Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Another Caliente Character

Another Caliente Character

Joe Higgins will be remembered by a number of current CIYCers because he and his wife, Helen, were active members of our little club for 40+ years, up until not so long ago. They were special in so many ways, including being among the few anointed as Lifetime Members for their special place in our club’s history. 

Like so many of our old timers, Joe and Helen were very skilled boaters. As with other members of that age, they cruised a Chris Craft woody.  Macushla was 32 feet long and probably built in the mid-1960s. Joe must have been a boater for a pretty long time because he knew everything about wood boats. Macushla wasn’t one of those glorious, fully restored wood Chris Crafts that are only occasionally seen these days. But it was still very easy on the eyes. Joe not only kept up with the cosmetics -- chrome, varnish, canvas (including designing and sewing his own canvas) and the like.  He kept up with the engines, transmission and all the stuff many of us farm out to experts. Some of what he tended to on that boat were really difficult issues, like when the boat needed some new planks on the bottom. It is remembered that he took that project into a yard for some expert work. At one point, something happened and Joe had a falling out with the yard. Apparently they weren’t doing the job right, or at least not to Joe’s satisfaction. Soon he was lying on his back replacing planks himself. Now, for a guy in his 40’s, even 50’s laying on one’s back fitting and fastening unwieldy boards into place overhead seems at the least, plausible. But it is further remembered that Joe was in his  late 70’s or early 80's at the time.

Joe was handy with the tools in ways that so many old timers were, maybe because he was a highly skilled technician who worked at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale.  He would tell us guys that he worked on “government projects.”  That was pretty much the total explanation of what he did for a living.  But there was a clue about what he really did for a living along the way. I distinctly remembered him telling me that he once worked at the super secret “Trinity Site” in New Mexico.  Now, that name had meaning to someone who grew up in Berkeley in the late 40’s and 1950’s, where we regularly did “duck and cover” exercises, crouching under our school desks wondering what the hell was going on — were the Russians actually starting to bomb Berkeley, the home of the country’s nuclear bomb research.    What was going on, in general, were the advanced nuclear tests at Trinity Site, named for the place the first atomic bomb was detonated and where tests went on for years to come. Joe was apparently a hydrogen bomb tech of some kind.

Joe and Helen loved Caliente Isle Yacht Club, especially the monthly parties in our old clubhouse.  We remember them mostly in the period after Joe retired and when he and Helen would come across the footbridge hanging onto themselves and to Leonard and Minerva Reed who had a house on the levee side of Taylor Slough. The four had been visiting and basically “pre-loading” for the party to come. “Hanging on” as in if they didn’t hang on, they could have fallen off that footbridge and directly into the drink.  Here would come the four of them, down the bridge to the patio in full party mode.  They would come inside, chat us up a bit and proceed to continue having their good time. If it was a Halloween Party, Joe in particular would come in an incredibly clever costume, almost always winning the best costume prize. The only one well-remembered was when he came as Jack, as in the Jack-In-The-Box guy. In addition to a finely cut suit, he had his head inside what was once a basketball.  And on the top of Jack’s head, was a perfect cone hat just like the real hamburger guy.  First prize, for sure!

Joe and Helen were active until their mid-80's. They were particularly pleased when the Board, led by Chip Maguire, voted them into Lifetime Member status. That was truly meaningful to both of the Higgins.  Around 2010, Joe passed away while he and Helen were still living in the home he built in Castro Valley. The last time we visited, he specifically commented on his honored award. Helen passed away just two years ago in a senior center in Grass Valley near their only child. We visited shortly before she died and she too commented on being a Lifetime Member of Caliente Isle Yacht Club—an award made only in part because Joe, in particular, was such a Caliente Character. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Next Round of Random Recollections of Caliente Characters

Random Recollections of Caliente Characters

I’ve only met one person in my 70+ years who found a way to use the word “rutabaga” in common conversation. This alone makes this man a character.  We called him “Rocky,” no doubt a name he answered to throughout his life since his last name was Rockwood. Clifton, his real first name,  just didn’t have the same panache as “Rocky.”  It’s a nickname sort of like “Buster,” but now we have a baseball celebrity named Buster whose name appears all the time, but I digress…   

Rocky was the third Commodore in the photo list of 52 Commodores found in your 2017 club directory. This means that he was there at the start, the mid-to-late 60s. He was a key part of the work effort put out by Sam, his brother Red and club members as they built our clubhouse, all the berthing and eventually the footbridge connecting the little island to the levee on Bethel Island. You can also see that story in the back of the club directory.

