The Hotel del Coronado

Opened in 1888 on the shores of San Diego Bay in Coronado, California the Hotel Del Coronado is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world and America’s grandest Victorian seaside resort. It was built by Elisha Babcock and Hampton Story after they purchased all of Coronado for $110,000 in 1885.

Built on 33 acres, it was the largest hotel in the world upon completion.  It was also the largest building in the world outside of New York City to have electric lighting.  Thomas Edison supervised the installation of the electrical system.

The front of the Hotel Del

My son in front of the Del a couple of years ago. There was a geocache right behind him. It’s gone now, but there’s plenty more where that came from. The large turret on the left is the roof of the main dining room – the Crown Room.

You have to see The Del to really appreciate it.  Pictures don’t reveal the true scope, size, setting or architecture of this national treasure. When you go through the doors, whether it’s to stay or just have lunch, it’s like walking back in time. It’s especially enchanting during the holidays. They spare no effort to bedeck the entire place in the spirit of the season. When we lived in San Diego, we went to the Del for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, depending on who was around.

Movies have been filmed here. It has been featured in books and been home to writers.  L. Frank Baum did much of his writing here and used The Del as a model for his Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.  He also designed the chandeliers that still light the main dining room – the Crown Room.

The list of stars and VIP’s who have visited here reads like a Who’s Who of the last century. One of The Del’s favorite stories is about the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1920, who later became King Edward VIII.  He abdicated his throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, who lived in Coronado.  They met at the Del.

There’s also a resident ghost – Kate Morgan –  who died here under mysterious circumstances in 1892 and frequents the old section of the hotel.

The interior courtyard of the Del.

The interior courtyard of the Hotel Del. It’s more than a place to stay. It’s a destination. There’s world class shopping here, dining in several restaurants and live music. Enjoy the surf and the sun. Stroll on the beach. You don’t have to be a guest to enjoy the Del. You do, however, have to be prepared to pony up some serious money for your excursion here.

Much has changed in Coronado since The Del opened. The city has grown up around it. A cracker box fixer-upper in town runs about $1,000,000. The US Navy has a substantial presence here with the Naval Amphibious Base and North Island Naval Air Station. The Naval Special Warfare Center where the Navy SEALs are trained is practically next door. In fact, some of their rough water boat training takes place on the rocks of the jetty right in front of The Del.  The SEALs routinely run along the beach, much to my daughter’s delight the last time we were there.

If you come to southern California, don’t miss The Del.

Hooyah … Boris and Natasha

Threat Centered Revolver Handgun Training

Hi again,

I’m normally not one given to the use of superlatives, but as I write this, I am several days removed from THE BEST handgun training I have ever received. My mind is still racing with all the stuff we learned and my right hand is still sore from firing hundreds of rounds from my snubnose .38 during the two day class.  (Note to self: Ya’ might want a bigger gun next time.) The course was Threat Centered Revolver, developed and taught by Grant Cunningham. It was sponsored by Phoenix Firearms Training at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility on April 1-2, 2017.

Me jocked up for the firing line.

Here I am all jocked up and ready to go. From left to right. S&W Model 642 .38 caliber snubnose revolver with a Crimson Trace LG-305 laser grip. I run hot and cold on lasers but the grip itself is the best I’ve used. The laser turns on and off. Holster and belt by Simply Rugged , a small outfit in Prescott, AZ. The holster is their Silver Dollar model made for short barrel revolvers. I have Simply Rugged holsters for all my handguns They’re the only kind I use. Next, two HK36 speed loaders inside JOX speed loader pouches. They are a recent purchase. Made of Kydex, they hold the loaders securely and are the most concealable holders I’ve ever seen. I’m wearing them upside down. I find them more comfortable and concealable that way. I did dozens of reloads from the JOX this weekend. They worked flawlessly. A hook and loop pouch and speed loader pouch from Uncle Mike’s complete the training ensemble. I found the hook and loop pouch to be really valuable for loading up a couple of rounds during a lull. It’s a good skill to have. As you can imagine, firing hundreds of rounds with a five shot revolver kept me busier than a one-armed paper hanger. For every day carry (EDC), I use one JOX loader and the hook and loop pouch with a speed strip in the top row and six loose rounds on the bottom. Everything disappears under a loose t-shirt.

Six weeks ago, I’d never heard of him. I stumbled on to him and his training quite by accident. I was surfing on Amazon and a bunch of books showed up under the heading “Based on your browsing history”. One of them was Defensive Revolver Fundamentals by some guy named Grant Cunningham. I love revolvers, have carried one everyday for years and have looked for dedicated revolver training without success. It seems that nobody teaches revolver handgunning anymore. The preferred training platform is big, honkin’, high capacity semi-automatics. That’s fine. I own several of those too. I’ve trained hard with them and many of the skills are transferable – but not all. The revolver is a different animal. I’d pretty much given up and decided I might have to go the book learning route for revolver-specific skills.

