Long before the “sand Navy” was an actual thing – those Navy servicemembers who did a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq during the war- I remember a man who was building a boat in the Arizona desert in the 1980s. While the region is still subject to monsoon flooding (late summer thundershowers that over centuries carved riverbeds flowing west and north from Tucson and elsewhere), I think the builder was overly optimistic. Until I saw what I presume was the same boat launched from the bay in San Diego some twenty years ago. There are other latter-day Noahs still building boats in a parched land. Yet, owning a boat seems to be a short-lived experience for most would-be mariners. While there are many sailing and power boats moored in marina slips all along the San Diego bays, I have seen many hundreds high and dry in storage yards far from the sea. And I live the experience through others. One of my friends, a Navy veteran, invited me out on his boat. Though I enjoyed the experience, I have not had the urge to buy one myself. It would also be another frequent chore to master; between financial and maintenance needs of boats, or cars, or homes, there are rare times to enjoy one. Perhaps, it is why I remember movies where a boat owner was spending an afternoon drinking beer, in his boat while it was stored in his driveway. But having a boat sitting in my driveway in El Cajon most of the year would remind me of one of my running jokes from long ago.
What still causes me to chuckle forty years later is my years spent at the University of Arizona when I would frequently tease a former submariner and fellow student about his participation in the “Rillito River fleet”. The Rillito is, and has been for most of the last several decades, dry but for the previously mentioned “monsoons”. Also, it was the closest non-body of water near both of our homes during that period. That he was a drilling Navy Reservist at the center located on the Davis Monthan Air Force Base at the southern end of Tucson, was amusing to me then. However, the “bubblehead” may have had the last laugh, as I too, became a Reservist there. Within less than I year, I submitted a request to return to Active Duty and subsequently spent the next twenty-three years on ships, and shore sites, from Middle East desert to tropical jungle. From performing observation and interdiction of narco-traffickers in Latin American waters, seizing smuggler’s vessels during a Haitian revolution, supporting Allied efforts in the Serbian – Croatian war, supporting no-fly zones over Kurdish Iraq, I fulfilled my promise to get back out of Arizona and go to sea.
These days I do not make light of any veteran’s membership in the “sand Navy”. They have seen and done some stuff. Whether Reservist or Active Duty Sailor, female or male, if they would have me, I would be willing to crew with them even in the dry washes of southern Arizona.