Archive for January, 2010

Page 28 Pescadero Creek

Pescadero Creek

Pescadero Creek

pen and ink                                                      12 x 8 1/2

(click on image for larger view)

This drawing was completed in 1981.


Sunday, January 31st, 2010 Pages 21 - 30 No Comments

6. GAMBELLA Forever

During the years that I spent working as an engineer I could afford to own a boat like the GAMBELLA, but somewhere around 1980 I decided to take a stab at being an artist. I always had some native ability in that area and I wanted to give it a try as a living. Working as a professional artist is all about creativity and a lot more fun than working as an engineer. Engineering, at least in the manner in which I was employed, was quite uncreative work. It was, however, much more lucrative. Consequently, I sold my boat to help finance my conversion from engineer to artist.

Having spent so many years restoring, maintaining and sailing the GAMBELLA, I was intimately familiar with every inch of her, and to this day I can still come up with a decent rendering of her various aspects strictly from memory. She had become engrained in my being and reflected my personality to a high degree, perhaps even to a fault. It is not surprising, therefore, that she should appear in various works of art that I was to accomplish. Anyone who explores Uncle Rob’s Blog to any extent is bound to encounter many images of the GAMBELLA. The following image has been in use as my logo on business cards and letterheads for quite some time:

Schooner MoonSchooner Moon

Looking back from the perspective of many years, and from the point of view of an artist, I can now see the GAMBELLA was a work of art. She was the creative outlet I needed to balance my rather mundane employment, and just as an artist’s work is always his or her work even it if is subsequently sold, she is still mine in that respect.

I think the following image and poem express my feelings adequately:


Moon Ship

It was a warm summer night and the schooner GAMBELLA stretched her pretty legs. Countless hours of my personal attention were paying dividends as she moved south with a nimble grace. The Bay was smooth and flat. The tide was on the flood and a gentle breeze was steady over the port quarter. Then a full Moon rose over the East Bay hills and its muted light danced on the surface of the water.

Oh, to linger in that reflection,

A brief passage of near perfection.

Dream-like it was, but alas it was real.

It needed some water under the keel.

I knew we were running out of bay,

But didn’t want it to end that way.

I made an image to hang on my wall,

And in it GAMBELLA still stands tall.

The hiss of the wake’s trailing froth,

The creak of the rig working aloft,

These things I hear when I can see

The rare moment that transported me.

So when life’s voyage comes to an end

I’d make that passage once again.

And if to heaven I have gone

There I’ll sail her on and on.

R. L. Mason

Mendocino, CA


Saturday, January 30th, 2010 GAMBELLA 2 Comments

4. What’s in a Name

Aboard the PICTOR MARU (as she was affectionally known to her crew) there were usually 17 or 18 officers, and when not on duty, they would congregate in the wardroom which served as a lounge and officer’s mess. Quite a few of the officers were from California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. This being the case many of them spoke at least a little pigeon Spanish. There was one supply officer of Greek descent. His name was Sotir Lukakis (last name changed). Since we were a supply vessel we had a fairly large contigent of personnel involved in supply functions. Sotir had a division of men that reported to him and his top petty officer was a first class of Mexican descent named Jesus Menendez (last name changed).[For the purposes of this story when Jesus is in itialics read it as the spanish pronounciation of Hey-soos, and when not in italics read it as the English pronounciation of Gee-sus].

Sotir seemed fascinated with the idea that someone would actually have the name Jesus. One little scene that took place in the wardroom frequently involved  Jesus arriving with some papers that required Sotir’s signature. Sotir would take care of the business and then Jesus would be on his way, but as soon as he was out of hearing distance Sotir would invariably comment  to those officers that happened to be present, “Can you imagine naming your child Jesus. That is really wierd.” An episode of this nature would repeat itself once or twice a week. The other officers who had some familiarity  with spanish knew that Jesus was a common name in latin American countries, and they saw nothing unusual in that name. Most of them thought Sotir was somewhat strange to bring up the subject as often as he did, but after a while they just started ignoring him when he went on his little rant.

Sometime after our first trip to WESTPAC I went home, on leave, to visit my folks. When I arrived at my parent’s place in the middle of the afternoon my mother and a little old lady friend from across the street were having tea and cookies, so I sat down with them to chat. The neighbor was Greek by birth, and I saw an opportunity to clear up a point I was curious about. I asked her:

“Does the name ‘Sotir’ have a specific meaning in Greek?”

