The city of Oceanside in San Diego County is located close to one of the largest Marine Corps Bases in the United States according to my guide book. On our way to its marina late on the afternoon of 28th October we saw nothing of this but we did see and hear our old friends the sea lions – a familiar and welcome sight (to me anyway).
They have been allocated their own floating dock on which to ‘beach’ close to the marina berths. The day after we arrived, most of them had abandoned this little square dock and decamped to the floating platform at the end of our pontoon. I had heard them barking in the night and thought they sounded a lot closer than they should have from their dock. Below is the reason why.
Oceanside is a nice enough city, although not as pretty and compact as Redondo. It was a bit of a hike into town to get to the nearest shops and the beach and pier was an hour away on foot. We did a fair bit of walking in Oceanside for the short time we were there. Returning early on the evening before we left, Paul had another confrontation with stubborn sea lions. Two of them had laid themselves full length across the pontoon, blocking our path to the boat. Stamping his feet and clapping his hands merely caused them to stare disdainfully at him without moving an inch. Every time we made a move to walk towards them, though the bigger of the two raised its head and bared its teeth, emitting a warning growl for good measure. I couldn’t help laughing. Eventually we had to resort to the water hose treatment – much to their disgust – before we could get past. Images of Oceanside below.
To add insult to injury, they were more vocal than usual during the night, barking and splashing very close to our hull, yet from the moment we got up to prepare to depart from our berth, they went quiet. I think they are more intelligent than we’ve given them credit for! I still love them though. We were on our way by 9am bound for San Diego with the Santa Ana wind blowing sufficiently to allow us to put the sails up and have a bit of peace from the sound of the engine for an hour or so. As we motored towards our berth in San Diego just before 5pm we could see people on the pontoon ready to take our lines. Two of them were Brenda and Clay who we had met in Monterey. It’s always nice to see familiar faces when arriving in a new port.
During a chat with the Uber driver who took us to the DHL collection office the morning after we arrived, Paul asked him if he could recommend some places we should visit in the city. One of the areas he mentioned was one that I had read about and liked the sound of, so after collecting his parcel we headed to San Diego’s Gas Lamp Quarter. Our guide book describes it as the epicentre of urban ultra-cool: quaint and romantic by day and rocking by night. We had no wish to go clubbing in its ‘hip’ clubs or trendy bars, so opted for the quaint daytime vibe instead. The district used to be San Diego’s main thoroughfare but descended into sleaziness in the late 1800s when legitimate businesses moved away from the wharves and warehouses. The gas lamps at that time illuminated streets populated with seedy saloons, brothels, opium dens and gambling halls (legend has it that Wyatt Earp operated at least three of them). The area only just escaped the wrecking ball in the 1960s but local preservationists were keen to protect the historic district and The Gas Lamp Quarter Association, formed in 1974, ensured that its oldest buildings remained untouched. Still, it was hard to imagine how it was in the 1800s when we strolled around it. The red-brick streets are dotted with trendy bars, and pavement dining is set up outside the modern bistros, while several fronts of historic buildings have recently been decorated with old fashioned facades. The street lights have been tastefully recreated in 19th-century style though, it was just a shame we didn’t get to see them in the dark.
As it was Halloween there was no shortage of people dressed up, parading the streets in horror costumes sporting painted faces and brightly–coloured fright wigs. Passing one restaurant we were startled when a man bounded out in front of us and asked if we were ‘in need of a hug’! I assumed him to be one of the staff but he could just as easily have been another passer-by because the combination of Halloween and the district’s reputation for attracting eccentrics ensured that there was plenty of colourful characters around. We politely declined his kind offer – he wasn’t to know he couldn’t have picked two people less likely to eagerly accept an embrace from a complete stranger.
From there we walked to the waterfront, another ‘must see’ according to our Uber driver. The maritime museum located there incorporates three historic ships and would have taken hours to do it justice. We contented ourselves with gawping at the huge aircraft carrier, (USS Midway Museum) on the Navy Pier in San Diego Bay. I had never seen a war ship before and marvelled at the fact that such a huge vessel – which frankly looked a bit higgledy piggledy with parts and platforms jutting out at angles all over its top decks – could move at all let alone with several aircraft on top of it. Apparently it was the largest ship in the world when it was built in 1945 and was too big to fit through the Panama Canal. We resolved to visit it before leaving San Diego. The other thing that caught our eye was the 25-foot ‘Unconditional Surrender’ statue on the promenade next to the warship. This iconic image of a sailor embracing a nurse on VJ Day in 1945 was captured by a photographer during the celebrations and as we would say today ‘went viral’ when it was published. The sculpture seems to be very popular with tourists who flock to replicate the image. I was interested to read that the sailor who claimed to be the one in the photo, died in 2014 aged 86 and was purported to have spent the last years of his life charging women $10 to photograph themselves kissing him on the cheek!
