San Francisco to La Paz – Day 1

So my mother said that if I took a pee overboard to keep one hand on the boat and one on my dick.”

“Mom! Who says that?”

On second consideration, that does seem like good advice. Thanks, Mom.

We’re officially underway, by car, towards La Paz. The route, Hwy 50 to Hwy 89 to Hwy 395. Highlights include Mono Lake, Bishop. Highlights? 40 watt really. Shat’s Bakery and Deli makes good sandwiches. Shat, really?

Ted’s jeep looks as expected after 500 miles. Baggage stuffed everywhere. Just enough leg room to only cramp from the knee down. We took a lot of stops. I stole a plastic cup from the Markleevile County Courthouse. I used their restroom. I was tired.

Kind of real fast list of the rest of the day.

  • Stagecoach Inn. Decent hotel. Bargain.
  • Gramma’s Kitchen. Dinner. Sushi Sampler. The only choice being that this is the desert.
  • Paddy O’Neil’s. Ted finally got to try Coldcock Whiskey. It tasted like rancid Fireball.

La Paz to San Francisco; A Sailboat Travel Blog

A guy goes into his doctor’s office and tells the doctor; “I want to live to be a 100.”

The doctor asks; “Do you drink?”

Guy: “No.”

Doctor: “Do you smoke?”

Guy: “No.”

Doctor: “Do you have a lot of sex?”

Guy: “No.”

Doctor: “Are you going to sail back from Mexico?”

Guy: “No.”

Doctor: “Why do you want to live to be a 100?”

Who wants to be that guy? Sitting in a wheelchair at 99 staring into the corner and daydreaming about nothing. ‘Cause you’ve never lived!  And that’s the reason I am sailing back from Mexico aboard the ….. (I don’t even know the name of the boat yet!) in a week with Ted and Kelly.  I have been told, by them of course, that they are very experienced sailors. That’s really good because I don’t know how to sail. I don’t really care for sailing per se. I’d rather come back on a luxury yacht sipping martinis while counting down the minutes to the next caviar tasting.

I grew up in a family that had a sail boat. It was the bicker boat as far as I am concerned. I only remember stressful outings with my parents yelling at each other; “Tack! No, don’t tack. Goddammit, I said tack. Hoist up the big round sail thingy that you use when the wind is coming from a strange direction. What did he say? Huh? Get me a warm beer.”

Achh. Maybe that’s why I have been avoiding it for 35 years. My blood pressure has just recently mellowed out. But with Ted and Kelly I’m sure it will all be sunshine and gumdrops. They have done this together before. They have a routine. Me? I’ll do whatever tasks are required. I’ll stand a 4-hour watch every 8 hours.I’ll let out a sail or two. I’ll even mix up a batch of blended margaritas when the mood strikes me.  I’m sure they won’t mind if I only do my watches in the day time and not during meals. Also, Fridays and Saturdays are out too. If it rains, count me down below reading my Kindle. Of course I’m being sarcastic about all of this. I know Kindles won’t work at sea. But, seriously, that watch schedule is a deal breaker.

This is my introduction to what hopefully becomes a travel journal (blog) for our trip starting May 12 and ending approximately the first week of June. We are driving from Northern California to La Paz, Mexico where we will meet Ted’s boat, a 30-something-foot (I don’t even know how long it is.) Let’s say 32 feet. I figure we each get 10 feet and use the extra two feet as a recreational common area. I’m not sure which 10 feet I’ll choose yet. I just know whatever Ted picks, that’s the one I want.

There has been talk about driving straight through; 1190 miles. There has been talk about driving almost straight through but stopping to see some Indian petroglyphs in the desert, saying hi to an old friend in LA, stopping in Punta Wherever because someone said it was cool, flea-bagging it in Ensenada. All I know is that the La Paz weather forecast calls for 95 degrees and 80% humidity. And, this isn’t even the hot season. I hope the Indians put in air-conditioning at their little art exhibit.

I am bringing the following items on the trip: camera equipment, iphone, ipad, 12 button-down Sherwin Williams embroidered dress shirts, handful of underwear, three pairs of shorts, sandals, boat shoes, floppy hat, sunglasses, toothbrush and paste, comb, wallet, two pair of jeans, foul weather jacket, bottle of Old Grandad Whiskey.

