Monday, March 6, 2017

Random Recollections of Certain Caliente Characters

In Celebration of CIYC’s 50th Anniversary:

Random Recollections of Certain Caliente Characters

Earlier in thinking about this activity designed to recount some of the “real beauts” that have come and gone through our club, I remembered two “gals” who might have fit this definition.  In fact, there have been a few women in our club, however  briefly, who clearly stand out as characters.  Two come immediately to mind.  Neither one’s name is remembered, not necessarily because of the passage of time. Rather the two I write about below really don’t deserve to be remembered as among Caliente Isle Yacht Club’s most stalwart folks.

The first is a woman who lived on her houseboat, moored on the levee side of Caliente Harbor. She was middle aged and wasn’t seen much in or around the clubhouse.  I’m sure she was very new to the club. Her houseboat is remembered because on its roof was a surplus ejection seat out of a military plane of some kind (you can’t make this stuff up.)  This contraption was mounted as an easy chair, serving sort of as Barcalounger done on the cheap. She could sit in this thing and look all around, including up on the levee with its public access.  Of course, she could be seen as well from all over the harbor -- not that any of our guys were looking.

Now, it is only a rumor because the principals in this story moved on long ago.  But it was said that this particular gal was a "pro"—that’s right, “they” said she was hook’in.  Of course, there are no details to back this up and it surely could just be one of those nasty stories that really get listened to when whispered a bit too loudly. Who wouldn’t pay attention to such a murmur?  Surely, word got around to Sam and his harbormaster and it wasn’t long before this woman, her house boat and her Barcalounger were gone, leaving behind but a story of a particular and peculiar Caliente character.

The second woman that comes to mind does so in the same vein, a story a bit off color.  The incident comes to light in the context of one the club’s great Halloween parties. We had some of the best, and we often saw costumes that were truly over the top.  Well, on this particular Halloween, a woman came dressed in a man’s grey trench coat.  She had kind of a man’s hat on, but overall it didn’t really look so much as a costume as it did just unusual woman’s wear.

The parties often hit their stride when everybody in costume lined up and each person paraded through the clubhouse with party goers offering applause and, often, commentary.  There was a point in the parade, probably in front of the judges, where each person sort of did their thing—a dance, a twirl, a few lines from a song something that put a strong point on their costume.  Well, when the trench coated “man” got to this place, where judges and all the highly interested kids were clustered, she put the “point” on her costume by quickly throwing open the coat. What sprung up hugely from inside that coat got her kicked out of the club. Everyone was speechless, including the little kids.

Over the years there have been just three or four folks asked to leave our good group for one reason or another, usually for very bad behavior at the bar, and these decisions were often controversial. As I remember it, this particular decision to kick someone out happened on the spot, and without controversy.  She was one of only a handful of Caliente Characters easily dismissed.


Monday, February 20, 2017

In Celebration of CIYC’s 50th Anniversary:Random Recollecions of Certain Caliente Characters

In Celebration of CIYC’s 50th Anniversary:

Random Recollections of Certain Caliente Characters

By: Ted Lyman

Everybody called him Catfish. He had a real name, we thought. But what could be a better nickname for someone who fished all the time and only for catfish. It was in the early 80s and Catfish had moved his beat up old houseboat to the outside of the Caliente Harbor’s south dock. This is where people of uncertain character, as viewed by club founder Sam Martini, often ended up back in the old days. Sam always welcomed new berthers, largely because they were paying him rent, but he generally saw in advance those new guys and gals (one of which comes to mind, an upcoming Caliente Character) who wanted to pay but might come up a “bit short” from time to time or be less than fully welcome by others in the marina (as some of you will remember, at that time all berthers were required to be dues- paying members of the club an arrangement that made both Sam and the club Treasurer very happy.)

