Boats vs. RVs

When I started dreaming about a big travel adventure back in 2005 or so, it was not RV’s I dreamed about.  It was boats.  Specifically, I wanted to travel “the Great Loop!”

The Great Loop is the world’s longest inland waterway.  It has several permutations but the basic outline is the eastern US along the Intracoastal Waterway up to the Erie Canal, over to the Great Lakes, then down the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Great Loop

The Great Loop really seemed like a cool adventure. Many of America’s early towns (now major cities) were established along waterways. Back in the days before paved roads and automobiles, waterways were often the only reliable travel routes, particularly for cargo and commerce. Seeing these cities from the water seemed like a very unique experience.

There is even an organization dedicated to “loopers.”  It is called The Great Loop Cruiser’s Association.

The more I read about the Great Loop, the more excited I became.  I even bought a big poster of the Loop so I could stare at the route from home!

One little detail though – I had zero boating experience.  After years of dreaming about my Great Loop trip, I began to realize that learning something about boating might be a good idea!

My plan was:

1.Learn how to captain a boat in the San Francisco bay.

2. If I enjoyed the experience, I would get a boat and begin exploring the 1,100 miles of Delta in the San Francisco/San Joaquin system.  We could keep the boat at the Sacramento Marina and explore the entire area. Just the area called the “Sacramento” delta is huge!

Sacramento Delta

3. If we enjoyed the Sacramento delta, it would be time to get serious about the Great Loop.  As an added bonus, I reasoned that by this time I would know something about navigating inland waterways.

In 2013 Heather and I took a boating class in the San Francisco bay so we could start step 1.

The San Francisco bay is both a perfect and a terrible place to learn boating skills. It is perfect because it combines beautiful scenery, open water, easy access to marinas, and ample instructors. It also has currents, rough water, unpredictable currents, shallows and sandbars, military traffic, all manner of commercial traffic, tons of weekend sailors, and strong winds. It is a terrible place for all those same reasons. They say if you can learn in San Francisco bay, you are well prepared for anywhere.

Commercial traffic is heavy.  Our marina was in Alameda, near the Bay Bridge. We learned basic boating skills and dodged large ships at the same time!  As we did man-0verboard drills, we watched the cargo ships move with the shifting tides.

We learned about rough water (hint – its always rough in parts of the Bay).  We always watched our depth. In spite of its size, the average depth of the Bay is under 6 feet.  Or 14 feet.  Depends on who you ask.  But shallow. And easy to suddenly run aground.

Essentially, the bay has a canyon at its heart.

When the boat is over the canyon itself, depths can be significant – over 300 feet deep under the Golden Gate. But reach the edge of the canyon and the depth can change from 150 feet to 10 feet almost instantly.  This not only makes for some interesting navigation, it makes for some VERY weird waves.

We successfully completed the class without accident or injury!  We chartered a boat a few weeks later and went out into the Bay all on our own.  It was a lot of fun – we headed out from Alameda under the Bay Bridge.  Weather was beautiful and the Bay was fairly calm.

Between the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz, we rendezvoused with Captain John Steel and his merry band of Pirates (Mike Connolly and Chris Poulton).  That’s John acting like a millennial in the photo below – texting when he should be driving 🙂

Captain Steele on his rag hauler

A small craft advisory developed later that day, and we went straight out into the teeth of the waves near the Golden Gate.  Our friends Jeffrey and Beth Huffman were with us.  Jeffrey couldn’t resist recreating a scene from another famous boating movie.   I just hoped our voyage wouldn’t end like the people in that movie.

There was an onshore breeze coming in from the ocean through the Golden Gate.  An area boaters and meteorologists call “the slot.”  The tide was going out under the Golden Gate, so the incoming wind was pushing against the outflowing water.  Making even more waves. We weren’t in any real danger, it was just a typical SF day.

Typical SF Bay day

After getting pounded for a while, we turned back….and got pounded some more. At that point the tide was flowing directly opposite our desired direction at over 6 knots.  We put the hammer down and burned some diesel to get back.

