That was all I could think to reply to Colin’s concern 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 relative calm between the gales. Simple choice, right? (The heartiest of you sailors may be laughing right now).
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, 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 good to go — 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. 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 a few hours of taking the waves on the beam — aka brutal — about as rolly a motion as you’re going to get on a sailboat. 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 little horizon to see. 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, who seems to step in with providential words of wisdom at exactly the right moments. 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.”
Finally, I was able to fall into a fitful sleep on the port bench, tethered into the cockpit. I thought this was blissful mercy. Colin thought it was tragic. Because once he got out far enough to find the wind and was able to turn down, 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 a strictly as-needed basis. Luckily, I chose a great 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. The dawn broke. The 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? None of those compared 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 the second best 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 were barely able to drive. 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?
1. If anyone ever wishes me fair winds and following seas again, I will fall to my knees and thank them heartily.
2. Even after you’ve spent all night in fifty-degree temperatures, in the morning a tall mug of coffee, left on a gimballed stove, is still a tall mug of coffee and physics will bequeath the entirety of your life-giving beverage to the cabin sole.
3. 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 anyway. 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).
4. Prior to turning into 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 awesome dinner recommendation.
5. And hereafter, I will always brush my hair on deck and downwind, lest my hairballs clog the bilge and cause Colin to shave my 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.