Don’t write. Just type.

So…. yeeeeah, we’re home. Sad face.

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Had I written this two days, or even possibly four days after we got back, I might (MIGHT) have said, So, hey, yeah! We’re home! Yay! Yay us! Yay Seattle! Yay house! But, alas, the window of gladness was narrow and short-lived (except for Yay, Tigger! (our cat)).

We rounded the bend between the bays that officially mark, “we’re almost home,” (Shilshole and Elliott), Sunday before last, and it felt like when you’re eight and staring down the first day back to school after summer break. Like you want to kill yourself. Only when you’re eight you don’t want to kill yourself (because hi. birthdays). A less dramatic articulation of the we’re-home devastation is that we wanted to just keep on sailing. Past our bay, past all the bays, and back out. To wherever.

For background: Besides a really amazing vacation, we approached this trip as a shakedown cruise. We wanted to go and experience the adventure of course, but we also wanted to stress-test ourselves and the boat for bigger trips. Longer trips. For leaving it all behind and facing the ocean. That’s right. We aspire to live the dream. You heard me.

Now, before you get all eye-rolly, just give me a second. Because I know. I know how that sounds. I know the wincing, eye-squinting, one-shoulder-creeping-up-under-your-earlobe. I know the breaking out in a rash. I know the disappointed, I-don’t-like-you-anymore-which-is-too-bad-cuz-I-had-started-to-and-I-mostly-don’t-like-anyone thoughts that are floating around in your head about me right about now because I’m not who you thought I was (i.e., someone you like). And I totally get it. I have that reaction to pretty much everything in life. Ev.Ah.Ree.Thing.

But hear me out. This isn’t the result of some Oprah-ism (at least not directly, but very possible directly. Or indirectly. Nevermind about it not being about Oprah.) or a passing whim (read: I’m going to learn carpentry! I should go to med school!) This is real, bitches. I know talking about and actually doing a thing like sailing to Tahiti or the Bahamas or Hawaii or the Mediterranean or [insert seemingly out of reach yet amazebalz destination here], while seemingly sexy and cool, and definitely something you should do before it’s too late so you don’t rot away at a job you hate and have no joy and then die, is almost always just the thing you think and dream and talk about but never do. So, in addition to doing all the thinking and dreaming and talking, we knew the only way to find out if we really wanted to do it was to start doing it.

So, the trip.

And I know that while thirty days and five-hundred-ish nautical miles is no crossing of the Pacific, it’s also not nothing. Thirty days. Thirty-eight feet of “living” space. Ninety-ish gallons of fresh water. Two burners in a foot-and-a-half-long “kitchen.” Stinky pump-outs that stink and don’t work. No freezer. Fiercely high-wind anchorages. Angry old men in their PJs yelling at you to turn off your generator. Fifty-knot winds. Dinghy repairing. Oar losing. Gas dock skirmishes. Conflict resolution. Trials of perseverance and patience and testing our resolve, skills, and emotional boundaries. And love, love, loving all of it and each other all along the way.

It’s not selling our clothes and our house and our car, but it was a step. It was also the trip we knew would lead us to the big answer, which I’m happy to report is Yes.

There will always be scary things, and I know that that’s good. Fear keeps us safe and alive. A very wise man reminded me recently that scary things become not scary once you master them, and on their heels is a big long list of new scary things that will be scary until you learn them too. It’s only when you stop being scared of the things and the list that it’s time to be scared. And I know he’s right.

Before the trip I was scared to be in 20 mph winds. I was scared of dropping the anchor and pulling it in and of Canadian border patrol agents rapping on the side of our boat in the middle of a GIANT STORM to ask us our clearance number. I was scared to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I was scared to write because I believed that everything I write will go down in the Hall of Worst and Most Embarrassing Things Ever Written and I will be finally once and for all revealed as a failure. And then a very inspiring and supportive friend who knows just what to say and when to say it sent me four words: don’t write. just type.

So, I’m working the list.

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Wake

I have a gene that enables me to withstand inordinate levels of heat–both spice and temperature–in food and drink. What this translates to is the consumption of large amounts of hot sauce, peppers, chilies, horseradish, wasabi, etc., and eating food that is rarely hot enough by the time it leaves the oven or cooktop and makes it to my plate.

Coffee? Forget about it. I think I’ve experienced two times in my entire life taking a sip of coffee that felt hot to me, and both times the actual temperature could probably have melted a star. I’m not right.

I accept this condition however, with neutrality. I neither wear like a badge of honor nor etch into my psyche an emblem that I’m somehow less than, due to the fact that being asked how many stars I want my Thai food feels like being asked, How vast is the ocean?

Sure, I’d like hotter coffee, and even more so, eggs, but I’d also like to play piano like Rachmaninoff. I’ve learned to live with disappointment.

Separately, but somehow similarly in my mind, I don’t have the gene for spatial relationships. I’m a visual learner, so if the thing at hand is drawn out (well) and accompanied by thorough, clear, and correct instructions, I can usually get or assemble whatever it is over time with enough study and practice. But. If there are no pictures, and/or no (or poorly written) instructions, I’m f*cked.

Here’s Loren: open the box, toss aside the instructions, take out the pieces, barely look at them, put it all together, go start using it, or go do something else fun.

