Nancy Learns about Wind
From Great Outdoor Store
After my first trip to Mexico in high school, I didn’t return until I was sailing there with my husband Jeff and several of our friends. Jeff and I, along with two other couples, had purchased an old classic sailing boat--a Hans Christian 38. It was docked in San Francisco, and after a year of getting the boat sea-worthy and taking a few sailing lessons, Jeff and I sold most of our stuff, quit our jobs, and Jeff set sail around Thanksgiving. I met up with Jeff in Santa Barbara and the two of us sailed down to San Diego together.
We took our time getting down the coast to San Diego. We spent about a week there visiting family and getting the last of what we thought we would need from the States--which mostly consisted of Indian food from Trader Joe’s. This grocery purchase would come back to haunt us later in the week as we tried to eat said food while on a VERY rolly anchor trying to watch Eastern Promises. We picked up our two friends, Tim and Brandi and the four of us set sail for Ensenada, Mexico on the night of the Christmas boat parade in San Diego harbor. We left during complete chaos--all sorts of boats with no lights on, filled with people (filled with booze) with no life jackets on. As we motored out of the harbor the Coast Guard was attempting to rescue people in a capsized boat in the dark. We listened over the VHF all evening to the events unfold in the harbor and learned in the morning that several people had drowned. It was a reminder to all of us not to take our situation lightly.
As the sun rose, we approached the harbor in Ensenada.The overnight trip was peaceful and uneventful. There was very little wind, so we had to motor most of the way. We were arriving to a new town in a new country just like people had been doing for hundreds of years before us. You can always smell land before you see it. Ensenada’s smell was a mixture of shrimp boats, city, and beach. Jeff steered the boat towards the marina--which looked old and rickety--or maybe it just seemed old because the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean was docked there. I was hoping to catch Jack Sparrow rolling around with a rum drink as we made our way to an open slip (place to dock the boat). We didn’t find Jack, but we did get to Immigrations and Customs without incident. After the formalities were over, we found the best street tacos the town had to offer. Pro Tip: when looking for good food in Mexico look for the long lines. The locals know where the best food is!
We had been away from the boat for about three hours and were looking forward to spending the night there to plot our course for the next leg of our trip: a three day sail south (240 miles) to Turtle Bay. The Pacific side of the Baja peninsula isn’t very populated and there aren’t many safe places to dock if you run into trouble--so once we left Ensenada, there was no going back. Just as we were getting back to the boat, a guy from the marina ran up to us exclaiming that high winds were coming and the marina would be closed in the morning. This meant that we wouldn’t be able to leave until the storm had passed--which could be days. Jeff and Tim looked at the deteriorating docks around us wanted to leave asap to “get ahead of the storm.” I wasn’t so sure about this plan, but we put it to a vote and I lost. I wasn’t a confident sailor at the point. Most of my experience came from sailing on Lewis and Clark Lake in Yankton. Jeff and Tim were far more experienced, but I was still not amused with our decision to leave.
Within the next hour we were motoring out of the harbor on our way to Turtle Bay. Sailing vessel Oblivion is big, beamy girl who is built for open ocean sailing. She weighs 27,000 pounds and has a top speed of 6 knots--or about 1 mph. Our hope was that we would get far enough out in front of the wind and make it to Turtle Bay by December 25th.
By that evening the wind had started to pick up. We were seeing sustained winds of 25 knots and sea heights at 9 feet. By this time I was completely sea sick, curled up in a ball down below. Tim, Brandi, and Jeff were up top and tied into the boat. As the night wore one, the wind picked up to a sustained 37 knots accompanied by rain and waves reaching 20ft. Oblivion was surfing down huge waves. We would get to the bottom of one and there would be relative calm--we were surrounded by 20 foot walls of water on either side. As the boat would reach the top of the next wave, the roar of the wind would return and push the boat up the next wave. The power of the wind and the water was tremendous. For the next 30 hours Tim and Jeff alternated time at the helm. They would take two hours shifts and leave exhausted. Brandi never moved from her spot up top and kept them both awake. My seasickness was debilitating, but I would go up top occasionally to make sure everyone was still there and to also yell “I told you so”--they really couldn’t hear me through the wind, but it did make me feel better.
By sunrise on the third day out, the storm had passed. The ocean looked like glass and there wasn’t enough wind to push the boat through the water. We motored into Turtle Bay on Christmas Eve, with a 5ft vintage Santa Claus lawn ornament suspended from the rigging. We were all tired, weather beaten, and hungry (it’s hard to make a meal and keep it down in those conditions). As we dropped anchor amongst the other boats in the bay, we could hear two little girls with excited voices exclaim that Santa had found them.
Sailors have a saying: draw your plans in the sand at low tide.
You can make plans, but the weather is going to dictate them. Our year on the boat taught us patience and made us realize how small we are compared to the wind and water. We made better decisions as our journey progressed, but most of our plans were erased with the high tide.
The next thing to make us feel small? Pirates.