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.

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.

Some days you find a nice cove to stay in

And some days you see HUMPBACK WHALES!

Two days ago we were sailing back across the Strait of Georgia, and it was that kind of perfect day where you don’t know what else to say except things like, “Hot damn, is this the perfect day, or what?!” And, “It doesn’t get much better than this.” I felt like my grandpa with these banal but benign nice-isms, and I didn’t care because the sun was out, the sky was blue, the wind was perfect, and we sailed for miles on one tack (which means no turning). It looked like this.

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We were en route from Lund to Namaimo via an amazingly beautiful island named Lasquetti. We loved that island so much in fact, that we had to stop and get real. Find a spot to stop and stay for eight years, or push on. This island is amazing, people. There’s a lot of beauty up here, but this, It’s like Portugal and Aspen had a baby and named it Lasquetti Island. You want it to be the Lasquetti Triangle so you have an excuse to disappear there.

Anyway, we frittered around and soaked it up like sun, but we opted to push on. Nanaimo or bust.

We had to detour the roundabout way because the torpedo range was in operation (this is real). And then I saw something big lift out of the water about 20 feet off the bow of the boat.

This was not like a, Oh, did you see that fish jump? Or, look! Porpoises! So cute. Or, Hi, Mr. Sea lion. No, no, no.

This was like, WTF WAS THAT?! And then two seconds later, two big spouts of water off the left side of the bow. WHALES, I shouted!!!! Whales! I looked at Loren and he looked like me. Shaking and speechless and crazy with joy. And that was the beginning of our next hour.

No other boats even took notice. It was just us and a few humpback whales for the next hour or so. We shadowed them quietly and watched them dive down and come up to breathe, and dive again, and a few times they flashed us their giant tails on the way back down.

Each time they dove, they stayed down a little longer than the time before, but they kept surfacing nearby, and we kept finding them.

Finally, though, after they’d crossed back into the bay they came out of and headed back up north, they were gone from our sight.

Our hearts still pounding after all the time that had passed when it was just us and them, we watched the water and held on to one another the way you do when grace happens.

Given to fly

Three weeks and one day ago I jumped out of an airplane.

It was my dad’s idea. Loren and I were visiting my parents over the holidays last year, and one evening, at some point over dinner, I asked my dad what he wanted to do for his birthday, and without missing a beat, he answered: jump out of airplane.

I couldn’t get the brussel sprout down fast enough.
Me: “I’ll go!”
Loren: “I’ll go!”
Mom: “I’ll stay on the ground and take the pictures!”

Now, when your father, who’s “almost seventy-five years old and can do whatever the f*ck he wants,” says he wants to skydive for his birthday, you a) deliver; and b) don’t wait eight months. Lets just say two outta three ain’t bad.

Eight months later, this happened.

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When you’re out sailing for a month, you end up with a lot of time on your hands. We’ve talked about a lot of things, and one thing we talked about the other day was regret. It’s not like either of us has an insurmountable pile, but we’re neither of us robots.

We’re human beings in the middle of our lives, and we’re the thinker, feeler, do-er types. We have some. One of mine is not being a writer. There’s a little hole in my soul that writing fills that feels like a partially healed stitched wound. It flares up–it bleeds and then stops, bruises, heals, nags, quiets. It’s not going to kill me, but it’ll never go away.

Most of the time it’s fine, but there are times of acute struggle. Times when I not only want more from language, but more from myself. The wanting to express the inexpressible is the expansiveness of the universe.

It’s what it feels like to fall from 14,000 feet without being in a THING. It’s wolves and orcas and all of the wheat. It’s everything wild. It’s feeling every cell but not knowing how to articulate the connections.

It’s also, I learned this week, Princess Louisa Inlet.

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You access this inlet by boat or plane only, and after six hours (if you’re in a boat) up three arms, and across a set of “rapids,” which is a skinny, dog-legged, current-addled channel, you arrive in this fjord that is more beautiful than anything. Except maybe Yosemite. It’s a 6,000-foot high, glacial-topped mountain valley springing straight up from the 72-degree water, fed by various runoff and waterfalls, the biggest of which tumbles into a set of pools at the mouth of the canyon.

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Being in that valley feels like being gnawed to life by a lion.

Fata Morgana

I have some neuroses. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have OCD, at least not in the clinical sense, but there are a few things that I strongly do or don’t prefer. I acknowledge they are irrational. I could fill a book, but I’ll stick to broad strokes here. Keep in mind that should any of these situations arise, no one, save the four, maybe five people in my life close enough to me to know, know that something “not good for me” is happening. I rarely (read: almost never) display any outward manifestations of my inner freak-out-edness. But I get uncomfortable. My palms sweat and my heart races, and I feel like I might need a nap.

Here are some of the things.

  1. I have to eat a probiotic every day.
  2. I hate touching (or stepping on) wet things.
  3. Cocktails (or any drink that starts not cold) must have lots of ice (which means sweat, which means napkins wrapped around the glass because #2).
  4. Washing clothes ruins them.
  5. Drying clothes is even worse. (Whatever worse that ruination is.)

These last two are important because social morays, logic, and reality all suggest that I’m bananas at the very least and really lazy at best. Or I’m not super smart. But here’s the thing. Even though I hate doing laundry, and I am self-aware and honest about it, I never thought that my waiting until I’d worn everything I own at least eleven times and was out of underwear (I have a lot) before doing laundry was because I was lazy or coconuts or not very bright. I truly believed that it was because I thought washing and drying my clothes was ruining them.