So I bought Grant’s book – and read it cover to cover the first night. Then I bought another of his books – Protect Yourself With Your Snubnose Revolver – and devoured it just as quickly. Here was a fellow wheelgunner and he was speaking my language. I sent him an email and he answered. We corresponded several times. I also subscribed to his blog, where I found out that Grant offers revolver training and was bringing the Threat Centered Revolver class to Phoenix in just a few weeks. I signed up right then and there.

TCR class

On Saturday, April 1, five of us (three men and two women) were on Pistol Range 4 at the Ben Avery complex. The weather was perfect all weekend – sunny, not too warm with a nice breeze. This was taken at the end of the course. Me on the left. Grant on the right. The van belongs to course sponsor Jon Abel of Phoenix Firearms Training.

In his former life, Grant was a world class gunsmith and successful competitive shooter. He’s not ex-this or ex-that which I found to be refreshing. He’s like me – a regular guy who made the commitment to legally carry a gun for self-defense and be as proficient with it as possible.

Above all, he is an educator and an innovator. Two of the primary targets in his classes are conventional wisdom and dogma. It starts with the title of the class – Threat Centered Revolver. We don’t stare at the front sight to the exclusion of all else. To gather information on the threat, we have to look at it. Our primal DNA is going to make us do it anyway. We incorporate the front sight into the engagement. How much depends on distance, time and target size. I won’t get into a detailed description of the course. Instead, I’ll hit the highlights and some key lessons learned.

Targets

One of the target points on day 2. The combination of numbers, colors and shapes allows for almost unlimited ways to introduce uncertainty and randomness into the shooting. There are different versions of the target, so some people might not be shooting while the others are. Our exercises got progressively more complicated with math problems we had to solve before we knew what target to shoot. It’s easy to put in no shoot parameters too, like reds or odd numbers.

The pop up target next to it was the highlight of the class. It’s part of the Jedburgh System. The polymer silhouettes are wired into a logic controller that is run with a tablet. Specific scenarios can be set up or they can be completely random, which ours were. Among the randomness was the number of hits it took to knock it down. The guidance on day 2 was if your pop up appears, that’s your primary threat. Engage it until it’s down then finish the string on the target. Reload on the fly as needed and keep your eyes up scanning for targets, not staring at the reload. With five and six shot revolvers, it got pretty intense at times. One thing it makes you do is to keep the gun running. Check your ammo and be prepared to engage at all times. Expect the unexpected. You’ll get it in this class.

Good revolver shooting starts with the grasp on the gun. We don’t hold a revolver the same way we do do a semi-auto. The main difference is where the thumbs go. In a semi, they lay parallel along the gun. On a revolver, the support hand thumb crosses over and locks down the shooting hand thumb. Then we apply a crush grip that stops just short of making the gun tremble. This difference between “layered thumbs” and “locking thumbs” made a huge difference for me in steadiness and recoil recovery.

Grant will tell you that “Revolver grips with finger grooves are the work of Satan”. That’s a direct quote from the first hour. Grooved grips are one size fits all and break up the wall of fingers on the shooting hand that keep the gun under control while firing. That eliminates many popular and cool looking grips.

Self-defense shooting has to be viewed in context. Grant’s training takes place in the private sector context, as opposed to law enforcement, SWAT or the military. Private sector shooting emphasizes surviving a close and unexpected encounter by firing rapid, multiple and accurate hits to stop the threat. As a general rule, we don’t chase people, clear rooms or engage at long distances. The police and the military do that in the context of their environment.

Shooter engages

A classmate engages his pop up. Notice the new type of paper target. It’s used to develop an important concept in all handgun shooting – a balance of speed and precision. The bigger targets can be engaged quickly with point shooting. The smaller ones require some good sight alignment and trigger control. The range to the targets is also a factor. So once again, there are multiple variables involved. And of course, you never know when Mr. Pop Up is going to show himself. The Jedburgh System has the potential to revolutionize firearms training. It’s pricey, but Jon at Phoenix Firearms Training took the plunge and incorporates it into most of their classes. He also had to buy a new van to carry it all.

In a threat centered model, we spend most of our time training for the thing that is most likely to happen. In the private sector context, that is a sudden or rapid encounter within 3-7 yards – conversation distance. Farther than that gives you an opportunity to avoid the encounter. If you want to shoot at longer ranges, fine but there’s no need to overdo it. Closer than three yards is extreme close quarters combat which means fighting to your gun. That is not part of Grant’s instruction but it is offered by several prominent trainers like Craig Douglas and Cecil Burch.

I could go on but you get the idea. While we were learning all this and more, we were shooting. There was lots and lots of shooting. I lost track of the round count but I went through an ammo can full of .38 rounds along with a couple of full molle pouches. I’m guessing between 700 and 800 rounds total. That’s more than some four and five day courses I’ve taken.

In threat centered training, we don’t just line up and shoot at bulls eyes on command. Ohhh no. I had one situation where the silhouette came up as I was re-loading with a speed strip. I only had two rounds in the cylinder. Doesn’t matter. Reload’s over. Close the cylinder and start pulling the trigger. A couple of clicks on empty cylinders were followed by two solid hits that knocked it down. It was totally unexpected, unscripted and unrehearsed. Is that great training or what? The whole two days are like that. Training just doesn’t get any better.

