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By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

CAMP PENDLETON -(CA)- About 800 Marines from the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion gathered in front of Camp Pendleton’s San Onofre Community Center to take in the smells of an early Thanksgiving dinner provided by San Clemente Presbyterian Church on Friday.

Peter Carissimo, the church’s head volunteer chef for the event, asked a Marine sergeant waiting in line if it smelled good, kiddingly telling the Marine it was all from Pendleton’s mess hall.

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Marine Cpl. Isaac Rivera, with his wife, Nadica, and daughter Isabella Marie, work their way through the Thanksgiving chow line Friday afternoon.
DAVID BRO, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
“Oh, no it isn’t, sir,” the sergeant said. “I work in the mess and it for sure didn’t come out of there.”

San Clemente Presbyterian holds several events every year for its “adopted: Marine unit, but Carissimo said the Thanksgiving meal is by far the most complicated. It brings together about 300 volunteers from all over south Orange County to prepare 100 turkeys, 600 pounds of stuffing and yams and 50 gallons of gravy. Even San Clemente’s Fisherman’s seafood restaurant helped out this year, cooking 28 turkeys in its kitchen.

SEE A SLIDE SHOW HERE.

Volunteers were especially eager to serve this year, knowing that in the coming week, at least one segment of 44 Marines will deploy to Afghanistan.

For Friday’s event, about 40 people served the meal. The youngest volunteer, 5-year-old Abigail Gratteau, helped place tablecloths on long tables set up by Marines earlier in the day.

Maj. Tony Mitchell, executive officer of 1st CEB, spoke to the assembled Marines, counting the things he is most thankful for. But he added some sad news and words of caution – earlier in the morning, a Marine had died in a motorcycle accident on I-5 just outside the Basilone entrance to the base.

“Remember to be thankful for everyone, and especially now with this reminder,” Mitchell said. “There are some pretty sad Marines somewhere on this base right now.”

Event organizer Chuck Herpick, a Navy veteran, thanked the Marines for their service. Then came Carissimo, known by 1st CEB members for his hand in a recent spaghetti dinner.

“We enjoy doing what we do for all of you because we know and won’t forget what you all do for us and protecting our country,” Carissimo said.

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World War II vets in San Clemente spend Veterans Day distributing handmade Buddy Poppies to symbolize their solidarity, brotherhood and sacrifice while recalling experiences of their service.

By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

SAN CLEMENTE -(CA)- Army veteran Sam Thorndyke, 85, of San Clemente is on a mission. He’s pretty sure that if he lives to be 105 he’ll be the oldest living veteran of World War II’s Pacific theater.

On Friday, Thorndyke, a member of San Clemente’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7142, sat with fellow Army WWII veteran George Key, great-great-grandson of “Star-Spangled Banner” author Francis Scott Key, in front of the Ralphs supermarket off Camino de los Mares in San Clemente to hand out Buddy Poppies in honor of Veterans Day.  Buddy Poppies are lapel decorations made by vets as a symbol of solidarity and brotherhood and a remembrance of their sacrifice.

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Judy Brown of San Clemente accepts a Buddy Poppy from World War II veterans George Key, right, and Sam Thorndyke on Veterans Day. “We are so proud of our veterans,” Brown said.
DAVID BRO, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

WHERE TO GET A BUDDY POPPY

VFW Post 7142 is handing out Buddy Poppies on Friday and Saturday outside San Clemente’s two Albertsons supermarkets on Avenida Pico and the Ralphs and Stater Bros. stores on Camino de los Mares.

Donations will be accepted to support five veterans-related charities.

For more information, call George Key at 949-498-2489.

“The best part about this is the stories we get to share with people. We hear some great stories,” said Key, who served as an engineer and participated in five campaigns across Europe after landing at Omaha Beach in France.

Capistrano Beach resident Katherine Sgambellone said her grandfather fought as a German soldier in the muddy trenches of Europe during World War I.  She held her hands to her face and covered her mouth, illustrating how her grandfather told her is the best way to light a cigarette on a battlefield without getting shot. Opposing snipers would see the lighted end and shoot for its glow, she said.

The veterans around her nodded in agreement.

Thorndyke was an infantryman from 1944 to 1946 and was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions during the campaign to liberate the Philippines  from Japanese control.

Thorndyke recalled being on the Philippine island of Luzon when his captain asked for volunteers as scouts to lead a patrol through the jungle.  A buddy of his put his hand up.

