Tag Archives: sailing

sailing beneath wonder

South Tower

Modern wonders of the world number seven, the Golden Gate Bridge is but one. Two more, Panama Canal and Empire State Building give some context to what company this bridge keeps.

Sailing in the presence of one of the great wonders towering above leaves one stunned. Tidal forces are at play beneath the bridge, incessant corrosive sea salts are blown upon the steel and concrete.

In a stout wind sailing beneath the bridge is not a nonchalant experience. Winds and currents are tricky and the sagest of sailor’s tinker upon this piece of water with a care rendered by squeezing so hard to sheet, tiller or wheel that there is no room for blood to flow. Sailing beneath the wonder is often a white knuckle affair.

North Tower

Most times with my course outbound luck has been bountiful. Not every time. I have in fool youth did not appreciate the wisdom of turning back and for that mistake then beaten by steep swell and high wind. Stubbornness retreats as motion sickness is threatened.

Here is a bridge our nation has stood up and by civilization’s collective agreement kept safe for transit. If the bridge were not constantly maintained the wild world would have long ago reclaimed this site.

Our forefathers, the people of the United States of America arranged by democracy to tax sufficiently, raise revenue by bridge toll, hire maintenance crew, keep in constant contact with expert engineers that by fact and science expertly keep the bridge in tip top shape.

Left Coast Sunset

Without such due-diligence there would remain nothing of use at the Golden Gate, this place of places. Our democracy to keep standing requires as much if not more care and guidance by empirical fact. A faith based belief system is not a mechanical engineering manual.

We are at the most delicate hour in the world’s longest surviving democracy. To keep one of the seven modern wonders of the world hail and whole seems beyond the talent or plans of the current gang of fascists circling about our vulnerable present moment.

With more people come more traffic lights, small towns need none. Order needs to be appreciated. An emptier world might suit a libertarian, this congested place demands further regulation. Imagining there would be a Golden Gate Bridge must have been a leap of faith in our country’s power. Our best educated, our most temperate people, reliable and self-sacrificing, possessing a sense of respect for our future, this is the kind that will help build upon what Joseph Strauss in 1917 first imagined.

Sailing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge reminds us of our souls, of mankind’s potential for greatness. Sending a man to the moon, circumnavigating the world, relishing the company of a wife or husband.

Capitalism is insufficient to the project of our governing this land. The means of advancing virtue and discouraging vice in our civic life is on the table and at risk. Turning away from the journey of being a free people would be to put all that we have done in peril. We stand on the shoulders and inherited much. I cannot imagine giving all that this nation has built to the tyrannical selfish and greedy few.

Vote

Southbound Along Baja

Charting Passage South

Departed San Diego on November 19th at 0830 hours. We arrived in San Jose del Cabo on the southern tip of the Baja peninsula on December 1st at 1030 hours. We made stops in Ensenada, Turtle and Magdalena Bay before arriving at the southernmost tip of Baja in San Jose del Cabo.

The length of the entire trip was somewhere near 750 miles. We were offshore overnight on four of our legs. Conditions between Turtle Bay and Magdalena Bay were the least agreeable. Wind was blowing us down the coast more often than not. The leg between Turtle and Magdalena Bay was sailed against the wind. Swell was coming both north and south with steep surface chop beating at us from the west. This made for an uncomfortable ride. That is probably accurate but not the whole story. Miserable is more like the fact of the matter. A real gut buster. Rotten and no good come to mind as well. Could have done without that leg, but that isn’t how sailing works.

From the bow

The two most experienced sailors had been in such uncomfortable sea states before. We kept a close eye on our two other less experienced crew. After a long day sailing south and the boat heeled to port pounding and yawing fatigue and motion sickness began to set in. Fatigue, lethargy, and the inevitable mental confusion. Winds increased overnight to 30 knots with gusts higher. Seas built but it wasn’t their size so much as their chaotic mixing that did the most to make matters uncomfortable.