Shooter on target

And still another type of target. We used these mostly on day 1. You’ve probably figured out by now that one of the central precepts of threat centered training is to put as much uncertainty and randomness as possible into it. It works best with an instructor or a partner calling out strings of fire. However, you can introduce some randomness on your own with cards or dice. You can also invent your own targets with some colored markers and butcher block paper. I’ve bought and shot my last bulls eye target.

The real strength of Grant’s training is the variety and innovation that he brings to the firing line. He’s invented his own targets and he uses them to make you think before (or if) you shoot. In threat centered training, the most effective drills introduce random factors into the scenario which you have to quickly process in making your shoot/no shoot decisions. That’s why you have to look at the target and not blur it out while staring at the front sight post.

I hope this page has given you a good overview of the Threat Centered Revolver class and threat centered training overall. I highly recommend Grant’s classes and books if you are serious about concealed carry. You don’t have to be an elite physical specimen or a pistolero. I’m a retired Marine in my mid-60’s who’s been shooting for decades. I left this class a different and much better shooter. Just bring your gun, a lot of ammo and an open mind. If you want to know more, check out the links above. When Grant brings this back to Phoenix, I’ll be there.

Adios amigos …. Boris

Handgun Training at Front Sight, NV

Hi again,

The firing line

Ready on the firing line.

I recently finished the Four Day Defensive Handgun course at Front Sight, a training facility just outside of Pahrump, NV. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I’ve had lots of handgun training, so that wasn’t the problem. To be honest, Front Sight has a reputation out in the online gun community as a second rate facility.  I got a chance to go with a certificate that cost me $100 as opposed to the full price of $2,000. So off I went to the Feb 13-16 class.

It was outstanding.  It exceeded my expectations across the board. The instruction was excellent. Everybody there was helpful and professional. We did a lot of shooting.  I learned a lot. The biggest lesson I took away from it is that I didn’t know as much about this stuff as I thought I did.

I’m not going to chronicle the day to day activities.  A Google search will bring up lots of detailed summaries and reviews.  Here’s a good one.   I read it several times and it was very helpful.  I did learn a few things that were not mentioned anywhere else, so here are some thoughts on the Front Sight experience.  I think they would also apply to just about any other training program.

The Training Environment

Range break area

The only shade on the range.

1. This is the desert and they train all year. In February, the lows were below freezing and the highs were very pleasant. The week after my class, it got cold and snowy. Summer temps routinely hit 100. The shooting ranges themselves are constructed with 12 foot earthen walls on three sides. There’s lots of sun, not much shade and little wind. The firing line can get really brutal no matter what time of year. Plan accordingly.

2. It’s very taxing, both physically and mentally. Forget about hitting the casinos or taking in a show at night. You’ll be too tired.

3. All that aside, you don’t have to be a young stud to do the class. We had 44 students with a real mix of people. About 1/3 were women. There were several families there with their teenagers. The guy next to me was in his 70’s. This was his 18th time taking the course over a ten year period. He just likes doing it and he’s good. I’m 61 and I did fine.

4. Get a hotel room in Pahrump, which is only about 20 minutes from Front Sight. The two main ones are the Saddle West Casino and the Best Western- Pahrump Station. Both offer Front Sight discounts and fill up every week, so book early.  If not, you’ll have to stay in Vegas, which is an hour or more away. Pahrump is an ugly town but the people are nice. The town has stores, restaurants, gas stations and amenities plus some casinos, so you’ll have everything you need. Front Sight hosts up to 1,000 students a week in various courses and it’s big business in Pahrump. The town is a little nervous about all these gun fighters running around, so the lower your profile, the better.

5. The pace is fast and the days are long. Plan on being there until 5 or 6 PM. It’s pretty much non-stop with the exception of the one hour lunch break. Snacking, hydrating and loading magazines are done on the fly between relays or during transitions. That said, if you get tired or just need a break, it’s OK to sit out a relay.

6. Take with you to the range everything you need for the day – drinks, sun screen, ammo, snacks, etc.  Your car will be nearby but you won’t have time to make trips back and forth.  I had a range bag and a cooler. They have water there in a big vat, but it’s not very cold and it runs out. Plain water has its limitations. Be sure to take some Gator-Ade or something for electrolytes. A 50/50 water and Gator-Ade mix is ideal. Orange juice is good too.   I used the Gator-Ade powder.  Saves weight and room. I took an insulated water bottle and carried it all the time.  You can’t have it on the firing line but it’s ok on the ready line.  You want to have immediate access to drinks and ammo all day.

7. In four days, you’re going to draw that weapon, work that slide, push those levers and buttons and load those magazines thousands of times. By the end of the course, your hands will be cut up and sore – especially the fingertips. Take some medical tape or tough band aids to wrap them with. At night, use some hand lotion to heal them up.

8.  I took some disposable vinyl medical gloves with me to lather on the sun screen.  It keeps your hands from getting all slick and oily. Your firearm will thank you.  When I first started doing it, people just stared at me.  By the end of the course, several others were doing it too.