His buddy was shot in the neck during the patrol, though the bullet went through without causing major damage and left just two little scars.

“Don’t ever volunteer,” Thorndyke told the soldier upon his return.

Telling the story Friday, he shared a laugh with Key when someone suggested Thorndyke should have given the advice before his friend volunteered.

Thorndyke held up his hands and smiled. “You just have to accept your fate and hope for the best,” he said.

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Class at San Clemente High School that tried to send a miniature trimaran on a course to Hawaii in April plans to try again in December with two new boats equipped with altered designs, GPS units, digital cameras, navigation lights and a path-tracking Facebook page.

wiki-early-rop-boat

By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

SAN CLEMENTE -(CA)- A 3-D model-making class that tried to sail a miniature trimaran to Hawaii in April is at it again.

Instructor Malcolm Wilson’s Regional Occupational Program students are meeting twice a week at San Clemente High School with plans to launch two new 6-foot-long foam and fiberglass boats in early December, probably from Capistrano Beach, where the spring attempt began.

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Regional Occupational Program 3-D model-making student Ian Sprenger stands beside the trimaran Wilson in April before its launch at Capistrano Beach for a hoped-for voyage to Hawaii. It was found three weeks later washed up at Laguna Beach.
DAVID BRO, REGISTER FILE PHOTO

SEE A SLIDE SHOW HERE.

In April, 80 students from several south Orange County high schools put together a miniature sail-powered trimaran named Wilson, after Tom Hanks’ volleyball buddy in the movie “Cast Away.” They designed the bright yellow craft to sail on a predesigned course to Hawaii, though it was found three weeks later about 200 yards off Laguna Beach.

The boat, a sort of “message in a bottle,” held a log book in a waterproof compartment so that anyone who found it could write where, when and how it was found.

This semester, 50 different students modernized the concept with onboard GPS units and a Facebook page (Team Wiki Wiki.webloc) that will illustrate the projected path south across the Pacific Ocean. In addition, a pair of digital cameras to take timed photos along the voyage will be mounted on the vessels, as well as battery-powered LED navigation lights.

The boats, already shaped in foam and in the process of having fiberglass applied, are the products of what project leader and San Clemente High School senior Dallas Krick, 17, said were several weeks of class study on what ancient mariners used in their quest to conquer the waves. The students settled on a design that most resembles what Philippine fishermen have traditionally used, with features especially constructed to get through big waves.

This year’s effort is spearheaded by the monohulled Wiki-Wiki (“speedy” in Hawaiian), with a larger and heavier fixed keel and a wing foil instead of a traditional sail. Malcolm Wilson said he’d like to provide space on the vessel for a sponsor logo in exchange for helping with the project’s estimated $1,000 cost.

The other boat, the NeNe, is a sleeker, slightly smaller and faster trimaran than the more stable Wiki-Wiki. The NeNe, named after Hawaii’s state bird, will have a more traditional sloop sail rig, with sail material already donated by sailors with boats at Dana Point Harbor.

San Clemente High junior Daniel Therrien, 17, and senior Matt Cox, 17, worked together this past week on the final shaping of the NeNe in the hallway outside their classroom, with shavings of foam swirling around them.

Before joining the class, Cox had thought of signing up for a restaurant course.

“I’d rather build a boat than a hamburger,” he said.

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About 250 people turn out in San Clemente to talk to employees of the nuclear plant about its operation and safety. Some people who said they were unsure about nuclear power beforehand say they still are afterward.

By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

SAN CLEMENTE -(CA)- Jenessa Stemke felt so strongly about attending Monday evening’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station“open house” in San Clemente that she rode her bicycle from Riverside.

Stemke, 23, is too young to remember the Chernobyl nuclear-plant accident in 1986 in the former Soviet Union but says she became aware of the dangers of nuclear energy after the damage to the Fukushima plant in Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Now she is determined to find out as much as she can.

Article Tab: R.J. Prescott, right, a licensed nuclear operator who works for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, has a disagreement with Gary Headrick, left, of San Clemente Green over Headrick's poster depicting the 30-foot-tall sea wall at San Onofre as incapable of protecting against the type of tsunami that damaged Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant.
R.J. Prescott, right, a licensed nuclear operator who works for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, has a disagreement with Gary Headrick, left, of San Clemente Green over Headrick’s poster depicting the 30-foot-tall sea wall at San Onofre as incapable of protecting against the type of tsunami that damaged Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.
DAVID BRO, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Her mission Monday, she said, was to speak face-to-face with people who run the San Onofre plant about 2½ miles south of San Clemente. The self-described fanatic for sustainable energy said she left the event unconvinced that the energy San Onofre provides to Southern California homes and businesses is safe for residents.

