Velella's Drift

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

Archive for October, 2009

Way above sea level

San Simeon beach

For the record, that harrowing night wasn’t actually a storm. The forecast was for heavy winds and big seas–but also warm sun and a moonlit starry night. There is a large high pressure system sitting 700 miles offshore, and another strong one inshore over the Four Corners. Apparently this has caused a sort of wind funnel between the pressure ridges; so along the coast here we have sunny Californian weather but with incredibly powerful steady winds and seas.

We pulled in out of the mess that Prescott described at about 0430, exhausted beyond belief and almost blind in the pitch-black night in San Simeon Bay. We anchored by radar and chart plotter, since there were no lights onshore except those illuminating Hearst Castle high atop a distant hill. Weird as it sounds, we also navigated our way in partly by smell: the shore was lined with pungent eucalyptus trees that smelled almost smoky in contrast to the briny sharp sea water.

True, it is sketchy bad practice to pull in to an unknown anchorage at night. But I fear it’s becoming one of my favorite bad habits because there is nothing like waking to a sunrise that drenches the entirely new place around you. I always wake up early on these days, partly to make sure we’re not dragging anchor, but also to catch the first dawn-yellowed glimpses of the shoreline—our new home for the next day or two.

San Simeon was the most beautiful reward for our hard night. The empty turquoise lagoon crashes its white surf on a long stretch of beach, hemmed on either end by rocky arms that form a protective bight around the anchorage. Sable-colored hills rise away from the shore on all sides, and the magnificent Mediterranean Hearst Castle is nestled in a green grove atop the highest peak. Other than the castle and a couple red-roofed buildings tucked amongst the eucalyptus trees on shore, the entire coastline is wild and quiet.

The first day we were there we both felt severely “hungover.” (Too bad that night watch was no party.) Anyway, we dragged ourselves in to the beach for some motionless time, and then rowed back home and fell asleep early, deciding to give ourselves one more day to not worry about taking off again.

The second day in San Simeon, the weather was equally gorgeous, and we were feeling much better having slept twelve hours and had our refreshing sun showers. We rowed the dinghy over to explore some sea caves on our leisurely way in to meet Prescott’s aunt Janice and her family. Our delightful hosts brought us a picnic lunch, then treated us to 1. a car ride—a rare and joyous event these days, 2. an incredible tour of Hearst Castle, and 3. a stroll along one of the most hilarious beaches I’ve ever seen. But more on that later.

Hearst Castle is inexplicably incredible and impossible to describe. Almost every square inch of the enormous estate is covered in antique art from all centuries: the ceilings, the marble, the cornices, the rugs, the furniture, the lampshades—all of it. We went on a 2-hour tour that covered maybe a quarter of the entire estate. After coming from our floating home (remember, 35 feet!), it was an incredible treat for the imagination to tour something so grand and expansive.

White marble Neptune pool

Hearst's private Gothic library

Ceiling of the celestial suite

Carved teak cornices

But the best part about it may have been the thrill of being over 1,000 feet above sea level. Out of the high turret window of William Randolph Hearst’s bedroom, I could see Velella bobbing in San Simeon Bay. I could see far out past the coast we had fought our way down at night, and around the lighthouse that had guided us in. After living at sea level for two months, getting to view the same world from these heights was a wonderfully unexpected and intangible gift.


San Simeon Bay from Hearst Castle

THEN we drove up the coast to a elephant seal rookery. Literally hundreds of juveniles beach themselves here to rest, roll around, fight, and make very loud burping noises. They were hilarious creatures, like gargantuan rodents without legs or like huge slugs with snouts. Apparently they were endangered a couple decades ago, with only a couple dozen left… well, they’ve made such a comeback that they’re becoming a problem (there are road signs warning you not to hit elephant seals that might be crossing the highway!) Oh, and in the parking lot, Janice made friends with this ole hound:


Janice and "Jowls"


Fighting slug-rodent-seals

At the end of the day, Harmony and Emma sent us home with a bunch of fresh lemons and a Halloween pumpkin. Though they aren’t technically my family, I couldn’t have felt more at home and amongst friends. How nice to know we’ll see them all again just around the corner in San Luis Obispo Bay!

