Great Big Sea

This and the next few posts are being added significantly delayed because Paul forgot the email address he set up to post to this blog by email.

May 19th, 2016

Yello Fin TunaWe’ve hardly been offshore a week, but it feels like much longer. Watch schedules break up the sleeping hours into more “nights” than there really are. The routine cycles on, and the sea stays unchanged: vast, rolling swells of deep cerulean blue. Outside of our instruments there are no visual cues to delineate our progress. We could as easily be 50 as 500 miles from land. The idea that people are awaiting word of our lives makes it less empty. News is more fun when shared: ‘Can’t wait to tell everyone we caught a yellow fin tuna,’ and ‘The lee cloth sewing turned out really well.’ The simple act of sending the OK message on the SPOT tracker brings a flicker of tangible connection; when the light indicates the message was sent I can clearly imagine the expectation and joy it brings to the people I care about. Moments like that are our best contact with humanity since we have not seen another ship or an airplane for several days, even just on the radar. The moral of the story: We’re having fun but are thinking of you, dear reader.

P.S. Also, chucking compost overboard is WAY more fun than it seems 🙂

The Blue Trance

Sunset Leaving San Diego

“What day is it?”

There was a long pause.

The moment of silence dragged on as the three of us looked at each other, calculating furiously in our heads. Even when we started to venture guesses that the others agreed on, we had to verify our conclusion in the ship’s log and additionally consult the calendar to determine the right day of the week. After all that was done, we were left wondering, ‘What difference does it make?’.

It turns out the answer was, ‘Not much’. We were out sailing far off the coast of Baja Mexico. A few days before, we had finally finished our repairs, upgrades, and general resupply and preparation in San Diego. We had hoped to take things easy and sail  instead of motoring on our way out, but we wanted to do our check-in process in Ensenada, just over the border. Time was running out on our cat’s health certificate, good for just ten days from the date of issue. Also, the next day was Friday, and if we didn’t get in early enough, we worried that we’d have to wait until business hours again on Monday. That time, it made a difference.

Other cruisers do their check-in further down at Cabo San Lucas, but we chose Ensenada because of the cat health certificate, and for peace of mind while anchoring and going ashore on our way down the coast. It was additionally appealing because all of the various offices were together in one building, compared to other cities where they were spread all over the place. This made the process more streamlined, although we did have to wait around a bit since the Port Captain’s desk was empty at first. Some of our rush was unnecessary since the customs officers didn’t want to see the health certificate at all, even when we offered it. They barely even noticed what we had checked off on our paperwork; we probably could have written that we brought lots of guns and drugs and they would have just smiled and filed the forms away.

We were still glad to finish our exercise in government bureaucracy before the weekend, and in about two hours total, not counting a lunch break. It felt good to be done rushing around, and even better to sail a bit the next afternoon, instead of running the motor. We ran out of wind later on, and had to listen to the roar of the diesel beast overnight, but starting the next day we had plenty of breeze that lasted us all the way to Bahia de Tortugas.

That passage is still my favorite to date. Nothing especially interesting happened; no particularly memorable or happy events. The day we arrived, I could barely remember what had happened in the few days before – it just all melted together, making for a somewhat sparse journal entry for the middle day of the passage. We just sailed on and on; long blue days drifting by between brilliant starry nights. Sometimes there was more wind, sometimes less. We were long out of sight of land, or anything else for that matter.

What I did enjoy was the calmed state I found out in the sea. It was a quiet that was only partly related to the lack of engine noise. Most days (and nights) I spent simply sitting and looking at the waves, from the foredeck by day or the cockpit at night. It was mesmerizing – one long blue trance that I was happy to slip in to. Out at sea the boat seemed small, and any sense of urgency was lost in the vastness of sky and water.

Paul Checking Weather Models, Jen CookingIt wasn’t as if I became a zombie, or lacked drive or focus. We all still went about the daily activities onboard; trimming sails, adjusting course, taking notes in the ship’s log and making food every so often. Things also weren’t perfect the whole time – I would have liked the weather to have been slightly warmer and we discovered a small leak in the bow. The electric bilge pump became useless when its hose detached due to an aged coupling part, and we began a regular schedule of pumping the bilge manually. But the leak was small enough that even that became part of the routine, slipping away from the realm of things to worry about. The ocean was simply big enough to absorb all concerns, or put them in a new perspective.

