Premium Mexico Links
~ Chapter One ~
Los Angeles to San Diego
~ Louis Walsh
The day had finally come. After dreaming about this trip for years and planning the details for over 6 months, I found myself driving my daughter Tracy to Miraleste Intermediate School in Palos Verdes, California on the way to Los Angeles Harbor. After a big hug goodbye and a growing knot in my stomach, I drove down the hill with my wife Leslie to Cabrillo Beach launch ramp at Los Angeles Harbor. Laurie Morrison from The Log newspaper was at the launch ramp waiting to interview me and take photos. John Fields and Dave Berry, close friends and supporters of my adventures, were also waiting to bid me farewell. After hugs and good-byes Leslie was heading off to a meeting, John and Dave had real world appointments, and after an interview and photos Laurie was on her way also. I found myself alone on the dock, loading up the Vaka Viti with basic supplies and preparing to depart. Alone on the dock it finally hit me. What in the heck did I think I was doing? I was nervous and excited at the same time. After loading the boat and getting ready to untie the dock lines I discovered a problem...the boat would not start. It didn't even sound close to wanting to start. Talk about all dressed up and no place to go!
Being a virgin boat owner it took me a while to figure out that I had flooded the motor. I had been advised by the previous owner of the boat that I had to "pump" the rubber fuel ball before pulling on the starter rope. But I had apparently pumped it too much and the carburetor had more gasoline in it than it could handle. After giving the motor 30 minutes to let the excess gas evaporate, I pulled the rope again and she finally started. After this delay in getting started I could hardly wait get out on the ocean.
The water was calm from the launch ramp to the entrance to Los Angeles Harbor at Angel's Gate. But from that point on the ocean swells became noticeable, fortunately they were from the north. This was the beginning of the "following seas" that I would experience for the next 1,100 miles all the way south to the tip of Baja at Cabo San Lucas.
I motored within a few hundred feet of shore to get a feel for the boat. The southern California coastline was sprinkled with million dollar beachfront homes separated by open stretches of spectacular empty beaches. Although I had traveled along this coast many times in my life on Pacific Coast Highway in a car (usually with surfboards on top), this new perspective was exciting and beautiful. The sun was coming out from behind the morning veil of fog, the ocean surface was glassy, and sea gulls flew overhead in all directions. Maybe this wasn't such a crazy idea after all. This trip might actually be fun!
Rounding the cliffs at Dana Point I could see the beaches of San Clemente, the former location of the Western White House and President Richard Nixon. The beaches south of the San Clemente Pier are known in the surfing world to host some of the best waves in California. For years these beach were off limits to the public because of the adjacent Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, and because of Nixon's home at the top of the bluffs. Even though the beaches were off limits, the ocean waves were not. This quite often lead to many interesting games of cat and mouse between the Marines who patrolled the beaches and the surfers who occasionally fell off of their boards and lost them to shore. Surfers who did have to go to shore to retrieve a surfboard had to act fast, and more than one surfer had lost that race (and the surfboard) to the Marines. And even though being escorted off the beach by Marines was always a thrill (it happened to me only once) it was somewhat unnerving to be ordered into the back of a Jeep and 'processed' in the Secret Service building just south of Nixon's home.
The Holy Grail of surfing in these parts was then, and is today, to be able to legally enter the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, drive your car the beach, and paddle out to some of the best waves on the west coast. There are only a handful of people on the planet that are allowed to do this, and once a year I am one of the fortunate few to share in this joy. Once a year my buddy Mike Giltner puts together a dad's and son's event called Boggie Board Camp that is set up right on the main beach at the camp. It's 4 days of sun in the fun reinforcing the mantra "Where men are boys and boys are men". The finale on Saturday night ends with a spectacular live band performance in Tent City, anchored by Pat Bolan of the 70's band Pure Prairie League. The other band members are a bit different each year, but include everything from brain surgeons to mortgage brokers. On my boating trip south it was interesting to see the beach were we surf and play from this westerly perspective.
As I approached the waters a bit further south directly off of Camp Pendleton Marine Base, I noticed an unusual amount of military activity on shore and in the water. President George W. Bush had put the GI wheels in motion to retaliate against the still fresh terrorist's attack of September 11th, and I was headed right through the middle of Operation Enduring Freedom's war games. Helicopters fluttered in the sky, Humvees and Jeeps cruised along the shore, and military boats and frog men (and probably frog women) dotted the waters like black dots next to their amphibious boats. I wondered if the area I was traversing was off limits. It didn't seem right that some knucklehead in a panga could zip right through all of this serious warfare. I held my breath, maintained my southbound course about a half mile from shore and just kept on trucking, hoping that I could sneak through all of the activity unnoticed. Within 15 minutes all of the action was behind me and I was closing in on the port of San Diego.
After dodging more kelp beds and lobster traps than I could count I finally rounded Point Loma, entered San Diego Harbor and headed for my first stop on the adventure...the fuel dock at Shelter Island in San Diego. Explaining my destination to the kid working the fuel dock, he gave me an extra 5 gallon gas can "just to be sure" I had enough fuel to make it between stops down and up the Baja coast. This was the first of many times that I would be graciously helped by people all along my 2,200 mile excursion. Full of fuel, I tied up the Vaka Viti in an empty slip in the marina, and walked a mile to the main street to grab a light meal and find a place to sleep. If I wanted to make it to Ensenada tomorrow in time to process my Port of Entry papers before the offices closed I knew I had to get an early start in the morning. By 8:00 p.m. I was sound asleep in the Shelter Island Travel Lodge.