Janice, Emma, Prescott, and Harmony


Old, bold sailors

1200 – We are leaving Monterey Bay. The docks here are terrible. For the last three days, we’ve swayed and undulated with ocean current. It’s surprisingly strong despite the “protection” the jetty offers. Each boat has its own slip with dock on both sides, so pulling out is tighter than usual. As I reverse the boat and Meghan guides it from the dock, the swell grabs it and rocks it back and forth within its tiny slip, threatening to toss the bow into either of our two neighbors. Meg does her best to steady the boat by hand. In the parking lot across, onlookers watch what must seem a comical struggle, as they make no attempt to hide their grins. I want to give them the finger, but swallow my pride as we finally make it out and get underway. Our destination is San Simeon, some 90 miles south. Velella does an average of 5 miles an hour, so we should be there around 6 tomorrow morning.

1215 – The swell in the harbor is too much and the markings are very confusing. Meg and I decide not to stop at the fuel dock and fill up our tanks or put the dinghy up on our deck. We had more than enough fuel and could hoist the dinghy up out in the bay.

1245 – Moving the dinghy onto our deck is a safety precaution. For shorter trips, the dinghy hangs off davits on the back of the boat. Out in the ocean, however, there’s potential for a wave to crash into the dinghy, the weight of which would rip it off our boat. Out in the bay, the ocean swell noticeably increases. We take the dinghy off the rear davits and I, paddling it like a gondola, move it to the front of the boat. Using our halyards, we pull it onto the fore deck and strap it down.

1300 – As we near the edge of Monterey Bay, the western waves increase in size to around ten feet. The wind increases as well. Meghan gets the first symptoms of sea-sickness, and she has an anxiety attack. She’s not sure if she can handle what we’re about to do knowing that I would be largely on my own if she was incapacitated. She wants to turn around and go back to Monterey. I tell her it’ll be fine if she can support me.

1500 – The waves out here are tremendous, 10-12 foot rollers that rise out of the ocean like small mountains. It’s amazing to see them come at you. They stand twice as tall as the boat and they roll at you with frightening speed. For a moment a blue hill towers over your head, not five feet away. It seems as if they will run you right over but then, at the last minute, your boat lifts up and suddenly you can see for miles all around. They come from the northwest as does the 30 knot wind which officially makes it a gale. We heading southwest right now, and this puts us at an odd angle to the waves. They knock us around, as if angrily trying to herd us to go in their direction. Meghan is feeling very seasick now, curled in a ball on deck.

1800 – Meg apologizes profusely for being too sick to help with the tending of the boat. I think her seasickness is made worse by her sense of guilt. Despite her incapacitation, I make her go down and put on her lifejacket. I if either of us fell in now, our odds for survival are slim. She is able to take the helm for 15 minutes while I boil some spaghetti, grind some coffee and prepare for the night. Everything takes three times as long to do when combating the fierce motion of the boat, but I know I won’t be able to leave the helm once it gets dark. I take the helm back from Meg, eat my spaghetti and watch the sun set. Ten miles to our left are the mountains of Big Sur. I had hoped we’d be able to get a better look at them, but they’re too far off.

2000 – The wind has picked up since nightfall. Luckily we are running South with it, making our apparent wind less than what it would be if were driving the boat into it. We are making great time now, between 6-7 knots. The wind is moving us along very quickly, and the waves are giving us an extra push from behind. The force of the wind makes the top of the waves crest and break. Occasionally, when we’re doing 8 knots, the boat will catch on a cresting wave and we’ll surf down the front of it for an even greater boost of speed. But the waves make the boat difficult to control, pushing our stern off to the side. When that happens our sails, which naturally want to come up to the wind, catch. Like a dog that catches a scent and tries to break, the boat suddenly veers up to one side and into the wind. It’s all I can do to crank the wheel, and after several seconds the boat begrudgingly swings its bow downwind. It’s impossible to maintain a precise course, so I fight the rudder to keep us within 30 degrees of San Simeon. I’m pretty tired by this point. We’re making good time but we’re at least 8 hours away still. With Meghan’s iPod, I count down the hours with albums from my youth. I just finished Sublime’s self-titled album. Only 8 more albums.

