Tag Archives: Bernard Moitessier

Boat as Soul Repair

Vessel Sweet Seas parading in the boatyard

To enter a boatyard is to step into a world dominated by men. There are reasons for this, none that will get to the truth of how this has happened, but it is here a workplace where men are packed cheek to jowl. The men come as fathers, bachelors, husbands, brothers, and braggards. Religious beliefs vary, most no longer drink, all have lived hard lives, none raise as much hell as the hell that landed them here. Lessons have been learned, that’s why they’ve been hired on, fool youth has been completed and their most productive years are before them.

Boats are stood on the hard and secured with boat stands. This first step is done by skilled veterans. Hauling a boat out of the water requires precision, there is no room for error. One team haul the boats out of the water, power washes the bottom and then sets the vessel on the hard where the work will be done.

If you need rigging fixed, carpentry repaired, or electronics debugged there is a specific skilled man that will do the job. Boats from all corners of the globe arrive for services provided here at KKMI in Richmond.

Bob Hennessy will oversee the work done on my boat. I’d come in distraught about the shaft seal failure and it was Bob coming down below seeing for himself the failing prop shaft seal and then intoning in a soothing mellifluous steady voice how to best fix this rascal. I had about 10 ideas how I might do the repair and Bob swatted all those away but one, the surest one, the one his yard recommended, and the one I would use. This is why they pay Bob the big bucks.

Propeller Shaft Seal is the black rubber boot

The man coordinating the services to a boat is something like the conversation you might have with your doctor, or if it is serious, you know if it is life or death, these are the kind of conversations you might have with your surgeon. Bob will explain how they’re going to cut the thing out, in this instance the propeller shaft seal, so I may regain my sanity and boats seaworthiness. I am fond of the part where I get to go sailing off over the horizon to live and love another day. There is no hand holding, there’s no show boating, no taunting or teasing. There are no crybabies. My job is to shut up and follow along learn as much as I can so I might know more about how my brain and my boat are put together. I appreciate Bob’s skillful means. The reason I don’t have to have all the answers is because of men like Bob who do.

Furthest left in image is the Camper Nicholson 35

The boatyard was crowded. Two boats down from mine was perched on the hard a 35’ Camper and Nicholson sailboat. The sloop rigged boat is a Lloyd’s Register of Shipping certified vessel built to the highest standards. The boat is one tough go anywhere take on anything Swiss Army knife of a tool that gives a mariner a snowballs chance of making it through the eye of a tropical depression then not sinking so the skipper and crew may then live long enough to tell. I don’t understand how they’ve figured out how to ensure such feats of daring (reasonable minds may disagree but this could also be considered an act of sheer stupidity) but someone located along the River Thames has quantified the loads on hull and masts and forces of nature and put the name Lloyd’s on the odds of someone making it through with this particular vessel under what can only be considered as a storm-tossed nightmare at sea.

Jesus is the technician handling my prop seal replacement

Sailboats of this kind are here being prepared for long ocean passages. One of the yards senior most experienced technicians was working at the stern installing a Hydrovane, or a wind powered self-steering device. Aligning the wind vane is precision work, the technician fashioned several mounting blocks from a special high strength epoxy resin laminate material. The nuts and bolts must seat perpendicular to the laminate blocks both on the inside and outside of the hull. Close isn’t good enough, right is right, literally each bolt and nut seats flush. The installation requires both patience and a fat purse as these hours add up and the expense is considerable. I watched the technician work two full days and there was still more to do. Fending off disaster at sea doesn’t come on the cheap.

The technician figured that I was trying to take care of my own boat and had bestowed his attention upon me as if by secret handshake, he made eye contact signaling I had permission to speak. Because boats are complicated, much as most marriages, therefore most owners have little time to give to their own boat or the sincere effort needed in keeping their marriage in top condition. I am one of the holdouts attempting to come out a champion of both.

Prop and seal installed

This is the way it was, the way it is and the way it always will be. My working on my own boat meant I was likely an odd and quirky man, that I knew little but tried my best. It doesn’t take a technician long to figure out I’m the rare bird trying to do as much of the work that needing doing and that can-do spirit had earned me a pass and pity depending upon the hour of the day and quality of the whiskey involved.

