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 : )

Bali Ha’i May Call You

Luckily, I did not fall in these rice paddies
Things I did on Bali: ate at a secret organic restaurant, swam in hot springs-fed pools at a secluded spa, photographed a misty volcanic lake, rode ojek (motorbike) on windy mountain roads in the pouring rain, fell in a rice paddy, and bribed a police officer.

And that was just one day.

At the end of our stay in Indonesia, we managed to fit in six short but busy days on the island of Bali. Even just the name of the island conjures up a hectic barrage of images and expectations: a sublime tropical isle, relaxing on beautiful sunny beaches, world class surf, fancy resorts, and swinging bars and clubs. And from our own experiences so far in Indonesia, we expected cheap local food, limited western cuisine, touristy shopping areas, and the same hot, muggy weather. Additionally, there was an unknown factor – we were overlapping our stay to hang out with Mel, a friend of my stepmom, who was traveling with several friends we had never met before.

Image by Melinda NorrisThe combination of the novel and the expected that we found was just right. The resort in Seminyak was wonderfully luxurious, especially after weeks in homestays and other relatively humble accommodations. There was plenty of shopping to be done, with great finds everywhere, such as the beautiful batik, handmade by locals in the traditional style. Sometimes it a took a little effort to find, but there was good local food all around, with the usual cheap prices. And the music scene in Ubud was first rate, with a variety of genres played live every night by seriously talented bands in multiple cool bars.

Some of the best parts were completely unexpected. There was more western food at the resort’s expansive breakfast than we had seen in the past two months combined, including many things we had been sorely craving. Mel’s clan of Aussies were the best by far, from her partner, Jason, and her sister, Sue, to her friends Toni and Simone. They were up for anything, with plenty of fun plans and ideas, but also willing to be spontaneous and able to keep smiling no matter what craziness got thrown at us. We enjoyed finding good food together, chatted for hours, and danced the nights away as if we had been at it for years.
Image thanks to Mel and Jason

Of course, there were some not so pleasant surprises as well. The beaches were not much cleaner than others we had seen on Java, and the waves weren’t very impressive either, although we didn’t look very hard for the real surf spots. The expected hot muggy weather was broken up by rain, often ending an afternoon out. We didn’t let that dampen our spirits too much, but the hassling from locals selling things was downright aggravating. The Kuta shopping area and adjacent beach were the worst – in many areas you could barely go ten steps without being set upon by hawkers shoving cheap sunglasses or sarongs in your face. Many shop workers tried to harass you into buying something, often lying to your face and inventing ridiculous stories to go along with their outrageous prices.

Yet despite having a few of the worst experiences, our time on Bali included some of my all time favorite memories of the whole trip. One of the top experiences was our trip on ojek out of Ubud to the volcanic crater lake. The sun was warm overhead but the breeze was refreshingly cool. We cruised slowly along the straight, flat, smooth road past craft shops and terraced rice paddies, with increasingly more impressive views of old volcanic cones, raising their green tops amid a perfect blue sky. The leisurely pace set by our friendly and helpful tour guide allowed us all to enjoy the scenery and for Mel to take plenty of photos. It was the right kind of adventure, just like our time in Bali – a wonderful blend of the expected and unexpected. To put it simply, I was Happy.

Bali may 2010.jpg