2100 – I’ve postponed my cup of coffee for as long as I could. For the last two hours, it’s been my treat that I’ve been anticipating. After Sublime, the batteries ran down on the iPod. Now it’s all I can do to keep going. Meg pulls herself up from the side of the boat where she’s been throwing up and goes below to boil water for my coffee. The boat is running wing on wing, which is when the headsail and mainsail point 180 degrees from one another. Sailing downwind it allows the most wind to catch your sails but it’s also risky. A slight deviation from our southerly course could cause the wind to catch our sails from the wrong side and swing them to the opposite side of the boat. With the headsail this isn’t a problem, as its easy to pull back to its proper side. If the mainsail catches, however, its called an accidental jibe and its extremely dangerous, not to mention hard on the rig. At this point getting there quickly is the biggest safety consideration on my mind, so I’m risking it to make 8 knots. In addition to being sick, Meg laughs through her tears and says she has to poop. Our onboard toilet is finicky about such issues, and the thought of unflushed waste trouncing about the head was unappealing. Normally we would go over the side, but in these waves it would mean certain death. I told her she’d have to hold it another eight hours at least. Twice as she was barfing over the side, I thought she’d pooped in her pants. (Note from Meghan: She did NOT in fact poop her pants.)

2400 – I’m completely exhausted. I’m being kept alive by adrenaline, and there’s plenty of that. When changing course ten minutes ago, our headsail jammed. The wind wrapped the sail around itself, and locked it up like a cocoon. It’s completely useless, as pulling on the sail sheets won’t do anything. I’ve crawled up to the bow of the boat twice to try to untangle it, and Meghan’s crawled up once. We can’t think of what to do except to try to go as downwind as possible to block it with the mainsail.

0015 – Part of the headsail came unfurled. Now a quarter of the sail is open in the wind. Imagine a twenty foot kite sailing in a hurricane. That force is strapped to the front of our boat. The wind howls angrily and whips it in all directions. The forestay, a wire shroud that supports the mast, oscillates like a 60 foot guitar string. The vibration shudders through the entire boat and everything trembles. There’s no way to untangle it and we can’t bring it down. There’s nothing we can do but keep on going. Praying, we start up the motor. Thank god it starts. Now we motor with just the headsail, making only 5 knots. The forestay looks like it will shake off any moment, in which case the headsail will be a free-flying, 200 square foot kite, dragging in the water and assaulting the boat from all directions. Without support, the mast would be in danger of toppling. I realize that we are one step away from complete and utter catastrophe. In my head, I go over our limited options. We could call the coast guard, but what good would that do? They couldn’t fix our headsail or, if it broke, save our boat. We could preemptively abandon ship in our life raft, but trying to survive those waves in an inflatable raft seemed just as foolhardy. The only thing was to keep going and pray that nothing else happened. We still had four hours to go with our boat shuddering and trembling, the equivalent of a road trip from Seattle to Portland.

0100 – The wind dies down a bit. Meghan takes the helm. I lie down in the cockpit and my muscles gyrate as they release the tension of the past 12 hours. I shiver from the cold and my mind does circles on itself.

0200 – I relieve Meghan so she can continue puking. At this point we are nearing a spit of land that juts out west into the ocean. Our assumption is that, if we can get behind it, it will act as a giant eddy and protect us from the Northwest wind and waves. We follow the light house to shore, when a thick, impenetrable fog comes out of nowhere. We can’t see the lighthouse or anything else, so we turn the radar on. Of course on top of wind, waves, and a broken sail, now we have zero visibility. Of all the things to worry about, I am most worried about running into a sleeping grey whale. Supposedly they sleep on the surface of the ocean, and hitting one is the jarring equivalent of running aground. Although it’s unlikely, I am paranoid that it’s our destiny to hit a whale. I want to put Meghan on the lookout for whales, but she is too sick and there’s no point in the fog.

