1st Flight

1st Flight
Sunday November 5th 2005

(Private Estate East of Loveland Colorado)

The skies were partly cloudy with a slight wind out of the SSE. After Twelve weeks of ground handling I was ready to solo. I’d had too many, “no fly days”, but today looked promising. Brian went up for a short flight and proclaimed it flyable. Doug quickly laid out his wing, buckled into his trike and took off. It was my turn and I was feeling very uncertain about the whole thing. There wasn’t very much wind to help me inflate the wing and the terrain was rough and difficult for running. I laid out the wing, cleared the lines and buckled into the harness. I had a hard time going from a seated position to my feet and in the process spilled about a pint of gas down my neck from the primer hose. Then I stood there for probably 30 seconds to collect my thoughts and check the windsock there was just a hint of breeze from the south. I think Brian was about to give up on me when I finally started the run.

The wing came up straight and I staggered forward. I added some power and began to pick up speed, pretty soon was running as fast as I ever have and was starting to get light on my feet. Then…Bang… I was up, it happened so fast. I had no idea that I was close to take-off when my feet left the ground. I kept my legs running even though I was gaining altitude fast. When I got to fifty or so feet I stopped running and hung in the harness. The leg straps were doing a number on my crotch but… Wow…that was easy, I’m flying! I wondered, ‘how come it took so long’? Brian was on the radio, calmly telling me what to do. The first command was to let go of the brake toggles and get into the seat. What? Let go? It was like, I was afraid the wing would collapse and fall out of the sky, if I didn’t have a hold on those toggles. I just hated the thought of it, but I listened to Brian and let go, reached down and hooked the seat, pulling it under my butt. That wasn’t so bad, but when it was time to retrieve the handles, I discovered that it was a long hard reach up to where the toggles were stopped by the pulley. By pushing down on the seat with one hand and reaching as far as I could with the other, I was just barely able to make a two fingered grab and get the brakes back in my control.

On Brian’s second command I started a turn to the west and did some slow lazy turns over the field. After about 30 minutes in the air I was told to set up for landing. There was a good breeze now, so my glide slope was pretty steep. I tried to keep my eyes on the horizon but couldn’t help focusing on that one spot of ground that was rushing up to meet me. I started the flare at about the right altitude between five and eight feet but I probably did it a little too quickly. Brian later told me that my hands went from all the way up, (no brakes), to full flare in about half a second. I wish I had a video so I could have seen what the wing was doing, it couldn’t have been pretty. Anyway, when I did touch down, there was hardly any forward speed and I landed boots first and then went to my knees in one smooth move.

The whole experience is hard to describe, there was so much going on.. My first thought was… Wow!… I’m really doing this! I remember looking off to the west at the mountains and down at my truck that looked about the size matchbox and at a motocross track behind the estate. The whole thing was just too much to absorb. After I touched down, I stayed crouched down in the same position, frozen in place not moving for probably a full minute. Eventually, Brian came over to make sure I was all right. I think he was afraid that I’d hurt myself, but when he saw the huge smile on my face we shared what can only be described as “that instructor/student moment”. Without a word or gesture, I thanked him for helping me to fly and he thanked me for not dying.

I grinned all the way back to Denver.

1. The Beginning ….Learning to fly

You start with a full bag of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.

I was sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee and enjoying our view of the Rockies when I saw what I thought was a skydiver. He was swinging in big arcs and I wondered why wasn’t he descending. It was too far away to make out more than the vague shape of the canopy, it looked like a parachute…but… Why wasn’t it descending? How was that guy staying up? My kids and I watched for several minutes until we couldn’t see him any more.

A week later I found out…
I was sailing at Chatfield Reservoir, it was an hour before sunset and light air had slowed the race to an “inches per minute” crawl. I sat at the stern, minding the tiller and watching for any sign of breeze to could exploit.

The flashing of a strobe caught my eye and I saw a strange looking contraption fly over the top of the dam. As it got closer, I could see the pilot, was sitting in a small three wheeled vehicle about the size of a go cart. The cart was suspended from an elliptic canopy marked with a zigzag design. I pointed him out to the rest of the crew as he descended and flew along the swim beach. It was amazing how slowly he could fly, gliding over the sand, maybe 50 feet up. The motor sounded like a small motorcycle but the prop gave it that special timbre that says aircraft.

That night after the regatta, I went to the Internet, and discovered what I was looking for is called Powered Paragliding. There were a variety of sites and newsgroups dedicated to the sport. The local group was called the PPG Flock and the national group is, “The Big List. There was even a weekly Internet Talk Show where experienced pilots gave advice and told hanger stories. All of the previous shows were available in the archives so I listened to a couple of segments. They sounded like a great bunch of guys who had been involved from the beginning and were immersed amazing new sport. The PPG podcast turned out to be a wonderful resource for a wanna-be pilot and I listened to probably fifty hours of PPG Radio over the next several months. There was plenty of information available, all I had to do was sort through and try to absorb the best. At the end of my first night of research I came away knowing.

PPG’s are the most personal form of flight. They are able to take off from a small field and stay aloft for up to three hours. Having evolved from free flight paragliding it uses the same wing but it has become a very different sport with a whole new set of rules. Unlike free flight, the pilot has the ability to overcome gravity using the thrust of a lightweight two-stroke motor driving a 40 to 50 inch propeller. Most of the flying is done between 800 and 2000 feet but it is possible to fly to 18,000ft and even higher. Best of all, I discovered there are no licenses or certifications required. By the grace of the Federal Aviation Administration’s publication, (FAR 103), PPG pilots are allowed to fly freely, provided they honor restricted airspace and other people’s rights. The object is not the destination so much as it is the art of getting there. The more I researched, the more it resonated with me.

I had participated in potentially extreem sports most of my life , rodeo, sailing scuba, cycling and kayacking ….all good outdoor activities that can get hairy on occasion. Powered paragliding was atractive to me on several levels and it takes place in a medium I’ve yet to experience…The air. Water and air are subject to the same laws of Fluid-dynamics and I was good with water so I thought I might have a clue.

