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December 23, 2006

"You can put all the(ir) sincerity ... into a flea's navel,

and still have room left over for two caraway seeds

and an agent's heart."

Fred Allen

I believe what has been written about sailing or voyaging in a small boat is more than what has been written about any other sport.  The fluctuations in the weather, the relentlessness of the sea, the design and construction of your vessel all make for an infinite set of combinations.  Do not force a departure if you are not ready, for there will be nothing that will bring more doubt to your decisions than a lonely night offshore in a rough sea.

“The quickest way to convert a man to Christianity

is to place him offshore in a small boat

during a lightning storm at night.” Herreschoff

For sure, the landlubber doesn’t understand that.

I leaned forward to look out the portlight and verified that nobody is on the dock this morning.  Nobody should be out.  There’s rime ice on the boat’s deck and ice on the floats. Inside the boat we keep the extra lettuce cold by placing it on a bunk in the forward compartment.  Our Christmas fudge is cooled on the hatch top in the cockpit.  It’s still dark at 7 AM.  Even so, the duck hunters - shotguns and dogs aboard their camouflaged skiffs- pushed off to blast away on Kimball Island.  Christmas is two days off, and I’m living under flat overcast, parsimonious sun and depressing fog.  There’s nobody to talk to.  98% of boat owners around here only show up on warm summer days.  Right now their days are spent inside a warm house, lashed to the wide screen cable TV avoiding the siren’s call.

Oh yes ... friends Sally and Allen have been told to take the little sloop Jack Nesbitt and “leave the USA”.

The month of Christmas is the month of joy.  A classic time to remember gift giving, friendship and good will.  I will remember Sally; she is a gift giver.  She’s from New Zealand and is married to Britisher Allen Smith.  Together they sailed their Victoria 34, the Jack Nesbitt, across the Atlantic, cruised the Caribbean for a few years, and then brought their boat to Sidney, BC, Canada.  A few years ago they departed Sidney and sailed down the Pacific Coast, arriving in Antioch about the same time that we arrived in Sidney.  Two years ago we arrived in Antioch, selected Antioch Marina and moored our boat just one berth away from Sally and Allen.  They were living aboard Jack Nesbitt.

Sally had the good teacher’s skill, an inherited knack for nurturing those who want to learn.  Four blocks from the marina is Old Rivertown and Antioch’s quilting store.  Senior ladies hung out there because along with the teaching came camaraderie and friendship.  Sally’s Seniors, The Above Average Group and The Wednesday Nite UFO Group (Unfinished Objects group) were all quilters, mostly, but not all, “gray-hairs and cotton-tops”.  A few had suffered a close family loss or were in the midst of a long-term illness.  Some lived alone.  Sally was the allure, the center and the whole thing melded into a group that created over a hundred quilts, quilt designs and patterns.  Some of her students made charity quilts and donated them to the home in Antioch for battered wives.  Sally made a beautiful quilt that was sold at the local fair.  She then donated the $1037 proceeds to the Antioch Katrina Victim’s Support Fund.  She helped Thomas, a stained glass worker, finish some partitions of a stained glass church window when he was badly hurt in a traffic collision.

What civilized person would abrasively, abruptly and without compassion reject this welcome guest?

In October Sally returned from a visit with her mother and sister in New Zealand.  On her return to the USA she was approved by US Customs to stay until April.  That’s OK.  There’d be time to prepare the boat for the coastal leg of the voyage to New Zealand.  In December she left again to attend a friend’s wedding in Australia.  Upon this return she was told a new, entirely different story - “be out of the United States by December 30th”.  No questions, no leeway, no discussion.  Allen had returned from visiting family in England.  He was given a stay until April of 2007 - three months longer.  This was a fickle, insensitive determination by a government agency -- and a great hardship for these two people.  Sally’s appeal had no effect on that customs agent.  “She’s to be “gone” by December 30th, 2006!”  “Said and done!” said the agent.

Their ultimate cruising destination for the Jack Nesbitt was always home - to New Zealand, a cross ocean voyage of a few thousand miles.  Probably a last voyage and one Sally and Allen hoped to enjoy.  The problem now is the abrupt, unreasonable change in their visas.  From the time in Canada the boat had been dock bound for six years.  The rigging, the engine, the refrigeration and all the parts and pieces that make a small boat seaworthy had to be checked -- in just a few weeks.  Allen took the boat to a yard in Richmond and began upgrading the rigging and refrigeration.  Sally began to wind down her classes and pack up her sewing equipment for shipping to New Zealand.  We had a party at the store, we talked about the good times, and we said goodbye.  The boat would be in the Richmond boat yard now until they sailed out the Golden Gate as demanded -- before December 30th.

Today I received a call from Allen.  Some casual conversation with a marine surveyor at the boatyard led to Allen mentioning that he and Sally were prepping for a voyage to Mexico, destination New Zealand.  The gnarly marine surveyor said, “You have a very sturdy boat there, but my advice is, DON’T GO NOW!”  Sailors and coastal fishermen know the safest time to sail offshore is summer - not December.  As a youth I too learned the sailor’s caution from Sailing:

He waits in port till he gets a slant that is,

until he has satisfied himself that in all human probability

no wind of dangerous strength will blow in the course of the next few days

then he weighs his anchor, hoists his sails, and speeds across the broad sea as fast as he is able,

knowing that should a gale of wind spring up before he has made the opposite coast,

he will be in considerable peril and not improbably be lost. E.F. Knight

Allen asked if I knew of anyone who could help extend their visa considering the weather conditions, their safety and the time needed to prepare their boat.  Allen had the proper sensitivity of a visitor from a foreign country - polite, courteous, considerate - hesitant when it comes to asking a foreign government for special consideration. I’d try in some way to help extend their visa maybe just a few weeks -- allowing better preparation and a better weather window.  And then the fun began.

