Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sail On

Yesterday's entry about the sail on San Diego Bay included much more than a gun battle on the Bay.

I don't think either of us became very invested in the "battle," but we certainly were captured by the Bay. As we left the docks, the skyline of San Diego seemed to redirect our attention to the water instead of drawing our interest onto itself.

We could almost see the water reflected in the glass exteriors of the downtown office buidlings and living spaces. It seemed as if the sailboats could sail right past the waves of condominiums and apartments.

As we headed out to sea, we were greeted by this contrast between nearly one-and-a-half centuries of sailing. On the left is the Californian, a replica of an 1847 Revenue Cutter, and on the

right is one of the America’s Cup Stars & Stripes USA-11 yachts. "Stars & Stripes" is arguably the most widely-recognized name among all American sailing vessels. Team Dennis Conner's original Stars & Stripes went to Australia in 1987 and won back the America's Cup.

He also sailed the Stars & Stripes to victory in the America's Cup Defense Series of 1988.

It is possible to sign up for two-hour public sailing excursions aboard an 80-foot International America's Cup Class (IACC) racing yacht. To Troy Sears, the current owner of the Stars & Stripes, the vessel that so proudly won these titles was the perfect vehicle for these sails in the harbor.

As we traveled on the Trolley Tour, we crossed over the Coronado Island Bay Bridge. The height of the bridge allowed sufficient space for naval ships to enter and leave San Diego Harbor from the south.

The view from this bridge presents another view of the city's skyline.

At the southern end of the island, were these anchored sailboats.

We passed this area which used to be the island's ferry landing.

The next stop would be the Hotel del Coronado.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Gun Battle on the Bay"

This announcement intrigued us.

The next line had us asking where to buy tickets. "You are invited on board to experience the thrill of combat at sea during the age of sail!"

So, there we were, boarding the sharp-built privateer Lynx preparing for a mock sea battle with the replica Revenue Cutter California. One of the crew members provided a brief introduction to the Lynx, which is based on an actual privateer named Lynx built by Thomas Kemp in 1812 in Fells Point (Baltimore), Maryland.

After the introductions of the crew, including the captain (left) and, I believe, the first mate (right), we felt we were in good hands as we prepared to head out to sea.

The task of setting the sails was quickly completed under the direction of capable crew members with the help of a few of the able-bodied recruits.

We chose to board the Lynx so that we could photograph the Californian. Built in 1984, she is a replica of the 1847 Revenue Cutter C.W. Lawrence that patrolled the coast of California enforcing federal law during the gold rush. She is the “the official tall ship of the State of California.”

Ships like the Californian, were a precursor to the Coast Guard. Built for speed and armed with guns — not “cannons” — they got their moniker for chasing down merchant ships that failed to pay proper tariffs.

We learned that points are earned during the battle based on the number of perceived hits, but, more importantly, the direction of the hit. The broadside "hits" are not as destructive (or scored as highly) as "hits" fired at the stern of the other ship.

But as we watched the majestic Californian sailing in the San Diego Bay, the "battle" seemed irrelevant.

A few bars of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" resounded through my mind, even though the sun and calm seas did not fit the stormy mood of the overture.

(I was not able to take photos of the Lynx under sail, but our historically-inspired adaptation of an 1812-vintage privateer of the same name was a 122-foot square topsail schooner built in 2001.)

The Californian was built at Spanish Landing in San Diego Bay. She was launched with great fanfare for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

It was a gorgeous day on the Bay, and the breeze was sufficient for sailing and for sitting on deck with one's eyes closed. Just listening--blocking out conversation and just listening.

I have only been sailing a handful of times with my friend and neighbor Bob, but the memories of the wind singing as it raced through the riggings during those few sails were fresh in my mind that afternoon on the Bay.

But there was a battle to be "fought," and the sound of the ship's guns firing broke the remembered singing.

Armed with four six-pound deck guns, the Californian fired upon our ship without doing any damage.

The crew finished the afternoon by securing the sails, and we lingered as long as possible on deck.

A sail to remember.

Monday, September 28, 2009

San Diego's Treasures

San Diego's harbor is magnetic.

On this visit, we were drawn to the Maritime Museum and its fine collection of historic ships.

The centerpiece of this collection is the Star of India, the world's oldest active ship. She began her life at the Ramsey Shipyard in the Isle of Man in 1863 and made six voyages to India as a cargo ship.

In 1871, she was purchased by the Shaw Savill line of London and embarked on a quarter century of hauling emigrants to New Zealand, sometimes also touching Australia, California and Chile. She made 21 circumnavigations in this service, some of them lasting up to a year.

The ship was a full-rigged ship and would remain so until 1901, when the Alaska Packers Association rigged her down to a barque, her present rig.

As indicated on her bell, she originally bore the name Euterpe, after the Greek goddess of music. In 1898, she was sold to the Alaska Packers, who changed her name in 1906, dubbing her Star of India in keeping with their company's practice of naming ships Star of _________ (their most frequent destination).

