From Salinas eastward was fairly uneventful, a series of pretty harbors and secluded anchorages interspersed with short little morning motor sails. Nothing really happened until we turned the southeast corner of the island and began to make our way north. That afternoon we put in at Roosevelt Roads, a large U.S. naval base with a marina, open to navy retirees, tucked in at the back of the harbor. We figured with Nate's past service in the Marine Corps, we'd have no trouble and and hoped his military ID would allow us to pick up some cheap provisions at the PX there.
As we entered the mouth of the harbor, pushed along on a light tailwind, not another ship could be seen stirring. The harbor was empty. No patrol boats or helicopters circled near. No gray naval ships lined the concrete piers. No fishing boats or dinghies broke the silence or rippled the waters with their wake. We could see the marina at the far end but no activity there either. The place looked abandoned.
We dropped anchor among some other boats near the marina docks and went merrily about the business of tidying the boat and readying the dinghy for an adventure ashore. We were close enough now that we could see there were some people about, old men mostly, puttering around the docks. I also noticed a white Dodge Durango with a blue police light flashing in its windshield. Two men leaned against it, arms folded, lost in conversation, one dressed in blue, the other in black. I gave them no more notice.
By the time we were ready to go ashore, the man in blue was gone. The man in black had moved out to the end of dock closest to us. He shouted at us and motioned us over in an abrupt, military fashion. Nate and I went over, finally sensing that something was amiss. As we drew closer, the man pointed at us and then at the edge of the dock beside his feet. He then motioned for us to slow down.
By now, we were the only ones in the marina. His was the only dock. We were only moving at three miles an hour. I interpreted these actions as an assertion of authority. He was giving unnecessary orders so there would be no confusion as to who was in charge. It set me on edge. We tied up to the dock at his feet and remained seated in the dinghy while he loomed over us, he steel toed boots blocking our exit. He was dressed entirely in black except for his brown leather gun holster. He asked what we thought we were doing.
Nate, more familiar than I with military rules and the men who enforce them, perhaps sensing my immediate dislike and distrust of this man, perhaps sensing the true powerlessness of our situation, spoke before I could. He explained the situation, explained our assumptions, apologized continuously, handed up his military ID. Still angered by our impolite reception, I asked if we'd done something wrong.
"I'll say you have," he spat back at me. "You've broken onto an active naval base." Nate shot me a meaningful look and I bit my tongue. "If you'd been a few minutes longer," he continued, "I wouldn't just be talking to you. You'd have been handcuffed and then maced." Again, I bit my tongue. He seemed mean spirited enough to do it.
While Nate continued his apologizing and recounted his active service record, a few questions ran through my mind. If what we'd done was such a big deal, why hadn't we been stopped by a patrol boat on the way in? Why hadn't anyone made any effort until now to let us know? If he was such a big deal, why had he had to sit on the dock for half an hour waiting for us to come to him?
The man decided to cut us a brake and let us stay and use the marina services free of charge and even offered to loan Nate the use of his truck to go to the grocery store on account of Nate's being a "warrior". That night, outside the marina showers, we ran into an old navy veteran living on his boat. He explained things to us. The base was in the process of being decommissioned. It was already almost completely closed down. That's why there was no one around, no ships in the harbor, no patrol boats to stop us at the mouth.