Friday, August 29, 2008

The Last Break of Summer

The life of the offshore helicopter pilot is broken up into seven-day-on, seven-day-off chunks of time. Or, in my case, and an increasing number of offshore pilots, it's fourteen-days-on, fourteen-days-off. We call our stints at work "hitches," and our time off at home "breaks."

It's a strange life in many ways. And, while there are plenty of negatives involved with spending nearly half one's life away from loved ones and the "real life" at home, it isn't all bad. The fact is, offshore helicopter pilot dads have the opportunity to spend more hours in a month with their kids than does a "typical" dad who works five days a week, but goes home every night. That's particularly true in the summer, when the little ones are out of school.

Before I went home on break last time, Rhonda let me know that she and Dylan were anxious to go camping out on Shasta Lake off of our forty year-old Gregor patio boat. A few years ago, during a heavy snowfall, a falling oak tree put the boat out of commission. Other time and money priorities put fixing it on the back burner, but this summer, we got our boat going again.

So we loaded up the boat with food and camping equipment and towed it to the Jones Valley Marina. We camped on the McCloud arm of the lake, but before heading to the camp site, we saw this.

It's a Martin Mars, the largest flying boat ever to be put into production, and the second largest ever to be built, next to the Spruce Goose built by Howard Hughes. It's been stationed on Lake Shasta for a good portion of the summer due to the literally hundreds of northern California wildfires that have sprung up. The Navy used them between 1945 and 1956. There are only two left flying, both used as aerial tankers.

During our first evening in camp, we discovered these "designs" on a rock face above camp. There are many pictographs in the area left by the Wintu tribe of Native Americans, but we surmised that this design was by nature. Dunno.

The next day, we saw a young bald eagle that we thought might be in distress across the lake from our camp. He crashed into the lake, but instead of flying off with a fish, he floated in the water. We were about to start the boat to go check on him when he began swimming with his wings. Yes, you read that right. We didn't know that bald eagles did that either. I didn't catch him with the camera as he was in the water, but here he is after reaching the shore.

Yours truly and Dylan. Dylan is the one with more hair.

Flexibility in being self-employed only goes so far. After a couple of nights camping with us, Rhonda needed to go to her office. We'd planned to take Rhonda to the marina the evening before she went to work, but she decided that she was game to go in the following morning before dawn. Dylan was all for it, even if it meant I had to wake him up in the dark. Gomez, however, was kind of grumpy about losing the rack time, and didn't enjoy the early morning boat trip as much as the rest of the family.

We spent over half my break on Lake Shasta, and we had a great time swimming, cooking out, and exploring. I didn't get many home projects done during my time off. I could feel like an irresponsible adult, but I don't. My last break was about being together as a family. It was about having fun. It was about holding on to magic. The home projects will just have to wait.


Debby said...

As per previous post: Yup. You know about the magic.

Redlefty said...

Looks to me like you were doing some serious home-building during your break.

Pam said...

As usual a delightful slice-of-Dad-life with Hal, Rhonda and Dylan!

Love it!

The photos and info on them are amazing! That includes the photos of 'the boys' and small furkid!

You're one amazing Dad, hubbie and writer, my friend! What a lucky family you have!

My, oh my, how Dylan has grown since the last photo I remember!

Debby said...

You know what Hal? You oughta change your picture. That picture of you and Dylan? You look scads younger than your profile picture -relaxed, happy.

quid said...

Great story. Great eagle (now I'm gonna have to dig my eagle pic up to compare talent).

Thanks for pointing out which one is Dylan. I was confused.

Have dated a fireman. 24 hours on, 48 hours off. Tough to get used to. He hates when the 24 hours happens during college football.

Just random nattering tonight, from me.


Bob said...

Yes, Hal, the home maintenance stuff will always be there. Times like these with Dylan before he discovers cars and girls (maybe not in that order), not so much. Good job my friend.

Kelly said...

What a wondeful feel-good post for starting off my day! Thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the pictures and sharing in your break.

Hope Gomez has gotten to catch up on his sleep....

Roland said...

Looks like a great time. Nice pic of you and the boy.

Bob Barbanes said...

Yeah, the 14&14 schedule *can* mean more time with the family - - as long as none of the other members have anything else to do during the day when you're puttering around the house alone (e.g. school, work, sleeping...). Looks like you had a great time on that break - I'm so jealous!

Ironically, as much as I hated the 7&7 schedule when I was on it, I've kind of been thinking about going back to the GOM and a 14&14 schedule. I dunno...something about having "hard" days off and knowing in advance when they're going to I just kinda miss flying out in the Gulf. Not *this* coming week, of course, and I hope you're not there. Looks like Houma is in for a "bit" of rain and wind.