“No no, I’m okay,” Lindsay says, nearly mustering a smile. For her first sail, we have carted Lindsay in bad weather to a remote island in Mexico. I’m searching her face for signs that she might kill me. It’s 6am and we just spent the night in a beautiful cove on Isla Espiritu Santo—bobbing and rocking in the dizzying chop from the south. It was a rough night, and the exaggerated bouncing of the boat is tough for me, nevermind someone who has never spent a day or a night before on a sailboat. As we start to pull up the anchor and raise the sails sin motor so we don’t wake our one sailboat neighbor (and because it’s fun,) she’s grinning and helping me adjust the sails. I realize that Lindsay is already a great sailor: despite wind, no sleep, falling in the water, and even rain, she hasn’t complained. In fact, she made dinner.
Since we arrived in La Paz, we have been taking local friends and international visitors out on the Sea of Cortez. Each experience has illuminated just how humans tangle with the alluring and the annoying on the ocean.
Our first visitors came from my graduate program at Berkeley and settled right in for five days of five people and one dog on one 39-foot boat. There’s about 150 square feet in Far’s cabin, half of which is counter or sitting/sleeping space, leaving just over 12 square feet per creature for cooking, sleeping, eating, bathing, and generally not killing each other. Yet, in a testament to the quality of people from ERG, it always worked. There was not a moment we were wanting for help: whenever there was something to be done, three pairs of hands and eyes were there to learn and duplicate. The speed with which these three picked up sail trim, fish gutting, and anchoring was pleasantly astounding. We also had the glorious gift of not cooking! It was the first time I saw more than one person effectively work in the galley (the kitchen): Jess and Carsten used space with their collective German and academic precision. Also thanks to Carsten, “arsebombe,” or more like “ARSEBOMBE!!!”, the German equivalent of “Cannonball!” is now part of my daily vocabulary. We were able to meet up with Jon and Shannon on Prism again on this trip, and as always, they are endlessly entertaining—and happened to be anchored with the sea turtles under the tall, narrow, red walls of Candelero at Isla Espiritu Santo.
I have no desire to watch my friends suffer. However, Jess, Carsten and Vero received entirely unfair treatment from the weather gods: the sun shone, the breeze was perfect for speedy and unintimidating sailing, and the anchorages were calm. Each went home ready to buy a boat and move to the water. I did feel a little like we gypped them out of some high quality misery.
Our next group was all of the teachers from a Spanish language school in La Paz. I already struggle to explain boat systems in English, and the Spanish was a hilarious challenge for me. There were two contingents in the group: the young people who brought cell phones and coolers and coolers of cold beer (all of which was drunk, commencing at 9am,) and the older ladies chatting and enjoying the view (and driving!) We motored to the middle of the Bay of La Paz, and the water was so glassy that Josh set up a halyard swing for enjoying the 100-foot-deep calm for some swimming. We only had two takers on the swing, and I admired Alfonso as, laughing nervously and muttering that he wasn’t much of a swimmer, took the plunge and scrambled to catch back up to the swim ladder once he bobbed back to the surface in his life vest (the boat was still moving a little with a hint of breeze.)
It’s hard for me to imagine not feeling comfortable in the water. I thought about all the little, cumulative ways in which I was more privileged than our Mexican friends out on the water that day. I went to baby swim before I could walk, and I had swim lessons at the Dover pool as a little girl. These people had spent their entire lives less than a mile from warm, gentle waters, but swimming lessons were not on the youth radar.
Although a few of the teachers nervously struggled to understand the intersection of the wind vane, sails, and slow-to-respond rudder, when Laura took the wheel, that all changed. She steered the boat, careful and confident, through the narrow channel leading back to La Paz harbor.
We also finally got Laura, General Director of EDF’s Oceans program in Mexico, and Meredith, Executive Director for Niparajá, a regional non-profit with a huge impact, out on the sailboat together. Laura’s boyfriend, Fabricio, came aboard for this trip—or as much as you can get a fish on board. Fabrizio’s natural environment appears to be the ocean, so whenever we stopped, with a splash he was in and swimming. Meredith’s humor is both wry and irresistible, and her teasing unrivaled. Finally, it was a treat to see the delighted glow in Laura’s eye as we caught some serious wind on our way back into La Paz; she relished the speed and kept the boat perfectly balanced. I think she let her joy guide her, and we zipped back into the channel.
I have learned, by sailing with friends, that my own experience learning to sail is not mirrored by others, and there is both humor and danger in the process. For example, some people understand the threats of underwater hazards while others don’t. These people cannot be predicted, and sometimes they change mid-trip. So we always have to have half an eye on the wheel—which we do anyway. But Josh does a better job of this than me, because I tend to tense up when I don’t like how the boat is sailing, whereas he has the experience to talk someone through making it better, then casually take the wheel when we veer a little too close to a reef. (Incidentally, we have yet to have a woman on board who takes any reef risks.) In addition, some are better drivers than others. This is also completely unpredictable. The best helmspeople are careful with their own safety and the safety of the boat, they ask questions, they are relaxed but attentive, and they do not offer excuses as to why they are so close to the buoy—they move away from it.
Time in the open ocean has given me a precise respect for winds that pick up. A few times, my decision to reef has not been a popular one. But I know my boat quite well these days, and although it sucks to disappoint people as we barrel along on the wind, it sucks WAY more to lose control of the boat. I know this in my core and love teaching people how to reef.
Finally, I’ve discovered that the Joys of Not Cooking might be even greater than the Joys of Cooking.
Our most recent visitor was Lindsay, and she came for a whirlwind trip. As we saw her off at the airport, she confesses that she was just a little terrified watching the storm clouds close in on the boat the previous day. As Josh snoozed in the cabin, Lindsay and I sailed Far through a smattering of rain and into Ensenada Grande. I never thought much about the dark clouds, and I even enjoyed the shade. But for Lindsay, she didn’t know what to expect, and so she expected the worst. I remember what that felt like when I first learned to sail—the terror of helplessness and not knowing how the boat would respond. But she was able to trust us and she was incredibly fun as a sail-mate. (I wish I could convey her excitement level when we possibly/probably saw a Blue whale.) These are the best crew—not the fearless, but the dogged and the amazed. Josh, Far and I have built a relationship that people can trust, and we are lucky to entertain both the fearless and the cautious with equal measure. Sailing with friends has been some of the best days on Far.
So, are you ready to sail with us?