if on signal, setting the bells on the rods ding-a-linging away. Eat, ding-ding-ding, run off to reel in a little runt with an attitude, toss him in, re-bait and walk down the beach to cast again, wash the slime off, sit down and just when one is warmed up again, the bell. I don’t know what it was, we were using sand crabs but there were fish biting as if tomorrow wouldn’t come. The highlight of the evening’s fishing was Ernie’s rod bending way over pulling the holder over at an angle then a polite and occasional ding. Ernie ran over for it hooting and hollering and that started a battle that lasted for a while. We all gathered round draped in the comforters as Ernie gently worked it in, and then there it was in the shallows, a large sheephead.
California sheephead are interesting critters, the first 5 or so years they’re females, and then they become males for the rest of their lives. They live for 20 or so years, maybe longer. In all our diving we rarely see them, and it takes a long time to become that size. Without a word as to its fate we all helped to hold it down as we got the hook out gently, then Ernie pulled his pants up and waded out into the water with him, and after a moment, it was off for deep water. Ernie got the only keeper, a large croaker.
Things That Go Bump In The Night
Rikki and I woke up to a series of bumps seemingly by our heads. In the predawn cold and gloom, I lay there staring into overhead of the master stateroom, trying to see the noise but there was nothing up there. I rolled out of the bed and went forward to the steps, glancing quickly at the GPS and saw that we were right where we were supposed to be, then went topside carefully, thinking that someone could have landed at the stern. Grab the Bushmaster? The Glock? I grabbed a flashlight. Rikki was standing at the master stateroom door in her jammies and I whispered that it was okay and go back to bed. Getting topside there was nothing to see and I went over the boat from stern to stem and looked all about the boat; all was well. You know how you look back at a situation like this and you wonder if you dreamed it; the memory becoming vague, so I thought as I stood there shivering. Still, I rigged a trip line and a fishing bell on the ladder and went below, burrowed in under the mountain of comforters that at the center of which lay Rikki, who was sounding like she was asleep again. So…freezing and frosted I eased back in bed, ever so careful not to wake her from her gentle slumber. I snuggled close, and made damn sure to put my cold hands on her. I won’t go into the details what happened after, but rest assured that I did my part in the ages old battle of stolen covers and cold feet.
Still, after all the fun and games I mentally made a note to get under the boat as soon as possible. Bumping sounds when there shouldn’t be bumping sounds is not a good thing.
Aye, Thar Be Pirates!
Morning dawned nearly clear with just a light mist over the water. We talked about the bump-in-the-night event over coffee and the day’s events we could do. Ernie and I fell into making breakfast while the girls got things ready for a paddle. Breakfast were my omelets of which I’m admittedly proud of and a spicy diced potato and tofu creation of mine. Ernie cut up kiwi, tangerines, a cantaloupe, strawberries and a banana and tossed in grapes, schloshed in some cognac, and set it in the reefer to cool, and served after breakfast. That sounds like a complex series of tasks for Ernie in the morning, doesn’t it? Well, close inspection of his hands revealed that all his fingers were still attached.
Mike’s Spicy Diced Potato and Tofu Morning Thing
One medium potato per person, new or red potatoes preferable
Firm tofu figuring half the potato’s size per person
One medium onion
½ a red pepper
Several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Mrs. Dash for seasoning
1-cup salt water from ocean
Dice all ingredients into small ¼ inch or so chunks. Fry up the tofu and potato chunks in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat, covered for a few minutes till starting to brown, add the ocean water and onions and peppers, sprinkle on the Mrs. Dash let the water boil away stirring often, reduce heat as the water is nearly gone and make sure that the reduced sauce is one the creation and not in the pan. This is a real winner for a day’s paddling, and perfect for kayak camping. Use new or red potatoes.
After eating we went topside to become lizards as I cleaned up below. Rikki made up her lattes, and we let breakfast settle as the sun warmed up the (mostly mine) old joints.
Later the girls launched and paddled south for Church Rock while Ernie and I broke out the ship’s anti-piracy enforcement device, our Bushmaster rifle that I brought along for some target practice so that Ernie can ogle over the latest addition; the Trijicon ACOG scope.
Piracy has become, once again, a worldwide problem. So much so that even the large container ships and tankers are being attacked at a rate of a couple per month. The only means of defense on the high seas is by defending yourself-there’s no one who will come rescue you. Most third-world nations where piracy is a problem have small navies which are for the most part pirates, too. Peace is only achieved through superior firepower, hence, the Bushmaster.
