The final approach to San Diego always brings back fond memories from my days in the Navy as I have entered this harbor on ships dozens of times over the years.
Allow me to indulge myself with my favorite memory of a San Diego arrival.
It was the summer of 1991 and I was on the USS Midway(CV 41). We were about 15 miles from Pt Loma heading into San Diego which would be the final time this carrier would steam under her own power. The Midway was returning to the US after being homeported in Japan for years. She would be decommissioned in San Diego and then towed to the inactive shipyard in Washington state before being returned to San Diego where she is now on display as a museum ship.
We were getting ready to “man the rail”, which is where sailors line the perimeter of the ship all wearing dress uniforms, for the final time as we entered San Diego Harbor. NOTE: Below is a photo that shows the Midway as we “manned the rail” when in Pearl Harbor on the way back to California.
The Midway was going to take one final sprint before we entered the harbor. So as thousands of sailors stood on the flight deck, and we were surrounded by small pleasure boats, the Captain ordered “All Ahead FULL” and within seconds the valves deep within the ship were opened wide and high pressure steam rushed through the turbines which turned the Midway’s 4 large screws faster and faster until we were going 33 knots, leaving a wake over 1 mile long. The small boats following us tried to keep pace, but they all faded behind as the Midway roared over the waves with all her flags stiff and the crew holding their hats. We only kept this pace for a few minutes before we reduced our speed so that we could pick up the Pilot for our final sail-in thru San Diego Bay.
Our final morning of our final day started off cool and overcast which is typical for San Diego in May. People who live here refer to the weather in May and June as “May Gray” and “June Gloom”, but that is only for those people spoiled by year round wonderful weather. Even though a San Diego May morning may start off as “Gray”, by the afternoon the weather is usually spectacular as it is most days.
I was up at 5:30 to try at catch a glimpse of our condo as we passed by Imperial Beach, but we were too far away and it was still too dark to see anything other than a sea of indistinguishable lights on the coast. The border fence between San Diego and Mexico was easily visible as it is well lit and appears as a straight line of lights from the coast running inland to as far as you can see.
We were scheduled to moor at the San Diego Cruise Terminal around 7 am and then it would take a couple hours to clear the ship, so we weren’t expecting to start disembarking until around 9am.
Being able to sleep in or relax on your final cruise day is one of the benefits of sailing on Holland America. Many other cruise lines require you vacate your cabin by 8 am and then wander the public areas until you are allowed to leave this ship. Having a full, hot, room service breakfast on your final morning is also something you won’t find available on many other cruise lines.
Once we were moored at 7 am they started calling all the Non USA citizens to the Dining room on Deck 5 to clear USA immigration. No one would be allowed to leave the ship until everyone was seen by US Immigration Agents. About every 10 minutes they would announce a number which represented another group of passengers that should proceed to the dining room for processing. Progress was slow and they were still calling numbers at 9:30 when they started the Coast Guard Inspection which required all crew members to participate – even the cabin stewards rushed to their emergency stations wearing their life jackets. So all the familiar drill announcements were now competing with the announcements for passengers to go to see immigration officials.
I learned later that there only 3 agents to start processing the ship, and after a bit a few more arrived, but the ship was hoping to have 8 agents from the beginning. To make matters worse, almost ½ the ship were non USA passengers (600 people) that had to be processed which was twice the number they normally see on these West Coast cruises.
At 9:45 there were only 3 cabins left to process and they started calling out their names asking them to proceed immediately to immigration as they were now holding up the entire ship. Fifteen minutes later Gene announced the ship was cleared and they started calling the familiar baggage ticket colors and the passengers began to stream off the ship.
We asked to be in the last group, and we were told that we could expect to leave around 10:30. Based on the delays so far, I expected we would be delayed as well, and we were, but only by 9 minutes. After they called our color, Purple 3, we gathered our carry-on bags and headed down to Deck 2 forward to leave the ship for the final time.
The ship was connected to the terminal’s second floor with a jet way type bridge and we took the elevator down to the first floor. Our 13 bags were fairly close to one another. We found a porter quickly and she started to load the bags onto her cart. She ran out of room and had to call over another porter. We almost filled up his cart as well.
With our two porters pushing our two luggage carts we headed to the single immigration and customs agent. While the porters were pushing our bags thru a separate lane, the immigration officer glanced at our passports, took our customs declaration and waved us thru. We didn’t exchange any words and I am not sure he even glanced at our two luggage carts. I suspect that our luggage already had been visited by the dogs and our names reviewed in advance so at this point there wasn’t much screening left to do.
Our porters left us in the parking lot where the private drivers can pick up their passengers and we called our driver to let him know we were ready. We weren’t sure our driver’s SUV would be large enough to hold all our bags, but his Ford Expedition, held our bags easily and we were soon on our way back to our condo in Imperial Beach.
Twenty-five minutes later we arrived at our condo – Home Sweet Home!
Living in a condo makes it easier to leave for extended periods of times, but we still had one of our neighbors keep an eye on our place and drive our cars every so often.
Our electric bill is electronic and I wondered why it was much lower for the last month – well when I opened our refrigerator, instead of feeling a rush of cold air, I was hit by a warm moldy smell. The refrigerator had quit working at least a month ago. Fortunately, we left it 95% empty, so there wasn’t much left to decay, but what little there was, was making a foul smell. The Refrigerator was 13 years old, so we will be buying a new one this week. For our next world cruise, I will probably completely empty the refrigerator and leave it unplugged with the doors open.
One of ours cars batteries also gave up the ghost – it was over 5 years old – so I will have to go battery shopping tomorrow.
Now that we were settled, it was time to head to North Island Naval Air Station to watch the Amsterdam sail out of San Diego Bay – WITHOUT US!!!
A few minutes before 4 we arrived at the fishing pier on the Naval Air Station which would give us a great view of the ship as she sailed by.
Right on cue, we saw the smoke stacks of the Amsterdam over the trees and nearby buildings as she started to sail toward the open ocean. As she passed by we took our final “Jazz Hands” photo and waved goodbye to everyone at the SailAway.
Hopping in our car, we headed out to Coronado Beach and watched as she cleared the channel and started her turn to the North and a summer of sailing Alaska.
Our world cruise was officially over.
We had the time of our lives.
Stay tuned to this space for more post cruise insight, videos and other postings and tips regarding world cruising.
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