Minimalist RV

There’s no right way or wrong way to go about the RV lifestyle. Decisions on how to do it are based on lifestyle, preference and budget mainly. I’ve photographed and written about coaches costing upwards of two million dollars and also small teardrop trailers and even homemade tiny houses built on a trailer.

Most full-timers are either in a motorhome or a fifth-wheel trailer. These offer the most room and storage capability and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Motorhomes generally have more storage space and can tow a vehicle or cargo trailer. Fifth-wheel trailers are usually roomier inside and once the trailer is set up, the tow vehicle can be used for local transportation. Of course that means driving a truck wherever you want to go. Some people have medium- or heavy-duty trucks converted to RV haulers that can also carry a small vehicle such as a Smart car. Our friends Brett Miller and Cheri Alguire started their full-time journey in a fifth-wheel trailer for a few years and recently switched to a class A motorhome.

What brought this subject to mind was a unique set-up in a site near us at Mission Bay RV Resort. It’s a small – I’m guessing 6 x12 or 6 x14 foot – cargo trailer that was converted to living space. Windows were added to each side and to the door along with a fold-out grab-handle by the door.

Cargo trailer conversion

30 amp power connected at the rear

The trailer has a 30-amp power cord so it has electricity, but I didn’t see any provision for fresh water or sewer, so presumably there’s no toilet or shower or sink. This is quite the minimalist set-up.

Tuesday was Sini Schmitt’s birthday. Bill and Sini picked us up around 5:45pm and we drove down to Seaport Village for dinner at Season’s 52 restaurant. Bill’s son Brandon joined us there. We had a great dinner and drinks with good conversation. It was a nice celebration for Sini’s birthday.

I had scallops for dinner at Season’s 52 and then Donna found scallops on sale the next day. I didn’t mind having scallops twice though. She made seared scallops with jalapeno vinaigrette and served them with a butternut squash risotto and cumin-roasted Brussel sprouts.

Scallops with roasted Brussel sprouts

A storm brought rain Wednesday night and it rained all day on Thursday. The temperature stayed in the low 60s and we had the heat pumps running in the morning. Today is sunny and we should see warmer temperatures in the upper 60s. There’s no rain in the forecast for the week ahead.

PEX Project

Winter seemed to arrive in San Diego last week. Monday and Tuesday we had clear skies and the temperature reached the mid-70s. Wednesday’s high was about 10 degrees cooler and the rain that was clobbering the Pacific Northwest slid down the coast and arrived here early Thursday morning. About an inch of rain fell over the next 24 hours. The high temperatures over the weekend only hit the low 60s. Last night, the thermometer dipped under 50 degrees for the first time since we’ve been here – it was 49 degrees. I know for most of the country this weather is nothing to complain about, but it feels chilly to us.

Luckily we had Sini’s car last week while she and Bill were vacationing in Costa Rica. We used the car to go to pickleball on a rainy Thursday. On Thursday evening Donna said she thought the bathroom floor was damp around the toilet. I investigated and found a small drip coming from the mechanism inside the rear of the toilet. Our toilet was a Thetford Aria II Deluxe electrically operated model. This toilet uses electric solenoids to control the water flow to the bowl. The water flows through an impeller that turns in one direction when the left solenoid opens which then turns a worm gear that jacks the blade valve open in the bottom of the bowl. Then the left solenoid closes and the right one opens, reversing the water flow through the impeller housing to close the valve. Water was seeping from the impeller housing.

I checked the housing screws for tightness and they were tight. It was getting late so the only thing I could do was shut off our fresh water supply and deal with it Friday morning. I searched online and found a kit to replace the mechanism and valve – it cost $125. I was leery about installing a new mechanism in a 15-year old toilet. I was afraid that once I started disassembling it, some of the old, brittle plastic parts might break. There are a lot of parts in this model and I also wasn’t all that happy with its performance. The Thetford toilet is noisy – the worm gear makes a loud grinding noise as the jack screw opens and closes the valve. A lot of people complain about the loud operation of this model. It’s also voltage sensitive – when we boondock, if our battery voltage drops below 12.5-volts, the operation of the valve is iffy.

We decided to go out and look for a replacement. First stop was at La Mesa RV in Kearny Mesa. They had a couple of Dometic porcelain bowl toilets but their prices were high and the model we were interested was bone colored, not white. So we went up to San Marcos to the Camping World store. We bought a Dometic 320 porcelain toilet with a foot pedal operated manual valve. My project for the afternoon was to change out the toilets – so I thought.

Removing the old toilet was easy but I didn’t understand why it was mounted with wood screws through the floor. Looking at the mounting flange, I saw there were actually two flanges stacked together. I remembered when we bought the coach, one of items I had on my list of things for the dealer to correct was the seal for the toilet. Apparently their guy just screwed a flange on top of the original one and mounted the toilet with wood screws. The stack of two flanges was too tall for the new toilet. I removed the top flange and found the flange underneath had been glued with PVC cement to the pipe for the black tank. Even worse, it was glued on in the wrong position – the slots for the correct flange mount studs were cocked about 45 degrees from where they should have been – thus the wood screw mounting method.

Fixing this would entail cutting the pipe to the black tank and installing a new length of pipe and flange. I wasn’t equipped for such a project, so I went forward with the wood screw method. I hate doing things this way – it’s totally amateur.