Since the day was young, we decided on some target practice. I rowed offshore some of the plastic milk jugs brought along just for this purpose, tossed them in on a line, pulled away, then waved the paddle for Ernie to test his skill at about 1000 feet. In the third round he hit the milk jug, which is pretty good shooting. I detached his jug and rowed in, and Ernie rowed out to reset the remaining jugs. I hit my jug on the second shot from the way it jumped to the left and so raised the rifle overhead and set it down then stood with arms up for Ernie to row my jug back and sure enough, I hit it on the right side, cutting a large slice. The scope was so much better then iron sights. We switched places and I let Ernie whack the other two jugs, one from a prone position on the second shot, and the other from a kneel position using the rail for support on the second shot.
We talked about my ideas for making a gun safe under the deck a bit, spent some time looking the rifle over then put it away and then brought the rebreathers (RB) and the rest of the dive gear up.
Ernie brought out a retrofit for our rebreathers, the Extend-Air sorbent canister which replaces the powdered sorb reservoir. For those of you who don’t dive, the rebreather functions by absorbing the carbon dioxide and adding an incremental amount of oxygen to make up for loss. A problem with RBs is that pouring the sorb granules into the sorb canister can create channels, which short-circuit the exhaust gas pathway and thus not absorb fully the carbon dioxide. Another problem is that a portion of the sorb can be a fine powder that can be inhaled; causing what is referred to as a “caustic cocktail” in your mouth and trachea. However, that aside, RBs are much better for extended shallow water diving in remote locations without heavy air tanks, and they are very much quieter, too. After the retrofit and testing, we suited-up and went over the side.
First thing was a thorough check of the hull, rudder, keel and prop for the source of the mysterious bumping, seeing nothing, we went down the anchor line to check the anchor, both of us stopping to look at the master displays of our units and thumbs-up each other. On the bottom we were happy with the placement (which was nearly at the same location as a trip out with Rikki’s parent almost two years ago). We headed “uphill” to shallow water and fanned out looking for scallops and lobster. Between the both of us we gathered up nearly our limit of scallops, careful to take only one from an area so as to not deplete even the smallest patch in Our Secret Place. We were heading for the shallows for sea lettuce when we stopped in the shadow of La Aurora to look up. Under her was a motionless school of some small fish. We headed along and stirred up a small halibut in the sand flats between rock outcrops inshore of us, the sunlight rippling on the rippled sand bottom. We both spotted the lobster and the chase was on. The dude was fast, and he was smart, but we caught him and after a brief battle, went in the bag. We went topside, transferred everything to one bag and tied it off on the stern, then went below again. The little fish school was hanging out at the bow and as we got to the bottom they spread back out. Those fish made me feel oddly good to see the boat fit in to the environment like that. I looked at the gauges to make sure I wasn’t just happy because of a problem with the RB, but all was well in our little part of the world far from the maddening crowd. Seemingly as if he was hearing my thoughts Ernie looked around and gave me thumbs-up. I thought about Rikki singing the Disney song “Beneath The Sea” from the Little Mermaid:
Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you lookin' for?
Under the sea
Under the sea
Darling it's better
Down where it's wetter
Take it from me
Ernie gestured to go inshore and I followed as we slowly kicked along where we were catching the croaker last night. The bottom was coarse sand with shell mix and though we saw a stingray and a small sole, there wasn’t a croaker to be found now. Circling around to the south into deeper water we looked around for more lobster and saw just a few small ones in cracks till nearly back to the boat where we came to the crab trap with several crabs inside. Nearby was a lobster on the sand close to the trap near a small rock overhang. One more for the bag. We took the crabs out, tossing the little guys out, and went topside, only this time the fish stayed closer, maybe getting used to us.
Getting out and warming up in the afternoon sun felt great and soon the girls came paddling back in time for a late lunch in the sun and warm breeze. They paddled had down to Church Rock inshore, saw some dolphins offshore, and seals everywhere. Trolling on the paddle back offshore they had one hit which spit the hook. They also saw barracuda in the kelp. Of course, we had to drag the mesh bags up. After lunch Ernie and I got ready for another dive and the girls got back into the kayaks to paddle around in the area. Watching the kayaks passing overhead I could see why sharks would be interested in them for the rhythmic splashing of the paddle though the wetted shape is definitely not of the ocean. No wonder sharks check us out. No wonder they don’t bother us either. One could almost imagine the thought balloon with the big question mark.
Next Day Honeydews
Morning is not my best time. My feet hurt, my leg is stiff, my neck is kinked, my back aches. In fact everything is in a state of rebellion. Mornings are real bad.
