Velella's Drift

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

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.



  kathy cleary wrote @

aww..mother nature provided peace and solitude..what could be better? enjoy, love mom

  Bonnie wrote @

Where are the video cams when you need them?

  webecomeus wrote @

Prescott is so clear-headed in an emergency…like falling into knee-deep water. Good thing you brought him on this trip!

  Brook wrote @

It does sound miserable but you made my day; at first I was horrified but then I laughed out loud as I read your description and realized all was ok. What a team you two are!

  Sheila K wrote @

sounds like quite an adventure! How wonderful to be experience so many terrific new things – even getting soaked.

All the best,
(i started a blog too – not as interesting as yours

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