With the new toilet in place, I had to connect the water supply line. I installed a 1/2″ FNPT fitting to the inlet on the foot-operated valve that had a 1/2″ PEX fitting for the water line. This fitting didn’t come with the toilet, I had to make a run to Ace Hardware in Pacific Beach for it. I re-used a 90-degree elbow from the old line and kept the PEX tubing that was attached to it. Once I started to assemble the line, I realized that I should have bought a different PEX to NPT fitting for the valve. Another trip to Pacific Beach. The fitting I bought is called SharkBite. These things are amazing. You can push the PEX tubing into the fitting and it locks in place. No collar, seal or collet needed. The brass fittings are reusable. A special tool – it’s just a plastic horseshoe-shaped device – releases the PEX tubing from the SharkBite fitting. When you push the PEX tube in place, it locks and has a watertight seal. You cannot pull the tube out. Once you push the release tool in place, the PEX tubing slides right out of the fitting.

First NPT to PEX fitting – I replaced it with a 90-degree fitting

I cut the PEX tubing to length and started putting things together. The SharkBite makes it so easy – it’s like building something with a Lego set – just push things together. When I had it done, I turned on the fresh water pump and saw the NPT fitting was leaking. I quickly shut off the pump and then I realized the big mistake I had made. Putting the PEX line together was so easy, I didn’t give a thought to taking it back apart. To get the NPT fitting off to reseal it, I  needed to remove the PEX line. I cut the tubing between the fittings so short, I didn’t allow room to put the removal tool in place to release the SharkBite fittings. By this time, I had been working on what should have been a simple project for hours – between messing with the screwy flange set-up and trips to Ace, I was worn out. I reluctantly told Donna we would have to go another night without water and I would deal with it in the morning. Luckily our site is next to the restroom here at Mission Bay RV Resort.

With a fresh approach Saturday morning, I was able to cut the PEX tubing with a cutter I had bought at Ace and with a little elbow grease and an extra hand from Donna, I got the old PEX out of the SharkBite fittings. Looking at it with a fresh perspective, I realized I didn’t need the old 90-degree elbow I had used. PEX is flexible enough to make up the slight misalignment between the valve and the existing supply line. I just needed to find about a foot-long section of PEX tubing. Home Depot about five miles from here had 1/2″ PEX in five-foot sections. Between the traffic and the zoo that is Home Depot on a Saturday morning, it took me about an hour to get back in business.

Simple supply line set-up

After cutting a section to the length I needed, I had it done in about 10 minutes. I turned on the water pump again. Success! The new toilet flushes noiselessly – it’s nearly silent in operation. We had become so accustomed to the noise from the old one, we could hardly believe how quiet the new one is. So, my quick toilet replacement turned out to be a full day’s work instead of an hour or so, but now it’s job done.

Dometic 320 – job done!

Donna took Sini’s car to pick up Sini and Bill at the airport in the afternoon and they dropped her off on their way home. For dinner that night, she made something new – roasted chicken thighs with fennel and lemon. She served it with cauliflower risotto and steamed spinach. It was a simple and delicious meal and she made enough for leftovers tonight.

Dinner

On Sunday morning, Donna was up early. She had volunteered to hand out finisher medals for a Girls on the Run 5K race. She ran over to the start/finish line in Crown Point (about two miles from here) and then ran back afterward. She’s been volunteering for this organization for a few years now. Last year, she and Sini were course marshalls for the run and Donna also did several hours of data entry.

I forgot to mention that Donna and I decided to ride over to Deft Brewing Saturday for happy hour. It’s a new small brewery with a nice selection of very tasty European style craft beers. We returned to Mission Bay just in time to catch a gorgeous sunset.

De Anza Cove sunset

The forecast calls for highs in the mid 60s and we might have rain again on Wednesday.

Our Friendsgiving

We’re more than halfway through Thanksgiving weekend as I type this on Saturday afternoon. This was the first year since we hit the road that we didn’t have family members to share Thanksgiving with. But, we weren’t lonely. Our friends, Jeff and Deb Spencer, made the drive down from Dana Point where they are camp hosting at Doheny State Park. It rained early on Thursday morning but the sun came out and it was dry after 9am.

Donna grilled turkey breasts and a drumstick and thigh on the Weber Q. Deb brought down a salad plus asparagus and cherry tomatoes for roasting. Donna sauteed some corn with peppers and onions and made mashed Yukon gold potatoes and turkey gravy for Jeff and I  – the mashed potatoes and gravy didn’t fit the Bright Line Eating Plan that both Donna and Deb are following.

Grilled turkey

Round one

Deb and Jeff arrived around 2pm and we soon had the outdoor picnic table set. I poured a Belgian golden ale to go with my turkey. In lieu of pies for dessert, Donna baked Bartlett pears with cinnamon and chopped walnuts, then served it with a drizzle of balsamic reduction sauce and blueberries with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Deb said it was as good as apple pie!

Belgian golden ale

We dined and talked for a few hours. Before sunset, we made a quick lap around the RV park to stretch our legs and have a look around. The park is nearly full – but not quite as full as it was over the last couple of years. We actually have an empty site next to us which is a pleasant surprise. Deb and Jeff hit the road for the drive back up north after sunset.