0400 – We made it behind the lighthouse. Now we have land to our north and, as we predicted, the waves and winds have died. Our headsail droops limply, like a dog punished after escaping its yard. Meg and I are both thoroughly exhausted. I don’t know how we made it. Our boat feels like its moving exceptionally slow. I check our speed and our progress every five minutes. It says five knots, but it feels like we’re moving much slower than that. Each moment drags on and on and on.

0430 – Finally we reach our anchorage, a little cove tucked into the land north of us. The water here is like glass. It’s hard to imagine that a storm is anywhere near. After we anchor, tend to the headsail so it won’t try to sail us off the hook while we sleep. The cabin is a disaster, so we sleep like sardines in the quarter berth.

1130 – I wake several hours later. It’s sunny out, and still calm. For some reason, I’m reminded of the first sailing class I ever took. This was last fall and my instructor, Ted, was in his mid-sixties. He was a very prudent teacher. Anytime the wind increased more than 15 knots, he would make us take the sails down and head for port. On the last day of class, I argued that we should stay out in the increasing weather. How else were we going to learn foul-weather sailing? He gave me one of his looks and replied.

“There are old sailors and there are bold sailors. But there are no old, bold sailors.”

Please can we live in Monterey?

Velella at anchor in front of a rollercoaster. So wierd.

Velella at anchor in front of a rollercoaster. So wierd.

Sunrise in the cockpit

Sunrise in the cockpit

Today was actually the paradise we strive so hard for. After an early morning driving tour of sundrenched Santa Cruz by my college girlfriend, Libby, we met up with her boyfriend Caleb (yet another UPS alum) for the most organic veggie surftown breakfast imaginable. And tons of coffee we didn’t have to make ourselves. When Caleb dropped us back off at the wharf at 10am (in his truck that runs on vegetable oil!), the dinghy was right where it was supposed to be, and the sea lions looked warily at Prescott before jumping in. That’s right, we apparently won the territory.

I’ve grown to prefer anchoring out at night to sleeping on the dock for a couple of reasons. Of course it’s quieter and cheaper, but it’s also a whole lot easier to get underway in the morning. When we’re on the dock, Prescott usually takes the helm while I untie all the dock lines, push the boat out, jump on, remove all the dock lines, neatly coil them up, remove all the fenders and secure them on deck, then hoist the sails. When we’re at anchor, Prescott is also usually at the helm, but there’s no fender/dockline business to bother with. I just crank up the chain on the windlass with a manual lever (and it’s really easy), Prescott uses the boat’s weight to unhook the anchor from the bottom, and I roll it the rest of the way up. Done.

Today, with clear blue skies, sweet breeze, and sparkling water, we were happy to be sailing within ten minutes of climbing up from the dinghy. The short 25-mile trip across Monterey Bay to the city of Monterey should have been featured in the glossy pages of Sailing Magazine. With the 15-knot breeze on our beam from the West, we picked a course of 150 degrees and stayed on it comfortably doing 6-7 knots the entire way. We left the engine running a bit longer than normal as we left Santa Cruz in order to fill up a large tank of engine-hot water. My new favorite way to have a deck shower now is under full sail!

With a towel wrapped around my wet hair and clean clothes on, I sat for a long time on the bowsprit with my feet almost skimming the waves below. The water turned from the color of an exotic indigo feather in Santa Cruz to a Robin’s egg turquoise as we approached Monterey. Spouting whales, sea lions, dolphins, sea otters, and enormous jellyfish skimmed across the gradient of color as Velella passed through it. Monterey Bay is a very rich and diverse protected marine sanctuary, and even from the surface it’s obvious why. We plan to spend the day tomorrow touring the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium (featuring a brand new Great White Shark exhibit in open water).

