Tag Archives: Bernard Moitessier

San Benito Island Sunset

Sunset off the Isla San Benito Islands. This group of three sit fifty miles west of the Baja Coast. Toss overboard all your small selfish comforts. A swell and chop tossed sea filters the few from the many. Three hundred miles south of San Diego is no longer a mere dance of make believe images passing through the imagination. Off Baja is in the mind.

Crew and skipper gathered in Spirit’s cockpit for the show. Sketched out hanging in front of the blue above were an intermingling mix of clouds, some billowing where another section was rolling then another misting into a vast and vertical fog.

East of our southbound sailing ketch Isla Cedros stretched out by rugged mountains that crashed into the sea. The shoreline measures twenty miles north to south. Spirit was swaddled by islands, ocean and sky. The source of matter and energy was nearing that interval when our planet would turn on the sun and allow its lighted beams to burst out on fire

A sole mariner was nosing north and west. Further south out of sight but on our display was a pleasure craft underway moving at cruising speed toward our position.

Just for this one sunset we had been nonstop from Ensenada to Turtle Bay for more than 33 hours.

In this dusk a chorus of scarlets and golds interwove through wild blue yonder. Beyond the core bursting precious metal like bangles were distant feathering lavender smudged atmospherics. Each carnival of pinwheels, all the darting twinkling scabbards of luminous dusk appeared as its own most original once in a lifetime taxi time traveling speed of light to another and then another soul boggling transformation. Above the San Benitos Islands we found the symphonic fires played by an orchestra in the the great muse’s sky. We sopped up the incomprehensible stowing each taunting beam of delight into the hungry heart of our color seeking imaginations.

Richard Henry Dana’s classic aboard the vessel Spirit

South downwind into the night Spirit gathered the force. Whatever witness, whatever testimony the cosmos had bestowed upon us was more than enough. For some measure of our transitioning from daytime to night we were afforded a seat in the grandest of grandstands. What dusk offered initially was at its extinguished end taken to be ethereal tequila with a lick of salt and bite of lime. All the dancing phantoms, all the kindred forms of light were murmuring in our inner soul tides teasing us to treasure what moments before had been described by this crew to be some of the most precious light painted beatings of our hearts in our passage here on earth. Amen.

Slacker Dudes Sailing Baja

Tropical storm Raymond has arrived late this season. Raining here in Ensenada. We will hold here while seas settle down.

A safe passage isn’t just luck. You want to tip the odds of an uneventful sail in your favor? Show some patience and wait for the weather to settle down.

The first leg of our journey was a fine first taste. South to San Jose de Cabo we go. 800 nautical miles to the south and east down the Baja peninsula we head. For a brief while out on the first day there were whitecaps for a spell. Then dolphins came to play on our bows wake, crew was made merry by their sight. 

Entering Ensenada Spirit found her slip right off. We tied up, checked in with the harbormaster, took showers, made dinner and played backgammon. We were on our bunks to read soon after. 

From where we departed in San Diego we sailed east of the Coronados Islands. There are three. North, South and a third called Middle Ground. Charts indicate a sailing vessel may find use of the eastern leeward side of the islands to anchor.

Further south over the horizon Isla Todos Santos hosts pelagic birds, fishing boats and sailors headed north or south. Low and coming into view out of the mist, far off, will be on our starboard beam once we clear from Ensenada.

South of Ensenada it is 316 nautical miles to Turtle Bay. The Bay of San Quentin is more or less one hundred miles. We would make San Quentin in a day, Turtle Bay in two. Now set to sail Sunday we will make our next stop Turtle Bay.

The disintegrating remnants of Raymond continue to have us holding here in port. Fractional memory of geezers in these waters after much discussion agree none can recall an event of this kind at this time of year since forever. 

Our watermaker has malfunctioned. A solenoid (it is always an infernal solenoid) has given up after twenty years. Tomorrow an agent from Ensenada travels for business to San Diego and will return with the necessary German made replacement part. Our agent has a global entry pass making her trip less difficult. Our skipper has no such document and since there is no Rick’s here in Ensenada the agent will expedite getting the solenoid back to Ensenada.

Our Gulfstar 50 has a formidable engine room. There is also an electrical generator, inverter, watermaker, various types of water filtration, water pumps, water heaters and other assorted appliances. Our skipper spends his waking hours in the engine room. The Cummins turbo diesel is a worthy mechanics adversary. The King Kong sized alternator and the thick copper cables that transfer the electricity to the bank of batteries all look to be ready to light up Paris.  