It never really came up because I’ve lived alone most of my adult life, and I haven’t always “had it.” When I was still under my parents roof, up until 18, I did not believe that laundering my clothes ruined them. Every night I threw what I’d worn that day into the hamper. Towels used once every morning after a shower? Directly into the washer (why bother with the hamper when they can just make the next load?). I threw clothes into the hamper that I tried on and opted against for that day. Clothes that were on my body for thirty seconds. I also didn’t do the laundry. But this equation never crossed my transom.

Eventually I moved away and went to college and then moved a few more times, spent a bunch of years in another state, in the sleepy wild wilderness, moved back to California (my home state) for graduate school, and then landed where I’ve been since, in Seattle. I honestly can’t remember how much laundry I did during those years, but I don’t remember believing I was ruining my clothes by washing and drying them until about twenty or so years ago, which is how long I’ve lived in Seattle.

My pattern was this. Wear everything a lot, and then one day, for load on end, wash it all. Then hang most, but dry some items, on the lowest heat setting (my happiest laundry days were the days I had an actual clothes line in the backyard). Then I would drag my heels folding and putting away. This part of the cycle could go on for days or weeks.

Eventually I met and married Loren, and he does laundry like a normal person (regularly), and it wasn’t until many months, probably more than a year, of sharing a life and a home and a washer and dryer, that one day he asked why there were so rarely any of my clothes in the laundry. Me: “Oh, I just don’t wash my clothes very often.” L: “Why not?” Me: “Because they don’t get dirty. Plus, it ruins them.” And that was that. He is an amazingly open, patient, accepting man.

***

We knew this morning that a storm was coming in, scheduled to arrive sometime this evening, so we pulled up the anchor, untied our lines, and set out. Our destination was Pender Harbor, approximately ten miles north. It was already windy in the bay, and by the time we got out to the strait, it was real-wind windy. Strait of Georgia windy. Day we pulled into Nanaimo windy. But the winds were in our favor, coming out of the SE, so a) we could sail; and b) we could sail in the direction we actually wanted to go. We had the added benefit of the tide going out, so we were riding the flood in addition to the help from the wind. The seas were relatively rough, but we made ~7.5 knots the whole way (I don’t want to get jargonny with the sailing terminology, but that’s faster than we go with our engine, and for sailing it’s fairly fast, especially when the water is choppy).

I’m new to sailing. I’ve been doing it approximately 15 months. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m OK skill-wise. What I lack in experience and the kind of intuition and muscle memory that come from doing something so long it’s like breathing, I make up for in strength, will, determination, and, I wouldn’t say fearlessness, but close to it. With less fear that most, maybe. I have juevos, and I don’t like defeat. Something in my makeup or raising limits me from feeling or showing weakness. I’m not saying these things are good or bad or that I like or don’t like them about myself. I wear none of these traits like a badge of honor. It’s simply who I am. I’m drawn to things that challenge me, and I’m wired to see how much I can handle. I’m innately unable to tolerate shying away from anything that involves persistence, adrenaline, and/or the combination of physical and mental toughness.

You couldn’t draw a better sport for me than sailing. It requires all of my strengths and demands a list of what I don’t yet possess that would circle the globe many times over. As with anything you’re learning, there are tough patches you conquer–the memory of before [x skill] dissipating almost the second it’s learned–that give way to the tens of hundreds more on the list. And the only way to work the list is to leave your comfort zone.

There are myriad arguments about this, I know. If life is meaningless, then why bother with your comfort zone? I see the other side. And I’m happy to discuss ad museum over cocktails. But for me, it’s live this life now. Don’t wait. And live it in the way you want. For me, the way I want is outside my comfort zone a lot of the time. This isn’t to say I don’t like the warm jacuzzi of my comfort zone. Quite the contrary. It has it’s time and place with me, and like an entire Sunday spent in the kitchen, or an afternoon on the foredeck with the sun and a book, I’m very content there. I just don’t tend to stay very long.

One of my comfort zones when sailing is being prepared. Books and charts and tables soothe me. I love planning the route, checking the tide and current tables, and calculating weather windows. Prep is anesthesia for me.

Another one is being away from land. Being close to land equals rocks and cliffs and shallow water and danger. We draw four to fourteen feet of water, depending on whether our center board is down, and  our mast is fifty-five feet high. There are dangerous obstacles when we’re near things. But today our course was safest fairly close to land. It kept us out of rolling waves hitting us sideways.

I sailed for a while in the late morning, and then when things got a little rougher, Loren took over. We were very close to land, running before the waves, and getting tossed hard. We were never out of control, and never in danger. Loren is a skilled sailor and would never put us in harm’s way. The only real danger was in my mind (“…blown into the rocks” is a phrase I wish I hadn’t read nine hundred and eighteen times), and I had to sit with it for much of our journey. I got scared, and I said it out loud. But, that was it for outwardly manifesting my freak-out-ery. I concentrated, stayed focused, listened and processed why it was safe. I trusted Loren, learned a little more, and gained immeasurable experience.

We safely sailed out of the strait and got to a sheltered marina in the harbor. We checked in, exchanged some dollars for loonies, grabbed a shower, and threw in a load of laundry, all before the storm hit.

I washed every single thing I’ve worn since we left home, and I only excluded five things from the dryer.

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They don’t call it the Sunshine Coast for nothin’

The crossing was calm and uneventful. Everything we could have hoped for.
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After reading practically everything I could get my hands about it, checking all available weather sources, confirming the torpedo range on our course was not practicing today, and keeping yesterday’s high winds in mind, we approached it with cautious optimism and more than a little enthusiasm. And as is usually the case, prep and a watchful eye (at least two at a time) paid off. Also Loren’s good judgement about leaving at the break of dawn.

It was so quiet I even got to take a good, long nap for a chunk of it.

Six hours later we were safely tucked in behind the Surrey islands, securely anchored, and lying on the beach on South Thormanby Island.
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p.s., the water is 67 degrees. So much better than citrus jail.