Mamaku’s First Off-shore Passage

Hello from from sunny, cactus studded and turquoise watered eastern Baja Peninsula, Mexico! The Sea of Cortez has been a dream of shimmering colourful fish, whale sharks the size of a bus (you can dive with them with a guide out of La Paz, which we did this week!) delicious and cheap street food and fresh fruit – not to mention incredibly friendly and welcoming people.


Getting down here was certainly an adventure. While I’ll write more about Baja and further travels down the coast, I want to flash back to late September when we left on what was my first offshore passage – a six day jump 150 miles offshore from Neah Bay, at the Northwestern tip of Washington to San Francisco Bay. We were joined on this passage by our friend Jonty and my uncle Don, an experienced cruiser. It was an experience I’m sure I will not forget.

IMG_1467After waiting out some weather in Neah Bay, watching the grey whales at the mouth of the harbour, eating fish and chips and having one last hot shower at the marina, we pulled up anchor and headed out around Cape Flattery. The wind was fairly strong (20-25 knots) and current was whipping up large and confused waves around the cape, but this looked like the best window available to us. The first few hours of our first passage were certainly the most difficult. Jonty and I were both pretty sea sick. We were all fully suited up in all our foul weather gear but cold water from waves crashing up into the cockpit still managed to seep into our collars. One wave even came straight through our canvas dodger, knocking the snaps undone, water sloshing around in the bottom of the cockpit and swiftly dampening our morale. I had taken sea sickness medication and I think it did help a bit, but I still felt pretty rough. Luckily Harry doesn’t get very sea sick and uncle Don was completely un-fazed even through the worst of it.

As we gradually sailed away from Cape Flattery, and out into the ocean, the peninsula and Vancouver island slowly faded away into a blue haze. The waves were still large but gradually became more even and measured. Only every now and then did we get a splash in the cockpit. Harry passed me some plain crackers, which made me feel much better. Funny how the more plain the food the better it seems when you’re feeling seasick. The wind held at about 20-25 knots behind us. We kept the main reefed and furled in much of the jib to to keep us slow enough and (somewhat) comfortable. I still could barely be inside the boat at all at that point with everything lurching wildly and creaking loudly.

DSCN8818As evening approached I thought about how it would be to sail through the night – I had never done this before. The sun grew lower in the sky and then disappeared behind us. Because there were four of us and two of us were new to this kind of sailing, we started with two person watches at four hours on four hours off. That way no one would be alone in the night. Stars appeared over head. More and more stars appeared until the vibrant arm of the milky way stretched out above us as we glided up and down the faces of the waves through the night. I lay in my bunk, not sleeping while off watch, then laboriously climbed back into my foul weather gear and back outside under the stars. Like that the time passed until the sun rose in the east – and I had made it through the first night.

What stuck me most was how peaceful it was on deck in the night. Inside the boat was creaking and lurching (to me) alarmingly, but once I came back on deck the noise quieted and the ocean much more calm than I thought. On the third night we felt comfortable to switch to one person watches, two hours on, six hours off. At that point I was no longer worried at all about being on watch alone in the night. It felt peaceful and meditative.

IMG_1498We were visited frequently by dolphins, and when they came in the night, bioluminescence in the water illuminated their shapes and ghostly trails through the water. They rocketed around us like friendly ocean spirits keeping us company. When they came in the day, we watched them from the bow. They swam alongside, dancing around each other and even turned their eyes up the surface, looking up at us watching them. From inside the boat I could sometimes hear their whistling voices through the water.

By the third day of the passage both Jonty and I were no longer seasick, I started to be able to sleep more and was relaxing into the passage. Waves and weather were more mellow. We caught some tuna and uncle Don cooked us up a few big tasty tuna meals now that we had appetites again for more than crackers and instant noodles. Pelagic sea birds with long pointed wings glided over the waves. We were between 100 and 150 nautical miles offshore for the next couple of days. The water was electric blue.

We encountered a couple of strong squalls, one of which had gusts up to 45 knots. When this happened we dropped the mainsail completely and kept out only a tiny area of jib. The wind whipped the sea surface into white lines and the sky turned charcoal grey. Fortunately it lasted only a short while then passed over as squalls do. While I don’t wish for more of this – it was actually really fascinating! Afterwards I felt glad to have seen that we had handled it appropriately, nothing went badly and it passed over without event.

By day five the wind angle had shifted a few times and we had gradually come in a little closer to shore. Our current angle had us pointing directly at San Francisco Bay. Our original intention was to sail straight to San Diego to check out of the US, but sailing into the bay under the bridge sounded like fun, and we have several friends there, so we carried on in that direction. On the sixth night, after avoiding all the ships entering the bay under the bridge, and smelling the land-smell blowing over the Marin headlands, we anchored in Richardson bay off Sausalito at about 2:30 in the morning. We celebrated with a rum and salty fish on crackers – which we are now making a tradition.IMG_1769

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