Currents in the atmosphere behave similarly to currents in the ocean or the flow of water in a river. I imagined the hydraulic forces of water in a boulder-strewn river, the water flows around and over the rocks, the same way, air flows over and around buildings, trees even mountains. In both cases the person navigating these currents has to read the terrain to be able to avoid danger. The unsuspecting paraglider can be slammed to ground if caught in the swirling rotor on the lee side of a building just like a kayaker is flipped upside-down in the turbulent currents below a large boulder. The similarities between sailing and flying are striking and numerous; both exploit natural dynamic forces to create lift and forward momentum, the glider works like the sail of a keelboat, and the pilot and motor act like the keel working against the force of air on sail. The combined use of thrust and brakes changes the angle of attack and wing shape the same was the rudder and sail trim work on a sailboat.

Yeah it looks like magic but I could understand how it worked and figured it was something I could do.

There weren’t any schools nearby but I did find one listed in Loveland, called Adventures in Powered Paragliding. I spoke with the instructor, Brian Smith, and made an appointment to meet in Loveland the following Friday at dawn. As fate would have it, I missed the highway exit and was late getting out to the field but as I arrived, there was a guy making an approach for landing. It was beautiful! Like Gabriel the Archangel, he did a quick ninety-degree turn, lost a bunch of altitude, straightened out and touched down. No muss no fuss, just fly and land. Then another guy took-off and flew around the field for about ten minutes and landed right next to the truck. I stood around like a 12-year-old kid with some old-fashioned barnstormers. While the pilots engaged in small talk and packed up, I poked around and inspected their equipment. I was in awe of these fellows, who carried an airplane around on their backs. The whole experience seemed larger than life, but there was no question in my mind that I could do this. It looked so easy; all you had to do was run into the sky. How come it took me so long to discover and why wasn’t everybody doing it? I saw myself flying to work and just about anywhere else I wanted to go. This was the future!

So, I introduced myself to the instructor, Brian Smith, who can only be described as, “all country”. He packed a chew, cut his hair way short and was built like he had been bucking hay. I’d known a lot of guys like him over the years and liked him right away. He quickly put me at ease, showing me around, explaining the equipment and describing the training process. Ten minutes later, I was writing a check for the whole sha-bang; wing, motor and training. I was going to fly… Brian gave me a syllabus, from the Adventure Paramotor Company and had me sign a liability waiver. My career in aviation had begun.

A couple of days later I was at Brian’s field to learn ground handling. Brian had just received a new wing so he lent me his old one for practice. The field where we were working was a horse pasture with lots of holes, high weeds and in one place there was a plywood sheet bridging an irrigation ditch.

The first thing we did was go over the equipment. Brian explained the risers, which were my connection to the wing. He showed me how I would use the “A” risers to help the wing inflate and where the B, C, & D risers attached and how their position affected the wing. He then showed me the brakes and explained how the brake lines were measured and knotted to the toggles.

Next he laid out the wing and put me into a training harness. It must have been a universal size, because when I was finally all cinched up, the left over strap material was dragging on the ground. I got the excess webbing out of the way by tying it around my waist and proceeded to learn how to hook into the wing and hold the risers for a forward launch.

There wasn’t enough wind to kite the wing so we spent the morning practicing forward launch techniques. I would lay out the wing; clear the lines, and hook in to the wing. Then, I would put the A riser d-rings between my thumb and forefinger and drape the rest of the risers over my arms. Brian would then position me so that I would be able to start my and run and take a few steps while the lines were still slack. The idea being that my inertia would pop the wing up quickly. I’d take one last look to see all the lines were clear and that the risers were correct, then, look at the windsock to make sure my heading was right, raise my arms to the ten and two o’clock position and start my take-off run.

Sometimes inflation would be perfect and the wing would come up straight and fly overhead, while I stumbled as fast as I could through the weeds. I was surprised by how much resistance the wing created, both during the initial inflation and even, (but to a lesser extent), when fully up and overhead. All the forward momentum I’d built up in a couple of steps was gone as soon as the lines became taunt. So I would pull and claw for 4 or 5 steps until the glider was flying. Once the wing was fully up, I could run a little better but the aerodynamic resistance from above and slightly behind prevented me from exceeding anything faster than a trot. On grass it would have been smoother but I don’t think it would have been any faster.

Occasionally the glider would come up crooked and when that happened; I would try to get back under the center of the wing to equalize the load and get it flying straight overhead. The main thing is to keep moving forward. It would have helped if I’d had some experience with broken field running, but the more I practiced the easer it got. Later when a light breeze came up I learned that if I wasn’t dead into the wind and putting equal pressure on the “A’s” the wing was guaranteed to come up crooked with one side higher than the other. Another challenge was trying to make longer and smoother strides. I was having trouble because my choppy running style was causing the wing to bounce which disturbed the airflow over the top of the wing. I knew that later when I was “doing it for real”, the smoother my run, the quicker I would reach take off speed. When I had enough Brian and I took a break. We watched several PPG videos including Parastars, Paratoys and Risk and Reward which is an excellent video for new pilots, it features William Shatner and covers a wide range of topics every pilots must understand. We talked about risk management and some of the dos and don’ts and eventually got around to equipment. My selections were limited because of my height and weight, there some 100cc motors which would put out adequate thrust but only a few companies were making frames that would be small enough for me to carry. On Brian’s recommendation, I selected a “SuziCruiser” frame made by Skycruiser with MacPara 24meter Eden III wing powered by a Snap 100 motor made by Cisco in Italy.

That evening I thumbed through the syllabus. It was originally written in French and the English translation was difficult and sometimes comic, but it was all I had. So… I dived in and tried to figure out all the graphs, tables and drawings that I mostly didn’t understand. Terms like longitudinal pitch and sink rate were a little intimidating but others like chord and angle of attack were familiar from sailing and their recognition gave me a bit of confidence. Full of enthusiasm, I became a sponge and spent many nights watching PPG videos, listening to PPG Radio and reading incident reports on the USPPA website.

