Velella's Drift

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

Sailors, sailors, sailors

San Diego is great, and I’m glad we get to spend some time here. After sailing all day Sunday and doing a night watch on Halloween (spooky!) we pulled into port here Monday evening. The sun was setting and the skyline was all a-glimmer. The skyscrapers of this healthy-sized city stand watch over the waterfront, and for a moment I felt like we were heading back into Seattle. A blast of desert breeze reminded me that we were still in southern California, and that things were only getting warmer.

In addition to being markedly warmer, San Diego as a whole seems more hospitable than Los Angeles. Boating is king in San Diego bay and the waterfront community is built to cater to us cruisers, a far cry from the terrible customer service in Marina Del Rey. And although the water is still the same LA shade of murky green, there is at least evidence of life. Sea anemones cling to the side of the docks, reminding us of how disgusting our former home was.

As we puttered up to our guest dock, we noticed a small motor boat coasting parallel to us. One of the crew reached into the water… and a dolphin broke the surface right under his hand. No joke! Sea World is only a couple miles away, and perhaps this dolphin is a part-time employee. Meg watched enviously as the dolphin rolled over for a stomach scratch. “Hey, I want to pet a dolphin!” I promised Meghan I’d find her a dolphin to pet before the end of our trip.

We’re not in any particular hurry to head down to our Mexican port of check-in, Ensenada. The weather seems to be holding at less than ten knots of wind for the next week, and the ocean swell is diminishing day by day. At 10.50 a night our San Diego slip is a bargain, especially when compared to the $105 a night fee for the yacht club next door. The next leg of our trip is the desolate Baja coast, which I’m not looking forward to. It’s a rocky desert coast with bad anchorages, dusty scenery, and expensive provisions. Our guidebook compares Baja to a fruit, describing the Pacific Coast as the “dry husk that protects the succulent Sea of Cortez”. We’ve been told to make haste down Baja and get to the good stuff.

To get the information we needed we spoke to a half dozen cruisers. Or rather, they spoke to us. Conversations are rare in the cruising world. What’s more common are sailors talking over one another or, if you’re like us, getting talked “at” until you come up with your excuse to make an exit. As I told Meghan yesterday, my least favorite thing about sailing is other sailors.

There are three main categories of sailors. The first is the Long-Winded Cruiser. These are the guys waiting on the dock as you sail into port. They don’t help with the lines, but immediately ask their gateway question: “Where ya’ comin’ from?” It doesn’t matter what you answer. The Long-Winded Cruiser launches into his prepared sea shanty about the weather, his recent travels, or whatever sailing-related topic is on his mind. After half an hour of nodding politely, you finally excuse yourself to finish tying up the boat. Strap a Long-Winded Cruiser to your mast and these blowhards will keep your sails full.

Type two is the Jimmy Buffet. The Jimmy Buffet doesn’t exist north of 38 degrees. He tends to congregate around the equator, and becoming increasingly prevalent as you head south. He’s easy to recognize: Look for the mullet and the t-shirt with booze-related slogan (‘its happy hour somewhere’). His boat is a Frankenstein’s Monster stitched together out of balsa wood, stove pipe and frayed dockline. The Jimmy Buffet can be humorous or downright sketchy. Last night as Meg and I were going to sleep, we heard a knock on the hull. I went up top to investigate, only to find a drunken Jimmy Buffet. staggering on the dock. His slur was thick, but eventually I realized that he’d mistaken Velella the wrong boat and was climbing aboard! I informed him of his error, he mumbled an apology, and we locked our doors.

The worst kind to sail with is type three, The Captain. The Captain doesn’t have his captain’s license, but knows how best to do everything, all the time. He sails his boat like a warship, and often has a naval background. Even when sailing your boat, there are only two ways of doing things: The Captain’s way and the wrong way. The Captain loves a good argument, so it’s best to suppress what you’re really thinking. A better strategy is just to nod politely… and never invite him on to your boat!

There are so many sailors, I expected more variety. Where are the odd ducks from the Pacific Northwest? Where are all the good folk from Minnesota? I’m excited for people to start visiting us. My parents are coming in December and Peter, my friend from high school. After that Meghan’s parents will join us and her friend Tessa. Following two years of conversations about the boat, I hunger for any stimulus not sailing-related. What I wouldn’t give to have a conversation about philosophy, cars, or politics. Hell, I’ll even talk about football.

So if you’re reading this, come on down! You can bring us word from the outside world and in exchange we’ll teach you how to sail, and give you a glimpse into this unique lifestyle. It’s like nothing else on the planet, and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. And if I yammer on, you’ll have to forgive me. I am, after all, a sailor.

ADDENDUM: As I reread this, I realize that Velella is flanked on either side by boats from Canada. Their presence requires me to add a fourth category: The Canadian. They are polite, clean, and make liberal use of the word “Eh?”



  Peter C. wrote @

Great post, Prescott!
I’m trying to find my preferred category. Might you allow hybrids into your lexicon? (i.e, Jimmy-Captain-Buffets… they’re far cooler than any you’ve described.. )
Re conversation about non-sailing related topics, I could take up the political dialog, but you might not enjoy that so much. Football? I got nothin’. I’d recommend (my current favorite son-in-law) Mr.Kyle Helms, for a dialog re things philosophical; he’s far more qualified in this domain than I.
Appears you enjoyed the brief stopover in San Diego. I enjoyed your parting comments.
FW/FS (fair winds / following seas)

  Caitlin wrote @

just fyi, canadians are pretty similar to minnesotans, overall 🙂

and i hope your captain doesn’t fall into the captain category!

  Peter C. wrote @

M’dear Caitlin Rose –
The captain is fully certified, the mate is fully qualified. Sail on, Velella!

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