Thursday, November 9, 2017

Random Recollections of Caliente Characters

Random Recollections of Caliente Characters

Here we have a guy with the unusual last name of Hamburger. He had a first name of course, Bob. But why would anyone with a cool last name like Hamburger want to be referred to by such a plain first name as Bob--and so it is in this story, simply “Hamburger.”
That his last name was Hamburger really has nothing to do with the fact that he was a character. Instead, he was a character because of his boating habits. While most of us were regular users of our boats in the normal way of cruising--long weekends at anchor and the like, this guy only rarely took his big houseboat out in this way. Instead, he was remembered mostly for his after party midnight jaunts.

Club old timers will attest that we had super parties every month at our old clubhouse on Bethel Island’s Taylor Slough. And more often than not, these parties would  have been truly memorable if not for all the fun imbibing at the bar, making them, in fact, somewhat unmemorable.  Generally when the bar closed, often in the midnight to 1 AM hour, almost all of us would do the only thing we could. We would go to bed.  

Not Hamburger. A closing bar wasn’t going to stop him from going boating. Now, it is not remembered that he was a big drinker, or worse (we had a few of those.)  So while he would often start his weekend boating fun at midnight after the bar closed, it is not to say that he was seriously impaired---just that his night hadn’t ended yet and he had self-confidence running in his veins. This was no doubt the reason he was the top exec at a big Silicon Valley defense company building Trident submarine missiles, suggesting recognition of his self confidence at the highest levels.  And this confidence naturally led him to think nothing of rounding up all the remaining people sitting at the bar at closing time for his signature event, a “midnight run.”

As the bar was closing, he would loudly announce that his boat would be fired up shortly and that everybody should just bring their remaining drinks on board and keep what was left of the party going—never mind that the real party had ended much earlier. It was always a boisterous departure.  Ninety percent of our party goers were long in their bunks when Hamburger’s extremely loud Nautaline houseboat fired up. The remaining 10% were getting their second wind, in part by chanting at the top of their lungs “midnight  run, midnight run” as they charged out of the clubhouse and onto Hamburger’s now roaring boat.  Off they went down the fairway with an exhaust note like an offshore racer and out onto pitch black Taylor Slough, waking even the heaviest party goers.

In the morning, we would ask those midnight runners where exactly they went at midnight. Most had no idea. But it seems that Hamburger had a favorite turnaround place near the False River ferry slip. Being competent and not fully impaired, he would slowly turn his boat around in a wide arc without fanfare and being that it was dark and his passengers were, in fact impaired, surprise all when he slipped the whole affair back into his berth. Slipping back into his berth was known to be an especially remarkable feat on the part of this captain because Hamburger was very proud of his seamanship.  Before entering the slip, he would suddenly yell “don’t touch anything” at all of those on the boat who could still comprehend such orders. And sure enough, that 15’x43’ behemoth would always glide into its berth, in the pitch black and with a captain surely tired, if not just a bit impaired. His goal was to not touch either side of the only slightly wider opening. This he did time and again—with cheers coming from all that could.

Hamburger became Commodore in 1983. CIYC would have had a quite successful year under his tutelage but he had the misfortune of dying part way through his term. Had he not died, his year could have been capped with headlines in the local rag of the worst kind as in “Midnight Boaters Wrecked at CIYC.” But it was all a part of the fun.  As a Caliente Character, Bob Hamburger was right in there with all the others, truly memorable.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Another Interesting Character From Our Past

Random Recollections of Caliente Characters

She lived alone aboard her small trawler for many years, telling her stories and taking in the active dock life around her—in the nice weather months.  In those other months, she stayed inside that musty thing and got paler.  She was known to all as Libby.  And she had a past. The part of the past that was more widely known was that she and her former husband, Doc, bought that old boat in Florida.  They sailed the Florida coast line and somehow got the boat to Caliente Isle on its own bottom.  It is not known who the crew was but when it got here, Doc was soon history. Nobody knew much about him, such as whether he was a real doctor, or just a guy who went by “Doc.”  In any event, from the day she arrived Libby was a real fixture in our harbor.

