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
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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.