 Why the button-down shirts? It’s what I have left from my job at Sherwin Williams. I will never wear them again so I figure when they get dirty I can donate them to those Chiclet’s kids and put on a fresh one. It’s all about giving back. Twelve ought to last me for the trip. If not, I can always buy one of those tourist t-shirts that say something like I love Cabo!, or, Bakersfield High Senior Grad Trip ’14, or Hussongs Giggling Frog Cantina.

What can you expect from this travel blog? Lot’s of professionally taken photos and hundreds of adobe clay pots-full of sarcasm and prose.

Day Two –  


The Longest Day

This story, written by Captain David himself, was first published by our friends at Destination Insights . On this day we had our worst Holland Bridge Encounter but Captain David omitted it in the story in order not to upset any readers. I will insert it where it belongs below.

The geese and nearby morning rush-hour traffic startled me awake from my cozy bunk aboard the Hilversum, a 15-meter-long barge tied up in a small Dutch town that could have modeled for a Rembrandt masterpiece.

“Let’s go for a quick walk before we shove off,” one of my shipmates called out over a cup of strong Dutch coffee and cheese toast—Gouda, of course.

This might sound idyllic; waking up on your own privately-piloted canal barge and lazily deciding to stretch your legs in the old-world village of Woerden. It is ideal—until you lose your way and turn a short 20-minute walk into a dehydrating 3-hour marathon.

Back on the boat, finally, it becomes clear we’ll have to make up the time lost by cutting a few corners; plot a course underway, eat at the helm, clean last night’s dishes later.

Had I had time to look at the seasonal addendum in the welcome-aboard packet, I would have noticed that Woerden’s city and canal workers used this time of year, autumn, to dredge parts of the canal so boats like mine wouldn’t get stuck in the mud. Thankfully, my boat didn’t get stuck as I scooted off effortlessly and made the first bridge opening right on time. Then, my cell phone rang.

The third boat in our travelling armada did get stuck. It was piloted by my parents, aunt, uncle and assorted other companions, who called us frantically for help. Being about three kilometers away already, I tied our boat to shore and ran back to save them.

I climbed onboard the beached vessel. According to my mother, who had suddenly become a master diesel mechanic, “the shaft is not turning and the gears are not engaged.” This seemed plausible to me, although I’d never been stranded in a Dutch canal before.

The Locaboat Company that rents the boats has a mechanic on call for just such emergencies. Christophe answered my call. “Ah, David. It is you again.”

“Christophe! Screw won’t turn. Can’t move boat. Whadda I do?”

“Okay. There is a cover over the shaft in the engine compartment. Take the cover off and put your arm in there and feel around for a tree branch or something. The screw is probably stuck,” he says in a French accent reminiscent of Corporal LaBeau on Hogan’s Heroes.

Minutes later I relay that there is nothing impeding the shaft or screw. “Then you’re probably stuck in the mud. Oh, and make sure you have the engine off before you stick your arm in there.”

So I gun the engine, drop her in to gear and we dredge ourselves out of there. There is an hour-long wait for the first lift bridge. I’ve already maneuvered this bridge once this morning and feel a little cheated having to do it again.

I’m transferred back to my own barge and we continue through picturesque scenery until the next crisis forces me to call Christophe again.

“Ah, David. It is you again,” he mocks me.

“Christophe, my engine is overheating and steam is coming up through the floor boards. Not looking good. Whadda I do?”

“Stop the boat immediately! Tie up and call me back. I am eating my afternoon meal.”

Christophe explains—after lunch, of course—that there is a bicycle repair kit onboard and that I should locate the small wrench inside. “Lift the engine cover off again. Strainer might be clogged.”

Just as he predicted, the sea strainer was clogged with duckweed, impeding the flow of water to the engine which cools it. An hour later, we were off again. Of course, I just missed the next lift bridge opening and was forced to circle for 30 minutes, thus delaying our day even more.

Note inserted: as we circled we witnessed a big dog maul a little dog and his owner we circled in the canal waiting for the bridge to open. It was upsetting for all of us as we were unable to help dog or owner.

