Velella's Drift

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

Archive for December, 2009

Catalina Weekend Footage

Last weekend we sailed to Catalina with Tyler,  Adam, and Simone, who also joined us on the weekend trip out to the island. Though there wasn’t much sun, the sailing was beautiful, replete with bottlenose dolphins. Adam shared this video (and scored it himself I hear!). If this doesn’t make you want to come down, I don’t know what will!


Stop reading this blog

Dear readers, most of whom I’m sure are family, but still:

So many of you have commented enthusiastically on these stories with notes like “you’re living the dream” and “we’re living vicariously through you.” After our trial run down the Pacific Coast, we are not scared off. More than ever, we want to continue traveling south through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean with the final destination being New York City. Our plan is to leave for Mexico November 1, 2010 and arrive to New York by June 1, 2011 at the latest. We are putting together a semi-rigid itinerary for the voyage, in part due to the inflexibility of hurricane season, which we need to avoid, but in part so that anyone who would like to join us for a taste of “the life” may do so at any point along the way. San Diego to Cabo San Lucas? The wild Pacific coast of Mexico? Historically-rich Panama Canal? A week-long passage through Caribbean coral reefs to Jamaica? Harbor-hopping ports of the Deep South? Chesapeake Bay?!

There are so many scenes and itineraries to choose from, and we want to share them with others. We’ll ask only that you contribute only a couple hundred dollars for a week to cover food and fuel (a mighty good deal for a week’s stay on a yacht in the Caribbean!). We can comfortably accommodate two passengers at a time, and the trip can be as hands-on or relaxing (or as long) as you like. Don’t let those stories of the raw Northwest coast dissuade you—it’s warm and sunny down here!

Right now we’re just trying to get a sense of who would seriously consider joining us for a leg. Please raise your hands (electronically) by commenting here or shooting us an email ( To those who respond, we will send more specific information on itinerary, costs, destinations, etc. We’re evening designing Velella “crew” t-shirts for the welcome aboard package!

We miss you all and would love to have you join us for a trip we promise will be most memorable.

I’m not selling

Yesterday it rained in Los Angeles. It was a hard, gusty rain, more like what I remember growing up with in Minnesota than what I became used to in Seattle. Of course, having left the eternally moist Pacific Northwest just a couple months ago, my reaction as we turned on the fireplace and lit the lanterns was, “well I guess we couldn’t stave it off forever—it’s time to hibernate for winter.”

Velella again proved her worth in last night’s storm. We are anchored in a relatively exposed bay, of which my old friend RH Dana remarked in 1836, “I see utterly no value in using San Pedro as a proper port.” We chose not to drop a second anchor anyway, knowing that the wind was due to clock from SE to NW without respite, which would leave us with twisted anchor lines. So instead we let more chain out on our 33lb CQR and checked the GPS obsessively for 6 hours to make sure we weren’t dragging. The three games of Scrabble we played to pass the time were intense.

This morning we awoke to silence, which seems so palpable after a storm. Instead of the flags and canvas snapping and cracking in the wind, there was only the slow creaking of the mast, the lolling pen on the shelf, the small waves lapping the hull. Sun streamed brightly through the hatch above our berth, and the temperature had dropped. I put on my slippers, made some coffee, and lit the fireplace to take the edge off the chill.

As we rowed in to shore, we realized for the first time since arriving in Los Angeles that there is a mountain range here—a beautiful dramatic backdrop to the palm-tree-lined city. But these mountains, which do not look very far away, are almost never visible from the coast due to the smog. The air is brown. BROWN!

Enter my list of grievances about LA. I’m trying to have a good outlook about it, but I know I’m not doing so well overall when Prescott says “you seem like you’re in a good mood today” and I say “why” and he says “because I can hear you muttering and what you’re saying is all positive.”

I owe him a positive day since I had a conniption fit driving around LA last week. We were in the car for eight hours and saw not a single cute block of shops, restaurants, apartments or anything. It was obscene. It made me hyperventilate and realize that we don’t stand a chance here as hobo sailors. People drive 70mph everywhere while we walk. People pay upwards of $1200/month for a mooring they aren’t allowed to live aboard in, and we’re begging the port police for free anchorage. Chatting with people feels like talking to agents—it’s like everyone is “representing” themselves. They throw around “industry” terms and enthusiastic “oh yeah definitelys” but then change the subject immediately back to their big project or celebrity client. Even though we have a really fun story to tell, I honestly don’t have the desire or energy or talent even to outsell myself to everyone.