(It is said to be bad luck to rename a ship, but keeping the Euterpe's bell was believed to be a way to void this negative consequence.)

The next three photographs are scenes from on deck. By 1923, steam ruled the seas. Sailing ships were obsolete and scores were laid up in ports, including the Star of India. What saved this particular ship from the knacker's torch was a determined band of San Diegans, led by reporter Jerry MacMullen. They scraped up $9,000 to buy the Star in 1926, and the following year she was towed to San Diego.

For the next three decades, however, the Star languished; the depression and World War II delayed her restoration to her days of glory. She began to assume an increasingly tattered appearance.

We wish we could have been there in 1957, when Captain Alan Villiers, a famous windjammer skipper and author, came to San Diego on a lecture tour. It was reported that "he took one look at the dilapidated Star and delivered a broadside to the local press, lambasting the citizenry for doing nothing to save this gallant ship." Things got better after that.

About one-third of the Captain's Quarters is shown here. This is about the size of the first class passengers' cabins.

The galley looked larger than I would have expected.

This is the dining room for the captain and first class passengers.

The windows above the dining room are shown here.

Most vessels of this era were still being built of wood. This ship was one of the first iron ships, and the bottom of the photo above shows these beams.

In 1976, the fully restored Star of India put to sea for the first time in fifty years. She now sails at least once a year, making her the oldest active ship of any kind in the world.

Originally christened HMS Rose when she was launched in 1970, HMS Surprise is a magnificent replica of an 18th century Royal Navy frigate. This ship, used in the film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, found a permanent home at the Maritime Museum in 2004.

A docent aboard the Surprise asked, "Do you know what they call the bathroom on a ship?"

"The 'head,'" I answered.

"If you go to the bow and look over the edge, you'll see where the 'head' is," she directed.

Looking over the port side revealed this sight. Several questions rushed through my mind, but the docent was gone before I could ask any of them.

Probably just as well.

The Berkeley is an 1898 steam ferryboat that operated for 60 years on San Francisco Bay. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Berkeley carried thousands of survivors to safety. To the state of California, she is "irreplaceable."

The Berkeley's upper salon deck still has the aura of the Victorian era in which she was created. In the large, airy space of 12,000 square feet, the ferryboat boasts elegant curved-back original seats of perforated teak and laminated black walnut.

The upper windows (left, in photo above) are original Kokomo opalescent glass that features numerous glass jewels in their design.

The windows (left) are not stained, but colored oxides were mixed into the molten glass before pouring. These priceless windows are among the most beautiful ever installed on a ferryboat.

Since her arrival in San Diego in 1973, the Berkeley has been in great demand for weddings because of its beautiful upper deck. Coincidently, my cousin Karen's husband Rev. Richard Allsing officiated at a wedding on the Berkeley during our visit to San Diego.

In stark contrast to the Berkeley is the jet-black Russian submarine alongside.

Tomorrow we go for a sail on the Lynx.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Number 13

Unlucky? Or lucky?

San Diego's popular El Indio was founded “…as a tortilla factory in August of 1940 by Ralph Pesqueira, Sr. Fresh corn tortillas were made by hand. During WWII, customers from Consolidated (Convair) and other nearby factories soon began asking for ready-to-eat lunch items.

Ralph, Sr., responded by making the 'Taquito,' a word he coined meaning 'Little Taco.'

Between 1945 and 1946, Ralph, Sr., used his basement to make the first tortilla machine in San Diego. He increased production from 30 dozen tortillas per day to more than 30 dozen per hour and began supplying local restaurants. Ralph, Sr., moved El Indio to its current location in 1947. In this small 25-by-75 foot location, we sold many of the same Sonora-style Mexican dishes we sell today. Our recipes were introduced and perfected by Ralph Junior's parents and grandparents. Ralph, Jr., grew up behind the counter, and many long-time El Indio customers still greet him as “Sonny.” He took over the business in 1981 after his father passed away. He is currently grooming his daughters to follow in the family tradition” (from the restaurant’s web site).

When we saw this restaurant featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, we knew it was a must during our stay in San Diego. The first thing I noticed as we were driving up to the restaurant was the presence of a “guard” at the entrance to the small parking lot who watched everyone parking there to make sure that they were really El Indio customers. Then I noticed a small sidewalk dining area set on a small cement triangle in the middle of traffic and just across from the restaurant. Since I don’t care for fumes mixed with my meal, we headed inside. (There is also a small garden patio dining area, but I wanted air conditioning.)

We ordered at the counter from an extensive menu. Since we were “newbies,” we kept telling people to go ahead of us while we pondered the profusion of choices. Tacos come as beef with guacamole; chicken with guacamole; potato with salsa and jack cheese; soft (flour tortilla) grilled chicken with sour cream; soft fish taco with tartar sauce, cabbage, and tomatoes; soft carne asada taco with guacamole and ranchera salsa; and, finally, soft carnitas taco with guacamole and ranchera salsa.