Think of a boatyard as mansplaining paradise. Here is located a sanctuary where being told how to do a thing right the first time is near divine guidance. A dedicated owner once identified as marginally capable and not some knotted up halfwit going off about a mechanical conundrum, he knows nothing about is for sport and conversational pleasure elevated to be a target of idle chatter. Do I have the will to persevere or will the task at hand bring me to my knees until I am defeated? In the world of advice, the most stubborn of us cannot ask and therefore will not receive.

Heat exchanger uses cool sea water to reduce heat of engine coolant… you don’t pump sea water through the motor

Upstairs in the chandlery is a vast floor of engine parts. An irritable bloke because of how Yanmar sells parts had to look over a schematic online and find part numbers for each individual item I will need to remove and replace the heat exchanger. There isn’t much cleaning a heat exchanger, but there are several steps to the task. This isn’t my first visit to this rodeo. By the last day in the yard the irritable gent upstairs opened the gate for me, he even smiled. I had passed muster as I whiled away day upon day undertaking all manner of tasks that I had showed some ability to complete.

A buzzer sounds over a public address system signaling that it is time for one of the two 15-minute breaks or the 30-minute lunch. Two men bring their dogs to work. Some of the most talented technicians tend to congregate with other most talented workers. The up and comers are men nearing 30. They’ve got plans to prepare their own boat for a future circumnavigation.

My sloop was put back in the water. Because I had opened the cooling system, I had to be careful on start up to be sure the coolant level was kept topped off. The propeller shaft seal technician hustled aboard to check the shaft seal was working as it should. Rather than takeoff immediately I remained at the docks overnight while checking and rechecking everything was as it should be, and my boat was seaworthy.

On her way back to where she belongs

At daybreak I prepared the boat for sailing. Prior to my departure to bookend my experience Bob rumbled again in soothing tones about how pleased he was to see my sailboat made whole and that I had come through the experience without earning the outright derision of his workers.

Ahead of Sweet Seas the racing boat Adjudicator

Slipping the lines, I motored south out of the channel to Potrero Reach then with fair winds on my beam I hoisted my sails shaping a course west out into the bay.

In the deal I’ve come to see fixing a boat as proxy for fixing some broken piece of our soul and out of the repairs, time and trouble invested there sails a spirit open to the wonder and the glory and how we’re all folded into the mystery.

Moitessier imagined his boats to be an alliance, each making the other all the better. That fits what I have come to know. I am back from the yard, I am shipshape, and ready to go with all my heart giving it everything I have. To all of us I wish for “fair winds and following seas.”

diagnosing art brain

Artists find fitting in to be littered with warning signs. Ordinary day to day life triggers the creative mind. Some events pull us closer while other experiences repel. There is always this foreground-background dynamic. Point to what is standing out, a particular detail is where the talented mind leaps.  

Often alienated by the mundane, trapped in the tedious practicality of chores, when frequent impulses send the talented misfit on a quest for a more ascetic interconnection with the world.

The art brain is full of tripwires, people who care about what trials we endure will try to breakthrough, “you’ll be alright, you’ll settle down, a lot of us were like you when we were young.”

The admonitions are not helpful.

Nonconformists with a creative bent appear to be intentionally uncooperative, unwilling to be realistic about what to expect from a world that is optimized for the benefit of so many other more fundamental activities. A piece of art gives flight to the human spirit but is nowhere near as vital as is our access to running water and flushing toilets.

Most emerging artists don’t even know what’s wrong. Life is weird, things non-art addled brains seem to be able to tolerate are unendurable to the art freaks. Worse still are the creatives who haven’t settled on how to use this cognitive muscle. Some flit from poem to play to oil painting, they are surprised to learn that everyone else isn’t compelled to have such a penetrating appetite for wanting to manifest this vision so clear in their minds.

