Matthew Craig Burke 11 a.m., Aug. 26
- Community Blog
- The Railsplitter
Small Craft Sailing As A Zen Exercise
I was born in the Emerald City 48 years ago and I've witnessed some drastic changes in this burg, none of them for the better. Crowds, traffic, heller noise, crime... the whole nine yards. When I was young, my friends and I rode our bikes and skateboards everywhere, and we knew just about everybody we saw, whether we liked that person or not. Now one can't ride a bike or skateboard across town without risk of being struck by a speeding car, and there are a million wankers one has never seen before, especially in the summer months. Several old friends of mine died untimely deaths in the past decade, so the only person in town I truly call my friend is "T-Bone," another old school local whose family owned and operated the first and oldest surf shop here in Coronado for over 30 years. That's okay, because one good friend is worth a million fake ones, and I've always been somewhat of a loner, so I appreciate solitude.
The only reason I'm even here in Coronado is because I hail from a military family, and my parents bought a house here way back in the day. They paid $14,500 for a house on a corner lot and threw down an extra $5,000 for two flat-roofed additions. Hard to believe in this day and age, but it's true. Unfortunately, a bitter and protracted divorce left the family in ruins, and my dad split when I was ten years old, never to be seen again, taking whatever money he had with him. Thus began a long and arduous spiritual trek, wholly precarious on the financial side. While others bought toys with "Daddy's Checkbook," whatever money I earned was sunk into basic survival needs and helping to pay off a second mortgage on this house. I won't dwell on the intervening years, but I can assure you that, raised on the Pistols and DK as I was, I'm as antisocial as they come, which is probably the greatest reason why I'm big on solo small craft sailing.
When I talk about sailing, I'm not referring to that spoon-fed scene down at the Coronado Yacht Club... far from it. As an impoverished military dependent, I learned to sail at the Naval Sailing Club down at Fiddler's Cove on the Silver Strand, where a family membership cost only $60 per year in 1975. At thirteen years of age, with no license and no family car, I used to pedal my paperbike halfway down the Strand every weekend to attend classes and spend as much time as I could on the water. Securing that membership was the best thing my financially-strapped mom ever did, and, in spiritual terms, it paid in spades. Later, I became Sail Hut Attendant down at Fiddler's Cove, and started learning all about glasswork and small craft refurbishment. I fixed up an old Laser (#2069) with a shredded mast step joint, and continued my lifelong love affair with small craft sailing. Ever since those not-quite-halcyon days of my youth, women have come and gone, but small craft sailing has steadfastly remained my faithful and beloved mistress... alcohol too, but that's another story.
They say no man is an island, but that's not necessarily true... some men are islands by choice aboard small craft, surrounded by the purifying element of water. When I sail, I become one with my marine environment, and harmony reigns supreme right down on the surface of the ocean. None of the irritating regulations and cheesy material standards of modern society matter anymore... the vagaries of rotten human nature become meaningless. This is especially true in the islands offshore, Islas Los Coronados, which are designated wildlife sanctuaries and are therefore protected from crass commercial development and urban blight. Indeed, I can think of no greater local contrast in spiritual terms than the glaring difference between these islands and the City of Coronado... the former being almost completely unspoiled, wild and beautiful, the latter being totally fake, overdeveloped and highly overrated. In an ironic twist of fate, I feel more at home out there in the islands than I do here in the place of my birth... go figure.
Fast forward again to recent times... my job in the trucking industry went south with the economy, and I was forced to sell my latest project boat, a 12' sloop I was refitting to take my niece out to the islands on overnight voyages. In one extremely small circle, that's my nautical claim to fame, a photodocumented record of numerous overnight small craft voyages to Islas Los Coronados. I've spent some of the best solo nights of my life out there, sleeping at the summits of my favorite islands. Without a boat for the first time in decades, I found myself "jonesing" hard to get out on the water where I belong. Out of the blue, a long-lost friend (Chula Vista local) I've known since the 7th Grade called to tell me he had just bought a C-15 (Coronado 15), and he asked me if I would help him dial it in by rerigging it and making a few modifications. In return, I was able to sail once more and I made plans for a solo voyage, yet another circumnavigation of my home town followed by a fast trip to Isla Norte.
