Velella's Drift

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

Archive for February, 2010

We’re having a baby

Don’t freak out, not a human one.

But I’ve decided it’s time for me to have a baby. That’s what my body keeps telling me and there’s nothing I can do about it. But clearly that would ruin pretty much everything, and we’d be obliged to dismiss the sailing voyage in favor of a shotgun wedding, so I’ll backburner it for another few years. But I’ve been realizing lately, in a very hormonal fashion, how much I need to mother something.

Giving away Nuala to my parents was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I miss her so much that I called in tears to Skype with her last week. She was just sleeping on the couch, happy as could be, having dog dreams. And I know it was the right decision to let her go live in my parents’ huge back yard, because a boat is no place for an energetic adult dog.

Cats, on the other hand, are made for boats, and there’s a long history of nautical kittens. Juliette and Suzette on Dove, and Tarzoon on Varuna are my more recent favorites. Prescott and I tend to want to live our lives like a book, so at first we decided to rescue a Mexican kitten out of a basket in an alleyway. We would name him Pedro, and he would be spunky. It would make for a good story.

However, I started doing my research and decided that, although romantic, that would not be wise, because kittens in Mexican alleyways have like a 90% chance of having some weird disease or worms or something.  And I also learned that LA has an enormous cat problem, and kitten rescue is very important here. I adopted Nuala from the humane society, and I like the idea of getting a rescued cat too–not to mention that they come spayed with all shots, dewormed, etc.

I could train the cat to use the ship’s head. I worked with a cat trainer on a book once and it’s totally possible to do this but takes some work. (Only problem with that is that we’d have to leave the door open all the time so it could get in and out, which probably wouldn’t work at sea. Plus, cats might be able to perch on a toilet seat in a house, but when the boat’s banging around at sea, what if it fell in??) Plan B is more sensible–find a place for a litter box. We have a wet locker (ie it drains into the bilge) behind the nav station. The locker is about 3.5 feet tall, 8 inches wide, and the door is removable. I’m planning to build a litter box that fits in the bottom of that locker, and line the walls with old carpet for scratching. The other perk about this location is that it’s low and along the centerline of the boat, so it moves very little even when the boat is in motion. See, I’ve thought about this.

Prescott is more rational than I am, naturally, but he seems surprisingly unopposed to the idea. We’re going to a kitten adoption this weekend, where there’s a tiny grey fluffy one I want to hold. She looks like a cloud–maybe we’ll call her Seattle. Or Pacifica.

Before you condemn this idea, consider why this makes sense:

Boat kitten can curl up in our laps and keep us company on solo night watches.
Boat kitten can be transfixed by the waves spashing the side of the boat.
Boat kitten can climb up on shelves and stick her head through windows.
Boat kitten can ride in the dinghy with us.
Boat kitten can purr next to us in the v-berth at night.
Boat kitten can make sure we never get rats!
Boat kitten can make us laugh and be our company when we’re sick of talking to each other.
Boat kitten will side with Prescott about throwing a line out for tuna, every time.
Boat kitten can have her own hammock because that would be funny and she’d really like it.
Boat kitten can learn tricks, like maybe “salute,” for the entertainment of our guests.
Boat kitten will be the favorite visitor in every anchorage.
Boat kitten will be funny when the salt spray hits her. Then she can be wrapped in a towel so just her nose pokes out.
Boat kitten will be another thing to take pictures of when there’s nothing else to photograph at sea.
Boat kitten will probably do something about cockroaches too.
Boat kitten will be curious about Prescott’s engine projects but not my woodworking.
Boat kitten will play with the ends of lines and fall asleep on coils of rope.
Boat kitten should probably be a few months old when we leave, so maybe we should get her now.
What do you think???

Velella cover story

Little did I know when I sent in my pithy humor piece to Living Aboard Magazine that I would end up on the cover of their March issue! The feature article is available online at

Scrap Workers

We’re “settled” as much as we can be in LA. I am now working at West Marine part time and also writing part time for the American Sailing Association. My life could not get more nautical. Prescott is thankfully making more than I am freelancing as an After Effects artist, film and commercial production assistant, and purveyor of lucrative potential book ideas… We’re putting it together week by week and logging every gumball purchased. And I think we’re going to make it.