According to the plant’s operator, Southern California Edison, San Onofre’s two nuclear reactors are capable of generating 2,200 megawatts of power, enough to meet the needs of 1.4 million homes at a given time.

“It’s located near an earthquake fault, and (an earthquake) is coming,” Stemke said.

Edison has said the plant was designed to withstand a magnitude 7 earthquake – more than the largest quake the nearest fault (five miles from the plant) was expected to produce at the time the plant was planned. Its first reactor was commissioned in 1968.

Stemke also expressed concern about San Onofre’s documented safety violations.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission letter dated Sept. 1, 2010, stated that while SONGS passed its “regulatory response,” the NRC sited 33 human-performance issues along with 19 “problem identification and resolution” issues. The same letter cited continued concern about employees’ fears of retaliation from supervisors in reporting safety problems at the plant.

SONGS spokesman Scott Andresen estimated about 250 people attended the three-hour event at the San Clemente Community Center, where about 50 plant employees were on hand to talk with attendees about how nuclear energy is made, security, waste disposal, safety, evacuation routes, emergency preparedness and siren alerts. In addition, there was a dinner buffet as well as children’s face painting and crafts.

SEE A SLIDE SHOW HERE.

The “open house” was the third in a series of such events in the past year. Previous exhibits were held in Oceanside and at San Clemente High School. Another is planned for Oct. 29 at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center.

Dan and Tina McIntosh moved to San Clemente from Minnesota a year ago. They were wondering more about earthquakes until they signed real estate papers acknowledging their new home’s proximity to SONGS. They attended Monday’s event because of curiosity about nuclear power. Their biggest safety concern, they said, is whether the plant is secure against a terrorist attack.

“We don’t feel fearful,” Tina McIntosh said. “We wanted to see how it works.”

Jeff and Daisy Howell of Capistrano Beach said they support nuclear power and attended Monday because they wanted to find out more about how the generators work.

“I am a visual person,” Daisy Howell said. “I have to talk to someone. … I learned the new sirens have seven different sounds now.”

Gary Headrick, a leader of environmental group San Clemente Green, a vocal opponent of nuclear power, joined 10 to 15 people with similar views in lining the entrance to the Community Center to hand out information and hold up colorful placards describing their opposition to SONGS.

“I am reporting to the NRC the safety concerns of seven people at the plant because they are afraid of retaliation,” Headrick said.

Sylvia Hassard-Johnson of San Clemente said she hasn’t made up her mind yet about nuclear power. Her husband, Jerome Johnson, a FedEx pilot, said he’s in favor of it. The couple have two elementary-school-age children and wanted them to check out the exhibit for themselves.

Hassard-Johnson said that although much information from both sides of the issue is available online and in print, it’s good to see the people involved.

Still, she wasn’t relying on what she saw and heard at the exhibit Monday. “They (SONGS) are going to say what they want us to hear,” Hassard-Johnson said.

She said she’s still waiting to learn more about San Onofre’s safety preparedness, especially after Fukushima, and its effects on the environment.

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A helping hand from Dad.

 

 

CAMP PENDLETON -(CA)- More than 700 Marine families at Camp Pendleton received free back-to-school supplies, clothes and shoes over the weekend, courtesy of area chapters of the Assistance League, a national nonprofit organization.

For several hours Saturday and Sunday, families, assisted by personal shoppers, made the rounds at the San Onofre Community Center at the Marine base, selecting notebooks, pens, paper, hygiene kits with toothbrushes and toothpaste, and two complete school outfits for boys and girls from kindergarten to 12th grade. Goods worth about $75,000 were distributed.

Marine kids hit the rack.

Marine Sgt. Natan Nagler helps his son Andrew, 6, pick out a pair of jeans during the Assistance League’s back-to-school charity event at the San Onofre Community Center at Camp Pendleton.

“It’s brilliant; the families are so grateful,” said former British Royal Marine Anthony Kay of Oceanside, now a U.S. Marine Corps community-service recreational assistant at Camp Pendleton. “The organization, with time slots and appointments, makes everything run smoothly.”

 

Already a long day and it's only been 15 minutes.


