Thursday, January 17, 2008




The wind came up again last night here in Bahia Tortugas and made the chafing gear on the anchor snubbing line squeal and moan as we were going to bed. But the wind is down this morning, and it looks like we’ll finally get ashore, on our third day here. Alisa is nursing Eli up forward, it’s 0600, and with any luck they’ll both fall back to sleep. So I should have a chance to catch up on our trip to Cedros, a large island off the coast of Baja.

We sailed all the way from San Diego to Cedros in one whack, about 330 miles, finally leaving San Diego harbor at 0945 on December 16th. The Coronados Islands are Mexican possessions just ten miles or so south of San Diego, and a great indication that you really have crossed the border. We sailed outside of the islands under spinnaker, moving along smartly in only seven or eight knots of wind. Check out the Mexican courtesy flag under the starboard spreaders in this shot.

We had a beautiful ten hour sail under spinnaker, the longest time we’ve had that sail up on the whole trip. After all the weeks of dockside torpor it was great to be moving, to feel Pelagic as a capable traveler under our feet. We were rolling gently back and forth with the swell, myself in the cockpit, keeping an eye on the windvane, which can’t quite be trusted when we’re reaching with the chute, Alisa down below with Elias. One particularly sharp wave gave Pelagic a quick lurch, and simultaneous to the motion I heard a sharp thump that I knew, with a parent’s intuition, was a special someone’s very young skull impacting on the hard hard teak sole. This was followed immediately by a long, loud wail. Alisa had taken a minute to do something in the galley, Elias had climbed up on the starboard settee, and the wave sent him tumbling. I came below and took my astonished, What happened? What could have possibly happened when I wasn’t looking after things for just a few moments? air with Alisa. Self-awareness may or may not be a route to true happiness, but it does give you the strange sensation of understanding the stock routines that you fall into in your marriage, even as you’re playing them out.

No harm done to the squirt, and we started leaving the lee cloths up to deny him access to the settees.

We motored a few hours that first night after the wind died, but then got enough breeze back to set ourselves up wing and wing and sail all the way to Cedros. We got back into the routine of each staying up through half the night and then not napping enough the next day on our floating day care center. Elias is getting better at spending time in the cockpit with the on-watch parent, especially in the morning, allowing the other parent to nap. But he needs to be attended every moment he’s awake, as we were reminded on that first day out. Since he is the only one to sleep the whole night, and since he is naturally possessed of a one year old’s energy, equivalent to that of a hundred monkeys set free in a nuclear power plant, this gets to be quite the job. Most of it falls to Alisa, as I tend to be on deck, sailing the barky. I look down below to see her nodding off as he is reading a book in her lap, or to see her desperately trying to cajole him into taking yet another nap so that she can sleep unmolested. He gets cross with the confinement, we get cross with the lack of any escape at all from the simultaneous demands of sailing and parenthood, and, only thirty hours out of San Diego, Alisa and I lose sight, simultaneously and completely, of why this trip ever seemed like a good idea.

After he falls asleep we have a brief rapprochement in the cockpit.

“This is hard.” I begin. “Sailing to Australia with a one year old, and all.”

“This is so hard,” Alisa says. “We have to watch him every minute.”

“I know. Why didn’t some of our family with child-rearing experience warn us?”

“Why didn’t they say something?”

“The bastards.”

Such bastards,” Alisa agrees. I can feel the marital bond beginning to strengthen as we consider the perfidy of our family members, who, despite their gifts every Christmas and other shows of loving us, failed to step in and save us from ourselves when we first began to talk about quitting our jobs, selling our house, and sailing to Australia.

“It’s like we live in an alternate reality to the other cruisers,” says Alisa.

“I know,” I answer, warming to her theme. “Look at them. Working on boat projects whenever they want to. Having drinks in the cockpit. Having sex in the cockpit. Organizing their digital photos. I hate them.”

“Bastards,” says Alisa.

Such bastards.”

We look up at the perfect roof of stars overhead.

“Still,” I say, “I guess we’re kind of commited.”

“I guess so.”

“I always said that having a kid would ruin our lives, so we might as well have ruined lives in the South Pacific.”

“You did.”

“So I guess we’ll just have to suck it up until we get to Oz, then reevaluate.”

“I guess so.”

We both felt better. Alisa went to bed, taking her traditional first half of the ten hours that Elias sleeps each night.

I spoke to a passing yacht that night on the VHF, hailing them by coordinates. A woman came back as the sailing vessel Blind Luck, with a man’s voice in the background, correcting the set of corrdinates she was reporting. No, she said in reply to my question, they were northbound, not southbound. I thought about telling her that the 360° white masthead light they were showing made it look like they were traveling away from any observer that might see them, but then I figured, no, let it go. Blind Luck then told me they had lost their transmission and were sailing back to Ensenda for a tow into San Diego.