Maintaining a laid-back attitude was not new to me, in general; I have always had a relatively steady disposition, and have become increasingly mellow over the years. Yet this was a new feeling, a state of peace greater than anything I had experienced before. The sea had reached out and quieted a part of me that I can only describe as my soul. Descartes determined that he existed because there was some entity to question that existence. I have often wondered if there was such a thing as a soul, but since that voyage I am rather convinced that they might exist because I felt mine becalmed by the sea.

Anchored in Bahia de TortugasAfter experiencing that, what did it matter what day it was? We had nothing to do on arrival, no agenda or schedule to follow. We would get there whenever we got there, and even that seemed to have less and less importance. With plenty of food and water, we could have sailed on comfortably for days. Except that we were interested in seeing the town and getting some rest, we could have just kept going and going. We were certainly happy to be in contact with friends and relatives again, but out at sea it felt like the rest of the world would carry on just fine without us.

When a light on the dark horizon could be a distant bright ship or a rising planet, perspectives change. Things that seem important just drift away, and the place that they occupied becomes filled with the wide expanse of ocean and sky. It is one of the best parts of cruising for me, and something that I can enjoy and look forward to on tough days. After all, there’s less that matters out there in the blue trance – not much, anyway.

The Sea (2010-09-22)

After arriving in Avalon and connecting to the world again, a friend asked about the trip. This poem was the result.

The SeaOrange Moon

Remember how you felt out on the water
Just feeling happy to be there, to exist with it?
Close your eyes and feel it again
How big it was, and endless

This is all that and more.

It is cold:
Moonless, starless, foggy nights
Dark except for the phosphorescent sparkle
On each wave, like a thousand fireflies
And our wake, churning up a path of glitter

Or an orange moonset, then so many stars
Dawn comes on the breakfast watch,
The only one that gets better, warmer.

Blue AfternoonIt is warm:
Bathed in sunlight, blue afternoons stretching on and on
Deck naps, anywhere naps.
Reading, sitting, listening to the VHF

Finally shedding layers and layers
Bare feet, surprisingly comfy

It is alive:
Rolling seas, dolphins frolicking before the bow wave
Things that sound so cliche, so overused, overdescribed
I cannot make them new and different, just with words
You have to be there, then you will feel it, you will understand.

Dolphins before the bow wave

Remember, slower pizza’s more luscious

The pizza took a long time.

This wasn’t unexpected – in fact, we had ordered appetizers to stave off our hunger, though they seemed to do more to whet our appetites than satiate them. I think we all agreed in the end that the results were worth putting up with the extended though minor physical discomfort . But it was more than just the experience of Chicago deep dish pizza(a truly epic creation) that made the wait worthwhile. It was the people I was waiting with that made the simple event one of the highlights of the whole trip.

We had been hanging out all weekend, seeing other old friends and making new ones. The night before we had partied hard at Justin and Danielle’s wedding, dancing with wild abandon and generally having a good time. The spirit of camaraderie, of mutual enjoyment of each others’ company, had been building up to the point when we sat down, hungry for pizza.

It wasn’t that we talked about anything deep and meaningful. We laughed at things on TV, threw stuff at each other, joked around. The conversation was as random and shifting as it was silly, funny, and clever. But that was the best part – that was what kept me grinning like an idiot and laughing until my eyes teared up.

As we did our best to finish off the last of the hearty slices, someone joked that if we didn’t eat it all, the pizza would not be self-actualized. We continued to joke about the term and ponder its proper definition as we struggled with our last filling bites. In the context, we really used it to mean “fulfilling the purpose which something was created for”. To that end, the pizza was generally victorious.

But among us, I felt a different sense of completion. There with my close friends, I experienced a wholeness, a feeling of being where I ought to be. It was Happiness – feeling thrilled just be around them, hardly able to wait to hear the next words to come out of their mouths. It was hard not to feel thankful for them, and for all the other friends and family with whom I’ve shared similar experiences.

Not to mention extra gratitude for the slow pizza that made it all possible : )