Ann Steinhilper, Assistance League of Capistrano Valley chapter chairwoman for Camp Pendleton, said six other chapters also participated to make this year’s back-to-school event the biggest since it began five years ago. The Laguna BeachSaddleback Valley, Temecula Valley, Rancho San Dieguito, North Coast San Diego and Inland North Coast (San Diego) chapters joined Capistrano Valley, each working about 50 hours over two weeks to assemble the project. Steinhilper said each chapter was responsible for selecting, purchasing and delivering goods to the Community Center, using money raised throughout the year at fundraisers and donation drives, as well as through grants for nonprofits.

Shaylee Wallace, 13, of Oceanside welcomed the effort with a big smile, saying what a help the new clothes would be this school year.

Danielle Kidder, 12, attended with her father, Marine Staff Sgt. Warren Kidder of the 7th Engineer Support Battalion. She said she was happy with the two new tops she got, especially a bright purple sweat shirt.

 

New jeans are definitely worth a big smile

Sheri Burns, a Marine Corps community-service worker who has a son in the Marines, said there’s no doubt the event raises the spirits of Marine families and expresses how the surrounding community appreciates what the Marines do for their country.

“It’s just a good thing to do, and giving things is another way for people to say ‘Thank you’ to the families of the deployed Marines,” Burns said. “It really helps out.”

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Out for a cruise with Evelyn.


SAN CLEMENTE -(CA)- Brooke Bedard of San Clemente knows firsthand what Relay For Life is all about. She remembers five years ago, when she was 13, arriving home from Shorecliffs Middle School in San Clemente with a numb arm and a bad headache.

She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A week later, she had a room at CHOC Children’s hospital getting chemotherapy and worrying about losing her hair. Chemo and radiation treatments took down the tumor wrapped around her trachea, and now, at 18, she’ll be studying business marketing at Chico State University in the fall.

In the meantime, she was captain of the “All Night for the Fight” team at this weekend’s San Clemente Relay For Life, an annual fundraising walk/run for the American Cancer Society in which members of teams take turns traveling the track at San Clemente High School’s Thalassa Stadium for 24 hours to raise pledges from donors. It’s one of many such events held around the country each year.

Just hav'n fun out here boss....

From 10 a.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday, 46 teams totaling 480 people participated in San Clemente, raising $29,187, the event’s website said Sunday. Donations can still be made online here.

The teams spent Saturday morning before the event setting up themed “campsites,” illustrating, honoring and remembering those who have cancer, survived it or succumbed to it. There were crafts, live music and games such as “Ta Ta Toss,” a breast-cancer-awareness activity in which participants could make a “basket” by throwing ping-pong balls into decorated bras mounted on a board.

Greg Roberts of San Clemente Presbyterian Church‘s “Stampeding for a Cure” team, honoring 5-year-old cancer patient Taylor Uresti, said the team’s focus is to provide emotional support not only for people with cancer but for their families as well.

It doesn't look like 30 miles, but that's what the odometer says...

“When we get tired (during the relay), we can rest,” Roberts said. “Families with cancer are battling 24/7. We’re out to support each other.”

Shea Weber of Dewey Weber Surfboards in San Clemente remembers how Japanese surfer Shu Oikawa, who died in 2007 at age 40 from stomach cancer, would bow before contests with his hands together and in a very serious tone exclaim, “I will defeat you.” Then he would break into a big smile and laugh.

“Shu loved the ocean and surfing,” Weber said. “Language and culture were no barrier for him in sharing that love.”

That's Shu in the photo...

Jessica Forino, 18, a 2011 graduate of Aliso Niguel High School, helped organize members of Aliso Niguel’s girls cross country team for the Relay For Life. The event’s motto, “Celebrate, remember and fight back,” is a good description of what a cancer patient’s life is like, she said. It’s even comparable to her team’s experience during the 24 hours of the relay, she added.

“Every part of the day is a different emotion,” Forino said. “We are all together walking the track, sharing, living our lives together. At the end of the day, it’s dark, and with the (traditional) candlelight vigil, we remember, we have tears, and tomorrow, when the sun comes up, we go back to the fight.”

There is always something to do.

For Bedard, though she’s won several battles, the war isn’t over yet. She still has the little tattoos used to register the radiation machines, and she goes for check-ups about every four months. Bedard looks forward to when the check-ups will be once a year. To her, hospitals represent a form of imprisonment.

