Our first passage is finally behind us. We left Neah Bay on September 1 in fog, and we arrived at Pt. Reyes National Seashore just outside the Golden Gate on September 6, also in fog. How far south do we need to go to get out of the blasted fog? As we dropped anchor we were what’s known as ‘dog tired’, which means you’ll do anything to get some sleep. We anchored in Drake’s Bay behind Pt. Reyes, took hot showers, and hit the sack. The Proscecco in the fridge would have to wait.
Mike fell instantly asleep. I did not. Now, understand that I had been sleeping like a baby on benedryl during my off watch hours during the passage. Mike and I did a three hour rotation starting in the evening when the sun went down, which, by the way, happens sooner and sooner the further south you go, in case you didn’t remember that. We sure didn’t. When Mike popped his head up the companionway to change shifts I wasted no time and very little effort getting undressed and into the midship cabin berth. I would be out in less than 2 minutes, sleeping like I would never get rest again, which is pretty much how it feels to do 3 hour rotations for several nights in a row.
So don’t ask me why I couldn’t fall asleep once we were anchored and I could stretch out in my own big berth. I was too keyed up; like a toddler with no bedtime. Thinking back to one of my earliest memories, I remember being put to ride behind the back seat of my parent’s Volkswagon Bug. It was carpeted with nubby fabric that I would rub with my fingers. I remember that sensation, the snug warmness of riding back there, the motion of the car and being able to see the stars through the back window. I was an infant, or at least small enough to lay back there without climbing out. It was a good time in my life, that snug little place. (See how my mind is still wandering? And this after a good 12 hours of sleep, plus an additional 3 hour nap.)
This is how the midship cabin berth began to feel to me after about 2 days on little sleep. It’s small and snug, you can hear the engine (if it’s on) droning. If the engine is off, you can hear the water rushing over the hull. It feels safe and dry and warm. While it doesn’t have a lee cloth, half of it is behind a wall so you can get wedged back there with pillows and you won’t roll around. It doesn’t need a lee cloth. It’s like being swaddled. I decided that I would go back to that cabin and try sleeping. Bingo. I was instantly asleep. I awoke sometime in the night and decided I could continue on in the aft cabin with more room and now I’m back in my big girl bed. Some of us don’t do transitions well.
I’m still not sure how to talk about much of this passage. It’s hard to break things down. The north Pacific is a mercurial bit of water. So every few hours was something different. First it’s perfect sailing, like you’ve always dreamed of. You set the sails and then relax. Then it’s up with the wind and waves. Then the wind shifts a bit. Then it dies down altogether. Honestly at first it’s like some dark magician is just waving his wand willy nilly. After a few days, it all sort of starts to make sense on a visceral level. A passage like this is like taking all of the daysails you’ve ever done and stringing them together with night time sailing, which is an animal all its own. I have mixed feelings about night time on passages. Sometimes it’s beautiful. But then there is the sleep deprivation. On the third night, I could feel my mind going a little from lack of sleep. I kept notes. I publish them here for your amusement.
3 AM Coffee
- Sailing in the dark in big waves that come up from behind you and try to grab the stern sucks big time. Is this fun? I submit to you that ‘fun’ is not the correct word.
- The phosphorescent animals just under the water are oddly comforting. I don’t know why.
- When God invented coffee they knew what they were doing. Probably they figured some human would be crazy enough to be in a cockpit in the pitch black in the middle of the damn night and their life might depend on caffeine.
- The Pacific Ocean is big and does not give a shit about me or my tiny boat.
- About every third wave is a monster. It’s best not to think about it. In fact, the only way to stay sane is to just not think about it. Just keep sailing.
- The 3AM-6AM shift is the worst. But also it’s the best because at about 5:30 it starts getting light and the monsters go back in their closet. (At this point I had not realized that the time of sunrise changes as you go south. Life is filled with little disappointments.)
- Everything is wet with condensation. The cockpit drips.
- When the wind and waves suddenly calm down, I get suspicious. What will they do now?
- Some of these phosphorescent animals are long and rectangular. Some are round. Maybe they are really Extra Terrestrials in little submarines going to their under water cities.
- The damn flag (American Flag on the back of the boat) is worthless. No one cares that we are Americans out here. All it does is add to the caucophony with its incessant flapping! Damn that hideous flapping! But I am not about to go to the aft deck and try to get it down. No way in hell. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it will get shredded. With what’s going on in our country, that would be poetic.
- I never thought I would appreciate a safety harness. I do. No one is getting me out of this cockpit without a fight.
- I like how it looks when I shine my headlamp on the foresail.
- Our boat interior looks like it’s been trashed by marauding raccoons.
- Did I eat dinner? Hard to know. Am I clean? Bloody unlikely.
- If we get to San Fransisco, I’m going to put flowers in my hair. After I wash it. Does this give away my age?
- Wait. Do these glowing animals signal each other? Because it seems like they blink like undersea fireflies. I’d like to do the Google. Alas.
- I cannot believe it is September in the North Pacific and it’s not cold. By all rights I should be freezing. Wait. If you get hypothermia, do you know it?
- Things must be settling down. It’s been 20 minutes and I haven’t had to hold on to keep from flying across the cockpit. Why don’t they put seatbelts in these things?
- Whoops. Spoke too soon.
- 6:00 and it’s almost dawn. Maybe the dark was better. Everyone says ‘fair winds and following seas’, but the sea is following a little too close for me. It’s just that close to breaking on the stern. Bad sea. Bad.
There would have been more to this, but fortunately Mike came up to relieve me and I hit the sack.
Someone is bound to ask why we didn’t take extra crew on board with us. The answer is twofold: first, we didn’t know anyone who had ocean sailing experience and was available to go. We are not going to put just anyone on our boat with us. This is true for a wide variety of reasons. The wrong crew could make or break a passage. But really, we wanted to do it ourselves; to rely on only us. We can’t count on having crew all the time in order to do a passage. We have to know how far we can push ourselves as a couple.
I almost hit my breaking point when we sighted land at Pt. Arena, sailed close to it, but then the wind forced us to either turn on the engine and bash into wind and waves, or tack back out to sea. We chose to tack. We were both so tired. I knew this would extend our time at sea by another day. But it was the right thing to do. Bashing into wind and waves isn’t good for boats, or for people. I will probably do another post on the emotional side of this kind of passage. It’s something people do not talk much about but it really is an important part of the experience that people should prepare for.
When this fog lifts we’ll go under that Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not going to waste my photo ops on a foggy day. Meanwhile, we are anchored at Bolinas Bay. We left Drake Bay behind due to fog and no cell reception. Here, there is sun and I’m writing this post. More later after more sleeping.
S/V Galapagos out, for now.