Jeff, Deb, Donna and me after sunset

My friend Gary Stemple sent me a text saying he was visiting people over in site 71 and invited us to stop by. We went over and sat outside by their fire pit and talked for a while and made plans to get together on Friday.  Then Donna and I came back home to watch the end of the football game while I puffed a cigar.

Gary came over Friday at noon with a power boat that he beached outside of the park in De Anza Cove. We weren’t sure how many people were planning to go out on the boat – Gary, Donna and I planned to take a boat ride over to Paradise Point and have lunch at the Barefoot Bar. We thought others would be joining for a cruise after lunch.

Looking north from the boat as we cruised across the bay

Lunch at the Barefoot Bar started with Bloody Marys for all three of us. They make a great Bloody Mary and garnish it with wedges of lemon, lime, olives, celery and bacon!

Bloody Mary with bacon – because everything is better with bacon

I ordered the muffaletta sandwich and Donna had a salad with seared ahi tuna while Gary went for a bowl of clam chowder. The food was good although the service could’ve been better with a more attentive waitress. One thing I saw on the menu bugged me.

Hidden charge in the small print

If you click on the photo above to enlarge it, you’ll see a surcharge notice. It says they support increased minimum wage and other mandates – so they add 3% to the bill to cover them. In other words, they hide the additional costs of these government mandates with a surcharge – that way they can say we haven’t raised our prices on the menu – but you’ll pay more.

At the Barefoot Bar, they have a small lagoon that has water from the bay pumped through it. There are a variety of fish in the lagoon including small sharks. They had fish scraps brought out from the kitchen and fed the sharks while we were there.

Feeding the sharks

It turned out that everyone else bailed on the boat ride, so Gary dropped us off back at De Anza Cove and left. Thanks for the boat ride, Gary!

I mentioned the park is nearly full. As usual, many families and small groups came to the RV park for a long Thanksgiving weekend. People have been fairly well-behaved and although the kids run wild until about 8:30pm and parties in some sites are a bit noisy, it mostly settled down by 10pm. I hope that holds true tonight as the weekenders have their final night here. Tomorrow there will be a mass exodus as the park empties. I almost expect to hear a whooshing sound as everyone pulls out.

Monday we’ll have to leave. We’re restricted to a maximum stay of 62 days here before we have to leave for 24 hours. We’ll pull out Monday morning and head down to the Elks Lodge in Chula Vista for the night. Then we’ll be back to site 112 for another month-long stay. The forecast looks great for next several days with highs near 70 and mostly clear skies.

 

A Race and a Game

Last weekend was one of the quietest here at Mission Bay RV Resort. Most weekends, the park fills up with weekend warriors, but I think people were preparing for the Thanksgiving week ahead. Donna and I were busy though.

We were up early Sunday morning. Sini Schmitt came by and picked up Donna at 8am. They were headed to Mission Valley to the former Qualcomm Stadium – now renamed the San Diego County Credit Union Stadium where the San Diego State Aztecs play. Donna and Sini were signed up for the 10k Wonder Woman run that started and ended at the stadium – the run actually finished inside the stadium where they completed the course by running a lap around the football field.

Sini and Donna at the finish

I had a Lyft driver pick me up around 8:10am for a ride to my friend Gary Stemple’s house in Clairemont. Gary has season tickets for the Chargers games at Stub Hub Center in Carson. Two of Gary’s friends, Dave and Bob, joined us and we drove to Carson in Gary’s car. On a Sunday morning, the drive was easy and we made it there after only 90 minutes on the road and were ready for the tailgate party by 10:15am.

The atmosphere at Stub Hub is really laid back and the pre-game parties are fun. Gary brought a small barbeque grill and cooked up chicken ranchero and carne asada. We set up one row off of Thunder Alley – the prime party place.

Thunder Alley

Our tailgating spot

Dave, me, Jordan Fredin, Gary and Bob pre-game

We found our seats just as a pair of F-18s did a fly-by over the field. We had great seats in the corner of the end zone a few rows above field level.

Great seats – game on

Drum Corps between quarters

The game ended in disappointment for us as the Broncos kicked the game winning field goal as time expired.

More people left the park on Monday and it was only about 40% occupied. That started to change on Tuesday as early arrivals checked in for the Thanksgiving weekend. Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times here at Mission Bay RV Resort. The people arriving are mostly small groups of families and they are here to celebrate. It got a little noisy Tuesday night.

All day today, more arrivals showed up and I expect the park to be nearly full by the end of the day. The site next to us has been empty for a few days, but I don’t think that it’ll stay that way.

Rain is in the forecast for tonight with a 60% chance of precipitation by morning. Hopefully it’ll clear out before noon. We’re expecting company – our friends Jeff and Deb Spencer (RollingRecess) are joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. We also plan to visit with other friends that are coming to the park for the weekend. I’ll add that to my next post.

Rags to Riches

Another week has passed by here at Mission Bay RV Resort. Sometimes, when we’re stationary for extended periods of time, I don’t have a lot to say about the RV lifestyle. As full-timers, we settle in and go about everyday life as if we’re living in a permanent residence. Of course, an RV park is a different kind of neighborhood. Neighbors come and go constantly – typically the park fills up on weekends and many younger families are here. On Sundays and Mondays, a major exodus occurs and the park becomes quiet with a lot of open sites.