Nobody was frightened by the rugged day offshore so much as feeling a bit discouraged. Making our way south in late November off Baja is generally expected to be a downhill run. Having to bash our Gulfstar 50 south against the wind in such conditions is an unpleasant motion. We would have avoided the entire mess had weather forecasting large swells expected to make Turtle Bay a mess. We picked what we thought was the least uncomfortable choice. In short we were cornered and did what we had to do.

Most of our way south was much less fraught. Beyond Mag Bay we had a fine warm breeze to set our asymmetrical chute and spent most of the daylight hours driving our boat at 6 knots upon a docile sea. Crew were busy snoozing, making meals or on watch for sea turtles. Attire was shorts and sunscreen, sunglasses and a good hat to fend off a bright sun. The motion of the boat only somewhat later in that long day ever tested our crews mettle. More wind foreword of the middle of the boat, the beam, began to cause mild concern among the now veteran crew. Best of all the two that had taken it the hardest hit on the worst days were now all the wiser more seasoned and capable sailors. Most crew do get their sea legs over time.

We are enjoying shore leave here in San Jose del Cabo. Our boat is being scrubbed clean in preparation for her crossing to Puerto Vallarta. Two of us will fly home to San Francisco to leave the skipper and first mate to negotiate the shorter distances and jumps from harbor to harbor.

In our longer passages we were three hours on during a watch. One watch came every nine hours. Between watches crew either napped, was eating, reading or observing the natural world we were surrounded by. Only the darkest and earliest morning watches were manned by a sole member of the crew. We made sure to keep our least experienced crew scheduled to stand watch on the earlier time slots. Checking the boats progress on her course, using radar to spot any approaching boats, or the AIS to see if more distant ships were closing was most of what a person standing watch was responsible for. Otherwise a quick scan of the horizon and those standing watch had an easy time of their duty.

Being offshore is its own world. You are isolated. There are a thousand and one things changing over the course of a day. Still when the sails are drawing wind and the wake is singing off a speeding hull there is nothing quite so enrapturing and as peaceful a way to wander about this one world we have to care for. Sailing as ever is not just about where a boat takes you, but how a boat stirs a soul. We are transported to distant unexplored interior shores. We arrive at the next port knowing more about what we are made of. Wind power is revelatory in that sense. Sailing is about so much more than merely traveling somewhere.

Every Kind of Phenomena

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.

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


May 1, ’18 First of May

Wind and Wave

Akumal headlands small

Shoreline

We are sailing from San Francisco Bay to the Channel Islands this summer. Aside from working on the to-do list and planning is to take pause from preparations and spend time reading Bernard Moitessier. The French-Vietnamese circumnavigator’s maritime narrative reads as lyric verse and Farmers Almanac guidance.

Clutter can accumulate within the mind while preparing a sailboat. In this modern era there is the risk of having too much equipment. Electronic navigation has radically changed the task of keeping an accurate course and position. Automatic Identification System-allows two vessels to view the others information while approaching and take evasive action or as needed to hail by VHF radio. Add the weather satellites and telemetry from the ocean buoys being caught offshore in an unexpected gale is much less common now than in earlier times.

Moitessier reads more as an example in how to exercise judgement. He nudges less seasoned mariners to unloading expectations, Turn the keys to your life over to the seas rhythm and wavelength. Be with the wind and the waves. Listen to the music of the bow wake. Technology can veil the visceral, anxiety can turn attentions inward, the long list of things you didn’t get done before shoving off can distract.

Sweet Seas

We untether from a land based time and begin living on that other scale on the inner clock. Nothing much happens when sailing resembling the pace of the modern world. You become acquainted with the pace and rhythm of the clear and present. Here and now with hundreds of miles ahead asks the voyager to get comfortable in their own bones. Impatience, the odd pace of life at sea, unrealistic expectations will contaminate the mind and fog the lens of judgement. Exercising untainted judgement is the highest form of voyaging art. The best decisions determine whether you and your boat will both live to tell.

