Sunday, September 11, 2011

Speed Boat Racing in Tangent

At the invitation of my friend "Speedy",  I went to my first ever Sprint Boat race yesterday (Sep 10, 2011). It was loud, exciting, hot, and quite a bit of fun! If you want to get a quick sense of what this is like, watch this YouTube video. This video was shot on a different day but is representative of the event.

The story goes that Sprint boat racing got it's start in New Zealand in 1970 with Marathon river racing. Then in the early 1980's, Brian Scott and some of his buddies came up with the idea of racing boats in a manner similar to automotile rally racing where a navigator and a driver work together around a set track. Ultimately the sport migrated to Australia where the idea of building permanent tracks instead of using rivers or temporary channels developed. Channels about 3 feet deep and 12 feet wide were dug and filled with water. Each race has a set track rotation for that day's racing and the navigator is responsible for directing the pilot around the course.

The engines in the boats range from 500 horsepower to well over 1,000 horsepower in the Superboat class. There are three classes, Superboat, Group A-400 and Super Modified. These boats approach straight-line speeds of up to 80-plus miles per hour and with their incredible turning capabilities can pull 3-7 g's in the tightest corners. The ability of these boats to make 90 degree turns was amazing to me! You can read more about the history of the sport here.

The track here in Tangent is called "Field of Dreams". It sits in the middle of a grass seed field right next to the I-5 freeway. I'd estimate that the total size of the track is roughly the size of 50 yards by 100 yards. There is a chain-link fence all around the track and the spectators site behind the fence not more than 20-40 feet from the channels, just out of reach of the plumes of water that the boats create when making these tight turns. There were 3-4 "wipe-outs" during the day, with one boat actually going part-way through the fence into the stands. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but it was pretty exciting to watch! The safety features on the boat work well.

Turn 1
I was sitting on the long run at the top of this picture (1,2,3), close to the number 1 turn. The first few times you see those boats coming down the channel straight at you and then at the last moment hooking left is quite a rush! The boats finished the course in just over 58 seconds to as long as 71 seconds. The noise from the boats is defeaning and next time I would recommend taking earplugs.

This is a video clip taken near the place I was sitting. It will give you a little idea of my perspective. The announcer's stand was about 50 feet to my right.

 There were three boats for sale at this event. Two of them were racing and one of them crashed twice. The asking price for that boat was $10,000 but I think you might have been able to get a better deal yesterday! They were asking $30,000 for the boat pictured here. I have no idea what the total coast of all the gear and fuel and racing costs are, but compared to some other sports, this one seems almost affordable. Or not. There was a 67 year old driver out there but I don't think I could handle the beating these drivers/navigators take out there. I don't know what the prize money was but I can't imagine it's all that great. Still, it looks like a whole lot of fun!

Here are some pictures I took with my cell phone. Not that great really.
2011-09-10 sprintboat

Here's a link to much better pictures of boats.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Visiting Houilles, France

In my last blog post, I had originally intended to talk about the trip out to the house we lived in while living in France way back when but I got side tracked by my interest in the SS United States. On with the rest of the story!
Upon our arrival in France way back in 1963-ish, my parents found a house to rent in a quaint little commune in the Yvelines department in the Île-de-France region just north of Pairs called Houilles. I had a few vague memories of living there so it was with a bit of uncertainty that we hoped aboard the RER line A train heading for our final destination, the Houilles – Carrières-sur-Seine station. I'd guess it only took us 30-40 minutes at the most to get there. I shot this video along the way. It will give you a little glimpse of the suburbs of Paris going north.

Our house was on 15 Avenue Carnot. Having previously studied a map of our little hamlet, I knew that the house was only a few blocks away from the train station so we started walking in that direction. Houilles is a pretty little place. Curved roads, nice homes, clean streets, parks, all in all a very nice neighborhood. We walked through the Charles de Gaul garden where a monument to the soldiers of World War 1 and several other markers to other soldiers in other wars stand. Coming out of the park we passed the Town Hall and the mayor's office which sits right across the street from a very nice covered farmers market. We were lucky enough to have come on a market day so we spent a considerable amount of time just going up and down the isles. It was great fun to see the big variety of items for sale!

The back end of the marketplace happens to be right on Avenue Carnot. It took me a moment to realize that this was the street we wanted but right away I recognized the wall, gate, and home behind the wall as the one we used to live in. In my mind, it hasn't changed much at all in the last 48 years. We didn't try to go into the yard or ring the bell but I did stick my camera over the wall and try to take some pictures.

My other objective was to try to find the old public school I went to when we lived there. I didn't have an address or any good reference points to go by. All I had were some of the existing schools that showed up on Goggle maps. We walked around for a while trying to find one specific school that I thought might be it but alas, no good. Everybody was getting a little tired and hot so we stopped into the Catholic church there in town for a short reprise then wandered across the street to a watering hole and cooled off with some liquid refreshment. Apparently we interrupted the proprietor's lunch break because they weren't particularly happy to serve us. How were we supposed to know that their lunch hour was at 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon?

