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.

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.

Finding Serenity

Serenity, On The Hard

Meet Serenity, our new (to us) sailboat. She’s a 1984 Hans Christian 38 Traditional Cutter. While she’s 38 feet on deck she’s actually 46 feet overall thanks to the bowsprit and “pushpit” (a small platform at the stern surrounded by a rail). The fact that she’s a cutter means she has two headsails, an inner staysail and an outer jib. Finding her was an adventure in itself, and a bit less serene than one might hope.

First there was the figuring out what we wanted. Age, size, price range, amenities, displacement (weight), type of keel, sea kindliness vs. performance, etc. I read several sailboat cruising guide books for insight; I read numerous websites; and finally we looked at what seemed like a hundred sailboats in the bay area. Our boat viewings ranged from obvious head-smack waste of time, to excitement and near disastrous bad decision. But unequivocally time after time, there was something wrong, that made the boat not right for us. Some were too big, some too small. Some were missing key features, like a decent shower setup, or respectable fuel tank size. One was a old but beautiful wooden boat with rot lurking beneath the surface.

Pretty much every boat we looked at, with the exception, ironically, of the first one, had some major blemishes making it unattractive. Many hadn’t had basic upkeep maintenance, such as bottom paint, interior or exterior varnish, or updated running rigging. Few were what you would call clean, and some were so bad that lockers and refrigerators were downright filthy. Several had half finished installations, which the brokers often billed “it has a brand new XXX,” failing to mention that you’d have to install the new component yourself. There were almost always several obviously broken things, be they cabinet doors, navigation equipment, port lights, or settee seats; and I’m willing to bet that a thorough sea trial and survey would have outted a number of other non-working systems. We never ceased to be amazed at how careless people can be with their boats, or how brazen they can be in trying to sell them in such a decrepit state.

The Morgan Classic that jen really liked The wooden Brewer Pacific 43 that turned out to have potential rot issues
The Nordic that we passed up because of leaky deck fittings & general upkeep issues The LaFitte Sloop we would have bought if the previous owners hadn't been non-sailors
Some of the boats we almost bought.

Gradually our vision of the right boat came in to focus. It would be smaller than we originally thought. It would be slightly more expensive, in the hopes that a little more money would get us a boat in better condition. It would definitely not be wooden, although it would almost certainly have a substantial amount of teak exterior, if not teak decks (I like the classic look). It would have moderate to heavy displacement, favoring sea kindliness over performance. It would have an enclosed aft cabin and v-birth, and sleep 6 including the settees. It would have minimum tank capacity for 80 gallons of water and 60 gallons of fuel. It would have a windlass for raising anchor (manual or electric). It would either have a dodger or be capable of fitting one.

We were on the brink of giving up on the Bay Area, when I decided to go take a look at this Hans Christian over in Sausalito. It hadn’t been on my radar initially because of the slightly out of our range price. And even after we started looking higher I thought the cockpit setup was a bit odd. But aside from that it actually seemed, on paper at least, to meet all of our requirements. I had learned long ago that reality rarely reflects things on paper.

The Cockpit In the end, we fell in love with the boat pretty quickly, and for once, there was no heart dropping discovery that made the boat untenable. She’s the most spacious 38 foot boat we’ve been on. She has an unexpectedly nice interior arrangement, from the galley to the head, to the cabins. She’s exceedingly pretty. She’s decked out in terms of navigational equipment. She’s got new sails, and more than half of the things on board work. Things aren’t all wine and roses of course. I have a to-do list as long as my arm. It includes some major numbers, such as replacing the standing rigging and painting the mast. And there are some systems not working, namely the fresh water pump for the taps. But generally speaking she’s a very solid boat with a lot of years adventure left in her.

I tell you what. You buy this ship, treat her proper; she’ll be with you for the rest of your life.

-Salesman, Firefly, “Out of Gas”

Another thing we noticed along the way was the diversity of attitudes of the brokers. They ranged from used car salesman pushy, to ambivalently unhelpful, to sincerely helpful and honest. I will say that all the brokers seemed to be under attentive to the boats they were selling. I’m not sure if it’s the owner or the broker who’s responsible for this, but if one or the other would spend one day a month tidying up the boat, making sure various onboard systems were in working order, and scheduling routine maintenance on the boat, it would go a long way toward getting the boat sold. Several of the boats we looked at we might well have fallen for if the owner had spend a few thousand dollars fixing things up.