A note about the long languid relaxing world of barging on Europe’s arterial canal system; it is supposed to be slow going and all about the journey and not the destination. A typical day travelling 2-3 knots should land you in the scenic part of Gouda, Edam or wherever you decide to spend the night. However, if you time the lift bridges or locks wrong, get stuck behind a commercial barge, have engine trouble or experience any other misstep not outlined in the program, you’re destined to wind up driving in the dark searching for a place to tie up in some industrial urban area not designed for canal-weary tourists … as you will see below.

Final note– after spending the night in a rusty harbor at the edge of Gouda drowning our sorrows in spaghetti and red wine, we left Gouda and our headless goat mascot behind (it no longer seemed appropriate) and cruised towards Utrecht.

We Rest and Adopt a Mascot

Holland Barge Trip Day 6 & 7–After our harrowing day with two Holland Bridge Encounters that ended with us stuffing our boats into Sixhaven like three ten pound sausages in five pound casings, we all agree we deserved a day off of the water and so we changed our schedule to allow for a one day rest in Amsterdam. The harbor has a ferry station and it is easy to jump on for a quick trip across the water into the city. And so for Day Six, our group split up and went to pursue their interests in the city. It was a beautiful sunny day and we found pubs, museums and photo opportunities everywhere.

Amsterdam Canal

Amsterdam Cheese Shop

Tulip Bulbs at the Bloemenmarkt

When I think of Amsterdam I think Carrots, don't you?

Captain Steve adopts a Mascot for our Flotilla

At the end of Day 6, our third barge captain, Captain Steve, found a goat figurine without a head along the path back to Sixhaven. The maimed and cast off object seemed to embody the spirit of our journey thus far, so we adopted it as our flotilla mascot. The following day, we departed Sixhaven. With our goat mascot attached as a figurehead, we hoped to placate the canal gods and avoid another Bridge Encounter.  We plunged back across the water and made our way back through Amsterdam. This time, the sun was out and the traffic was mild and we could enjoy the sights. Our little mascot, it seemed, might just bring us some luck.

Are we THERE yet?


Holland Barge Trip Day 5–We left behind our First Holland Bridge Encounter with the bridge-keeper and his elevated blood pressure, and continued to Amsterdam, our target port for the day. After a long rainy day with a windmill or two, many private residences, and nowhere to pull over, we finally arrived at the southern edge of Amsterdam. Given the wind and rain and the fact that it was now rush-hour on the water, we cellular-teleconferenced barge-to-barge to discuss staying at the edge of the city rather than try to navigate it in our frazzled state. You see, it is a passenger duty to sympathy-frazzle with the Barge Captain and we were doing a great job. Captain David was looking forward to having his fingers pried off the wheel and wrapped around a glass of red wine. But it was not to be. The one public marina on our map was completely full. And so, we cruised forth into Amsterdam.

Through Amsterdam we enjoyed endured many more barely-cleared bridges, darting, impatient boats appearing from nowhere, and a moment of horror when the barge in front us piloted by Captain Ingrid (my mother in law)  scraped a rondvaart getting stuck for a moment under a dark, low, narrow, tunnel-bridge. This would be our Second Bridge Encounter.  This time the anger was expressed by the (professional) pilot of the tourist boat in unmistakeable, international sign language. Most folks would have had no trouble understanding what the nice man was trying to say with his finger. Captain Ingrid responded with a flurry of German expletives and I cowered in the barge behind, witnessing the encounter, convinced we would all be arrested at any moment.

Diagram of "The Crossing"

Finally, we made it through the city, emerging into the river “IJ” beneath Moevenpick the hotel where we had spent our first night. I now had a new perspective realizing we were not such a large-barge in comparison to the huge watercraft with large wakes speeding through. We were still not “there” yet! We had to cross the water and make it to Sixhaven where we would be able to stay the night. The large ships were kind enough to not run us over and we made it across. We were now THERE. Captain David maneuvered our barge-feather perfectly through a hairpin turn right at the narrow entrance and proceeded slowly towards what looked like a dead end. While our other barges got settled, we snuggled up very carefully to a million dollar sailboat, bumpers out and fending off, so we would be out of the way. The sailboat owners appeared–they were not appreciative of our careful snuggle– so we continued on to the dead-end of the harbor where we were met by the jolly Christophe (of all people!) who helped us stuff ourselves in a shared slip next to the other barges. I have never seen rats desert a sinking ship, but I do know all 14 of us resembled the rodents as we fled for land and a beer. We were finally THERE.