As it turned out, in the eyes of most folks, Catfish wasn’t really a bad guy at all. He was just a bit rough around the edges, seriously overweight and fortunately endowed with large sad eyes—the kind that can get you out of a lot of tight spots in life. At that time there were a lot of kids active in the marina. They swam, fished and generally played around the harbor like kids do. Despite trying, not many actually caught fish--that is until coached by Catfish. He talked to them regularly about all the catfish out there just waiting to be caught. Soon he was showing them how to rig for catfish. He showed them how to make up his special stinky bait he said was irresistible to catfish. And he showed them where the catfish were hiding and how to hook and land them. Soon, most of the kids started to really catch fish. The kids were becoming increasingly wild for Catfish, following him around and asking all day long for help with their rig, how to put the bait on so it wouldn’t fall off or where to place their cast.

For the most part this was fine with the parents because in addition to helping the kids catch the fish, Catfish took the squirming, slimy and spiky things off the hook for them, a much welcome thing for those parents not eager to take on this thankless task. He also cleaned
many, another part of fishing not desired by most parents. And, because he was bit down on his luck and not everybody shared his tastes, he ended up getting them as gifts as food, something else the more squeamish parents thought fine, especially those that worried about what those bottom feeders ate themselves.

Catfish had lots of recipes for cooking catfish—fried, baked and all the other means of using heat to actually get the things into the stomach. As you can see, Catfish loved every aspect of catfish and he liked the kids who caught them for him. There can be no doubt that he had parents thinking that he was providing quite a desirable service in the harbor. To most, Catfish seemed a bit different but basically harmless.

Sam Martini, though, had some other thoughts about just how savory this guy was. Something wasn’t right about the electric meter reading for Catfish’s boat, month after month. It wasn’t way off the norm for a live-aboard but didn’t seem quite right. Now, Sam knew something about people who didn’t always play by the rules, as noted in last month’s Caliente Character story. It must have been quite a battle between those two guys, both of whom lived largely by their wits.

That winter, after he had won over his neighbors, Catfish just disappeared--boat and all. Not a word was mentioned. He simply vanished. But slowly the story came out for it seems that Sam had finally determined that Catfish was stealing electricity and he figured out how he was doing it--by moving his very long shore power cord around and plugging into other people’s meters nearby, probably every night and probably for just a short period of time. His big sad eyes weren’t going to save him because the jig was up, he hadn’t fully outwitted Sam. Catfish was left to history.

We never heard where he went or anything about him after that. But if you ask any kid who grew up on those docks at that time about the man they called Catfish, they would say “he was cool, he helped us catch fish.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Caliente Characters:

Caliente Characters:

Memories of Some of the People who Made CIYC what it is Today,

50 Years On

Caliente Isle Yacht Club is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year.  Although CIYC was started in a very informal way in 1962, the club was formally made a part of the PICYA (the association of Bay and Delta Clubs) in 1967.  Over the years, we have counted many hundreds, perhaps a couple of thousand members passing through the club.  Among these have been a handful of true greats—some not necessarily in terms of “greatness” as such; some as in “real beauts.” Some were true gentlemen or ladies, others were clearly leaders, and others still were just memorable for their particular ways and weirdnesses. Why remember these folks? Because in their way, they’ve defined who we are as a yacht club and where we came from—our visions, our traditions and our history. As our 50th anniversary year unfolds, each month will see a new Caliente Character in the blog, as remembered by the two of us. 
Jo Anne and I Joined CIYC in 1978 after visiting the clubhouse on Bethel Island’s Taylor Slough for the first time in 1965 to see JoAnne’s parents and spend time on their old boat called, of course, the Jolly JoAnne.
I hope you enjoy….

Ted Lyman
Sam Martini—Founder of Caliente Island Yacht Club
Much has been written about this particular character, including a piece in your annual club directory. But being our founder and being such a particular character calls for a bit more depth on the man who started it all, 50 + years ago. These memories come from JoAnne’s being around Sam as a young person at the Oakland Yacht Club and continuing through the time that her father was helping build the clubhouse on Bethel Island’s Taylor Slough-- and who was himself an early member of our club.  I got to know Sam personally in the years after we got married in 1968.
Sam came into boating sometime in the late 1950s, probably via a small boat he bought to take his kids waterskiing.  But shortly after getting his feet wet (so to speak,) he migrated into ever larger power boats.  During this time he was an active member of the Oakland Yacht Club whose clubhouse was at the time actually located in Oakland (now in Alameda,) close to where Quinn’s Lighthouse can be glimpsed from I-880 along the Oakland-Alameda Estuary. 