Tonight we decided to tie alongside for the first time in awhile, and the marina is cheaper than usual and better than usual. We strolled through “downtown” Monterey’s farmer’s market in the late evening, and ate fresh, fleshy artichokes for dinner. Prescott is making me get off the computer now so he can drop the table and settees into one big bed for us to watch a movie on “in the living room.” All in all, this day more than made up for the saltwater-swimming, laundry-lugging,  exhaustion-inducing, relatively impecunious lifestyle we’ve embarked upon. Every once in a while, we get go a whole day with no saltiness at all, just freshness and sweetness and pride.

The salt of life

Pinot Grigio at harvest time

Pinot Grigio at harvest time

Because we REALLY know how to reward ourselves, halfway through our delightfully long stay in San Francisco we took a romantic trip up to Napa Valley. By boat. Who knew it was navigable, especially for a big ole ocean-going boat of our draft!? We heard from our cruising friends that it was, so we inched up the sun-drenched Napa River for the weekend and anchored behind a bend lined with eucalyptus trees and flanked with ripe vineyards. Aside from the large cows grazing near the riverbanks, no other living creatures were around us on that sleepy river. We pulled in at sunset, enjoyed an incredible dinner in the cockpit, and slept soundly in the motionless eddy where we’d dropped the hook.

Sunset from the cockpit in Napa

Sunset from the cockpit in Napa

Velella in a vineyard

Velella in a vineyard

Of course, what we learned very early on about the cruising life still holds true every day: “Paradise” is jam-packed with trials and tribulations. It looks so lovely (and it is!), but by no means is it idyllic.

Take, for example, in the middle of our perfectly sound sleep in Napa when the river became uncannily still. I mean, it was still to begin with, but this felt like sleeping on land. And when you live on a boat, it feels very strange when you finally stop moving altogether. Sure enough, when I peeked my head out of the cabin, those cows on shore were a whole lot closer! The moon was full and cast its majestic silvery light all over the mudflats that were creeping very close to our boat as the tide (10 miles upriver!) drained out. No WONDER we weren’t moving. Strike 2: Aground again. At that point there was quite literally nothing to be done because the tide was about to rise again, so instead of kedging out another anchor and trying in the middle of the night to haul ourselves off, Prescott made me exercise the most patience I think I’ve even concentrated in once place, and we just waited. We sat on the starboard side (the deeper water side), and watched about five episodes of LOST until we sensed that we were boyant again. Who knew after all that seasickness that I’d be praying for the boat to start moving again?

Since then we’ve left San Francisco and made two beautiful day trips along the southern coast, stopping in Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. The guidebook says Santa Cruz is a year-round summer vacation spot and surfer’s haven. Turns out “surfer’s haven” is definitely a warning word to sailors. As rookies who didn’t know the difference, though, we la-dee-da paddled in to shore this morning and realized only when we got there that the surf was actually quite surfable. We did our best to time our run between crashing waves, but completely failed. Prescott jumped out in waist deep water, and I, determined not to get my new jeans salt-soaking wet for a second time, stayed in the boat and desperately paddled while he tried to pull me in against the undertow. One crash later came over the stern and flooded the boat, so I gave up and jumped out just as it started to rain.

After Prescott singlehanded the dinghy back out over the surf (if ONLY I had video–it was comical), he picked me up at the wharf and we trembled our way back to the boat to repeat the heater/hot tea ritual we’d started after our dumping at Aquatic Park. But the surge in the cove was extra strong, and after a few hours of reading and writing in the cabin, we both decided we had to brave the dinghy once more to get to stable shore for the afternoon. This time, we called the harbormaster, politely asked if we could have permission to tie to the wharf (despite the signs), and they said “Roger Skipper, go right ahead, just watch out for the sea lion population that lives on the landing.” Sweet. No more surfing. Sea Lions = cute.

Wrong again, they’re not cute like seals, they’re big and mean. They barked at us when we tied up the dinghy and I felt compelled to carry an oar in my own defense. We fled up the stairs to the wharf and found a coffee shop from which we could keep an eye on the dinghy. Every once in awhile I would look up to make sure no sea lions had tried to board our vacant boat. And then I looked up… and it was gone.