9.  I ordered the box lunch every day. It’s quick, convenient and filling. They run about 12 bucks. You can pre-order when you get your course confirmation email or do it when you get there.

10. They have a well stocked pro-shop and armory on site but they are outrageously expensive. A MagLula 9mm speed loader that I got on Amazon for 20 bucks was $70 at the pro shop.

11. Watch your speed on the road to Front Sight. It’s a target rich environment for cops, especially on Day 1.

Bring enough gun

On the line

If your firearm has a glitch, this place will find it.

12. MUY IMPORTANTE: The fact that you are taking a shooting course with a concealed weapon does not allow you to carry off site. Do not carry concealed off the Front Sight facility unless you have a Nevada permit. CCW reciprocity in Nevada is a circus. They honor almost nobody else and it changes all the time. In the past, students have carried, been stopped by the cops and busted. That’s a Class C felony. On the other hand, open carry is legal. So you can strap on your gun and motor on down the road if you want. Just make sure you don’t accidentally cover it up. Front Sight rules say no loaded weapons or weapons handling in the common areas. My advice: Lock it up in the trunk and retrieve it at the range.

13. Even if you have a Nevada permit (which I do), stay out of North Las Vegas and Boulder City (which is just up the road from Hoover Dam). They don’t like concealed carry and you’re in for a big hassle if they find you packing. Yeah, it sucks, but what can you do? If you want to take a test case to the Supreme Court, be my guest.

14. Forget about revolvers. You can use them but the course is built around the semi-auto handgun. A lot of what they teach is transferable to any weapon. My carry weapon is a S&W 642 .38. I took it to the range after I got back and was able to successfully apply things I learned using my 9mm at Front Sight.

15. Don’t take a brand new gun to Front Sight. Run several hundred rounds through it before you start training. There were a surprising number of gun problems on the range. Front Sight has a gunsmith on site who can fix anything. If your gun has problems, the staff will run it up to him. He’ll fix it and notify the range when it’s ready, usually within an hour or so. Take a back up gun just in case. If you have other guns you want worked on, like new sights or a trigger job, take it with you and drop it off. This guy is very good.

16. I gained a real appreciation for the new generation of striker fired, DAO semi-auto handguns – Glock, Springfield and M&P. I used a 9MM S&W Shield. My backup was a Beretta Px4 sub-compact, a sweet shooting piece which I’ve had for over 10 years. I’m glad I didn’t have to use it. In fact, I might even sell it. The Shield ran circles around it. IMHO, semi-autos with external hammers, thumb safeties and de-cocking levers are almost obsolete. That includes some fine weapons like Sigs, Berettas, Rugers and 1911’s, all of which I have owned. I’ll never buy another one.

17. Speed and accuracy are what we’re looking for and the aforementioned relics come up short. The benchmark drill at Front Sight is to draw from the holster and fire two rounds center mass in less than two seconds. Having a double action first round makes it almost impossible. A guy on a nearby target had his new Sig Sauer out there and he had trouble all week. Plus, all those extra levers and edges make it harder to work the slide in the fast aggressive manner needed for clearing malfunctions and re-loading.

18. Then there’s the weapons that you carry cocked and locked, like 1911’s and Hi-Powers. True story: The last day of the class, we had a guy shoot himself in the leg while holstering his cocked and locked .45. Fortunately, it just barely grazed his outer thigh, giving him about a four inch racing stripe. It barely broke the skin. His wife was shooting next to him and she was a basket case. After the paramedics patched him up, they got in their RV and left. Still want to carry that hog leg in Condition 1?

19. This new generation of handguns minimizes or eliminates those problems. Next time I go to Front Sight, I’ll be shooting the M&P full size 9mm and the Shield will be the backup.

20. Take lots of magazines, especially if you’re shooting a single stack weapon. Front Sight says bring at least three. I’d say a minimum of six. I had eight and I was still busier than a one armed paper hanger all week.

21. I had my ammo in neat plastic cases and my Israeli MagLula speed loader ready to go. I ended up putting about 50 rounds in my pocket and refreshing my magazines the old fashioned way on the ready line. I’d load them up with the speed loader in the morning and after lunch. After that, there simply isn’t time to pluck the rounds one at a time out of the box and employ the speed loader. Some of the students had trap shooter bags full of loose ammo hanging from their belts. That worked well. I’ll be looking into one of those for next time.

22. Front Sight catches a lot of crap from the handgun community because they continue to emphasize the Weaver stance. Actually, it’s more of a modified Weaver or Chapman stance. According to the naysayers, the Weaver is obsolete. Everybody now uses the combat isosceles stance. I personally like the Chapman and that’s what I shoot. It just works for me. If you get to Front Sight and are Hell bent to shoot isosceles, they won’t say a word other than to suggest you keep an open mind and try their stance.

The Front Sight business model

Range HQ

This is it. This is main street of the Front Sight resort community.

