useful bits

On the off chance that anyone who wants *actual* information about what it’s like to sail from Seattle to San Diego stumbles upon this, I thought I’d give writing a useful post a shot.

My gut: Hahahahahahahaha. No way, stupid!

My heart: We’ll see.

#lifegoals.

ANYWAY.

Scheduling. We were out a total of 14 days, 12 of which were at sea, under “power” (please note here I’m using “power” to mean sailing, power sailing, or motoring). I didn’t keep track of that breakout, but I should have. Because I thought I was going to do a lot of things that I wasn’t able to (like write, and also eat), at lot of the details (like journaling) got lost. So, that’s another thing to note, I guess: be prepared for pretty much everything to be the opposite of  Pacific NW cruising. If you’re anything like me, you will spend your hours attempting to stay warm and calm, not writing (read: keeping track of sailing vs. motoring hours), cooking, or doing anything creative or useful. Basically, if we were doing five knots or better, we sailed; if we dropped below that, we motor sailed; and if there wasn’t a lick of wind, we motored. If i had to make a rough guess, I would say we spent the better of part of six days sailing, three motor sailing, and three motoring.

Sailing around the clock. Before we left I thought, sailing at night? Why would you ever? We had never done it, and it seemed like the stuff of crazy people who don’t understand happy hour. But here’s the thing. Math! You can make unbelievable time in a sailboat when you don’t stop. And when you’re used to sailing from whenever you want (when you’re us, is anywhere between 8:00 a.m., and noon) to whenever you want (which, again, for us is between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.), you gain considerable ground in upping those hours on the water from five-ish to 24. So, we sailed around the clock, and we averaged ~140 nm a day. That is a LOT. Also, it seems kind of weird and scary the first night, but after that, you get used to it, you learn to rely on your instruments, radar, and AIS, and it gets to being even be kind of peaceful and beautiful. When the weather is intense–heavy fog, high waves and swell, and 25-30 knots of wind–it isn’t super peaceful; but when the wind and seas are calm-ish, it’s fine, and you can actually lose time. I saw some pretty moons, and one night, a fire.

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Weather. The Washington and Oregon coast are windy, swelly, bumpy, freezing, wet, and miserable. Pack one billion percent more warm clothes than you think you’ll need. Also, hand warmers. The end.

p.s, if you get seasick, find something better than over-the-counter Dramamine because once you make the turn at Neah Bay, you’ll be sick (I mean the INSTANT you make the turn you’ll want to barf and then die), and taking something that’s going to flatten you doesn’t work when you have a watch to make.

Food. If you’re like me and you love two things in life–eating and cooking–heed this: make food ahead of time that you can heat up in one pot and be done, like chili verde or beef stew. Cans of soup work too, but unless you’re seasick, blech. Boring and tasteless. You will be thankful to dump the contents of a Ziploc into a pot on the stove and be eating something hot 20 minutes later. There will be very little sandwich making or complicated-meal-preparation (although having the bread and the meat and cheese on board are great for grabbing and eating while holding on and trying not to die). Many a meal for us was a handful of nuts or jerky and a cold tortilla, simply because it was too rough to cook (or stand).

Spares. When doing the research for the trip, we read and heard from every possible source that we would most likely be stopping in San Francisco, if not sooner, to make repairs. “Oh, don’t worry about where. You’ll have to stop for parts and repairs at least once, if not more often,” was not an uncommon refrain. While hopeful it wouldn’t happen, we had to be prepared for that, so we just assumed something would break or go wrong. We were very lucky, however, in that EV was a champ. I’m talking CH to the AMP. Literally almost nothing went south. We had a minor hiccup with the auto pilot, which turned out to be a programming problem, so for about a day we switched to the manual, old skool Autohelm. But other than that, seriously, she effing rocked it. Nevertheless, be prepared. Besides the obvious (tools, duct tape, oil, coolant, and zip ties), we carried spare straps for the AutoHelm, an impeller, fuel and gas filters, and sail mending equipment.

