The Cambrian

My Turn: Boy, what an imagination

That huge surf we had during the first week of November was a joy to watch and caused memories from more than 50 years ago to percolate up from a special place deep inside of me. I bodysurfed for 30 years before moving to Cambria in 1983.

Perhaps it’s related to my advancing age and hints of my mind getting a little decrepit, but as I sat in my car in the Moonstone parking lot I felt that if I had some swim fins, I could still go out there and ride some of those 10-foot waves breaking “outside.” But that is what memories are for — to dream.

By the end of the week, the waves were back to typical stuff seen on Moonstone. As the swells came ashore, they were nice little 4-footers as they washed over the rocks about 50 yards in front of the parking lot. There was no wind, so the swells were gentle and smooth and glassy.

During a period of 20 minutes, squadrons of pelicans came up the coast and skimmed just above the forming and crashing waves. Perhaps eight to 10 avians at a time played follow the leader as they effortlessly cruised on the cushion of air created by the wave line.

And I thought about Charles Lindbergh.

After a number of years barnstorming at county fairs and flying the mail around the Midwest, Lindbergh decided to take up the challenge of flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean to win a $25,000 prize. In a specially designed Ryan M-2 airplane, “Slim” Lindbergh took off on May 21, 1927, from a dirt airfield on Long Island and headed for France. The aircraft had to be modified to make room for the five extra fuel tanks required for the non-stop, 3,600-mile journey facing him.

When the modified plane proved to be slightly unstable, he decided to leave it that way. He felt having to constantly keep his hands on the stick would help deflect the potential of falling asleep.

Much of the flight took place less than 100 feet above the sea. Pilots in that era were aware of a cushion of air on the water that gave more lift to the wings and made for a more comfortable flight. I’m not sure how pelicans learned this fact.

After 3,610 miles, 33 hours and 29 minutes, he landed near Paris. This benchmark of human courage and aviation history brought him worldwide recognition and fame; but a few years later, his anti-Semitic comments and prewar support of Hitler removed that adoration.

He was not the first to fly the Atlantic; 18 men had accomplished the feat before him, but he was the first to do it solo.Lindbergh’s flight had a huge impact on aviation. Only 23 years before, Orville and Wilbur Wright had coaxed a fragile plane into the air for a historic flight of 120 feet in 12 seconds at 6.8 mph.

That initial achievement could be accomplished within the fuselage of the world’s largest plane, a Russian Antonov 225. It has a wingspan of 290 ft., a length of 275 ft., weighs over 600 tons and can fly at 530 mph. An X-15 holds the world speed record for a manned aircraft at 4,520 mph.

All these facts do not diminish my enjoyment of watching a flight of pelicans gliding over a forming wave. In fact, I’m more impressed they can do this without even knowing how to read.