A Mexican freighter bore down on us a few hours later. I woke Alisa to gybe, but hesitated, although it was clearly what we should have done. He tried hailing us, but Alisa got no response when she replied. Finally, and much too late, we prepared to gybe. Just before we commited to changing course I looked up and saw that his red light had changed to green, meaning that he had changed course to miss us. A gybe would have brought us back onto a collision course. I got a hold of him on the radio after all this and conveyed my apologies.

The next day, first Alisa and then I got sick. Alisa in particular was hit hard with diarrhea – who takes a case of diarrhea with them to Mexico? – and we were both off our game during the rest of the passage. But we’re used to a little discomfort at sea, and this was just a little more.

The passage was, as always, made up of a thousand moments of waves rushing up behind our stern, burning out their energy in a flash of foam, of wind flowing smoothly past the sails and the wind vane hunting out our course as the seas swung us one way and another, of dolphins riding on our bow and leaping free from the water (common dolphins, Delphinus sp., though we’re unsure if long-beaked or short-beaked), and our first fish for the whole trip, this critter below, which volunteered for lunch, poor thing. We have no idea what species this is, but we can report that it was delicious.

I kept an eye on the chart and our speed with the idea that we might make the anchorage on the north end of Cedros before dark on the 18th. At first I gave up the idea, but then it looked like we had a chance after the wind came up and we were making a steady seven knots. The allure of setting the hook and sleeping the night through was powerful. But then we ended up falling just short, since dark arrives at 1700, even this far south. Here’s our view of the north end of the island, just out of reach for the day.

We spent the night hove-to in the lee of the island. The mountains were lit up in front of us by the nearly full moon, the wind came gusting down from their slopes, and the barky sliced towards shore at three quarters of a knot under heavily reefed main and backed staysail. The waves were big until we were in the lee of the island, and then we had flat water for the rest of the night. At one point I put out some jib and got under way to give a passing fishing boat room. Every time I see a fishing boat heading our way at night I picture one particular Kodiak aquaintance of ours behind the wheel, a very affable but not at all confidence-inspiring fisherman. Every time the idea gives me a little frisson of nerves.

When dawn came we had this view of the island.

We anchored just off the little harbor, and had this view of the village ashore.

Cedros gave us a chance to explore the alternate reality / parallel universe nature of those cruising with and without children below the age of reason.

Our “other reality” cruising selves spent a week on Cedros. We found someone who could show us the black-vented shearwater colony on the island, and spent a few hours there one night, listening to the whistling sounds of the nocturnal birds’ wings as they came ashore. The next day we rowed in early and climbed Cerro Cedros, the 1200 meter peak just north of the pueblo, stuffing our backpacks full of water bottles and following the path that confidently left the pueblo as a full-fledged dirt road, then faded to a track for off-road vehicles as it climbed the steep mountain shoulders, then faded once again to nothing more than a goat trail as we forced our sailors’ legs up the final hundred meters to the summit, where we profited by a once-in-a-lifetime view of all of bony Isla Cedros beneath us, rising out of the blue blue Pacific. Later we beat back to windward in the lee of the island to reach the north anchorage that we had missed on the way in, where we watched California sea lions from the nearby rookery carving perfect curves through the bioluminescence around our boat. And we sucked it up and beat the 30 miles to windward in the open Pacific to reach Islas San Benito, the spume from the big ocean swell soaking everything on deck from stem to solar panels. On San Benito we went ashore to view the grotesquery of the elephant seal colony, and we spent an evening around a campfire at a fishermen’s camp, singing Spanish fishing songs and drinking warm beer.

Our “this reality” selves actually made two trips ashore – one to check in with the Port Captain (the office had just closed) and another to check in with the Port Captain (open this time, and the Captain and the woman who handled our paperwork could not have been friendlier, or more solicitous of Elias – our plan for dealing with irregularities in our paperwork while in Mexico relies heavily on the goodwill created by Elias). The few people we talked to were incredibly friendly. “I’m impressed by your Spanish,” Alisa said after we walked a ways up the main drag with a man we met in the harbor on our first trip ashore. (Note for book project, working title “Captain Mike’s Guide For Finding a Mate”: value a partner who is easily impressed.) In seriousness, though, I did enjoy the chance to use my Spanish again, which for the record is right on the bubble between terrible and unintelligible. I am keen to improve. “Other reality” me has set aside two forty five minute chunks for practicing every day, one in the morning and one at night. “This reality” me looks at a vocabulary list for fifteen minutes after Elias goes to sleep.

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