That night Heather and I stayed on the boat.  It was a 35 foot Ranger Tug.  The same make and model I was considering for purchase.  This was my first night aboard a boat in a marina.

The Ranger Tug

The water is cold and so was the boat. Fortunately the stateroom was very small and we had an electric space heater which was just enough to keep us warm.  The boat didn’t rock too much, but the constant noise from loose equipment clanging takes some getting used to.  I learned that loose cable stays and the clanging are a big marina faux pas.  Boaters have been reported to take matters into their own hands if owners won’t stop the clanging.

To make a long story short, the boating class and the overnight charter was all I needed to realize my Great Loop adventure was probably not the adventure I was seeking. The realities of living aboard a boat were just too much for me.

Boaters have no real transportation from the marina. They have to worry about navigation hazards a lot worse than potholes. Waking up at night – especially in a storm – to make sure an anchor hadn’t pulled out did not sound like fun. Trying to navigate in a fog bank through commercial shipping lanes didn’t sound like fun. Beaching at low tide or on a shifting river sandbar didn’t sound like fun. And the cramped quarters of a boat became all too real.  Boats are lot more compact than RVs, I thought to myself.

The light bulb went off for me – an RV would give us all the same access to travel and see cool places, with far less of the drawbacks.  So the boating class was great, and also a good reminder that some research goes a long way when making a major life change.

You are probably wondering why I am rambling on about this in my RV blog?

The answer is because I was reminded of our choice in the last big storm.  We battened down our hatches in the rv and watched the storm roll through. By which I mean we lowered our Winegard satellite dish, roughing it with only DVR movies.  We were warm and dry and in no danger of anything.

The next day, we walked along the path on Coronado and saw the wind had beached a very nice sailboat that was anchored to a mooring ball.

The Sea Tow people were attaching a tow rope around the boat and preparing to pull it back into deeper water.

We watched for over an hour as the tow boat struggled to pull the sailboat free.  After an hour, we left.  But that boat didn’t.  It was still stuck firmly, having not budged one inch.

While we waited, we spoke to a woman who said her boat broke free during the same storm.  It seems her lines to the mooring ball held, but the mooring ball anchor to the seafloor actually broke free.  Her boat slammed into another boat before beaching itself.

I realized that boaters and RV’ers have a similar appetite for adventure and wanderlust. Kindred sprits in many ways.  But watching the recovery and listening to this story made me even more pleased we chose to live MoHo!


Arriving in California

Many of you have reached out to ask if we are still alive. Yes, we are still alive! Yes, I realize I am behind on the blog.  Thank you for pointing that out!  🙂

I’ve been helping a friend with a project, trying to collect all my information for tax season and checking out local sights.I have also started working on a book to help newbies thinking about jettisoning their old lives and hitting the road.  I have a lot of content from the blog that can go into that book, but a lot of material that I haven’t yet written down and I want to capture it before I forget it.

Sadly, amazingly, unbelievably we are dealing with the ridiculous reality that we can be outside one of the largest cities in the USA at a super-expensive RV resort and still can’t get working WiFi or cell data.

Sometimes the WiFi works, by which I mean it works for 20 seconds after toggling WiFi on and off.  But only in the very early morning or very late at night, and only when it feels like working.  Generally, it is completely nonfunctional. We get one bar of AT&T and Verizon works but is very slow. Geez.  You’d think we were still in the boonies in Vermont!

Of all the things that surprised me after setting out on this adventure, the near-contstant challenge of getting data access has been at or near the top of the list.  It is just something you take for granted when you live in a sticks-and-bricks residence and have your own dedicated data connection.

The other crazy thing is that changing addresses and residence states has completely screwed up a lot of the records for tax season. Apparently they were sent to my old residence but the mail forwarding for that has long expired. So I’m having to track down all the online sources to get the tax records.  Which would be easier if I had a master list of every company that wanted to send me financial information.

Turns out, there are always a few out there – like retirement funds – that send a tax document even though there isn’t any tax due on those funds.  I’m getting closer.

Anyway, the drive from Yuma to San Diego was relatively uneventful aside from the nearly 70 miles of road -construction-single-lane-travel and severe winds/high-profile vehicle warnings. We tried to make a mad dash between two storms. We thought we could time our departure for a break between wind blasts but instead we managed to set out into the worst of the wind.