“Hello! Coast Guard, Sector San Francisco on Yerba Buena Island?”   I explained the potential risk and possibility of a small boat rescue offshore.  I described a rescue situation they should like to avoid.  I thought of my childhood readings of Chapman’s Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling.  Yes, I recalled the Coast Guard’s refrain: be cautious, be prepared, avoid catastrophe.  Interestingly, they said, “They could do nothing.” and suggested that Sally leave now for Mexico.  Allen should sail the boat down - alone? - when the weather improves.  Safety first!

I called the office of Representative Ellen Tauscher:  I never reached her.  Her office representative, Karen, said to have Allen, himself, call the office.  He did and was told,  “Call the Immigration office in San Francisco. They’d be the ones to offer any solution.” Allen contacted the Immigration Office in San Francisco and was given an appointment - after the holiday - Tuesday, Dec. 26!  Let’s see, I’ll do the math.  Subtract December 26th from December 30th.  I get four days time before the blade falls.  Forget that appointment.  If all goes well, it’s a four-day sailing trip down the Pacific Coast, San Francisco to Mexico.  Point Sur, Point Arguello, Point Conception and the Santa Barbara Islands must be rounded.  A denial - likely - from the Immigration Office would have forced the immediate departure of the little sloop on the 26th - to allow for that four day trip disregarding the outside weather conditions.  Envision a four-day offshore trip sailing night and day perhaps in Force 5 weather.  Two - maybe three nights - at sea where you are alone on deck steering the boat.  Sally’s asleep below.  It’s three AM, you are staring up at the rig wondering if all is well with the masthead fittings.  It’s no time for the rig to go overboard.  A following sea boards the boat, soaks you to the bone.  Don’t go below to warm up, because you need to keep a watch on deck.  The boat’s course line is now rounding Point Conception, a close touch point for coastal freighters and fishing boats.  A freighter doing 20 knots would never see the Jack Nesbitt at night, and a freighter doing 20 knots would never hear the crunch as it rolled the Jack Nesbitt under its keel.

Did Allen and Sally put themselves in this mess?  I don’t think so.  The best of planning is always potentially corruptible by the punchy thinking of those one must deal with.

I called the Honorary Consulate of New Zealand in San Francisco, and a recording suggested I leave my number for a call back.  I called the New Zealand Embassy as well and got a recording.  In neither case did I get a call back, but of course, it WAS the Holiday Season.

I called a friend, somewhat visible in Oakland affairs, who may have some, albeit distant contact with Atty. General Elect, Jerry Brown.  But then, the new Attorney General wasn’t formally to take office until January 1st.  With post election political machinations his election was being challenged by partisan politicians because he wasn’t a member of the California Bar Association for the last five years.  And so on.  He’d be busy.  And so on.  Nothing came of that effort.

Today is Dec. 27; Sally and Allen aboard Jack Nesbitt sailed out the Golden Gate a little over a day ago. 

A low pressure storm front from the Gulf of Alaska has rolled over the Bay Area.  Winds gusts are 80 mph in Oakland hills; 100 mph gusts have been recorded in the Sierra at Lake Tahoe.  On our boat in Antioch Marina the winds regularly blow 35 knots of the meter.  The masthead anemometer is a blur.  There’s 29-foot seas offshore the Golden Gate in the Potato Patch shoal.

 Two days later we received - with relief - a call from the Jack Nesbitt.  They were safe in Oxnard, Channel Island Marina 120 miles south.  Allen said, “They’re very tired; they’re sleeping as much as possible and are resting up for the next leg to Mexico.”  Good people they are, of course.  They follow the rules; they respected our law.  In my mind however, it was a farcical example of governmental entropy.  There was no justifiable reason to put these two people at risk.

 It’s is interesting to see the city of San Francisco declaring itself a refuge for illegal aliens.  There are immigrants who illegally enter the United States without visas.  Politically our immigration laws are “more honored in the breach than in the observance.”  Now, these illegal immigrants are - in many ways - welcomed.  They are treated in our hospitals.  While these people are uninsured, they drive the highways without licenses.  With some sort of tacit government approval their transgressions are overlooked.  The daughter of an old sailing friend is about to marry an immigrant.  This guy is European, an electrical engineer and a lawyer ... a hard working person and a respecter of the law.  It’s taken seventeen years for him to become a citizen of the USA - following the law.

 Hopefully, I think Sally will serve as a model for those who unjustly ask good people to leave our country.  I’d like to see Sally again - if only to restore my belief that altruism, kindness and good will are viable concepts in this world.  An air of dignity, integrity and benevolence are fine attributes.

 In her berth Love of Liberty faces bow to the north.  There’s no wind now, but a northerly wind is forecast for tonight.  Northerly storm winds blow straight down the deck funnels and into the cabin.  Late last night I went on deck - barefoot but with jeans and a tee shirt - to turn the funnels to face to the south.  In a few days the weatherman predicts a cold snap and a freeze.  We’ll be OK, the propane tank’s full.  There’s the smart yellow gas flame behind the heater’s glass window.  We have mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and marinara sauce for tomorrow night’s chicken cacciatore. I can ponder the events of the last month.  I think a nice meal will put us right.

“If you speak the truth, have a foot in the stirrup.”

Turkish Proverb

With warm regards to all,


Terry and Ellen

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