Visit San Diego: War Ships, War Cries and Wannabes

Come on a trip with us and visit San Diego: War Ships, War Cries and Wannabes

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With a charming mix of mega yachts and masquerading pirates onboard 7 metre sailing ghettos, San Diego is like a melting pot of poverty and prosperity. On the edge of America, with Mexico insight, here lies the stepping off point for cruisers. San Diego is not a cruising ground as such with its king’s ransom fees and stifling regulations. It is a gateway to the Pacific Ocean. Late in the season, most cruisers are already in Mexico and beyond by now. But a few cruisers lurk, mainly small sailboats with no fixed agenda. Vessels that ‘live’ here are all pristine. The boats set to do miles; all wear that comfortable ‘travelled’ look.


Big industries here are manufacturing, military, ship repair and construction. Tourism plays its part, but as boaties there is enough to see of the watery world type. The navy base is buzzing with activity almost every day. Roaring jets vibrate the boat as they launch into space, on exercise, ready for battle. War roars of planes, ships and helicopters mix with the war cries from the AM/FM radio, provoking thoughts of the terrifying world we now live in; a reason why we are here, onboard a sailboat seeking what good is left in the planet.

San Diego Boat Metropolis: Visit San Diego
San Diego Boat Metropolis: Visit San Diego War Ships, War Cries and Wannabes

Onboard Situation

Onboard we have our own situation to deal with, visitors in the form of my parents. Welcoming us all into San Diego, CA (the sunshine state) were five storms in as many days that packed a punch. The surface analysis, downloaded from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) painted a sorry tale. Noel and I didn’t mind too much, we had plenty to do below. But my parents had escaped devastating snow that ground the UK to a halt, only to be met with violent storms that “never normally happen”. It was time to test the theory of a bigger boat coping with guests.

Arrive to San Diego!

Entrance into San Diego harbour was spectacular in a peaceful way. Prior to the storms’ arrival the sun shone with its brightest colours, the dolphins skimmed around our bow and an enormous humpback whale swam alongside. Even the aeroplanes departing San Diego’s heart looked welcoming as they strained against gravity. The famous cruiser’s jungle drums had beat information our way about a Police Dock, a place to tie up at a reasonable price. Prior to the storms a collection of cruisers hauled anchor and made for the safety of the dock. The procedure was first come first served. We were permitted a temporary stay at one of the four pump out docks to await the inevitable departure of three boats the following day. With an allowance of 10 days in every forty and around $10 per night for the first five days and $20 for the second five days, this place is a bargain. Facilities are basic but usable. Compare these prices with the $US2-$US3 per foot per day for the regular marinas, (plus electricity, plus wifi, plus a payment for extra for guests in some marinas!)you can understand the popularity.

Calm Shelter San Diego Marina
Calm Shelter San Diego Marina

Marina Stay

Later, we sought a marina for a short spell and Shelter Cove Marina looked after us well. The Sunday morning coffee, doughnuts and bagels were a big hit. Nestled in “America’s Cup Bay”, Noel and I returned to the boat one afternoon to find my parents chatting, unbeknown to them, to a celebrity. Dennis Connor of America’s Cup fame.  He was the first man to unsuccessfully defend the cup, much to the delight of Alan Bond’s Australia II, (skippered by John Bertrand) and Australia as a whole. However, armed with numerous successes both before and after Australia II, he has helped form some fantastic races. Connor is currently spending time with ‘Challenged America’, an all-volunteer Charitable program that provides adaptive sailing for adults and kids with disabilities. “Thanks for the memories” Noel called out, as Connor eased “B Quest” from her slip. Dennis had watched us take down and service our winches and hinted that he could use that help. We hinted that we could use his maintenance guy too and that was the end of that conversation!

We were surprised that all the marinas charge extra for wifi. You pay for the convenience, as libraries offer free internet service if you make the journey. There are public connections scattered about. Ironically laundries seem the best place to pick these up. The Laundromat in town had a marvellous connection, which made washing day a positive delight. Back at the marina, I wandered around with the laptop open trying to find a connection. Eventually, I gave up, until I had to do more laundry. In the marina laundry, armed with a laptop to do some writing (can’t waste a moment!), I found that suddenly I had a connection. The laundry became my office, which was actually rather pleasant. A warm room, gentle humming of machines, clean smells and within just a few strides from Pyewacket.

Weather and Windvane

The succession of lows finally abated and the glorious warm sunny days returned. Harmony was restored onboard, shedding any remains of cabin fever. Previous experience of hosting visitors, we’ve found that they prefer to be active.  As we had a boat to prepare, the activities took the form of work! The Aries windvane needed a full service, new bearings and fitting. Noel and Dad locked themselves into the workshop while mum and I tackled jobs such as making a dinghy cover, inspecting the anchor chain and supplying copious cups of tea. We did allow my folks some time off and San Diego offered a smorgasbord of fun. Point Loma lighthouse that watches over San Diego’s slice of ocean provides informative historical and technical data. It is a reminder of different times of sailing, welcoming sailors for 36 years from its conception in 1855. However, it was situated in the wrong position and fog and low clouds obscured the light, leading to its closure in 1891. Nearby is a fine monument to the 16th Century explorer Cabrillo, who stands proudly over the City.

