In Moab, I worked with a fantastic bike guide, Scott Escott, who shared these wise words: “I hate the wind because it blows the personal space away from my FACE.”
At this moment, amid copious tears, I hate the wind. We have just anchored at Isla Carmen after five and a half hours of tacking back and forth into a stout, unpredicted north headwind. This breeze whipped up a quality fetch—which means that we were pounding into steep, choppy, constant waves all day. I rarely feel seasick, but I think the lack of personal space around my temples and nostrils has contributed to my nausea.
I’m generally composed, especially under pressure. But once our anchor holds us safely to the wind on this island, I spring a leak. Josh sits down next to me, bewildered. But there’s nothing he can do. This is our first night back on the boat for three weeks, and I don’t want to be here.
We have been on land for the past three weeks because we were adopted. As soon as we pulled into the sheltered cove of Puerto Escondido, we were whisked to shore by our new Baja family, Kathy and Al. These two extraordinary people gave us a cool, comfortable room, delicious home-cooked meals every night, endless wine, and entertaining conversation. From the shelter of their beautiful, loving home, we watched two storm systems roll through and deluge the desert. We have become completely spoiled by their clever cooking and relaxed banter.
How did we get so lucky? I met Kathy when I stopped for the night in Loreto on the drive north from La Paz to meet Josh in San Diego for our sail around the peninsula. She and I connected like old friends. When I emailed five months later to tell her we were coming to Loreto, she told us to call as soon as we arrived.
Kathy grew up in Chile and Colombia, the daughter of a graceful Chilean woman and an American mining engineer. Al grew up in Switzerland and has roamed the world, speaking six languages, as an agricultural businessman. They met at the halfway point—Ventura, California—and they retired to Nopolo, a tiny community two arroyos south of Loreto. We could tell that they were the glue that connects the other retirees to the broader Mexican community—their social ease and multi-lingual conversation evolved from many years of deftly plying different cultures. In their company, we felt like we had found our Baja parents.
Two storms and a couple of illnesses passed us by as we settled into land life. Josh repaired my soggy paddleboard, and I conducted interviews, wrote newsletters, and edited photos and video. But we knew we had to depart once we had a clear weather window for our journey north. We stocked up on groceries, and Al and Kathy dropped us off at the dock at Puerto Escondido. We moved back onto the boat, but we were both feeling out-of-sorts, a mixture of displaced and at home at the same time. Back in the v-berth and the still nighttime heat, I slept very little.
Which bring us back to the ingredients of a total meltdown. With minimal sleep, I rushed to send off final emails as we filled water and fuel at the dock. Josh was itching to leave, and even though I needed more time to transition back to the boat, I didn’t realize it. Once on the water and pounding upwind, I started to unravel.
Aside from racers, who enjoy the challenge of upwind sailing, I have discovered that many ‘cruisers’ like sailing only when it’s downwind. Normally, I can handle upwind sailing, and even though I find it exhausting (that lack-of-personal-space-right-in-front-of-my-face-all-day thing), the sail dynamics of going upwind make sense to me. But after three calm weeks on land, followed by minimal sleep and a rushed departure, and I had only scented toilet paper to quell my runny eyes and nose. And, honestly, I missed our new Baja family.
Josh left me to my tearful post and made dinner. To add insult to injury, the ‘beach’ we were promised in the guidebook had been washed away by a few years of hurricane rains, so we couldn’t take a reprieve on land. The water around us was murky and felt threatening. (As it turns out, we unknowingly backed over some sort of underwater tree here and scraped our keel in this anchorage.)
Once again, I slept only fitfully, despite the protected waters.
When I awoke the next day, I discovered that the cold I had been harboring in my throat had moved to my eyes, meaning that I would have to wear my glasses for the next week. This sent me into a rage. I don’t see as well in my glasses, and the added glare from the brilliant day only made me more grumpy. That freaking orb in the sky! Bah!
Unfortunately, the nearest/only person in my line of sight/fire for all this was Josh. After three brief hours for our morning sail, we anchored in the clearest water we had seen since Isla San Francisco. Once anchored, I unleashed accusatory daggers at Josh. I even managed to blame him for my bloodshot eyes. He somehow pulled words from my charged blows and replied in such an empathetic way that he got me to calm down. “You should jump in the water, you’ll feel better,” he suggested gently.
I was hesitant to swim without my glasses (I’m as blind as a bat, but without the handy sonar.) Yet the water was so clear I couldn’t resist. I hopped over the side of the boat to discover refreshingly cool water, and it felt immediately uplifting to be back in the ocean. In this beautiful anchorage on the south side of Isla Coronados, I could finally remember what’s so great about our chosen life.
The grumpiness didn’t leave me completely, however. So back on the boat, I forced myself to focus on something creative, and away from the glare of the desert sun: I made pizza from scratch. This was the first time I had ever made rising dough, and certainly the first time on the boat, so the concentration took my mind off of whatever I was tempted to let aggravate me in a given moment. In the height of cooking, it must have been 130 degrees in the galley. It took over three hours in total, but it was a delicious success. With real food in my belly, I could sleep a little better.
We stayed another day to hike and explore—and generally find our groove again. On our last morning, in only eleven feet of clear water (we draw almost seven), we scraped all of the growth from the hull (like in this video here.) As I surveyed the sandy bottom around the boat, the detritus from the hull looked like hair clippings covering the floor at a barbershop. New style, new start.
It took us a few days to remember how to sleep, cook, and make decisions together on the boat. There are so many moving parts, and all in a (very, very) small space while constantly exposed to whatever elements get tossed at us from the sky and the sea. But we remembered. And for me, the reset button this time was taking a day to let my body and mind readjust by paddleboarding, swimming, hiking, creating, and scraping off my grime so I could sail again.
Whether on land or sea, everyone can and will have bad days, for good reasons or no reason at all. Remember Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? (One of my favorite kids books.) Things were so bad that he had to wear his train pajamas. Train pajamas?! The WORST. He just wanted to move to Australia. I don’t know what I wanted when I was fed up with the boat. It helped to be reminded later by my dear friends Briana and Jess G. that what we are doing, despite the generally perfect scenery, involves rigor and attention and tolerance beyond the typical call of duty. Cracking, therefore, is part of the process. Sometimes you just have to go for a swim and ride it out.
Because everyone has bad days—even on a sailboat.