“You have to know you’re going to get through it,” she said. “I appreciate everything now. I remember I came back to school with a wig, but looks don’t matter. It’s what’s inside.”

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"I try to honor God in everything."

DANA POINT – (CA) – Donors and fundraisers who played a big role in helping the Maddie James Foundation raise $1 million in about three months to help fund an upcoming Ocean Institute learning center in honor of the late Capistrano Beach girl were rewarded Sunday night with dinner with pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, who inspired the recent biographical movie “Soul Surfer.”

Hamilton, 21, of Hawaii, who became known worldwide after losing her arm at age 13 in a shark attack in 2003, hosted the dinner at the Ocean Institute. She learned about Maddie during the 5-year-old’s fight with an inoperable brain tumor that led to her death in March.

The James' have waited a long time to have something to smile about.

Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton, 21, of Hawaii, who lost her left arm in a shark attack when she was 13, says a blessing at a dinner she hosted Sunday evening at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. The event honored key donors and fundraisers who helped the Maddie James Foundation meet its $1 million goal toward the institute’s upcoming Maddie James Seaside Learning Center.

“How can your heart not go out to this little girl?” Hamilton said. “We share the same love – the love of the ocean.”

Maddie, who counted the Ocean Institute among her favorite places, often drew pictures of sea creatures she learned about on trips to the institute.

Fourteen donors were honored Sunday, receiving a lei – the traditional Hawaiian symbol of friendship – along with a T-shirt and a big hug from the 6-foot-tall Hamilton.

The foundation in May reached its fundraising goal for the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center. Dan Stetson, director of the Ocean Institute, said construction will begin in the fall.

She could not have had a bigger smile.

Maddie’s father, Collie James, said about $600,000 of the total was raised by individual donors like those honored Sunday, mostly as a result of their work setting up sponsorship teams and raising awareness through events such as the “A Mile for Maddie” walk in May, which the foundation plans to present again next year as a continuing effort to support operation of the learning center and to promote other ways to raise awareness of the ocean among children. The inaugural walk May 14 from Strand Beach to the Ocean Institute attracted about 1,000 people and raised $80,000.

“I just want to really thank Bethany for coming and making it so special for these donors,” James said. “It’s another example of how people from so many diverse backgrounds can come together to support learning about the ocean and this dream of our daughter.”

Zachary Alderson, 6, of San Clemente headed up about 50 people for the “Sea Turtle” team during the “Mile for Maddie” event, raising about $15,000. Zachary shared a desk in kindergarten with Maddie at St. Anne School in Laguna Niguel.

Good eats came from Zov's in Tustin.

Zachary’s father, Justin, said his son stayed up past 11 p.m. the day before the event to hand-color each team member’s sea turtle flag.

“We’d have ‘Change Day,’ where all the change from a purchase went into a bucket,” Alderson said. “He did everything – fliers, grandparents … it was constant.”

Kajsa James, Maddie’s mother, met Hamilton for the first time Sunday evening, sharing a hug and a few tears.

“People lose their children every day and not everyone gets a building named after them or someone like Bethany to help out,” Kajsa James said. “Now we have this place to bring children who can learn about loving the ocean as much as my daughter did.”

Hamilton, who said she sent messages about Maddie’s story to her fans and friends through Twitter and Facebook, said, “As sad as it is, it brings the community together.”

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Bring'n it in.

CAMP PENDLETON -(CA)- The San Clemente Heritage Foundation, which supports Semper Fi Park, The Marine Monument, attended an open house, along with City of San Clemente officials and Chamber of Commerce members, hosted by the foundation’s adopted US Marine Helicopter Light Attack Squadron, “Scarface” (Hover Cover)- HMLA 367, at Camp Pendleton on Friday morning.

Big shoulders for a big job.

Guests were briefed by Marine pilot, and 2010 Marine Aviator of the Year, Captain Gregory Youngberg, on the squadron’s history, equipment, mission and capability.  The group was also addressed by Squadron Commanding Officer and past Marine Aviator of the Year, Lt. Col. Carlton Hasle, explaining the unit’s distinction in leading the largest Helicopter operation since the Vietnam War, in Marjah, Afghanistan during their last deployment in 2010.

Don't tread on me.

The group was shown how Marine Corps pilots are trained with night vision goggles and actually got to test them out in specially designed “dark rooms” complete with small scaled terrain models that display roads, bridges, buildings, hills and forests as seen by chopper pilots in flight.

US Marines as a general rule, improvise, adapt and overcome.