Front Sight was started in 1997 by a California chiropractor named Ignatius Piazza, who still runs the place. He had big plans. His vision for Front Sight was a “shooting resort” with ranges, adventure training, martial arts, homes, condos, shops, restaurants, etc. To move forward with it, he sold memberships, which cost up to $25,000. These memberships entitled you to free classes, prime lots and amenities like a Front Sight hat and T-shirt. (Seriously. That’s two of the many benefits he touts.)

Twelve years ago, when I first divorced, I almost bought a Bronze membership for $5,000. I decided against it. For at least two years after, I was bombarded with e-mails and slick flyers about all the things that I was missing. They went on and on about all the great things that were happening at Front Sight.

Well, most of it was b—s—t. None of resort stuff and luxury amenities ever happened. I drove into Front Sight expecting a desert oasis. With the exception of the ranges and house trailers used for offices, there’s absolutely nothing there. They didn’t even have running water until about four years ago. Ignatius Piazza has been sued repeatedly yet continues to bang the drum for all the great things going on at Front Sight and is still selling memberships.

This is the angle that gets most of the bad comments in the handgun community. However, I found a clear separation between the business end and the training program. The ranges are modern and well maintained and the staff are all very professional. At no time did anybody try to give us the hard sell. In fact, it wasn’t mentioned at all.  Don’t let the business/marketing thing turn you away.

The going rate for a Front Sight course is $500 a day. That’s the same as other trainers like Gunsite and Thunder Ranch. I took the course for $100 with a Front Sight certificate. Here’s Front Sight’s dirty little secret – nobody pays full price for a course. Here’s why. When customers buy full price memberships, they get a bunch of course certificates and full fledged memberships to give away or sell. I got my certificate through a friend. Then I came back, started looking around for another one and found a guy on E-bay who was selling memberships. It sounded too good to be true.Take any course I want any time I want for the rest of my life. I emailed and called the guy trying to coax out of him what the catch is. There wasn’t one. It’s a full blown, honest-to-goodness Diamond level life membership with a retail value of $7,000. It cost me $250. I’ve got my membership card, diamond certificate, hat and T-shirt. These things are everywhere on the Internet. If I had spent the five grand for a membership, I would not be a happy camper. Never pay full price for a Front Sight course.

One has to wonder how long they can stay in business like this. There have been rumors and reports over the years that they were going under, but I saw no evidence of that. I went into this with my eyes open and figured even if they close tomorrow, I got a $2,000 course for $350. I think they’ll be around a while. They have a large course offering and lots of students.

I had a very successful week. My score on the skills test the last day put me in the top 3 shooters. Now that I’m snowbirding in Arizona, I plan to go back at least twice a year. In addition to the full size M&P on my wish list, I may have to buy a new rifle and shotgun for those courses.

This post turned out to be longer than I planned, but that’s usually the way it goes. Hope this helps. Maybe I’ll see you on the line some time.

Semper Fi …. Out here …. Boris

Britain’s Day of Infamy – December 10, 1941

Hi again,

Almost everybody recognizes the date December 7, 1941. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on that day is known in the history books as the Day of Infamy, a phrase used by President Roosevelt during his address to Congress asking for a Declaration of War. What most people don’t know is that our staunchest ally, Great Britain, had its own day of infamy three days later.

As the Pearl Harbor raiders were recovering on board their carriers, an equally calamitous event was unfolding in the western pacific. The Japanese Imperial Army was landing in southern Thailand and northern Malaya, while sending bombers to strike the crown jewel of the British empire – Singapore.

The landings and bombings on the 8th kicked off a two month campaign that would end in the surrender of Singapore, the destruction of the city and the largest defeat in British military history. Despite the clear and present danger posed by the Japanese aggression, the people of Singapore didn’t take much notice. Singapore had a worldwide reputation as an island fortress that rivaled the Rock Of Gibraltar. They were convinced that their island city was impregnable and that the Japanese wouldn’t dare attack it. Besides, they had an ace up their sleeve. The Royal Navy was in town, led by the pride of the fleet – the HMS Prince of Wales.

The HMS Prince of Wales

The HMS Prince of Wales was Britain’s newest, fastest and most heavily armed warship. Packing 10 x 14 inch guns, she could also fill the sky with flak from her secondary batteries and put up thousands of rounds of anti-aircraft fire per minute. She entered service in May 1941 and had her baptism of fire one week later when she traded salvos with the Bismark. During that running fight, she absorbed four hits from German 15 inch rounds – including a direct hit on the bridge – and kept fighting. Three months later, she carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland. There, he hosted on board his first council of war with President Franklin Roosevelt. She was a personal favorite of Churchill’s and considered invulnerable. Somebody forgot to tell the Japanese.

The fleet had arrived on December 2, sent by Winston Churchill in response to Japanese provocations in the region. Their timely arrival was a coincidence, but considerably lessened the impact of events on the 8th. British leaders were confident that the task force would deter the Japanese from attacking or make short work of them if they did.