I’ve been outwardly positive about it, but for awhile there I wasn’t sure if we were going to get everything together in time. But now that our finances have been spanked into manageable order, I have started working on, what else–boat projects. And as today was my first day off in 9 days, I made this little piece of teak-craftery:

You may not realize how exciting this knife block is for me. We had a normal countertop knife block — a ridiculous item when you have only 2.5 feet of counter, moving counter no less. When we were at sea, we had to stow the knife block in one of our tiny galley cupboards, awkwardly stuffing it into the precious space and opening the sliding doors carefully each time lest three or more knives fly out across the room. NOW, this sleek teak block will hank hip-level on the vertical side of the counter–totally accessible and not in the way of anything else. Brilliant, if I do say so myself. I also special ordered our long-missing stove thermocoupler, the absence of which has deprived us of a functional oven for over a year now. Oh the cooking and baking that will go on in my one-foot-square galley… my mouth is watering.

Next up: an anchor locker divider and an organized cockpit lazarette. I know, these pictures aren’t nearly as interesting as the offshore ones. However, Prescott and I both have been working hard to get our more colorful offshore stories in print, and almost every month between March and November Velella will be featured in one of the major sailing magazines. Here’s a rundown of the titles sold so far so you can keep an eye out if you want:

March: “Sailors Who’ve Heard It All” by Meghan in Living Aboard Magazine

April: “Before the Iron Genny” feature in Blue Water Sailing Magazine and “The Salt of Life” in the Northwest’s 48 North Magazine by Meghan

May: “The Sailing Life O’Reilly” in Living Aboard Magazine and “I Guess We Are, Technically” in Seafaring Magazine by Prescott

June: “Beyond the Port of Call” feature by Meghan in Blue Water Sailing

August: “Port Alberni Yacht Club” by Meghan in Blue Water Sailing

September: “Sipping and Sailing” by Meghan in Blue Water Sailing

October: “Winter in the Channel Islands” feature by Prescott in Blue Water Sailing

…and many more in the works. We’ll post pdfs of the prints as they hit newsstands!

And because my life is thoroughly and completely nautical, now I’m signing off to continue devouring my bedtime book, “Dove,” a classic for all of us who wish we were sailing.

And yet and yet…

[A followup to “Hollywood Makes an Offer”]

Spending 10 hours with strangers is some serious quality time. European-style quality time. I honestly thought we were just going to get coffee, and then…it turned into THIS.

It was 10:30 pm when Prescott and I got home to Velella. Even I have to admit, she felt like an old reliable mare compared to the stallion of a yacht we’d spent the day in. We were exhausted, deflated, and slept little.

It took us both a couple of days to process our thoughts. So much information and opportunity had been dumped on us, and we weren’t prepared, and it was completely overwhelming. Like Prescott, I oscillated between thinking “This is it–this is what’s going to get us out of LA, take care of us financially, and provide invaluable experience professionally for us” and feeling pangs of…hesitation? doubt? regret? I wasn’t sure what.

The money was severely tempting. We are struggling here in a very expensive place in an extremely ill job market to save the funds for an incredibly large trip. We have about $10,000 more of outfitting to do to the boat before she’s ready to make the offshore, international tour, and that does not include the money we’ll need to spend along the way. My $10,000 estimate does not cover anything extraneous, like a bimini, storm sails, an inflatable kayak, a water maker, and many other wonderful potential upgrades. We are outfitting only with what we absolutely need, cheaply and simply as possible, but it’s still critical that we obtain a couple of major items. To have someone hand it all to me and more, and offer to pay me on top of that to outfit their boat with an unlimited budget–I was seriously, seriously excited. But something was keeping me awake at night and making me sad about the whole thing, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

Prescott and I talked about it constantly for two days straight. Pros and cons, excitement and fear, digging around in our brains for a rationale to make the decision one way or the other. It was only with the help of talking to our parents that we were able to step out of it far enough to think clearly. We were putting way too much pressure on ourselves to commit, when what we really needed to do was get to know them better. I decided to write and offer Lucio and Renata our hourly assistance for a few weeks as a trial period–both for our sakes and theirs–to see whether we all worked well together. Putting off the decision made me feel much better.