This morning I had an out-of-body experience and saw myself sitting in the settee, bedraggled and very much worse for wear. The sight was so shocking that I cried out to the cold and indifferent Multiverse to please, oh please don’t let it be. I gingerly stepped forward to look down at this apparition just as the Multiverse warmed up and listened: the ghastly apparition turned out to be Ernie.
“What?” Said Ernie as he looked up from his cup of coffee.
“You scared the hell out of me.”
“Hah!” Ernie shook his head and smiled. “There’s some joe left.”
I got some coffee and sat down.
“Feel like shit.”
“You look like shit.” I sipped some coffee and looked around, thinking we go through this on every trip together, “where’s everybody?”
“Upstairs. We’re eating up there.”
Neither of us moved as we drank our coffee. Time for a refill before taking on the stairs, and after a long recounting of things we did for each other I lost and had to get up to cross the short distance of the deck for the pot. With much groaning and grunting for effect I sat down and filled our mugs. We huddled over our mugs until the caffeine kicked in enough to tackle the steps. Topside was sunny with a few clouds left. The girls had dragged up a nice spread and it was very nice to sit in the sunshine and graze. I was perfectly content to sit and take up my new role as a grazing lizard but Ernie and I were destined to become honeydews.
The transformation began innocently enough as we talked about the day. Rikki had work to do and Diane needed to relax and unwind from her last gig. She was in the middle of a book by Paul Theroux. Ernie needed to stretch out his kinks. I wanted to practice being a lizard. Somehow in the space of a minute Ernie and I were going on a paddle to go gather food. We had become honeydews.
Moving around warmed me up enough to function and we readied ourselves for the paddle. The launch was tricky in our debilitated state of aged aches and pains, but we got off without incident. Rikki handed down a lunch, the satellite phone and a thermos of what turned out to be cinnamon hazelnut latte (it’s a joke between us) and Nalgene bottles of distilled water with lemon wedges in the bottom. It’s a mystery to me how she functions so well in the morning.
We paddled to the south for Church Rock, first warming up by paddling around kelp paddies. It was turning out to be a glorious day, and being on the water was perfect. We stopped in a hole between the kelp and jigged a bit, then went on trolling as went, winding around inshore and offshore. As the morning wore on the water became ever calmer till we were paddling along leaving long wakes. At one point we saw a fish ball offshore and paddled out to get close and see what the action was about in the ‘hood, but as these things truly are, it broke up before we got anywhere close. Still we tied on Rapalas and tried our luck as we made for Church Rock.
Getting there meant taking the long way that meant winding around kelp paddles and a landing to stretch the legs and water the bushes. We decided to have lunch then explore the beach before going on. Lunch was turkey sandwiches, kosher dills, a chunk of sharp cheddar and some mozzarella, apples, a baggie of Rikki’s cookies and two hard-boiled eggs which she painted funny faces on. With Rikki all hard-boiled eggs are Easter Eggs for her to paint funny faces on. The coffee was a real hit and a good laugh, and sitting on the beach in the warm sun looking out on a nearly deserted ocean, was a real treat.
Roaming up the beach we found the usual flotsam and jetsam, the leavings behind of the daily comings and goings of the ocean. Here was some plastic part, there old kelp, up in the higher parts of the beaches and perched on rocks pieces of wood stranded high and dry till the next storm. At one point there was a terrible stink that was all that was left of sealion, or maybe a seal. We both looked at it carefully but there was no evidence of shark involvement. Turning around for the trip back to the yaks we picked sage and rosemary and gathered up all the sea lettuce we could find in the shallows. Ernie gathered the occasional crab for bait and then just before the kayaks we noticed for the first time a long, gray smoke canister in the shallows. Fishing it out we saw that it was burned out, a Navy smoke pot used for marking when hunting subs. We tossed it up above the high water mark, got everything stored, then launched. In minutes we spotted another smoke canister and as we went south, several more. I had Ernie cruising around offshore as I cruised around inshore looking for more and we did find even more canisters. One of these days I’m going to find a floating sonabuoy. That would be a neat thing for the fireplace mantel.
We gave up the search and trolled as we passed Binnacle Rock, then decided to fish the area. I had some energy and paddled in circles trolling outside the kelp while Ernie tried jigging, then the crabs. I was skeptical but over a sand bottom Ernie hooked up a nice sized bass that he almost got up before it spit the hook and was gone. I kept at it with the trolling, making my way inside of the kelp along the shore then out and around offshore. I tried everything. Then Ernie was yelling. By the time I got the troll line in and paddled close Ernie was working away at something big while commenting at the top of his lungs about my terrible idea in alternatives to fishing rods. Still, he managed to get a nice halibut up close to him and therein lay our next problem…now what. Neither of us brought the gaff. It took the combined efforts of both of us to engineer that halibut close enough for me to stab it with the marlinspike on my rigging knife and then hang on for dear life as Ernie kept me from going over. In a déjà vu experience I got it on my spray skirt and lay down on it while Ernie took his time to come around to the other side to give it a whack. I had a kicking and flailing halibut sliming my PFD and its tail was slapping my neck. Its dorsal spines were poking my arm and under my PFD into my side. Ernie was moving like a glacier going uphill in the dead of winter. He came along side and unzipped the deck bag and reached inside. I was able to see that he had the water bottle. Good thinking…beat it to death.