Edited Red Star

Buy a book, book a show, and be sure to come back for no good reason other than to have a look-see. I’m right here mate.

April 15, ’18 Star Date

where are the cars

Over Under Sideways Down

A full week ahead. Saturday at Harvey Milk’s Civil Rights Academy in San Francisco. More LA in the mix.

A big shout out to the heroic work underway on our behalf and for the sake of this experiment in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You don’t want Sally Yates or Stormy Daniels feeling like you aren’t leveling with them. You cross them at your own peril and it seems that one rather prominent man in a position to know better has done just that.

My life aboard in Emeryville where we keep our sailboat is filled with some of the bravest, toughest, smartest, nicest beautiful inside and out women I have ever had the pleasure to know. They possess uncommon courage, wit and emotional insight. The women of Emery Cove are a gallant lot whether with a cocktail in their hand or a power tool. Look out, they are not to be underestimated. Ever

Edited Red Star

March 13, 2018 Northern Californian Goes Inexplicably South

Tires
Road Dog Street of Dreams

Welcome to my website.

One of my missions is to give voice to what being in California feels like. What is this experience doing to its citizens? What’s happening? What’s this happening happen to feel like? One thing for sure you better plan on driving off hours when everyone else has gotten to work and be sure to be done driving before everyone starts driving home from work. The freedom to move about in California is neither absolute or during much of the day practical. Driving from LA to Phoenix off hours is infinitely easier than tangling with rush hours.

I am back up in San Francisco this weekend. I’ll spend Sunday with two of the great men of Boston’s street theater scene. Steve Aveson and Al Krulick were The Shakespeare Brothers. I was a cousin working not in but along side. Al is out here on the west coast and we’ll debrief the raging sage of Binghamton, New York. I’ll also get a chance to sound off about the World Emergency Full Catastrophe Climate Change Comedy Show. This talented duo will be a fountain of misguided comic gold to return to the invention laboratory where I will continue my explorations.

halyard
What is tougher than Charles Bronson?

And here another piece in the preparation of sailing offshore in California this summer. One fully loaded Ford Navigator can be suspended by this line.. Dyneema is rope’s real world version of the comic book fantasy world’s Kryptonite. Technology marches on and in the world of sailing the proliferation of new materials is mindboggling.

Whether entertaining, sailing or writing a novel you had better come prepared to weather the challenge. Now away… more soon… come back as you can.

Edited Red Star

Big Bad Boats

 

Rocket Science a mini-monster from the Cook Islands.

This is 50 feet, water ballasted, twin ruddered, carbon fibered, wickedly fast boat with a 13 foot draft!!!!

I stepped aboard a monster Sunday. The beast tethered to a dock. Sixty-five feet of ocean going, purpose built, go anywhere, under any conditions sailboat.

The beast had been born inNew Zealandto an American couple. For eight years this water ballasted ballistic sailing vessel was both a means to an end and an end in itself.

The design was conceived with a lengthy and sleek hard dodger. The stick was massive, the spreaders gargantuan, staysail could be hanked on, and the jib roller furled. Temporary lower backstays were ready in the event the staysail was deployed.

Oversized winches were aft, a weight compromising windlass on the bow (looked more than adequate for the job while small enough not to interfere with the boats sailing characteristics.) And I have to mention the spinnaker pole stowed vertically against the leading edge of the mast.

A mere man and woman, two people handled the task of sailing this unrelenting powerhouse. Losing control of a boat this size, flogging a sail, jamming a line, getting a sail down, hoisting one up, furling an unfurled sail, or having the guts to unfurl the thing was akin to going into a war zone voluntarily.

At the center on the starboard side below a diesel heater had been installed. There was a huge generator, a larger still auxiliary diesel. Forward in the V berth a queen sized bed. The boats interior was not Spartan, but its purpose was the point. Navigation, cooking, electronics, the heads, showers, rear stateroom, the interior lighting, portlights were all what you would expect of this one of fiberglass Titan.

