Aug 6, 2016

10,000 Miles of Patience, Courage or Principle?

If you can find a path with no obstacles
It probably doesn’t lead anywhere.

Frank A Clark



Storm building up at sunset
We broke the 10,000 nautical mile milestone of sailing during this crossing! Another landmark we remember thinking was so far away and nearly unattainable when we first embarked on this journey listening to stories of sailors with 30,000, 100,000, 250,000 miles of experience!

The 'girls', Nikki, Marie, and beautiful Beth
Before leaving Mazatlán, I had a huge surprise! A friend of mine for the past 20+ years happened to show up at a potluck dinner. I had no idea she was in town, she didn’t know I was here either. Neither one of us were too keen on attending but did anyway so it was a great and welcome happening. Her partner purchased a ‘local’ sailboat that belonged to people in their 90’s retiring from sailing, mostly at the request of their kids. It was so nice to see her again. Soon we will have sailing stories to swap.
Back to adding up the miles…
On this much longer than expected crossing to the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez, I was reminded of just how beautiful and mesmerizing developing thunderheads are seen from completely open spaces undisturbed by trees, buildings, mountains, power lines, city noises, etc. Everything seemingly much bigger when viewed uninterrupted, a continuous landscape of clouds upon clouds as wide as the eye can perceive, a raw living force, bringing rain, winds, thunder, lightning, or simply darkness and calm whispers… One never really knows. 

Dorado floating around our boat
Love the way the sun and wavelets make patterns on their smooth skin
This slow passage allowed us plenty of time to see wildlife from swordfish to sharks, dolphins to whales, several turtles, a couple of dorados circling the boat for hours (for shade, curiosity or company?), orcas (for the first time in three years), rays and the typical sea birds although in much lesser quantities (due to new weather patterns or human activities?). To top it off, a couple of green flashes at sun down, something we never tire of seeing and several really bright shooting stars to make the nights more interesting.
From complete doldrums to 25 knot winds on the nose or what we call ‘pinched up against reality’, this voyage was actually more difficult than when we crossed the ITCZ at the equator while sailing to French Polynesia. Weatherman said remnant clouds from that area came over the Sea of Cortez bringing with them similar patterns.

Approaching Salinas on Isla Carmen at dawn
Anyway – glad to be on the Baja side where it feels a little more like home than Mazatlán. We landed in Bahia Salinas (old salt ponds) on Isla Carmen, more than 230 miles north of where we had planned to be. Plan B. “Sail la vie…”
Wreck on the beach, our boat in the background
Chapel when Salinas had a working salt mine
Almost like a skating rink
Even in the desert, nature quickly takes over
On a different subject:
Typical dock conversation (when we are at dock which is rare…)