With neighbors moving in and out of the park, we often have opportunities to meet people. Over the past five years, I’ve had the chance to chat with quite a few very interesting people that retired from businesses they built. I always enjoy hearing their stories of how they succeeded at entrepreneurship. It takes a certain type of personality to risk financial stability and go out on your own.

I lived my working career in a corporate environment. I traded security and a guaranteed pension for the chance to be my own boss and build my own business. I sometimes wonder if I could have been a successful entrepreneur. Donna spent most of her career working for herself.

Some regular readers of my posts may have noticed I’ve taken up cigars in the last seven or eight months. In fact, I’ve become quite a cigar geek. There are some great success stories in the cigar industry – and also some failures. I think one of the greatest stories is that of Nick Perdomo Jr.

Nick’s grandfather Silvio and his father Nick Sr. made cigars in Cuba. They lived in San Jose de las Lajas and worked their way up to management positions at the Partagas Cigar Factory in the 1940s and 1950s. They were visited at the factory by then president of Cuba Fulgencio Batista and were anti-Castro. When Fidel Castro took over the country, Silvio was put in prison and Nick Sr. was shot by soldiers – he survived. Silvio spent more than 15 years in prison and Nick Sr. managed to get out of Cuba and immigrate into the United States. He lived in Baltimore working as a janitor before becoming a US citizen and moving his family to Florida. He built a successful contracting business there.

Nick Jr. served in the Navy where he learned to be an air traffic controller. Later he worked as a controller at Miami International Airport. The desire to follow his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as cigar producers was strong in Nick Jr. He began making cigars in his garage – called Nick’s Cigars. In 1992, he employed three rollers (skilled laborers that hand roll cigars) while he and his wife packaged and marketed the product. They made a little over 9,400 cigars that year. Nick worked the business by day and at the airport on the swing shift from 4pm until midnight.

The 1990s were a boom time for the cigar industry and Nick’s Cigars took off. In 1997, Nick Sr. came out of retirement to help his son. They opened a factory in Ybor City, Florida. The high cost of labor was stifling though. In 1997, Nick produced one million cigars but wasn’t making much money.

Nick Sr. moved to Nicaragua and they opened a new factory there in Esteli. Their sales were booming and they also contracted with CAO to make cigars for that brand. Then a disaster struck. They had a large batch of cigars that were sub-standard – they wouldn’t burn correctly. Nick identified the issue as a bad lot of tobacco he purchased from a broker. He lost about $300,000. That’s when he decided to change his approach.

They acquired farmland in Esteli, Condega and Jalapa Valley – prime tobacco growing land in Nicaragua. They would take charge of growing their own tobacco, fermenting and aging it themselves and make their cigars. That way they could control the quality throughout the process. Nick continually reinvested in the company.

Today the company is still family-owned and operated but the name has changed to Tabacalera Perdomo. Their headquarters is in Miami Lakes, Florida but their factory is in Esteli, Nicaragua. They have the second largest cigar factory in the country – it’s an 88,000-square-foot facility. Nick Jr. incorporated modern farming techniques with traditional methods to produce high yields of quality tobacco. Ninety-five percent of the tobacco he uses in Perdomo cigars comes from his farms – the remainder is from Connecticut Valley or Ecuador for wrapper leaf.

Speaking of wrapper leaf, there are three main components to a fine handmade cigar. There’s the filler leaf – the inside of the cigar – the binder leaf which holds the filler in place and helps control the burn and the outer wrapper leaf which gives the cigar its color and appearance. Although the wrapper is less than 10% of the tobacco in a cigar, it has a great influence on flavor and is the most expensive tobacco used.

There are three methods of hand rolling used by most makers – the first is the book method. This is the easiest and fastest way to roll a cigar. Basically the leaves are stacked then folded like the pages of a stapled magazine before rolling. This method is usually found on cheaper cigars and can be inconsistent in quality. The next method is the accordion style. Here the leaves are individually folded like pleats on an accordion, then bunched together. This takes more skill than book rolling and the results are better. The pleats allow good airflow and the cigars draw and burn well. The third and most difficult method is called entubado. Here each leaf is rolled into a scroll-like tube before bunching. It’s the most time consuming and takes skill but it produces the highest quality and consistency.

Nick Perdomo only uses entubado rolling in all of his cigars. Today, Tobacalera Perdomo makes about 22 million cigars annually! Nick spends time at the farms and factory and also keeps a grueling travel schedule to market his product. From a beginning with three employees in his garage to a huge facility employing over 2,000 people was a journey of about 20 years.

His company is totally vertical – they plant and grow their tobacco. They makes the cigars. They have a box factory to make their own cigar boxes. Their packaging department has a machine that makes the cellophane wrappers for each cigar – 9,000 per day. They make their own cigar bands and graphics. Nick’s obsession with quality means he wants to have control over every aspect of the product with his name on it. What a rags-to-riches success story!

My blog post wouldn’t be complete without a dinner plate photo. On Monday, Donna sauteed shrimp with bacon and served it over cheese grits. Asparagus spears were the side dish. The box of grits was part of a gift basket of local goods from Miriam and Rand Armbrester when we visited with them in Alabama last spring.