Our barge, Aalsmeer, stuffed in Sixhaven, like sausage, at dusk.

It is Possible!

Our Locaboat FlotillaHolland Barge Trip Day 4–After enjoying several days in Amsterdam, we journeyed to Locaboat in Loosdrecht where we met up with the rest of our barge adventure party of 14. We met Christophe, the French Locaboat mechanic who gave us an orientation to our vessel. Due to some type of clerical error we ended up with the longest, tallest, barge possible and had the fewest passengers on board. This seemed to be an advantage for now. We were a little nervous about being able to clear the many bridges along our route but Christophe assured us “It is possible.” Under the direction of our trusty captain David, we got underway, heading north towards Amsterdam and planning to spend the night in a little village along the way–any village would do. Unfortunately, a key difference from barging in France is that most of the land adjoining the canals is private and you can’t just park anywhere you want. This made it challenging to keep a relaxed schedule and find a place to spend the night almost every night of our trip. Finally–close to dark and under the threat of rain we docked on the edge of a town where we discovered none of the restaurants wanted to seat an unanticipated party of 14. We split up–some of us wandering back to our boats to dine on salami, cheese and bread–the rest managing to squeeze in to restaurants. I thought this experience must be an anomaly and looked forward to a more satisfying, relaxing day to follow when we would head to Amsterdam and enjoy the city from the water.

The next day was rainy and windy and we first experienced the large-barge disadvantage; in the wind, it became a giant sail. The size of the thing, along with underpowered engines and sad bow-thrusters, led Captain David to proclaim he was “trying to pilot a feather.” We came to our first bridge and had our first Holland Bridge Encounter. Just in front of the bridge and off to the side, a sailboat had run aground and was uncomfortably close to where we would eventually pass under the bridge.We did not think we could make it under the bridge, and were unsure of the ramifications of the stranded sailboat, so our flotilla circled in the canal in front of the bridge while we waited for the bridge keeper to lift the bridge. It was a tight squeeze, but necessary to maintain control of the barges. We were patient, confident that the bridge keeper was keeping us waiting for good reasons of his own. After some time he came out and starting yelling at us in Dutch (of course.) As his agitation increased, his face became tomato-red and his glasses steamed up. I asked Captain David, who speaks German and backpacked through Europe at the age of 15 if he understood. He replied “No” and stared intently at the gesticulating Keeper trying to discern the meaning of the man’s words. Finally it dawned on him, “Oh, yes, I do understand. The man is saying ‘you don’t know how to drive, do you? Oh, so it is true gotdammit, you really don’t know how to drive.’ Yes, I guess I do understand Dutch.” This went on for a while before he asked very politely in English, “Will you please open the bridge?” And the hopping mad Keeper yelled in English to just “drive under the gotdammed bridge.” He did, and we cleared it by one and a half inches. This is when I began to wonder if Christophe meant “it is possible–maybe,”–rather than “yes, it is possible!” to clear the bridges. We left the angry Keeper behind in the rain, mopping his brow and drying his glasses, no doubt cursing our incompetence from the warmth of his little office, and continued on to Amsterdam.

Barging in Holland! Why Not?

Barging with friends in Bourgogne, 2006

As we have mentioned at Destination Insights, we have found barging through France to be an ideal vacation. Cruising at a walking pace through the canals in the French countryside, we can pull over most anywhere. After driving a stake in the grassy bank we can unload restless passengers and a rented bicycle to ride ahead to the next village to secure a baguette and a well-priced bottle of wine. Or perhaps we might stop and enjoy midi, prepared in our galley with supplies from the village supermarche. We might land in a friendly village to visit their pub and meet new friends. We might even just stop to pick a bouquet or wildflowers to decorate our barge salon table. If you are one who enjoys the journey as much as the destination, all this can be done relatively easily. No worries, few logistical headaches, and ample scenery.

So, it just made sense when our “barge buddies” from Point San Pablo Yacht Club suggested we once again rent a penichette from the folks at Locaboat Holidays and explore the waterways of Holland to say “Yes!” We tried to tune out the fact that we were on the edge of a world-wide financial crisis (October 2008), collected the usual assortment of interested barge-experienced and barge-curious folks from our family and friends, and planned a 3-barge flotilla with 14 crew to meet up and depart from Loosdrecht.