If there is early trauma in an artist’s life too many choose to leave the wound open and create from this tormented location. Because wounds stick out, command so much of our attention, the temptation to live in these wounds can distract from the real journey of living beyond these injuries. Gatekeepers daring to get in our way often feel the artists vengeance. Retaliation is all too human. Artist’s breakaway from what has harmed and scarred, once they’ve broken free, they can go their own way.

Bernard Moitessier writes after a year sailing solo at sea, “I found a little temple from forgotten times, lost in the faraway forest… But how can I tell them? How can I tell them that the sounds of water and the flecks of foam on the sea are like the sounds of stone and wind, helped me find my way? How can I tell them all those nameless things…leading me to the real earth? Tell them and not frighten them, without their thinking I have lost my mind.”

In 1967 the mystic sailor would sail non-stop for 37,455 miles. Moitessier abandoned the solo circumnavigation race, slinging a rock with message to a passing ship that he would not finish but instead would sail on in hopes of saving his soul. The sailor’s sailor finally came in from the sea putting his anchor down in Tahiti.

The French-Vietnamese Moitessier imagined his sailing was an opportunity to merge his soul to the wonder of passagemaking. Like Mount Everest rounding Cape Horn is a serious undertaking and has a history of killing mariners who have tried.

Painters showing new work at galleries may or may not sell, if they do, they may not command a fair price, perhaps they find success one year then what they feel is new and better work falls flat the next.

Try as they might to conform, working as art instructor they are viewed as quirky and difficult, they may or may not be offered a permanent position.

Pursuit of a career in show business because an insistent nagging voice, because you have no other talent, you cannot manage to impress attempting anything else, you are hired and soon dismissed, you are desperate and barely show any interest in doing anything else. You suffer mood swings, remain silent for days on end, and male or female it doesn’t matter you have a vague sense of being pregnant and the due date seems certain and near.

Interview after interview, it is the same, this isn’t something the actor wanted to do, it is something they had to do, nothing else worked.

I had gone by sailboat to find Moitessier along the Richmond waterfront. Holed up in a warehouse he was building his new boat Tamata. Joshua had been dragged ashore in a freak storm in Cabo San Lucas.

Happy as ever, waving, lending a hand to secure my bow, Moitessier’s young American friend, the street performer had come looking for him. Sitting on a jumbo bollard smoking cigarettes, recounting how having lost everything standing on the beach the situation hopeless then selling Joshua to some Dutch sailors for salvage rights. Moitessier knew when to let go.

Moitessier thought my working along the waterfront in Fisherman’s Wharf where I could play my comedy show for tips from tourists was a worthy path. How I had managed to fashion a simple live show that was good for the soul of the common man. How I had conjured up some way to make ends meet, to keep the “hungry cows” away. Moitessier knew along my path were hidden rocks and hazardous seas, the great circumnavigator had extra courage to share. Two rascals living by the seat of their pants determined to bet their lives, hoping against all odds that with some luck charm and faith in self they’d live to tell.   

sailing the soul

By my 29th birthday I had reached an inflection point. Doors opened moving me closer to my goal. I wanted to be a street performer, to drift from place to place, spend my waking hours building the best of the best shows.

Every day, seven days a week I would practice my skills, rehearse routines, write jokes and work the phone building another tour.

Then a voice, a warning— you’re losing your balance, look at you, you’ve become dull and overworked, burnout is everywhere— Unpleasant, moody, preoccupied, I had no attention span, I was unavailable. As some said— I didn’t have a life.

Standing at a crosswalk I noticed a flyer stapled to a telephone pole. I tore one of the dangling shreds of paper with a telephone number and called. Staff answered my questions, offered to take my name, I had a spot reserved in the next class. I knew nothing about the sport, but now I was registered, I was going to learn how to sail.

First thing was to purchase Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, and a second pamphlet, it was a more rudimentary beginners guide to sailing. There was a short session in a classroom, the instructor went over the basics at a chalkboard. There was a break for lunch. In the afternoon, the class broke up into pairs and practiced setting up and putting away the 14’ sloop rigged keelboats. On the first day we never left the dock.

By the second week of class everything happened on the water.

