Well another month has passed and I am still far from bored. Despite the inconvenience of having to do a little work from time to time (hohum) there were many highlights in April.
The beginning of the month was heralded by the roar of F-16s as the USAF display team the Thunderbirds hit town. Of course I was busy looking for the Tracy boys so was a tad disappointed however they did put on a pretty good show for their boss, Commander ACC. I managed to get out and see the whole thing, snapping a few pics as they whizzed past. Funny but the roar of a jet engine is such an improvement over the whine of the turbo-prop of our PC-9s!
My adventures started in early April when I went on a sailing expedition up the Mighty Chesapeake with folks from work. Darr, the boss of the office when I first arrived, has now been posted up to Washington (or ‘DC’ as the locals call it). As a consequence he had to move not only himself but also his yacht northwards to Annapolis. Being a 33 footer he required some assistance and asked for volunteers from amongst us at the office. Myself and two guys from the office, FM and Monty, agreed to lend a hand after much arm twisting….not…and planned to set sail on the Thursday for a 3 day tour. A three day tour.
Things started to go awry from the start however when it was discovered that the Skipper wanted to do some work on the boat (including installing a radar) before setting sail. Thursday crept into Friday and finally we pushed off late Friday afternoon. We got in about 4 hours worth of sailing before bad light stopped play and we managed to find a peaceful backwater in Mobjack Bay to moor for the night.
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty meal of breakfast bars (no-one told me that I was supposed to be the cook) we bravely set off despite worsening weather reports for the main bay. As we reached the open water however, the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew….well you get the picture. Actually our skipper wisely decided not to chance it with an inexperienced crew especially as there were reports of a MAJOR storm coming through later in the day. So we returned to our safe haven, battened down the hatches and rang Monty’s wife to come pick us up. Skipper Darr bravely chose to stay with his ship but the rest of us decided to head for the comfort of our own, warm beds.
FM decided that he had had quite enough of this little adventure and in a major diplomatic move chose not to join us the next day. We headed out bright and early only to find that the weather was looking even worse. Cap’n Darr again decided not to chance it and we turned around and headed home once again. Good thing too as the next day we heard that there had been a waterspout spotted in the Bay (aquatic tornado).
So finally on Monday morning we set our sails and headed north, only after just squeaking out of the small cove at the last possible moment before the incoming tide left us high and dry. Once out on the Bay things went smoothly although paradoxically light wins meant that we often had to propel ourselves using the trusty ‘iron spinnaker’.
Chesapeake Bay is an amazing body of water, so huge that you often forget that you’re not out on open ocean. On the way up we passed many unique lighthouses, including Point No Point (Que? - right) and one of the most famous in America, the Thomas Point Shoal lighthouse (below). We also passed many interesting locations such as the Choptank River, setting for James A. Mitcheners "Chesapeake", and Tangier Island where the locals speak in a strange dialect based on Elizabethan English. Inhabitants of the island were isolated from the rest of America for many years and as such are a little...different. I definitely think I need to go back and explore further at a later date.
We overnighted on a mooring near Solomons Island, a mecca for recreational sailors since the mid 70s or so the guide book said. It was pretty sleepy at that time of the year though. We ate a hearty meal prepared by Monty, the PJ Chef extraordinaire and did some crew bonding. Darr even talked a little about his cousin and what his next job might be. His cousin’s name btw is Al Gore aka Mr, Vice President!
Tuesday was more of the same but perhaps even colder than the previous day (which means f*$%ing cold). I was OIC lunches both days and also helped out by pulling on lines and sheets and all that nautical stuff i.e. doing what I was told! I also learned a lot about reading charts. We made it in to Annapolis mid afternoon and found Darr’s new mooring. After dining on delicious Maryland crab cakes Monty and I headed for home. All in all it was quite an adventure and I been inspired to take sailing lessons come summer.
Check out more photos of the journey.
Once a year around ANZAC Day the Air Force staff at the Embassy summon all of the RAAF Exchange Officers from across North America for a seminar and Ball. It’s a chance to brief each other on some areas of interest we have come across during our postings, to catch up on what’s happening back home, to meet some of the Embassy faces, and generally have a rare chance to speak some Strine. I met up with several familiar faces and met some new ones, enjoying the opportunity to compare notes about our experiences. I presented a paper on Sustained Operations which seem to be of interest to the aircrew even though the idea of taking ‘uppers’ makes them a little wary.