Sam had a small business in Oakland, a body and fender shop on Foothill Blvd. in the eastern part of the city. With his mechanical skills and business sense he did pretty well with this enterprise, eventually saving enough to buy a huge, late model Chris Craft cruiser he called Dry Martini.   Underscoring Sam’s business savvy, we can say that his business grew in large part because he somehow secured an AAA towing franchise that naturally brought a lot of wrecks into his body shop where a sizeable share ended up getting pounded back into shape by Sam and his small crew. 

Sam worked closely with his brother Vince throughout their lives. Although his name was Vince, he was known to all as “Red” even though he certainly didn’t have red hair or much hair at all.  Red had a small moving company in Oakland—think Bekins with one truck.  Red was Sam’s right hand man on project after project, seemingly everything they touched. With Sam clearly the lead brother, the two of them built, with some additional volunteer labor, much of what became Caliente Island Yacht Club on Taylor Road on Bethel Island. The build-out period started in 1962 and was never quite finished even at the time we left the clubhouse in 2012.  Work parties in those days were numerous but by the late 1970s, CIYC had become a recognized PICYA yacht club, it had well over 100 members and was a bay-delta standout club in events known as NCPCA “over-the-bottom” racing, a highly skilled form of boat operation and navigation.  That clubhouse is now lost to history but it remains a physical legacy of Sam Martini, while Caliente Isle Yacht Club is Sam’s more important institutional legacy. 

The first and most important thing to say about Sam and Red is that they were loved by the kids in their lives. At Oakland Yacht Club Sam formed and headed up the youth program. He was particularly nice to youngsters, helping them out in the various ways that he could and inviting them on his boats for outings. Sam also had a cabin at Lake Tahoe that he very generously “rented” out to young folks (us included) for pennies on the market rate dollar for ski vacations and the like. Those many youngsters around the club that Red befriended affectionately referred to him as “uncle (uncky)” till the day he died. 

The second thing to say about Sam, in particular, is that he pretty much always ran fast and loose. Sam knew the value of “cash on hand” and always carried something like $1,000 in bills folded into his pocket.  Those Franklins came in handy when Sam found something he wanted and the presence of cash firmed up the deal. It is how he bought the club ferry boat that was the only way onto Caliente Isle until the foot bridge was built in 1978.  It is how he bought enumerable boats for himself, for his son Frank and no doubt for others.  And, he probably bought all the lumber for the docks and sheds just east of the clubhouse with his cash-on-hand since it was all well-used wood from a federal building being taken down not far from Sam’s garage. From the day that wood went up forming the overheads, till the day we left the place a few years ago, it was clearly painted the white of the old Oak Knoll Navy Hospital--Oakland.

Somewhere along the way, Sam lost the very lucrative AAA towing franchise. The details are not known but it is probably safe to say that the AAA people were getting some complaints from Sam’s customers.  Owing to their long friendship, Jo Anne once took her car into Sam for some body work. She was not particularly surprised that her insurance company recommended against Sam’s garage. Apparently there had been some complaints.  Adding a bit more evidence to Sam’s business reputation, I once went into the shop to talk to his son Frank and saw him arguing with a customer about the guy’s recently repaired front fender. The guy was saying that the fender was painted the wrong color. Frank said it was a perfect match.  I saw a fender on a yellow car painted in a very pale green.

But the over-riding personal characteristic to leave this piece on is Sam’s strong vision to build a club for active and skilled boaters and the remarkable, persistent energy he had to build the vision he held. There is no doubt that we would not be celebrating our golden anniversary this year without the presence on the scene in those early days of Sam Martini—a true Caliente Character.