However, Prescott and I both had strong reactions to a couple of the ideas they had casually mentioned–the biggest one being the enforcement of a three-person rotating crew between the two boats. Velella is our home, our space, and we weren’t eager to take on a permanent third person (who we’d never met), nor did we want to be compelled to live for portions of time on their sailboat. When I thought it through, I realized there would be times when neither Prescott nor I would be sailing on Velella, and that thought was so absurd I decided to draw the line there. Maybe an archaic notion, but nevertheless a gut conviction for me–there was no way in hell this captain is leaving her vessel to be commanded by someone else. I felt like they’d asked me if they could raise my firstborn, just for years 2-4 and 7-10. Are you kidding me?

I wrote a very long email stating why we were excited, what we thought we could contribute, and what our concerns were. I primarily focused on the rotating crew thing, saying that was not an agreeable arrangement for us, and wondering if they would be flexible on that (rather extraneous) notion they’d had.

It felt good to define our boundaries, even just one of them. After we did that I started to realize what it was we’d be giving up to join them. The thing is, whereas most people would jump on an offer to sail the world and film a movie because you get an awesome sailing trip out of the deal, we already have an awesome sailing trip. So what are we gaining? Professional experience for Prescott, yes. Money, yes. But these are things we know we can go about obtaining in other ways. What made me terrified was the thought that we’d be relinquishing our trip to theirs.

I have a number of books by world-renowned sailors Lin and Larry Pardey aboard the boat, and their “cheap and cheerful” approach is something we’ve worked hard to imitate, within reason. They handbuilt their first boat–an impeccably classic wooden cutter–with no engine and zero electronics, and they sailed the world in it on a very small budget. Being on Lucio and Renata’s boat was awesome in that it was tricked out to the nines, but my Lin and Larry Pardey philosophy was revolted by it. Learning to live by little and with far less has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this lifestyle. And I’m happier than I ever have been. To give up our quiet, exploratory life for high-tech everything and tons of money… why not just go back to our careers and resume “real life” ashore? I cried at the thought of becoming again what I’ve fought so hard to shed.

Ultimately, Renata and Lucio wrote back to us saying our concerns were concerning to them, and they didn’t want to bend on any of their communal notions. A surprising amount of relief washed over me as the door closed on that opportunity. I spent the next two days happily trimming Velella’s caulking by hand, lovingly sanding the decks to a smooth bright finish, and thinking about the wonderful freedom with which we’ll be able to sail, explore tiny blue anchorages, and enjoy our own silence on the way to New York.

And since we won’t be employed by a high-speed mobile production unit, I hope many of you will join us for a slice of simple beauty and sun along the way. : )

Hollywood Makes An Offer

To those of you checking Velella’s Drift, I apologize for our infrequent updates. Meghan is working a couple days a week at West Marine. I’m unemployed, living as cheaply as possible. Last weekend we did get to sail to Catalina Island with Ricky, my friend from high school, and his wife Mara. This time, instead of going to the crowded Hood River-esque Avalon, we sailed to the tiny town of Two Harbors. There were no paved roads, and the whole town seemed comprised of small wooden one-bedroom houses. Spotted with palm trees and surrounded by steep, green hills, it felt more like Costa Rica than Southern California. It was our first sailing excursion since early December and, aside from the below story, our only new adventure.

Meghan’s West Marine store is one of the company’s flagship locations. It’s larger than most West Marines and a bit nicer. Not surprisingly, Meghan meets a lot of boaters while she works. Rich yachters routinely come in to drop a few boat bucks ($1,000s) on the new boating technology. She is on friendly terms with the father of Zac and Abbey Sunderland. And she’s come to know a wealthy Brazilian couple, Lucio and Renata.

The week before Ricky and Mara came to town was the first time I heard about Lucio and Renata. They had been coming in to West Marine nearly every day, outfitting their boat with the most expensive, state-of-the art equipment. Finally, Meghan asked them about their plans.

Renata told Meghan that they were putting together a crew of six people to sail from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal, leaving in November of 2010. Pleasantly surprised, Meghan told Renata about our own, similar plan. Renata elaborated a little more: This wasn’t just a sailing trip; they were also shooting a documentary! Meghan then chimed in about me, my film experience, and how maybe the two boats could sail together? Excited, the two girls exchanged numbers and agreed to get coffee.