Rocky was a very competent boater. He honed his skills in over-the-bottom and predicted log racing, once mainstream boating activities, but now relegated to a select few who enjoy piloting  around the Delta with sharp eyes squinting at paper charts, speed indicators and clocks making sure that time, course and distance are to the judges' liking. You could say that this arcane part of the boating hobby is today nearly a lost art. Today’s boaters are more interested in piloting around with their screen-destroyed, bloodshot eyes trying to read their GPS that tells them everything they need to know about speed and distance--far easier than struggling with charts, pencils and the thing that resides between one’s ears. But Rocky was one of the best at this stuff along with Sam Martini, CIYC’s founder and a few other club members in those early days.  More recently, our Mike and Jo Daniels were CIYC’s standouts in these contests. We have boxes of trophies stored somewhere filled with the trophies won by these true mariners.

Rocky’s first significant boat was an older, wooden Hunter, about 33’ or so.  Of course, nearly all the boats in the 60’s were made of wood and generally much smaller than today’s behemoths.  Hunters were prominent as were Chris Crafts, Owens, Fairliners and a host of other wood boat builders. Being built of wood, most of these boats are long gone, victims of rot (if not termites.) He eventually moved up to a nice 36’ Taiwan trawler named Delfin and as this boat was built of fiberglass, it needed comparatively minimal maintenance.  The bonus was that Rocky had much more time to sport around the Delta looking at his charts, instruments and clock while remembering to keep his pencil sharp.  

Being technical in this way came naturally to Rocky because he was truly one of the pioneers of Silicon Valley (in this way he was different than his good buddy Sam Martini who owned a sketchy auto body shop in East Oakland.)  You might recognize the company name “Varian,” an early tech company along with the likes of Intel, Hewlett Packard and Xerox.  In the late 60s and into the 70s (when I was starting out in Silicon Valley and studying high tech) Rocky was involved in one Varian product in particular, the klystron tube. This thing was invented by his bosses, brothers Sig and Russell Varian some years before. I don’t know anything about klystron tubes but Rocky told me that they were the devices that powered microwave communications gear and eventually particle accelerators.  They probably weighed hundreds of pounds, now no doubt replaced by a chip weighing ounces, if anything at all.  In those days, Rocky knew his high tech and he transferred his knowledge into his boating hobby.

Where do “rutabagas” come into this picture you ask? Rocky was a true raconteur-- an especially renowned story teller--so the answer is that rutabagas appeared in just about every story Rocky would ever tell--and he told a bunch. He would often be found on the docks at Caliente Isle harbor with a crowd of people around listening to him spin what were known as shaggy dog stories—very long tales, with twists and turns and a drop dead punch line. Most of these attentive listeners, well schooled in such stories, were far more interested in the part of the story where “rutabagas” would figure in and they almost always did. The stories would wander around, gather steam then slow, with bits and pieces of very dry humor tucked in here and there. Then just when he had his audience putty in his hands, all leaning in so as to not miss the moment, he would spring the rutabaga bit. Whether it was funny or not, the mere use of the unusual word had people howling and Rocky would go off with a powerful twinkle in his eye.

Rocky passed away a number of years ago but some of us stay in touch with  Rocky’s son, Jack.  Now, being Rocky’s son, Jack is no slouch in the two worlds his father no doubt taught him, serious boating and entrepreneurial high tech. He owns several boats and jets around the high tech world in the course of his business.  I had a nice visit with Jack two  4th of Julys ago while anchored at Mandeville Tip.  He saw our boat and paddled over in his kayak to say hi.  We laughed about various Rocky stories but when reminded of his father’s rutabaga stories he positively cracked up.  Jack came to CIYC’s 50th anniversary party and we chatted for some time.  Once again, with the mention of rutabagas, he cracked up. With that same, unmistakable twinkle in his eye, he launched into his own stories.  Like father, like son— there can be no doubt that both of these men are true Caliente Characters.

Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 Mid Year Report

Caliente Isle Yacht Club:

Fleet Captain's 2017 Mid-year Review and a Look Forward

To make for good member communication, each year we take a pause after the busy 4th of July activities to look back on what we've been up to and what's coming up in the remainder of the year.  As you remember back in January when you sent in your dues check, the calendar was pretty full. Below are the events we've enjoyed and some details about upcoming activities.