Two weeks later Brian called and said, “Your equipment is here”, and so, I cleared my schedule and was out there the next morning. We assembled the motor and hoisted it up, using his garage door frame to support the weight. Brian’s “simulator” wasn’t sophisticated; a set of toggles and a BMX brake lever were my controls, the garage held me up and his little boy made motor noises. We practiced getting into the harness, getting out of the harness and other moves I would need while in flight. Then it was back out to the field to practice with the motor. I put the motor on my back and tried a forward. The equipment overwhelmed me. Getting into the harness was harder than I thought it should be and then dealing with the risers and a throttle… How was I going to be able to keep everything straight at once?
I was very concerned that I didn’t have enough strength to run with the weight of the motor on my back. It weighs right at 50 pounds, but it felt like 100. I could do one or two forwards, but then, had to sit and take a break. A couple of times I was able to launch the wing and run but for the most part I would blow it as soon as the wing started to resist my forward movement. I was also having trouble with my left knee. Sometimes while running it would pop out and I would either fall or drop to a crouch with the wing falling on top of me. Brian assured me that when I did a forward with the motor running it would be much easier. He explained how the thrust would help push me forward and that as I built up speed, the wing would lift the weight off my shoulders. I later learned how to adjust the harness to make the motor ride higher and closer to my back but those first several weeks were agony. I was beginning to have real doubts about my strength. At home, I was walking around the house and running on the treadmill with a weighted backpack. I was also doing some weight training and anything else I could think of to help me run with the motor.

Over the next ten weeks I alternated between driving up to Brian’s place or kiting in local fields and parks. Along the way I met some of Brian’s other students. The guy most often at the field with me was Doug, Brian’s business partner. Doug had decided to fly a trike, early in the game, due to an old knee injury. I also had knee issues and he advised me to pick-up a knee brace to prevent further damage.

I also trained with Roshana. She was a petite gal who had been driving out from Kansas on a regular basis. I was impressed that she would take a chance on good weather and drive 5 hours to get in a couple of days of instruction. I also took heart that someone lighter than I was deemed, strong enough to hoist a motor and fly. Her kiting skills were impressive; instead of using a training harness she would hold the risers and fly the wing by moving the top and bottom of the risers in opposite directions. One evening I watched her practice forwards with her motor on. Because she was light, Brian and Doug ran alongside with one hand on the harness to provide additional thrust. It was obvious that the weight of the motor was holding her back but with two strong guys pulling, the wing was lifting most of the weight and they were able to get some impressive ground speed. It was encouraging because she was definitely ready to go to the next level and I was sure that if she could get the wing inflated the motor would take care of the rest.

I also met a professional solder named Dave who was hoping to get the basics of powered paragliding down before being rotated back to Iraq. I only trained with Dave once, it was memorable because it was his first flight. Looking back it was a little spooky but I didn’t know it at the time. Brian’s field wasn’t very big and there were a few obstructions to contend with once he was in the air. On the day for Dave’s first flight, conditions looked perfect. There was just enough breeze to help with takeoff and all of us looked forward to a great first flight.

As soon as Dave left the ground he started to turn directly toward a barn and a group of trees. Brian coached him to use a little left brake to stay clear of the barn but he continued to head straight for it. I was blissfully ignorant but Brian let out an audible breath of relief when he cleared the barn by 20 feet and the trees by ten. You could tell the barn was creating some turbulence by the way the wing was moving, side to side and back and forth. Dave dropped a few feet and then started climbing. Brian must not have liked what he saw because he directed the pilot to come in and land almost immediately. Apparently the radio had failed because he flew downwind a couple of hundred yards, turned and started to fly big circles over the field. Brian tried several times to reach Dave with the radio but something must have come loose because he never did show any signs of hearing us. Eventually Brian gave up on the radio and made hand signals for him to come down. After about 30 minutes with Brian waving and trying to get Dave’s attention, he finally turned into the breeze and started to descend toward us. He was coming in a little short and I was afraid he was going to fly right into a wire fence, but at the last second he raised his legs, cleared the wire and slid in on his butt. It wasn’t pretty, but no harm was done to man or machine. I celebrated by slapping Dave’s back and congratulating him on his first flight. Dave was completely unfazed and ready to go again.

I searched far and wide for good places to practice. Anytime I could duck out of work, no wind or too much wind, I was out there, practicing my kiting. Suburban parks looked great but I soon learned that the trees around most parks create rotors that would collapse the wing without warning. Even thought it was easy to run on well maintained grass, I needed wide open spaces to get clear air. One time, I tried some ground handling at the top of Ruby Hill which is a large park with a great hill overlooking Denver. I think the sight of the city stretching out below attracted me and I can’t say for sure, but was probably considering of the possibility of doing a sled ride / flight down Ruby Hill. Common sense prevailed though, because the first time I kited the wing, the upslope lift spooked me and I never went back.

My first experience in the air was at the Aurora Air Park, east of Denver. After kiting awhile Brian decided I was ready for my first tow. He clipped me to a length of nylon line and I’ve never seen this done before or since, but… Brian pulled me into the air, with him acting as the winch and me running a forward launch. I probably wasn’t more then 10 or 15 feet up but it felt high and watching Brian below pulling on the tow line made me feel even higher. The whole experience probably only lasted forty five seconds but after a lot of time on the ground I’d finally got a taste of flight and it was sweet.

When the wind was over 3 or 4 knots I would inflate the wing using what is called the reverse launch. You lay out the wing in the same way as a forward but face the wing and step backwards to start the inflation. Once the leading edge is a couple of feet up, the wind finishes the job. Then, when it is overhead and stable you turn toward the direction of the breeze and start the take off run. I was having a terrible time routing my brakes so that when I turned, the brake was on the outside of the risers and free of tangles. Sometimes it worked and other times I would get the wing up and have to flail with one hand to free the brake line, which had threaded through or around the risers. Adding the throttle to one hand just seemed to complicate the problem. I couldn’t consistently do it and was doubly frustrated when Brian could take one look and have it set up for me in a second. It was months before I could set up for a reverse with confidence.

