Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

The Young Man and the Sea

It wasn’t until the first night offshore that I became sea-sick. As soon as we left from Neah Bay, the six foot swells began knocking us from the side. They had an immediate effect on Meghan and Andrew, who fulfilled their duties ashen faced and wobbly. At first I felt fine. The nausea didn’t kick in until that night.

Since there were no ships in sight and conditions were calm, I decided to treat myself, using my 2 hour watch to make some headway on my Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars game. At my going away party in Seattle, my buddies presented me with a Nintendo DS, a portable gaming system. I wanted to sneak in some gaming while Meghan was asleep, since she had been staunch that I wasn’t allowed to play them at sea (video games being the apparent antithesis of sailing). She needn’t have worried.

There’s a point about 20 miles off the Pacific Coast where one continental plate meets the other. Here, the land rapidly drops away and the ocean goes from just over a hundred feet to nearly a thousand. This has a substantial effect on the large ocean swells coming in from Japan. As they hit this shelf, the bottom of the wave hundreds of feet down comes to a sudden halt. The waves become confused, doubling up on one another. At the surface, it feels like the waves are coming from all directions, with no rhythm or regularity in their timing. This was precisely what was happening as I began my watch. Velella sat at the edge of the continental shelf, jouncing around like a rogue paddleball. Hoping to escape these harsh conditions in the fantasy land of Nintendo, I flicked on my DS, hi-jacked a car, and rocketed down the streets of Liberty City.

The combination proved disastrous. It took me about half an hour to notice it, but by the time I did it was too late. The rough and tumble motion of the boat, combined with my crazy driving and shoot-outs with the police, did me in.  I was incredibly motion sick. My legs went out from under me. My stomach felt weak and precarious. I began repeatedly burping. Meghan came up to relieve me of my shift and I ran straight down into the cabin. I collapsed into the V-birth headfirst, still wearing all my clothes. I lay there for a couple hours, waiting to recover. But my recovery would take several days, and I began to realize that sea-legs are not given but earned.

In total we spent 72 hours at sea. My memories are few. Alternating between restless sleep and the adrenaline-fueled night watches promotes a state of unreality. One of the highlights, though, was Andrew’s fish.

He purchased his fishing pole while we were still in Neah Bay, with lures for Salmon and Tuna. As far as I could tell it was the first fishing pole he’d ever owned, and his vision of a voyage sustained on freshly caught seafood seemed optimistic. However his faith was not unfounded, as we discovered in our first day at sea.

I was asleep, just off of my morning shift at the helm. Suddenly I startled awake to cries “Prescott, you have to see this!” Expecting a whale sighting or other creature of the sea, I dashed up in my long underwear to see what the fuss was. Andrew had been trolling all morning and he’d caught a monster of a tuna. He reeled it up to the boat and I grabbed its gills and pulled it out of the water.

Now, there are no pictures (the salt water corroded the memory card), so unfortunately this remains another fisherman’s tale. However I pulled it out of the water and can attest that it weighed around 30 pounds. Once we had it on deck, we were unsure what to do next. It was still flopping around, so at Andrew’s suggestion I grabbed a bottle of rum and poured it into its gills. Then he turned to me.

“Know how to gut a fish?”

“No. You?”

Talk about putting the cart before the horse. I rushed below to see if any of the sailing books had instructions on fish cleaning. The most I could find was a single picture with the caption “Make sure to open up the main artery beneath the gills immediately, to drain the blood before it coagulates.”

“Andrew! We need to open up the main artery!” I shouted up.

“Great bring up a knife.”

Sure enough, after wiggling the blade around in the fish’s skull, blood began to flow. Heavily. A dark purple syrup, it oozed down the side of our dinghy and onto the teak. I ran down yet again to get some napkins but by the time I came back up, the fish was sliding around in a river of blood. While I attempt to prevent the staining of Meghan’s teak deck, Andrew got to work butchering. Starting at the tail and moving up to the head, he cut a ragged line through the bottom of the fish. Then he reached in and began scooping out anything that looked like a gut.

Eventually the fish looked like a raw slab of butcher’s meat. We figured that since it resembled (somewhat) meat you might buy at the store, it was ready to eat. So Andrew diced it into filets and we started into the juicy, fatty tuna meat. I’ve had good sushi. And I’ve purchased fish right off the boat at Pike Place Market and seared it up. But I’ve never had anything as fresh and juicy and full of raw tuna-y goodness as the meat Andrew cut off that fish. It was like eating a slab of fishy butterscotch and having it melt in your mouth. It was delicious. I was feeling weak from the slaughtering  and the running around. I expected that raw tuna would not help my stomach. Perhaps it was a rite of passage. Perhaps Neptune was looking down on and smiling at my enthusiasm, that I had a raw chunk of his bounty dangling from my mouth. But after that tuna I immediately felt better. I was now a true seaman.



  webecomeus wrote @

you seem to be on deck in your long underwear relatively often…good thing it’s not warmer out there or who knows what attire you would choose!

this adventure gets more and more amazing every day, and i’m so glad you share it with us.

  kathy cleary wrote @

ew..such a boy story..good line about attempting to keep meg’s teak from staining..she’s not so into blood..did you know?

  Brook Maurer wrote @

Great images. I notice the absence of Meghan’s reaction to this part of the adventure. Sounds like a nightmare for those tending to seasickness…blood, guts and ocean motion.

  janice wrote @

Hmmm! Yum! In conclusion, sushi conquers seasickness?

  Josh wrote @

Hahahahaha! This post was hilarious. I love imagining you playing video games and eating sushi, while battling the crazy waves of the continental shelf. Heres a tip on the fish–if you just fillet it,you don’t even have to deal with the guts. You take the meat, sharks get the guts and heads. Here’s a video:

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