As the Japanese prepared to attack south on the 8th, Task Force Z, under the command of Admiral Tom Phillips, sortied out of Sembawang Naval Base in northeast Singapore.  It consisted of the HMS Prince of Wales, the HMS Repulse and four destroyers. Their mission was to find and destroy the Japanese invasion fleet. Comprising 28 troop carriers and two aging battleships, it was turning circles somewhere off the coast of Malaya.  The mission to blast enemy ships out of the water was a dream come true for a battleship skipper and promised to be easy pickings for the Royal Navy.

The HMS Repulse

The HMS Repulse was a WW1-era heavy cruiser that was completely re-fitted just before the war. A veteran of Atlantic surface actions in both wars, she was still a capable fighter. However, her construction would do her in. Cruisers built in her era were designed for speed and agility. To get that, armor protection and watertight integrity were sacrificed. During the attack, the Repulse dodged 19 torpedoes. The Japanese finally caught her by coming in from both sides at once. She sank six minutes after the first hit.

Singapore was thoroughly infiltrated with Japanese spies and they knew the moment the ships slipped the harbor. Soon, every air and naval unit in the region was hunting for them and the invasion fleet was withdrawn to Indo-China. The British task force was oblivious to these developments, had no hard intelligence and no air cover. Additionally, all their new electronics, such as radars and fire control systems, started failing in the salty humid air of the tropics as soon as they arrived. None of it had been fixed. They were sailing deaf, dumb and blind. Still, Task Force Z kept searching. Finally on December 10, they found the Japanese but not the ones they were looking for.

Artist depiction of the attack on the HMS Prince of Wales

An unknown Japanese artist’s depiction of the attack on the HMS Prince of Wales. A Mitsubishi G3M “Nell” bomber is dropping a Type-91 aerial torpedo. Japanese torpedoes were the best in the world and exceptionally lethal. The Type 91 was fast, accurate and packed a 500 pound warhead. The first torpedo hit on the ship was back by the propellers and would have been fatal all by itself. It tore out the port side propeller shaft from its sealed passage into the hull, creating a breach that couldn’t be stopped. The ship lost speed and power and developed an immediate list to aft and port. The Japanese continued to pour it on until it disappeared beneath the waves of the South China Sea. In all, it took four torpedo hits and at least two direct hits from 500 pound bombs.

Scout planes and a submarine found the task force early in the morning on the 10th about 50 miles out from the Malayan port city of Kuantan.  While they tracked the British ships, every Japanese aircraft between Malaya and Saigon scrambled and went after them. The air attacks began around 1100.  Over 90 aircraft took part.  There wasn’t enough time or fuel to coordinate strikes so groups attacked on arrival as soon as they found the targets.  The Repulse and the Prince of Wales both took multiple hits from torpedoes and bombs.  The Repulse sank at 1230. The Prince of Wales went a little after 1300. Admiral Phillips and almost 1,000 crew members went with them.  The destroyers were untouched and rescued hundreds out of the water despite the threat of lurking submarines and more air attacks. The Japanese lost three aircraft and their crews.

Escaping from a sinking HMS Prince of Wales

The destroyer HMS Express rescues survivors from the badly listing HMS Prince of Wales. The attack is still under way. When the battleship rolled over in her death dive, she almost took the Express with her. As she rolled, her bilge keel along the bottom of the ship came up under the Express and gave her a 40,000 ton wallop. Fortunately, the destroyer was able to ride it out. Unlike the Repulse, which sank in minutes, the Prince of Wales took almost two hours of constant pounding before she went under.

This was the first time in military history that major surface combatants were sunk in the open ocean by hostile aircraft alone. It was a harbinger of what lay ahead. The battles of Coral Sea and Midway were just around the corner and they would change naval warfare forever.  From now on, carriers and their aircraft would take the fight to the enemy with the ships 100 miles apart or more.  There would still be surface battles in the years to come, but the heyday of the battleship was over.

The sinking of two of England’s finest warships sent shock waves all the way to London. Churchill later wrote in his memoirs, “…in all the war, I never received a more direct shock.”   The losses left the Allies with no capital warships west of Hawaii.  The western Pacific was now a Japanese lake. It didn’t last long. Four months later, the Japanese navy was smashed at Midway and they spent the rest of the war on the defensive.

The wrecks of the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales were found after the war, in 183 feet and 223 feet of water respectively.  They are about eight miles apart. The Repulse rests semi-upright with a sharp list to port.  The Prince of Wales is completely upside down with much of her superstructure buried in the mud. In 2007, her ship’s bell was removed by British divers to prevent it from being stolen.  It now sits in a maritime museum in Liverpool, England.  Both ships are Crown property however, they are legal to SCUBA dive on and there are dive shops that make the trip regularly.  The Repulse is the better target being much shallower and with a lot more to see.  Both are deep decompression dives and not for beginners.

If you like to explore underwater, Singapore and Malaysia offer some top notch SCUBA diving. There are a lot of wrecks in the surrounding area including the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales. There are many others and dive shops make regular trips, with destinations for divers of all experience and ability levels. The South China Sea has excellent visibility most of the time and is warm as bath water in the shallower depths. If you’re a diver in Singapore, it’s worth checking out.

