After getting together with friends from high school in Santa Cruz, we headed to Walnut Creek, CA to visit another old friend from Willow Glen High. The next day we headed to Stockton, a town that I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to, or, if I have, I’d never taken notice. In my mind I was sort of expecting Bakersfield or Fresno. After all, Stockton, stock yards, you see how my brain was working? Although the town was once known as Tuleberg, Fat City, and Mudville, ultimately it was named in honor of Commodore Robert F. Stockton, not stock yards.
We spent the first night at RiverPoint Landing RV Park along the shore of the San Joaquin River. It was a beautiful spot and we had a nice quiet afternoon and night. At one point we went for a walk and, when we returned to the riverbank, we looked up and saw a weird sight; a huge ship, a tanker of some sort, was wending its way up the river. The river wasn’t all that much wider than the tanker. We suspect it was hauling fertilizer. It was definitely well-guarded by a couple of Coast Guard go-fast boats, armed to the teeth. Once again, I didn’t have my camera with me. I love my new camera and the quality of photos it takes but it’s just a wee bit heavy to carry around all the time. When we get back to the boat I may have to put my older Olympus in my pocket. It doesn’t take nearly as good of photos but it is light and even a less-than-perfect photo is better than no photo at all.
The next day, we were met at the park by our friends Marj and Dave who live here in Stockton when they aren’t living on their sailboat, Kievit, which is currently moored in El Salvador. We first met Marj and Dave in La Paz a couple years ago. We had become friendly with another couple, David & Carolyn on s/v Aztec and they introduced us to their friends from the Stockton Sailing Club who had just arrived in La Paz. Huh? Stockton has a sailing club? But isn’t it many, many miles from the ocean? Well, as the tanker we saw attested to, yes it is miles from the ocean but those miles are all navigable.
Dave and Marj took us to the Sailing Club for lunch and to watch the America’s Cup on the big screen TV. Dave grilled burgers and we watched Oracle beat the Kiwis twice, leaving one winner-take-all race to go the next day.
We drove over to Marj and Dave’s bungalow on a tree-lined street that reminded me a lot of Lennon Way, the street I grew up on in San Jose.
Dave wanted me to go into the narrow, single-vehicle-wide driveway first so I could park on the relatively level spot on top. Shift to 1st gear, and up I slowly go. The first minor mishap was that I clearly scraped something on the street as I started up the driveway. Not the first time it’s happened and it turned out to be a no-longer-in-use trailer lights receptacle so no big deal. However, what happened next was a little bit bigger deal. We’re slowly grinding up the driveway, just about to the top, when all of a sudden I hear a crunch and Dave starts yelling for me to stop, which, of course, I already had. Thank goodness we were going slow. I backed up a couple feet and got out to see what had happened. I had neglected to take note of the part of the roof that overhung the driveway and smacked right into it.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the camper itself that hit but rather the roof rack that holds our solar panels. At first glance, the damage didn’t look too bad but, on further inspection, it looked like it was going to take a bit of work to fix. First, let’s get a look at the rack. Here it is before I put the solar panels on top:
The roof caught the passenger-side (starboard) solar panel’s front corner and pushed the rack backwards. See that nice curve at the aft end of the side rail? Well, after the crump it had a nasty little crease where the smooth curve used to be. The two side supports had ripped out of the roof and the right-front support had been bent into a very improbable shape. The solar panels were fine, though. I must say, I was a wee bit bummed. But I couldn’t face attempting a repair right then so I decided to put it off until tomorrow.
That afternoon, we drove to West Marine. Yes, there’s a West Marine in Stockton. After the warm afternoon we spent at the RV park, we realized that we had forgotten to buy fans for Flipper. We really like the Caframo fans that we use on the boat so we decided to get some of those for the camper and West Marine is the place to find them. While there, one of the employees who came out to help us looked awfully familiar. To my amazement (his, too), it was Duke of s/v Amable, a Westsail 32. We met Duke in San Leandro during the 2010 Northern California Westsail Rendezvous which we attended on our way down to Mexico in Siempre Sabado. I had forgotten that he was a member of the Stockton Sailing Club, if I ever knew. The meeting was even weirder since we had received an e-mail from Duke a day or so earlier inviting us to attend this year’s rendezvous. We had no idea we’d cross paths in the next couple of days.
That evening, Marj and Dave took us out for sushi. We know so little about sushi that we were happy to let them take the lead and do all the ordering. It was really, really good and was a nice little walk from their house.
The next day (this would be Wednesday, I believe), feeling a little more optimistic, Dave and I attacked the roof rack repair job. The first plan was to just try to pull the rack forward, hoping the crease would straighten out and the supports would lay back down. I know, I know, “wishful thinking”, but you have to start somewhere. On closer inspection it was pretty clear that this wasn’t going to be an easy fix. The aluminum tubing is not one continuous piece but rather three pieces joined together inside the supports. The tubing is held in place inside the supports by steel set screws, every one of which was frozen in place. Sailors are well aware of the interaction between steel and aluminum which, over time, results in screws being more or less ‘welded’ into place. The head of every screw twisted off leaving the threads in the support. Crap! All of the screws holding the supports to the roof needed to be upsized since they had ripped out of the roof, leaving holes that were too big to re-use the existing screws which were way rusty anyway. This was beginning to look like a job that was going to be difficult and never look quite right again.