That’s the hard part with trying to “time” the weather. We delayed our departure from Yuma a day already so we just decided to go for it. Driving in those single lanes with massive blasts of wind hitting us was a little hairy!

Fortunately, the wind was mostly a headwind which dropped our fuel economy but didn’t push us sideways much.  That wasn’t continually true though, and we fought some pretty severe sidewinds at times. Because I’m back on the iPhone I’m having the fricken image rotation issues with WordPress.  If this image looks sideways let me know.  The only fix is to delete the photo I uploaded and use the WordPress app on the iPhone to re-upload it.

#painintheass. #wordpresssucks When we got to San Diego, we had fine sand blown into every nook and cranny in our MoHo.Fortunately our MoHo has a plastic clear bra on the front or most of the paint would have LITERALLY been sandblasted right off the bus.

This section of the interstate runs right along the international border with Mexico in several places.  At closest approach the border is only a few hundred yards from the highway.  In this stretch a wall has already been built and it runs along the road for miles.  There isn’t much out here, just a lot of open and empty terrain. The drive from Yuma is pretty flat about 2/3 of the way and then BOOM – mountains!  The good news was that when we reached the mountains, the blowing sand stopped.

Believe it or not, SNOW was forecast on the high mountain passes near San Diego.  Now I have been to San Diego many times before and I never appreciated that there were tall mountains so close to the city!  Especially mountains that get snow!

This mountain crossing is tough. Every few miles is a pull out with a water spigot and a big sign about radiator water fillup.  Apparently, climbing from sea level to 8,000 feet in a short period of time in the summer when temperatures approach 120 degrees is tough on the vehicle cooling systems.

Fortunately we had no such issues with the temperature. I was sure happy to have our diesel on this stretch. We had adequate power on the way up, and used a lot of the engine brake on the way down the other side. Much of the mountain area looks like nothing I have seen before.  The mountains resemble huge piles of rubble with boulders and rocks just stacked upon each other. Driving through this area is really interesting but it sure creates a feeling that one gentle earth tremor would have thousands of those boulders shaking down onto the roadway!

It was kind of weird coming back into the state after being gone for so long, and visiting it now as tourists instead of residents. Heather and I spent so much time on the East Cost we still feel like that’s our home area!

As we closed in on San Diego, Southern California traffic welcomed us.  California traffic is both easier and harder to manage in the Moho than traffic in other places.  It is easier because drivers in California are more courteous than in other states and generally will let us change lanes or merge.  It is harder because California drivers drive FAST.

Speed limits on the Texas interstates may be 80mph, but nowhere outside Cali have I seen city traffic driving that fast.  And unfortunately, in California motor homes towing are limited to 55mph.  This means there is a 25-30mph speed differential between us and the rest of the traffic and that is difficult to deal with.

I would bet California 55mph speed limit for towing causes more accidents than it prevents. Somebody probably has that data.

We pulled into the campground which is located alongside a very nice marina.  After we parked, we did a quick walk around and enjoyed the view of all the boats!

San Diego

Our home for a while in San Diego is actually south of downtown in Chula Vista.  Specifically the Chula Vista RV Resort and Marina.  The marina is right next to the RV campground and is one of the nicer marinas we have seen.

Chula Vista Marina

San Diego has so many interesting things to do and see that it is almost overwhelming. Fortunately, we had been here many times before and so we set out to see new areas as well as older ones.

One place we had not seen was the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center.  It is located high in the foothills with a commanding view of Otay Lake and the mountains beyond.  It also has a commanding view across the border into Mexico.

The entrance is definitely Olympic-themed.  Tall columns flank the main doors with flagpoles all around, ready to hoist the standards of their country.

Chula Vista Olympic Training Center entrance

The Center hosts “athletes in archer, beach volleyball, BMX, canoe/kayak, cycling, field hockey, rowing, rugby, soccer, tennis, track & field, triathlon, and cross training abilities for various winter sports…”

I did not realize that BMX was an Olympic event, but apparently it is. The training course was silent when we visited but we could imagine riders flying over these bumps and dips on their shiny bicycles, popping into the air and doing tricks for the judges.

