Cheyenne Richards

How Not to Hit a Turtle

Cheyenne Richards
How Not to Hit a Turtle

The first thing we spotted was a Franklin’s Gull standing in the Pacific Ocean, 20 miles from mainland Mexico. While the soaring and fishing skills of gulls consistently amaze us, walking on water was not an avian talent listed in our bird guide.

As we got closer, we could barely make out a small rock hiding under his feet. Wait, a rock? In 1500 feet?? The charts didn’t even hint an underwater pinnacle massive enough to break the surface. Such a formation would have the potential to punch a catastrophic hole in our boat. The binoculars came out immediately. Magnified, the rock took on the form of a big, upside-down salad bowl. Also, it was moving. 

We grinned at each other like five-year-olds handed ice cream cones. The bird spooked as we approached and took off, landing 25 feet away on another upside-down salad bowl. Beyond it was another. In the distance, one more. This one raised its head.

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Just north of Isla Isabel, Pristine had sailed us into a turtle superhighway at rush hour. 

Make that chocolate sundaes with whipped cream and fudge and cherries and rainbow sprinkles and Oreo cookies surrounded by cupcakes and banana cream pies. Tears came to our eyes.

Turtles have always held a special place in our hearts. For one, they must be the most Zen creatures on the planet. They never bother anyone and never seem bothered by anyone. Also, we’ve been lucky enough to watch them exhaust themselves to lay eggs on the beach and later have watched tiny hatchlings emerge from the sand and wriggle their way down to the tide line, leaving itty bitty flipper prints behind like mountain bike tracks to the ocean. While those little guys may have been awkward on land, once they were picked up by the waves, they swam off into the big blue like Olympic champions, and the cycle of life continued before our very eyes.

It’s so rare to get the chance to see a single turtle in nature, and here Colin and I were, saying “Hola!” to dozens of the most chilled out current-surfers in existence. It was the kind of extraordinary experience that slapped us across the face with how magical life was. We felt superglued to the planet and the cosmos and the joy of living all at the same time. We remained awestruck for forty-five minutes of turtle mania. Maybe a bit too awestruck. One thing you never expect to hear yourself shout in panic: “Hard to port! Turtle at 12 o’clock!”

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The infamous Captain Ray of OCSC’s sailing school in Berkeley once taught us to “Go slow, not fast” when docking, but also added the critical calculus to use as a backup when things aren’t going to plan: “Hit docks. Not boats.” We don’t know where turtles would have fit into his formula, but I’m pretty sure we would have gladly hit dozens of docks and boats before taking out such a magnificent creature at five knots. We hope Captain Ray would approve. Thank goodness we missed nailing the poor dude by a flipper and didn’t have to find out.

Clearly, next time we’re awestruck, we will keep a sharper lookout on the bow. 

Until then, that forty-five minute miracle is a perfect example of why we’re out here, without hot showers or takeout Chinese or a queen-sized bed, doing this crazy cruising thing.

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On the other hand

Honestly, though, it’s not life’s little luxuries that we really miss. We’ve come to love our bird baths in the cockpit and the food we cook in our miniature galley. We’ve even gotten used to our twin-sized bed and the multiple yoga positions it requires to use the head in the middle of the night. And surrounded by leaping mobula rays, schools of trumpetfish and nearly deserted beaches, the desire for stuff you can buy at REI or Williams Sonoma or Whole Foods comes pretty close to disappearing. Instead, your gratitude level is dialed up to eleven.

The real sacrifice we find ourselves making to be in this magical place, experiencing this one-with-the-universe bliss, is being apart from our loved ones.

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We were recently reminded of this when we made a quick trip home to re-up our Mexican tourist visas. Counting the cost of both the flights and the marina stay, our budget only allowed a short visit — barely time to pick up some spare parts, have a few meals with family and take off again.

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Colin and I are both lucky enough to love our families like mad. Not everyone gets to say that, but we not only adore our own families, we are mad about each other’s families, which by now have melded into one large combined family — in our hearts, anyway. By geography, they’re more disparate. 

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Home may be where the heart is, but our hearts are split, pieces of them scattered all over the globe. The people we love dearly are in Oregon. They are in Northern California and Southern California. They are in Florida, New York, Mexico, Michigan and New Jersey. They are in Ireland, England, Switzerland, Spain, Brazil, Venezuela and Barbados. 

To murder Dickens, it is the best of situations and it is the worst of situations. We can travel most anywhere on the planet and be near people we love. At the same time, to be near people we love, we must travel most everywhere on the planet.

On this trip, we took short gulps of family in Portland, Los Altos and San Pedro. It was beautiful time — and of course far too short. The list of people we adore but didn’t even have time to call was far more massive than those we got to lay hugs on. And leaving everyone again — those that we saw and those that we didn’t — tore us up something fierce.

Even for those we did see, we know there’s a massive difference between swooping in now and again, and being there consistently. Kids grow up so fast. Parents age right along with them. Friends’ lives move on without you. To step outside that day-to-day realm is to sacrifice the shared experiences, trials and triumphs that combine to build the greatest kind of intimacy. There’s no mistaking the holiday aunts and uncles for the ones who make it to your swim meets and share a table every other Sunday.