In late October we met at the Aurora Air Park

Brian strapped on my motor and checked the conditions. There was a light but steady breeze from the east. Brian was grinning from ear to ear and claimed that it was, “smooth as butter”. Now it was my turn so I strapped in and set-up for a reverse. The wing came up nicely but when I squeezed the throttle to add thrust the motor bogged and died. I’ll never forget standing there, with a perfectly stable wing overhead, watching the moon rise while Brian pulled several times on the starter cord. When the wing collapsed I unhooked and started it back up, it died as soon as I tried to run it up.
Two-stroke motors were unknown territory and my little Snap 100 had its share of peculiarities to be discovered. The way it would bog down during rapid acceleration was probably the biggest hassle and it wasn’t until much later that I finally learned how to tune the carburetor so that I could hammer the throttle when I needed it. That October the problem was still a mystery, the motor died when I needed it most, and all we could say was, “Well…it is what it is”. That evening I coined a new term while updating my training log, NFD, it is short for, No Fly Day and it might be used because of bad weather or equipment failure or attitude or just because I just couldn’t get into the air. That memorable evening was the first, but not the last… “NO FLY DAY”.

My second attempt wasn’t any better; Brian and I were at the Airpark at dawn. We launched a pilot balloon and saw that there was a light but steady ground wind which increased to about 10 or 15 mph at 300 feet. It was marginal, but flyable. The take off would have me running down a slight grade which made me happy. I set up for a forward and took off running. The wing came up straight and I could tell it was bouncing with each step but I could also tell it was getting faster and the motor was getting lighter. Then I pulled the classic newbie blunder, just as the weight of the motor was gone and I started being lifted I allowed myself to be scooped into the harness. Instead of running into the sky, I jumped into my seat. For a couple of seconds I was flying but almost immediately started to drift back down. I was moving forward at a pretty good clip and it looked like if I touched down I would do a long slide… face forward, so I lifted my legs. It delayed the inevitable but only for a couple of seconds and then, I came down on my seat. I heard the prop cutting through the high weeds just before it struck the earth and shattered. I had been so close I could taste it. My hopes for the day were dashed but I knew that as soon as I got a new prop it was going to happen. Leon Wacker at Paracruiser was great about rushing me a replacement but the way I was feeling, even “Next Day” wouldn’t have been fast enough.

Rocky Mountain Balloon Festival 2003

Sat. Night 11pm 8/23/03
It is a beautiful thing
Ollie Stef & Rose have decided to sleep in the cockpit and, so, there is plenty of room for the rest of us who chose to sleep below. I’ve made my nest in the port settee with lots of cushions. The oil lamp is burning over my shoulder and there are cheese and grapes on the table. The anchor is set in mud and holding nicely against a steady 15 knot breeze from the SSE. The thunder storms from earlier have moved north and are giving us a nice light show. It just doesn’t get any better…!

This afternoon I was afraid we were going to be blown out. There were two large storm cells building to the south and West and the wind was cycling every 10 minutes. The girls however paid no attention and trooped below to put on their swimming suits. At first the sun was behind a thunderhead making it was too cool to jump in the lake. So… I dug out the water cannons and watched while they tormented each other with big blasts of poorly aimed water. Eventually the storm cloud moved on and a big warm sum made the lake look a lot more inviting. After a rotation of 15 jumps off the stern I broke out the fried chicken, BBQ potato chips and we had dinner prior to leaving the dock.
At 5:30 we cast off and we munched chocolate meringue cookies and strawberries while I steamed to a nice anchorage about 125 yards off the swim beach. The girls bickered most of the evening but seem to be enjoying themselves. I think that if I had not been there trying to keep order they would have had a perfectly wonderful time…but they put up with their ol man and giggles prevailed.
The plan for the night was for the balloons to be inflated and illuminated while the crowd wandered in and around the balloons. When it works, it’s beautiful, the park looks like a giant backyard with huge Christmas ornaments scattered about. Tonight was mostly a bust, the wind was still cycling and only one team tried to “light up the night”. They got it up and lit but you could tell they were having trouble even with double teams of ground handlers holding it down. They struggled with it for ten minutes before bringing it down. The girls didn’t seem to mind they saw their first balloon there was plenty to play with, the anchor light needed tending and Radio Disney was blasting from all speakers. They got a taste of it and we were all looking forward to the mass ascension tomorrow morning.
About 9:30 the troops were getting tired and after fighting over who was going to sleep in the forward birth, they all changed their minds and decided to sleep “on top”. It was a bit cool but I figured the foredeck would protect them from the wind. So… I gave my permission and hoped I wouldn’t have to dash on deck because we had hooked a fish on the tackle that had set out earlier.

Right now … in my nest… listening to old time radio and children whispering on deck. It’s time to check the anchor and go to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a big day.

Sailing Chicago with Paula and Rose

Sleeping on La Sabrosa

It was a good flight from Denver. We arrived about 3:00pm and Al was right there to bring us to the boat. He had spent the morning with a mechanic working on the inboard and the boat was ready to go. Rose had no trouble feeling at home and explored every inch of this beautiful 28 foot Pearson. It’s only 20 inches longer than the Hunter but it weighs twice as much and is seaworthy in every respect. Al has spent allot of time making this “his” boat and the attention to details shows.
While Rosy was rooting around the boat we looked at Al’s pictures of our Bahama trip. The weather is cool and cloudy…still comfortable. The Chicago skyline is striking against the iron grey sky and in places the tallest skyscrapers are poking into the clouds. When Laura (Al’s new girlfriend) came aboard she made an instant friend out of Rosy when she gave her a pretty package of fancy candy with a fabric rose sewn to the box. We chatted a bit and Al & Laura took of for the evening.
Paula , Rose and I took a taxi to the famous Navy Pier and wandered around taking in the attractions … boat rentals…3d movies…Ferris Wheel…bike rentals…you can find it all on the Navy Pier. We had dinner at the BeBop Cafe…Live Jazz and Good Food! About 10:00pm we headed back to the yacht and got ready for bed.

Burnham Harbor…We are waiting for Al to show up and plan to sail to Hammond Indiana. The winds are strong out of the North. I’m sure we will be using the preventer and probably not the Genoa.

What a great day sail! rather than go to Hammond we went out and tooled around the area. the winds had the Pearson on her beam most of the way. The seasickness meds are working well for Paula but Rosy is not feeling so well. Neither can go below The seas are choppy close to shore and 3 to 6 feet outside the sea wall.

While Al is off taking care of business the girls and I went back to Navy Pier to play. Rose and I took in the 3d fun ride and the Voyager Flight Simulator. All of us rode the Ferris Wheel that towered over the Pier. Tonight we ate at the Famous Billie Goat Tavern. You could almost see John Beluchi crying Hamborgor…Hamborgor… Pepsi no Coke…No fries…chips. Right now Paula is on deck reading her book, Rose is below playing with fractionals and I’m going to start getting the boat ready to sail. The Barometer is steady at 30.20 inches.

