I wake up to the vibration of my phone and the sound of “marble dust”, the only audible ring tone that I can hear over the roar of the engine and the ocean that doesn’t drive me mad. I take a deep breath and slowly ease my eyelids open. Despite the fact that it’s only 9:45pm, I’ve already been sleeping for a few hours, knowing that I’d have to be alert for the 10pm – 2am watch shift. I find my phone in the tangle of covers and open the Navionics sailing app to check our speed and progress since my last watch. I fumble around the mesh gear hammock that hangs above me, reaching for my hat, headlamp, and balled up socks. I pull the hat over my head (an unusual choice for a sailing hat – forest green and knit, purchased for our engagement photo shoot and repurposed for cold night watches because it fully covers my ears). My fingers find and press the rightmost button on the headlamp, which switches on the red beam to preserve my vision in the dark. With the room around me now illuminated in a faint red light, I unclip the lee cloth, which holds me in bed if the boat heels hard to port while I’m sleeping. I open the cabin door, pressing until I hear it clip into it’s locked position so that the movement of the boat doesn’t thrash it about. I exit my cabin, pause at the chart table to read through the latest entry in the logbook, and breathe a sigh of relief to learn that nothing has broken or gone terribly wrong. The head is still leaking a little, the alternator didn’t start charging the batteries right away, we’ve slightly altered our course based on the position of the wind – nothing we can’t handle. I grab a granola bar from the galley and set it on the chart table. I return to my cabin and pull items out of my pile in the opposite order that I laid them down, dressing myself as I go: inner soft shell jacket, bibs (the snow pants of the sea), outer jacket, waterproof boots, PFD. I snatch my granola bar off the chart table as I poke my head out of the companionway to get an update from Preston, who has been on watch for the last three hours and has one hour of overlap with me before he gets some rest.
And so it goes. Over the course of our six days at sea, we each started 8 watches in the dark. It takes some getting used to, but there’s a certain serenity in the rhythm and structure of it all. I formed habits early (like placing my granola bar on the chart table before getting dressed) and leaned heavily on them when I was fatigued or frustrated. Whereas the trip down the California Coast had me questioning if long-term sailing was something I really wanted in my life, the four-day sail from Ensenada to Bahía Santa Maria was smoother and more enjoyable. Fewer things broke. We had amazing crew, Tay and Preston, who could get things done without needing instruction and pitched in wherever and whenever they were needed. The weather was great for sailing.
On a good day, surprisingly little actually happens at sea. You watch the endless stretch of ocean in the distance, keep a sharp lookout for other boats and wildlife, and fill the long hours with reading, fishing, or sleeping. Nevertheless, each day has it’s ups and downs.
Day 1 – Friday, November 3
We left Ensenada without even knowing it was happening. One second the guys from the boatyard were helping us test out the new propeller, the next they had cast us off to cheers of “¡Adiós!” We settled back into our 4-on/4-off watch schedule pretty quickly, which was good because it was already 4 pm and darkness was just around the corner. During our overlapping night watch, Tay and I were chatting when her body jolted and she said, “that was a fish!” At her feet lay a small flying fish. I quickly grabbed a fish glove and we laughed as we tossed it back into the water. A couple hours later as the sun rose, Preston noticed that there were several more flying fish on deck. Sadly, we didn’t get to most of them in time. We peeled their stiffened bodies off of the deck and tossed them back in the water.
Day 2 – Saturday, November 4
I have grown to welcome the high pitched whir of the new (old) propeller and its reverberation throughout our cabin, as its cacophony indicates we are sailing close to or over 7 knots, while its silence laments a slower cruising speed. The wind slowed down a bit this morning, so we shook out our reef and sailed under full sail for a couple hours before turning the engine on. We motor sailed for about 7 hours from 10am – 5pm.
We’re waiting with bated breath for the moment “the wind blows warm”, a phenomenon we’ve heard about from other cruisers. The moon is gigantic tonight.
Day 3 – Sunday, November 5
At first, our long watches were filled with conversation as we got to know one another: our favorite vacation spots, hobbies, work, God. Over time, we have settled into a calm silence, trading spirited exchanges for personal thoughts and the sound of the ocean around us. We read books, practice our Spanish, cook meals, bath in the warm sunlight.
During my night shift, I realized I couldn’t see Yuki and panicked for a second. Then I saw that Preston, concerned Yuki might be cold, had covered him in his jacket. We’re lucky to have found crew who love Yuki so much.
We changed from a 4-on/4-off schedule to a 3-on/5-off schedule, where you have 2-hours of overlap at the beginning and end of your shift, plus one hour of solo watch in the middle.
Has the wind blown warm yet?
Day 4 – Monday, November 6
Yuki has the hang of pooping on deck, but he’s still unsure of where to pee. Sadly, this means he holds it for far too long, and then pees whenever he gets nervous or excited. This might be on the cockpit cushions, on the brand new main halyard, or (best of all) in our bed. We all got very antsy leading up to our arrival in Bahía Santa Maria. I paced the galley for a while, unsure of what to do with myself while off watch.
We made it to Bahía Santa Maria and set the anchor around 11 am. The daily Baja Ha-Ha radio net had been keeping the fleet updated on our progress, so several boats came over to welcome us and ask how our propeller repairs went. We went to shore in the afternoon and ate fish tacos with the Ha-Ha fleet at the Bahía Santa Maria beach party. It was fun letting Yuki run on the beach and mingling with new Ha-Ha friends.
Day 5 – Tuesday, November 7
Woke up early to start sailing again. Everything smells like dog pee, but it’s easier to settle back into the routine than expected after only a half day of rest. We’re starting to see more mechanical breakdowns (alternator taking time to start charging, screws coming out of the attachment point for our boom vang, the head is leaking, the battery panel indicator reset). It will be good to settle into a few non-sailing days and make some repairs.
The wind blew warm! None of us can pinpoint “the moment”, but we went from jackets and hats to shorts and tank tops, so something has clearly changed. There isn’t enough wind to sail, so we’re just motoring along.
Preston caught a Skipjack Tuna!
Day 6 – Wednesday, November 8
Sadly, there’s still no wind. The night sky is full of bright stars that melt away at the edges where the sun is setting and the waning crescent moon is rising.
My skin is slick with seven days of sunscreen, salt water, and sweat. I’m ready for a shower.
We ran the autopilot all night long, which is a first for us. We normally hand steer and only rarely switch on the autopilot (now nicknamed “La Vaca”, which means “the cow” in Spanish, because it makes a gentle mooing sound).
At 12:30am we all met in the cockpit to celebrate our crossing of the Tropic of Taurus (23˚26.1).
We arrived in Cabo San Lucas and set anchor just before 10am. Something about the end of the sail, fatigue, or hunger left me and Philippe particularly grumpy upon arrival. We were all ready for a long shower, cold beer, and change of clothes. I did take a moment to look around our boat, with garbage and laundry piled high, a mound of dishes in the sink, and the faint smell of urine, and think to myself “someday, you will miss this”, a phrase Tay told us her dad would say to her when she was in high school. And it’s true. We had a great sail with beautiful sunrises and sunsets, fantastic crew, and good weather. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the inconveniences of life at sea, but I wouldn’t trade them for an ordinary year on land.