We’ll cruise along at 7.5 knots with the motor spinning at 1700 RPM. Our Jeanneau, a much smaller boat, the diesel cruises at 2700 RPM. Still we are pushing a sailboat that weighs four times our boat and tips the scales at 41,000 lbs. That is a lot of guacamole.

Each boat comes with its own set of virtues and vices. For instance our smaller lighter sailboat, a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36.2 has many fewer systems and is built to thrive in much different forces of wind and sea. 

Because I do not have a complex system of inverters and generators I have much less complicated electrical system to maintain. I have no solar panels and no solar power regulators to maintain. Even a smaller, less complex sailboat needs tending. There are no free lunches in pursuit of coastal cruising.

While sailing is done by sail we use our auxiliary power to help us get in and out of our berths. With the motor running we can make electricity. While running the motor we store extra into our battery bank. When cruising we’ll run our motor each day to top off our two house batteries.

I am due to install a device that will monitor how much energy I have remaining stored. Until this year I have spent my years running the boat by intuition. You don’t want to rush into these upgrades and even more important “if the dang thing ain’t broke don’t mess with it.” This advice works for boats, marriages and marine electronics. Stand alert to truth sailor!

By now our time in Ensenada has stretched out to a length of time that the street vendors know us by name. For reasons I think are self evident many sailboats arrive and never leave.

We wish we knew why but a boat is much like a woman to a man and their coming and going is an inexplicable mystery so confounding as to halt speculation dead in its wake. 

Slacker dudes will find their lives ruined if they make a mistake of judgement and imagine they’re is something compatible with their lifestyle and going to sea. A slacker type will find the discipline of chores and maintenance something like living with your mother-in-law.  

What you want in the mariner that has taken leave of their senses and possession of a sailboat is an insatiable appetite for puttering. You’ll want to fuss over things. If a thing isn’t broken perhaps you may try to fix it before it breaks. Rebuilding your equipment ahead of schedule is a kind of pocket protector form of behavior.

Many great sailor have traveled the globe while spending the entire voyage either in the engine room or hunched over a workbench trying to bring some piece of machinery back to serviceable life. 

This is the way it has been, the way it is and the way it will always be. We don’t go to sea with the boat we want or the boat we go to sea with the tools we have and as we sail we discover along the way that there remain tools we still need.

It’s in the Bag

Packing bags. Leaving on a jet plane. Last night was spent reading Steinbeck’s account of motoring south off Point Sur. The date was March 11, 1940. 

It is one thousand miles from Monterey, California to the southern tip of Baja. Durban to Cape Town measures a thousand miles. New York City to Key West is near the same. 

The French-Vietnamese sailor Bernard Motiessier departed Durban in 1954 ran into the teeth of a gale and for two weeks made no progress to his destination. Only a stubborn few have spent fourteen days off the coast of South Africa battling a stout blow to a draw. 

There is not a zero probability of encountering a gale while making our way south to Cabo, but the chances are slim. High wind could kick up. Given our boat’s displacement we will not likely be pressed too hard. Capability matters when you match a boat to a blow. 

Always have a backup plan. If the first plan becomes untenable try the second or third or fourth. Back in 1954 Moitessie’s could not approach the harbor because of the violent seas nearest shore. Better to stay in deep water than try and approach the coast.

Moitessie lost his most famous boat Joshua while in Cabo San Lucas when the anchorage was suddenly overtaken by unanticipated storm waves. Sketchy weather reports were ignored. That evening local conditions were docile. By nightfall the fleet of sailboats that had not departed were dragged onto the beach where pounding waves finished them off one by one.

The hard won wisdom we earn in our years of messing around on boats is all prequel. First sign of difficulty we will use our boat and judgement We’ll be ready. This is the pleasure of sailing.

To La Paz

Organizing our gear for our trip from San Diego to La Paz is near complete. Having spent ten weeks sailing the coast of California over the past two years makes preparations many times less complicated.

First off there is the matter of flashlights. Aiming a light into a darkened storage locker solves most every kind of first order of problem you can encounter. A second pair of readers, backup sunglasses are a must. 

One toothbrush is fine. One razor is optional. Sunscreen and moisturizers help. Chapstick is a necessity.   

My ragged, dogeared Penguin paperback 1981 reprinted edition of Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez will make the trip. Bernard Moitessier’s Sailing to the Reefs earns an E-ticket as does  Hiscock’s Around the World in Wanderer III. 