View of busy harbor from Moevenpick

Since we had to fly in to Amsterdam, we decided to spend a few days in the city, exploring and checking off a few sights before we were to settle in to our relaxing barge trip. We stayed at a hotel on the edge of the city called Movenpick, a 10 minute walk from Central Station, where we had a view of the busy harbor.

We spent our first night eating and consuming enough dutch beer at Gollem to leave definite impression  the following morning (afternoon AND evening too.) All in all, the first night–even with jet-lag–was a worthy enjoyment effort. We looked forward to another fun day in the city and then our nice, relaxing barge cruise.

California Christmas Carol

A California Christmas carol 2007

Escape to a Different Reality

You can find alomst anything for sale at Denio's

Denios. Yes, the Roseville auction. It seemed like a perfect place to spend a few hours on “Super Saturday” before Christmas. Our mission? Wander around and bring home some pictures and a story or two. We paid the obligatory $3.00 to park which seems to be a bone of contention with the folks who review the place on Yelp and made our way to an entrance.  Almost immediately, just twenty strides into the grounds one of our companions haggled an International Services Private Security jacket from $15.00 to $10.00. He was cold and the price was right. The rest of the day (when we managed to stay together) we were accompanied by our own private security guard. We each were attracted by different things. Me, I like shiny objects. My other two companions, who knows, but they kept wandering off in opposite directions. After rambling through endless stalls of cheap clothing, blankets and cookware, they dragged me away from the junk tables (I love other people’s junk!) to peruse the food section. There, roasted peanuts, jicima, dried hibiscus, thai chilis and tamarindo beckoned like precious items.

Fresh Seasonal Produce

From the produce gauntlet hidden beneath a canopy blocking the harsh winter glare, you can hear the carnival barker-like shouts of stall-tenders advertising their fruits, vegetables and other treats. Towards the end of the day, as the fruit ripens, the bargains get better. Five turnips for a dollar. Bag of big juicy kiwis, a dollar. I don’t really know if they were juicy. I didn’t try one. And, big is subjective.  It does feel like you’re transported to another country with the sounds of different languages layered together.

I watched a woman scrape the spines off her nopales and daydreamed about my new life as a chef cooking with these exotic things. She made it look so easy! I attempted to memorize the sign on the tejcotes that described how to make ponche Navideño Eventually I snapped out of my alternate kitchen reality and became aware that I once again had lost my photographer companion. He is obsessed with taking stock photos at the moment and had been dismissing most of my photo ideas as, sniff, “too editorial.”

Predictably I found him snapping shots of the various fruits and veggies and so I arranged to meet him at the used books in section B10-14. There I met Terasia, a bookseller with an authoritative manner who’s willing to talk about her books, her family heritage, how NOT to pronounce her name or whatever topic you’d like. She has a lot of books and as she sternly pronounced, she knows her inventory.

Eventually, it was time to go. As we wandered back to the entrance the sparkling jewelry, hair accessories, and prom dresses caught my eye. I wanted to be Denio-Fabulous! But I was tired and I only had three dollars and it was time to get back to the reality of pre-Christmas madness. Maybe next time.


Roasted Peanuts

Pretending to be on Vacation in my Kitchen

I woke up this morning with a hankering for Guinness Beef Stew. When we were in Doolin on our (forced march) tour to Galway I had a marvelous shiny brown bowl of the stuff and here in sunny California with two days off to enjoy, I couldn’t think of a better way to pretend to be on vacation for a brief moment. Even reading Ginger Rutland’s review of Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair article “California and Bust” describing California’s civic and financial collapse couldn’t dampen my spirits. I am alive, relatively healthy, and employed with great friends and family–why be depressed about my “scary” state?
I shared the stew proposition with my sweetie and the negotiations began–which pot to use, which method, which recipe, should we also have soda bread–cripes! It became a negotiation, discussion, argument, and we became opponents.
We retreated, ate breakfast in silence and then tried again. Later after a trip to the grocery store we peacefully made guacamole and salsa–our appetizers for the stew (California may be about to “bust” but we have great food options) and he left me to make it my way.
So, I put Etta James on Pandora and with her growling in the background prepared the stew. Now I sit here waiting for it and hope it turns out (sans fresh thyme– the plant died while we were on vacation)
What Is your favorite way to pretend you are on vacation?