Southern shrimp & cheese grits

The weather has been fine all week – sunny and in the mid-70s. The nights cool quickly and overnight lows are in the mid-50s. Last night we had a few thin clouds and it made a spectacular sunset.

Sunset over Mission Bay

The week ahead looks to be a little cooler with highs in the upper 60s. We might even have a rain shower before Thanksgiving.

 

 

Balboa Park

It was a beautiful, sunny day Saturday so we decided to head out to Balboa Park. Of course we can say it was a beautiful, sunny day most of the time here in San Diego, but for some reason we felt compelled to get out to the park. The temperature reached the upper 70s with blue skies. We rode the Spyder which made parking relatively easy. Parking a car on a weekend at Balboa Park can be an exercise in patience.

Balboa Park is about 1,600 acres of land in a roughly rectangular shape. The land was set aside for the park in 1835, making it one of the oldest public recreational parks in the country. The park is bordered by Sixth Avenue to the west, Upas Street to the north, 28th Street to the east, and Russ Boulevard to the south.

There are 16 museums in the park along with 17 gardens and botanical buildings. Much of the park is open space with green belts, natural vegetation, walking paths and areas set aside for archery and frisbee golf. It also includes the world famous San Diego Zoo.

El Prado with museums in the background

Natural History Museum

Botanical Building

Spanish Village Art Center

California Bell Tower and Museum of Man

Rose Garden and Natural History Museum in background

Donna was interested in a display and video presentation at the San Diego Automotive Museum. This display detailed the Plank Road. The Plank Road was built in 1912 and operated until 1927. It was literally wooden planks on the Imperial Sand Dunes. The planks were the only way an automobile could cross the sand dunes between El Centro, California and Yuma, Arizona. The Plank Road allowed travel from San Diego to Tucson or Phoenix by motorcar. Eventually a paved road replaced it. We learned that a portion of the Plank Road still exists west of Gray’s Well. We intend to stop there and check it out on our trip from San Diego to Arizona at the end of the year.

I shot a few photos of cars I found interesting in the museum. The first two are German compact cars from the 1950s. Post-World War II Germany had a need for cheap transportation. These three-wheel cars provided it. The first one is a 1957 BMW Isetta Sport. To enter the car, the front panel opened up – this was the only door.

1957 BMW Isetta – note bumpers added in front identifying this as an USA import model

The second one is a 1955 Messerschmitt KR200. Messerschmitt was an aircraft company and it shows in the design of the cockpit with the driver in front and passenger rear with a clear canopy. This car isn’t much bigger than our Can-Am Spyder – and we have more than ten times the horsepower.

1955 Messerschmitt KR200

Beautiful 1938 Delahaye Type 135 Roadster. Immaculate coach work.

1974 Lamborghini Countach. The car behind it is a Bizzarrini – one of three built.

1960 Sprint Car with a fuel injected Chevy small block

Hot Rod built around a 1942 Ranger V-12 aircraft engine

It was great way to spend the afternoon – the museum was interesting and walking around Balboa Park is always a treat.

Sunday was November 11th, Veterans Day. On this day we pay tribute to those that have served our country in the military. It’s also Armistice Day marking the end of World War I. Today military personnel and veterans are treated respectfully for the most part. It wasn’t always this way though.

My step-father, Ken Keller, served in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and fought at the battle of Chosin in Korea. It was a horrible battle as US troops were outnumbered and overrun by Chinese forces. Veterans of the Korean War are largely forgotten.

In 1974 at the age of 17, I enlisted in the USMC and went to boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego. That’s right, boot camp right here in my home town next to the airport. Boot camp was hell at times but I mostly enjoyed the 13 weeks at MCRD and Camp Pendleton. I excelled at most tasks and graduated on December 31st, 1974.

Me, 1974

From there I had orders to report to the Naval Air Station in Millington, Tennessee near Memphis. That was where I attended “A” school and learned to be a jet mechanic. Again, I excelled at the program and graduated in the top 5%. I was given some choices in my next duty station. I decided I wanted to be back in southern California and chose Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Orange county – about 50 miles north of San Diego where I was a plane captain (military occupational specialty 6012 – ADJ). This move was the first of a series of poor choices.

Being that close to home, I spent most weekends or any other free time back in the neighborhood hanging out with friends, going to the beach or parties. But things weren’t the same. People looked at my high and tight Marine haircut and assumed I wasn’t from here. They also assumed I must have come back from service in Vietnam. Both assumptions were wrong, but that didn’t stop people from disrespecting me. I was called a baby killer at a party in La Jolla. Another time I was waiting for a bus to the beach on Balboa Avenue when a guy came up with a couple of girls and spit at me and told me to go back where I came from. What? I’m from here, I thought, but I didn’t say anything.

It didn’t take long for me to become disillusioned with the military way of life – instead of directing my anger and shame at the people disrespecting me, I turned against military authority. Within two years, it was clear I had no future in the military. I wish I would have done things differently, but that was another time and public sentiment was largely anti-military back then.

I’m glad things are no longer like that although we still have much division in this country. I have nothing but respect for our military forces and the people that serve in them.