“Okay. Hold still. Don’t let that baby get away.”
Long seconds passed. A delay. What the hell was he doing, waiting for a clear shot? I eased my head around and he was taking a drink.
“Jesus, Ernie! Any day now!” Ernie looked at me; swallowed and grinned at me like the idiot he truly is and took another long pull then smacked his lips. Just when I was going to throw the halibut at him he reached under my arm and fumbled with it, then started banging away in the general direction, and between whacks at me, he got the occasional whack at the halibut. The fish finally stopped moving, probably dying from old age or sheer boredom.
I straightened up and looked at myself…pokes and scrapes, beat by my water bottle, fish slime all over me and I smelled more like the fish then the fish itself.
“Look at me!” I yelled at him. Ernie looked at me critically and pronounced, “Hell, look at me!” He held out his hand and there it was, a teensy spatterette of fish slime. A dime would have covered that.
I replied with an astute comment on his uncanny resemblance to a certain anatomic feature, but good ol’ Ernie just grinned away at me and pointed at his halibut. Giving up, there was not much else to do but to clean up. I rolled and as usual struggled up and Ernie stopped me from another roll. He pointed out that with the struggle with the fish and that we were on the “sharky” side of the island, this wasn’t the best of ideas. Good point. I thought to get him close and push him over.
We tied the halibut onto the foredeck of my yak, which is still beat up from this summer’s paddlefest, then made our way back by paddling inshore of the kelp. Since there were nearly no waves we actually paddled along the shoreline stopping often to look down at the bottom. North of Binnacle Rock is a shallow point where we spotted scallops amid the rocks. This warranted a return trip. Further on we startled a large bat ray, and every so often, different fish. In fact, with the water so calm and cold, the water visibility was very good. Paddling along while looking over the side in water that was flat calm and as shallow as a few feet and no deeper then six or so feet was like paddling on top of an aquarium. In places the bottom would drop away and other places we’d snake between weed-covered rocks just under the surface. We flew along past the depleted Navy flares and all the time La Aurora kept looming larger. Soon we could see Diane in the hammock slung from the boom taking in the sun, then closer still, Rikki in the cockpit. Minutes later we pulled up from our hard day at the office and got out of the yaks onto the rear step.
The halibut was a big hit followed by my newfound reek. This of course started some good-natured bantering since Ernie was too far from the edge to push overboard. The girls proposed a latter hike on the beach after a late lunch-a seafood primavera. So as I rinsed my gear off, Ernie cleaned the halibut, cutting them into fillets in zip-lock bags for the reefer. I dragged up the crab trap up from the bottom and reached in to pull out two little crabs that went over the side and the big crab that I put out of his misery and took below for the girls to toss in. The scraps from the halibut also went below to be pan-fried in chunks, and then I was chased out. Fish scraps went into the crab trap, and the whole thing lowered down carefully.
Lunch was simply out of this world. Scallops, crab, lobster and halibut, with sautéed onions, celery and garlic in a simple spicy cream sauce made up the seafood fettuccini served with Franzia white zinfandel, then followed by coffee. I know I’ve said this before, but there’s really, truly nothing like being on the water. After cleaning up we got ourselves ready, packed up even more water with lemon slices, clothes to change into if it got cold, and all of us got in the Zodiac and rowed to shore, still delightfully full. We all took a corner and carried the Zodiac up to the cliff, tied her securely to keep her from wandering, then set off to the south, wandering over miles of beach, scrambling over rocky headlands, piling the burned out Navy flares in a heap till we got to Binnacle Rock where we turned around. On the way back we gathered up all the plastic we found into two piles, the bigger of which we put in our fire pit, then rowed home in the gathering gloom. After a hot shower we gathered in the settee, dropped the table and arranged the cushions to make up a third bed, dragged up the comforters and snuggled in snacking on leftovers, bread and cheese and sipping wine, idly chatting about anything. Our small corner of the Universe was contentment, and that’s really all that anyone can hope for.
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- Long report, Catalina Trip part 2