That’s all for now … Boris and Natasha

Fall colors in the Teton Pass

Hi again,

One of the great things about geocaching and its kin is that it gets you out into places that you would never go to otherwise. We often come across great scenery in our travels. Particularly out west, there’s a Kodak moment around every bend. Every once in a while though, we happen upon a vista which is there and gone in a moment. Clouds, sky, animals, fall colors, mountains, mist, shadows, snow and sunlight often combine to offer a breathtaking view which is gone in a matter of seconds. Our camera has caught a number of them. This is one of our favorites.

Teton Pass, WY in the fall.

This is the Teton Pass overlooking Jackson Hole, WY in mid-September. Altitude 8,631 feet. We were up here making our way along the spine of the ridge and looking for geocaches (of course). For the most part, it was a dreary day, cold and windy. As we returned to the trail head, the clouds parted and out came the sun. The fall colors exploded and the far mountains came into view. We have gone to places a number of times to catch the leaves at their peak and always seem to be a bit early or too late. On this day, we blundered right into the height of the fall colors. Ten minutes later, we were chased down the mountain by snow flurries and an abundance of caution. The restrictive photo size in the blog doesn’t do justice to the view. Click this link for a full sized version.

Just off to the left of the photo is Highway 22. Called the Teton Pass Highway, it runs from Jackson Hole to Victor, ID through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The road is steep and winding. Unlike most American mountain ranges, the Tetons do not have foothills or some sort of transition region. They jut straight up from the flat lands of the Snake River Valley.

Every July, Hungry Jack’s General Store in Wilson, WY sponsors the Teton Pass Hill Climb from the store to the pass. Each rider throws in 20 bucks and winner takes all. Although only 5 1/2 miles long, it gains a half mile in elevation with an average grade of 6.7% and a max of 14%. We’ll stick to Rails-to-Trails.

The photo was taken near coordinates N43.4973° W110.956°. Click on the coordinates for an interactive Google Map.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

The Unbelievable Exploits of Captain Robert Stobo

This entry has a number of hyperlinks to web pages I’ve done on those battles. If you like history, be sure to check them out.

One of the fascinating things about studying history is discovering facts and people that had a material effect on the events of the day but have been lost to time. One of those people from the French and Indian War was Captain Robert Stobo, whose exploits could have been an epic adventure novel if they weren’t true. Pictures of Captain Stobo are nowhere to be found, although several books have been written about him.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1726, he migrated to Virginia to become a merchant like his father. As it turned out, he wasn’t crazy about a merchant’s life. His real call was the military. His family was friends with Governor Dinwiddie and Robert was commissioned a Captain in the Virginia militia. Shortly thereafter, he led an infantry company that reinforced George Washington at Fort Necessity, arriving just before the battle. When Washington surrendered to the French, he was required to provide them with two officers to hold as hostages to ensure the return of French prisoners taken weeks earlier at the skirmish at Jumonville Glen. Robert Stobo volunteered to be one of them.

Taken back to Fort Duquesne, Stobo was free to roam the grounds, since he was not a POW. He drank and played cards with the French and became fluent in the language, all the while gathering detailed information about the fort and its defenders. When the British refused to release the French prisoners, Stobo was sent to the French stronghold at Quebec. Before he left, he convinced a friendly Indian to deliver his intelligence to the British. He did and it ended up with General Braddock, who had it with him the day of his defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela. When the French ransacked what the British had left behind, they opened Braddock’s field trunk and found Stobo’s letters and diagrams of the fort. Stobo had signed them to prove their authenticity but in doing so, signed his own death warrant.

Stobo_Fort_Diagram

Captain Stobo’s diagram of Fort Duquesne. It was smuggled to General Braddock, then found by the French in his field trunk after his defeat. Stobo had also written several long letters about the French defenses and troops. These were found also.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Stobo was doing his thing again. He had the run of the place and was allowed to mingle in the upper echelons of French-Canadian society. He was in the process of amassing a dossier on the French stronghold – right up to the point where they put him in chains and threw him in the dungeon as a spy. He was tried and convicted of espionage and sentenced to the gallows. The sentence was commuted to “long term confinement” by King Louis XV.

Stobo languished in Quebec’s dungeons for three years. He escaped twice only to be re-captured shortly after. Each time, his conditions became harsher. His third escape attempt was successful. On May 1, 1759, Stobo and seven others escaped from the dungeon and found a canoe on the riverbank. They canoed for days up into the treacherous Gulf of St Lawrence. There, they happened upon an anchored French schooner, which they hijacked at night, putting the crew off in the canoe. Along with a French captain and pilot, they sailed into the harbor at Louisburg, Nova Scotia 36 days and 700 miles after their escape.