We were put up in Georgetown which is the University district of DC and a fun place to be. I think the Embassy folks had chosen a nice out of the way spot for us out of harms way but that was far from the case, at least initially. We arrived to face a barrage of television cameras and even though we took it for granted that we were the centre of attention we soon learned that it was not for us. We were sharing our hotel with the Miami branch of Elian Gonzales’ family right in the middle of all the dramas. In fact I was asked by the parking attendant if I was a member of the Gonzales family. I mean do I really LOOK Cuban?
The other advantage of being in the big city was the opportunity to enjoy some food that I hadn’t had since I left home and no it wasn’t at the Outback Steakhouse. We were able to partake of Vietnamese, Thai and Indian on successive evenings. I really miss real Asian restaurants.
The RAAF Ball was more like a combined dining in and ball. I invited three guest along - my boss Kurt and his wife Lisa and also my friend Lisa from Detroit. I think they really enjoyed partying with the Aussies although of course found it difficult to keep up. Certainly the other Americans at our table did. They barely spoke to us all evening and left at the first opportunity. Who cares – we had a great time.
I also managed a little sight seeing whilst in the big smoke. Lisa and I did the dead president's walk, walking from the Washington Monument to the Jefferson and then Lincoln Memorials. We also saw a live president. Bill dashed past us in the usual huge presidential convoy and didn't even bother to stop and say hello.
Probably due to the festivities below (and that the fact that it is very popular) it was awfully hard to get into the Holocaust Museum however the enterprising Lisa managed to dig up a couple of tickets for us on the Saturday. It is certainly an experience and they manage to make it a very personal by giving you a real identity of someone who experienced the Holocaust and then revealing their story to you as you go along. This museum is a definite must see in DC. Now I just have to get back sometime and see the other hundred or so museums.
The RAAF seminar week actually turned out to be rather interesting timing as the weekend following the ball Washington in the words of Cary Grant turned all gay all of a sudden. The weekend of festivities culminated in the Millennium March on Washington where following a long tradition of human rights marches, a sizable (about 2-300,000 people) portion of the gay, lesbian, transexual and whatever else community descended upon the Mall to voice their opinions en masse.
In keeping with the Human Rights theme, several new squares destined to join the AIDS quilt were laid out on the grass between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Each square represents a victim of AIDS and each is put together by their families/friends/lovers. It is a colourful but at the same time melancholy display as each individual is remembered but the things that made them who they were – be it a favourite jacket, a poem, or even a drag outfit.
Saturday night was the incredible Equality Rocks concert at the RFK Stadium or the "Gay Woodstock" as the papers called it. What a line up! kdlang, Melissa Etheridge, Chaka Khan, George Michael, Pet Shop Boys, Michael Feinstein – even Garth Brooks turned up to croon a couple of tunes (he’s not gay but his sister is!). And the hosts were equally big names - Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Heche (of course), Nathan Lane, Kathy Najimy, Kristen Johnston and even hopeful first lady Tipper Gore who joined in on the drums for the finale. There were many highlights but for me it was Melissa rendition of her poignant tune "Scarecrow", a song about murdered gay man Matthew Shepard. She sang this tune just after his parents had left the stage after making an impassioned plea against hate crimes. Powerful stuff indeed.
Sunday was march day or as I prefer to call it "spot the gay celebrity". First there was Margarethe Cammermeyer, then Melissa and Julie, then Ellen and Anne, then my hero Martina Navratilova leading the parade from near the Washington Monument up to the steps of the Capitol. I got a little carried away snapping photos keeping up with the head of the parade for quite some time and was rewarded for this starstruck behaviour by actually getting to talk and shake hands with Martina. Yep she must have seen in the crowd and popped out for a bit of a chat. I nearly died on the spot.
All in all it was quite an amazing day as rainbow coloured flags fluttered proudly all throughout the city. To top it off even further we popped into the American History Museum for lunch and saw a real pair of ruby slippers worn by gay icon extraordinairre, Miss Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz.
Photos of all these events can be found in my online photo albums.
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