Chasing the Sunset

London Heathrow to San Diego: 5485 miles

It was a first flight for the Cleddau crew from Heathrow’s Terminal 5. What a delight that embarkation point is.  It is thoughtfully planned for passengers’ arrivals by road or rail, for the swift dispatching of baggage to aircraft and for the smooth management of passenger security checks through to airside (though not so for the two Italian passport holders in front of us: their photos were not of the right sort of technology so British Airways refused to allow them to fly). The terminal building is light, airy, visually attractive. Retail opportunities are plentiful, restaurant choice is wide – and then via lift and “transit” (underground electric train) passengers are delivered to the appropriate departure gate. The plentiful seating and wide views across the airfield were in sharp contrast to Boatwif’s Easyjet herded-into-the-airless-seatless-below-stairs-cavern experience at Luton only four days previously…  By mid-afternoon on Tuesday passengers were invited on board British Airways Flight Number 273 and greeted by immaculately groomed cabin crew.


It was a busy time at Heathrow: the aircraft was seventh in the queue for take-off. The sky was taking on that slightly greyed-out mistiness that is typical of an autumn dusk. As we climbed out of Heathrow cars were showing their headlights and the sun was dipping fast. Up we soared, the clouds becoming an endless quilted pillow below.  Swiftly the sky became a dark blue hue delineated on the horizon by a sharp orangey-pink glow – and so it stayed, for hour after hour, out in a north-west direction, over to Iceland, on to the tip of Greenland, over towards Labrador and Hudson Bay.  Somewhere after Greenland the sunset glow disappeared, only to reappear as the aircraft headed south and west. Winnipeg, Chicago… sleep overtook us. Sometime later the Captain (not our Captain) urged those on the right hand side of the aircraft to look down and view the Strip in Las Vegas. No such view for those of us on the left hand side – but our thrill was to come: the seatback screen began to show local names: Escondido, Oceanside, the Salton Sea, and as the aircraft lost height lights glinted from the south: Tijuana in Mexico, then lower we flew over the city: the freeways, the baseball pitches, the sharp curve of Coronado Bridge, the skyscrapers, boat masts in the marina – and we were down! After hours and hours of sunset-chasing we were on the ground, just over ten hours after take-off, the time now 1840 Pacific Coast Time (0240 GMT).


Then came the queues: you stand patiently at Immigration. Even the flight crew (in a separate lane) have to wait. We watched as additional checks were done on six US passport holders, as several Visitor passengers were sent back to fill out an extra form and  as one waited while the aircraft was searched for his passport. The young Land’s End international skate-boarder ahead of us fretted over whether he had the right documentation (“ ’cos it cost me fifty quid”) and then it was our turn for the finger-printing, the retinal photography, the questions.


Baggage recovered we were soon in another queue (US “line”), at the car rental office. While a large TV advertised legal help for patients suffering problems after a vaginal mesh repair procedure (yes, really) we waited until at last the documentation was signed, the car keys were handed over, the familiarisation with the vehicle was complete and then off we drove (right on a red at the lights, over the railway lines, up the sharp incline, left for the I5 interstate freeway). By 2145 PCT we had arrived – and Cal Son had the teapot ready!


About three hours of proper sleep occurred before the biological clock kicked in so eyes and ears were ready for the Invasion: first a taller Cal Guy, then, taller too, Cal Girl landed upon us. They had obeyed instructions: get dressed first then breakfast together. Cal Babe appeared, now a fun-loving, walking, communicating toddler (Cal Guy Jnr.) Departures to schools and work done we unpacked, drank more tea and coffee, chatted to Cal Mom then set off west and south for Pannikin, the wooden one-time railroad depot right beside the Pacific Coast Highway. Here nothing is plastic and we remembered how this time last year the freshly cooked Greek eggs and strong coffee had had a curative effect on bodies out of synch with the daylight. We sat in the sun on the veranda, watched an Amtrak train whizz south and the Coaster race north. This is an easy-going sort of place: two Fire and Rescue crewmen talked Shop, some folks sat indoors with their laptops and as usual notices for charter schools and yoga and craft classes fluttered on the community boards.


Back inland we drove, past YIELD TO OTHER TRAFFIC ON THE CIRCLE signs (roundabouts), back up the hills and over into San Marcos, heading for a the supermarket. The fruit and veg displays are seductive: plump and shiny fruit, crisp and fresh vegetables. But a resolution has been formulated – before entering a supermarket always add a sleeve layer to counteract the refrigerator chill…


The Cal Clan tumbled in round about 4, Cal Guy Jnr still smiling and ready to perform his twirling around until dizzy tricks, Cal Guy Snr sucking a sweet lollipop prize awarded at an after school cartoon session and Cal Gal requesting permission to eat some candy collected on Halloween Night. There were games, there was food, there were baths, there were bedtimes. Boatwif and the Captain soon needed their beds too – and after a fair few hours of dreamless sleep it suddenly seemed a very good idea to start writing this blog!


“Well, Boatwif,” you may have thought, “what has all this to do with boats and boating?”  Not a lot, except that Cal Guy Snr has expressed a desire to visit US Midway, the enormous aircraft carrier which used to ply the high seas in World War 2 (and is now moored as a floating military museum alongside the waterfront downtown in San Diego); meanwhile Techno Son-in-Law is out on nb Cleddau, plying the High Peak Canal with a novice crew of two police officer friends… Wonder if it’s chilly up in Cheshire…?

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