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.

A Year of Living Dangerously (2010-04-21)

As we sat in the Rumah Makan in the small village of Cimaja, brushing away the occasional mosquito or local cat, I put a bite of vegetables in my mouth.
“You know those are raw,” Jen said questioningly, looking up at me.
I stabbed another cucumber, and replied in as suave and James Bond-like a voice as I could muster, “I like to live… dangerously,” taking another bite.
Jen grinned. “You eat those dangerous vegetables,” she said, laughing.

Nasi Goreng
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When I tell people that I quit my job, or that I’m spending 2 months in a rural part of a third world country, or that that country is predominately Muslim, or that I plan to take up open ocean sailing, they usually look at me like I’m crazy, foolish, or both. The guide books go on for pages about all the diseases, poisonous animals, or other hazards that are likely to befall us. But while many of the fears people express are misguided or exaggerated, the fact of the matter is that these things are risky. However, a life with no risk is no life at all. For some of us the acceptable or, I should say, desirable amount of risk is different than others. For me, the activities I engage in strike just the right balance. So even if some tragedy should strike, I can at least go content that, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra says of the rope dancer, “[I] have made danger [my] vocation; there is nothing contemptible in that.”

The feet of a tightrope walker.
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I should say, however, that I did leave behind a very well paying job that probably had some potential to advance my “career.” This was a move that everyone from my friends, to my boss, to my new acquaintances overseas have all gawked at. But I didn’t just give it up on a whim. I gave it up because I felt it was the only path available to me. There are two basic goals that drive me: get happy, stay happy. I’m not a fan of hedonism, which I’ve heard it pointed out is a philosophy that only ends in a heroin overdose, but I do think that happiness in this life is the most we can hope for. I also think that it’s probably a good idea to take a long term view regarding our happiness. Hence the stay happy bit, which I think the popular understanding of hedonism lacks. It’s also important to remember that happiness is a complicated human emotion, despite what the scientists have told us about dopamine. A good parent is still happy to have children even when changing diapers, for example.

Getting back to my point, the reason I left my job; I was in a situation that I couldn’t possibly be happy with. The culture was all wrong, the staff ranged from had-potential-but-burnt-out to nice-guy-but-incompetent; the work, while not uninteresting, was so tangled up in red tape, bad decisions and worse planning that it was an endless frustration; and lastly I lost faith in the leadership’s ability to actually leverage the talent they did have working for them. So, at some point, even with all the benefits and bonuses and salary and stock, the question becomes: What is the price of my happiness? And unfortunately you can’t buy your happiness – you can only sell it. In the long run who knows, maybe I’ll pick up my career where I left off, or maybe I’ll use my head, show some adaptability, and do something else. Either way, I’m much happier now than I was before, and I’m confident that I can find work in which I can remain happy.

“But,” you might ask, “how can you just decide one day to embark on such an unknown journey, or an unknown way of life? What if it’s not what you expect? What if you fail?” Well, some times you just have to take a leap, like The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock, refusing to let other people tell you how your life will be, grabbing the girl by the hand and jumping on a bus. In the words of Lloyd Dobler:

Diane: Nobody believes this is going to work, do they?
Lloyd: You just described every great success story.

Say Anything

  1. Nasi Goreng Ikan Asin: This file is licensed by Rizka Budiati under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. See for more information.
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What Next? (2010-04-15)

When I decided I wanted to visit Indonesia one of my reasons was to force myself to cut all the ties that keep me bound to one place, not just geographically but mentally as well. It’s not that those things: a job, a lease, a bedroom set and pull out couch, stereo system and closet full of junk, monthly stylist appointment and magazine subscriptions; are bad things. They’re not. It’s just that they make it easy to forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. The path of least apparent resistance tends to be the most attractive. But then you end up some years down the line asking yourself "what am I doing here" and feeling completely trapped by all those things, and more, instead of saying "I can’t believe I’m in a tiny village in western Java where I have a perfect surf spot nearly to myself every morning and help locals with their English in the afternoon," and feeling absolutely great about the adventure that brought you there.

But you can’t just live your life going from one tropical island adventure to the next, can you? Which is why my next reason was to spend time thinking about what I should do next with my life. The thing that I keep coming back to is: How do I make every day until the day I die part of one great adventure? And I don’t mean for every day to be happy and care free. Adventures have their ups and downs, their excitements and boredoms, triumphs and tragedy; working for a startup, for example, was an adventure.

This is as far as my contemplation has brought me. A question, but a question to which the remainder of my life will be the answer. An answer lived a day at a time, seizing every moment, always taking the path less travelled instead of least resistance, and never forgetting what a wonderful journey it has been.

The Cost of Letting Go (2010-03-06)

When going through major life changes it often feels like something is pulling me in a new direction as much as I am moving there myself. The adventure we have just embarked on is no different. When I think to myself “you know what I’d like to do right now…” my next thought is I should stop wishing I was doing that thing, and I should just go do it. Once I’ve made this mental commitment the rest just follows irresistibly, like gravity throttling a base jumper earthward once he’s finally made the leap.

The ride isn’t free however, and along the way there are obstacles, intense stress, hesitancy, and worry along the way. That is the cost of the adrenaline rush that is plunging head long in a new direction, rather than coasting along in the rut one occasionally finds oneself in. For me that rut was a job I wasn’t excited about, at a company I didn’t choose, with people who weren’t challenging me (my co-conspirators excepted, you know who you are). And my life change was abandoning my career, relinquishing many of my possessions and my home (rented, as it was), and embarking on an adventure, the likes of which is only a fantasy for many. And boy has it been a ride so far.

IMG_0119 As with all things, it was impossible to get the work done soon enough. Jobs always seem to fill all the available time, don’t they. I waited far to long to put things on craigslist, to sort through old boxes, and to weed out old clothes, electronics, and books that could be given away. And so the days leading up to our departure turned into a maddeningly stressful blur of sleep deprived days and nights packing, selling, moving, and giving away. Until finally, a day after we were supposed to be out of our old apartment, and the day of our departure for Australia, we were done. Our possession were sold, given away, or stored. Our bags were packed. We’d received our final vaccinations and visas. We’d made it through the seemingly interminable free fall, and our shoot had opened. What a rush, and a relief.