“Why yes, it means savior”

Oh Ho! Now I began to see the humor behind Sotir’s fascination with the name Jesus. After my leave, I returned to the ship armed with this new information, but I kept it under my hat. It didn’t take long. Late one afternoon when most of the officers were gathered in the wardroom  Jesus arrived carrying some documents for Sotir to sign. As usual, after he had left Sotir started in, “Can you imagine naming your child Jesus? That is really weird.” As usual, everybody just ignored him. I let a few seconds pass and then I spoke up:

“Hey, have any of you guys ever wondered what the name “Sotir” might mean in Greek? I just happened to run across this little fact the other day.”

Everybody stopped what they were doing and looked up at me.

“Don’t tell me ‘Sotir’ means ‘Jesus’ in Greek,” one officer exclaimed.

“No, but close. It means “savior'”

Well, that brought down the house.

“HOW DID YOU FIND THAT OUT?” Sotir shouted  over the laughter.

Poor guy, from that day on they never called him anything but “savior” in the wardroom.

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Saturday, January 23rd, 2010 U.S. Navy No Comments

3. Classified Material

My first assignment upon reporting aboard the PICTOR was Assistant Navigator, and this was more or less at my request because the subject interested me, and they didn’t have anywhere else to place me on short notice. Later, however, a new officer came aboard who was a direct transfer from the California Maritime Academy. He knew navigation, but was not really up to speed on things “Navy.” As a result, I was made Communications Officer and he became Navigator. There was no way I could avoid it, I had, after all, been formally trained for that position.

Being Communications Officer meant supervision of radiomen and signalmen. These were a good group of guys, smart and motivated, so not much supervision was required on my part.


It also meant being in charge of encryption and decryption of classified communications, and that consumed  the bulk of my time. Classified communications usually arrive designated either CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET, or TOP SECRET. Being as we were an auxiliary vessel and not a combat vessel there was hardly ever anything classified above SECRET. In addition, each message was also assigned a precedence dictating how quickly a message had to be processed. These were ROUTINE, PRIORITY and FLASH. Sometimes it was difficult to understand why certain communications were categorized as they were. For instance, if a message came in while I was in my bunk sound asleep, which was designated SECRET and PRIORITY it meant  a radioman had to roust me out of my sleep to go and decrypt the message without delay. We actually received very few messages with this type of designation, but one that always came that way was the monthly WESTPAC Venereal Disease (VD) Report. This report ranked each of the usual Navy ports of call in the Western Pacific by the number of cases of VD per one thousand liberties. What was so SECRET about that? Why the PRIORITY precedence? After a while I would, upon discovering the nature of the report, shut down the decryption machine, go back to my bunk and finish the process at a decent hour in the morning.

After I had been Communications Officer for a period time, the Executive Officer called me into his office to tell me I was being assigned the collateral duty of Classified Material Control Officer. I reminded him that I was only cleared up through SECRET and I knew that we had at least one TOP SECRET document aboard the PICTOR. “No problem,” he informed me. At the Captains discretion they were giving me an interim TOP SECRET clearance which would be specific to this command. He then gave me the combination to the TOP SECRET safe which was located in the crypto room and sent me off to my new responsibility.

Well. . .okay. I went directly to the crypto room, opened the safe and took out a single envelope stamped, in big red letters, TOP SECRET. I remember reading this document and feeling as if I were privileged to some kind of holy of holies. The nature of this document was such that I can tell you its nature without divulging its secret. In fact, I have long ago forgotten the actual secret. Remember, this was circa 1963 and the cold war was in full swing. The secret was simply a longitude and latitude somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (I never bothered to plot it on a chart). This spot was to be a rendezvous where whatever was left of the U.S. Navy would assemble should WWIII break out, resulting in a full nuclear exchange between the USA and the USSR. It assumed that the only thing left of the Navy might be ships that happened to be at sea at the time of the war. How long would such a war last, an hour maybe, an hour and a half? At any rate this was where where the remainder was to gather, scratch their heads and try to decide what to do next.

One is strongly reminded of the novel by Nevil Shute entitled On the Beach (1957). The story imagines a circumstance as described above.

First Edition Cover

First Edition Cover

It was made into a movie with the same name (1959) starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardener. The phrase “on the beach” is a long-standing naval expression used to describe the location of any crew member who has left the ship and gone ashore. I wonder if the book and movie in any way influenced the document I viewed in 1963.