About the time that I was contemplating just removing the whole thing and trying to mount the solar panels directly to the roof, Dave said to hold on a minute, he had some stuff that we might be able to use. I followed him to his garage where he had a treasure trove of goodies. Seems he had stripped the teak, bronze, and stainless steel from a motoryacht that was being scrapped-out some time ago and still had most of the stuff. After trying out different scenarios in our heads, we finally decided to take the old aluminum rack off altogether and replace it with two stainless steel tubes running parallel to the sides of the camper and only about an inch above the roof. We would then attach the pressure treated wood crosspieces that I had been using on the old rack to support the panels and then mount the panels to those. The whole thing would sit lower than the old set-up. We’d lose the use of the rack for cargo but that was OK with me. All we carried up there were two folding camp chairs and the sun was already taking it’s toll on their storage bags. They’d be a lot better off inside. And I don’t really want to carry anything on the roof anyway.
We took tools, tubes, ladders, etc. down to the Sailing Club where it was easier to work and where we needed to be at 1:15 anyway to catch the final race of the America’s Cup.
We pulled the rest of the old rack off and put the aluminum in the recycling barrel. Then we placed the new supports where they would be most likely to hit something solid when they were screwed in, drilled pilot holes, dry-fit everything, took it apart, spread 3M 5200 liberally underneath the new supports as well as in the screw holes of the old supports so we wouldn’t get leakage, putting everything back in place and fastened it down. Looked good.
By now it was time for the last Cup race and some lunch so we headed up to the clubhouse. While there we visited with Jim and Julie from s/v Worldwind, another Westsail 32 that we met at the rendezvous. The Stockton Sailing Club has long tentacles, it seems.
Marj and Lulu brought fish tacos for lunch and we settled in to watch the race. Everything was going well until we got down to the last couple of minutes when the TV froze up. It was operating on a wifi connection and just crashed. By that time it was not a big deal as Oracle was so far ahead that it would have taken a miracle to change the likely outcome. Some folks gathered around a couple of smartphones and kept us apprised of the progress. After finishing lunch and cheering Oracle’s victory, we returned to Flipper to finish the job. We had left the cross pieces and solar panels at Dave’s house so we decided to let the 5200 set up a little and return the next day to finish things up. We stopped by s/v Worldwind on our way out to see some of the improvements that Jim and Julie had been doing since we last saw them 3 years ago. Worldwind is a beautiful boat and they hope to be sailing her down to Mexico again later this year.
On our way to Stockton on Monday, we drove along the tops of the levees. This country is mostly made up of peat bogs which are always settling, so the roads have a lot of dips and rises. We noticed that each dip resulted in a bounce in Flipper that continued longer than it really should have. More than likely it was time to change the 30-year-old shocks. So, we took her over to Les Schwab on Thursday morning and left her to get new shock absorbers. From there we went to Barnes and Noble where we got two National Geographic maps of Baja (one for northern Baja and one for the south), a Good Sam RV Campground guide to the US, Canada, and Mexico that was bigger than lots of phone books, and 5 New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle collections. We’ve been without our daily crosswords for at least a year and we miss them mightily. Now we’re good to go. We also hit a really good second-hand store where I scored a primo Hawaiian shirt for $1.99. It’s a “Paradise Found” shirt from Honolulu which, coincidentally, is exactly the same brand as the very first aloha shirt I ever bought which I found at a garage sale in Portland and is still the favorite of my aloha shirts.
Lulu got a few long-sleeve pullovers as she’s beginning to feel the coming of fall and realizes we still have a bit of cool weather ahead of us before we reach the warmer temps of Baja. And she’ll get lots of use out of them in La Paz this winter as well.
From there we went to a really cool place out in the country a bit. Dave has told us often about this friend of his named Lee who grows his own grapes. Every year at harvest time, friends all gather at Lee’s place to pick grapes and then crush them and put them into barrels for fermenting. In return, Lee gives all the helpers a case of wine for each day they help. We had drunk some of his wine the night before and, although I’m not generally a wine drinker, I really liked this stuff. Lee puts up something like 700 gallons a year and it’s just for friends and family. He doesn’t sell any of it.
Lee took us down to the cellar where there is a long row of barrels of wine either working or aging as well as many, many cases of bottled wine. He gave Lulu and I each a bottle of zinfandel which had been bottled several years ago. He went out of his way to find these particular bottles so I suspect they’re something special.
Lee is a retired biologist and master gardener. Besides the grapes, he grows apples, oranges, kiwi, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Besides the heirloom varieties he grows, he also grafts plants together to get new and interesting combinations. He turned us loose in the garden and we came back with a big ol’ bag of tomatoes, apples and a very pretty collection of peppers.
Something we didn’t know before and I bet you didn’t either. You know the Granny Smith apples we buy in the store? You know why they’re so tart? They’re not ripe yet. He grows Granny Smiths and, if you let them go beyond the point that they harvest them for you and I, they turn yellow and become sweet. Who knew?