StoboEscape3

Robert Stobo’s escape route May 1 to June 5, 1759. 36 days after their escape from the dungeons of the Quebec Citadel, Stobo and his party arrived in Louisburg, Nova Scotia. They sailed into the British port in a French schooner they had commandeered in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The British were preparing to lay seige to Quebec. Stobo provided valuable information to the British commander, General Wolfe, and wanted to get back into the fight. Wolfe said no and sent him back to Williamsburg, Virgina, where he got a hero’s welcome. The final Battle of Quebec came on September 13, 1759, after a three month siege. It lasted only 15 minutes on the Plains of Abraham, but both British General Wolfe and the French commander, General Montcalm, were killed.

By now, it was June 1759 and British General Wolfe was preparing to attack Quebec from his base in Halifax. Stobo gave his detailed intelligence to Wolfe, who used it to modify his plans and successfully take the French bastion. The capture of Quebec in September 1759 broke the back of the French forces in America. Less than a year later, in August 1760, they would lose Montreal and cease hostilities, although a formal peace treaty was still three years away.

Wolfe sent Stobo back to Williamsburg, VA. Arriving there over five years after he had originally left for Fort Necessity, he received a hero’s welcome, all his back pay and a commission in the British army. Stobo returned to the fighting. Commanding a company of British regulars, he saw extensive action in the Caribbean theater. He was seriously wounded while leading an attack on Morro Castle at the entrance to the harbor in Havana, Cuba. Occupation duty in America followed as the British strived to bring order to their new lands. He returned to England in 1768 intent on finishing his army career. However, he quickly became bored with peacetime garrison duty and disillusioned by army politics. A decade of fighting, captivity and depredation had taken their toll. He began to have health problems along with financial difficulties and started drinking heavily.

On June 19, 1770, 44 year old Robert Stobo blew his brains out.

The Palms aka Hoberg’s, Borrego Springs, CA

Movie stars, gangsters and us have something in common.

When Natasha and I retired and hit the road five years ago, we made it a point to seek out unique or interesting places away from tourist venues. Earlier this year, we struck gold in Borrego Springs, CA and a place called The Palms.

The main entrance

Opened in 1946, it was originally called Hoberg’s Desert Resort. In fact, the locals still call it Hoberg’s. Its location well off the beaten path in the Mojave Desert made it a perfect getaway for famous and notorious people in the 40’s and 50’s. Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Cohen all frequented here. Many of the guests flew in to the resort’s private air strip. Those heady days are long gone. Now its patrons are regular folks with nearby hiking, biking, motocross, golf, RV parks and geocaches galore along with a fair supply of munzees and letterboxes.

The resort is very laid back and unpretentious, with eight rooms and two pool-side casitas. It doesn’t even have phones. Cell phone coverage is pretty good and the resort has WiFi and DirecTV.

The front desk at The Palms

The original lodge building was destroyed by fire in 1958 and re-built in classic mid-50’s California modern style. Memorabilia covers the lobby walls and “rat pack” music plays in the background. They could have filmed scenes from The Godfather here. Along with the main lodge were 56 air conditioned bungalows scattered over the 17 acre compound. Those are all gone now except for a couple of ruins. The resort was abandoned in the 1970’s and fell into extreme disrepair. It was scheduled for demolition in 1993 when the current owners stepped in at the last minute and saved it. They restored everything and renamed it The Palms.

It sits on the edge of Anza-Borrego State Park and has unobstructed desert vistas in almost every direction. You can be as active as you want or not at all. The nearby mountains are full of desert bighorn sheep, which can often be seen on drives or hikes. In fact, the word “borrego” is Spanish for those bighorn sheep.

The Pool

The focal point of the resort is its magnificent Olympic-sized pool. For many years after it opened, this was one of the largest swimming pools in southern California. It also has a large hot tub/spa on the deck. At the far end of the pool, there are windows below the water line. There used to be an underground bar here where you could get a drink and watch the mermaids. It is now used for storage although you can still see through the windows. Also notice the desert skyline in the background. The pool is literally just steps from the lodge, which is just to the left of the pool.

The skies here are pitch black at night, so star gazing is a popular activity.

The Red Ocotillo

Another very popular activity – and the one that brought us here – is the food. There are two restaurants here. Inside is the more formal (and more expensive) Crazy Coyote. Outside, shown in this photo, is the Red Ocotillo. This is laid back, informal poolside dining at its best. People come for miles to eat here. After a hard day in the desert, it’s the perfect place to unwind and recover.

This was one of our best off the beaten path finds. It has it all – remoteness, history, uniqueness, geohides, a “coolness factor” and food. If you’d like to check it out, you’ll find them at 2220 Hoberg Rd, Borrego Springs, CA. Here’s a link to their web site. The GPS coordinates are N33.2692° W116.4008°. Click on the hyper-linked coordinates for a Google map.

NOTE TO READERS: Anza-Borrego State Park used to be a hot bed of geocaching. No more. In 2010, the state contacted geocaching (dot)com and directed them to deactivate/remove all physical geocaches in the park. Although they may show up in a search, they are no longer active. There are virtual caches and earth caches that are still available. This restriction was only placed on Anza Borrego Park. Do not despair, however. There are hundreds of geocaches in the 40 mile stretch between Borrego Springs and the Salton Sea, including several long strings of off-road/4×4 geocaches.

Cheers … Boris and Natasha