San Diego view out our front door.
Boats anchored right off the shore
RVs line up for the San Diego Shuffle
RVs enjoy a multimillion dollar view of the city skyline
Walking paths wander the shoreline of Shelter Island
Hammock in the rigging on a festive schooner.
Boats of all kinds slip by in the bay
Wildlife is everywhere
A local sport fisherman shows off the shark he caught
before returning it to the sea.
The seals rule the roost, lounging
around all day and barking as the
sun goes down.
Shoreline overlooking the marinas
Shelter Island Marina is teaming with boats.
Peaceful Sunday morning at Shelter Island
Stephen Mann & Kathleen Torres show their round-
the-world route on a transparent globe.
"Tawodi" will take them across the Southern Ocean.
The gate to the megayacht dock at Kona Kai Marina
This gorgeous 113' wooden schooner on the
megayacht dock has been round the world 3 times.
The perfectly named "Cream Puff"
Jeff (Cap'n Hook), one of the many salty characters
on the docks
Cruise ship leaves for points south from San Diego Harbor
Mark takes the helm
This little car zipped by us on the water.
Exotic sports car gathering
Art shows every weekend
The sky turns to fire in the dreamy San Diego twilight.
Shelter Island, San Diego, CA
October 1-28, 2008 - Leaving cool, high elevation Pioche, NV in mid-September, we
attended Interbike, the annual bicycle industry tradeshow, in Las Vegas (a red-hot oven at
this time of year). From there, we skipped west across the sizzling California deserts like
kids with bare feet leaping across hot sand. Emerging at the coast in San Diego, we were
greeted with delightful cool breezes, sparkling blue waves, lush green grass and bright
sunny days. September, 2008, had gone down in history as a stunning month for the
financial markets, but we will always remember it as an energy-charged, unscripted month
of exciting travels that was unusual only in its heartwarming normalcy in this full-time travel
lifestyle. I felt moved enough to describe it in What's It Like?
We discovered that California
law allows vehicles to park in
one spot on public streets for
up to 72 hours, so we bellied up
to the shoreline with all the
other RVs on San Diego's
Shelter Island. Parked just
steps from the harbor, we had
an everchanging view of sailboats, joggers, family parties, picnics, Navy
ships, cruise ships, war planes and gatherings of all kinds in the
shoreside city park, all laid out across the backdrop of the San Diego
skyline, right outside our front door. As one neighbor in an RV near us
said, "This is Paradise."
Shelter Island is a manmade island created from dredged sand in the harbor. Years ago the people of San Diego wanted this
island to become a recreation area for everyone, and today it is a bustling boat-oriented community framed by a glorious grassy
park. There is a playground, fishing pier and boat launch on the waterfront. Yacht brokers, chandleries, boat yards, swank
restaurants, an outdoor music venue and cute bistros line the streets. The boats bob at anchor almost within arm's reach, and the
RVs line up along the shore. Both the boats and RVs must keeping changing anchorages and parking spots if they wish to stay
more than three days. As we moved around the island, swapping places with our neighbors, I took to calling this dance of the RV
fulltimers and boating liveaboards the "San Diego Shuffle."
The park is defined by the pretty walking paths that wander along the
shore. From early morning til late evening these paths are filled with
locals and visitors alike: dog walkers; iPod-entranced joggers; hand-
holding lovers of all ages; young moms pushing baby strollers and old
folks pushing their rolling walkers. Families come to the shoreside park
on weekends to host all day picnics, setting up tents and barbecues and
roasting marshmallows over their beach bonfires at night. We witnessed
birthday parties, weddings and family reunions during our stay there.
The activity on the
the scene. Boats
of every description
ghost by. In the
background there is
the constant hum of
at the Navy base
across the water.
Every so often the
world stops and the
air crackles with the
earsplitting roar of a
Navy jet taking off.
Seagull cries fill
the air during
the day, and
when the gulls
down to roost,
the seals take
seals' barks and coughs and wheezes sound almost human, and when
one pokes his head out of the water behind you during a morning swim, snorting and
gasping, you could swear it was a person in the water. One afternoon there was a hubub
down at the fishing jetty. A sport fisherman had landed a small shark. A crowd formed as
he laid out his prize to measure it and take photos. His dog was as eager as he was proud.
When he finally returned the shark to the sea, the dog paced and cried in total
There are several marinas in the
totally protected waters on the
back side of the island. We
wandered down to the docks
many times to enjoy the pretty
views and watch the busy
activities of the boaters. The
number of boats is staggering.
Looking across the acres and
acres of masts piercing the sky, I
was reminded of a giant pin
We stopped in at West Marine one
afternoon, and a couple was hosting
a barbecue in the parking lot to raise
money for their upcoming round-the-
world cruise. We bought a hot dog to
support their cause, and listened to
With his own hands, Stephen Mann
had transformed a 39' sailboat with a
transoceanic racing pedigree into the
vessel of his dreams. He had
lengthened the bow 3', installed
oodles of electronics for navigation,
and built a stainless steel arch to
support solar panels and wind
He and his girlfriend Kathleen Torres
were leaving in a week to sail around
the world via the Southern Ocean,
with hopes to complete the trip in 8-9
months. To put their plans in
perspective, most circumnavigators
take 2-5 years to go around the
world, and most do it via the tropical
oceans. These intrepid sailors were
going to tackle the world's worst
oceans below South America and
Africa, rounding Cape Horn. They
planned to stop on land just 5 times during their trip. They invited us to
an "open boat" the following evening, and we eagerly attended.
