Going Back

Over the last 18 months, we’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be going back. As we prepared to depart Seattle, we wondered when we’d be going back there again. Our possessions were divvied accordingly. We faced a similar uncertainty when we left California as to when we’d return for those things we couldn’t fit in Serenity. Throughout the trip, we made decisions on where to visit based on the knowledge that it might be many years before we could go back, if we ever made it back at all.

Before we knew it, our voyage was over and we were going back. But can you really go back to somewhere you’ve never been? Sure, we spent a short weekend in Honolulu ten years ago, but for all intents and purposes, we arrived at a new city. For the last few months, we’ve been going back to ‘normal’ life, or at least out of cruiser mode. We go back to visit friends and family on the mainland as much as we can. We’ve gone back to paychecks and electric bills and this strange thing called getting mail. Back to ubiquitous internet and communication, to beds that hold still at night, and to city life full of fluent English speakers.

The biggest question still remains: When will we go back to cruising? The answer is: we don’t know, but not anytime soon. Even if we rushed to save up and prepare, it would be many years before it could become a reality. So in the meanwhile, we will go back to the land. We will search Hawaii for a place to call home, a place we will cherish going back to. Maybe we’ll only go back for a little, or maybe we’ll return to being landlubbers forever. Whoever we are and become in the future will get to make that decision.

What that means is that we are selling Serenity. The listing can be found on YachtWorld. Keeping a boat on any Hawaiian island is expensive and inconvenient at best. The higher cost of living in general adds to the difficulty. It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, and the parting will be thoroughly bittersweet. Besides all the upgrades we made to turn her into a reliable, blue water cruising vessel, she will be forever imbued with the happy memories of every adventurous moment we’ve had on board.

But in the end, it is going back to those memories that will be the salve to carry us forward and inspire future journeys. As with a first love, our first boat will always be anchored in our hearts by many fond recollections. And although our horizon has changed shape and holds as much uncertainty as ever, we find familiarity at every turn. We’ve gone back to tropical islands full of coconut palms, coral reefs in clear turquoise water, and the endless summer weather that we grew to love during our travels. In addition, the spirit of Aloha that first drew us to Hawaii long ago is already making the islands start to feel like home. So maybe, in a way, we are not so much going back. Perhaps we just never left.

Down to the Seas Again

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

~John Masefield

I’ve spent a good portion of the last five years asking myself “why did I come back?” But the truth is the last five years have been their own adventure. We’ve spent time with old friends and made new ones. I tried another startup, where I learned a ton, and got almost as much out of failure as I could have out of success. I spent three years working with one of the best teams I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of and which I will sorely miss. And we revisited old neighborhoods and haunts, rekindling old hobbies and discovering new ones. But through all of that there was always, in the background, a yearning to return to the “vagrant gypsy” life*, to the rolling gray sea, and to the peaceful island cove.

Now the waiting is over. As of today I’m a vagabond once more, and we are on our way to cruising the high seas again. This time around we plan to venture further then we ever have before, and face challenges against which we have not yet been tested. Namely, we are sailing to Hawaii! From there we hope to continue on to the South Pacific, but time will tell. We plan to embark in April, and I’ll be making a few posts as we prepare for the journey.

Since I haven’t made a post since we left Mexico, here are some photos from the last five years:

Created with flickr slideshow.

* Using the words of John Masefield for poetic reasons. I realize some people don’t care for the word “gypsy” as it is used by some as a slur, and I prefer vagabond myself.

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.

Our Next Horizon

As some of you may know, the nautical allusion in the title of blog is no coincidence. About a year ago we decided that we wanted to move on to a sailboat and go cruising. We weren’t sure exactly how long or how far, and we still aren’t, but we know it is the kind of adventure we are looking for. We’ve never felt completely settled in the places we’ve lived, we have an itch to travel and see new places, and we want to visit or be visited by friends and family all over the world, so a sailboat seemed like the perfect way to achieve this, all while undertaking the most daring adventure of our lives.

Wind in Our Sails And now our plans, over a year in the making, are finally coming to fruition. As discussed last post, we have purchased our sailboat, a 38 foot cutter rigged sloop named Serenity. We’re now working tirelessly to get her ready to embark on a journey without deadline or destination, to visit the both old haunts and parts unknown; to see long time friends and make new ones. One day soon, we’ll decide we’ve done enough preparation, and that while things may not be perfect, we are ready. Then we will set sail. The plan is, after many day sails in the bay and some short test passages, to head south to Mexico, where we will enjoy some much needed warm weather, surfing, and diving. Eventually we want to transit the Panama Canal and cross the Caribbean to visit our families on the east coast. However, because of the length of this passage, and the necessity of avoiding the Caribbean hurricane season, we won’t be able to embark on that journey until next year. So this year it will be back to California where we can get jobs and raise some extra funds for future passages.

For now we’re working on the last of the high priority todo list items. Having replaced the standing and running rigging, and refinished the cabin sole, we’re now installing an inverter and solar panels; rebuilding winches; accumulating spare parts; servicing the head, critical pumps, etc.; and making a few replacements of auxiliary diesel components. We’re also looking for crew members to join us on parts or all of our passage to and from Mexico. So if you’re schedule is flexible, and you want to have a crazy sailing adventure, or just spend a week in Baja—whether you have experience or not—give us a ring.

Cabo San Lucas México