Velella's Drift

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

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.

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5 Comments»

  kathy cleary wrote @

in the midst of the salt of life, you are getting peppered with challenge..and so it goes..love you..and thanks for all the posting..kathy

  Prescott wrote @

You forgot to write that the sea lion tried to bite me! I figured that poking it with the traffic cone would annoy it enough to jump in the water. But those things are vicious.

It ignored me completely until I jabbed it, then spun around (roaring like a lion-of-the-sea) and snapped at me. From now on I’m carrying pepper spray and dousing every stupid sea lion that gets in my way!

  webecomeus wrote @

good thing you’ve got weapons to protect you…oars and orange cones and such!

  Josh wrote @

Prescott what happened to the shotgun/crossbow/turret gun?

  Sara wrote @

Well after reading this post, people at work will be sure that there wasn’t much ‘work’ going on between my bursts of laughter. better you than me, but I loved the tale.


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