8/13/03 We are at Hammond. Yesterday the wind picked up to a 25 knot norther and the only safe and comfortable way down here was to motor. What a ride! Huge trailing seas, Rosy stayed on deck for about 45 minutes saying Whee! and telling us it was better than a roller coaster. Then abruptly she decided to go below where I built her a little nest in the forberth and she was asleep in no time. Paula really surprised me. She just layed back against the starboard companionway occasionally taking pictures. No complaints. We passed a sea wall about 45 minutes before arriving and the seas settled right down. After putting in we went to the Casino Boat for a huge Buffet dinner. At 10:00 we returned to the boat and crashed. The winds are strong and northerly but beginning to come down and clocking around to the East. Time for bed.

12:30pm Bar 30.40 rising… Back at Burnham Harbor after a beautiful “one tack” sail back from Hammond. Strong breeze from the north allowed us to follow yesterdays track all the way home. Rosy bounced all over the boat and ended up sleeping on the companionway. Paula stayed at her starboard station the whole time. When she went below for a “head stop”, she started feeling seasick in about 30 seconds and felt poorly until we put in. Al and I stopped at the fuel dock to “fill and dump” Paula walked around to H dock just in time to take out picture coming in to the slip.
4:20pm Bar 30.35 dropping… Just got back from visiting the Planetarium and the Aquarium. Lunch was at Galileo’s, it was tasty and the view of Chicago Lakeside was beautiful. We went to the dolphin show and wandered around the exhibits probably seeing about 50%. I wanted to see the shark exhibit but the line was too long. We did get into the Caribbean Exhibit which was extensive, Bonehead, shark, manta rays, Angelfish etc. Now we are back onboard. Paula is on deck reading, Rose is below watching a DVD and I’m getting ready to pick-up and maybe start the new Clancy novel.

8/14/03 Bar 30.30 dropping Midway Airport
About 5:30 we took a taxi to the Tuscany Restaurant on Taylor Street. It was a classic slice of the Chicago Italian District. There was even a Italian “Tough Guy” Social club. Paula had Gnocchi and I filled up on Ravioli. After dinner we strolled up Tailor to Mario’s Italian Ice where Rosy had watermelon ice and I bought a $15 cigar for Al. I was feeling very close to my “Ol Man” and bought a pack of Toscaninis which I’ll probably never smoke.

Al met us back at La Sabrosa and we made short order getting out of the slip. I was surprised by the large amount of traffic in the causeway. We threaded our way out of the harbor and set sail and headed north along the Chicago Skyline. Paula took a few long exposer shots and rose went below to play with her toys. The mystery of the high traffic was solved when Al remembered that tonight was going to be a fireworks display. NICE SHOW! I tried to wake Rosy but after carrying her up the companionway she took one look ….said “cool…now I want to go back to bed”. When the fireworks were over we unfurled the Genoa and sailed east into a beautiful full moon. At 11:45 we put in and went right to bed.

This morning I woke early and took a shower while Paula packed. Al picked us up and the 4 of us went to breakfast at a place called the Fox & Oble. Later we took a 90 minute “Architectual cruise” courtesy of Al’s slip neighbor Bill who is the Captain. What a city! My favorite buildings are the NBC building and the Tribune building. After the tourist cruise Al took us back to the Airport.

It has been a wonderful trip! Rosy was wonderful and so was Paula.

Travels with Auntie Rose

This is a lightly edited trip log from a trip to Europe with my Great Aunt Rose in 1969. The spelling has been mostly corrected and occasionally I fixed some horrible sentence structure but it remains true to the original diary of a thirteen year old boy.

20,000 ft  above the Pacific Ocean

HI…   Well Today was the day.  We all got up at 6:00am and went to early mass.  Then the to breakfast and the airport.  After sad goodbyes, Auntie Rose and I flew to Chicago, then Montreal Canada and now we are on our way to Ireland.  Tonight we saw the moon come up from the airplane and it was so pretty.  Air Lingus is a great airline, they feed us every hour on the hour.

7/1/69 Ireland

Hi…    Today a young girl named Kathleen, (she is quite a tomato), came over to pick us up at the hotel and take us out to lunch with Ursula and her family.  Auntie Rose knew Ursula from before and she is going to show us Ireland.  After lunch we went to a small mountain and took a hike.   This land is beautiful.  Kathleen has a little sister who is a real pill.  Then we went over and bought fish and chips.  And played with all of the kids (there are 7 in this family).  The oldest boy has a motorbike and wanted to let me ride it but I’m to small and have never rode one before.  Later, Ursula made us Irish bread.

7/2/69 Dublin

Today, we got up late and found out we were suppose to be on the tour bus, so we cancelled and will  go tomorrow.  Then we went to Ursula’s sisters house and got the kids.  We all went to the National Gardens which is like Washington Park but bigger and with more flowers.   Then we drove out to the beach where they surf.   It was windy and the water was too cold for us to get in but there were two guys surfing in wet suits.   I met Harry and Vi who are also friends of the family.   Harry gave me an Irish Surf Club Patch and invited me to go surfing with them sometime.

The Gardens
On our way to the beach

7/3/69 Edinburgh Scotland 

Today we got up at 7:00 and caught a plane to Edinburgh.  There, we got on a tour bus and visited old museums and castles.  They were real neat.  OK, here is the big scoop.  When I got on the bus to go to town,  I saw a window and since I was hot, I opened it.   It turned out to be the EMERGENCY EXIT.  Bells rang and horns honked and I turned white.  Auntie Rose and I tried to close it but we couldn’t and so the driver had to go outside the bus and shut it.  I was so embarrassed. Then we went to London by jet.  We had lunch in a prima classe place.

Edinburgh Castle
Lauriston Castle


They still use donkey to pul wagons

7/4/69 London

Happy 4th of July!  Today,  we walked all over,  there was Oxford Street, Saint Charles Street, Game Crossing and many others.  Then we took a bus tour all through London.  I saw the Big Ben, the changing of the guards and all of that.  We also went over the famous London Bridge.  We had lunch at a little Italian place called Como’s.  I thought it was funny having Italian food in London.

