Category Archives: Travel

Super Heroes, Archenemies and The Weatherman

Imagine…..Singing just because you’re happy

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Everyone knows that Super Heroes have archenemies. Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker and…Spiderman, the Green Goblin. Who knew commoners also have them. We met ours in Catalina…..He came to be known as…..The Weatherman. He proved to be a cunning, strategist lulling us, at first, into complacency.

We spent our first few days in Avalon as relaxed and content retirees. We strolled along the village streets, drank coffee in our favorite little restaurants and treated ourselves to a movie in the theater.

I realized, and accepted, the fact that my previous free-for-all shopping habits would no longer be possible on our meager Social Security income. The realization that extra money must now be saved for wine took hold. Our first lesson of retirement…..conserve money for your priorities.

In over-whelming heat and without even thinking of bringing bottles of water, we hiked out to Wrigley Gardens, discovering new- born baby squirrels behind a fieldstone wall.

Upon arrival, sweating and dying of thirst, we learned our second traveling retiree lesson. Always carry cash. With only a credit card to our avail, we were refused entrance and needless to say, the purchase of life-sustaining water. Third lesson…always bring your own water. Feeling that we were off to a good start with retirement rules, we repeated the exercise the next day and got it right.

Thoroughly enjoying our first retirement vacation, we decided to take the next step and sail up to the Isthmus to meet with two of our children for the week-end. For some reason in our relaxed, euphoric state of mind, we did not hear The Weatherman laughing.

Actual Notes from our sailing log:

We have convinced ourselves that the weather will be much better in the Isthmus. Based on our previous experience, our only concern is that the harbor will be full when we get there.
We are locked into the marine layer all the way. Winds are blowing. Waves are crashing onto the beam of the boat. We add another layer under our Alaska jackets and put another blanket over Charro.

We weren’t at sea very long before the skies turned gray, the wind came up and the ocean started to roll. It didn’t take long for me to get sea-sick. After several hours of solo sailing through the unexpected storm, Tony navigated the harbor on his own. I did manage to help lash the boat to the thrashing mooring and not fall in the water.

This trip became a mumbo-jumbo of trying to keep warm, stay on-shore to avoid the pitching and rolling of the boat, escape the inevitable sea-sickness on my part and still try to enjoy the company of our children.

A bit dazed, tired and stunned that one small harbor could get that rough; we limped back to Avalon under dark skies and heavy seas on Monday. Deciding this was just a fluke weather system, we agreed to wait until July before attempting another stay in the Isthmus. This time, I thought I heard laughing, but decided it was just the three-foot waves breaking on the hull of the Nelly Gray.

The wind and seas did not let up. Memorial Day came and went, leaving in its wake, crashed boats and broken mooring lines. Harbor Patrol boats sat at their moorings damaged from trying to save the boaters from killing each other. The weather did not lay down for three days. We spent most of our time fending off boats and, fortunately, took no damage.

Actual notes from our sailing log

As the hundreds of power boats prepared to leave, sustained twenty-five mile an hour winds kicked up out of nowhere. The ensuing chaos enveloped the harbor like a plague.
As the wind caught the fly-bridges of the on-the-move boats, the captains lost control of their vessels. They crashed into each other, one right after the other, fouled their props, hit the harbor boats and struggled to get their vessels back onto their moorings.

Still optimistic, we found ourselves with a couple of nice days in June and decided to sharpen our anchoring skills for our impending southbound trip to Mexico. A beautiful sea and sunny skies took us to a pretty little cove, halfway between Avalon and the Isthmus.

We anchored easily and set out to enjoy the day. We prepared ourselves a nice dinner on-board, passing on our plan to have a picnic on the beach. The sea had gotten a little rough. We finished our bottle of wine and went to bed, happy with our successes of the day.

At ten o’clock, our archenemy struck again. We awoke to the boat wildly pitching and rolling. The moonless night sharply diminished our ability to see anything at all, but we knew the shoreline was rocky.

For the next two hours, we worked at saving ourselves from crashing into the shore. Our dishes and anything loose flew violently around the cabin, as the wind howled.

