Something happened to us in Bahía de Los Ángeles that may never happen to us for the rest of our sailing trip: we were briefly part of a tribe of young sailors.
So what are they like, these young people who turn to the sea?
We hoped that our friend Scott, the young singlehander aboard the Catalina 27 Angry Seagull whom we met in La Paz, would be in the Bay. We had heard from a boat that had just departed the Bay that he was there, but we couldn’t see his boat in front of town. We sailed into the sun wing-on-wing in the dying wind, and Josh spied boats in the southern end of the anchorage through the binoculars. We made and abrupt turn to port and sailed down the bay, dropped the hook at the edge of the other boats (with caution to the tidal swings,) and brought Uly to shore in the near-dark. Note to self: bring shoes when paddleboarding into rocks in the dark. Both my feet and the paddleboard sustained a few scratches—but we did manage to avoid the hidden rocks just below the surface that jutted out from a point on shore.
In the morning, a yellow kayak with a fluffy dog paddled our way: Scott and Atrox! We brought all dogs to shore (this time, the sandy shore,) and Uly and ‘Trox seemed to recognize each other and immediately began tearing up and down the beach. We walked slowly down the sand that curved to form the southern end of the beach, catching up on six months of sailing and adventures. We told Scott about all the people we had met and our terrible luck trolling (we didn’t catch a single fish behind the boat for three months.) He told us about how he did backflips off his anchored boat in Bahía Concepción during the 60-70 knot winds from Hurricane Blanca. We commiserated about the brutal heat.
Scott is 26 years old. Fed up with bad science and politics, he left grad school when he was almost complete, and decided to sail the coast of Baja in a Catalina 27’ he named Angry Seagull with his dog—and zero sailing experience. Our friends Jon and Shannon on Prism, who were a couple of months ahead of us sailing down the Pacific side of Baja, met him in a raging windstorm in Bahía de Las Tortugas, where he had barely survived 40 knots of wind to get anchored (even with no idea how to sail upwind.) He and Atrox survived the Pacific side, but not without Scott suffering from infection, rashes, falling overboard underway, pounding wind, becalmings, and loneliness. When we met Scott in La Paz, he had a brazenness about him that felt familiar, like many of the young men I knew in Moab, riding hard in the desert to quiet their minds. Scott’s impeccable manners belied his brashness. He also really did not like sailing.
But as we reconnected in Bahía de Los Ángeles, I could tell that time and the sea had changed him. Although he still wanted to push back against the world, he seemed more flexible, more pensive. A friend had joined him from La Paz to Bahía Concepción, a stretch they sailed without any motoring, (until another boater fortunately told them about the impending hurricane and they had to hustle to relative safety, running into Bahía Concepción on fumes.) But the rest he had sailed solo. With no electronics for movies or even music (nevermind weather forecasts), he had spent the sweltering summer seeking shade and reading. He talked of the books that had influenced him, that helped him see beyond the meaninglessness of life. He used the word “vitality” a lot, and to him it has come to mean something like the joy in suffering. He is a keen observer of humans and their dynamics, and despite a hardened edge toward reality, he treats his dog and friends with gentleness. He maintains the reckless energy of youth, but had developed the wisdom of a sailor—no need to sail in crappy conditions, because it just sucks. Everyone who meets Scott either ends up cheering for him or thinking he’s crazy, or both.
We briefly met Jay, a man with an incredible moustache and a real twinkle in his soul, at his camp on the beach. He and his wife Janice have been sailing the Sea for 25 years, and in the summer they function as the “mayors” for the boating community that stays around Bahía de Los Ángeles. We all shared the wonders of having a dog aboard, and Jay mentioned one of the best reasons for their 13-year-old fluffball Buster—you have to get to go to shore twice a day. Although Jay and Janice were the only older couple left (and still younger than the mean cruiser age, I think,) they are genuinely young at heart.
We joined Scott and another boat, Azul, for a trip over to the southeast corner of the bay, known as La Mona. I watched Scott raise sail, haul up his anchor, and take off along the southern shore under full sail. I couldn’t help but feel proud for him. Sometimes it can be difficult to chart one’s own progress, but I was pleased at the skill and confidence—and measure—that guided Scott as he sailed his small boat, alone and with no motor, to this small protected cove.
At La Mona, after sailing into the cove under full sail only to have our jib furler get stuck, requiring and exciting pirouette and essentially heaving-to while Josh messed with the roller, we immediately paddled to a nearby point to find some dinner. A sea lion smashed his head at the surface, which made me a little nervous to get in the water. It then attempted to grab Scott’s first fish off his spear, but graciously decided to give us space. Soon I was diving down the rocky point, admiring giant blue-purple trigger fish and glimpsing groupers. Fish seem to perceive intent, so while they sometimes eluded Scott and Josh with their spears, they didn’t mind when I would drift on by.