I asked Prescott about this distasteful trend, and he told me that I’d have to get used to it and learn to play the game. That is how many people approach life here—as if each interaction with another human being is a deal to be clinched in their favor. He said, it’s just a philosophy of how to win at life: you have adopt a “selling” mentality in order to stay afloat. If everyone’s doing it, you have to too or you’ll never be heard or noticed here. I had a rare moment of sputtering speechlessness in response. I sat in the backseat of the car looking at concrete nothing whizzing by, thinking about why that idea was so repugnant to me.

Under a sign that read “Lawndale” I realized that I could probably make friendly with LA temporarily, but I do not want to go through life selling. To fill the air with the brown smog of your own hot air seems so incredibly boring.

This morning, as we rowed to the beach in the bright, rain-cleared air, I thought about how I’ve embarked this trip to listen to the world, not put myself into it. By the time we returned to the boat in the afternoon, the smog had filled in the skyline, and I’d made up my mind. I’m still in the game, but not this one. The spreadsheet is open again, and I’m crunching numbers and deadlines to head offshore again for Mexico and ports beyond.

I Guess We Are, Technically

“Excuse me. Excuse me!”

The voice, at once frantic and accusatory, was coming from somewhere nearby. It took me a moment to react. I was tired, for it had been a long day of travel. Meghan and I were returning from our Thanksgiving vacation. In the morning we were in Lyle, WA, from where we drove into Hood River, OR to meet my mother, who drove us in to Portland, OR to catch our plane. After a two hour flight to Long Beach, CA we waited an hour for our first bus and were in the process of lugging our backpacks and satchels to catch our second bus. It was already dark and my eyes were red with exhaustion, which is probably why at first I didn’t see the women in the van.


I finally noticed where the noise came from. We were in a residential neighborhood, somewhere near the water. Parked next to the sidewalk was a van with its lights on and motor running. A thin, shrill-looking Asian woman sat in the driver’s seat. She stared at us with one eye, while the other pointed wall-eyed to the side. Realizing that it was her who was causing the commotion, we approached her.

“Yes?” I asked hesitantly.

“Where are you going?”

Her tone was laden with hostility, and I immediately bristled.

“Why do you ask?” I was still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, as part of me thought that maybe she was aggressively flagging us down for directions.

“Do you live around here? Are you camping somewhere nearby?”

“We’re heading down to Second Street to catch the bus.”

I realized that we were still dressed like Northwesterners. I wore my fraying wool cap, a baggy sweatshirt, my unwashed bluejeans and hiking boats. Meg had on my matted fur-lined green coat and we both wore oversized backpacks and carried several additional bags. In the dark, it wouldn’t be a huge leap if she mistook us for homeless people.

“We live on a boat,” Meghan offered the woman.

“Ohhhhh.” The woman didn’t seem to know how to process this. While she mulled this information over, I noticed two kids squirming behind the tinted windows of her minivan.

“I was going to ask you to do me a favor,” she said, half to herself.

“Well,” she said finally. “Do you need a ride? I mean, how far away is your boat? ‘Cause I live right here and I have groceries in the back. But if it’s not too far, I could give you a ride.”

Meg and I were both caught off-guard, as we tried to assess her sudden change in disposition.

“No, that’s OK. Our bus stop is a block away. We’ll be fine.”

I thanked her and turned away.

“Hey,” she blurted back at us. “I don’t want this to come out weird, I mean I hope you don’t get the wrong idea, because I don’t think you guys are homeless or anything, but can I ask you something? Are there a lot of homeless people around where your boat is?”

“Hmmm… No, I don’t think so…”

“We’re from Seattle,” Meg said.

“There’s homeless people up there,” I added with sarcasm.

“Oh, Seattle,” she said, as if that explained everything. “I’ve got all this food in my car that I’m supposed to give to homeless people. It’s my calling. I’ve been driving around but I haven’t been able to find a single homeless person. I guess normally they feed them in a soup kitchen or something but I don’t know where any soup kitchens are. I was hoping maybe you could tell me.”

“Oh. No. Sorry. We don’t know where any homeless people are.”

Meghan and I turned to go. This time she let us. As soon as we were out of earshot, we ruminated over what just happened. Was her good-Samaritan story an attempt to backpedal from the fact that she had initially been so accusatory? Was she so new to charity she had to ask directions to the ghetto? Had she been punished by a judge, repaying her debt to society through this half-hearted attempt at community service?

The only thing we learned for certain was that, in the eyes of the average Los Angelite, Meghan and I look like a couple of hobos.