Velella's Drift

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

Archive for April, 2011

First Class Tickets

I was extremely tired from traveling as I walked into a Wal-Mart to pick up some cat food yesterday. I barely noticed the huge display of familiar Mexican food items in front of me: masa harina, pan tostadas, cane sugar bottled Cokes, Penginos, and other typical corner store stock. It slowly dawned on me that literally everyone around me was speaking Spanish too—and I almost asked “donde es la comida para gatos?”—when I realized with a start that what the heck was Mexico doing following me to Hood River Oregon?!?

We’ve come to Prescott’s parents home hear Hood River to “decompress” for a week while we wait for Velella to arrive by Yachtpath ship. We figured it would be good to come to this quiet country place first to alleviate the culture shock of returning to the US. But (despite the local Mexican population here that tricks my tired mind into feeling like we’re still in Baja), it’s still shocking to be home in the states.

Last week at this time we were in limbo in La Paz, waiting for our Yachtpath ship to arrive. By the middle of April the heat had become aggressive—not stiflingly humid, but a dry baking heat like being in a kiln. By the time the ship arrived I felt like I was going to melt to my grave, and was glad to leave Mexico for the temperate and beautiful Pacific Northwest summer. Of course as we approached the carrier ship at sunset, all the emotions of change came flooding over me. Pride for all the miles passed beneath our keel, futile longing to rewind the tape and play it again, fear for Velella as we left her in the care of other hands to make the long transit home.

The loading operations went smoothly, and before we knew it we were being zipped to shore by a panga as Velella was being hosted by crane onto the ship called the BBC Rhine.

As we headed to the airport and waited for our flights, I realized with some sadness that I hadn’t bought home a single “souvenir” from our time in Mexico. I’d been too busy living the whole adventure to even consider that someday we’d be looking back on it. I browsed the jewelry shops, thinking perhaps I’d take a keepsake to remind me of this time, but I knew that no token could capture it all. As our flight soared above the Sea of Cortez, we pointed out the islands we’d called home for the past couple of months, I realized that what we brought home were priceless memories and thousands of photographs and a changed way of being.

There’s nothing quite like the first time for anything, and it’s been bittersweet to close the book on this tropical sailing adventure. But we’ve no doubt that we’ll point our bow south again someday, and meanwhile we will be exploring the Pacific Northwest by sail.

The very day we arrived in Oregon the tulips blossomed, all lipstick red and lemon yellow in the mossy woods. We are taking hot baths and sitting by the woodstove and waiting for Velella—because where ever she is, we’re home.

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Going Home

We are anchored amongst a thicket of sailboats in the La Paz anchorage. The sunsets here are look like a forest of masts on fire, trailing red smoking clouds across the evening sky. We’ve returned to the flock.

As daunting as it is in some ways to re-enter “society” after weeks in island isolation in the Sea of Cortez, I’ve always loved being in the company of other boats. We row to shore during the morning and appraise each one, walk along the yard fence and comment on the shape of that one’s underbelly and this one’s prow. As usual with any gathering of boats, the range of personality is huge—from the cruiser who has every current convenience and spotless canvas coverings for it all, to the floating piece of (steel? wood?) that has lawn chairs strapped into the cockpit, propane tanks rolling around the foredeck, and hanked-on Kleenexes for sails. And of course we note their names, Wandering Puffin, Murre, Arctic Tern, Rocinante, Gypsy. . alongside Neener Neener Neener or You Got A B Kiddin Me. Almost every single day I turn around as we’re rowing away and pridefully tell Velella that I think she’s the prettiest girl at the dance.

People love cruising for different reasons, I know that. Some are fueled almost completely by the desire to travel, so they are content to navigate in anything that stays afloat. That’s cool. Others are racers are heart, and above all else yearn to make mile upon mile under wind power alone, teasing every inch of speed out of their well-tuned rigs. Good for them. We fall into a third category: We just love living on our boat. Regardless of where or how far the boat ever travels, the liveaboard lifestyle alone is a strong enough pull to the water.

Living aboard is like owning your own island. We get to row out to our home, surrounded by a moat of privacy. On our island we bake fresh bread. We crank whatever music we want to without disturbing the neighbors. We shower in the sundrenched cockpit. We have only our own creative projects to keep us busy, and only the weather reports to tune into on time. The physical distance from the rest of the world makes you feel like you can control your own life, at exactly the pace you want it to be. It’s like inhabiting a small cabin on a cliff, overlooking a city stretched out in tiny silent frenzy beneath you.

It’s unbelievable real estate, no matter where you are. I’m convinced that we’ve stumbled upon the most brilliant, best kept secret on the market.

I woke up from a dream last night and the air was unusually calm in the bay. I pulled on my bathrobe and peeked out into the cockpit to see that all was well. As I inhaled the salty still air and scanned the horizon, I caught my breath on a surreal vision. The rising moon had etched the black silhouette of a sleeping schooner into its enormous glowing belly, like a huge gold coin stamped with a proud sailing ship. That is the picture of this lifestyle’s currency, I thought, as I crawled back into bed with a skylight view of swaying stars.

