Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Full of Blarney

No trip to Ireland would be complete if you did not visit the famous, or perhaps infamous, Castle Blarney just  a short 5 miles NW of Cork City along route N20. The village of Blarney, where the castle gets its name, is a picture perfect setting with quaint shops, a few tasty pubs, and a large grass square in the center of the village. This town of nearly 2500 people who are what make Ireland so great for the tourist and that is their friendliness. J and L were never more thrilled than meeting and talking with the locals as we were on the trip to Ireland - as related in an earlier article - the people are so very genuine with their kindness it really makes one stop and think. Are people actually that kind and respectful?

The simple truth is that they are.

Now, back to the story of the blarney, which this writer knows something about with the tall tales he has written and will continue to write.

The Blarney Stone is the supposed magical stone given to Cormac McCarthy (the original builder of the stone castle which had once been a simple wooden fortress) by Robert the Bruce in 1314. The stone, which was known as the Stone of Scone, was the same stone that Scottish kings were crowned over until that same Robert the Bruce took it away and brought it to Ireland. As a reward for his support during the Battle of Bannockburn, McCarthy received the stone from Robert the Bruce and had it placed into the wall of his stone and rock castle.

To kiss the Blarney Stone is said to give the kisser the gift of eloquence. It came from a statement that Queen Elizabeth I made after getting frustrated with the Lord of Blarney (Cormac McCarthy) who always stated he would be loyal to the Queen of England but never was. He would sweet talk her into thinking he was on the verge of giving in to her demands but could never quite find it in his soul to do so. Finally, after months and months of McCarthy's brand of diplomacy the Queen simply pouted and stated it was nothing more than a "lot of Blarney."

And the thus the legend was born.

The Blarney Castle Estate is a marvelous stop on any whirlwind adventure but if a person has the time, as we did, it takes hours and hours to saunter, study and enjoy the various locations about the estate. Particular attention needs to taken with the Rock Close where it said Druids and witches performed their secret rituals. Then take the woodland walk to stare in wonder at the wonderfully old and so very green trees near the estate's lake, smell the various flowers in the arboretum or simply stroll the many gardens enjoying the beauty.

There is a small and neat poison garden that was very interesting as the plants there could easily kill or cripple a person within seconds. Some of the names are familiar with those Harry Potter fans made famous by J.K. Rowling. Dangerous plants such as wormwood, hemlock, mandrake, deadly nightshade, wolfsbane, and of course, diviner's sage.

And, naturally, there is the castle itself. A rock solid (literally) edifice situated on a high rock outcropping which made it almost impenetrable to enemies. Of course, that was before the Irish-hating Oliver Cromwell, showed up and blasted the castle into near ruins with heavy cannon fire in the 17th century. There is plenty to see though as you climb up very narrow and steep stairs along the interior of the castle walls to the very top where the Blarney Stone is laid in among the rock structure. The view is terrific of the nearby countryside with forests and small villages from every side of the castle.

But to kiss the Blarney Stone is why we climbed those slippery stairs (it had rained a few moments earlier as we entered the castle and not having a roof everything was wet) and as luck would have it (actually J of J and L planned it like that) we were the first kissers of the day. There were two assistants standing by to help in the lying down and leaning into the air a hundred or more feet above the ground to kiss the stone. Of course, you have to lie on your back, lean way out in the air while holding two thin straps of iron and then lean further back while the two assistants encourage the kisser.

"There you go - a little further out into space - no, a bit further - don't look down - a little further - there you are and now kiss the stone."

As you arch back further than you believed your body could arch, you do of course look down upon a straight steep angle of the castle. As your mind races, it briefly crosses your mind that hopefully, if you did fall one of the jutting rocks of the wall may help in breaking the slip or kill you instantly thus saving you from being crushed to death by your own body weight while slamming into the ground.

Purse your lips and give the stone a kiss.

 We did it and were done.

The gift of eloquence? Who knows, but no trip to Ireland is worth it without stopping by the Blarney Castle to pucker up.