Despite Coronado's reputation as a city with overflowing coffers, the boat ramp is a complete dump, so I began my voyage at Pepper Park in National City, which has a wide launch ramp flanked by smooth concrete docks, totally state-of-the-art by comparison. I made my way down the bay, executing a brief landing in shoal water at the foot of D Avenue in Coronado to pick up "T-Bone" for a fast reach across the channel... just wanted to show him the boat, as I've promised to take him sailing later on an overnight voyage to the islands. Dropping him ashore after reaching back to the shoal, I continued down the bay, reflecting upon the city where I was born. Coronado is one of those places best viewed from the water, especially in light of the collective nature of its general population: shallow self-centered types consumed with materialism. As an irregular-route long-haul truck driver, I've literally been through thousands of towns across America, and never have I seen a greater concentration of wankers in one location. Compton, North Philly and the Lower Bronx have NOTHING on Coronado, I assure you.
The breeze was fair on that first day of my voyage, and I scrapped my former plan of riding at anchor under Shelter Island, opting instead to check out the "floaters" under Zuniga Point. "Floaters" are essentially the waterborne homeless, the last of a dying breed squeezed by the Port District. Upon rounding Zuniga Point, I saw only two craft riding at anchor. Each vessel was secured with no dinghy in sight, and tying up to an unmanned craft isn't really kosher in my book, so I decided to anchor off Center Beach, smack in the middle of the front porch of the Emerald City. It always makes a statement, riding at anchor offshore, just outside the impact zone of the breakers, and swilling beer in this dump. The view of the Hotel Del Coronado isn't bad either, as far as views go, though I've seen way better in my time. "Aaaaaah, the sacrifices I make..."
No shortage of beer on this voyage, and no shortage of food with my huge Igloo cooler stocked to the absolute limit. Carnival Splendor move over... no helicoptered Spam served aboard this craft!!! Locals may recall that ridiculous scenario, with passengers sleeping on deck and macking Spam delivered by helicopter while the crew plowed through condemned rations below, since the ship's reefers quit working and Carnival didn't want to risk food sickness among its paying fares. I read that the crew indulged themselves in a saturnalian feast, and why not? Hell, I could have been lost at sea for a week and STILL gained weight, considering how much gourmet food I brought with me on my voyage. Only I wasn't lost... merely riding offshore aboard the derigged C-15, mainsail furled and all gear stowed for the night. The sunset was epic, as it usually is on the water, and I could hear party music emanating from the Hotel Del... later, with hotel lights blazing across the surf, I could also hear the drunken revelers gathered round the bonfires at North Beach. It's amazing how far sound carries in open areas.
Two hours into darkness, I suspected that my boat anchor was dragging a bit, so I hauled up short and paddled farther outside the break to reset the hook. No problems this time, with an easy swell and untroubled surface making for smooth floating. As I lay there, stretched out atop multiple sleeping pads and fartsack, my head mere inches from the water, I started dwelling upon "Jaws" and "Sharktopus" and "Mega Piranha" (those Academy Award winners). Suddenly, I heard a "WHOOSH!!!" as some sea creature rose from the depths and vented in an explosive exhalation... "WTF???" I warily glanced over the gunwale to see a curious sea lion eyeballing me and my craft from ten feet away, possibly intending to haul himself out as sea lions will do. An alarming thought, since the 500-lb. critter would certainly capsize the C-15 if it leapt aboard... the C-15 isn't quite as tender as the Laser, but it's still fairly tender, so, despite being a lifelong animal lover, I yelled at the poor creature as my heart rate dropped a few notches: "BEAT IT, DUDE!!! THIS AIN'T NO FLOPHOUSE!!!"
