Velella's Drift

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

Archive for Leg 4

Pick up a Blue Water Sailing

Meghan’s feature-length article “Beyond the Iron Genny” is printed in glossy color in March’s Blue Water Sailing magazine… and you can’t read it online, so go to the newsstand! And you might as well subscribe, because there will be an article by either Prescott or I almost every month this year in BWS. (Though the stories may be familiar to you, dear devoted blog readers.)


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. : )

It’s Hollywood, baby!

My commitment to this blog is often the subject of debate between Meghan and I. I have no good excuse for my lack of posts, just that I’m “feeling it” less frequently than Meghan is. Still, seeing that the previous five posts were Meghan’s, it is inarguably my turn to contribute something.

We are in Los Angeles. We have been here for going on two months. And in my PERSONAL estimation, it’s not been so bad.

We’ve managed to find the only quiet niche in this gigantic city. Our slip in Marina Del Rey is off the beaten path, meaning no nearby roads and little commercial development. We are right next to the public restrooms, a minute away from a grungy coffee shop where we work on our computers, and two minutes away from a grungy but private beach. The privacy is the most appealing attribute of our new home. Rarely is anyone else on our dock. Yes, there are a handful of weirdos who hang out in the vicinity, but they are quickly becoming OUR weirdos. We have now made an acquaintance with most of them, so if we can’t avoid them on the dock ramp, at least we can address them by their first name. They are minor annoyances, all of them, but I know we will miss them when we move on. In short, we have a community.

It helps too that we are finding work. Meghan is starting her job at West Marine next week (distraught at the thought of having to wear khakis to work). I have a short stint on a commercial. We’ve both been doing odd jobs in the meantime. We haven’t yet found the money that’s going to get us out of LA, but it’s to keep us from sinking deeper into our savings. The best thing is that enables us to explore the wonderful world of freelance. We’re both submitting articles (though only Meghan’s are being published), and I’m submitting my first D&D adventure for publication while also wrangling up video work.

It’s a scrappy way to live. Instead of the all-or-nothing lifestyle of a salary job, where you either get a flat paycheck or else you’re fired, as a freelancer you fight for every dollar. You’re constantly on the hunt for a way to make a couple hundred dollars. And when you find something, you pursue it with full force. Every moment is a fight for sustenance: When you’re not writing proposals or working on your projects, you’re thinking of new ways to make some scratch. You’re never off the clock, but then neither do you ever have to do something you don’t want to. Is this project worth my time? The decision is yours and yours alone. It’s a new, very appealing way to live.

Finally, I enjoy the wheeling and dealing that goes on in LA. It’s all about networking, and I like that nobody pretends it isn’t. I knew two people coming down here, and had phone numbers for two more. I called up the phone numbers and invited them to coffee. Each coffee date got me three more phone numbers, and one of those got me the commercial I’m on next week. In the meantime I have people asking around for more video and writing gigs. There’s a world of opportunity, especially when you’re starting at the bottom. My ultimate hope for Los Angeles is that Meg and I can live so cheaply, we can save up for our departure by doing what we really want: Writing articles and peddling our ideas.

So there’s my two cents on LA and the trip thus far. It’s good. Getting better all the time. I don’t know how anything else in life could top this, but when we do finally arrive in New York, we’re going to be equipped to handle anything.

2010, Bigger than 2009

Our holidays were far from silent. We spent a week house-sitting in a friend’s swanky apartment (i.e. lounging in the rooftop hot tub and lavishing ourselves with hot showers, dishwashers, and other non-boat luxuries). Then we flew to Minnesota for a visit with the Cleary family, some cross-country skiing and hearthside holiday festivities, and to remind ourselves of one good reason to love southern California: it’s not 17 degrees below zero.

We’ve been in a limbo here for some time, a classic chicken-egg situation. We need land-based jobs but in order to do that we need a slip on land, which are hard to come by. We can’t sign a lease on a slip until we have land-based jobs and know we can afford it. This game of risk, on top of the hunt for a moorage and employment, has been wearing us both out.

Point Fermin, San Pedro

As if by some Christmas miracle, we met the godfather of dockmasters at Dolphin Marina. In a land of outrageous prices, unreasonable people, and far too many blondes, our dockmaster is none of the above. He’s basically agreed to allow us to pay whatever we can afford for the slip, and I don’t know how we could have stayed in LA (let alone survived beyond that) without his help. Securing a “home” here was half the battle and now we can half-relax.

I openly hate LA, especially “LA on a budget,” but secretly am beginning to like certain things about it. Our dockmaster is one example. The funny beach-bikes everybody rides is another. Most importantly, our new home in LA is in a prime location, nestled in a quiet neck of Marina del Rey with no roads. Everywhere you go here there’s a big busy road– and we’re pedestrians in city where everyone owns two cars. But our slip is a the edge of a pedestrianized walkway along the waterfront, with buildings behind, and a little-used cul-de-sac on the other side. There’s a miniature beachfront at the end of our channel that is nowhere near as glutted as Venice Beach, and a “mariners’ market” a couple steps away for necessities. Despite all the privacy, we are only about 5 blocks from the Big Beach–Venice Pier, a million volleyball courts, and mad surf.

We’ve been pedaling around as far as our foldable bike can reach to drop off resumes. I had a dream yesterday that if I was able to complete a Sudodu puzzle (a feat often tried on this trip but never surmounted by my feeble brain), that I would then be able to get a job. So I laid in bed and forced myself to place and undo the knot of numbers until I got them all to fit perfectly. And an hour later I got an interview. So Sudoku is my new religion.

Because things are looking up (thanks Sudoku), we’re in full-swing planning mode to skip town again next fall. Here is an *excerpt from our list. This is why we haven’t been writing so much lately:

-Buy/install self-steering wind vane

-Buy/install HF SSB radio transciever/antenna/modem

-Rebuild the head (yum)

-Acquire a whisker pole

-Make a chain-locker divider for the anchor rodes so we can carry both foreword in the bow

-Create screens for all the portholes (we ain’t in Washington anymore!)

-Sew a harbor awning and make long wooden fender-protector for shitty Mexican docks

-Touch up spar paint, re-varnish handrails and hatches, oil the coamings, and recaulk decks

-Haul out and repaint bottom, increasing the waterline, service thru hulls, zincs, etc.

And these are just the big things. As it should be, the list has grown to be proportional to the trip we’re taking. The trip kicked off in 2010 promises to be a big and sunny one, and it will take us all the way to New York without major 9-month layovers. Meanwhile, we have the Channel Islands at our doorstep, and the Pacific within earshot to ensure we will not be “swallowing the hook” in LA.

Entrance to Marina del Rey