So… we had Spaget, in London, on the 4th of July.

7/5/69 London

Today we caught a bus and went to Carnaby Street, GROOVY.  Then we got on a two-story bus and rod it to the end of the line… on the TOP of the bus.  After that we went to a place called the Empire Grill for lunch.  I had the worst hamburger of my life.  Its worse than school’s.  Later after I had a nap we went walking and found the Our Lady of the Rosary Church.  They have a little grave yard behind the church and we walked around reading the headstones.  I never saw Coma so happy and content.  At dinner, Coma had kidney pie.

7/6/69 Lourdes

We got on a plane at 9:00am this morning and went to Paris.  It was hard to understand them but we got what we wanted done.  Then we left for Lourdes.  Coma picked up a South American Latin Lover (type).  He’s got blue eyes and is engaged.  He’s tall and thin and his name is Paul.  I went down into the grotto where Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary.  Today is Da’s birthday so I said a special prayer for him.  It was real pretty.  Auntie Rose likes it so much here we are staying an extra day.

Blessing of the Sick
Candle lit Procession

7/7/69 Lourdes

I bought some stuff today, a  rosary and a plastic bottle to hold holy water and a black switchblade.  The hilt is all curvy and pivots with the blade and the grip is black.  When I went down into the Grotto I got to carry a sick baby to the blessing of the sick.  There are a billion tiny little stores here with mostly holy stuff like roserys and pictures of saints.  You can even buy tiny little pieces of the same cross that Jesus was on but I’m going to wait till we get to Rome for that stuff because I want a big piece.  I almost bought a piece of a dead saints finger but it was too expensive.  Tonight we went on a procession with candles there were at least 6000 people.

7/8/69 Lourdes

Today we went to both of Bernadette’s houses.  They were really poor, one was an abandoned prison and the other was just one room.  I got on a old train today and man was it smelly.

7/10/69 Florence

Rode all day on the train.  Saw a whole lot of pretty scenery.  When we got to Genova, Coma could not get a porter to help us off so we had to go to Pisa to get off.  When we got to Florence, Mrs Manuelli could not keep us at the pensione so we went to a hotel until there is room for usat the Pensione.  Coma is really mad because she had a reservation.  I met Clarissa, Mrs Manuelli’s daughter and her husband, Grey.  He is from England.   She is 9 months PG and 4 months married.  She has long blond hair with a black strip on top.  Coma said it looks like a skunk is sitting on her head.  I think it’s cool.

7/11/69 Florence
Got up today , went down to the market bought some stuff for the guys then I took a nap and we went out to dinner.

7/12/69 Florence

Today we took a walk down to the Piazzia Segnoria and Coma got her hair fixed.  Then we came home and ate. Later we went to the Ponta Vechiccio.  There were a million hippies there.

7/13/69 Florence

Today when Coma and I were on our way to mass, at the front door, there were a bunch (thousands) of Commies , marching down the street.  They were yelling in Italian, “America go home, Down with NATO”.  Italy is going communistic.  So… Coma and I went back up and had to stay inside all day.  So… Clarissa,  Grey, Coma and I played Gin Rummey.  Coma is pretty good!   Mrs Manuelli told us not to go out on the streets because the thugs might steal us away.  We have lots of food and wine so even if the commies take over, we will be ok.

7/13/69 Florence

Today the big scare is over. Coma went to the American Express and they told her there was nothing to worry about. I’m a little sad because Coma was talking about going back to Ireland and staying with Ursula instead of risking it here.  There goes my chance to go surfing.  Every thing seems normal so I guess they rounded up the Commies last night.  After lunch we went shopping and Coma found the glasses she has been looking for and I bought some sandals and a hat,(the big black one). Then we went to the straw market and looked but didn’t buy stuff.

7/15/69 Bologna

Today we took a train to Bologna and took a taxi to the Bigi’s. We met the family, then went to see Bigi’s new apartments that are 40 miles away.  Bologna is a pretty town, the buildings are a different color than the other towns.  Mrs. Bigi made a big family dinner and we talked so long, we were almost late for the train. I was a little homesick for Mom’s cooking after eating with the Bigi family.  Mrs. Bigi looks just like I remember her.  She reminds me of Non. Romeo was very nice and took me for a real fast drive in his new car.  Coma stayed with the Bigis, good thing!  Their house is beautiful.  Alfa got married and is on her honeymoon.  I 

7/16/69 Florence

Today we rested and shopped. After lunch I watched the Apollo lift off.  It’s a real thing here.  All the Italians except Clarissa are talking about it.  They think it’s neat!  Except for Grey who says that America is going to blow up the world.  Aunt Rose thinks Grey is a hippie even if he has clean hair.

7/17/69 Lucca

Today, Coma and I went to Lucca, her Aunts were not there so we took a taxi to find them. When we did they were so happy to see us. They are Puccini’s last family and live at the Villa part of the year.  They were fixing it up to move back in. Puccini’s villa was fab! There are 230 acres. It’s a real big house for two old ladies to live in.  They want to make it into a museum but I don’t think they will be done before they die.


7/18/69 Florence

Today we really went shopping. First we went to mass then we went and bought beautiful leather book marks for gifts and Coma found the place where the Angels that she wanted are. At lunch there was this kid from New York who spent 10 minutes watching how I ate spaghetti before he started eating. First he couldn’t get any on his fork then he got too much.  He finally got it. It was funny but I didn’t laugh.  We had tea at the Pitti Palace and then we saw Grey off on his trip to England.  Clarissa cried all night.  

7/19/69 Pisa

Today we hopped on a train to Pisa and visited Musset.  I couldn’t climb the tower because I’m too small to go alone. So, Coma bought me a small leaning tower made out of metal and a bag full of Baci.  The best thing was hearing a guy sing old fashioned music in the Baptistry, it sounded like a bunch of guy angels singing and when he stopped the sound didn’t.  It was neat.

