Yesterday was the perfect day on the bay. At the Encinal Yacht Club, 28 yachts and the USAC D/V JOHN DILLARD participated in the 20th Annual Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association Margot Brown Wheelchair Regatta.
Since 600 to 650 vets and support crew were expected, two of us from the Aeolian Yacht Club volunteered to work in the galley with food prep.
That consisted of washing a crate of iceberg lettuce and spin drying the leaves for hamburger fixings.
The spinner was rather a pain, as it had to be connected just right to get it to operate. After that chore was completed, we helped to assemble 240 gift bags for the vets to take home.
The regatta was held yearly to give a show of appreciation to our members of the armed forces and we were happy to load wheelchairs on the motor yachts for a cruise around the bay.
The support group included the local VFW posts and the Coast Guard, with Fire Fighters Association doing the heavy lifting.
When you look at the assembled company with that many men in wheelchairs, you have to wonder what their lives are like. The Grand Marshall lost all four limbs through illness, but was able to attend.
I went there to simply lend a hand at the practical items but was treated with a whole host of new impressions and thoughts about life and fate.
The real surprise for me was a chance to cruise the bay on a US Army Corps of Engineers ship. This is a twin hull diesel catamaran with a crane on deck. It holds 60 people with an equal number of life vests.
It is used to patrol the inland waterways from the Bay to Sacramento and Stockton. It picks up trash in the water, and can haul out large objects that are hazards to navigation. The captain said that they find many balloons in the water, and move over them without ever breaking them.
Other hazards to themselves and navigation are smart ass kayakers who like to paddle under the Dillard in between the hulls.
The captain was so adept at control, that when we had to come up to an alternate dock to disembark, he got out on the flying bridge with his hand held joystick, and backed that boat right up to the end of the dock. Since the water was calm with no breezes at all the only motion we suffered was walking on the long floating pier up to the clubhouse.
While out on the bay we cruised up to the new span of the Bay Bridge, and saw that the work of dismantling the old span was still in progress.
We had to stop to retrieve a balloon hat that blew off our clown’s head, but the action was so swift that it only landed on the rear stair landing and not the water.
That is how the conversation got started on the subject of balloons.
I was on the bridge sitting next to the captain, and examining his control panel. It is more extensive than a glider’s but all high tech. Even a small Piper Cub has almost as many dials, but no television screen for data readout.
What I recognized was the radio setting, depth of channel, (48 feet) compass direction, engine RPM’s, latitude and longitude readings. There are two sonars for reading channel depth as it varies on each side, but no side imaging radar.
I got to talking with a Commodore (female) on deck and we found that we had a lot in common. She was 70 years old, but did not look it, and lived in Discovery Bay, which is out in my childhood territory of east Contra Costa. We discussed the high cost of housing in that area, and how she’d had seen the changes in Brentwood in the last 20 years.
She was shocked when I told her that this was my first cruise on a government ship since 1947, when family members of the civil service got treated to a ride and box lunch on the San Juaquin River from Pittsburg to the Bay. My parents worked at the Army processing point of Camp Stoneman from 1943-1945. This camp has disappeared with only a stone marker and a few vacant lots with old foundations left, waiting to be filled in with commercial development.
It is funny how one simple conversation with a stranger can set off a chain of memories, but when you live long enough, everyone you talk to can trigger the thoughts of long go but not so far away.