Next week our overhead view will be much the same, but we’ll have traded our sunshowers for flannel sheets and Pacificos for hot cider. After soul-searching for a long time, we realized that two major ocean crossings this summer in order to get the boat home to the Northwest via Hawaii was simply not our idea of an enjoyable honeymoon. So we’re headed home with Velella the expedient way (via Yachtpath carrier ship) to take advantage of the stunning Pacific Northwest sailing season in the San Juan Islands. Although we’ll have to leave behind the tropical heat in Mexico, the things we love most about our little private island know no season.

In the Northwest, coffee in the morning will be all the more welcome, our well-sealed decks more appreciated, our propane fireplace and glowing oil lamp beacons of creative coziness. And the pale spring Northwest moon ascends through night air crisp with cherry blossoms. When we exchange our gold moonrises for silver ones, we will still be just as rich living aboard.

Sea Monster

(A kitten collection, at the request of ASA fans!)

I blame Robin Graham for this. And Tania Abei too. Their descriptions of kitten-companions aboard their circumnavigating sailboats tore at my heart until I became obsessed with the idea of having a boat kitten too.

“But it doesn’t seem like the right environment for a cat.”

“How are you going to make sure she doesn’t fall in?”

“You know, cats HATE water.”

Given the severe overpopulation of homeless cats and kittens in the Los Angeles area, I was shocked that I couldn’t just go to a shelter and rescue one. Everyone seemed to disapprove. Each location made us fill out a huge interview describing the living arrangements, etc (as though whatever home it might go to could possibly be worse than a flea-ridden shelter cage). More often than not, people determined that a boat was an unfit home for a cat. (I mean, they hate water.) I felt ridiculous and exasperated explaining that the cat would not be living IN water. Our floating home is cozy and full of nooks and crannies and fresh fish! We were denied again and again. It was astonishing how people who knew so very little about boats and what it meant to live on one were so quick to condemn the unknown.

Ultimately, a non-profit called Kitten Rescue decided that we were fit parents for a little calico that I’d fallen in love with. The director visited the boat personally and decided to give us the kitten for free (with all shots and spaying paid for!) because she thought our boat was a wonderful home for her. So we named the little calico Nessie, after the  sea monster.

Now Nessie has been sailing with us for a year, and has thousands of sea miles under her whiskers. She has a fabulously glamorous life. She enjoys sashimi frequently, loves sleeping under the sunny warm dodger, tears around the boat chasing flies away for exercise, and meditatively watches the sunrise every morning. She even plays chess and has been known to help hoist sails.

So to all those of you who would eschew having a cat onboard, don’t be so quick to judge! If a kitten starts sailing young, she’ll be an old salt in no time. Who knows, she might even start swimming.

The World a Spare Room

He’s driving me completely nuts.

We’ve had a lovely “early honeymoon” this week, sinking into the solitude with each other (after a month of guests aboard) and exploring some of the most remote anchorages we’ve yet seen. As the sole boat in an enormous reef-fringed anchorage on an uninhabited island, you can hike up the cliff in the nude if you feel like it!-there’s nobody for miles but the scuttling crabs and soaring hawks. Yesterday I laid in bed for almost the entire day reading a book, which is a rare treat even when you’re on perma-vacation like we are now. We cook food, read to each other, play chess and cribbage, swim, sleep, you get the picture. It’s been beautiful, and all the more savory because we’ll be leaving Mexico in less than two weeks.

As our wedding date approaches and our sailing trip comes to a (temporary) end, we’ve been congratulating ourselves on the wisdom of heading “off the grid” during our engagement. We spent the last six months working really hard together, overcoming fears, facing a huge range of problems, and enjoying equally many spectacularly gratifying moments as well. Lots of “quality time.” Our guests (fellow cruisers and landlubbers alike) often remark that if you can get along with each other on a 35′ boat for this long, you’re well equipped for marriage.

If marriage is eternal tolerance, then yes, I would think we’re well equipped. I mean, I can’t imagine a point in my life where I will ever be MORE annoyed with this man on a daily basis. I’m so sick of hearing “can I squeeze past you?” (about 12 times per day), that I’ve started to just say, No more squeezing past! If I’m occupying our 1-foot-square galley, you can’t “squeeze in” too! There’s no room in our bedroom for both of us to get dressed at the same time! Now that I sat down to write you need something out of the quarter berth beneath me?! I’m sure he’s just as annoyed with me because, after all, we only have 35 feet, and that’s mighty little for two to share. But for the most part, we suppress these annoyances because, well, we chose to live in a tiny house.

Compounding the small space arrangements is the fact that absolutely everything we do is a decision to be made, which amounts to about 65 decisions we make TOGETHER per day: do we tack upwind to get to the cooler anchorage North of us or head around the corner to the South for a more comfortable sail? Should we reef the main now? Should we fly the staysail with that? How about trimming in, easing off, closing that thru-hull valve, anchoring in three fathoms or five, and oh I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the things we decide on together. Naturally, both being well-educated and stubborn, we have a few differences of opinion on our forced and frequent collaborations. Just a few.

Having such confined space to cohabitate (and make so VERY many decisions within) is a struggle-I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t. We all need space to live. But while everybody else may have larger homes than ours, and rooms they can retreat to for peace and quiet and space from one another, nobody has the kind of backyard we have. It’s full of dolphins.

We have the whole navigable world to stretch out in-and it’s always a million-dollar view. You are all cordially invited to visit as guests to our expansive, skylight-lit spare room.