7/20/69 Fiesole

Today after we got up Coma and I went to mass in il Duomo. I climbed il Duomo to the very top. It had the greatest view of Florence I ever seen. Then we went to Mottas (Motta is a famous Italian chocolatier), and I wrote letters. Later that evening we went with Clarissa and her mother to a place called Fiesole, it is a viewpoint on the top of a mountain. After we had a drink we started to walk down the hill, “just a small way”, to see the city… we thought. First thing you know, we walked 5 miles down hill. Coma’s legs and mine were about to pop. Clarice and Coma were arguing until Coma finally flagged down a car and they gave us a ride back to town.  Clarice said she wanted to have her baby faster, that’s why she wanted to walk down the mountain.  Coma and Mrs Manuelli are really mad at her.  It was pretty though.

Florence from Fiesole

7/21/69 Florence

I guessed it worked, because today, Clarice is in the hospital having her baby. Segnora was gone all day. We stayed at the house and rested because Coma’s legs hurt really bad from walking downhill so far.  Mostly I sat in the kitchen and watched the astronauts walk on the moon. Later, Coma and I went out and found a nice little dinner place that was self service. Tomorrow we are going to Fochette.

7/22/69 Florence

We stayed home today because Coma’s legs are still sore from our “little midnight stroll”. I found a neat book at the book stall and Coma doesn’t mind me reading it. Lots of good stuff with devils and big lady angels fighting the devils.  It rained all day so I read a lot.

7/23/69 Fochette 

Today, despite Coma’s bad leg we went on the long delayed trip to Fochetti. When we got there, we found Licha. She was so glad to see us. Then she went back to work and we went to the beach. It’s just as beautiful as ever! The old house has been rented and it’s all fixed up. I visited the market where I used to go buy milk for the family when we lived here.  I went swimming on our old beach and Coma sat on the beach and read while we waited for Licha to finish work.  When I was swimming I saw a wave going away from shore, when it crashed into the other waves, it was really groovy.  Licha picked us up at the beach and we went out for tea.  We really had ice cream and coffee but Auntie Rose calls it Tea.  Then she drove us to the train station. Coma got a beautiful onyx pin.

Rose on the beach


7/24/69 Florence

Today we stayed at home and rested. Mrs Manuelli is staying with Clarissa at the hospital because she is so sick. While she is gone we are taking care of the Americans who just came last night. Coma is really bushed and doesn’t like being a chambermaid.

7/25/69 Florence

Today we walked all day. Coma loves the open market and she took me to the Ponte Vecchio to look for a gold ring that I can get engraved like Da’s. We didn’t find one but she bought a pretty silver rose pin.

7/26/69 Fochette

This was the beginning of a “lost weekend”. Licha and Ro came to Florence and conned us into going to their house, then going with one of her relatives to his house, then to Venice. On the way to Licha’s house, the car kept breaking down. We were on the Autostrada and a truck that works for Fiat came to help but he didn’t fix it either. So, we went to Fochette at 20 miles an hour. When we got there I took a nap and then we went out to dinner with Licha and Ro. Then we went to a bar and Coma had Cafe Coniac and Zambucca with flies and that doesn’t mix well with wine and grappa. Coma said she was stoned.

Licha and Ro

7/27/69 Fochette

Today we went to church. Then we met Licha’s family. They have a beautiful house. We met the ballet mistress of La Scalla, she remembers going to Puchinni’s funeral, she is quite a gal! Then we went to the beach and then came home to a wonderful dinner. Then we went back to Licha’s and got our belongings. Licha’s brother in law drove us to his house which is on the way to Venice. His car broke down too! But this time the Fiat truck was able to fix it.  We didn’t get there until 2 in the morning. He must be a very rich man because his house is really fab.

7/28/69 Venice

Today when Coma and I woke up she felt weird being in a strange house and we beat it out of there as fast as we could. We were all alone. Then we saw Lake Guarda, it must be the biggest in the whole world! Later we took a taxi to the station and bought tickets for Venice. On the train there was this kid and his Papa was hugging him and giving him the soft soap. I don’t know why but something was happening. When we got to Venice we got a room and the rest of the day we spent at San Marco.  I remembered the Bronze horses from before but I forgot how big Sam Marco Square is.  There were sidewalk cafes as big as a football field.  Tonight we were at the Square and watched the rise of the full moon, it was so beautiful I’ll never forget it.

7/29/69 Venice

Today we were shopping all over Venice. I bought a gondola and Coma bought stuff for Uncle Fred. Then we did a lot of sight seeing. On the boat to the train station Coma got in a fight with a man who took my seat. She called him an ignorant WOP and all his friends were laughing. Then he got up. The train was miserable hot, when we got home we were sure glad. As I write this Auntie is doing all my washing and chattering like a magpie. The last thing I saw was the full moon coming up over El Duomo.

7/30/69 Florence

Today was a day of rest. Coma got her hair done a new way, it’s real nice.  I walked around Florence and visited with a nice family from California.  They just got here and I told them where the good stuff was.  They had a baby and two kids.  When Auntie Rose got back she shampooed my hair and we watched a nice big rainstorm.  The best thing today was that I got a letter from Da.  It made me a little homesick but it also made me feel good.


7/31/69 Roma

Today we got up at 7:00 to catch the 8:20 to Roma. We got on 2nd class and it was all women and me. Then we moved to prima class and it was all men and Coma… and she was shook.  Our hotel is nice, I like the old fashioned sinks and knobs.  There is also a bidet that Coma said was really nice but I think toilet paper is better.  Tonight after dinner and a long walk Coma and I went to see the Sound and Light Show at the ruins of old Rome. It was really fab.

8/1/69 Roma

Today, Coma and I spent the day at Saint Peter’s Basilica. We saw the 16th Chapel and Moses and the Pieta. There were hundreds of kids here for their first communion.  Then we went to the Trevi Fountains. There was a statue there that Coma could not find a picture postcard of, we walked forever but never found the card. I’m bushed.

8/2/69 Roma

Today we went to the Spanish Steps and it was so hot that we had to go back to the Hotel. There were a billion hippies there. This hotel was really nice but compared to the pensione it was really old. We went to the piazza Mattei, where our ancestors used to live. Coma paid a photographer take pictures of every nook and cranny. When we got the pictures back at the hotel the bill was $50 and Coma raised cane and got them for $30.