Gear. Absolute must-haves are an autopilot and a wind vane. We have a Hydrovane, which I’ve mentioned here before, and it rules the universe. Literally can’t say enough about it. We ran ours (Henriette), almost the entire trip, and she was the winner of everything. You are going to be in rough seas and ideally sailing, so auto-steering without using any power is immeasurably critical. If you don’t have a proper boom brake, get one. They’re worth every penny. Or, if you really don’t want to spend the money, rig your own. There’s no way I would have been calm sitting watch alone in the middle of the night without a boom brake. Get one. If you have a good chart plotter that’s up to date, you’ll be fine. Update your software and ensure you have the correct charts. AIS is a bonus, but I came to love and rely on it more than almost anything else; so your call, but my advice is get it. Radar is a must if you’re going in the Fall, which I assume you are.

Miscellaneous. As scary as the passage might seem at any point, have faith in your boat, your crew, and yourself. But mainly and most importantly, trust your boat. Sail the shit out of it before you leave, test everything ten times, and do all the work yourself. I cannot emphasize enough that knowing your boat will pay untold dividends. When you know every square inch of your boat, every sound, puff of smoke, or idiosyncratic vibration, your mind will be one billion percent more at ease when you’re out at sea. If something goes wrong or weird, one, you will know if it’s actually wrong or weird; and two, if it is, chances are good you’ll know how to fix it. When our Autohelm snapped a belt at 3:00 a.m., in 25 knots and eight-foot seas, Loren fixed it in two minutes. That’s what you want.

Finally, enjoy the moments. I’m not a woo-woo type of person, and even just writing that gave me a little bit of a rash, but I don’t really know the right way to say it, and I don’t have time to try out eleventy variations right now to get just the right combination. I’m not going to say Have fun! Or, Enjoy!, although you probably will. We did. I guess, just know why you’re doing it and be mindful of that. Absorb what you can and/or set out to do. Be open to insights when they present themselves–you’ll learn more about yourself than you might want to or think you need to–and then do something useful with that information. I went into the trip excited and pretty devoid of expectation, and that served me well. I learned a LOT and I grew as a person. But that’s just me, and that might not be where you are or what you want. So, spend some time thinking about those things before you set off, and keep yourself open to everything while you’re out, and no matter what happens, at the bare minimum, you’ll gain a new part of your own story. I think Dinesen was right when he said, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” And I say, when you’re lucky enough to be a sailor, you get all three.

we made it

Blogging while at sea is harder than I expected. Last year we cruised the inside passage for a month, and while I’ve never gone back and counted, I probably wrote three to four times a week. This year we sailed from Seattle to San Diego in fourteen days, and I did count. I wrote nine words: blogging while at sea is harder than I expected.

Me, going in: This is going to be great! I can’t wait to write about every ocean swell, every beautiful sunrise, every goddamned gobsmacking moment of life on the Pacific!

Me, on day two: Survive.

We had our first overnight sail on day one, and we did eleven more. It was the coldest I’ve ever been, and the highest number of consecutive days I’ve been that cold. I was wet seven of the twelve days, once due to being hit by a wave, and six due to sailing in endlessly dense fog. I never got more than three hours of sleep in a row. I was sick two of the twelve days (only two thanks to some magical non-FDA-approved seasickness pills a VERY nice couple we met on the water gave me in Coos Bay, where we stayed for two days waiting out bad weather). The swells were anywhere from four to ten feet on average, the waves about the same, but variable; and we saw 30 knots in the highest wind.

We’ve been off the water almost two weeks already, and when someone asks, “How was it?” I still don’t know how to answer.

It was beautiful. I saw magnificent moon and sunrises every day we weren’t fogged in; hundreds of porpoises, four whales, otherworldly seas, and clearer skies and brighter stars than I knew existed. We had calm days that were indescribably gorgeous, and perfect wind that made us feel like we were gliding in the most serene and gentle grandma-rocking-you-sweetly-in-the-rocker lap of the ocean you can imagine.

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It was trying. When waves are going one way and swells the other, and the boat is heading through both in twenty-seven knots, it’s violent. The crashing is loud, and the ride is rough. It’s impossible to sleep because you’re being thrown out of your bunk. You tie yourself in when you need to sleep, cook, or go to the bathroom. You can’t walk from one end of the boat to the other without hanging on. When you’re seasick, you can’t keep your head up. When the wind goes from 15 to 25 knots in a matter of seconds, you have to suit up, clip in, get on the foredeck, and reef the sail quickly. When a swell picks up the entire boat, you can see for miles, and when it lowers you into a trough, you are surrounded by walls of water you can’t see over. I meditated my way through many a cold, windy night, thrashing against the wind and sea, relying only on radar and AIS to know if there were any boats in our path.