If you’ve followed my posts you may remember me mentioning the high-end liquor they have at Costco here. The Costco store on Morena Boulevard is gearing up for the holidays and that means more high-end booze. This bottle of 41-year-old Glenmorangie Single Malt Scotch doesn’t quite match the $18,999 bottle I saw there last year, but at $6,999 for a liter, it’s not cheap!

41- year-old Scotch Whisky

The week ahead looks like we’re in for more of the same weather-wise. Highs in the mid-70s with a few clouds and no rain in the forecast.

 

Back to Normal

Things are settling down to some semblance of normal around here. When I wrote my post last week, I thought I’d turned the corner and beat the flu-like symptoms. It wasn’t to be. Tuesday morning I woke up feeling like I’d relapsed. I didn’t do much but sleep all day.

Donna returned from her two-week trip to Vermont Tuesday night. Two weeks is the longest we’ve been apart since we married over 12 years ago. While she was in the northeast, the climate was little different from here. She had to wear winter clothing! We don’t do much of that. She also wore the Lucchese boots I bought her last year. She probably wore them more in the two-week period than she has all year.

Donna dressed for New England weather

I wasn’t very good company when she got home – in fact I was dead to the world asleep in bed. The virus lingered and I wasn’t good for much for the next few days. Donna did a pile of laundry and also restocked the refrigerator and pantry. I’m eating a higher quality diet again!

Grilled chicken thigh and veggies with feta cheese

Thursday night Donna grilled chicken thighs and a medley of vegetables with feta cheese. She came home in time to see the best sunset of the season so far.

Nice sunset – I wish I was up for a walk to the bay at that time

Friday was my break-through day. I finally felt rested and better. While Donna was in New York, she went out with her friend Joan for dinner. Donna ordered a poke plate and wasn’t impressed. They left out a few details – like sesame-soy dressing and scallions.  Friday night we went to Offshore Tavern and Grill and ate there during happy hour. I had the poke plate made with cubed ahi tuna, sesame-soy dressing, cabbage, scallions, avocado and fried won ton wrappers.

Poke plate

Donna went for the seared yellowfin tuna made with sushi grade seared tuna, scallions, cabbage, soy sauce, ginger & wasabi. The meals were delicious as always.

Seared yellowfin tuna

Donna’s boots had a couple of scuffs – mostly on the heel stack and edges of the soles. I broke out my shoe-shine kit in the morning and went at it. First I cleaned the boots with saddle soap, then went over them inside and out with Bick 4 leather conditioner. I dressed the edges of the heel and sole with Fiebig edge dressing and finished up with a light polish with Kiwi shoe polish. The boots look new again

Saturday was a beach weather day. We ran a few errands then walked the boardwalk at Mission Beach. It was perfect beach weather – the temperature topped out just over 80 degrees with abundant sunshine and light wind. We had lunch on the corner of Mission Boulevard across from Belmont Park – Mr. Ruribertos Mexican Cafe. We ate at a table on the sidewalk.

The forecast calls for cooler temps with highs around 70. We’re heading over to Ocean Beach to play pickleball at the recreation center this morning. Like I said, things are returning to normal around here.

 

Chest Fever

I’m near the end of my two-week bachelor stint as Donna will return from her visit with family and friends in Vermont tomorrow night. My bachelor time has been mostly uneventful as I settled into a routine. I would check my e-mail and waste some time on the Internet while having breakfast, then go to one of the recreation centers to play pickleball for a couple of hours. After lunch I attended to domestic chores – dishes, cleaning Ozark’s litter box and sweeping. I even figured out how to use the Splendide washer/dryer combo and did a few loads of laundry.

The rest of the afternoons were spent mostly relaxing and reading a book, then going for a cold one with the guys. After dinner, I usually watched TV outside and puffed a cigar. This changed last Friday.

We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve only had a couple of minor medical issues and I’ve only been sick once in the last six or seven years. I fell ill in August of 2017 in Iowa and was down for several days. On Friday, illness struck again. I felt out of sorts all day and had a cough that worsened as the day went on. By dinner time, I had no appetite, I skipped happy hour and a cigar was out of the question. I went to bed early and tossed and turned all night.

Saturday I was much worse. The cough became an unproductive dry hack like a child with croup. You know how it is when a song gets in your head and you can’t get rid of it? Well, I had the song by The Band Chest Fever in my head all day. It was apropos – by the afternoon I was running a fever and my ailment seemed like it centered in my  upper respiratory system and sinuses.

By the way – an interesting thought on the song. The intro to Chest Fever features fantastic work on the organ by band member Garth Hudson. He based it on Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D minor. Back in the day, The Band drummer Levon Helm used this song to illustrate the unfair music industry practice of awarding a larger percentage of the royalties to the author of song lyrics. The lyrics in Chest Fever are mostly nonsensical and I couldn’t even recite them. That’s Levon’s point – do you think of the lyrics or Garth’s fantastic organ playing when you hear this song? Garth should have earned a greater royalty. But I digress.

I spent most of Saturday reading and napping. At one point in the morning, I had to go out and get a few groceries – the refrigerator was empty and the pantry low. I would read for 45 minutes to an hour, then doze off for 30 or 45 minutes throughout the day.

Saturday night I tried to watch the Moto GP coverage from Philip Island, Australia. The coverage started at 7:30pm, but the premier class was set to race at 1pm local time on Sunday. Due to Australia being halfway around the world across the International Date Line, that put the start of the race at 10pm Saturday PDT. I couldn’t stay up so I set the DVR and went to bed.