8/3/69 Florence

Today we got up early and caught the train back to Florence.  It was a real numero uno, prima classe, super duper train. It was pointy at the front and painted a real fast blue. It was air conditioned and we met some real nice people.  It went straight to Florence without stopping one and it was the fastest I’ve ever been.  When we got to town, we ate, then went to the pensione.

8/4/69 Florence

Today Coma went to Lucia,  I was supposed to stay home and rest up for the big haul, she said I was really tired, but I wasn’t.  So, after she left, I went to the Academia to visit with Michelangelo’s David. I’m going to miss him.  Then I went to the river and watched the people.  There are more hippies than when we first got here and they are mostly nice people even if they do smell.

8/5/69 Florence

Today, Coma and I went out with the suitcase and took it to get fixed. She cashed a check and then we went to the Ponte Vecchio. I looked for a ring. I fell in love with one but when I saw it was 33 semolions, I said “Ciao Bambino”.  It turned out to be the very best one we could get so I bought it for $30 and drooled for the rest of the day.

8/6/69 Florence

Today I stayed home while Coma went out to get some French money and just by mistake she passed the suitcase place and since it was ready, she lugged it home. The rest of the day we read books and played cards.

8/7/69 Florence

Today Coma washed my hair and our clothing. Then we really packed well and got ready to go to Paris.  I went for a long walk, fed the pigeons at the Duomo and hung out at the Uffizi.   Then I went to the Palazzo Vecchio and climbed to the top.  I had just enough to buy a gelato before going back to the pensione.

8/8/69 Florence

Auntie Rose went to Valentino’s to get a manicure and her hair fixed. I decided to take a walk so I went down to the station and played pinball. I walked all over and when I thought Coma would be back I went back to el Duomo. I’m looking at it right now out of my window.  I got some round (playing) cards, they were a gift from Coma.

8/9/69 Florence

Today, Coma went to Valentino’s again but before that we went shopping. I got a wallet for me. Coma got a wallet for Phil and some match holders. (Florence was renowned for its leather goods. Match holders were, beautiful leather cases to hold a match book. There were also cigarette pack holders, toe nail clipper holders and a leather case for just about anything you could think of.). We walked all over. Tonight there was a fiesta down at San Lorenzo’s church. There were native dances and we watched a few. Auntie says, she is groomed to the teeth for Paris, manicured, pedicured, tinted and set. Oo La La. Those are her words not mine.  Ice cream at Motta’s … said goodbye to Italy, Paris here we come!

8/10/69 Florence

Today, first thing, we went to church. Then we took a walk and had lunch. After lunch we went to say goodbye to David. Then we went back to the Pensione and finished packing. Then we left for the station. The people we met on the train were real nice. They were from Israel.  We shared each other’s food and I tried to sleep but it was real cold in the mountains and I couldn’t sleep. The people from Israel got off first thing in the morning.

8/11/69 Paris
Today I woke up when some people were trying to get into our compartment. This man came in with some luggage and then his wife and child. He said, “these people give me a pain in the you know what”. He also told his wife, “she is a real wop”.  Coma and I did not say a thing. When we did, it was just a word or two in Italian. When the train was almost in Paris, Coma said, “Now honey, for you, a nice big American breakfast”.  That lady turned RED and we laughed all morning.  We walked down the Champs-Elysees and saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.  My favorite was The tomb of Napoleon.

Eiffel Tower

8/12/69 Paris

Today we got up early and had breakfast. Then we got on a tour bus and saw Noter Dame, Ark of Triumph, Champs Elyese also the Louve. Then we came home and rested. Tonight we got on a tour bus and saw Paris by night.  It was very pretty and on this one street there were lots of theaters with bright signs with naked ladies on them.  It must have been ok because the people going in looked normal.  This afternoon Coma bought her special dress and some perfume. I got some for the girls. Coma got a letter from Non that said, Spend your money like mad. She spent $130 on the dress!

We went down “pig alley” on the tour. We also went down Montmartre Street. We also saw the sacred heart church. We saw the “old belly” of Paris. All that’s left are the restaurants. Coma finally got her green case, the desk clerk got it for her at Orly. We are now packing for the ship. Paris is treating us magnificent.

8/13/69 Paris

Today we finally went to the Eiffel Tower. Coma sat on a bench and said her Rosery while I left her to ride to the top of the tower.  There were so many people on the 2nd level it took an hour to get my ticket but I went to the top of the tower!  It was really cool!  It was the best thing about Paris. Later we went to the Louve. I saw the Mona Lisa and a whole lot of other paintings. Then we got all of our packing done. America here we come!

8/14/69 SS France 

I got up early today and we took the Boat Train to Le Harve. Coma met some very nice people on the train and we talked to them the whole ride to the boat. The France is the biggest ocean liner ever built.  It is over 1000 feet long!  Our cabin on Le France is real nice, it’s on the upper deck. We had a good supper then watched the ship set sail. It’s pouring rain here.

8/15/69 Atlantic Ocean

Below is a video of the SS France     “The Last Elegant Ocean Liner”


Today I went down to the junior room. It’s full of pinball machines and a table soccer and a soda fountain and juke box. Coma’s friends had their table changed to ours. After lunch I went to the J.R. And swimming pool. The sea got rough and I got a little sea sick? Coma was all dressed up but she couldn’t eat either.

8/16/69 Atlantic Ocean

Today I got up well, but Coma was sick as a dog. I played pinball and goofed around. In the afternoon they had a real good movie, Alfred the Great. Tonight there was a Gala, so I went with Coma’s friends to dinner. After dinner I went to the J.R. And there were only four of us kids. Most of the grown ups are sick in bed. We ran down the halls bouncing off the walls every time the ship leaned over. We were so hysterical with laughter that we could hardly walk. Coma is in bed sick.

8/17/69 Atlantic Ocean

Today we just goofed off until the Captains Gala. Coma got all dressed up, I did too. We had a ball.


8/18/69 Atlantic Ocean

Today Coma felt better and we packed and I said goodby to all my buddies. Tonight at dinner Coma said we had the best of all the people in the ship at our table.  The captain came over and told the ladies they were beautiful.

Today is the last day of my trip. As we left the boat I saw the Leonardo de Vinci dock right next to us. Then we went to Newark and took a jet home.

We met Da at Coma’s
The End