When Meg first told me about it, I was skeptical. People come to LA because they want to act, write or direct. No one in LA is just working the nine to five: Everyone has a side project. They are scrambling to get into the business, working their way up the ladder, or else “taking time off to write”. I’ve worked enough gigs to know that every production assistant is also a writer, producer, director. So when Meghan told me about her new friend, I was tempted to chalk her excitement up to her newness in town. But she had a gut feeling, and how could I argue with that? I agreed to get coffee.

Coffee was on Monday at 11 am. I didn’t know what to expect, so I reviewed my qualifications in my head, prepping for an interview. I knew that Renata and Lucio were Brazilian, and I recognized them the moment they walked in. Renata was a little older than us with a thin, sweet face. She was as tall as me, with olive-tan skin and pixie-cropped hair. Lucio was in his sixties, with a prickly gray beard, glasses and a baseball hat. Both wore jeans and wool sweaters, his blue, hers orange.

They were very nice, and after a few awkward niceties, I bid them to unveil their project. Lucio needed little prompting. “Well,” he began with a Cheshire grin, “we are embarking on a new kind of fantasy epic, on the scale of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.” For the next forty-five minutes, the two of them doled out small portions of their last five years of life. They talked a little about the sailing trip, a little about their personal philosophies, a little about their preparations, occasionally tying it all back in to their films. They clearly had a project of legendary scope in their heads but, like most artists, their explanation was hard to follow. Here’s what I pieced together:

1) Renata is independently wealthy. She owns property in Brazil with a house and a production studio.

2) Lucio and Renata plan to spend the next three years sailing down to the Caribbean, then sail over to Europe for a year, and then sail to Brazil.

3) On this trip, they plan to shoot three feature length films (a trilogy), and three documentaries.

4) They want a permanent crew of six people for the sailing trip, and plan to hire twelve additional crew members at every shooting location they stop.

5) Lucio worked as a director of photography for years. These movies are his vision and he plans to shoot and direct the movies. Renata is writing and scoring them.

6) These films star mostly children. The purpose of the films is not just to entertain, but also to showcase Lucio and Renata’s personal philosophy.

7) Their personal philosophy is a mix of classic western philosophy and new age religion. To the best of my understanding, they believe that the influence of media has estranged children from their true selves, which is destroying the planet and ruining families. The solution is to change the media, replacing it with classic philosophy.

8- The three feature films they’re shooting on this trip are only a prequel to the REAL and most important trilogy of films, which will begin shooting after the first three movies and three documentaries wrap.

9) They have a mysterious private benefactor who bought them a 52 foot sailboat and a production studio full of film equipment.

10) They have two actresses who are learning how to sail. They are looking for the last two members of their crew, which is why they invited Meghan and me out for coffee.

I was already overwhelmed. It was a lot of information to take in. Plus, Meghan and I had barely said anything about ourselves and our qualifications. How could they consider us as their fifth and sixth essential crew members? Meghan didn’t have any film experience and I had only PA and post-production experience. Nevertheless, their boat sounded awesome, so I asked if we could see it. They were more than happy to show us.

This was when I began to see that their story was legitimate. They had a 52’ brand new Island Packet center-cockpit cruiser. It was beautiful—straight off the showroom floor. There was a table on the stern deck for Caribbean lunches. The cabin was huge. It had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. When we entered, an electrician was working diligently to install all the latest high-tech gadgetry on the boat: A 6 camera surveillance system, a combination sonar/radar system, the world’s quietest generator imported from Europe. Not to mention a high definition projector and screen, so Lucio could watch the dailies (the film he shot during the day). Renata had her own office, with a keyboard for writing the score and an editing station for editing the documentaries. The boat was more than a yacht: It was a mobile production unit.

We had lunch in the cockpit. It was a simple European fare of bread, cheese, fruit and coca-cola in the bottle. Here Lucio and Renata laid out their rules for the trip: No smoking, no drugs, no alcohol, and no meat. Creating the right kind of atmosphere was very important to Lucio, and he wanted to make sure his crew was on the same page.

