Monthly Archives: February 2011

Voyaging with Velella: The Great Ocean

michener hawaiiContinuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

“Millions upon millions of years ago when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others. It was a mighty ocean, resting uneasily to the east of the largest continent, a restless ever-changing, gigantic body of water that would later be described as pacific. . . . How utterly vast it was! How its surges modified the very balance of the earth! How completely lonely it was, hidden in the darkness of night or burning in the dazzling power of a younger sun than ours. . . . Master of life, guardian of shorelines, regulator of temperatures and heaving sculptor of mountains, the great ocean existed.”

So begins James Michener’s Hawaii, an enormous brick of a book that I first saw sitting under our Christmas tree in 1997. I was 14, and had rarely traveled outside of the Midwest at that point in my life; I could hardly imagine what it would feel like, on our family vacation, to reach those lush little islands that stood defiantly in the middle of a map full of blue. Sitting in our cozy snow-piled living room in Minnesota, nothing could have seemed more fun and far away.

When my parents visited us in Banderas Bay last week, they brought me our old yellowed copy of Hawaii, which I’d since forgotten about completely. The printed dedication reads, “To all the people who came to Hawaii,” below which was added in my dad’s familiar handwriting, “including the crew of the good ship Velella—just in case you decide to turn westward. An amazing waypoint, and a novel that will enlighten your journey.”
meghan and nessie contemplating the ocean
At the end of the first chapter, I came near to tears because I know this immense watery road stands before us now. The chapter concludes, “If you are willing to work until the swimming head and the aching arms can stand no more, then you can gain entrance to this miraculous crucible where the units of nature are free to develop according to their own capacities and desires. On these harsh terms the islands waited.” And that is what the prospect of sailing to Hawaii feels like: it is an adventure both completely thrilling and utterly terrifying. . . a dichotomy I fully expect to remain in my psyche all 2600 miles across the Pacific. But Hawaii is an epic, and a place only reached by a sailor’s epic rite of passage—crossing the rolling, windswept Pacific Ocean.

Although it torments me to think of the long and seemingly endless days and nights spent at sea because I fear I’ll mentally crack, I don’t fear much physical danger in sailing to Hawaii and back. Velella is a stout little oceangoing cruiser designed to handle exactly this kind of passage.
prescott steering
We have all the safety gear on the market and then some. We have a comfortable sea berth, two pairs of capable hands, and a Monitor self-steering vane that works for us round the clock without complaint. Really, all we have to do is cook our meals, reef our sails when the weather calls for it, and keep ourselves occupied.

In between working out our own passage preparations lately, I’ve been devouring Michener’s Hawaii; reading about the horrific passages of the peoples who originally emigrated to the islands makes our trip seem all the more benign and fun. Way back in the 9th century, an exiled group of Bora-Borans came a roundabout 6,000 miles to Hawaii in a large canoe sewn together with twine at the joints, with only the lines of an ancient fable to guide their navigation to islands rumored to lie somewhere to the north. A group of missionary New Englanders in the early 1800s spent six horrible months cramped into a communal hold in the belly of a tiny brig named Thetis that sailed from Boston first to the Azores (off the coast of Africa), then around Cape Horn, then finally across the Pacific to Hawaii. Newly-recruited Chinese laborers later in the century endured harsh, inhumane treatment on the Carthaginian, and dozens of sailors since then have braved the Pacific alone in small craft, during the wrong times of the year, or with many other hurdles we will not have to face. In contrast, sailing out to Hawaii from the Pacific Coast, during the fair spring season, is often referred to by sailors as “the happy tack.”
velella sailing
As we sailed out of the calm waters of Banderas Bay last week to make our way north again, I noticed that we both started to say “when” rather than “if” we go to Hawaii—without ever sitting down and deciding on it. We also tacitly regarded our mini-passage up to La Paz as a shakedown for Hawaii, and on the eve of my first night watch I thought about how I’d feel if I was 1200 miles from land instead of 30. I decided I’d probably feel much the same. When Prescott woke me in the middle of the night for my watch, I was shocked that it was 2:30 already, when he should have woken me at 1am. Incredulously I asked him why he let me sleep so long—he’d been on watch for over 7 hours when we had agreed to do shifts of 6! He said he wanted to give me one less hour of dark on my watch, and he didn’t mind staying up on such a beautiful night. With a mate like that and a boat full of love for one another, I thought, we can definitely do this.