Here’s me: take out and read in their entirety, the instructions. Take all the parts and pieces, count them (cross-checking with the instructions), and put them into discreet piles. Go back to the instructions and start from the beginning. Get hung up on step one because it doesn’t make sense and the picture looks like it belongs in a kit on how not to draw things. (What is this arrow pointing to? Is this the long screw thing, or the medium one? Which side is the back? What is this black dot?) Get frustrated. Re-read the instructions. Force pieces into one another through the first two thirds to three quarters of the steps, only to discover I’ve assembled the whole thing backwards, upside down, or otherwise completely wrong. Go get wine.

Im 48, and I never mastered the Rubik’s Cube. You do the math.

Last Saturday marked the beginning of week four of our sailing trip, and it came in with a wee bit of bad weather. Winds reached, we found out two days later, 90 knots on the mainland (Vancouver). They experienced their worst power outage in a decade. The drought over the past year has dried out the soil, weakening root systems. Branches and leaves became sails, toppling countless trees onto cars and homes. We heard reports of people anchoring their boats and heading to shore, only to find out later their anchors gave out, and their boats went aground.

Meanwhile, we had had amazing weather for the first three weeks. Hot, hot sun balls, clear skies, and warm, swimmable water. We did not see this coming.

That day started out like every other day before it, and by 5:30 we’d settled into a nice big bay. We were all alone, in perfectly settled weather. It was idyllic. Flanked by busy coves packed with boats, we were doubly happy with our choice of anchoring in the cove of a privately held island, as we had no plans to go shore excursioning that night.

We’d set the hook, cleaned the cockpit, and coiled the lines. Chores done, we were on to contemplating happy hour and dinner. First though, for some reason I still don’t know, I checked the weather.

Hmmmm, that’s weird, I said. They’re predicting 30-knot winds tonight.

And so it began. We surveyed our position in the bay with regard to exposure and wind direction. The mouth of the bay faced the direction from which the wind would be coming, and there wasn’t enough depth in the protected end. We couldn’t stay.

We hauled up the anchor and set out to find shelter. Every time I checked the weather, the predicted wind speed was higher. By 7:00, three anchorages and the most protected bay we could hope for later, we were in for the night. Winds were predicted to hit 45-50 knots.

There are few topics as debated amongst sailors as how to properly anchor. The short answer is get the heaviest anchor you can afford to carry, add a line, and make sure the bitter end is attached to your boat.

The debate between that and all the other theories is endless, but all things considered, our approach is a good anchor that’s weighted for our boat, all-chain rode, a minimum of 3:1 scope, and 100% agreement that 1) we grabbed; and 2) we’re confident we can sleep. At the end of the day, it’s a delicate balance between art and science, but if we both sign off, we stay.

Until this trip, I wasn’t the anchor-dropper; I took the helm. We’d find the spot, survey the depth, check for swing, consult the tides, and then Loren would go up and dropped the anchor, and I reversed the boat until the hook was set. Aside: After many anchorings and much yelling, we invested in a set of walkie talkies. Money well spent is an understatement.

But like everything, at some point you have to learn, so about two and a half weeks ago, we began swapping. Loren took the helm, and I started dropping the hook.

It sounds easy enough, I know, but there are angles involved. Also, a big heavy chain that, unless you control it, drops very, very quickly. There are marks on the chain you have to track while you’re lowering it so you know how deep you’ve gone. You have to know when the anchor is on the bottom and when/if it grabs and sets (good), or if it’s dragging on the bottom (bad).

Finally, when all of this is done, and if all went well, and the anchor is properly set, you have to put onto the chain something called a snubber. This is sort of like a steroided-up bungee cord that absorbs some of the shock from the chain as your boat bounces around in waves and wind.

Without a snubber, you’re fine, but you have to listen to the chain creaking and grinding and dragging around the sea floor all night, which is unnerving, and also a little like sleeping in a Vincent Price movie.

The first time I put the snubber on by myself, I think it took me a half an hour. I’m absolutely certain a very small child could do it in about two minutes. This is not a complicated operation. Unlike my ability to reason through a math problem.

The snubber has a shackle on each end, connecting a long, stretchy cord covered by essentially a webbing-like sheath. You hook one shackle onto a link in the chain, secure the chain, pull up some more chain so you have an excess, then hook the second shackle onto another link of chain so you have about eight inches or a foot of chain hanging freely between the snubber. Then you drop all of that line and snubber business over the bow but not into the water.

So, the snubber absorbs the chain stress, and that night when you go to bed, you hear silence instead of the ghost of Christmas past rattling around 5-inches from your head.

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I wouldn’t say it was the scariest storm I could imagine. I’ve seen pictures and read enough stories of sailors enduring hurricanes to know there are MUCH worse storms to weather, but it was a good starter storm. Our anchor bit (every time), and I got a lot of practice with my latest figure-this-out-without-written-instructions-or-pictures project.

The wind blew at what felt like a lot more than the actual 50-knots it gusted through our cove, and we hung tight for two days. I don’t think EV budged an inch.

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It’ll be a week tomorrow that the storm hit. We’ve anchored four of those six nights. I just came in from dropping the anchor. I snubbed it in approximately five minutes. I’m not sure, and I don’t want to brag, but I think I might now officially know some algebra.