Water kid meets amphibious touring vessel. What may sound to my four year old superhero loving nephew like a new addition, in a blue cape, riding a fast moving submarine is little ole me hopping on one of San Diego’s own, Seal Tours. This weekend, Mat and I took the opportunity to try out one of those giant blue contraptions we see riding around town. It’s great when we take advantage of things so often ‘reserved’ for those ‘tourist visits’ or when you’ve entered into a new city. Our adventure showed us a new look at a city we’ve been in for the past ten months. Complete with a captain and first mate, our 90 minute journey on land and sea left a smile on our face and spring in our step for the duration of the day. Have you made ‘a splash on the SEAL’?
Boarding our vessel at Seaport Village, we met Captain Hal and First Mate Frank. Hal drove while Frank guided us along the way. He explained our hydro-terra vessel (meaning water and land) and how with one engine and two drive shafts (one for the wheels and the other for propellers), we can easily make the switch from land to water and back. To the ‘motivating’ tune of the theme song to Gilligan’s Island®, we left Seaport Village and Frank suggested we all unleash our inner seal. Shifting head gear as he zigged and zagged between history topics, Frank shared more history and information in those 90 minutes than I’ve gotten in all ten months of living here – Frank is awesome!
As our First Mate regaled us with details of the USS Midway and the Maritime Museum, he looked to the sun-filled sky and reminded us that to locals, ‘this was another ho hum day in paradise’. We headed towards our water entry point in Shelter Island by Point Loma, San Diego’s fishing capital. With his navy hat on, Frank made mention of the many naval bases in the city and the friendly relationship between San Diego and the military. He shared how it takes over seven years and more than 12 million dollars to build one of the ships that would then hold 6000 sailors. He talked about the history of the airport that started with and continues today to only have one runway and a take off curfew. He showed us areas of the Lindbergh airfield where the original Spirit of St. Louis was built and reminded us how there’s now a replica in San Diego’s own Balboa Park. And as we passed Liberty Station, he explained the way the former naval base got it’s name. When asked what the best part of being in the navy was – many sailors said ‘Liberty’, the free time that they are given when docking in port.
Shortly, Frank and Hal were headed towards something fishy. Frank, with his description of tuna canneries of old showing up with the arrivals of Italians after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and Japanese fisherman in the 1950s and Hal in the directional sense. With a quick Coast Guard sanctioned safety instruction, we entered the water and were now at sea. Now this was a new way to view this very special city by the sea. I’ve spent a lot of time on the sand at Coronado Beach looking out at the water crafts – this was the first time being on one looking back at the sand. Trying to take in all around us, we looked at each other and smiled. For us, this water vessel was another new experience in ‘America’s finest city’.
As we waved to the boats sailing by, we learned that Coronado (which means crown) is actually a peninsula, not an island. We learned that it’s divided into two parts – one given to the city and its residents and the other to the US Navy. We learned about the North Island Naval Station (the one where we went to a Navy open house and toured a US Naval Destroyer) – how it’s the only naval base open 24/7, how nicknames (like Maverick and Goose) came to be written on the sides of fighter planes courtesy of ‘Spuds’ Ellison’s love of potatoes, and how a complete rebuild of specific fighter aircrafts by naval mechanics adds 4,000 more flying hours. And then came the seals. Well, these were actually California sea lions as Frank told us, but, still. Happily floating atop the bait barge and receivers, sea lions comingled with sea gulls, a California brown pelican and a Great Blue Heron. Visit complete….while riding on a seal, not far from the naval base of The Seals, we got up close to a member of the seal family. Seriously!
Making our way back past Cabrillo point, the Japanese Friendship Bell and the statue of the 3 Man Pull (in honor of those involved in tuna fishing), we exited the water. To the tunes of Willie Nelson’s ‘On the Road Again’, we quickly became a land cruiser. Frank continued to regale us with detailed information of San Diego Bay (or the Big Bay). Then he went bananas! Literally – bananas! Importing from Ecuador, the Dole company brings in more than 185 million bananas per month to its port in San Diego. I love looking at their boats whenever I walk the esplanade. It’s a great place for families to sit and watch as one container after another is loaded by crane onto huge ships (or as Frank called them, ‘banana boats’). It really is quite a sight to see.
As we made our way back from Point Loma to Seaport Village, Frank continued. I’m not sure this man ever really took a breath the entire 90 minutes – he was fabulous! He’s a font of knowledge and we felt lucky to be on the tour getting so much San Diego goodness. He shared that San Diego Bay is actually a natural harbor while Mission Bay is a man-made one that took 20 years to build. And he reminded guests that San Diego is a water-centered city and how many who live here really do believe it’s paradise!
90 minutes, heaps of information, gorgeous views, and a look at the city we’ve chosen for awhile in a very different way…this was an awesome experience. Thanks to Captain Hal and First Mate Frank for a fun and safe voyage. Just before we docked, Frank reminded us of an idea we had when we first arrived in this southern California gem. That, in San Diego, in one day (although it would certainly be a big one), you could go hiking in the desert, snow-skiing on a mountain, relax on the beach and cross the border into another country. Anyone up for a new adventure?