On her arrival, it is remembered that that Libby was middle-aged.  It was also noted that she didn’t go off to work like most people. Although seemingly without employment she must have had some source of income to pay for berthing. You could say that she didn’t go out much.  Instead, she just hung out on that boat, never leaving the dock, swapping stories with the people that walked by and chose to engage.

One guy that walked by all the time was Charlie, who at the time was serving as Harbormaster with his wife Judy.  Like Libby, Charlie had a past. Nobody knew exact details but Charlie was known to take a toke now and then.  He was also known to carry a gun on his hip.  He said it was for show, to let people who boated by know that there was a guy with a gun on that island.  A lot of us thought that maybe Charlie needed the gun for self-defense from certain boats that cruised by.

In any event, Charlie and Libby were sole mates.  They both had sea stories. And both were probably telling each other the truth because both were known to be pretty handy in the small boats kept in the harbor for just messing about in.  Libby for sure had several very small dinghies, all probably left behind by owners moving on from our island club.  One was an aluminum row boat which she occasionally kept on the levee side of the footbridge to be used by anyone, anytime to row across when one forgot their gate key.  That boat got used a lot as people were always forgetting their gate key and risked a strong chewing out if they had to bother the Harbormaster to walk down from the apartment to let them in—the Harbormaster who occasionally carried a gun but in a non-threatening way, if that is possible.

Well, Charlie eventually moved on to wherever old Caliente Harbormasters moved on to, they all being of a different breed.  Libby, however, couldn’t move on because sadly she had no means to move on with. Her boat hadn’t run in many years and her net worth was probably pretty much a boat that didn’t run.  After Charlie left, she would just sit on the rail of the boat and talk to anyone who would wander by.  She wasn’t pushy but it was clear that a short conversation with anyone would be more than welcome and it is important to say that many if not all walkers stopped to chat, however briefly.

This went on for a while. It was known that she would sometimes earn some money selling junk from near-by yard sales on Ebay.  Several of us remembered when she just happened to tell one of our married guys who walked by that she “really needed a man.”  This guy saw an opportunity to play a practical joke on a friend in the harbor, far from Libby’s boat, who was known to have an eye for the ladies.  He told him that “the woman on that boat over there just propositioned me.” Now, this guy whose name will go unsaid became pretty interested in Libby, a person whom he had apparently never met. The joke was that this unnamed man had an attractive, accomplished and very nice wife and when he went over to check Libby out he returned plenty pronto.  You could say that Libby, who had had a rough life had by this time, had years that showed.

At some point Libby decided to sell her non-functioning boat and buy something a bit larger but what she found had never had an engine at all and was rough all over.  Nevertheless, it was something with large decks she could sit out on and likely catch a little more sun, important as winter was coming on.  It turned out to be a salmon-colored homemade houseboat, with a nice upper outside area for lounging, but clearly on its last legs. She tied it up outside, out from under any roofing at all.  Here she could both get some sun and still catch the eye of passers-by through the door separating the harbor walkway from her deck so as to seek out conversation, still often offered by our good people on that dock.

Well, that old hulk didn’t make it through its first winter at Caliente. First, the roof flew off and had to be replaced with tarps and other stuff at hand. Then it took on water and started to sink. Some emergency repairs were made but club members were getting increasingly worried about Libby as her small life seemed to be taking a large, bad turn.

The next thing we knew was that old hulk of a floating home was in the boatyard down by the Bethel Island Bridge getting some work done. People were happy, thinking that things were looking up.  But regrettably, Libby was gone, you could say with no forwarding address.  It was said later, and we all wanted to believe, that she might have moved to live with former CIYCers who had befriended her and were now in the Central Valley somewhere. We never heard from her again nor did the boatyard owner who was looking for a pay check.  What club members got from all this though was a memory of a really nice woman who had plenty of stories to tell, one who had had a pretty rough life but who had unevenly made it into her sixties by her wits alone. Libby was missed and plenty of stories were told by all in the years since, many of them concluding that Libby was for sure a true Caliente Character.

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.