NOOO. It was like the feeling of having our car stolen. Plus, it was really surprising because we lock it up with a heavy galvanized chain and padlock and could not figure out how it could have broken loose. Prescott was already running back, and I packed up our computers as quickly as possible and followed him. By the time I got there it was absolutely pouring rain, and Prescott could not fight his way past the stubborn sea lions, despite his physical threats with a large orange traffic cone. The dinghy had broken free and was floating just under the wharf–if only we could get the sea lions to let us by. Finally, with the help of a very kind wharf worker and a borrowed boathook, we snagged the dinghy and were able to bring it back around within reach of the ladder. The sea lions were very vocally disgruntled that we’d disturbed their naps, and were swimming threateningly around the piers and our dinghy as we jumped in and pushed off as fast as we could.

As we rowed back and the downpour subsided just as we reached Velella, I thought about how so much of this trip has been picturesque, but how more of our time is spent dealing with things like this. But I suppose that’s entirely fitting, because this trip isn’t in freshwater–it’s all full of salt.

Meghan Cleary is so organized

Like rafting, crew or basketball, sailing is a team sport. Though there are all sorts of stories of sailors single-handing crafts around the world, I’ve never understand the fun in that. Half the enjoyment of sailing is the social interaction. It’s kind of like playing house, where each member takes on a specific role for the duration of the cruise. It allows you to play a part different than that which you might be in normal life. For instance, before this trip I never had an interest in engines and now I’m the ship’s mechanic. Meghan, in addition to her other admirable contributions, is the organizer.

I have never been called ‘structured’. In middle-school, my one rebuke from my teachers was my lack of organization. My desk was a mess. My pencils were marked up and down by my tooth. My Elmer’s glue bottle was encrusted with solidified paste. My penmanship refused to be detained within the constraints of tiny blue lines. I was a chaotic, spontaneous child, the type teachers watch expectantly for either artistic or else maniacal tendencies. There was never a question of my keeping the boat well-organized, which left the task of organizing the boat to Meghan.

She took to the task immediately. One day last summer I came home from work to see our house filled with every type of container ever invented. It was like a Tupperware convention from the future, with products that don’t yet exist. Aside from the plastic babushka containers that fit neatly inside one another, there was a family of plastic bags, half a dozen buckets, vacuum-sealed tubes, and strange fluorescent cases. My eyes went wide but, recognizing this as one of Meg’s ‘projects’, I didn’t say anything.

After she’d put every one of our possessions into a container, labeled the container, and then stuffed them into the walls and floor of the boat, I had to admit the space looked less cluttered. She somehow managed to make a house-worth of clothes, food, and repair kits invisible in a 35 foot space. I was impressed.

Until I wanted to find anything. Having not been present when the boat was “organized”, and having no direct insight into the logic behind its stowage, I am at a disadvantage whenever I’m doing anything other than walking through the boat’s cabin. I’m rendered completely helpless in all my onboard activities. Anytime I have to do maintenance work on the engine, I must first write out a checklist and present it to Meghan. She then sends me on a scavenger hunt to the various extremities of the boat to find the tools I need.

It’s not so bad, except that the organizational system seems to change on a weekly basis. Where my screwdriver was once kept in a drawer beneath the trash, it’s now kept in a shelf above the table. And my engine manual, which I use several times a week, changes its accommodations just as often. Sometimes it’s stowed next to the spare kits, other times it’s in the “navigation” library or else in my “personal library”.

The logic of the system is the most beguiling. If I want to make a sandwhich, I’ll ask Meghan where the jelly is.

“In the fridge, obviously,” was her response.

OK, so where’s the peanut butter?

“You know that little panel behind the couch? Behind that there’s a little vacuum-sealed bag that says ‘misc’. Open that. The peanut butter is in a black, plastic container marked ‘Pnut.”

Or when I ask her where my flashlight is and she gets exasperated.

“It’s where it always issss,” she singsongs impatiently.

“Uh… remind me?”

“There’s a little baggie hidden inside the mattress.” Again delivered as a melody. “Sew it back up when you’re done.”