Sailing broke the fever of my one-dimensional life. Smiling more, breathing remained a little forced, I was learning to get on a boat and go play with whatever the winds and tides would give me. Sailing was my teacher, the sailboat was showing me how to be comfortable in my own skin. After four weeks I was now an official beginner, free to charter the school’s keelboats and go play with the breeze.

Maestro, built 1959 restored by this sailor

I continued taking classes, by now I was reading about first aid, practicing man overboard drills, and how radar could help keep you safe. I completed a course in coastal navigation.

Another navigation student, ambitious and eager, asked if I’d like to take a day long celestial navigation workshop in Sausalito. Crossing oceans on a small sailboat seemed improbable, risky, farfetched. “It’s not that dangerous, if you took this celestial workshop, you’ll at least have the choice of whether to go or not.”

A reed thin Frenchman greeted us at the harbor. His steel ketch I would later learn had first departed Marseille in 1963 while I was still just a child. The lipstick red steel hull and white deck fit with purpose in its slip, standing out among the other vessels, appearing to have been sailed farther, the standing rigging stouter, the running rigging gauged for heavy weather, the vessel Joshua was an ocean boat, the first I had ever seen.

Running low of money Bernard Moitessier sailed from Tahiti to Sausalito in search of work. The famous sailor was soon engaged as a gardener, boat repairman, and celestial navigation instructor.

The lack of money vanished from the French circumnavigator’s life. Sausalito would offer a helping hand. Moitessier’s new fortunes he described as the dragons, hungry cows and holy trinity, self-fashioned expressions he used to identify his demons or allies. Moitessier understood that there were battles a dragon like soul must confront, or when the hungry cows of poverty move too close, or the sense of the Divine to be found while playing with the sun, the wind, and the water.

The thinking style of a boy growing up on the Mekong Delta had been tempered by experiences unavailable to a childhood spent sailing on the Chesapeake. Moitessier appeared to be all French, his Vietnamese mother’s influence was more visible in the way he used his mind, his perceptions, instincts blending the Eastern religion and philosophy he had absorbed coming of age in Southeast Asia.

Seated below deck in Joshua’s salon Moitessier rolled out the chart he had used to navigate from the South Pacific to California. Weather reports were received by shortwave radio. A threatening storm formed and had clocked toward Joshua, then for a few days followed coming close to overtaking his ketch. Moitessier tracked the storm’s movement by radio reports and with each change in its position marked the low-pressure system in pencil with a larger and larger X.

Crucially he could tune the radio to a station that transmitted tones that identified Greenwich Mean Time. Knowing down to the exact second in a minute what time it is as measured by atomic clock and then simultaneously capturing the angle of a celestial body, most often the sun, a navigator can with great accuracy calculate a line of position. To obtain an exact position the navigator uses the sextant to measure a second and third celestial body. The vessels position is fixed somewhere in the triangle formed by the three lines.   

Empowering other sailors to navigate by the stars suited the gypsy spirited Moitessier. If a sailor could take accurate measurements with a sextant, they could safely cross oceans, find islands, arrive at a predetermined destination. With this skill the gentle Frenchman had given others the means of filling their sails with wind and setting off on a voyage.  

In the era of the clipper ships sailing long distances was common. In 1965 Moitessier’s record breaking return sail from Tahiti back to France was the first and longest voyage of its kind for a small sailboat. The feat is often likened to climbing Mt. Everest. What the Frenchman described as The Logical Route daring to return by sailing around Cape Horn was a feat many times riskier than anything I had ever imagined, this was the first time I had considered that crossing oceans by small sailboat could make a sailor’s life more whole and fulfilled. I’d thought sailing to be a pastime, a watersport, something to do with an afternoon. Placing sailing into the center of my life wasn’t a consideration.

The clever Moitessier had let go the invisible lines I had been using to hold my imagination back, his astronavigation student had been set adrift. Imagine what changes you could go through by using the stars to help find your way through a world you had yet the courage to explore. Bernard Moitessier’s thinking was uncluttered, he had sailed his boat anywhere, taking voyages for the pleasure of knowing more about who he was while offshore at sea. Being in his presence, the distinctive quality of wit and whim, outnumbered by less experienced sailors, there was only one French-Vietnamese circumnavigator, only one of the many below deck was prepared to hoist sails and go now.