In the end we wound up buying a boat from my least favorite broker, Marotta Yachts of Sausalito. Luckily I had one of the most helpful brokers we interacted with, Bearmark Yachts, representing us as the buyer. Without John Saul of Bearmark Yachts, the deal definitely wouldn’t have gone as smoothly if it had happened at all. Marotta was the most hands off, un-personable establishment we dealt with. Their procedure for showing boats is to leave it open and give you the slip number. While I do appreciate having some time alone to poke around the boat, it’s also nice to have some one to talk to, ask questions of, and get advice from (Passage Yachts and Pacific Imports also scored high in this regard). So when John offered to set up the viewing and come along with us, I really appreciated it.

It was only after that that I discovered the buyer’s broker system, where by, if the buyer has their own broker, the two brokers simply split the commission at no extra cost to the buyer. This worked out perfectly, and John came through again on the sea trial, where the sales person Marotta sent out professed to “not know the first thing about sailboats.” And finally the entire Bearmark Yachts team, from the owner on down, did a great job getting the deal done even with me on a sailing trip to the Channel Islands with very limited connectivity. I think the moral of this is 1) if you want to sell your sailboat, choose your broker carefully, and 2) as a buyer, pick your favorite broker, and have them represent you with whomever you end up buying from.

Stay tuned for our next post where you’ll get to know Serenity a lot better…

Expectations (2010-04-28)

When I envisioned being in Indonesia, I saw scenes of line after line of surf wrapping around a beautiful point break. I saw clear blue water, sandy beaches, and palm trees swaying on the horizon. I saw myself surfing every morning, and some afternoons, I saw quiet, rustic villages populated by a mix of surfers and local rice farmers or fishermen. Things haven’t exactly turned out the way I expected.Cimaja Point on a Small Day For starters, the waves have been far less consistent than I thought they would be. Even on the good days the swells are often mixed up or confused, and break inconsistently. We’ve gone, at times, for days without any waves at all. The prime spot in Cimaja is a point break that is truly epic on larger swells, but the ride is short, and when it’s big, it’s scary big. On small days, on the other hand, it tends to be unsurfable, especially at low tide when there are boulders sticking out of the break. Other spots in the area are mostly beach breaks, and are usually either closed out or too weak to surf. And that’s not to mention the dirty river water washing out to sea near the break, The Creek That Drains Near Cimaja Pointor all the trash littering the beach. Indonesia doesn’t exactly have the kind of garbage collection or sewage treatment infrastructure that the United States has, in fact they seem to have none outside of large cities. Our best surf so far was in Sawarna, which actually is a quiet rustic village, where the left hand coral reef break seemed to fire perfectly every morning. Staying there has been the highlight of the trip, and it was an excellent opportunity to practice surfing a super consistent leftward breaking wave. But now we’re staying at Ocean Queen, a very pleasant resort west of Cimaja, and after a week in Cimaja not paddling out because the waves were too big and the break too crowded, we’ve been greeted every morning to total calm. Unfulfilled expectations can be frustrating, and it would be easy to hang my head and say “why did I ever come half way around the world for this?” But if I did that I would be totally missing the point of all the experiences that this trip has been about. A trip like this isn’t really about the things you expect to happen, but the unexpected things that do. Sure the surf hasn’t been perfect, and the town wasn’t what I thought it would be, but we’ve met interesting people, eaten in a food stall with goat meat hanging from Some Typical Walled Up Shore Poundthe ceiling, we’ve learned a bit of the local language, we’ve helped students practice their English, we’ve seen every imaginable stage of rice production, we’ve seen wild monkeys and discovered bat caves, we’ve watched beautiful sunsets, and taken long walks on empty beaches. Even our dealings with customs will be an experience I won’t soon forget, and I value it as a learning experience. Who knows, maybe there will be good surf tomorrow.


About 4 hours after I wrote this post a new swell filled in. I had my best session since Sawarna surfing Karang Haji, the right hand point/reef break that is 50 feet from my front door. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave it at that.

2010-04-28 Karang Haji (1 of 7) 2010-04-28 Karang Haji (4 of 7)
2010-04-28 Karang Haji (2 of 7) 2010-04-28 Karang Haji (5 of 7)
2010-04-28 Karang Haji (3 of 7) 2010-04-28 Karang Haji (6 of 7)
2010-04-28 Karang Haji (7 of 7)