We reached toward Mazatlan under a hot sunset this evening, sea birds dove from dozens of feet aloft and plunged into the water. A pair of whales blew clouds of breath and curved their great backs out of the water off to our port, and our rail dipped into that same salty sea with each gust. We’re headed up to the Sea of Cortez now to explore some awesomely remote anchorages that we breezed by on the way down. But by April we’ll be back out in this big Pacific, headed directly for that setting sun.

Here’s where Velella is cruising tonight, probably digging into a hefty book:

View Voyaging with Velella in a larger map

March Photo of the Month: Your Most Relaxing Day on a Boat

Well, I thought we had a barn burner last month, but this month’s Facebook sailing photo contest required an unprecedented “run-off vote” to determine a winner. The theme was “Your Most Relaxing Day on a Boat” and we had a huge crop of entries, most of which featured people taking semi-comatose siestas on the decks of their boats in all sorts of locations, both exotic and close to home.

As the scheduled voting period ended, the race between the leaders was too close to call. It came down to a case of “Mother and Child” vs. “Man and his Best Friend.” But in the end, we had a clear winner, which will be published in the ASA Sailing With Style E-Newsletter. Thanks, as always, to everyone who submitted their wonderful photography and to all of you who voted!


Maria Cox Sheridan submitted this winning entry: “My son and I relaxing on the Chesapeake Bay, after returning from a 10-month cruise to The Bahamas.” Some of our readers added their own commentary. “A child on a boat with his Mom…a future sailor and memories being made!” And: “The composition is nice…The entire effect is sweet, warm and relaxing.”
March photo winner


Rob Webb’s portrait of an easy-going day on the water with a barbeque and a trusty canine friend came near to victory. I don’t think anyone would mind trading places with him in this shot.
march runner up


Bill Lindsay’s submission, “A lazy afternoon on the Nile,” earns my nod this month not only because of its relevance to current events, but because it’s different than anything else we received. As one reader put it, “Definitely out of the box for ASA.”
march editor's choice

You can view the full album of relaxing photographs here. And be sure to “like” our Facebook page, if you haven’t already, so that you don’t miss out on all the cool stuff we’re doing.

Julien Berthier’s Perpetually Sinking Boat

Julien Berthier’s Perpetually Sinking Boat

We thought we should look into the fascinating story behind the photo above. Why is this guy so at-ease when his world appears to be unraveling–boat sinking, no land or rescue in sight.
out of the water
The man is Julien Berthier, the boat is called Love-love, and neither of them are actually sinking. Berthier is a French artist, and this boat is his most famous work. Berthier took an abandoned yacht, cut it in half, and designed a new keel which allowed him to sail it at the odd angle seen in the photos. He caused quite a stir in 2008 by sailing it up London’s River Thames, having to frequently assure passers-by that, “Non, non, I am fine, really!”

Berthier insists that he always gives prior notice to coast guard and harbor authorities before taking the boat out for a spin, which is powered by an electric motor. The curator of the Thames exhibition, Caroline Jones, said, “I always thought that this is an optimistic piece because it never really sinks.” The work has since been sold to an unidentified art collector for a reported 50,000 pounds.
in the open sea
in the marina
on display

Voyaging with Velella: The Grand Detour

paddling in bajaContinuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

It’s spring, and our wedding is less than 5 months away! We’ve loved slowing down on the Mexican coast, and this cruising pace has allowed us to host many family members and close friends—visits that afford us amazing quality time with the people we love. What a perfect way to spend our engagement. (Though I have to admit, craft shopping for wedding stuff at Quinceanera shops is SUB-PAR. But anyway…)

Visiting with family in this “removed” little disarming sphere of Velella’s world convinces us even more that the decision to move home to Portland is the right one. As we start our married lives together, proximity to our close friends and family makes a lot of sense to us.