Also, no more than three people at a time would be on his 52’ sailboat. That meant Meghan and I would be taking a third crew member on our boat. But, Lucio explained, Meg, the two actresses and I would rotate back and forth between the two boats, which meant that Meghan would not always be able to be aboard Velella. Finally, Meghan and I would be expected to commit to the project for all three years. After sailing to Panama, we would forgo New York (‘You don’t want to go to New York,’ Renata told us. ‘It’s too crowded’). Instead, we would sail with them over to Scandinavia for a year, before heading back to Brazil. If we agreed they would trick out our boat, buying us a windvane, SSB radio, and whatever else we needed. Plus we’d be paid a monthly stipend. In addition, they would get us scuba certified, take us on kayaking trips, buy us iPhones, and pay for any classes we needed to prepare. Jaw dropped, we left the boat to go to their three apartments housing their production equipment.

I’ve PA’d on one reality TV show, one HBO documentary, two feature films, and one commercial. At this point, I have a good understanding of the equipment required to make a movie. Lucio and Renata had it all. I couldn’t believe it. We walked into their first apartment and I was immediately drawn to their editing studio. Three screens, a monitor, multiple bays. Then Lucio told me that that was his old station: He hadn’t used it in years. He showed me his new station, which was hooked up to 35 mm bay the size of a refrigerator box. ‘That’s for editing film,’ he explained. Renata showed us her composing studio, with two keyboards and multiple other instruments. Renata had just got her second BA at the UCLA for composing and they played for us some of her works, which were really great. They then went on to show us their DVD library, over a thousand movies available for reference, and their literature library, over a thousand classic books to draw upon for ideas and inspiration.

Their next apartment looked like a bomb had gone off. Two 35 mm Panasonic film cameras stood on tripods in the middle of the room. These were the real deal, the cameras used to shoot all major blockbusters. Scattered around was myriad of equipment: Lighting kits, electrical cabling, and five different dollies. Lucio explained his camera system to me. The two 35 mm cameras were for the feature films. He had a XL2 HD with a complete lens kit for the documentaries. THEN he had a system of five high-end HD canons that he could set up on remote control tripods so he could cover every angle. ‘This is the system George Lucas is currently experimenting with,’ he explained. ‘I figured if Lucas is using it, it will work for us.’

‘What I need from you is to learn all this equipment. I’ll pay for the best Hollywood professionals to train you. Then you can pick your role on set. Since you’ll know all the equipment, you’ll be in charge of hiring the additional crew whenever we’re shooting.’ I turned to Meghan, who was grinning at the size of my smile. ‘It would be like being paid to go to film school,’ I told her. ‘Except I’d be sailing around the world at the same time.’

At this point we were tired. It was five o’clock and we’d been presented with an overwhelming amount of information. However one piece of critical information remained: What were their movies about? Before I made any kind of decision, I wanted to read a script. If I was going to devote three years of my life towards a project, I had to feel some passion towards it. Renata and Luico looked at each other and smiled. Their script was their baby, not to be shared with just anyone. However we were clearly interested, so they invited us out to dinner.

If you are interested to learn more about their project, I would encourage you to check out their website, Meghan and I promised not to discuss their treatments with anyone which, as a writer, I completely understand. Meg and I read their story over dinner in concentrated silence. When we’d finished, I was the first to summarize my thoughts. ‘Wow. This is… ambitious. You’re going to make three film trilogies?’

Lucio smiled, encouraged. ‘Or four, maybe five. We’ll see.’

I recognized that Meg was feeling a bit overwhelmed. ‘I need some time to digest all this. I’m going to respond to you in a long email.’ Renata encouraged us to do so. For the next two hours, Meghan and I sat patiently as they parsed out their philosophy in bits, phrases and rhetorical questions:

‘Everything is made of energy.’ Renata picks up a glass. ‘This glass is made of energy. So why is it a glass?’

‘What do you get when you no longer have a beautiful family? A broken family.’

‘Children are the key; we have to start with them.’

‘What do you see when you’re sailing in the middle of the ocean? The Sky.’

‘Water is the ideal medium to bring out a child’s essence.’

‘None of this information is new, it’s just been forgotten.’

And so on, and so on. After a full ten hours spent with Lucio and Renata, we were ready to go home. They paid for dinner and we gratefully thanked them. A simple coffee date had turned into a life changing decision, and we needed time to think it over.