The radio shack also had a machine that was considered okay for use up through SECRET. As I remember it was called JASON. It involved messages which were scrambled by a random number generator when sent and unscrambled upon receipt. It was the wave of the future, unlike the hand operation in the crypto room which, I think, was called ADONIS. I remember one unique occasion when I was awakened in the middle of the night:

“Mr. Mason! Mr. Mason! We’ve got TOP SECRET coming through in the clear on the JASON system!”

“What? That’s impossible!”

“No! No! it’s true. You had better come and take a look!”

I threw on some clothes and stumbled up to the radio shack. I was greeted by the first class radioman.

” Sir, I cleared everybody out there and sent for you. We’re only cleared for secret.”

I went in, sat down in front of the teletype machine and started reading. Sure enough, the message began TOP SECRET, FLAG OFFICERS ONLY (Commodore or above). Whoa! I certainly wasn’t a flag officer, but I read the message any way. It wasn’t my mistake.

At that time the Vietnam situation was just beginning to heat up, and as I remember, the message was simply an evaluation of the infiltration of North Vietnamese troops into South Vietnam. My reaction at the time was: “This is TOP SERECT? I read this in Time Magazine.”

As I was reading, the machine suddenly came to an abrupt halt! There was a pause, of perhaps a minute, and then it came to life with: DESTROY THIS MESSAGE IMMEDIATELY! or words to that effect. Apparently someone at the communications center had loaded a tape on the the wrong system and the mistake was caught in progress.

These things all happened almost fifty years ago, and I sincerely doubt that they are of any signifigance today. One thing is for sure, WWIII hasn’t  happened yet so I am still here and  able write Uncle Rob’s Sea Stories.

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Sunday, January 17th, 2010 U.S. Navy 1 Comment

2. ESCAPE from L.A.

So there we were with a new (old) boat about 500 miles from her new home in the San Francisco Bay. My buddy Doug and my Dad volunteered to help bring her up the coast. But one little piece of business had to be attended to before we departed. The previous owner had fixed a TV antenna to the top of the mast and I could hardly wait to remove that eyesore. Since my Dad was the lightest of the three of us we put him in the bosun’s chair and sent him up with a set of tools. There probably has never been a person born who was better with tools than my Dad. Here is a shot of the three of us and one of Dad up the mast:

(click on image for larger view)

Crew of Three: Dad, Doug and me

Crew of Three: Dad, Doug and me

Dad Up the Mast

Dad Up the Mast

Anyone who has ever sailed a boat up the California coast knows that it is a very hard upwind slog. This is especially true after rounding Point  Conception northwest of Santa Barbara. From that point on is almost directly into the teeth of the prevailing wind. If you have auxiliary power, the easiest way to make this trip is to head up the coast under power early in the morning before the wind comes up, and then duck into a harbor or anchorage in mid-afternoon when the Northwest wind starts to blow hard.  Since the ESCAPE was still largely unfamiliar to us this is the strategy that we adopted. It turned out to be a good decision.

I was fresh out of the Navy and was quite confident in my ability to navigate up the coast, but problems of a different sort soon began to plague us. We left Marina Del Ray early in the morning, the day after taking possession of the boat, but by the time we had rounded Point Conception the battery was dead and we couldn’t start the engine. We soon discovered that the generator didn’t work. Apparently, the previous owner simply charged the battery every time he wanted to go for a sail and that was sufficient for a day or two. But it was definitely not adequate for the kind of trip we were making. Eventually, we made it to the San Luis Obispo Pier under sail. We removed the generator and took it into town where we had it rebuilt. This put a bit of a crimp into our schedule, but we were soon underway again.

Another memory of that trip that is forever engrained in my mind involved my coming up from below after a short nap and seeing the bow of a ship bearing down on us from our wake. It was a bright but hazy day and Doug and Dad were looking forward, but coming up from below, I was looking aft. The name of the ship was clearly visible. GLORIA MARU was about to run us down. I quickly spun the wheel hard to starboard and I believe the ship altered course to port. We missed but it was a bit too close for comfort.

Our next little misadventure happened as we were entering Moro Bay Harbor. There, right in the middle of the channel, was a piledriver and attendant tug. They blocked our vision of the channel markers. We decided to give them a wide berth, but we made it a little too wide and ran aground. We were stuck pretty hard and couldn’t get off. Eventually, the tug took pity on us, tossed us a line and towed us back to the channel.