And that is no blarney.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Life of a Sailor

City of San Diego skyline from the bay

J and L happened to bump into their old friend (figuratively speaking of course) Johnny Nevada from the Talk of San Diego on a beautiful 36 foot classic sailing yacht by the name of Lei Lani. She (that's how we sailors refer to yachts) was built in 1967 in Costa Mesa (a true California girl) by hand. That means every inch of this boat was lovingly caressed into the finely shaped vehicle she became.

Wow, sounds like the start of a romance novel.

The Lei Lani ready to sail

Lora Lei under sail
Seriously, the Lei Lani is a beautiful boat from stem to stern with the rich mahogany interior and the teak wood exterior which is kept up by the boat owners, Kyle and Ashley Corbett . Perhaps their more favored monikers would be the Big Kahuna (Kyle), and the Mermaid (Ashley) and both seem appropriate as both are excellent and professional sailors who spend most of the year in and around the San Diego Bay making a sailing tour into a memory of a lifetime.

Enjoying the bay

Owners - Ashley and Kyle Corbett
J of J and L had lived in San Diego eons ago and had always believed, and still does, that San Diego has one of the most stunning sky lines in the world (and he's traveled much of it and knows a thing or two about sky lines). But to see it from the waters edge is a special treat that not many can experience unless they are proud owners of their own boat or has had the ability and pleasure of sailing around it quietly aboard one of the two yachts owned by the Corbett's - the other being an almost retro thirty foot sailing yacht built in 1991 in San Francisco but looks like the sixties to this old salty dog (J and not L). The Lora Lei is just as handsome (can you say that about a woman) as the Lei Lani and as impeccably cared for. The Lei Lani and the Lora Lei are in the fleet owned by San Diego Sailing Tours (i.e. - the Corbett's) and either boat is a thrill to sail on especially with the knowledgeable and friendly crew.

Captain Kyle Corbett and the back of J's head

We had been invited by Johnny to go on a private tour of the magnificent San Diego Bay while he interviewed the co-owners of San Diego Sailing Tours (Kyle and Ashley) and if time permitted would chat us up a bit about J and L's recent three week trip to Ireland. It was our third time in front of the camera with the Talk of San Diego and made us feel like regulars and that was good. How many times has so and so been on Jay Leno and we're sure it's as exciting the hundredth time as it was the first but the difference being a person tends to get a little more relaxed each of those times and it was for us. Besides the fact Johnny and his wonderful interviewer, Ivonne Ferrero, made us feel right at home. And yes, Daniel Bentz, the sound man was very attentive but rather quiet (strange for a 'sound man') except when the microphone wasn't held to his liking - he's touchy like that.

Big Kahuna - Kyle Corbett

The cruise included many of the famous sites around the bay - San Diego is truly a city built around a bay, that including the Coronado Bridge, the famous floating Maritime Museum, the United States Naval station on Coronado, and one really interesting and new site which is the building of the replica sailing ship of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who discovered San Diego Bay on September 28th of 1542 (excepting it had already been discovered by the natives who resided there but let's not dither about the details shall we?). The flagship of Cabrillo's fleet, the San Salvador, is being rebuilt to exact measurements by the Maritime Museum right off of North Harbor Drive just west of the Spanish landing site (the only non-rocky stretch of waterfront) and the 200 ton galleon should be water-ready very soon which could mean a year or two but since it's been hundreds of years in the making a few more doesn't seem that important.

Mermaid - Ashley Corbett

As the cruise continued Johnny and Ivonne talked to the owners of the charter company and J and L, along with L's sister Beth Baker, just relaxed on the bow of the Lei Lani taking in the sun, wind and perfect weather which is a pretty steady stream in San Diego.

Laureen relaxing on the bow

John talking with Skipper Dave
Finally, Johnny stated we had a few minutes to interview J and as the yacht sailed noiselessly back to its slip on Harbor Island J and Johnny traded barbs on air about John's novel, 'Hunted', his next upcoming book 'Soft Target' and of course they both did their best to imitate the Irish accent which turned out to be a mix of somewhere between London and Dublin. It was rather amusing but not if they were both sitting in a pub in downtown Blarney. They may have been asked to leave after finishing their pints and not to come back to soon.

Johnny Nevada and Ivonne Ferrero kicking it on the Lei Lani
 Beth Baker enjoyed the sail

Of course, that could be just blarney but that is sometimes how blogs go.
For more information just look below the ducks: