This is how it goes in this life. Mike and I have been trying to head south for over a week now. We’d like to be in La Paz by Christmas, and that could still happen and probably will. But we thought maybe we’d be a little further along by now. All the cool kids are already down south on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Some of our followers are wondering if we’ve lost our sanity, we’ve been on this side of the Sea this far north for so long. But the truth is we are going as fast as we want to go. And also, we can’t leave until we are ready: both the boat and the people on board.
We came to Puerto Escondido because we wanted to see our friends on S/V Blue before they left to go back home; because we have friends in Loreto we also wanted to see, and we hoped S/V Slow Motion would catch up with us. I guess we just enjoy being with our friends lately.
Then Mike decided he was worried about some debris in our fuel filters. So we paused for a day to do a little fuel polishing aboard. I think he’s working on a post for that. That small delay cost us actually three days, as a great north wind was coming, and it was coming sooner than we thought. Anyway, we are still here, right outside the door of Puerto Escondido hunkered down at our favorite anchorage that’s protected well from the north winds. It’s not that we have a time schedule because we don’t. We could stay here for weeks if we want to. We just think maybe it’s time to experience something beside strong north wind and the accompanying big seas.
Our plans were loose. We were going to leave today, December 18. Maybe they were too loose to be put into play. Here’s how that goes; the story of our day for those of you who still don’t really ‘get’ why we can’t make solid plans written in stone. Is there anyone left who still expects that of us, really?
I get up around 8:00 and the sun is shining and the seas are calm for now. I’m ready immediately to spring into action on our plan to go into Puerto Escondido to their guest dock, fill up with water, get a bit of fuel for the jerry cans, go to the little store there and then get the hell out of Dodge. The wind is supposed to pick up later in the day and I’d like to get on with it.
I hear voices in the cockpit and realize Mike is on the phone with Andrew and Jill, in Paris. All plans come to a screeching halt because phone calls with our kids trump any other plan at almost any time. We enjoy our chat, lingering on the phone, missing them. They are having the time of their young lives.
An hour later the wind is already picking up. I say to Mike, “The wind is already picking up.” He denies the reality of my statement, commenting that it’s only a little wind. He’s right, of course, for now; right this second anyway. I check weather on my phone and it’s changed just a bit. Higher winds, sooner than predicted, are moving in faster than I remembered. There will be winds of 15 with gusts to 20 by noon. In an ordinary place, this is no problem. In fact, up in Commencement Bay, this would be great sailing! We would be chomping at the bit to get out there. We’d practically be running down the dock to untie the lines. But we are in the Sea of Cortez. It’s going to be no fun in the port. And the seas are going to become sea monsters.
We put on our bluetooth radio sets, a tool we cherish, and raise anchor, a dance we’ve become very accustomed to and that almost always goes without any hitch at all. Mike begins to deploy the fenders, which will keep the boat from rubbing against the dock. We make way through the narrow, shallow channel into the port, wondering when the last time was they dredged it as we see the depth guage begin to read 3.5 feet under the keel. I am following all the gps tracks from our previous entries and exits. I know we are fine but my heart races anyhow.
Through the worst of it, I drive the boat toward the blessedly empty long dock.
“I’m going to head gradually toward the very far end of the dock, past that last electrical box. The wind will be blowing us onto the dock and I am concerned we will hit the box with our dinghy engine on the way out.”, I say. Mike concurs, thinks it’s a good plan. My anxious brain is already strategizing our exit, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. I know that the winds are going to increase, and getting off the dock might be ‘interesting’, a word which here means mildly terrifying. I like to mitigate damage to the boat or dock when at all possible. And I like to have more than one plan.
Mike stands on the deck, aft and midship lines in hand, ready to swing into actio as we approach the dock, keeping enough forward speed to keep control at the helm. “Looking good, Melissa. Give her a little reverse when you get past that electrical box.”
“Got it. I’m in neutral, just letting the wind blow her onto the dock.”
I put her in reverse (to stop the boat, there are no brakes, you know).
“Reverse hard now. Harder. OK perfect.” He steps off and cleats off the lines. The fenders groan under the pressure of Galapagos, hard against the dock. We’re there; sighs of relief in my head for now.
I get the water hose ready and attach the little garden water meter we use to keep track of our water useage. We love that the water here is pure and potable. (Even though we have a .5 micron filter on our water supply on board.) Mike grabs the two jerry cans for fuel, grabs the trash and goes to shore to take care of that business. He spends about 4$ per gallon for fuel. We’ve decided we won’t pull up to the fuel dock and fill up because we want to use up the old fuel in the tank first, and then clean the tank.