Amazingly, our anchor held, but we swung around it at 360 degrees and barely missed the boulders protruding from the sea. At midnight, the full moon quietly rose from behind the mountain in front of us, the sea calmed to a reasonable level of safety and we sat the rest of the night, trying to ward off our remaining fears of death.

In the morning, we hit the sea running and hurried to the Isthmus. Tucked safely onto our mooring, a bottle of opened wine ready to be consumed, we both came to the same conclusion at the same time. This was happening to us on purpose. Someone, or something, was pulling the strings on our life. We had never heard of this prolonged type of weather on Catalina. It was summer, for God’s sake!

We began to analyze possibilities. We helped ourselves to more wine. It seemed to us, after many scenarios, that Fritz Coleman, our local weatherman had seemed rather bored for the last couple of months. No one could blame him. He had to deal with the constant sunny, warm California weather. What weatherman goes through four years of college to put up with that nonsense? Who better to pray for some exciting weather, and then get it? Of course, this theory made perfect sense. Our archenemy was Fritz Coleman, THE WEATHERMAN.

It turns out…fourth lesson of retirement…that knowledge is power. Tony had always told me, “Margo, always know your enemy. You will win the battle.” We took on The Weatherman with a fierce vengeance. We spent the rest of the summer studying the weather. We used his own systems, which he continued to confront us with on a daily basis, as study guides.

Tony watching weather
Tony Studying the Weather

Our new found knowledge gave us the courage to circumnavigate the island. We watched buffalo walk and sleep in the mountains and we were treated to eagles and their young flying over our boat, hunting their breakfast.

Actual Notes from our Sailing Log

Looking forward to this new venture and the possibility of seeing buffalo and eagles, and also, to completing our long-planned circumnavigation of this island. Just the kick in the butt we needed to get started.

At seven a.m. this morning, we let our mooring lines go and headed out to conquer the legendary, gut-wrenching, wind-driven, ocean swirling West End of the Island, in an attempt to reach Cat Harbor. The tales we have heard are enough to put fear into the devil himself.

The ever-present gray skies, filled with enough moisture to mimic rain continue to plague us. We’re a little grouchy, not enough coffee and never any sun. We dress in four layers, t-shirt, sweater, sweatshirt and our best form of protection, our jackets from Alaska. We are ready to face whatever.

I stay at the helm until my face freezes and then Tony takes over. I crawl to the protection of the dodger and pull my coat up higher around my neck. It’s July, for God’s sake.

As we pass each cove, the anticipation of the treacherous West End grows at a rapid rate. Signs of civilization disappear and only looming mountains dominate the coast. We are alone. Just us, the boat and giant rollers.

We can see it. There it is. The famous West End. It’s 8:30 in the morning. We haven’t had enough coffee. We aren’t ready for this.

West End

Tony works his way around to the left. We are expecting terrifying winds, sea serpents breathing fire, devils from hell rising from the sea to reach out and grab the boat, sucking us into the eternal depths of the ocean.

What do we get? The most beautiful, amazing scenery anyone could imagine. Towering cliffs, endlessly being drenched in crashing waves. Pelicans and seagulls, flying the thermals across the cliffs. The sea rolled gently beneath us, guiding us towards Eagle Rock, as if the whole thing was just child’s play.

Passing Eagle Rock, the sea kicked up a little, throwing us around a bit, knocking down our egos just a tad.

Calming again, carrying on just enough to let us know who’s boss, the water mellowed and let us continue our journey.

An hour and a half later, we sit on our mooring, enjoying bacon and eggs, and patting ourselves on the back for conquering the sea serpents

Tony Alaska Jacket
Our Summer Wardrobe


My winter fashion


We learned that in order to empty our holding tank, we had to tackle a floating dock rising up and down and backwards and forwards every time we pulled up next to it. I learned to jump onto it without killing myself, lash the boat onto the pilings and get the job done.

Actual Notes from our sailing log

As Tony maneuvered the boat towards the dock, I got ready to jump on. It floated away. One leg over the side, one leg on the boat. Watching the dock float away in the current, Tony re-maneuvered the boat and I re-positioned myself for a second try. The fifteen mile an hour winds did not help my plight. Again, the dock floated away.

We sat there watching the dock float around like a rubber duck in a bathtub. It occurred to us that this might be some kind of sick joke on the part of the Harbor Patrol.