This dive was memorable. Scott told me a trick that helped me nearly double the amount of time I could stay underwater: count. Because, as he says, “if you’re only to eleven, you know you’re not gonna die.” This trick is perfect for me: I often count when I do anything. I don’t know if this is a result of compulsion or a lifetime of musical training or both, but counting underwater, or even looking at my watch, felt natural and reasonable. It changed how I dive. It also helped that I wore my long fins, which saved me so much energy. Moving deeper, there is increasing pressure, so the effort becomes more arduous to hold one’s breath. But the long fins and my tendency to porpoise through the water with them (moving my whole body as a unit instead of kicking my fins individually) kept me calm and saved me energy. And what a thrill to stay underwater longer, all under my own breath!
That evening, we met Mike and Nia on Azul when we had everyone over for fresh fish tacos for dinner. Both Mike and Nia grew up in Colorado near Boulder. Nia, 26, learned how to sail on lakes from her dad, and she taught Mike, 28, how to sail. On their 28-foot boat with their two cats, they left the U.S. in their early 20s and have spent the last four years sailing the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Mexico. After a few days of talking we figured out that I saw them drying out a friend’s boat which had sunk and been refloated after Hurricane Odile hit Puerto Escondido a year ago.
Their boat looks beautiful under sail—which Josh pointed out is because they sail it well.
These two excellent conversationalists seemed genuinely intrigued by any topic we could throw at them, from the function of the electric grid to climbing ‘beta’ to cooking recipes. Over the next two weeks, I grew very fond of these two and developed an admiration for their skills at negotiating any awkward situations, whether sailing or human. We watched them sail off a lee shore in 30 knots, and they negotiated off-color remarks with gentle agility. Their energy is positive and mellow, and after four years they have refined the ability to not just live but thrive with some impossibly scrimpy budget. I admired their ability to live simply and minimally—but never mention it. Many people who sail on a budget find themselves talking about the stress of money often, but Mike and Nia never uttered a peep. It was just part of their chosen lifestyle.
Nia plans to attend medical school in Guadalajara this coming year, and Mike dreams of having a sailboat home and guide service that people could find on Air BnB. Although they spoke of this like a dream, it struck me that the more I got to know them, how close they already are. They have the most important, unlearnable skill for guiding and hosting: that intangible people skill. They sail brilliantly, cook delicious food, know the water, and are a complete joy to talk to—we spent many hours engrossed in conversation. For the dream of a sailboat charter business, they are not looking down a long corridor at a distant light—they are only one doorway away.
We departed La Mona for Puerto Don Juan, with a weather forecast for 40-50 knots and the first norther of the season (which was quite early).
We met one more young couple when we sailed to Puerto Don Juan. Alex and Naomi live aboard Lunasea, their Challenger 40’, with their massive 23-pound Bengal cat Luke, and they added their energy to the group of youth. They worked on their boat for three straight years before they cut from their professional lives (Alex is a certified electrician and Naomi is a nurse) and have sailed in Pacific Mexico, with a few working stints, ever since. Small, wiry, and fit, they bring that same focused, lively energy to conversations—and fishing. Their love for the hook and line, and what it brings them, was apparent in their precise knowledge of all things fishing-related.
(Despite all the time we spent we these folks, I only have sailing photos, no portraits. Too busy talking, I suppose.)
On the cat boats, Uly was always welcomed, and the kitties were guarded but curious. The flowing very windy day everyone had to stay on their boats—too much wind to get to shore after the early morning hours. Uly sat on the bow and stared intently at Mike and Nia’s boat close by, waiting for even a glimpse of their felines, until dark.
After a day of enforced boat time, everyone was ready to get out on the water the following day. Josh, Scott, and Mike took the dinghies fishing, and as soon as I arrived at Azul by paddleboard, I realized Nia might like it. I brought her Josh’s board, and with the skill of a surfer, she listened carefully to my few tips and soon was making her way into a gusty 15 knot wind—NOT ideal learning conditions. She never fell in. With bent knees and a constant grin, we made our way around the anchorage, then cruised back to the boats on a ripping tail wind. It was such a treat to paddle and talk with a young woman at a turning point in her life.
Halloween night fell the day after the howling winds, and Scott and Josh collected firewood in the desert for a bonfire. All musical instruments came to shore, and as Uly and Atrox zoomed around the desert and up and down the beach, we played all the music we could remember, all the way up to the Little Mermaid (how could I resist, I knew that they age of the group guaranteed a sing-along with that one.)
The campfire closed our brief but memorable time with a group of young people in the Sea, as Azul and Lunasea departed the next day and we returned to town with Angry Seagull (with whom we would have more great adventures before we left). As I looked around, it felt entirely natural that we should be here together. We had all arrived at the ability to live this lifestyle in very different ways, and it gave me hope that more people will eschew the 9-to-5 while they have the strength and health of youth. There are many ways to live this life, and it was sweet to see the maturity and skill that all these young people had developed by living on the water. These people touch fear, complexity, and beauty in ways that only a sometimes painfully close relationship with water and nature can provide. And each in their own way, they expose themselves to a path that may not bring answers, but allows them to keep searching.
“Youth is wasted on the young,” George Bernard Shaw quipped. But young sailors might be the exception.