An endless quest for balance

We read an essay recently by Zat Rana that broke down the inherent tension between a person’s search for enlightenment, which is a deeply individual journey, and the quest for life meaning, which comes from community. 

On the enlightenment side, Colin and I are exploring some of the most populated — and most remote — places in Pacific Mexico. We’re learning Spanish, Mexican history, the deep generosity, joy and pride of its people, and the magic inside its borders. We’re learning to make tortillas and hold our breaths long enough to change the prop zinc and what lures will attract a dorado but not a crevalle jack.

More profoundly, we have our moments of turtle awe. We have our dolphins and rays and whales. We have our dawns and sunsets and starry, starry nights, complete with the Southern Cross peeping up above the horizon. We’re learning bit by bit, how to be in the moment, appreciate the now and be connected to the infinite. 

The best way I can describe the change in my own frame of mind is with data. Since my twenties, I’ve needed medication to control my otherwise medium-high blood pressure. There was never a clear reason — obviously not obesity or smoking —and despite a thousand tests, no known medical cause. I tried a healthier diet, better sleep and more exercise to little effect. Always I had to return to the meds. Then at 47, I left behind the traffic, fluorescent lights and frenetic urgency of regular life and almost instantly, my blood pressure dropped to normal, where it has remained for more than a year without a single fluctuation — or a single pill. That is how stress-free we are living.

Our minds are engaged, our bodies are healthy, our knowledge is growing. Dare I say it? Our spirits are wide awake.

As humans, we all have journeys we must go on — the greatest growth happens when we’re placed outside of our everyday circumstances, whether that involves geographic borders or mental ones. We hope the journeys will expand us as people.

But we certainly can’t make the mistake of thinking that the world stops while we are otherwise engaged. For the time being, Colin and I are the holiday family. This is the true cost of our adventures, and believe us, it weighs heavy on our hearts.

We wish we could say we’d figured out how to balance it all — the enlightenment and the community, the near and the far. We are deeply grateful for our family — those who truly understand our hearts — as well as fellow cruisers — those who innately understand our crazy lifestyle.

For now, we can only say that finding the balance itself feels like part of the journey, and we will continue to actively move the fulcrum wherever it feels most right.

Fair winds, dear friends.

Colin & Chey

Where are we now?

You wouldn’t think the smell of burning garbage would make you feel at home, but Mazatlán welcomed us with an elegant simplicity we hadn’t even realized we’d been missing. When we arrived on the docks, slip neighbors called out warm welcomes and soon joined us for a night of street tacos and Latin jazz.

We spent just enough time in Mozzie to prep the boat for a long, hot summer in the Sea of Cortez (dinghy chaps, canvas covers for the outboard and gas tank, two coats of varnish, clean bottom, new zincs, oil & filter changed, raw water strainer cleaned, knotmeter scrubbed, diesel filled, fresh water topped up, provisions bought and stowed, stern anchor mounted) and then headed west, 190 miles across the sea again. 

We’re currently in Bahia de Los Muertos near the southern tip of Baja, intending to work our way north toward Loreto and then on up to Bahia de Los Angeles, enjoying as many of the gorgeous islands and bays and anchorages on the way as we can. This also means we’ll most likely be off the grid much of the summer, hopefully with the occasional WiFi hotspot to let us reconnect briefly with the world.

Even the  collectivo  bus in Mazatlan brought joy

Even the collectivo bus in Mazatlan brought joy

Yeah, there are perks to the journey.

Yeah, there are perks to the journey.

Paying respects to Lola of the restaurant F.I.S.H. in Mazatlan

Paying respects to Lola of the restaurant F.I.S.H. in Mazatlan

Excited about  Charlie ’s new dinghy chaps so  she  won’t melt in the Sea this summer. Also Colin’s badass stern anchor mounting solution, including a new bracket we got at home. Now its ready to deploy in an instant, virtually guaranteeing we’ll never need it again. Those NRS cam straps are one of the best things we bought before we left. We use them for just about everything on the boat — including the outboard lifting harness in the background..

Excited about Charlie’s new dinghy chaps so she won’t melt in the Sea this summer. Also Colin’s badass stern anchor mounting solution, including a new bracket we got at home. Now its ready to deploy in an instant, virtually guaranteeing we’ll never need it again. Those NRS cam straps are one of the best things we bought before we left. We use them for just about everything on the boat — including the outboard lifting harness in the background..

Shout outs

After turning Pristine into our precious home over the past year, it was a gut check to leave her for the first time. We had nightmares about the dock lines chafing and the bilge alarm going off for days with no one to stop a leak.

We needn’t have worried. 

Not only was she perfectly safe at El Cid Marina in Mazatlán, the amazing cruiser community all looked after her as if she was a lost puppy. Sharon and Clarence from SV Lotus kept us updated on the varnish work, Chris and Jen from SV Ginger watered our rosemary plant, Harry and Suzanna from SV Gardyloo tightened the straps on our surfboards, Joe and Christine from SV High Road sent photos and John from SV Valkyrie — a fellow Crealock 37 owner we hadn’t even met — sent us a message asking if it would be ok to adjust our fenders and spring lines because they were looking floppy. How awesome is that? Yes, please, and THANK YOU!!!