It was rewarding and “fun.” These are accurate, but, you know… grains of salt. Awesome is probably the closest, but that word is so overused now (see also, amazing), it’s lost its profundity. I’m happy we did it, and I have a sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled, even weighed against all the adventuring and mountaineering I’ve done in my life. Nothing–not reaching mountain tops or deep, difficult woods, through prevailing storms or near lightning strikes–comes close to the adrenaline rush, test of self-reliance, or sense of pride that sailing on the ocean brings.

I’m grateful. I love my husband even more now than I did the day I married him, and I now have actual proof that we have quite possibly one of the best boats on the planet. She never once put us in harm’s way. And our Hydrovane, Henriette, is the MVP. She steered us through heavy seas and high winds without a whiff of a hitch.

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I’m alive. And I’ve never felt more so.

I’ve been spending the last year wondering if it’s OK that I’m changing. Have changed. That I’ve been so iterative throughout the course of my forty-nine years. V1 was fast and loose. A lot of partying and a little schooling–just enough to stay purposeful (and loan eligible). V2 was responsible. Goals, marriage, career, stability, and all the proving that I can win (also, see also, succeed). I thought that was the final launch.

So when V3 came along recently, I was broadsided, and I’ll cut right to it: No likey. V3 made me feel like a fraud. My flight tendency went into overdrive. ESC. ESC. Shut down this alpha intruder and embrace V2 (the industry standard) STAT! Industry standard is reliable. Industry standard is widely adopted. Industry standard is LOVED. let’s face it, no one hates Windows XP, amiright?

V2 worked ALL THESE YEARS to become the accepted (and lauded) version. V2 needs a small update now and again, but it’s stable. V3–the woman who uproots her life and throws everything away—job, stability, predictability, consistency, income, squirrelling away for the future—NOW (now at forty-nine, not twenty-nine), isn’t me. Specifically, isn’t the crossing-the-finish-line woman who shed the globe-trotting, wander-lusting, bohemian, restless soul in return for a husband, house, corporate job, and deep, healthy, sufficiently watered, thriving, just-enough-room-in-the-pot roots. Cuz you’re supposed to grow out of that shit. Because this is success. This. Is winning. And winning is blue, bitches. Blue. Not red or white. Those don’t count.

So, what happens when you’re working towards the life you think you’re supposed to have (and love the shit out of it when you finally get it) and then you get there, and it’s not the glittery unicorn with great dance steps and perfect teeth you thought would make you feel whole? Sure, a good, secure job with benefits, a nice house and car, and a fanfuckingtastic husband sparkle like a fucking mountain of rainbows on top of an erupting volcano. They’re spectacular. I’m grateful and lucky and try to remind myself of that every day.

But V3’s shine is subtler and more powerful. In V3, winning and success are customized (TO ME! WHAAAT?!). Demanding, sure, the way guidelines test you in a way that rules don’t, but easier to achieve because I’m not casting myself against the near-impossible almost daily, but fighting my through it anyway. This new me yearns to live life at a slower pace, in a warmer place, with the boat and the sea, and the supportive husband, and nothing but possibility. My terms. V3 isn’t stupid or reckless or booze-goggled, it’s just more content to admit that the beach and travel and simplicity are more than enough to define happiness. And V3 doesn’t have to do everything alone. And I’ll tell you, that is the Easter egg, people.

All that stuff they say about a midlife crisis is real. Only it’s not a crisis unless you make it one. What I’m hearing when I listen just right is that more than this is possible. Adventure and happiness are showing up in a path paved of simpler things, and just because I never thought I’d veer from the success = my life the way it’s looked up until now template, doesn’t mean I can’t. And that the outcome might be a better version of success than any I’ve been following by way of example.

I’m not done, but I’m accepting. I’m walking towards this light. And this is more than OK. It’s good. And for the first time, I’m shedding the lonewolfiness that I thought was a badge of honor because there is so much more to be had when my hand’s in someone else’s, and the goal isn’t a grind. V3 is good with red or white. Or none.

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