Aggrieved, the poor bastard split, but I was subsequently concerned about another sea lion leaping aboard while I was sleeping in the cockpit, which made for a long and restless night. Would have made the local rag, no doubt: "MAN WITH CRUSHED RIB CAGE AND BROKEN NECK FOUND RIDING OFFSHORE!!!" Or an equally cheesy headline: "MAN DROWNS IN SLEEPING BAG!!! ALCOHOL MAY BE FACTOR IN DEATH!!!" I was never so glad to see the dawn, although I must have catnapped at times, for I didn't feel tired at all. If anything, I was excited about my upcoming voyage to Isla Norte (a.k.a. "The Sarcophagus"), an old and trusted geological friend whom I hadn't visited in a while. Dawn itself was a thing of beauty... the ocean was the glassiest I've ever seen it offshore, like a reflecting mirror, with the Del and the Shores backlit by a brilliant red and orange sky. Unreal, that first light, taking me back to a more pleasant and peaceful time in this city of my birth... funny how this city now looks so much better when viewed from a distance.
My kraken-related paranoia vanished with the dawn, and I slowly performed the tasks and evolutions necessary to stow sleeping gear, bathe, eat, rerig the boat, haul anchor, etc. Extremely light airs prevailed that morning, and I soon found myself sprawled out in the same position I was in overnight while lazily crawling toward the islands. Two hours elapsed before I made the sea buoy and the first whale-watching cattleboats appeared astern. Eventually the breeze picked up, but not enough for me to circumnavigate Isla Norte and make it back to Pepper Park by sunset to meet my friend (the owner of the C-15), so I aborted my mission over halfway out and decided to head back up the channel to mess around in San Diego Bay, steering with my feet and drinking beer while keeping an eye toward my home town of Coronado. A long day of sailing ensued as I once again circumnavigated the place of my birth... although there were fine periods of fresh breeze, light and fluky airs prevailed on this second day, and I literally crawled back to Pepper Park as the sun set in yet another brilliant celestial display. One thing about this dump known as Coronado: view it in its natural state, sans population, and it is beautiful.
"Nice town... too bad about the people, yeah???"
One day I'll simply live aboard a boat for good, eschewing fake types and the proximity of so-called "neighbors" for the peace and tranquillity of marina life across the channel. The beauty of that whole scene is: if you don't like your neighbors, you can find another slip, or even another marina. The trick is to live as far from other liveaboards as possible, that way you have privacy and solitude at night. I've lived in Coronado most of my life, and I've also traveled like few others do, not just living overseas but driving a big truck (18-wheeler) clear across the Lower 48. When the nation is one's playground, it's kinda hard to remain attached to any one location. However, this city is the place of my birth, and there will always be a connection in that respect. Otherwise, I can leave this hole in the dust, because times have changed and it will forevermore be the kind of place best viewed from a distance, preferably across open water... an unrealistic and overrated slice of Americana filled with posers, sycophants, trust fund babies and self-styled "overachievers," who in the classic words of Jack London are "standing on dead men's legs." I don't include the military in this assessment, as I served in the Infantry and have nothing but respect for those currently serving in the Armed Forces, particularly those in the Combat Arms who lay everything on the line for their country.
As a native resident and old school local, that's my take on the Emerald City and its general population, including every last nonnative so-called "citizen" in this heller dump. Once upon a time, we had good neighbors on our corner, retired military and elderly folks who were the salt of the earth, but one by one they passed away, to be replaced by absolute scum. My elderly mom has medical issues, but it is her wish to die in her Coronado home, and I'll do my best to see her gracefully out, if I don't actually beat her to the grave. Despite years of hard partying, I'm in good health for my age... better than most, I reckon, judging by those of my so-called "peers" I see around me. Of course, when dealing with the Grim Reaper, one never knows when he might show... one can take measures to stall his arrival, but, like a good poker player, he always wins in the end. Should I outlive my mom, I'll immediately take steps to relocate elsewhere, as two close friends have already done with lasting success, turning their backs for good on the dirty swine and spoon-fed maggots in this hole. In parting, I'll leave readers with a classic Zen proverb:
"If you are filled with desire, your sorrows swell like grass after the rain... but if you subdue desire, your sorrows fall from you like drops of water from a lotus flower."