Monday, October 17, 2016

2016 / 32dn Annual Down Bay Cruise

32nd Annual Down Bay Cruise:
Notes on a Great Time Had by All

Our intrepid Caliente Cruisers have only recently returned from this traditional outing, getting back into our slips on Sunday, October 9th.  The fleet was a bit smaller than usual this year, with a couple of boats dropping out shortly before departure as life interrupted plans as it sometimes happens. But in the end, five boats made the trek. Joining in the fun beside ourselves were the Curtis-Browns on Dream Catcher, the Ritters on Sue ZQ, Joel Panzer with Linda and a couple of relatives on Happy Pappy, and, of course, Vern and Caro Green on Southern Bell -- participating in their 32nd consecutive Down Bay cruise!  Over the 10-day voyage, most of the boats had family and friends join in along the way meaning that there were plenty of folks on the docks for the many walks, bike rides, hors d'oeuvres, BS sessions and the like.  CIYCers Jack and Rosalie Di Bartolo joined us a couple of times along the way.

No need to go into the daily agenda, but there were a number of very cool sights along the way and visits to interesting spots, seemingly most of them eating establishments. I ease my belt as I write this.

While at Alameda’s Encinal Yacht Club (2 days), we bumped into that club’s annual Oktoberfest event. Lots of German food offered for pretty much small change.  Then there was the beer.  You could buy tickets in increments that went into large change.  The following day we all Ubered or taxied off to spend the day on the nearby U.S.S. Hornet. This ship has a history which took the entire day to soak in and walk through.  Adding to the nautical collection, the ship has a growing number of privately-owned,  restored, vintage aircraft from the era.

While in San Francisco’s South Beach Harbor (2 days), we bumped into the San Francisco Giants as they played a one-game, do or die game against  the Mets, the other wild card challenger for a chance at the World Series. They won and we were 100 yards away at the South Beach Yacht Club, watching TV and listening to the crowd’s frenzied craziness.  Earlier, we were watching other, truly crazed fans in the water behind right field chasing baseballs with fishing nets while paddling kayaks.

While in Richmond’s Marina Bay marina, we made our way to the 2-year old Rosie the Riveter Museum.  It brought back memories for all of us and the role our parents played in WW II, especially of the work of America’s women in the shipyards. It’s a great story, one well-told at this museum. While at the museum, Colette Curtis-Brown emailed her father, a shipyard worker (as was mine and JoAnne’s) telling him about the collection we were viewing. He immediately emailed back his memories of selling newspapers the day the war ended. “Women were screaming and crying to get a newspaper to read," he wrote, going on to say that "most of their husbands were military and overseas.” That meaningful image of women starved for some kind of really good news after years of war is not hard to visualize.  

One of the continuing stories of the Delta shortly before the our departure was the sinking and recovery of the old, 88’ tour boat Spirit of Sacramento. This thing was a wreck before it became a wreck, bought by some hapless soul for $1,000 at auction a couple of weeks before. Several CIYCers heading around Franks Tract the day we returned from Commodore Island came across the hulk, on its side, sunk in False River. When back in our slip, we could see the recovery effort clearly as it wasn’t more than a quarter of mile away from Willowest Harbor. The day before we left for down bay, a huge crane on a barge arrived all the way from Seattle, along with helicopters and TV crews.  It settled in right over what was left of the Spirit and was soon lifting the upside down wreck, tipping it over to rest on its bottom.  Then the slow lift, so slow that you couldn’t see movement at all.  Yet, by the next  morning the Spirit had risen and there it was, on the surface with water pouring out of every orifice. This is not a sight any boater wants to see, even if its owner is a slacker still missing from the scene.

Later that day while we were all on the deck of the Benicia Yacht Club, here comes downstream  the crane on its barge--but no Spirit.  The following day, as we approached Richmond’s Brothers Lighthouse, there it was in front of us having moved in the middle of night.  Pushed by a tug, it was making its way to Sausalito to meet its final demise at the docks of the Army Corps of Engineers.  The pictures of the Spirit and everything else of this cruise will soon be at the photo tab of  Take a look!

Hope to see you all at the General Meeting and BBQ fest at the Rusty Porthole October 22nd.

Ted Lyman