Monday, March 24, 2008

Paradise Can Wait

Every step of this trip, we’ve left port later than we planned. Kodiak, Port Townsend, Alameda and San Diego all kept us weeks longer than expected, as we simultaneously worked on boat chores and raised Elias. We got used to being slower than we liked, and grew philosophical about cruising with a one year old. Sailing with Eli might be slow, we told ourselves, but it’s a lot faster than staying home with Eli.

But for the big trip that we’re about to embark on, the three- to four-week passage from Mexico to the Marquesas, we promised ourselves that things would be different. We would be ready the day we wanted to go, ready to grab every precious moment of the hurricane-free season in the South Pacific.


We planned on being ready to go March 10th. We left La Paz yesterday, March 22nd. There were some extenuating circumstances, as all three of us got sick. We sat on the hook for days after my family left last month, with both Elias and Alisa sick with fevers and respiratory track infections. And then I got sick last week in La Paz, and so had to lay around the boat for days with a fever when I was burning with eagerness to get Pelagic prepared for the monster trip ahead of us. And when we were well we were, as always, working on the boat with one hand and caring for Elias with the other. The good news is that we didn’t get at all frustrated with the slow pace of things as we have in the past, even as we watched other boats leaving La Paz for the Marquesas and started to hear them reporting their positions and weather over the ham radio.

Our path from the southern tip of the Baja peninsula to the Marquesas will take us through four distinct weather systems: the non-tradewinds weather off Mexico, the northeast trade winds of the northern tropics, the squalls and doldrums of the Intertropical Convergence Zone on the equator, and finally the southeast trades of the southern tropics. It’s a bit of a chess match to get through all these different systems as quickly as possible. We’ll try to make as much westing as we can in the northeast trades, then cross the equator around 130° W, where the squalls and doldrums should be at their narrowest north-south extent. We can make a general plan like that, but since sailboats move so slowly we will largely be reacting to whatever weather comes along. The boats that left La Paz before us found themselves dealing with a real mish-mash early on, everything from fifteen foot seas and 30 knot winds (that’s a lot of weather) to light and variable winds that made steering tough and progress slow. Diesel fuel may not be available in the Marquesas and the Tuomotus, the first two archipelagos that we will pass through in French Polynesia, so except for motoring across the equator, most boats have to sail through light winds and calms to conserve fuel for the atoll entrances that lie ahead.

This passage is really one of the grand adventures offered by the planet. Alisa and I are both intimidated by the unknowns of the new kinds of sailing that we’ll find in the tropics, and intimidated by the sheer scale of the trip, but also entranced by the idea of such a string of sunrises and sunsets on the vast heaving expanse of the sea. I think it will be fun, more than fun. Exhausting, but exquisite.

Meanwhile, our three months in Baja are about at an end. I saw the streets of La Paz with fresh eyes two days ago when I was walking around them for the last time, translating signs to myself and really looking at the foreign scene around me. What a great place. It’s funny how removed from Mexico we have been at times on this trip, as the three of us nestled down on board our little capsule of the U.S. in some anchorage or another. That lingering separation from the place where you are traveling, the lack of full immersion in the foreign culture, is a hallmark of traveling under sail – you naturally spend so much time aboard the boat, living and sailing and maintaining, and then visiting with other people from somewhere else who live on boats like you do. That’s the tradeoff for having your home with you as you see the world.

Which we do. Even though Alaska is far away and getting further, we don’t have any sense that we’re far from home. Pelagic is home. Alisa had a great insight the other day, saying, “I wonder if we won’t be chasing the idea of Alaska when we go back.” We both had such a great time in our twenties and thirties in the Great Land, going through all the traditional seminal experiences from college to grad school to marriage and family, and adding the many many Alaskan-only seminal experiences that involve remarkable people cast thin over an unbelievable landscape. We still plan on going back, but we’ll be in our forties, and seeing life in that new way, and the tone of our lives will be dependent on the old friendships that we can pick up and the new ones that we can find and well, who knows what going home again will bring.

For now we have no thoughts about going back beyond the “someday” kind. Sailing with a one year old is tough, and we talk about cruising for six months a year once we reach Australia until Elias is a little older. But going when we did was crucial, as it got us away when we were still in our thirties, and embracing this new life was (relatively) easy. We now wonder how long it might be until we swallow the anchor and go back to a career nine to five life. Consensus on board Pelagic is that it might be a long long time.


We're one day south of La Paz now, and will move further south tomorrow. The forecast is for good winds to carry us away from the Baja peninsula on Wednesday. Internet service is spotty where we are. I'll try to post some pictures from our last weeks in Baja; fingers crossed that it works.

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