Lee’s wife, Pam, is an artist and he built her a studio that we got to visit. This place was a craftperson’s dream. She makes (and sells) soap and had a rack full of it drying. Some had jack-o-lantern faces, some just free-form pictures, etc. I got in on her explanations late but I gather that she uses all kinds of different ingredients for different aromas and effects. But, like Lee, she’s definitely not a one trick pony. She also spins yarn and does weaving. She had two spinning wheels and two looms. It’s a sweet little studio, heated, when necessary, by a small Jotul woodstove. This was a very cool stop and we’re so glad Dave and Marj took us out to meet Lee and Pam. Maybe we’ll manage to be here for grape harvest sometime.
Our next stop was back at Les Schwab to pick up Flipper with her new shocks. When we drove up, she was parked in the lot and had a very noticeable list to starboard. She’s always listed a little but this was a lot more. The Schwabbies said it was just the slope of the parking lot but I wasn’t buying that. One of the guys. Mike, came out and crawled around underneath for quite awhile trying to find a problem but couldn’t come up with anything. So, he drove it over to one of the bays, which was pretty much dead level, and started checking again. I had to admit that putting it on level ground helped a lot. I tried shifting cargo but that had no effect. Mike took a bunch of measurements and couldn’t find anything in the frame that was off. The distance from the ground to the bottom of the leaf springs was the same on both sides, the distance to the overload bumpers was the same, etc. The only thing off was that the distance from the ground to the top of the wheel well was about 1-1/2″ lower on the starboard side than on the port. The upshot was that it looked like the body was just slightly lower on one side, independent of the frame. And, honestly, looking at it now I can’t swear that it wasn’t like that before. I’d always just figured I had more cargo on that side or the tires on that side were in need of some air or something. Not really a problem. The pronounced list that we saw when we first drove up was a result of this pre-existing condition combined with the slope of the lot. However, as Mike was poking around, he asked how far we planned to go. I told him “Mexico” and he just sort of sighed. I said, “You think we need new tires, huh?” He told me that the tires that were on it were new in 1991 (a mere 22 years ago) and were developing a crease and crack in the sidewalls. He just said to be careful and if we felt a sudden shaking to get to the side of the road as soon as we could. I knew the tires weren’t primo but I was hoping I could put off replacing them until we got back up to the US this Christmas. But, with two 900+ miles trips in Baja as well as another 1500 miles or so stateside before that happened, I decided it was pretty foolish to start out on questionable tires. So we left Flipper at Les Schwab’s for the night.
A few days ago I got one of those wild hairs that make me want to shave my beard off. Seems like I do this every 5 years or so. When the urge has hit before, I didn’t have a razor or anything and by the time I would get somewhere to buy one, the urge had passed or, more likely, I’d just forget. But yesterday, when we were at the store, I bought a razor and some shaving cream. So, last night after dinner I retired to the bathroom armed with scissors and my new razor. Twenty minutes later I emerged, chin-less and thankfully without any cuts on my face. These new 3-bladed razors make it really easy to not cut oneself. How long will I remain beardless? Who knows? I’m already thinking about a goatee. That would get rid of the thin stuff on the sides of my face while still allowing me to appear to have a chin.
Stockton has some really beautiful neighborhoods despite the bad press it’s been receiving. We enjoyed walking and driving around the town. It was always sunny and warm during the day although it cooled down at night. However, a few mornings had a wee bit of a hint of Fall coolness in them. Enough to encourage us to get our butts further south soon.
Friday was Lulu’s birthday so Marj took us out to lunch while Dave was golfing. We went to the same sushi place as the first night but this time we got the Sushi and Sashimi sampler plate (again) and a cucumber and sashimi salad instead of the California roll and the other roll we got the first night.
Friday night we were joined for dinner by Dave and Marj’s friends, Dave and Ginger Hansen who tootled over from their place (about 10 miles away) in their little electric Smart Car. Very cool and, to listen to Dave (Hansen) talk about it, you almost can’t afford not to have one. With a range of 80 miles on a full charge, it certainly would make a better choice as tow-behind vehicle than the ones that many of the big RVs we see are using. And I assume you could recharge it as you drove.
Saturday morning we went to one of the best farmers’ markets we’ve ever seen. It’s set up in what used to be Stockton’s Chinatown and 95% of the sellers and buyers were Asian. This was no upscale, hoity-toity heirloom this and that market. This was real produce grown and sold at a reasonable price. There were huge mounds of peppers of all kinds, apples, pears, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, etc, as well as lots of things that we had no clue about. There were pointy-ended cucumber-looking things with what looked like spiky skins, clusters of small green marbles that we’ve seen growing on palm trees, etc. We came away with some apples, white nectarines, grapes, onions and red and green jalapeño peppers. Afterwards, I changed oil in Flipper and then we loaded her up for the road.
We had a great time in Stockton and Dave and Marj are the perfect hosts. We also came away with a better appreciation of Stockton. It’s a beautiful city and I’ll never again think of it as “stock-town”.
Now, off to Monterey.