Attendees were also shown and allowed to “fly” in the same flight simulators Marine pilots spend up to several hours a week to fine tune and sharpen their skills.

Chamber of Commerce member and former Marine, Burton Brown, “flew” second seat in a Huey Cobra simulator gunship with only a little help and a proud handshake afterwards from 367 Marine pilot Captain Ferrone. “Scarface” HMLA 367 is the first and only squadron in the US military to have the newest upgraded four bladed Huey “Yankee” utiltiy helicopter and the Huey “Zulu” Cobra gunships along with a state of the art flight simulator for each chopper.  The upgrade basically takes the regular two blade models, commonly recognized in any Vietnam war movie, adding two more blades, giveing the aircraft more power, lift and stability, which is a critical with the latest technology advances in weaponry.

Civilian Simulator Program Director and former Marine Helicopter pilot, Jack Welch, says the units cost about 20 million dollars each and have been on the drawing board for last 15 years.

“No one else in the world has this, and they won’t…it’s all made in the United States because we are the best…no one in the world can compare.” Welch said.

Practice makes perfect.

Squadron CO, Lt. Col. Hasle presented San Clemente Mayor Lori Donchak with a large glass framed “Thank You” with photos, patches and signed by everyone from “Scarface” HMLA 367, stating how much the City’s support means to the unit, while committing to speaking again at the City’s 4th of July festivities.

“Last year they said it would be around 400 people, and it was more like 10,000, so even though I am a little suspicious, I’ll be there.” Lt. Col. Hasle said with a big smile.

Its got to be something to do with the uniform.

Finally, the group was taken out to the flight line through the unit’s hanger bay to watch as squadron choppers were brought in, landing so that everyone could climb inside and check them out and ask questions first hand.  Chamber of Commerce member Steve Ynzunza said he is absolutely sure the Marines put taxpayer monies to good use after what he saw on Friday morning.

A group for all seasons.

“We see these same helicopters fly over San Clemente, up the coast all the time and you just can’t really see what they are actually all about until you are this close, its just amazing.” Ynzunza said.

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George Fortin and his amazing machine.

SAN CLEMENTE,- (CA)- After President Barack Obama said early in his presidency that we, as a nation, must start building things again, San Clemente real estate broker George Fortin went to work to build an electric go-kart from scratch in the garage of his Talega home.

In November, a year and $4,000 later, he finished the 20-horsepower, zero-emission vehicle he calls the Z-Kart. It uses six lead-acid batteries and has a range of 20 miles at speeds of 40 to 50 mph, depending on the gearing installed. With a frame built from recycled polyethylene, it weighs about 300 pounds and can be charged from a regular household electrical outlet in about three hours, Fortin said.

Fortin, 55, said he was inspired not only by the words of the president but also a personal conviction to live “greener.”

“If I can build this using common tools and stuff from local hardware stores, then think of what someone could build with better resources and an engineering degree,” he said.

WATCH A VIDEO FEATURING FORTIN AND THE Z-KART.

His parents learned quickly that no household appliance was safe from their son when he had a screwdriver in his hand. He took apart can openers and hairdryers and even made an electric scooter with the rotisserie motor from his dad’s barbecue.

Fortin, who grew up in Diamond Bar, began “engineering” go-karts when he was about 11, including secretly taking apart his dad’s first gasoline lawn mower.

But he didn’t get serious until he upgraded an old motorized minibike. He said all the adults in the neighborhood had off-road bikes and would regularly ride to the top of a particularly steep hill. Limited by the small motor on his minibike, he was unable to tag along. But he swapped his bike’s 3-horsepower motor for a Briggs & Stratton 8-horsepower model, and soon he was on top of the hill.

“The (bigger) motor was all in pieces when I got it, and when I had it on the bike it was so big, the spark plug came up through the top of the seat. But I made it work,” Fortin said. “Sitting on top of that hill … it was my moment.”

Fortin, who has no formal training in design or engineering, has never stopped making things, with dozens of self-propelled vehicles and go-karts made and pulled apart again – always salvaging the parts to make something better. Trial and error has shown him what works and what doesn’t, including gear ratios, chassis design, suspension and steering assemblies.

Fortin says he is driven by curiosity about how things work and making things people can use efficiently and safely.

“I am just a big kid,” he said.

His first Z-Kart had spoked bicycle wheels, but when the motor torque and tight steering tests kept tearing the wheels off, he redesigned it using dune-buggy wheels with motorcycle tires, along with other refinements.