After getting our tanks filled again we headed back for the train station and the ride back to the hotel. It was a nice side trip and in some ways a very pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of Paris. As you view the pictures, sit back, relax, and enjoy a warm sunny afternoon with us as we stroll through the streets of Houilles.

The official web site for Houilles is
Wikipedia can inform you of a little bit more about Houilles at:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The SS United States

When I was approximately 8 years old, my parents packed up all us kids and we headed off for France where they begin 15 months of language study. I can remember getting on the train in Grand Junction, Colorado and riding it all the way to New York City. Once there, we all boarded the SS United States for a cross Atlantic trip to France. I can remember bits and pieces of the voyage, most specifically getting very ill when we passed through the edge of a hurricane. The ship was pitching in every which direction with dishes and silverware sliding around the dining room tables and making the ride generally miserable for a few hours.

On a whim, I entered USS United States into YouTube and discovered a significant number of videos related to this ship. When it was built in the early 1950's she was the fasted ship on the seas. Apparently there is now an effort to restore some of her previous glory. Please visit the SS United States Conservancy  for some history and updates on that effort. I've included a couple of YouTube videos that I found interesting for those of you who might wish to learn more about what the ship was like.

SS United States

This blog post started out to be about our trip out to Houilles, where my folks ended up renting a house for our time in France, but I got side-tracked by these videos on the ship. Guess I'll have to save Houilles for another day!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Notre Dame

Easter morning found us with Aunt Lorraine recovering and Karen still feeling pretty ill, at least that's what the two of them told me when it was time to get ready for the planned walking tour guided by a native Parisian. I went on the tour myself but when I got back to the hotel somewhere around 1:30 in the afternoon all that remained was a short note indicating that they had tried to call and that they were heading to Notre Dame. They hadn’t been gone too long so I decided to venture out and see if I could hook up with them. A half-hour and a couple of metro rides later I was standing in the courtyard of the mighty cathedral gazing up at the familiar towers that are distinct to Notre Dame. As might be expected, there was a long line of visitors and I hesitated for a few minutes before deciding to get in line. Surprisingly, the line moved along quite rapidly and before long I was sitting in the rear of the sanctuary letting my eyes get accustomed to the darkness and taking in the splendor of the stained-glass windows.

I have mixed feelings going into Catholic cathedrals like this. I am not Catholic. In fact, in recent years, as I’ve learned more about Catholicism and observed its effect on people, I’ve grown more anti-catholic in my own beliefs.  This won’t, of course, make some of my immediate and extended family happy, but to pretend otherwise dilutes my own Protestant faith. When I enter a Catholic church, my mind and soul wrestle with mixed emotions about doctrines and practices and I find it difficult to truly worship there. It almost feels like blasphemy to be there and yet I know that in other respects this is just another building and I can worship God there if I so choose. This day being Easter Sunday, I wanted to spend some time worshiping the risen Savior and offer my thanks to Him who rose from the grave to conquer death and bring mankind salvation. So I sat in the back of the sanctuary and meditated on the Easter story for a bit and came away refreshed in my soul.  Unlike the scene depicted on the altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame which shows a dead Jesus held in the arms of his mother Mary, my Jesus is raised from the grave, living and dwelling at the right hand of God, having conquered death once and for all. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:54b, 55). He is risen!

Oh, I never did hook up with the ladies until we all got back to the hotel. Unfortunately, their cursed sickness was beginning its effects on me and I found myself being the one wanting to stay in bed for the next couple of days. It was unfortunate that we all had to get sick. It sure takes the spunk out of you for a while.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wending Our Way Back Home

Not sure if I will be able to put to many thoughts to words before we land in Phoenix but we'll give it a shot and see what happens. So far our flight out of Paris has gone pretty well. Getting to the airport was something of an interesting ride. We found out about a van service that picks up about eight folks at a time and shuttles them to the airport for a little better fare than standard taxi rates. However, where you are on the pickup list may determine how many Madd Hatter rides you get to take through the streets of Paris. Fortunately for one who is easily prone to motion sickness we only had to pick up one other person. I honestly didn't know that you could fit an 8 passenger van in between a city bus and the curb on a street built for two horses!

Leaving in the middle of rush hour traffic didn't do too much for average travel times to the airport either. We dropped off some of our merry band at the first terminal. Of course, our terminal was somewhere else so off we went. We saw the sign for terminal 2 whiz by when all of a sudden we came to a screeching halt. Kind of figured we were going to be a while when the driver turned off the van. I overheard him ask another driver what was going on and learned that some truck driver had underestimated the height of his load and clipped the top of an underpass we needed to pass under. Fortunately, they were able to back the truck out of its untimely difficulties in short order and we were soon on our way. I believe that was the only time I ever saw any Frenchman back up! Needless to say, we made it to the airport in sufficient time to endure the screening process and make our flight!