Here in the birthplace of the taquito, the little tacos are sold individually and come filled with shredded beef, shredded chicken, or potato. Flour tortillas can be substituted for the traditional corn tortilla. And taquitos can be ordered as mordidtas, which are bite-size taquitos covered with nacho cheese and jalapeno slices.

And then there are enchiladas, quesadillas, chimichangas, tamales, tostadas, and twenty-nine different combination plates with rice and beans. Faced with this plethora of choices, we resorted to our old favorites. Chuck ordered the beef enchilada plate with red enchilada sauce. For me, it was Combo Plate number 13 - the chili relleno plate.

Buzzer in hand, we looked for a table, but first we made a brief stop at the salsa bar to load up on hot and mild red salsas and a warmish salsa verde. As we looked around the room, we noticed that it was sparsely, yet functionally-appointed, but these bar stools did add a touch of whimsy.

Our buzzer went off and Chuck went to retrieve our food. His beef enchiladas were made with shredded beef (not his favorite – he’s a ground beef kind of guy), but the beef was tender, moist, and lightly seasoned with a slight smoky flavor. The beans were a mixture of whole and pureed – again not his favorite. He likes his Mexican beans to be totally pureed. (I like the combination and the extra texture that the whole beans add.) And the rice was pretty standard Mexican restaurant flavored rice. With his plate came a small side of lettuce, tomato, and onion as garnish.

I was mystified when I saw my plate. It looked to be scrambled eggs with shredded beef and green chilies. Chuck’s cousin Raina had told me that the chili relleno in the Phoenix area resemble an egg omelet with “stuff” piled on top. Was this a version of the Phoenix chili relleno? And why did I get three flour tortillas? I’ve never been served tortillas with chili relleno.

I began to eat and my meal was delicious. The beef was the same moist, tender, and lightly seasoned meat that Chuck had in his enchiladas. But I was still confused. Had they given me someone else’s meal? On my way to get more of the wonderful, bright, citrusy, and mildly hot salsa verde, I took another look at the order board over the counter.

Yes. I got combo Number Thirteen. But the chili relleno combo was Number Twelve. My mistake. I had ordered the machaca plate. According to Wikipedia, “…machaca comes from the verb form machacado (pounded or crushed) and is a dish that was prepared originally from dried, spiced meat (most commonly, beef) that had been rehydrated and pounded to make it tender. The reconstituted meat would then be used to prepare any number of dishes…” “A very popular breakfast or brunch dish is machaca with eggs, associated with miners in the State of Chihuahua.”

Back to the table I went. Mounds of shredded beef, egg, and green pepper were stuffed into flour tortillas and slathered with salsa verde. I was in Mexican food heaven – even if I didn’t plan to order this. I probably would not have tried machaca, but as a result of this number “switch,” I have added one more dish to my list of Mexican food options. Now I am ready to try carne seca (aka machaca in the Tucson area, our next stop).

We enjoyed our dinner at El Indio, and I did have a new dining experience. But this was not the best Mexican food I have found, so will only award 4.0 Addies.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Life on the Bait Barge

Continuing the San Diego Bay portion of our land-sea tour in the amphibious Seal, we approached the reason for our choice of this tour.

We were greeted by some regal-looking Brown Pelicans near Shelter Island.

Watching these pelicans, I remembered a limerick that I understand was penned in 1910 by Dixon Lanier Merritt, a Southern newspaper editor and President of the American Press Humorists Association:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week!
I'm damned if I know how the hell he can!
(Some have credited this to Ogden Nash.)

Our tour guide mentioned that, much like humans, the younger pelicans have brown feathers on their heads while the older ones have white feathers.

According to wildlife experts treating ill and injured pelicans in Oregon and Washington, thousands of pelicans delayed their migration to California and Mexico last year as a result of mild weather and abundant food sources. The birds then became caught in advancing storm fronts and suffered from frostbite, hypothermia, malnourishment, and exhaustion.

We then approached a favorite hang-out for a number of birds and sea lions. The Bait Barge.

Here incoming boats drop off sardines and anchovies and fishing boats pick up this bait on their way out to sea.

San Diego County has over 480 bird species--more than any other county in the continental United States. Brown Pelicans, Snowy Egrets, gulls, and cormorants were just a few of the different species of birds that joined the sea lions in the wait for the next food delivery.

When these two big boys (right and below) arrived, the rest of the dinner attendees moved their seats to a more distant position on the barge.

I don't know if it is a matter of a full stomach or a sunny place or a case of one big happy family, but these next scenes are pictures of contentment.

As the amphibious Seal drove out of the water near Shoreline Park on Shelter Island, we passed this sculptural gazebo designed by James Hubbell. It is entitled "Pacific Portal" and represents a sailor’s dream, evocative of drifting clouds, cresting waves and billowing spinnakers.

The project’s primary goal was to create a beautiful gathering site for the Shelter Island community and for visitors to this spectacular bay front location.

Two beautiful gathering sites visited in one day--one for sea lions and birds and one for humans.