Meanwhile I’ve been in touch with our friends on S/V Blue, safe at home in Gig Harbor. Kevins needs us to go aboard their boat and check a few things. We would really love to be able to do that for him. We agree we will check on Blue if possible.
Fueled and watered, we walk up to the little store, pushing the button on the security gate (which did not exist last season) to get out of the marina. We buy a few cold beers, a couple of packages of fresh tortillas, some fresh-ish tomatoes and jalapeños, some mineral water, and some of their hand made empanadas for breakfast. We hadn’t eaten, because we were going to get an early start. Chortle.
“What’s our plan now?”, I say, as though he will actually know. It’s too late to head south to Agua Verde. We would arrive after dark. And that wind… On some level I knew we would not leave today so this is not a surprise to me. Also that wind is probably going to create seas that I will not enjoy. I’m no longer in a hurry to get out there. “If we stay here we are looking at a mooring ball for at least 2 nights and a very sporty ride to the dock in the dinghy anyhow. We can just go back to the Wrecked Sailboat Anchorage, or we can try Honeymoon Cove and see if that’s full. If it’s full, then we can go back to the Wrecked Sailboat Anchorage. We can’t get out of this area until Thursday either way now.” (Winds are expected to reach 30 knots on Wednesday. No bueno, as they say around here.)
Mike replies that he would prefer not to get a mooring ball. This is our month of lean living, one of several, probably, after all the money we spent since June. He suggests we try Honeymoon Cove, a 2 mile sail across open water to Isla Dazante. If that’s no good, it’s easy to get back to the Wrecked Sailboat Ancorage (our name for this particular place to anchor), a place we’ve come to know well that is just outside the entrance to Puerto Escondido. It’s not great, but it’s safe, has good protection from the north, and has good cellular signal.
By now it’s noon which, on cruiser time, means we only have a few hours before we go to bed. Mike says we will check Kevin’s boat and then go. The wind is definitely picking up. The waters in the mooring field are filled with whitecaps. I check my weather app. Yep, definitely time to get out of here.
We take our groceries and get back to the security gate but no one is there to let us through to the docks. Wtf. We wait. I use the ladies room. We wait some more but there is no one. Our beer is getting warm. Since we are not mooring the boat there, we have no access unless someone lets us in. We get in to come spend money there, but it’s hard to leave. Hmmm. Mike walks back to the store to find someone with a key card. Meanwhile I wait at the gate and eventually an employee comes by and lets me in the magic door.
Back at the boat sea water is surging over the edge of the dock and Galapagos is hard against it, fenders bulging with the strain. Honestly, how do they keep from popping like bubbles?
Mike says, as sea water soaks him with spray, “No. This is already too problematic. We can’t go check Kevin’s boat right now. We’d have to deploy the dinghy and then we don’t even know if we can get safely aboard. We’ll have to say no to that and he will understand.” I really wanted to do this for our friend, but I also really, really want to get this boat off the dock immediately. The winds and waves are only going to get worse; she is going to be pressed ever more firmly in place as time goes on. We need to go. Now. Just outside the port the sea will be fine. Then maybe we can come check Kevin’s boat.
We strategize, get our radios on. I’m worried about the stern of the boat getting blown onto the dock and hitting the swim step or worse. I am pleased to have thought ahead to being well positioned in terms of the electrical box, which was an issue last season. Our dinghy engine clipped it getting off the dock one time and though no harm was done, it wasn’t cool. We removed the dinghy engine and put it on the aft rail, just in case. I deploy our largest fender to that area of the boat and cleat it off. It hangs like a huge earring, waiting to do its job of cushioning the side of the boat against being damaged by the dock.
Mike releases the mid-ship line. The boat doesn’t move, most of the lines are completely slack anyway because the wind is abeam of the boat and gusting to 20. We could untie each line and the boat would stay put, the huge hand of God holding it firmly in place.
Mike says, “I’m going to let off on the bow line and try to pull the stern in toward the dock, getting the bow to point a little off the dock.”
“OK. Want me to go forward and hold the line?”
“Uh, sure. You can do that.” Of course, he already knows I don’t need to hold the line. May as well take it completely off.
I hold the line, it’s really completely slack, doing nothing. He pulls in the stern but the boat laughs in his face. It’s never going to hold that position for even 4 seconds. But it’s important to try these little things first, before you go for the big things.
“Ok, you’re going to have to release the bowline completely and give the boat some forward momentum while I push her away from the dock. Then I’ll get on.” He says, as though he were Superman. He’s so calm.
I take the helm. “Ok, she’s in forward, I’m going to go as slowly as possible and give her just a touch of starboard, the tiniest amount, while you push the stern away.” (Turning too sharply to the right will result in the stern of the boat hitting the dock, which we are trying mightily to avoid. I want to leave the dock at a gradual angle, giving her just enough acceleration to stay ahead of the wind and whatever current is down there.) I’m glad we have plenty of room, the dock is long, no one else is there. All these things I’m grateful for. Galapagos moves forward, Mike keeps pressure on her stern. We are inching away from the dock safely.
“Give her some more juice.” He says. I crank up the rpms a bit. She leaps forward.
“Get On! You need to get on!” I say quietly into the microphone as the gap between Galapagos and the dock widens. I can just see me leaving Mike high and dry on the dock and having to turn around to go get him. No, gracias!
“Don’t worry, I can get on fine.” And he did. It was actually no drama, he just stepped on as I gunned it away from the dock and into the safe loving arms of open water, stern beautifully free of the danger of hitting a hard object. I steers us into the narrow channel, another successful leaving of the dock without killing ourselves or others under our belts.
We set course for Honeymoon Cove, 2 miles away. As the boat came out from behind Coyote Point, we are slammed with the wind and big seas. At this point, we aren’t even interested in sailing the short distance. We don’t even bother with the headsail. We just want to get there (and we also want to burn the fuel in that tank). We’re going 6.5 knots, so we’re looking at maybe 20 minutes before we have more manageable conditions. We power through the sea, waves not quite abeam. It’s all chaotic noise from below from the motion of the boat. We aren’t prepared for a passage, just coastal cruising. Things are stowed, but they rattle and hum like crazy.
I hate this kind of thing. I hate these seas, I hate this wind. I think to myself that leaving today for points south would have been the stupidest thing ever. Even if we were in a following sea with these 6-8 foot waves behind us, they would be uncomfortable this close together. These waves are practically stacked on top of each other. These are the times when the fun/suck equation is in danger. It sucks enough that I forget all the fun we are having. But fortunately, that doesn’t last for long because it’s only 2 miles.
Plus, it’s not really dangerous. I mean, it COULD get dangerous if we lost steerage or something, but in the absence of any kind of gear failure, we’re safe. Just uncomfortable and my brain is a bit on fire. I think it’s the over stimulation of all the noise, wind, and motion. It’s like I could use a Thunder Shirt or something.
It’s blessed relief as we get behind the land again and motor into Honeymoon Cove. There is some wind here, but the water is flat because it’s protected by the land. It’s a really pretty cove and I’d love to be able to stay there.
There are already 4 boats in the cove. We begin scouting for a possibe spot when one of the boats picks up anchor to leave. Score! The guy on the boat behind that one yells at Mike that the south end of the anchorage has good holding. Huh? Why would we want to go there when the wind is from the NW? It would be wide open. Maybe he wanted this spot we are about to take. Hmmm. I slowly circle the anchorage waiting for the other boat to vacate. We deploy our radios once more.
Mike on the bow, I’ve got the electronic version of the Blue Latitude chart in front of me and can see our position. I creep forward toward shallower water. In this anchorage it stays very deep until you are close to shore. I’m looking for about 20 feet under the keel, maybe a little less.
“30, 28, 25, 23… ok go ahead and drop it”, I say. Because it seems like we are getting too close to shore for comfort. Galapagos is a big boat and has a 6 foot draft. We need room. Mike deploys the anchor.
“Tell me when to mark it, I remind him.” We always hit the Man Overboard button on the GPS when we drop anchor, marking the position where it hits bottom. This information has been extremely useful to us when I get worried we might be dragging anchor.
He lets out 100 feet of chain. We are waiting for a northern blow and want plenty of chain out. After he’s got the snubber on, which means another 30 feet of chain, and the boat has settled, I see that we are probably too close to the boat behind us. Damn it.
“Hey, take a look behind us, honey. Does that look a bit close to you?”, I say lovingly into the microphone. I see the guy on his foredeck watching us, probably the Canadian version of bitchwings going through his mind. (Bitchwings: hands on hips at the foredeck, scowl on the face as someone anchors too close to you.) Canadians are all really nice, but who knows what people are thinking. I’d hate to see a Canadian with his dander up.
“Yeah. That does look too close. Let’s pull it up and try to get closer to shore. That guy won’t appreciate us being this close.” Mike says. And yeah, that’s the right attitude. We are grateful for our electric windlass. He pulls anchor and I nose up into about 15 feet under the keel, feeling a little pushed about how close we are to shore now, not really liking it. He drops the anchor, I use wind and a bit of reverse to lay out the chain and wait for the boat to tell us she’s caught, bow swinging into the wind. She catches easily and we wait to see how she is going to settle in.
(For the non-boaters, what’s happening here is a big north wind is coming tomorrow and we are looking for a safe place to wait it out. Now we’ve anchored in front of two other boats, because that’s literally the only place in this anchorage that is workable. The cove is deep and small, staying deep until you are quite close to land in all but a couple of places. But anchor etiquette and safety require that you keep a reasonable distance between your boat and boats there before you, especially those who would be behind you should your anchor give way during the wind storm. I mean, Karma, you know, so we don’t like to crowd others. )
I see the guy on the boat behind us watching our anchoring dance. He’s probably thinking exactly what I would be thinking if I were him. “Keep clear of my boat, bitches.” I mean, he does have a nice looking, well kept boat. I’m sure he’d like it to stay that way. I use our range finder and relay to Mike that our stern is coming to rest about 68 yards off his bow. As a rule, if we have to break out the range finder, we’re too close. We look at each other, each waiting for the other to blink I suppose.
“How are you feeling about this?”, I ask mon capitan. “I think it’s important that we feel confident that we are in a good spot and that we are able to leave the boat and go exploring if we are going to be here. We need to both feel good about it.” After my therapy-speak, I wait.
He replies: “I’m feeling about like that guy in that boat is probably feeling; like maybe he won’t sleep well at night with this big boat in front of him and maybe I won’t sleep well worrying about BEING in front of him. I think if he asks us to move we will move. And also if I were him I’d ask us to move. “
So I say, “Then let’s go. I agree. This is not tenable because no point in being here if we feel like we are crowding people and no one is comfortable. We’ll go back to the Wrecked Sailboat Anchorage and call it good.”
By now it’s about 1:00. The winds are what they are: terrible. The waves are, if it’s possible, higher. Immediatey outside the sheltered cove we are grabbed by the high seas, almost on our beam, and thrown around a bit. I watch while a big roller gets almost as high as our toerail and then look away. May as well not focus on that. It is what it is. I experience a moment of calm acceptance of my fate in this life. The auto pilot cannot be expected to steer in this crap. I put it on ‘Standby’ and take the wheel, one foot braced on each side of the cockpit, feeling grim and probably looking grimmer. It wasn’t the time for selfies, so I’ll never know. The cockpit is already a mess because we are just terrible at stowing everything in the cockpit before we go out, and we practically live in that cockpit. Don’t even bother asking why we don’t get everything put away. It’s called Denial. It ain’t just a river in Egypt, people. It’s what keeps this lifestyle going. It’s also what allows you to leave your home every day and drive on the highway, so there’s that. Actually, once I begin thinking about it, Denial is the only thing that allows most people to leave their beds each day. My cockpit mess is nothing compared to that.
Gripping the wheel I perform the sailor’s version of Pilates, all muscles tensed and poised. Hands gripping the wheel, steering up and over the waves. Thighs taut with legs braced. Maybe it’s yoga I’m thinking of. Triangle pose? Surely this must be getting me into shape? Burning calories? Making me a better person in some way? Mike is doing something below, consumed in the caucophany of noise. I steer up and over the waves, keeping them off the beam as much as possible while making way for the safety of Coyote Point, grateful that this is actually a really short trip. There’s a different kind of sailboat out here. He’s sailing along going south, crashing down the waves at the speed of light. In that moment, I hate him just a little.
Rounding Coyote Point I spot the wrecked sailboat laying on its side on the shore. Home! The irony is not lost on me.
I know where to go! I know how deep the water is! I know what the bottom is like! I know precisely where to drop anchor! I know how to do this! It’s such a relief in some ways to be in a familiar place when you know a blow is coming and the seas are a little overwhelming and you’re beginning to want your bed. I know some people get used to those kind of seas. I’m certainly better than I used to be about them. At least they don’t terrify me. Not much, anyway. I just don’t like them.
I find 15 feet of water over a bottom of sand and rock and Mike drops the anchor, lets out the chain. I back down on it good and tight. He puts on the snubber and we call it a day.
I have a cookie. Mike has a nap. His way of coping with the adrenaline rush is probably better than mine, but I don’t judge and neither should you. After Mike’s nap we dinghy over to S/V Blue, noting that the hideous conditions in the port have calmed down somewhat, which is a little confusing considering what we know about the sea state outside. We check Blue’s batteries and see that the boat is doing fine.
We’ve got an hour of daylight left so we dinghy over to Coyote Point and walk on a beach and observe hermit crabs in their natural habitat while the clouds turn pink with the sunset. On the dinghy ride back to Galapagos we say goodnight to a Mobula Ray, his little wings held high, slicing the water like twin baby sharks.
Back aboard, it’s dinner and fighting sleep until 8:00, the earliest time we can hit the sack without feeling super pathetic.
We are watered up, have some fuel, have enough food for 5 people, and we are ready to go. Just waiting on weather. And to feel ready.
S/V Galapagos, Out.