Sunday morning I felt better – my head was clearer, the fever broke and the cough not as severe. But I hadn’t slept all that well and I was lethargic. I watched the Moto GP race I recorded, then turned on football and kicked back on the couch. There were three good games televised on Sunday plus the Formula One race from Mexico City. Then there was the World Series game as well. I did a lot of channel surfing. I dozed at times through all of it. All this time in bed, on the couch and in my recliner has left me with a sore lower back. As usual – one thing leads to another.

This morning, I mustered enough ambition to make myself a ham and cheese omelette. I used to be a pretty good omelette maker but haven’t done it in ages.

Not up to Donna’s standards

Of course Donna would never have served it without a side of fruit and a garnish. She has much higher standards than me.

So, life on the road isn’t always sweet sunsets and spectacular views. But, we’re in a great location and I can’t complain about the weather!

Hunting for Fish

The Santa Ana weather condition I described in my last post continued on Friday. It was a gorgeous day – the temperature reached the mid-80s and the wind wasn’t too gusty. After lunch, I rode the Spyder to Dana Landing where I purchased a California sportfishing license and a Mexican one-day license. While I was there, I spoke to a deck hand that had been out on a charter fishing boat three times during the week. He told me a fishing lure called a Butterfly was working well on tuna. I bought one. It’s a metal jig about four inches long and an inch and a half wide shaped like an elongated diamond. It weighed seven ounces.

He said people were having success dropping the lure over the side of the boat. It flutters as it drops down simulating an injured bait fish. You just let it drop freely and wait for a fish to hit it on the way down. Reel it up and repeat.

It was nice out and I decided to take a look at the beach. I parked the Spyder at Mission Beach next to the roller coaster at Belmont Park. The beach had fewer people on it than I expected on such a fine summer-like day.

Mission Beach from the boardwalk near Hamel’s surf shop

I ended the afternoon with a cold one at Offshore Tavern and Grill, then came home for dinner. I went to bed early. Saturday morning the alarm clock had me up before 5am. After breakfast and coffee, I packed a sandwich, a few bottles of water and some beer in a cooler. I met Gary Stemple at the entrance to Mission Bay RV Resort at 5:40am. We drove through light traffic to the marina at the Sheraton on Harbor Island where we met another old friend from my high school days, John Barrientez. We loaded our gear into a Parker fishing boat with a 225 horsepower Yamaha outboard motor from Freedom Boat Club and headed out just after sunrise.

Our first stop was at the bait barge near Point Loma. The bait barge has wells with large nets holding live anchovies for use as fishing bait.

Fishing boats lined up at the bait barge

We bought a half-scoop of anchovies. I don’t get the math or terminology, but a half scoop is equivalent to three or four small scoop nets full of fish.

Scoop net of live anchovies

We got lucky and one of the scoops came with a mackerel about 10 inches long. The live bait went into a bait well which circulates water from the sea – constantly refilling the well with water and dumping the excess through a screened drain.

Bait well full of live anchovies

When fishing here in the ocean, a good supply of live bait is necessary. Once you find the target fish, tossing a handful of anchovies into the water – called chumming – keeps the fish actively feeding near the boat.

We headed out into the open ocean. Our destination was the nine-mile bank about 11 miles away. This is a ridge in the deep ocean water – like a mountain top – where the water is about 300 feet deep. The underwater trenches and canyons around it are about 3,000 feet deep. The various predatory fish – like tunas – move up out of the deep water over the bank hunting for prey. It’s a big ocean though and finding the fish is the first order of business. You can’t catch fish by blindly throwing a line in the water. It’s like hunting – you need to find the area where you’re likely to find the target fish first.

We looked for signs of activity. Sea gulls diving or dolphins working the surface indicate areas where bait fish are and predatory fish are likely to be in the area. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the water was relatively calm. It seemed like a perfect morning to be fishing, but we didn’t see much activity as we cruised along the bank. I sat on the foredeck scanning the water and spotted a pod of dolphins feeding a couple hundred yards away. By the time we moved over there, the dolphins had disappeared and we didn’t mark any fish on the fish finder.

After an hour or so, Gary decided to move to another area. We headed south to the Coronado Islands of Mexico (Islas Coronado). Gary has had success there in the past. We found several pods of dolphins feeding near South Coronado Island. We worked our way around the island in Mexican water but didn’t mark many fish.

Coronado Islands of Mexico

We found a natural channel between islands that was 30 to 70 feet deep and finally marked some fish. After a few minutes of dropping my lure, I had a strike near the bottom in about 40 feet of water. Catching fish in the tuna family is always fun. These fish are fast swimmers and they don’t nibble at the bait. They hit it on the trot. I flicked the lever on my reel and set the drag – the hook set itself and I had a fish on!

It pulled a few yards of line out, then swam back toward the boat. I reeled the line in madly as it went under the boat then turned toward the bow. I climbed past the cabin to the foredeck and got it under control. John manned the gaff but I soon realized it wouldn’t be needed as the fish wasn’t that big. We got it on board and at first I thought it was a skipjack tuna. Later I realized it was actually a smaller cousin called a bonito.

