Thursday, November 30, 2017

CIYC's Ultimate Character!

A Last 50th Anniversary Memory of One of
CIYC’s Ultimate Characters

Number 12 of 12
When the Board of Directors got into the planning details for our club’s 50th anniversary year, I offered to write up some personal memories of certain personalities who have passed through the club’s membership. We have been members of Caliente Isle Yacht Club for going on 40 years now so we’ve experienced or observed them all--several real winners, a couple of losers for sure but more than a few truly odd characters. So, I figured that I’d have no trouble if I volunteered an amateurish effort to write up one of these stories for each month of our anniversary year. Thanks for the positive feedback.

If you haven’t been paying attention, you can see eleven stories already on file at (go the “Blog” tab.)  December is now upon us, thus here is story Number 12 of 12.  It is of a CIYCer I knew well, indeed very well, because he was my late father-in-law -- and a real piece of work.  Meet Fred Shaw, who with his wife, Jo, joined CIYC back in the 1960's.

As some of you know, I met JoAnne in elementary school. I was an older man at the time, actually just a ten year old traffic boy but I’m pretty sure she just couldn’t resist my official looking sweater, whistle and cap and no doubt the snappy way I slung my STOP sign into traffic for her.  Of course, she has strong memories of this older guy.  But I don’t have much memory of that particular little girl in my cross walk every morning and afternoon. We didn’t get together for another 11 years, eventually marrying 50 years ago, in 1968.

Early Encounters
The day after we decided to get married, I thought it best to ask her father if taking his daughter off his and his wife’s payroll was all right with him (ok, she was working at the time), he being of that generation where asking a father’s permission to take a daughter’s hand in marriage was expected. I found him where he could be found every Saturday morning, working on his old boat docked at the Oakland Yacht Club on The Estuary.  We knew each other of course, he being the one who gave me “the look” every time I came to the door to fetch my date over the preceding two or so years.  He was aloof as ever and after building up my nerve, I managed to mention my intentions.  He immediately asked me if I had ever noticed the ladder stored under JoAnne’s bedroom window.  I pretty much missed his drift, till he said “I put that there to make it easier for you two to elope.”  His humor was really dry and he didn’t smile much so I said something dumb like “We were actually hoping that you would pay for a wedding.”  After some quick mental math, and another long look at me, he was okay with that idea and we got along quite well from then on.

Fred was always working on his boat, mostly because it was built in 1948 and thus made of what became very old and sometimes rotten wood of the kind needing constant work. JoAnne says the boat started out 28’ long but at some point Fred wanted it longer. So he commissioned some guy who hung out on the docks to design a cockpit extension of about four feet. He then went about finding the wood needed for the extension.  All he could come up with were a bunch of boards that were 6’ long. Instead of cutting the long boards, leaving shorter boards as scrap, he told the boat yard to ignore the careful plans he had paid for and to go ahead and make the boat 34’ long rather than the 32’ in the drawings. Did I mention that Fred was frugal?  The result, as you might imagine, was a boat 8’ wide and 34’ feet long. You could say it was shaped like an arrow.  He was lucky that thing never tipped over during those summer afternoon winds on the Bay and Delta that we all know about.

It did sink once, however, near San Rafael and with JoAnne and her mom and their dog on board. Mom had gone down below to get something about the time they were going under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, then under construction.  She quickly came back up, telling Fred that the boat was sinking. Fred, a highly opinionated and bossy type, just shook his head and told his wife that she was crazy. “Take the helm” he said in that disgusted tone reserved for old school husbands. When he returned, he meekly said to her “you and kid better start bailing.” Sure enough, they were sinking pretty fast as a plank below the water line was missing something. That situation had them stranded on the mud in San Rafael much of one night, with the lasting result that JoAnne has never, and will never voyage out the Golden Gate or anyplace else that doesn’t have nearby mud to settle a boat into unless she is on a ship the size of the Queen Mary.

Fred was known around the club for his various oddities--extreme frugality being at the top of the list—as in really cheap.  Fred’s boat was the only one in Caliente Harbor that was heated by a wood stove. No electric heaters for him. He generally found the wood for his tiny wood burner in Sam’s wood pile.  Because it was scrap, in addition to short bits of 2x4s and the like, this wood often consisted of nasty old stuff, like busted up pilings which were made even nastier because pilings are generally soaked in creosote, as we would say today “a known carcinogen.”  In the dead of winter, when it can be really still in the Delta, Fred would fire up his wood stove and sit inside nice and toasty. Outside however, were all of his neighbors who could barely find their boats for the cough inducing and eye-watering, low-lying smoke wafting throughout the harbor.  He is lucky he wasn’t arrested by some kind of environmental police but at that time we were all breathing carcinogens all the time, which probably answers lots of questions.

Fred was also known to take a drink now and again, as in hourly when off duty. His habit wasn’t so unusual around the club because back then Caliente was pretty much known far and wide as a drinking club with a boating problem. In fact, most yacht clubs were seen this way. Our parties, even up to recent times, were made all the wilder by really cheap booze. Fred wasn’t the only old timer who threatened to quit when the Board voted to raise drink prices by as little as 25 cents, time and again. The old timers won those battles year after year and even up to a few years ago, our bar sold drinks for $2 and beers for a buck. One visiting club Commodore, when standing in front of all to thank us for our hospitality couldn’t help but remark “the reason I love coming to Caliente so much is that I can drink here for less than on my boat!”  It is no wonder that Fred and his boating buddies pretty much always had a drink in their hand when not at the wheel (wink, wink.)

As he got into his 70's, there came a time when working on that old boat all of the time wasn’t working for Fred. After 40 years of doing his own maintenance he actually contracted some work out to a boat yard—to a friend of his who owned the old Hunter boatyard up in Suisun City.  There was some kind of incident involving the yard’s lift.  The friendship pretty much ended when the guy somehow managed to drop the boat while trying to re-launch it.  I’m sure Fred took his friend’s apologies in the spirit in which they were offered, but at the time he probably didn’t know that something fundamental happened when the boat fell off the lift and onto something very hard. A serious leak developed that Fred and other real experts couldn’t find.  Having a boat that leaked all the time was a tipping point for Fred—he had been talking about it for a while, but now it was time to find the old girl a new home.  He tried to sell it, but no go. It was leaking, slowly to be sure, but the near constant stream out of side of the hull when the boat was under way was pretty much of a turn off for otherwise interested buyers.  He then tried other means to get rid of the boat. Finally, the only buyer in line wasn’t a person with real money. Instead, it was a local Sea Scout outfit that took it off his hands for a $1.

Jolly JoAnne
Fred’s boat, the Jolly JoAnne (of course), was probably soon sold for peanuts by those Sea Scouts but it did seem to knock around the Delta for a few years after some kind of transaction. We once saw it on False River, looking reasonably good, sort of restored by someone.  But the next time we saw it, 25 years ago, it was in one of those horrible harbors west of Pittsburg, listing badly, looking sad and resting in mud again which must have felt familiar to that old woody from the San Rafael incident. The last time we saw it was in 1998 at Vierra's boatyard on the Sacramento River -- and it was still floating!

Fred passed away in 1996.  Unfortunately, he had dementia and was bed-ridden at the time. We would visit him regularly and every now and then he would grab something nearby, look me in the eye and say clearly “did you feel that?”  I thought it best to put my head where his head often was and say “yep, you’re right Fred, the ship just rolled.”  Being an active boater for something like 70 years, his smile told us he liked that because there can be no doubt that he was a boater to the end--and a true Caliente Character.

Happy 50th CIYC!  You've turned out some real beauts.

 Ted Lyman

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.