Two couples will be making the coastal passage. Each of us will stand a four hour watch every twelve hours. Standing watch will not be a burden.

 The gods would find sailing past Turtle Bay without visiting a boondoggle. Uncorking a protected anchorage is to have a taste of respite from the constant motion while at sea.

This is where will go. We will set sail from here. Here is all hopped up about troubled leadership in Washington. Preparations for Thanksgiving are in evidence. When will it rain and where will the next wildfire strike keeps California on a knife’s edge. 

All of these urgent concerns will soon be off our stern. Our passage will be the meat of the matter. Our time in La Paz will consist of a three days. 

Walking La Paz is on our bucket list. What we will want to understand about this part of Mexico we can learn by exploring on foot. 

Our passage measures somewhere near nine hundred miles. One week sailing add a handful of days at anchor, take the dinghy to shore to walk and explore. By my reckoning if the weather is fair we will celebrate Thanksgiving nestled in the water off La Paz. 

We arrive Saturday. We will provision Sunday and weather allowing will sail south for Ensenada


Sleepless Nights

Beating

Windward and Northbound

The shrill howl of the wind in the shrouds kept waking me. We were holding at Cojo Anchorage waiting for the winds to drop. Passage north through Point Conception was timed to advantage our trip north on this chance.

Winds finally dipped but not until we’d hoisted anchor and strapped our safety harness on. We sailed close to the wind due west. One beyond Government Point we were exposed to a much more moderate sea than we’d expected to find. Winds remained down at 20 knots steady from the northwest.

For two hours we kept our course offshore fourteen to eighteen miles until we turned back pointing now toward Point Arguello twelve miles north of Point Conception. Once tacked we were ready to gain precious miles of latitude up the coastline. Within ninety minutes we’d sailed ten miles. Since the day before when we’d left Santa Barbara sixty-eight miles behind us we’d gained not one degree of latitude.

We’d been anxious about rounding Point Conception. Stories of mariners halted by heavy weather had haunted our minds. We’d amplified these tales of sailors who had come before us. We’d taken seasickness medication and strapped our safety harnesses on. I was at the helm and my first and only mate stood at the ready on the mainsheet.
solitude at cojo

Solitude at Sunset

As is true of most sport there is a degree of danger. Batters are hit by balls, gymnasts twist ankles or worse… in all sport when stepping up to the plate whether or not you win or lose the game has the potential to injure those on the playing field.

For twelve hours we made more miles north. We had to tack back out off the coast several times. The first three hours gave way to a less fraught sea state. Winds eased for some of this period. Within three hours range of Port San Luis the afternoon breeze kicked up and the mix of chop and ocean swell made for an uncomfortable sloppy passage.

The boat seemed all the more capable. Our confidence by now greater than before we’d started off this morning. We still remained humble to our task. Based upon the seas we’d transited this morning we believed we could sail the boat through what was kicking up in front of us. We had that much determination. Doubts remained at the ready.

Much more sailing is ahead. Conditions have deteriorated and we are holding until Sunday afternoon in Morro Bay. Next leg is 24 hours north nonstop. This is a chunk of coast with few places of any kind to anchor. Most are described as suitable for emergencies only. We’ll take turns at the helm while the other crew member sleeps. One hour here, one hour there, neither member of the boat is to be left alone too long.

pelican on wing

Alone on Wing

Our passage on this leg will test physical endurance. Winds are expected to be on our nose, seas to eight feet in height, and surface chop short and average. The risk is if this sea surface chop steepens it can make northward progress more tedious and weary perhaps even sicken the crew.

For now we are on a mooring back and forth to town to get exercise and purchase provisions. We’ll sleep and catnap in preparation for Sunday. By midday Monday we’ll hope to tuck into Monterey while we wait for the next chance to complete our passage from Catalina Island back to San Francisco Bay.

I expect we’ll find more pleasure than peril in the next one hundred and eighty miles. With each mile sailed we gain a degree of experience, slightly more surefootedness, a sense we are skillfully making our way. Then, like that even that slight bit of hubris is examined for its power to entrap and trick a crew into unanticipated mishap.