Soon after that, John hooked one using a live anchovy and he brought it on board. We put the fish on ice in the fish hold.

Natural channel between small islands

Meanwhile, some seals and sea lions on the islands were watching us. They knew a fishing boat meant an easy meal. Soon a half dozen or so were around the boat looking for chum and hoping to steal an easy meal from the end of our lines. Just like us looking for dolphins and birds as indicators, they saw us as an indicator of easy prey.

A sea lion was coming after the 10-inch mackerel that Gary had in the water for bait. Then a couple of birds joined the meal line. Gary had taken the mackerel off his hook and put an anchovy in its place. A cormorant took his anchovy and caught the hook on his bill. Gary brought the bird to the boat and attempted to remove the hook. The cormorant – that Gary and John insisted on calling a duck – was indignant and wouldn’t have it. He stabbed at Gary’s hand with his bill and drew blood. We had no choice but to cut the line and hope the bird could shake the hook.

The seal and sea lions chased the fish to deeper water. We moved to another spot to fish away from the seals. Gary had brought some fine cigars along and he offered them to us. The thing is, I like cigars but I like to savor them. I find pleasure in smoking them slowly and discovering the complexity of flavors as it burns. The first third is different from the middle and the last third usually ramps up the flavor. I figured smoking a fine cigar while I was jigging a lure would be like pouring a couple of fingers of good scotch then tossing it down in a gulp – not my style. So I passed on the generous offer of a nice cigar.

We weren’t marking any more fish, so we headed back to San Diego Bay. The conditions were near perfect for sailing and the bay was filled with sailboats. They were able to set a reach in either direction on the bay and we had to be vigilant of their course. Sailing vessels have the right-of-way over a power boat.

View of San Diego from a couple miles out on the ocean

On the way into the bay, we saw a tall ship. It was a replica of the San Salvador. The San Salvador was a 98-foot galleon that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed to California in 1542. The original carried a crew of about 30 men. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to sail around the world on such a vessel.

San Salvador replica sailing in San Diego Bay

We also saw a racing yacht – the Stars and Stripes. There are four of these boats in existence, one of which Dennis Connor sailed to victory in the 1987 America’s Cup in Australia.

Back at the dock with bonito

When we got to the dock, we decided to give the two bonito we caught to the dock hand at the Sheraton. Bonito tend to be a little oily and although many people like to grill or smoke them or even cut them for sushi, they aren’t a favorite of mine. We didn’t get the yellowtail, skipjack or yellow fin tuna we were after, but all-in-all it was great day on the ocean with good friends. Thanks again, Gary and John.

Three Early Mornings

We finally had a change in the weather pattern here in San Diego. Since we arrived in late September the humidity levels have been much higher than usual and the days have been partly to mostly cloudy with low clouds in the late afternoon obscuring the sunset. We were lucky on the night of the SpaceX launch as it was one of the few cloudless skies.

Last weekend, the humidity levels dropped to a more normal level – ranging from 25% to 40% relative humidity. Clouds have been higher or non-existent since then. It made for a nice sunset last Saturday.

Sunset on the bay last Saturday

On Tuesday morning, the alarm clock was pinging at 5am. We had to be up early so I could drive Donna to the airport. She flew to Vermont to spend some time with her parents and also have a girls’ weekend with friends from her college days. We have Sini’s car – Sini generously left it with us while she’s up in the northwest.

Donna left just as another weather condition arrived – Santa Ana winds. Santa Ana winds occur in southern California when high pressure develops inland over the desert areas. This creates an airflow over the coastal mountains with strong wind gusts and dry air mass. The wind flows offshore and often makes great surfing conditions. Our daytime highs have been in the low 80s with clear skies and overnight lows in the upper 50s. It’s a few degrees cooler at night with clear skies.

I’ve spent most of my week playing pickleball and handling domestic chores. I’ve just about emptied the refrigerator of leftovers and I still have over a week before Donna returns. Of course I have a cold one at happy hour with the guys. Yesterday I had a Belgian ale at Dan Diego’s called Duvel  – it’s one of my favorites. I think I first tried this beer when we were in Amsterdam – it’s popular in The Netherlands along with another beer I’ve never seen in the states called Jupiler.

Duvel ale

Tomorrow I’ll be up early. My buddy from high school, Gary Stemple, invited me to join him on a fishing trip. We’ll take a fishing boat from the Freedom Boat Club location on Shelter Island and head out from San Diego Bay. We plan to hit 9-mile Bank and hopefully find some tunas – bonita, yellowtail, skipjack and, if we’re lucky, yellow fin.

9-mile Bank is like a mountain under the ocean. It’s about 11 miles from the mouth of San Diego Bay on a southwesterly heading. The bank itself is approximately 10 miles long and the water depth is a little over 300 feet. Today I’ll head over to Dana Landing and buy a California one-day sport fishing license and also a one-day Mexican fishing license. The California license costs $15.69 and the Mexican license will be $20. You can get the Mexican license for less money if you buy in advance online. I didn’t do that because I wanted to wait until the day before to be sure the trip wasn’t going to cancel for weather or any other reason. We’ll be straddling the California-Mexico border.

I’ll be up early again on Sunday. The Chargers are playing the Tennessee Titans in London, so the game will air at 6:30am PDT.