Alex summed it up when we taxied into the jet center at Santa Maria to find our rental car waiting with doors open… “I feel like a sheik.” The day seemed foggy from the home base, but a check of the computer revealed VFR everywhere but my deck. We piled into the car and headed to Zamperini Field (Torrance). The flight out to Catalina was magical. Mom and Alex took turns ooohing and ahhhhing as we thrummed over the patchy, low-lying fog. There was an excellent view of Two Harbors, and then a pretty turn towards the airport in the sky.
The pattern altitude is 2,600 feet but with the odd perspective of the mountaintop strip and the sheer, grassy slope to the sea 2,600 feet seems about level with the runway. I did my best to drive in a nice rectangular pattern, announcing my intentions on CTAF though no one was answering. We lined up and I dropped the 172 about fifty feet past the numbers and rumbled up the hill to the first exit. Alex and mom were enchanted by the airport (which is one of the most striking I have landed) and did not mind the twenty dollar landing fee a bit.
Mom bought tee shirts, Alex and I chatted and sat on the deck looking out at the sea. Eventually, we decided we were going to be late for our next pickup if we dawdled further. I fired up the plane and we shot across to Palos Verdes, then made a left through the LAX class B. We flew the special flight rules route, and a few minutes later were dropping into Santa Monica. We refueled and loaded Bob into the plane, called Al to give him an ETA and headed up north to Sideways country for a picnic lunch. It’s a bit more than a hundred miles up to Santa Maria as the crow flies. An odd phrase that, I mean, I have never seen a crow fly straight for very long. Perhaps it would be better to say that it is a bit more than a hundred miles in a straight line. I flew the crow route, looking here and there, staying by the coast for a bit then wandering inland. We had flight following so we occasionally got sent off course to avoid getting in the way of people in a hurry.
Eventually, long after I supposed it might appear, Santa Maria hove into view. A regional jet landed on 30 while I flew he pattern for 02. The landing was feather soft, so my passengers judged me a good pilot. I was all over the sky for forty-five minutes, but for that last thirty seconds I am golden. Fortunately, in the world of impressing mothers and fathers it is the thirty seconds that count. No bounce? Good pilot.
We jumped in the rental car and followed Al and Rudi to Sissoq winery. It is a beautiful place tucked into the base of the hills with a scattering of picnic tables set on a large lawn. Alex bought a couple bottles of wine and Rudi and I started putting out the picnic. It was like watching forty clowns get out of a car. She kept producing more food from what seemed like bottomless paper bags, plastic boxes, satchels and bins. We spread the table so thick with food there was barely room to eat. To solve the problem we each ate a clear spot in front of us and then moved food from the more crowded regions to our opened space. We ate for about two hours. There was chatter, but mostly we were eating and getting through two bottles of wine.
After the meal we headed to Al and Rudi’s to see the changes they have made to their house. Alex and mom began to wonder about darkness and Bob, quite rightly, worried about marine layers. I called flight services and found that Santa Monica was already special VFR. We shoved off and headed back to the airport. The line guy greeted me with the news that the rental airplane had a cracked spinner. I looked and sure enough it did. The crack had been stop drilled but then had spread further. In my estimation it was not going to break in flight so I refused a kind offer to remove it by the lineman.
We hopped in and were shortly cruising back towards home. The tower gave me the flight following frequency and as I turned in I heard a pilot call ‘jumpers away.’ I checked in and Santa Barbara Approach told me they would give me a hand getting home but to stay away from Lompoc as there were skydivers in the area. No problem I replied then looked down. I was about a mile west of Lompoc . At least that is what I figured when I was able to make what I saw on the ground fit the chart. Ooops. At least by the time I got there I would not have chopped up any divers that did a free fall jump. If they opened the chute right after jumping I might have dinged one though.
As we got close to Santa Monica it was clear that it was clear. Or at least pretty clear. The tower said it was still SVFR so I had to ask for clearance, but then I dropped Bob with another nice landing and prepared to head back to Torrance . As we taxied to the run up to await a mini-route clearance the low fuel light went on. I have never seen that before so I felt obliged to return to the pump and put a pile more fuel in before trying again. I had checked the fuel before we left and there was enough for an hour, but I just could not take off thinking about what people would say if I ran out of fuel after ignoring a warning light. On arrival at Torrance it was just us, there was not another plane in the sky. A nearly full moon, the lights of LA and the darkness of the ocean made for a wonderful backdrop to the best landing I have had so far. I actually looked around for applause.
The best part was seeing how much fun mom and Alex had. We have a great picture of the three of us standing outside the plane after five landings at four airports. What a blast.