Commodore's Ball--this year's ball was held at the venerable Rusty Porthole whose owners, now good friends of CIYC, closed the place to their regular customers for a few hours.  Several boats cruised in and enjoyed fine weather on the docks before and after the ball -- except for 50 mph winds on Saturday night.  Nevertheless, it was a great party with an especially fine band. Plenty of our folks were out on the dance floor for much of the night.
Crab Feed.  The week following the Commodore's Ball was the annual Crab Feed at Oxbow Marina, now the home of our old crab feed friends at the Marina West Yacht Club.  Ours was a relatively small turnout for this dead-of-winter cruise out but we did have some 12-15 members and guests who drove or boated in on the three boats braving winter rain and wind to spend a couple of nights on the MWYC guest dock.

We had scheduled a cruise -in to our old friends at San Joaquin Yacht Club on Bethel Island's Sandmound Slough for their Valentine's Day party.  Being in the middle of February and in the wettest winter in years, we had our challenges.  First, the SJYC clubhouse (the still floating, somewhat, the historic SS Sutter riverboat) was challenged by what the Commodore would call a sinking incident.  The vessel didn't really sink, it just listed badly till stopped by the pilings that hold it in place.  Long story short, SJYC simply picked up and moved the entire party to Tug's restaurant on Bethel Island's main drag.  The band was really cooking,  the food great and the setting unique. It was nice catching up with Page Pratt the proprietor (he, a real deal tugboat operator in the Bay for many years) who is a former Caliente member.

After a very wet February, we got into an even wetter March, but our St. Patrick's Day cruise to Windmill Cove was in beautiful weather. A great time was had by all, especially our beer tasting off the sterns of member's boats in which we were joined by plenty of people we didn't know (it was St. Patrick's Day you know.)  Didn't matter--great fun!  Later in the month, we had pre-paid reservations at Delta Yacht Club, as we have had for many years, but the Commodore called to say that they had to offer to give our deposit money back.  It turns out that their island was flooded, the clubhouse very muddy and fences were down all around.  Most troubling, the Commodore (a major plumbing contractor in SF) said he couldn't say that the septic system wasn't damaged. Without much additional thought, we decided to take him up on his offer of a refund and headed off to Moore's Riverboat on the Mokelumne River as a fall back. The wind blew as hard as it could on Friday get-away-day, so only Happy Clown braved the situation that day and many more came a day late.  Winter boating is always fun but can be a challenge!

Our Spring General Meeting was held at Sugarbarge Resort on Bethel Island's Piper Slough. These folks are always happy to see customers and basically gave us their downstairs restaurant at no charge.  Members turned out in large numbers to hear about the good news regarding membership holding firm in the new year (and growing recently), a sound financial picture and a full calendar of events for the rest of the year.  After the meeting, many members stayed around for dinner and the music of a terrific band whose drummer was just short of deranged.

This month turned out to be full of activity.  We started with a cruise out to Village West Marina and the Garlic Brothers Restaurant. The weather was fine, the Cinco de Mayo party at Village West Yacht Club hot on Friday and the Saturday dinner at Garlic Brothers cold (just kidding, only for the salad eaters amongst us.)  Saturday also included a visit to the Haggin Museum in Stockton and a look at the Stephens boat and the history of the Stephens Brothers company.  The month's main event, of course, was CIYC's 50th Anniversary Party!! (I hope you've taken the time to view the photos at all our events.)  We had nearly 100 members and guests in attendance, a number of them former members returning for the celebration.  We read the names of members who had taken their last voyage across the bar during an Eight Bells ceremony. We had raffles. We had a blessing of the fleet.  We had fine food and dancing at the Stockton Yacht Club, our hosts for the long Memorial Day weekend.  Finally, we had a scattering of flowers and a wreath out on the main river with club members' boats sounding their horns.  Thanks especially to Kim Sechler and Sally Sue Christopher for their fine efforts to make this milestone event the true success it was!  It was also terrific to have Scott and Andrea Ancha join us that weekend, with their two kids (Dylan, who loves to fish) and Maya (who is "good with dogs"--very, very good.)  It's particularly great to have some young kids in the club.  They have a 44' Sea Ray  that  is very easy on the eyes.  Mike and Erica Lawrie also joined us on our 50th year anniversary. They have a 34' Sea Ray which is also quite nice.

Busy as May was, there was still time to load a few of our folks on buses to join Discovery Bay Yacht Club for a Day at the Races  at Golden Gate Fields.  This event is a continuation of CIYC's annual affair.