Stay humble, keep a hand on the wheel and the mind focused to the task. Making a safe passage requires a persistent unwavering humility. Even with all of that in this sport where anything can happen to a boat and her crew a healthy dose of circumspection may not be enough.

buoy off montana de oro

A View Back from Where We’d Sailed

Edited Red Star

Tickling Artistry

clock and pressure

Take Your Time, There’s No Pressure

Back in LA. My life had been overtaken since the end of April. Shows at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, off to Kona to visit family, preparation of boat to sail offshore to Santa Catalina Island, house preparation for going on market, circus arts summer camp instructor, attending Hall of Fame ceremony for Shelley Switzer for her work as artistic director with the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival; add the Saskatoon Bunny Hug 30th Anniversary Celebration of the quirky and brilliant Canadian performing duo Flying Debris and there goes what we know as time as it is related to the comedy of being overscheduled.

New sails arrived. A house received a facelift. There was an oil change, books devoured, and lots and lots of vegetables eaten. The Berkeley Bowl is a venerable institution.

There was the no small matter of moving from one storage unit to another. Culling through possessions, sending unused but still useful items to thrift stores, other items to the dump. I tried selling a double oven on Craigslist only to be inundated with scams, trolls and con artists. That was a modern day wakeup call.

food

Eating for Health

Napa County’s Measure C an oak woodlands and watershed protection law went down to defeat in California’s June primary by a razor thin few hundred votes. Important to mention because a fictional version of this event is the subject of my fourth novel and more than three years of my time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the brilliant Steve Aveson, the man I toured with in the Royal Lichtenstein Quarter-Ring Sidewalk Circus in 1974-1975 went from his anchor seat at KRON-Television in San Francisco back to New England after a two year stint. We managed a few sleepovers and one bon voyage party in this period of time. Lucky to have had him out here and will miss him like a right arm.

Shakespeare Brothers

Al Krulick, Steve Aveson and Yours Forever (My New Stage Name…)

Reading a sailors 1956 account of sailing and shore side life while in South Africa and while crossing the Atlantic. I have found the sixty-four year old tale jarring to my sensibilities. Our modern day frantic pace of life, the complexity of the new technologies, the fingertip access to any fragment of information we may want is all so smarter and more than clever. Still there seems more than ever to have been spun fog, veil and confusion. We are less able now to make a sensibly constructed holistic narrative of where we are and what we might best do.

The shelves in stores are too full and too complicated. Engineering demonstrates a disdain for simplification. I can’t be sure I will even know how to turn on a television in a hotel room— forget about grasping the embedded algebraic function in an Excel Spreadsheet.

In 1956 a sailor with a copy of Nathaniel Bowditch’s Practical Navigator, a chart, sextant, compass and chronometer could leave sight of land and arrive after a long ocean passage of thousands of miles within a six thousand feet of their planned destination.

Sextant Moon Light

Moon, Light and Destiny

Technology is not only revolutionary. Disruption is our moments primal scream. I look at a gridlocked highway and wonder why the engineers have no answer for the chaos, pain and suffering the automobile is inflicting on us all. We have arrived at a moment with the finest cars than can barely get anywhere. We can fly to the moon and still nearly fifty years later not know what to do once we have proven that we can go there.

As is the case for most of what passes for communication in this day and in this age I am reminded of a cryptic note by Charlie Pierce on Twitter, “Hello? Is anyone listening?”

Edited Red Star

As always buy a book, book a show. Tickling is my art

A Stitch of Time

On the Hard in Preparation

Fresh wind bit my neck. I’d turned sizing up the blow. My sailboat is a capable partner to be running with. Going against this howler would tax the durability of the helmsman’s spirit. Not destiny but the downwind harbor made this leg of the journey a more valued lesson.

With the compass I read a course heading South and the least bit of West. I am making my way quick as life will allow. For a lapse of necessary time I anchored secure in stillwaters claiming refuge.

Sacks of fresh potatoes, tins of garbanzo beans, jars of tahini, cubes of sugared ginger, pounds of dark roast coffee to buck up sagging spirits…. provisions meant to stiffen a spine and strengthen resolve.

Time itself is thrown into question. How much, how dear, how little, when to go, will we return, is this the moment? Does passagemaking make the kind of expeditionary sense in such a compact and well charted world?

In an event horizon measured by lifespan what piece of this sail– in all its vicissitudes– can be refracted and focused to provide a more accurate glimpse of what has been too self-sure arranged within?

Can a closer brush with the front range of our ambitious questing to the unexplored corners sail us any nearer to the more fully realized self we hear whispering to us in the wind?

Forces scaled to the size of nature’s wit and wisdom have a way of clearing the view from a cluttered mind. A good passage is what we find and feel from start to end— pieces of the experience can provide a sailor with satisfactions found out of reach just beyond the horizon. A good passage is a promise fulfilled.

End of Day