The truth, of course, is that if I ever owned a vessel of my own I’d be paddling a half-submerged bathtub back to shore the day after I set out. The messy kid isn’t allowed to take to the high seas. He has his designated pig-pen on land. For his own good and for the good of the true sailors, he is kept in the dark about the joy of sailing. Were it not for Meghan organizing my disheveled ass into action, I’d never know the fun I’d missed the first 26 years of my life. Her fastidious is what keeps us afloat, and I happily put my trust in it. Even if it means I have to ask for the peanut butter.

Tipping point

Sometimes I’m hard to motivate, especially when the sun is falling behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the evening swell in the anchorage starts to make Velella rock like a cradle. Around sunset, it gets windier due to strong local thermals, the birds finally shut up, and the beach quiets down. We usually paddle home from town around this time, as I invariably say, “I need a nap,” which really just means, “I need to go to bed very early again.”

Last night was a lovely example of the perfect evening to stay in on the boat. We had just spent the afternoon screaming around sunny San Francisco Bay with two reefs in the main. The wind was howling just on the outer edge of perfection; my four girlfriends got to come along for the rail-dipping ride. When we finally pulled back in the Aquatic Park downtown and dropped the hook, the wind was blowing like stink. Flipping on the weather radio verified our suspicions that the deceptively sunny winds were gale force (indeed on the high end, gusting 40-50 until midnight, NOAA predicted.) As the sun dropped and the wind sustained, it quickly got chilly, and we dropped a second anchor and pulled closed the hatches. Eager to embrace the autumnal atmosphere after so much sun, I made roasted squash risotto, and Prescott lit the large brass lantern and started up the propane fireplace. As dinner simmered, I laid utterly exhausted on the settee, wrapped in fleece with my feet near the toasty chimney of the heater. Having spent the morning working frantically to finish scrubbing the teak before we left the dock, I wanted nothing more than to let my aching body collapse into a rocking sleep for good.

But Prescott had a social itinerary lined up for that evening, a rarity we just couldn’t pass up. His friend from college lives in town, and had planned to take us out since earlier that week—and we were looking forward to seeing parts of the town we hadn’t yet explored. I was excited to go, but exhausted to begin with, so dragged myself dressed while warning “you know I’m not going to be able to get all crazy tonight or anything, I want to go out but only for a couple hours…”

Well it turns out we had an excellent time. For a long time. We saw multiple neighborhoods on our nighttime tour of the city—from the gussied up Marina district to flashy Chinatown to the soul-filled Italian quarter. It was an interesting evening, and we escaped having only a couple drinks each despite the hour. As our hosts kindly drove us back to the beach, I looked forward to solid, hangoverless sleep at last.

But first: we fell in. Yep, full moon, one a.m., straight up to our necks, full purse, feet last, fell in. You know, it’s not actually very easy to launch that dinghy on such a shallow beach. We do this: he pushes the boat up to the surf so my shoes don’t get wet, then I jump in up to the bow and start kind of jumping as the waves push up under us to wedge the stern off a bit more, and then he jumps in last over the stern and starts rowing out, and then I have to move over him to the stern because the boat balances better that way. If I were on shore watching this, I would secretly be rooting for us to fall in. I think he jumped too vehemently or far or something, I lost my balance, grabbed him to steady myself. I noticed my rising aaaaaahhhhhoooOOOO before I felt the salty, icy water fill inside my coat, mittens, jeans, boots, etc. I ran up to the beach as Prescott was yelling, “get in you idiot we’re out here now we might as well just step right in from knee deep!”

So ends the perfect boat-life day—in the dark when no one is watching it sometimes REALLY stinks. We rowed back to Velella as I threatened to pee my pants from the cold, we stripped the sand-salt filled clothes off in the gale-force-windy cockpit (HORRIBLE), and ran downstairs to recreate the toasty fireplace scene we left a few hours earlier. Tonight, there again were a number of people awaiting us onshore. We couldn’t get in touch to find out where, though, because my cell phone is experiencing some severe post-capsize shock. And anyway, after my freshwater sun shower this morning, I am much more comfortable tonight beneath the glowing, swinging firelight, and happy to have the excuse this time to opt out.