The Riggs Report: Queen Elizabeth’s perilous California journey
Now Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, her 1983 visit was anything but sunny
As I was reading reports this week of Queen Elizabeth II’s new milestone—officially becoming, at the age of 89, Great Britain’s longest-ruling monarch—it occurred to me that it might be a good drought-busting move to invite her back to California.
There’s a certain bit of history here. When the queen paid her first visit to the West Coast—an 11-day trip back in 1983—it was a rain-soaked journey; an eventful and hazardous trip accompanied by a fierce El Nino system that drenched her entourage and the hapless press corps that covered her stops. The schedule included stops in Sacramento, Los Angeles, the Bay Area and at President Ronald Reagan’s Santa Barbara-area ranch.
I was among the credentialed reporters who were invited aboard the Royal Yacht Brittania after it sailed up the coast of Mexico and docked in San Diego in February of that year. Passing through security, climbing up a ladder in the rain and being ushered through a low doorway, I abruptly came face-to-face with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, who had formed a two-person welcoming committee.
Elizabeth, short and pale, and Philip, tall and athletic, were gracious. But what do you talk to the royals about? What’s the protocol? Of course, it was the weather. I lamented the lack of California sunshine, especially in San Diego. They nodded sympathetically. Then I was collared by a Royal Navy officer and whisked away to the reception.
That initial rain squall was just the beginning of a soggy trip that lasted up and down the state. Heavy seas prevented the yacht from traveling to Santa Barbara. Instead the queen flew there and proceeded to make her security detail queasy by climbing aboard a four-wheel-drive vehicle, crossing a swollen creek and traveling up Refugio Mountain Road to have lunch at Rancho del Cielo, President Reagan’s mountaintop retreat.
The bad weather didn’t keep the crowds away or dampen enthusiasm for the royal visitors. There was a large gathering, under rainy skies, at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse’s sunken gardens to hear the queen’s remarks.
The same followed at other stops in Sacramento and San Francisco. There were soggy visits to Palo Alto and Yosemite National Park.
The queen was a mere 56 years old at the time of that visit and had already been on the throne for 31 years. Now that it’s been almost 64 years, a feat of longevity not likely to be matched, why wait any longer?
There are already projections of another El Nino system this winter that holds the promise of easing California’s drought, replenishing the Sierra snowpack and depleted groundwater. Given what we witnessed in 1983, inviting Queen Elizabeth back might guarantee it.