BMX course

Inside the center was a small “museum” that housed the jerseys and bikes from some famous Olympic BMX’ers.  Well, famous to other BMX’ers, anyway.  I suspect the rest of us have never heard the names of these athletes.

BMX museum

We put our Olympic dreams aside and ventured over to Balboa Park. According to Wikipedia, Balboa Park was “named for the Spanish maritime explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the park hosted the 1915–16 Panama–California Exposition and 1935–36 California Pacific International Exposition, both of which left architectural landmarks.”

Balboa Park is a wonderful place and no visit to San Diego can be complete without a stop here.  Home to the worlds finest zoo, an aerospace museum, an auto museum, various art and photography museums, a natural history museum, a technology museum, Japanese tea gardens, a botanical garden, fountains, and of course even the model railroad museum.

The architectural style is very impressive.  I’m sure there is a name for it, but I don’t know that name. It looks like a combination of Spanish-inspired and art-deco.  Whatever it is called, it is very pleasing to my eye.

Balboa Park building

Balboa Park is home to a massive pipe organ – the Spreckles Organ Pavilion.  One cool factoid about performances here relate to the fact that Balboa park is almost directly under the landing path for aircraft arriving at Lindbergh Field.  There are lights visible to the performers which turn from green to yellow to red notifying the impending arrival of an aircraft. Just as the aircraft seems to come out of nowhere and is about to land on the audience, the performance pauses!  It picks right back up in 30 seconds or so like nothing happened.

Spreckles Organ Pavillion

Here is one of those famous San Diego landings viewed from the highway.  Balboa Park is ahead of us and to the left.

Time to buzz the tower, Goose

One of my personal favorites is the semi-outdoor botanical garden.  Given the temperate weather, plants grow year-round in this building which has a roof of wooden slats.  San Diego is generally acknowledged to have the best weather in the continental US and is routinely in the top 10 weather lists for the entire planet.

Botannical gardens

Inside the building lush greenery surrounds visitors, providing a lush oasis inside a busy city.  Orchids are on display everywhere.

Inside the Botanical garden

The picturesque building below houses several exhibit spaces.  The main and upper floors are a photography museum.  The lower floor is the model railroad museum.

Museum building

The model railroad museum is one of those “biggest ball of twine” type of attractions that we specifically wanted to see on this trip. It is wonderfully throwback and odd, stuffed into the basement of the museum and operated by volunteers.  Most of whom look about as old as the railroads themselves.

The museum itself is over 27,000 square feet.  Easily making it the largest of its kind in North America and arguably the largest in the world.  Model railroads first made their appearance in 1935 for the Pan American Exhibition but the current museum opened its doors in 1982.   since then over 3 million people have visited.

Displays are wonderfully handcrafted and full of details. At first glance, this street could be in a real town.  Only the tops of the walls give away the fact that it is just a model.

Many railroad and miniature museums have intricate small scenes.  Few have the expansive spaces that the California Model Railroad museum does.   This massive – yet tiny – trestle was painstakingly handbuilt over a period of years.

Another example was this canyon and smaller trestle.  Not only was the trestle handbuilt, the entire scene was handbuilt.  Someone hand-placed each and every pebble and grain of sand in this display!

Upstairs, new exhibit space is taking shape.  Slowly but surely the volunteers are building a replica of an actual location.

The building techniques haven’t changed, but the layout process sure has.  This area is using Google Earth images to help the models capture the details. I’m not sure how they did it in the past other than some old photos.

The Main Street in Balboa park is called the Prado and it has majestic fountains at both ends.

Architecture along the Prado is quite attractive.  Each building is unique but shares a common design language.

San Diego itself is often best viewed from across the narrow bay in Coronado. Coronado is home to an eclectic mix of retired military officers, millionaires, artists, and beach bums. All competing with the ever-present tourists who flock to Coronado.

Housing in Coronado is even more expensive than in San Diego.

I will have more about San Diego in the next blog entry.