The next day we started up the coast again but the wind came up early and we took refuge at San Simeon. From San Simeon north it’s a long haul to the next harbor at Monterey. So we were up early, hoisted the anchor, and hit the starter button only to have the starter motor shaft shear in half. Groan! What next? We put the anchor back down and sat pondering what to do. There was no provision for cranking this engine by hand, so we knew we had to have a starter. Finally, we decided to leave the ESCAPE anchored fore and aft and go get another starter. This meant leaving the boat there for a week while we returned to our jobs until the next weekend.

Upon returning a week later with a new starter we found everything just as we had left it. We installed the new starter and took off early the next day for Monterey. This time it was just me and Doug and we arrived at Monterey Harbor without any further problems. The following day was one of the most pleasant of the trip. Our destination was Santa Cruz Harbor, and this allowed us to actually sail across Montery Bay in very pleasant weather. After that it was Half Moon Bay, and then up the coast to the Golden Gate. Here is a photo of us entering the San Francisco Bay, and also one of the new San Mateo Bridge under construction that we passed on our way to Palo Alto:

The New San Mateo Bridge Under Construction

The New San Mateo Bridge Under Construction

Entering the Bay at Last

Entering the Bay at Last

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Saturday, January 9th, 2010 ESCAPE 4 Comments

27. Pescadero Rocks (3)

Pescadero Rocks

Pescadero Rocks 1981

Pescadero Rocks 1982

Pescadero Rocks 1982

Pescadero Rocks 1988

Pescadero Rocks 1988

pen and ink                                                                                                                         81/2 x 12

Our friends Chris and Janet Dutsch, both fine artists, ran a gallery in Pescadero where our work was for sale. We spent a lot of time in that area.


Thursday, January 7th, 2010 Pages 21 - 30 No Comments

2. U.S.S. PICTOR (AF-54)

After receiving my commission from OCS, I was ordered to Naval Officer Communications School also at Newport, Rhode Island. It was located adjacent to OCS and came under the same general schools command. The training was aimed at qualifying officers to be in charge of communications for a ship. It was a two month program and I lived at the Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) where I shared a room with another officer. It wasn’t much but it was a big improvement over the barracks at OCS. The training was mainly in radio communication and encryption. The main encryption device that we used was a copy of the machine known as “The Enigma” used by the Germans during WWII. It was used for classified messages up through the level of SECRET. I don’t have any good stories to tell about that training. It was all fairly routine, and upon completion I received orders to the USS PICTOR (AF-54) at Alameda, California. After a short leave I reported  aboard late one rainy afternoon. The PICTOR was a refrigerated stores ship and it got underway for WESTPAC (Western Pacific) the very next day. Here is what she looked like leaving the San Francisco Bay:

Underway from San Francisco

Underway from San Francisco Bay

The PICTOR leaving SF Bay

The PICTOR leaving SF Bay

As I remember, crossing the Pacific took about two weeks. I was told that it was an unusually rough passage, and I recall being seasick most of the way. However, one does get used to that kind of thing eventually, because for the following two years that I served aboard the PICTOR I was never seasick again. I got my sea legs so-to-speak. The PICTOR was 460 feet in length, had  beam of 63 feet and a loaded draft of almost 26 feet. Her dead weight tonnage was 6946 tons. I seem to remember her maximum speed was about 16 knots. She had five holds, two of which were refrigerated. Her primary mission was replenishment at sea of other naval vessels. We were, in essence, a floating grocery store. Here are some shots of what it looked like when she was doing her job:

Destroyer Approaching to Starboard

Destroyer Approaching to Starboard

Destroyer Alongside

Destroyer Alongside

(Click on image for larger view)

Groceries for a Carrier

Groceries for a Carrier

Being as I was a brand new Ensign, I was junior officer aboard the PICTOR. Among officers, that spot is often referred to as “George.” If there was a duty that nobody else wanted to do it was always “Let George do it.” Somewhere along the line it was decided that a “Cruise Book” should be produced for this particular trip to WESTPAC and, you guessed it, “George” was selected to oversee this effort. Upon reaching Japan, that meant a number of trips to Tokyo to deal with the Daito Art Printing Company. All in all, this was a very interesting experience, and I learned a lot about Japanese culture in the process. Daito had a very nice guest house in which they put me up, and I was treated royally. I can remember thinking “yeah. . .  let George do it.” Here is what the cover of the book looked like as designed by “yours truly”:

Cruise Book

Cruise Book Cover

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Friday, January 1st, 2010 U.S. Navy 1 Comment