Mum and Dad (Val and Roy) x
Mum and Dad (Val and Roy) x

Hopeless Dreams

The San Diego Boat Show gave us hopeless dreams.  Discounts at Chandleries, fascinating electric boats, fold up dinghies and USCG (US Coast Guard) were just some of the exhibitors that held our attention (as well as the free beer and chocolate). Sail and motorboats clamoured for favour in the marina. Visitors climbed onboard and we almost dribbled at the mouth-watering new boats. Returning to Pyewacket we noticed how homely she felt, not her vintage.

A City: Visit San Diego War Ships, War Cries and Wannabes

Initially, I couldn’t get excited about San Diego. The expense was crippling and there were few cruisers to discuss plans, potential hazards and procedures with. When mum and dad visit, we live like kings. They want the luxury of a holiday, so marinas and hire cars come via their extraordinary generosity. Driving downtown the atmosphere tangibly changed in the confines of our metal box, going boringly the same direction as all the other, million or so, metal boxes. Cars rule here, if you want to survive you must have a car. The excitement was caused by reaching the hub of San Diego. Square riggers, cruisers, ferries and the Navy vessels ply the edge of the metropolis with fascinating regularity.

Awesome Engines

The Aircraft Carrier ‘Midway’, caught our eye. Her enormous structures shadow the city, we just had to take a look. Viewing the navigation equipment, helm and engine room was our priority. I noted the thick pencil lines drawn on a chart, but didn’t think I ought to comment, I am quite fussy about my chart work of fine lines. As we weaved through the rabbit warren of low corridors (you wouldn’t want to be overly tall), the claustrophobic feeling was a surprise on a vessel so vast. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people went missing, simply because they were lost in the bowels. Ex-Navy volunteers impart their experience of the ship’s operation and equipment. We spent a particularly long time chatting with an eloquent volunteer in the engine room. Below the waterline we inspected, touched, queried and were in awe of the four steam turbine engines, dials, operation and the bleak and positively dangerous working conditions these guys were subject to in times gone by.

The aircraft on deck blasted into insignificance in comparative size to the vessel. At times there are over 300 people working on the deck, managing the takeoff and landing. Standing on the deck cum runway, you can sense a little of the danger, exhilaration and marvel of the abilities of the pilots, both in the flying and seagoing craft.

Australian Help

Back to the reality of organising a wee sailboat for oceans; the next day we found ourselves driving on the four-lane freeway at 60 mph (still the ‘old money’ system). Peering through the mist of torrential rain, searching for bottles of gas and stainless steel welding rods. Saying you want “gas” in a bottle in America, leads to a confusing conversation. “Gas” here is Petrol. LPG is what we want to bottle. Despite subtle differences, purchasing a foreign boat has been so much easier than we thought. AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) has a great website for studying the intricacies of Australian Registration. The Registration office itself bent over backward to aid our request to register Pyewacket. The forms are straightforward and all our queries were answered without delay, via email.

Wonderful memories, with Mum and Dad
Wonderful memories, with Mum and Dad Visit San Diego War Ships, War Cries and Wannabes

After our chores, we follow a recommendation and visit Scripps Institute of Oceanography, a remarkable place. Scripps is a centre of ocean and earth science research, education and public service. It claims to be the oldest, largest and most important centre for research in the world. It is also where you can adopt a fish. Alluring us was their fabulous library encompassing an enormous room that stores every conceivable navigation chart. These are our key navigation instruments.


Purchasing more charts was on our ‘to do’ list and searching through the catalogues and actual charts was useful in making a decision of what, exactly, we needed. It also turned our thoughts from completing maintenance to doing miles. We took some time out to visit the Aquarium and re-acquaint ourselves with what lurks beneath us when we skim the service of the water world. The Sea Horses caught my eye. With their head like a horse, tail like a monkey and pouch like a Kangaroo. More so the Pot-bellied Seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis), native to Australia and Zealand and known for its protruding belly.


With the Aries installed, we found time for more excursions of the not-so-nautical nuance. Armed with passports and visas we drove across the border to Mexico; the armed guards giving us no more than a cursory glance. Across the border you enter a different world. Immigrant hopefuls gather and the results are dramatic. Lacklustre towns adorned with shattered dreams and poor infrastructure. The town vibrates with sadness and criminal activity. After driving for an hour we found the doors were firmly locked; we were all keen to return to the ’western world’.  We celebrated our land travel with a sandwich and coffee and drove to the hills. Spectacular scenery helped calm the pumping adrenaline. The recent storms had turned the dusty brown into vibrant green. Breathtaking vistas and sweeping roads calmed our nerves. Gum trees fighting Mistletoe disease, Pepper trees and Wattle made us think of home.

Now, so close to unbeaten paths, Mexico beckons. The Spanish we are so desperate to learn, flits around our ears, totally alien. Mexican food is tasty, cheap and sold from the curbs in portable kitchens.  We have the equipment for learning a new language, just not the time. Considerations of having a ‘learn Spanish’ book next to the head is discussed. Well, that is the only time we sit still long enough to read at the moment!

A Job a Day: Visit San Diego War Ships, War Cries and Wannabes

Currently, now just two of us again, we are sitting on anchor, awaiting the original Australian Registration documents that seem to be lost in the vortex of snail mail. It’s 80 degrees, peaceful and we have constant, free (public) wifi. Our days are slowly easing to “a job a day”, amidst the regular chores.  We’re ready to explore Mexico and let Pyewacket stretch her legs. Itching to get going, it is time to scratch.

I hope you enjoyed “Visit San Diego War Ships, War Cries and Wannabes”, more coming soon (video podcasts and audio podcasts) follow us to receive notifications. Click here.

San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum 

Scripps Institute of Oceanography

More about what we’re up to. 


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