Even a simple afternoon sail in the estuary had new meaning. With the winds bit in the boats teeth, filling the sails, the sound of the hull rushing headlong through water became elixir and anthem. My time spent off the water had changed too. Sailing was amending my constitution. I had been guided back to a bigger sense of story, willing to entertain a more purposeful adventure, my fearing unknown horizons had been tempered by Moitessier. The possibilities of what a sailboat could do, how a passage could enable my life created a better version, a more resourceful self, I became someone who was more willing to strip down to the bone, a less guarded new sailor had learned how to unlock his mind, open his heart, and embrace the world of change.

Sausalito then and now

Foggy Streams Sweeping Inland at Days End

Sailing has been part of my life. My first lessons were on 14’ sloop rigged sailboats in the Alameda Estuary. It wasn’t long before a sailing friend purchased his own, a modest seaworthy boat, strong enough to cross oceans, slow enough to make a sailor think twice of doing so.

In 1980 there was a small parking lot operating as a boatyard in the center of Sausalito. After a long day in the yard prepping the boat to go back in the water a short walk across the street landed skipper and his second in command in the No Name Bar.

Sausalito on my horizon last evening

Sterling Hayden was easy to spot around town. Alan Watts nearly always drunk and irritable made his home here too. Best of the locals was the famous circumnavigator Bernard Moitessier.

Having run out of money in Tahiti he sailed his steel ketch Joshua to Sausalito to rid his life of what he termed the “hungry cows.”

I studied celestial navigation aboard Joshua with three others. Bernard’s berth was located toward the back of the boat near the stern. I remember his bunk enormous, piled high with multicolored quilts, blankets, and pillows. History’s most accomplished sea gypsy slept in a gauzy fantasy world of paisley’s, spangles and curiosities.

I was 29 when I studied under the guidance of this great Frenchman born in Vietnam. I had not read his books yet. His confidence was stunning. He possessed the greatest powers. There was no Global Positioning System deployed yet. To sail the oceans you navigated with compass, sextant and chronometer. Moitessier remains one of world’s most accomplished circumnavigators.

Gossamer Clad Golden Gate Bridge and Sailboat Daring to Kiss its Edge

There exists a shortlist of heroic types I’ve had the pleasure to learn from. Each had favorite poets and poems. My hero’s were deeply spiritual, I would go so far as to say each were touched with a sense of the mystical. All seemed to be wedded to the notion of traveling to faraway places. Most cared little for material things and shopped for clothes at second hand stores. These were spirit guides with vast appetites. Skinny to a one, craving to seize the day, and fulfill their hearts desires. Passion was no stranger among my North Stars.

The rail thin sailor was easy to find. We made a habit of chasing him down aboard his boat. We wouldn’t outstay our welcome. Weather permitting we’d stand on deck. Bernard smoked hand rolled cigarettes. Conversation was a meandering experience. We’d talk politics with a sailor who had looked firsthand into the fabric of power by having harbor hopped the nations of the world. We talked about different aspects of sailing. And then there was always this circling back around to our youth and Bernard’s quirky way of urging us to listen to our own hearts, to do what we want to do, be who we truly are. Bernard insisted we had to honor our dreams. Bernard had become our friend.

A Raucous Wind Awaits a Sailor on Such a Sight as This

Sausalito was storybook in 1980. Homes were improbably perched on perilously steep hillsides. Fog hovered on the ridge and in late afternoons would stream down through the gulches in one place but not another.

By nightfall the anchorage would be overcast. Foreign accented voices were common, exotic sailing craft from all corners of the world set at anchor in Richardson Bay. Levi clad long haired men and women populated the waterfront, merry wide eyed dreamers to a one.

I’m anchored off Sausalito, anchored here last night, reminiscences of the good souls that brought me to this moment, having helped steer my life, helped set my direction. A fine man Moitessier, he spent his last days in Normandy along a favorite piece of coastline. I was blessed with his sure hand and chiseled smile.

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