Voyaging with Velella: Things that Go Bump in the Night


This is the first installment in the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise from Los Angeles to New York via the Panama Canal.

Our to-do list is dwindling. It’s hard for me not to find other things to do to fill the holes . . . but if I did that we’d never leave. So tonight, we’re headed to Universal Studios Halloween Haunted House to scare the crap out of ourselves. You know, for fun. I hear the production value is incredibly high.

Our haunted evening will have one of two effects on my mental preparedness for our sailing trip: 1. It will really put me on edge, and make me even more jumpy as we get underway, or 2. It will scare me SO much that everything that follows will seem not so scary really. I mean, my first few hours back on night watches will give me goosebumps, but they’ll be a whole lot less scary than if I looked up and saw a severed head hanging from the spreaders or a goopy, toothy sea monster rising up behind me to clobber Velella.

Shoot. As I write this I realize I didn’t account for my imagination.

My imagination, after all, is what makes me sometimes go “tharn.” A term we often use around the boat borrowed from Richard Adams’ Watership Down, tharn is that “state of staring, glazed paralysis that comes over terrified or exhausted rabbits, so that they sit and watch their enemies–weasels or humans–approach to take their lives.” My openly stated goal is never to go tharn. When I do, Prescott has to coax me out of it–so he actively works to ensure that I do not go tharn.

In my defense, my anxieties have matured from just things that go bump in the night. I no longer fear an accidental gybe, or Prescott falling overboard while I’m asleep, or rats running up our docklines, because we know what to do to control those situations and minimize real risk. We’ve even gotten a good handle on the capricious nature of weather (thanks in large part to our seriously upgraded onboard weather forecasting equipment and know-how). I’m confident that we can keep ourselves out of trouble.

What remains to make me tharn is fear of crippling seasickness, and not being fluent in Spanish, and (god forbid) being attacked at anchor. Seasickness, I’m sure, I will endure and survive. Spanish, I’m sure, I will learn on our long night watches on the run down Baja (thanks, Rosetta Stone). Attackers, I must keep reminding myself, always make news, and the real statistics do protect us. And we have protection in the proximity of other cruisers (particularly those whose boats are more tricked-out with stuff to steal than ours!). It’s hard for me not to consider Velella the most beautiful vessel in the world, but Prescott keeps reminding me that she’s really not the most attractive thing in an anchorage for thieves. Either way, I’m sleeping with an air horn and pepper spray by my berth, because they help me sleep more soundly.

And although I’m mostly rational and thorough about possible problems, I would be a foolish sailor if I didn’t ascribe to a certain amount of superstition. Above the nav station hangs a wooden frog figurine given to me by my aunt and uncle (because in Japanese, the word frog and the word journey “kaeru” are the same, so you give anyone you love going on a journey a frog to ensure they return safely.) We wear carved Maori amulets signifying “safe passage over water” around our necks (a gift from Prescott’s parents), and knotted red strings around our wrists, an age-old charm for favorable winds.

On Tuesday evening the ASA staff and friends gathered at Velella for a sending-off happy hour. Of course, Neptune was in attendance, and was served copious amounts of good champagne. (See video of the ceremony here.)

In the next few days, we’ll depart. But not on a Friday.

Online Sailing Course