I was imagining the able bodied seamen I’d want with me should I’d found myself heading out the Gate on an ebb in a blow. I’d pick a couple of old coots the balance would come broad shouldered, under forty and be either crazy or have guts, preferably both!

In 2003 I was down inFt.Lauderdale. Wandering the docks I stumbled upon a brokerage that specialized in selling sailboats of this size. They were all beasts. You looked at one and said I could take that boat right now to Europe, that other up the Northwest passage, still another toAntarctica. There were a few tender looking boats mixed among the toughie’s, and then there was this one I was aboard yesterday.

It is something special to be aboard something that resembles what you would use to get you through your worst nightmare. It is something like how you would travel to somewhere over a rainbow intent upon arriving back from a dream you would be wise not to make.

Is that a merry-go-round or Secretariat…

Available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble as ebook for the grand total of $1.00

What are you waiting for? 

 

 

 

Life as Transition

The First Show

My beginnings as an entertainer started in 1974 with the Royal Lichtenstein Quarter-Ring Sidewalk Circus. I am on the left and Nick Weber the shows creator is on the right. After a year long national tour with the circus I struck out on my own. Sold my motorcycle and bought my 1967 Ford pickup and packed my first show into the back of that truck and set out on a six year non-stop tour.

I learned to go north and south with the weather. I learned to live out of my pickup truck, how to get book dates for the show, where to park and sleep, find showers, make telephone calls, cook of a tailgate, fix the truck when something broke, and to pursue with passion my vision of what my life should be.

What a Pair Sunshine and Her Performing Juggler Dana

I’ve had many partners. Steve Aveson, Nick Weber and Mari Dempsey were my first. Sunshine and then Lacey were next. Learning to solo perform required learning to be totally self-sufficient when out on the road. Touring alone is a different experience. It is an art. Solitude as defined in those days was of a flavor changed by the interconnectivity of now. Without cell phones and electronic mail my chances of having someone contact me rested entirely on the US Postal Service and a
telephone answering service I arranged for back in California. I would check for messages with the service and then set up and pay a small fortune in coins to contact future clients, friends and family.

Circa 1977 Dana Smith in Harlequin Street Theater

            I fell in love with sailing the day I got off the road and set up shop in San Francisco where I would street perform off and on over the next 31 years. Sailing like shows provided me with the sacred bond I had made to keep in my life a place
where I slept that moved. My 1967 Ford was always ready and from 1976 when I first purchased the truck until about 1997 when I finally junked the rig I put some half million touring miles on this baby. The Chevrolet Suburban 4X4 was
next. Put about two hundred thousand on this rig. Next came my Dodge Cummins diesel dually. And at present I roll with a 2007 Toyota Tacoma 4 cylinder 5 speed stick, twenty-seven miles to the gallon rig.

Where I've Lived the Longest of All....

My life is a story of wanderlust. My life is also a story about being a traveling showman. Then, the writing, always the words, and my plays, poems, songs and lyrics, correspondence, magazine articles, and finally the development and completion of my first two novels. Of course imagine if you will with me the million of random incidences, both large and small, occurrences that last a moment and other events that have stretched out over the decades. Children, marriages,
homes purchased, boats I’ve owned, dunderheaded choices made in haste in the moment only to cost me precious spiritual energy tens of years later, and all the while some part of some of what I didn’t do right whittling away at the
purity of the best parts of who I was until accounted for. This is to say that nobodies perfect and I express and honor my flaws and speak up with some candor for trying to address those now.

Malibu Master Bedroom for Showman

            So, this short narrative explains in capsule form where my experience comes from. It explains what work I’ve done and where and where I haven’t lived. At present I am planted firmly in the hills of the East Bay near San Francisco.
Waiting in the garage my trusted Toyota and nearby in Emeryville our trusted sailboat. I am less urgent at the moment about going out on the road or heading out to sea, but the day will arrive when I’ll want that and seek out the opportunity to go, ride the wind across prairie or sea, and find out what else I can know about this world we live in.