This brings us to the present.  We've just returned from a long stay at anchor awaiting Barron Hilton's annual fireworks display at Mandeville Tip, just off the San Joaquin River.  The CIYC fleet grew as the days on the hook grew to a week or more for some.  At its apex, the raft up had something like 15 boats, including the boats of two visiting couples, both of whom had so much fun they joined the club! At the moment, we only have the name of Richard and Willie Ann Davidson at hand. They have a very fine  33' Wellcraft (I know from my conversation with Rich that they have a 42' sailboat in charter on the East Coast where they hail from.)  Soon all these new members will receive in the mail their burgee, membership card and club directory.
And, don't forget the 18th Annual Glen C. Scrimger Go Fast Mystery Cruise on July 29th.  This one day event features using our fast boats--runabouts and the like--for a day tooling around the Delta visiting some of the most notorious Delta Dives known to Delta Denizens.  Watch this space!

You've just received a "save the date" reminder promising more information on the Commodore Island cruise out. The dates for this cruise are August 11-13. Commodore Island is a very scenic, privately held spot owned by Cruiser Haven Yacht Club on Disappointment Slough, within sight of King Island Resort.  Several of our members are also members of that club, making for formal sponsorship of our visit.  There is a long, very well protected side tie dock, ample grass for lounging, etc. as well as many picnic tables and a couple of nice BBQ pits. A key feature for this mid-summer cruise is the protected swimming area.  More info will be coming soon as this date comes into sharp focus.

First up, is the long Labor Day weekend September 1-4.   As the temps get into the 90's and higher, water fun is in order!  We will anchor against the shore at Three River Reach, just upstream from Mandeville Tip. Once bothered by grass and bugs, this venue has been checked out and found to be largely clear of these problems because of the high water flows this spring/early summer.  Anchoring out means having good bow and stern anchors and the ability to use them (helpers will be in dinghies but don't abuse their offers and expect valet service!)  Bring water toys of all kinds.  If you have a drone, bring it---we need some aerial shots of our fun! 

This month also hosts our annual end of summer week-long cruise, usually down into the Bay but this year up to Old Sacramento.  I hope you set your work vacation when the calendar first came out as this trip promises to be different.  Some fine details are still being worked out but plan on rendezvousing on Saturday, September 9th at Korth's Pirates Lair on the Mokelumne River (berthing details being worked on.)  From there, we will cruise down the San Joaquin River, turn north through Three Mile Slough, under the Hwy 160 lift bridge and N/E up into Delta Marina in Rio Vista.  From there we will sail under the huge Hwy 12 bridge and up stream into the picturesque Steamboat Slough and on to the much photographed,  iconic bascule bridge at Steamboat Landing. From there, we move further up the Sacramento River for a night at Sacramento Yacht Club to enjoy their park-like setting.  We then move upstream and across to Old Sac where we will spend a couple of days/nights.  Old Sac offers plenty of activities from fine dining, to museums (steam locomotives plus, plus,) the historic Delta King riverboat  hotel, and shopping of all kinds.  A couple of our folks are likely to hire a salmon guide, if fishing for that cultural creature is allowed at that time. Be prepared to sleep well at night. We will return via the very cool upper Delta waterways past the Chinese community of  Locke and the public docks at Walnut Grove (pizza and ice cream) and finally down the heavily wooded banks of Georgiana Slough. Figure a week-long trip.  Watch for further details!

Plans are being set for our Fall General Meeting which will likely involve a weekend-long cruise out to a meeting venue. Mark it down for October 13-15.  Might there be yet another event in October? How about swimming in the heated pool and eating ice cream at Tower Park, now under new ownership and really nice.  We've gotten to know the proprietor of Sunset Sweets ice cream parlor and can personally  recommend Pralines and Cream--truly extraordinary!  (Last minute editors note--wifey tells me that the ice cream joint closes after Labor Day--maybe ice cream bars at the well-stocked store and pricey coffee at the new cafe.)

Once again, CIYC's patented "Friendsgiving Cruise Out" is calendared, this year for November 17-19 to be an anchor out at "a secret place"  (details of this hidden location to be provided by special courier at a time and place of the Fleet Captain's choosing.)  Get ready for a most unusual and really fun Thanksgiving on the water.

As set out in the 2017 calendar, this year's annual Change of Watch will be held at the Commodore's Ball in January.

Final reminder--
Only five more monthly Caliente Character stories to endure in this, CIYCs 50th Anniversary year.  Trying to figure out how to write about Jo Anne's father without causing marital strife.  Now, there was a real beaut of a guy!