Them: Oh! Great to see a new boat! Where have you guys been?
Us: From Long Beach, California, down the outside of Baja as far south as Barra de Navidad and up the Sea of Cortez for two summers. We took a break to visit French Polynesia and Hawaii. This is our third trip up the Sea of Cortez.
Them: We have been here since 2004 and love all the Sea of Cortez.
Us: Where from?
Them: Texas originally but we had the boat shipped here.
Us: Really, where have you visited in the Sea? (Thinking they’ll be a great source of new information for us).
Them: The whole Sea.
Us: What is your favorite place?
Them: La Paz (typical answer for a marina but we are hoping an anchorage).
Us: Did you have good sails across to the Baja side?
Them: We hired a crew and motored most of the way.
Us: What about a good recommendation for an anchorage?
Them: Well, we also like Cabo San Lucas and San Carlos (again, not anchorages but marinas).
Us: Have you been to Loreto?
Them: Just heard of it.
Us: Have you seen Santa Rosalia’s Eiffel designed church?
Them: Santa what?
Us: You have a favorite place in the Bay of Los Angeles?
Them: Never heard of it – isn’t it in California?
Us: When are you leaving for La Paz again?
Them: Tomorrow, the weatherman says it’s going to be calm for two days (and sure enough that day about 15 boats left Mazatlán motoring to La Paz)…
Us: Ok, well, nice chatting with you.
That is all they had to share for 12 years of ‘being’ in the Sea of Cortez!
At first and as newbies, we believed in these people’s stories when they said they knew and sailed the Sea. We based some of our cruising preparations on these skewed stories. The one above is pretty typical of the average cruiser we meet. They hop from marina to marina when the weather is very fair. When it gets tough or they have a long passage, they hire a crew or have the boat shipped. They motor from place to place (calling it motor-sailing, sounds better) and are chockfull of sailing advice.
Strangely enough the people who really have sailed the Sea are pretty quiet about it. Probably in awe of all its fickleness, intricacies and beauty, knowing each individual sailor will experience it a different way. Each season will bring new discoveries of places or weather patterns. Its many micro-climates offering new elements as you move around its vastness. After 3 years, we are still learning a lot from/about her.
The sad thing is that newcomers to the field (like us) trust these stories and it can have a strong impact. It is one thing to embellish a fishing story. The listener is not going to be hurt by that ‘knowledge’. It’s another thing to tell people how easy it is to sail the Sea, that you need a large dinghy with wheels and a strong outboard because everything is far away, that a motor is mandatory, the currents are dangerous, that the tides are too large to handle. Many of these cruisers speak based on things they haven’t experienced or out of fear rather than knowledge. Many simply repeat what they read in magazines that are supported by dinghy, outboard or motor maker’s advertisements. Stories of quietly sailing the Sea being lulled to sleep during a quiet crossing at 1-2 knot doesn’t sell magazines, doesn’t make for good stories.
What we didn’t know behind these statements is that they hadn’t sailed the Sea. You don’t need a dinghy or an outboard, kayaks are sufficient. We have sailed 10,000 miles without a diesel motor and have fared well visiting over 80 different anchorages, and marinas when needed.
Is that for everyone? NO and we make sure we add many caveats to our sailing ‘advice’. Don’t have a tight schedule when sailing this way. Always have plans B and C figured out in case plan A doesn’t pan out. For example we twice tried to anchor at Playa Bonanza near La Paz as well as attend the 4th of July party in Bahia Concepcion with no success, the winds not cooperating for days. But we have been to Altata, a place extremely few sailors see (as few as 3 boats a year) and according to the 11 mile lagoon’s pilot who has guided people for the last30+ years, none other under sail! Its entrance and meandering sandbars are considered tricky and many say you have to motor through it… We were strongly advised against attempting it. We managed fine.
Anyway, this is not a comment on how you move from place to place with your vessel and what sailing means to you – to each his/her own. This is a comment about being aware of how you portray that lifestyle to newcomers as it gives them false information to base judgments on.
It’s OK to say you motor from marina to marina when it is calm because you don’t like rough seas. It’s OK to say you never dock away from towns with internet, laundry, coffee shops and WalMarts. What is not OK is to say you know the Sea of Cortez when you have only visited minor parts of it and haven’t experienced its 30’ tides, its mini storms, its hurricanes, its solitude, its immensity, and its mysteries.
On the radio the other morning, a fellow cruiser stated he didn’t have the patience to do what we do. Others think we are courageous. We are not patient or particularly courageous people so we had to ponder why people think you need patience to SAIL. We think it has less to do with patience and more to do with being in control. Control with a key and a motor, control to be in certain places at precise times. Control with schedules. We are not in control. Mother Nature wins over our plans. It took us only 7 days to cover 756 miles from Puerto Peñasco to Mazatlán, yet on the way back we covered only 489 miles in9 days!!! Slowest crossing ever but we managed to sleep at Sea 4 of these nights for it was so calm and safe, arriving at our destination quite rested for a change…
We are not patient people but we do and try to follow/live by our principles and one of them is to tread on the earth, very lightly. Sailing an electric boat helps us that principle.
Amazing colors
Another typical dock conversation:

Us: Yes, we sail 99% of the time (to date less than 100 miles in 10,000 miles)
Them: Oh I read about that and it is quite simple. You get 6 knot winds and your boat will move forward (with no mention of currents, swells, waves, wind direction to course, etc.).
Us: So you are ready to cross over to La Paz with crew?
Them: Yes – just have to get fuel and we are ready to go (they have a huge heavy condo-like boat with lots of freeboard/windage).
Us: So tomorrow or the day after?
Them: Yes – can’t wait to sail – it will be so easy.
Us: May you have useful winds.
Hummm – sailing is easy… when all you do is read about it…They managed to motor all the way despite 8-10 knot winds without countercurrents or large swells.
Barely awake but finally at anchor without harness and leash
Our trip up this way was the most challenging we’ve had so far. We sailed 489 miles to make the ‘actual’ 300 mile distance, having to tack and/or reef several times a day; tiring physically and psychologically but in the end worth it. Against our better judgment, we didn’t wait for the winds from the South to be here as they usually do around the beginning of June. We were tired of being in Mazatlán, and felt the need to get out. Had we waited another week, we would’ve probably made the journey in only 3 days with the right types of winds to help us along. Another lesson learned. Glad this didn’t happen the first year we were here however… Our lack of sailing knowledge would have made it a much more challenging experience.

Time to be back around people bobbing around at anchor –there is a lot more to be learned from them than the folks at dock with their 10extra jerry cans of fuel on deck, their anchors too small for their size boat, their spotless/scratch-less boats, and chain not showing any sign of wear and tear.

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