It is my humble opinion that the US Airways terminal has the worst security setup of any "modern" country in the world. But then, what do I know. I've only been to one other international airport in recent years and it was built by the same masterminds. Aunt Lorraine had asked for some mobile assistance which actually provides her and those accompanying her expedited processing through the ordeal. In this case there was one Disneyland style queue for the normal Joes and a "special" queue for the crew and the wheelchair jockeys. Bear in mind that these lines are very narrow and getting the wheelchair to fit just by itself was a pretty good accomplishment but there must have been two dozen crew members all demanding to squeeze past us and jump the line. The bottleneck was a real mess and an opportune time to practice the deep breathing discipline I recently learned at work. Come to think of it, I did a lot of that on this trip. It helps. Sometimes. The chair jockey, who spoke reasonable English for a Frenchman, finally slugged our way through the line and we were ultimately able to escape the angry mob that by now were preparing to throw their 3.5-ounce clear plastic containers at us. Funniest part of this is that the chair jockey tripped the metal detector going through it and had quite a time getting himself through security.

With the clock ticking this whole time, there was little opportunity to recover before they announced they were going to pre-board certain travelling types. I sensed something was amiss when the chair jockey was summoned by someone in a uniform and hushed conversation and furtive glances were cast our way. At last the chair jockey came over and told Aunt Lorraine that she had been randomly selected for additional screening. Ye gads! The old lady had been found out! After going through her things and doing a body search etc. etc. etc. we finally boarded and had a very quiet and uneventful flight to Philadelphia. Managed to watch almost three movies on the way over. In English too!

We're getting ready to land in Phoenix so I have to quit. Not much more to tell except for the disagreeable wheelchair joker we got this time. He had such a thick Indian style accent I couldn't really understand a word he said (hello? did we take a detour? is this France?) and kept wagging his finger at me and telling me to go here, do this, do that, all the time wagging that nasty finger and snarling at me and just generally being unlikeable. I was about ready to break that finger off and shove it up his nose. But, we made the flight and are about to make it to our final leg back home. Really looking forward to seeing the families again. Catch ya later.

P.S. Aunt Lorraine is safely on her way to San Diego and we're waiting for our flight to leave later this evening.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Au Revoir Paris, Welcome Home

Last night in Paris. The alarm is set for an earlier-than-normal rising to begin the long journey home. Not that I'm truly complaining all that much really, based on the way my ancestors made this long journey. Still, at least they could get up and stretch their legs now and then. Watching full length movies until my eyes bleed should dull the pain somewhat.

We finished our frenzied gluttony of world masterpieces by taking a whirlwind tour of Versailles. We took a tour bus ride out to the estate and then joined the rest of the mass of humanity as we went room to room listening to the digital recorder telling us what room we were in and what activities occurred therein. Despite the marauding hoards shoving us along we did manage to be astonished by the luxury and splendor of the place. We only saw what are called "the apartments". There was more to see but our time was short and we wanted to see the extraordinary gardens which did not disappoint. Wish we could have seen the fountains in full display but alas they were not on during our visit.

I should probably state that we means Karen and I. Aunt Lorraine wanted to go visit a different museum and wasn't interested in Versailles this time around.

We tried to find a place for lunch that would satisfy everyone but the pressures of compressed living and close proximity for sustained periods of time finally strained familial ties to the point of breaking so yours truly spent the afternoon viewing some of the French war memorabilia while Karen and Aunt Lorraine went shopping, visited another museum, and I don't what else. Now tonight we are packed and ready for some shut eye and our last goodbyes to Paris. It's been an amazing journey but frankly I'm looking forward to home sweet home. Good night and goodbye for a while.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Round Three

Sorry I haven't written in a few days. Seems it's been my turn to rule the porcelain throne and contemplate the meaning of life while staring at the ceiling of this fine establishment from this not so fine bed. I'm hoping to do better today but time will tell. One of the ladies that works the front desk here at the hotel suggested one of her cures for flu. It turns out to be an alcoholic beverage made from anise oil. I took some last night and feel better this morning so maybe it does work!

It's hard to believe that we only have a couple more days of our trip left when it feels like we still have much to see and do. If you ever get the opportunity to visit this fair city prepare to walk your feet off and don’t bring any of your aches and pains with you. I seem to have managed a pinched nerve in my right leg that is giving me much grief. Wish that would go away. I'm not quite sure what today’s agenda is yet. It changes moment by moment. Last I heard we were headed for the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Arch de Triomphe. Aunt Lorraine has her heart set on an evening boat trip before we go. There is plenty to see still!

Arch de Triomphe

Last Sunday morning was our appointed time for a guided walk with a local Pariessiene through the neighborhood they live in. Karen and Aunt Lorraine we're down for the count so I went alone. I met Catherine and a gentleman by the name of Jean Claude and we spent the next couple of hours walking through I believe the 13th and 23rd Arrondisment. Paris is divided up by these different sections. I'll have to try and describe the tour layer when I can upload my pictures as it will be more interesting then.

Also on Sunday, we managed to visit Notres Dame and some of the area around there. Lots of people around that day.

Going to knock off for now. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts for healing. I hope most of this is behind us.