We spent a couple of days anchored in the charge-free area of the marina a few 100 yards from the pontoons to make room for the boats booked on the annual Baja Haha Rally, so it wasn’t until Sunday 3rd November that a space became free and we moved back to the pontoons for a four day stay. We were now able to make use of the bikes again. San Diego is well set up for cyclists with designated lanes allocated on its main roads and it’s not too hilly a city. It makes shopping for provisions easier and we get to see more of the area.
On Monday we, along with others from the marina, gathered on the green expanse overlooking the bay to watch the start of the Baja Haha Rally. About 200 yachts were positioned on the water waiting for the starting gun that signalled the beginning of their journey to Mexico. The ceremony and humorous interactions coming from the participants and the organisers on VHF reminded me of the start of our adventure on the Atlantic Rally crossing back in 2006.
San Diego’s Old Town was our next sight to see. Another value for money Uber took us to The State Historic Park, the site of San Diego’s original settlement (America’s first on the West Coast), known as The Birthplace of California. Anything focusing on 19th century life is of interest to me and this attraction recreates the city’s beginnings and has historic dwellings, reconstructed and original buildings, museums, and a Mexican-style market place with old style shops and restaurants. Paul did some Christmas shopping of all things in some of the shops there. It was fascinating to see the reconstruction of early settlers’ homes and to look at a genuine Wells Fargo stagecoach. There was even a haunted house! Whaley House is southern California’s oldest two-storey brick building (1856) and people have apparently reported seeing members of the original family still ‘living’ there along with a boat thief who was hanged on the site before the house was built. Paul said it was all nonsense and it was too late to go in there anyway. Shame – I would have enjoyed seeing a genuine 19th century ghost. Pics below of the day.
California operates daylight saving time too, but the clocks went back a week later than in the UK. The period between Halloween and Bonfire Night in the UK always heralds the start of the Christmas build up for me. The shops in San Diego had been full of Halloween cards and decorations and now cards for Thanksgiving on November 28th lined the shelves, with a small area given over for Christmas stuff. The sunny warm days meant that it didn’t even feel like autumn to me, let alone a need to begin preparing for Yuletide festivities. This didn’t stop Paul heading off to the Post Office on November 6th to post the Christmas presents he had bought and wrapped for people back home. He wanted to make sure they went from the US and we were still uncertain about our departure date for Mexico. We needed to leave our berth on the 7th but still hadn’t secured a place in Ensenada. With only one free day left, it was time to visit the USS Midway, so after the parcels had been sent off we got on the bikes and cycled all the way to the waterfront – a distance of about five miles. This was mostly on flat roads thankfully, and we stopped a few times to look at things so it wasn’t too arduous despite the warm day.
The warship itself was expensive but it was undeniably good value for the admission fee. Everything you could possibly want to know about life on board the gargantuan vessel and the fine details of aircraft carriers was covered. Audio guides narrated by Midway sailors were provided and it was possible to sit inside fighter planes and play with the controls. Kids and adults of all ages were lapping it all up on the day we were there. I must admit it was quite thrilling to sit in the cockpit of one of the actual World War 2 fighter jets, and to sit inside a helicopter. Some of the staff were men who had served on the ship and they welcomed the chance to answer questions and chat with visitors about their time in service or on statistics and engineering queries. We read about the character (Maverick) that Tom Cruise played in the film Top Gun – interestingly there are special Top Gun Movie Nights when the ship hosts a party for people who wish to watch the film under the stars. Home to 225,000 sailors, The Midway was finished just a week too late to serve in World War 2 but it was used in the Vietnam conflict and during The Gulf War where it was the flagship of Persian Gulf air operations in Operation Desert Storm.
We were amused by the robotic character placed behind a desk who acted out a scenario to inform visitors about the stresses involved in the busy day to day running of life on board. His narration could only ever come across as corny. A gift shop and a café has taken up part of the enormous main entrance deck – the goods on sale were very highly priced but I guess if anyone wants a bomber jacket like the one Tom Cruise wore, it’s worth every cent to buy it on the Midway and in the city where it was filmed.
It was dark by the time we emerged from the bowels of the ship so it was a ride home in the dark and as always when the sun sets it was a cold evening. The effort of cycling this time warmed us up rather than made us sweat. When we got back to the boat it was time to plan our departure the following morning for Ensenada. We would be in the Mexican part of the Pacific Ocean sometime on the 7th November. Another new country for me.