Tony decided to approach the problem backwards. He positioned the boat sideways to the dock and waited for the wooden monster to float back. He yelled, “Jump” at the right moment and I jumped, landing on both feet with a thud. He yelled, “Grab the line,” and I grabbed the line, ran down the dock to secure it to the bow and then ran down the dock the other way to secure the stern line, all before the dock floated away again.

Tony became a master at the helm. I learned that I could put a boat on a mooring under the absolute best…and the absolute worst of conditions. We learned to get the boat back to the mainland with an overheating engine and no wind. We learned to install our flopper-stopper and stop the pitching and rolling of the boat and we learned how to repair a dinghy leaking air in the middle of cresting waves and blowing sand. Best of all, we learned how to stay one step ahead of The Weatherman.

         Put boat on mooring


The Isthmus Mooring Field

But most importantly, we learned to love and trust each other no matter what. It was quite a summer and…. only the beginning.


In the Beginning, There Was Rain, Wind and Doubt

Imagine…..No one else on the sea, but you.

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On the first morning of our retirement…to borrow from an old Irish expression, we were full of ‘spit, vim and vinegar’. We couldn’t wait to get going.

The parties and good-byes were complete. Our residency in Florida was established. Our cars were sold. Opting to live ‘bow to stern’ on our thirty-six foot sailboat, we had eliminated every single thing from our life that didn’t comfortably fit within its confines.

Ready to go1



Ready to GoCharro sets sail

Our friends of twelve years stood waving on the docks of our marina, shouting well wishes as we sailed out. From our stereo, Chris Isaak serenaded the all of Alamitos Bay with Tony’s chosen song for our retirement, ‘Think of Tomorrow’.

We realized, as the marina’s new tenant pulled into our slip, that we were officially homeless. We owned no property on land… there was no space to return to and there would be no turning back. Our next stop was a mooring ball in the Isthmus on Catalina Island.

We had committed our lives to the sea and sailing, visiting foreign ports, meeting new, exciting people and eating strange foods. We saw ourselves sitting on exotic beaches, sipping wine and eating fresh fish. We pictured ourselves holding hands as we gazed up at star-filled skies and hiking through beautiful mountains.

As I stared at the water beneath us, I became acutely and painfully aware of our decisions. We had never even considered the possibility of anything going wrong with our starry-eyed, romantic plan. Panic welled up in my breast and crippling fear gripped my soul.

As Chris Isaak’s words, ‘You can always count on me’ filled my head, I looked back at Tony, standing strong at his helm… and he was smiling. He smiled the same confident smile that had calmed my fears and had given me strength to go on for almost half a century. Once again, calm embraced me. His eyes told me we were going to be OK. We needed no words. We both knew that the future…. a new, exciting alternative lifestyle…lay before us.

As we headed down the channel and into the open sea, we became aware that the present was our immediate problem. We had paid no never mind to the two storm flags flying from the fuel dock. Santa Ana winds were blowing like crazy and giant swells engulfed the breakwater as the huge black storm approached our bay. We turned on our heel…. without a moment’s hesitation…and raced as fast as a sailboat can race, back to the public marina to rent a slip and seek temporary shelter.

Set Sails

The first night of our highly anticipated, new-found freedom was spent less than one-quarter mile from our marina…. along with the second night.

The raging storm did not turn to beautiful sun and seas until our third day. Our friends had stopped by on several occasions…. bringing along bottles of wine…. to casually inquire as to why we hadn’t checked the weather and…good-naturedly laugh at us. It is true that our egos were a little bruised, but the wine was really good.

There is a good possibility that had we known even the smallest detail about the summer we were about to experience, today we would be sitting in rocking chairs somewhere way inland, as far away from the sea as we could get.

When I got married, my father said to me, “I am only giving you away once, don’t come back.” Kidding of course, his words stayed on my mind until this day. I attribute this ‘little joke’ to the reason we did not give up….we could not ‘come back.’ Every marina in California had at least a one-year waiting list. It is well known that no one in their right mind gives up a perfectly good slip. We did. One can only wonder why.

We would find out. We would learn lessons about courage, about being a team in the worst of times, about living out and accepting our decisions and about what is means to have the best time of our lives.