The boat was small, but rugged, and they were very excited to get
underway. I love adventure, but I'm nowhere near as daring as they are.
After the party, they discovered a part in the engine drive-shaft was
faulty, which delayed their departure by a week. But they finally sailed off
into the sunset. Keep abreast of their travels at www.svtawodi.com/
The Kona Kai Marina is a very upscale place that caters to the world's
wealthiest on their Megayacht dock. One evening we noticed that the
very formidable gate to the dock had been propped open. In we went!!
We heard loud voices and laughter coming from a beautiful wooden
schooner that had pulled in that afternoon, and when we came upon their
boatside barbecue party they welcomed us in.
The crew of five had just sailed the 113' boat down from Alaska, where
they had been surrounded by orcas, swimming bears, and glaciers.
This boat, built in Italy in 1980, had circumnavigated the world three
times, providing its owners with a posh pad for fly-in visits to exotic
locales around the world. Hailing from several different English speaking
countries, the fulltime crew was in great spirits as they stayed in San
Diego for a few weeks to touch up the already glistening woodwork. The
owners visit their yacht for just a few weeks at a time, while the crew
keeps it in tip-top shape, sailing to the destinations of the owner's
dreams on demand. When we asked the captain what his worst
passage was, he said it was a 26-day passage where they encountered
a storm with sustained 60+ knot winds and 60' seas that lashed the boat
for 6 straight days. "It was a lot of work." He said. How would the
couple on Tawodi fare in a storm like that in their boat which was less
than half the size with less than half the crew?
The next dock down from the Megayacht dock is the Transient dock where arriving boats can tie up
for a few days while they get situated for their San Diego visit. This is a great place to meet people
from all over the world: a South African taking his newly acquired boat to New Zealand, a Canadian
family with small children heading to Mexico, a Washington couple heading to the Caribbean on
their catamaran, and the 80+ year old owner of "Cream Puff," a floating disaster of a boat that he
has called home for over 50 years.
There are plenty of salty characters on
this dock too, including Jeff, who has a
mean Right Hook. He waved his hooked
right hand for a photo and told us some
of the history of the delicate relations
between the liveaboards and the harbor
authorities in San Diego. Those boaters
call their boats home, but unlike the
transients who arrive in San Diego from
distant lands, the local
liveaboards never leave the
protected confines of the
Perhaps the easiest way to
see the world from the deck of a ship is to take a cruise. Two cruise ships arrived and
left the harbor everyday. At 5:15 one morning a cruise ship arrived in dense fog. He
blared a long extended blast on his foghorn once every two minutes for the entire hour
it took him to get from the harbor entrance to his pier downtown. It sure woke us up,
but what about all those weary cruisers on the ship who were back from a week's
vacation in paradise?
We were blessed with four
opportunities to get out sailing
ourselves. The atmosphere on
Shelter Island is extremely friendly,
and as we met new friends we
suddenly found ourselves the lucky
recipients of some sailing invitations.
There are all kinds of boats out on the
harbor, and a little car whizzed by us
as we sailed.
Back on Shelter Island,
we came across an
exotic sports car club
having an outing one
Tiny Italian sports cars of all types lined up in the parking lot,
roared their engines for a moment, and took off on a driving tour.
One unfortunate Ferrari owner couldn't get his car started. No
worries. We overheard him tell a buddy he'd just have someone
take it away on a flatbed truck while he went home and got his
The beauty of Shelter Island is the great diversity of activities. If
exotic sports cars don't grab your interest, perhaps an art show
in the park will.
In the midst of this
continuous excitement and
stimulation, Shelter Island
offers many tranquil places to
enjoy a quiet moment. The
shore along the marina docks
is beautifully landscaped, with
lots of benches where we
would pause and reflect on all
While we were on the island,
the Baja Ha-Ha began. This is
an annual sailboat rally of 150 sailboats that
heads out of San Diego to Cabo San Lucas,
Mexico at the end of October.
It is a 10-day, 750 mile sail with two stops along
the way, and the party-filled atmosphere takes
some of the edge off of doing such a long open
ocean passage by boat. Once in Cabo, the sailors disperse, some heading out to the South Pacific, some
transiting the Panama Canal to go to the Caribbean, and some staying in Mexican waters. Throughout October
the transient docks and anchorages in San Diego begin to fill with boats arriving from all points north to take part
in this rally.
We attended their kick-off barbecue, a wild Halloween costume party with prizes, raffles and giveaways. I felt like
I was at a pirate frat party. Almost everyone came dressed as a pirate, and the pavement was sticky with spilled
beer. Laughter filled the air, and a DJ kept us all dancing, Next day we joined our new friends Gary and Karen
aboard their beautiful Hallberg-Rassey and sailed among the Ha-Ha crowd, listening to their roll call on the VHF
radio, until their colorful spinnakers disappeared to the south.
Every so often we crept away from the action on Shelter Island for a change of pace on Mission Bay.