That was all I could reply after my fourth round of feeding the fish off the leeward rail.
It wasn’t baptism by fire, as much as by fifteen foot swells.
We’d carefully evaluated and discussed the forecasts before our first night passage from Half-Moon Bay to Monterey, a 14 hour trip. Late May weather gave us two options: we could go out in the gales or we could go out in the calm between the gales.
Simple choice, right?
Funny thing—there is knowledge on paper and then there is the real world. Books and seminars can teach you to read the forecasts. The only thing that teaches you what that translates to in terms of your boat and your body is experience.
Chalk one up for experience.
We carefully planned the waypoints, battened the hatches, donned the long underwear and foul weather gear, and filled thermoses with soup for the evening and coffee for the morning. Colin had already fixed our roller-fuller and found the loose wire that gave us our RPMs back. We were ready—as far as we could tell.
To make it around the pointy bits of land, we’d planned to go a couple miles offshore before we turned Southeast for the run down to Monterey, but we came out of Half-Moon Bay to discover our Plan A was already in the trash bin.
The winds were lighter than forecast, barely pushing five knots. The swells—remnants of the last gale and precursors of the next—were 11-15 feet. Without wind to give us balance and forward momentum, the swells were having their way with us.
Time for Plan B: Head offshore in search of the stronger winds promised by the forecast before our turn to the south. But this meant several hours of taking the waves on the beam—brutal. Our attempt to be conservative had backfired.
Colin and Pristine handled it beautifully. Me? Not so much.
There are first times for every experience, and this was my first for seasickness. I tried staring at the horizon, but in the overcast darkness, there was no horizon to see. So I tried keeping the wind in my face, but with all my bundling against the cold, there was no wind to feel. I promptly got sick as a dog.
In those hours, I hung onto the advice from our good friend Brian. Just a few days before our departure, he looked across the dinner table after returning from a 40+ day passage from Panama to Berkeley. “Just know,” he said, “That whatever conditions you are in, eventually they will pass.”
In the wee hours, I finally fell into a fitful sleep on the port bench, tethered into the cockpit. I saw sleep as blissful mercy. Colin thought it was tragic.
Once he got out far enough to find the wind and could turn downwind, balancing the boat and putting the waves on the stern, he said it was four straight hours of some of the most amazing sailing of his life. Screaming along at seven knots with following seas and a helm so balanced he could steer with his pinkie finger.
I’ll have to take his word for it. I was essentially one of the Walking Dead, only with-it enough to help with maneuvers on an as-needed basis. Luckily, I chose an expert sailor as my adventure partner. He didn’t need it often.
And Brian was right that all conditions eventually pass. About four am, I was alive and feeling well enough to keep watch, giving Colin a well-earned break.
He got a couple hours of sleep, and I got what to me was the glory part of the sail. The nausea disappeared, dawn broke, and seabirds soared along the water. A pod of dolphins stopped by to say good morning. A whale breached in the distance. And with the swell on the stern, the sailing was well and truly gorgeous.
There was no place else in the world I’d rather be.
Coming into Monterey harbor in bright sunshine with otters puttering around the slips was an utter joy. Taking an actual hot shower restored my humanity. Eating a celebratory hamburger as big as my face after my hunger returned with a vengeance made me a content human again. And twelve hours of blissful sleep brought me fully back from the dead.
But honestly? Not even the burger could compare to the best moment of the trip for me. That one happened when I was many hours from shore, still tired and cold, watching the dawn break on the ocean and realizing I was actually out there—in the middle of a world still ruled fully by Mother Nature. No politics, no CNN, no meeting schedules imposing a sense of reality on my day. Just one tiny little human, on equal footing with the dolphins and seabirds and whales.
That was the best moment. But I’ve got to admit that a close second happened in port, when one of the race boats from the Spinnaker Cup told us that of their six experienced crew, two were so sick they could barely drive, and those guys in the best shape. The remaining four had spent the whole night in fetal positions on the floor.
So at least I’d earned my baptism. And we learned that sometimes to be conservative, you actually need to be a little more aggressive.
A few other tidbits we learned along the way?
- If anyone ever wishes me fair winds and following seas again, I will fall to my knees and thank them heartily.
- Even after you’ve spent all night in fifty-degree temperatures, in the morning a tall mug of coffee, left on a gimbaled stove, is still a tall mug of coffee and physics will eventually bequeath the entirety of your life-giving beverage to the cabin sole.
- It doesn’t matter that you’ve sailed all night. If you’ve hailed the harbormaster multiple times on both VHF and cell phone and they don’t answer, they are busy, and it’s not the right answer to go in any way. They don’t love surprise arrivals. (However, they will quickly forgive you and bend over backwards to find you a berth on one of the busiest weekends of the year).
- Prior to turning into a narrow, dead-end slipway—even if directed by a local—make sure you have an exit strategy. If you miss this step, don’t be too proud to ask for help. You’ll meet some wonderful sailors and maybe even score an exceptional dinner recommendation.
- And always brush your hair downwind, lest your hairballs clog the bilge and cause Colin to decide to shave your head in the middle of the night.
Right now, we’re having a great time visiting Monterey. Next step, after resting up, is a 100 mile leg to San Simeon. You better believe we’re looking for more wind this time around. You can also be sure we’ll learn plenty of new lessons along the way.
A welcome sight
Uninvited guests appeared to be common
This is the view from the $28/night room with hot showers and laundry. :) Irony of all ironies, sailing on a yacht is truly the Budget Traveler way to see the world.