“I really want to use my story to support making the garage a breeding ground for new ideas,” Fortin said. “Big corporate companies are too bogged down with stuff. The garage is a personal space free from negativity … and politics, where a person with the passion and an idea can be creative. Apple and Microsoft did it.”

Fortin said he has had about 155,000 hits on his YouTube videos featuring the Z-Kart, along with more than 4,000 emails from people inquiring about how to build it themselves. He also has been contacted by San Clemente-based chassis maker Swift Engineering to possibly help take the Z-Kart to the next level.

 

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The Wood brothers hope to chop it up at Willow Springs this Weekend.

SAN CLEMENTE, -(CA)- Brothers generally live the early part of their lives side by side, but Chris and Phil Wood of San Clemente will take it to another level this weekend as they begin their quest for the 2011 Motorcycle Side Car North American Championship.

They plan to compete in 12 races, beginning Saturday and Sunday at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, 20 miles north of Palmdale

 

Some of the people that help to make it happen.

The two lifelong motorsportsmen, originally from Yorkshire, England, arrived in the United States in 1989. Chris Wood, 42, is co-owner of Salon Incognito in San Clemente with his wife, Mary Lee, while Phil Wood, 39, manages a downtown San Clemente tire store along with a family-owned muffler and hot-rod shop.


“When we were kids, with the family we’d all go to the Isle of Man (between Britain and Ireland) on vacation and go to the sidecar races,” Phil Wood said. “When Chris saw it for the first time, he told me, ‘I want to do that one day,’ and so here we are.”

 

Chris Wood show us the button for the rocket launcher.

The pair hope that by season’s end this fall they will have ridden their Swedish-made ART 190-horsepower, $40,000 sidecar into the championship ring with the most points accumulated from this year’s races.

Last year, entering the season halfway through, they placed 10th in the overall standings in the West Coast division of the Sidecar Racers Association (SRA West).

This year the brothers have a new sidecar featuring the latest technology – the same as Formula One race cars, even using the same 105-octane fuel.

Sidecar racing is almost as old as motorcycle racing itself, with championship series held in Europe and the United States every year, beginning officially in 1949.

 

Phil Wood shows off his port side heeling position.

The driver, or “throttleman,” is in charge of the speed and direction of the three-wheeled sidecar using a combination of acceleration and braking, also known as “drift steering,” to point the machine right and left on the closed track.

The passenger, or “monkey,” is responsible for leaning to one side or the other, and often over the bike fractions of an inch off the pavement at high speed, using his body weight to turn the bike.

Speeds reach 80 to 90 mph on the turns and 170 on the straightaways – all with no seat belts. The only protection are gloves, helmets and leather clothes.

 

Wood Brothers Racing in action in Las Vegas last year.

Trust between the throttleman and the monkey is crucial, as well as knowing what your partner is going to do next. That’s why the Woods believe that, as brothers, they have a big advantage;

Crashes most often occur when a team’s critical balance is not perfectly in sync, resulting in the sidecar flipping over and throwing the racers across the track.

“Sidecar racing is everything ‘on’ or everything ‘off’; there is no in between,” Chris Wood said.

He described one of last season’s races in which Phil was hitting him on the back, which Chris thought meant he needed to go faster.

Phil said he was hitting his brother as hard as he could to signal him to stop; the sidecar’s brakes were on fire and flames were coming from under the cowling.

Chris couldn’t see what was happening. “I felt it getting really hot, but I thought it was just the bike,” he said. “We pulled over, threw sand on the fire and at least finished the race. The crowd cheered as we came in … they loved it.”

The brothers say that on a typical weekend, with trips to Las Vegas, Utah or Portland, Ore., usually cost about $750, including gas for travel, entry fees, food and lodging. Unless you blow a motor, which can cost as much as $8,000 to replace, sidecar racing is relatively inexpensive, they say.

 

The Wood brothers are looking for the North American Championship this year.

In addition, the Woods say, the family atmosphere at the track among fans and racers is great, with everyone helping with problems and offering encouragement.

“In sidecar racing, there are no divas, there is no attitude and no potty mouth,” Chris Wood said. “There are several husband-and-wife teams. In the pits we are like one big family.”

The Wood brothers have several area sponsors, including Champion TrikesHi-Tech Collision and Glass CentersEl Camino AutomotiveSC Rider Supply, Naked Monkey and Biker Garage 101.

 

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