There’s just one small hurdle.

There are three ways to get a boat back to the Pacific Northwest from Mexico:

1. Sail straight back up the coast the way we came down. This is often suggested by our well-meaning non-sailor friends and family, but it’s the option that is most out of the question. Heading north from here means bucking both the strong steady Northwesterly trade winds AND the south-setting California current for a couple thousand miles. The same reason why coming down was such a nice run is precisely why heading back up the same way would be going uphill against the wind. There are very popular books written about the notorious “Baja Bash,” and couples are cautioned to read these before embarking on such a trip, because many instances have ended in divorce. No joke. Not the way to prepare for our wedding.

2. Put Velella on a ship or truck in Mexico and fly home to meet her in Portland. This is a good option for several reasons, not the least of which is that it would be easiest on the crew! It would involve a lot of work “decommissioning” the boat for trucking (i.e. taking off all gear on deck—including having the mast pulled and laid alongside her), but most importantly it would involve a huge layout of cash we don’t really have. How much is the ease and convenience of having the boat trucked home worth to us? We choked when we received quotes for $9,000.
coast of big island
3. Take the Grand Detour. Otherwise known as “the happy tack,” the third viable return option is sailing from La Paz out to Hawaii, then back to the Pacific Northwest. There’s this wonderful high pressure system called the North Pacific High that sits somewhere in the middle of the ocean (it moves around a bit with the seasons); the consistency of this high pressure system is what produces the reliable trade winds. Think of a big circular high sitting in the ocean: Along the Pacific Coast all the way down to where we are now, the trade winds come out from the high from the northwest. Sailing AROUND this circular high allows you to basically have a downwind run the entire time, all the way back to the Pacific Northwest. Plus, there’s this great stopover in the middle called the Hawaiian Islands. Counter-intuitively, sailing the Grand Detour to Hawaii and back is a far more preferable option than the Baja Bash—both for wear and tear on the boat and the crew.

So, having ruled out the Baja Bash from day one, we are left with two options. A truckful of debt heading into our marriage, or the intrepid Grand Detour. If we did the detour, we would probably spend the month of April on passage to Hawaii. When we got there in early May, we’d fly home for the wedding, and return to the islands in early July. After “honeymooning” on our own boat in and around the Hawaiian Islands, we’d stock up and sail back to the Pacific Northwest during the month of August. We’d be home just in time to enjoy cruising a bit in the colorful autumn colors of the Columbia River with mugs of cider and flannel blankets.
approaching coast under sail
It’s easy to sit at home and say, “Do the Grand Detour, duh!” and it’s easy for us to think that sometimes too. But there are heavy factors to weigh for the ocean passage route home as well.

The risks are relatively low, but a lot higher than having the boat trucked home. Being isolated from one another (by our watch rotation) for almost two months would be awful. Is it totally crazy to spend the month before your wedding completely out of touch with the world and with each other on an emotional rollercoaster in the middle of the ocean? Yes. And then go back and do it again during the first few months of your marriage? Absolutely. But it might be just crazy enough to work.

We are so close to settling down and eagerly getting back to our careers. We’re excited to “nest.” We’re talking about buying land and saving up to build our own home. The thought of sailing to Hawaii and back makes me want to go straight to bed instead. But we both find it hard to turn our backs on the irresistible pull of life’s awesome challenges. It’s a crippling decision. But it’s one that we’re turning over slowly in our minds.

Got any thoughts or advice on this big decision? Leave a comment below.

Here’s where the crew of Velella are pondering their options:

View Voyaging with Velella in a larger map

The Times They Are A-Changin’ (On Facebook)

You may have noticed that the computer whizzes over at Facebook, mysterious and secretive as they are, have been slowly but surely rolling out some major changes. We lowly Facebook users don’t usually get much of a heads-up on these kinds of things. But here at ASA, social media has become a large part of how we connect with our members, get new people interested in sailing, and spread the word about our sailing schools. So we don’t want our friends and fans sailing upwind. To that end, I’m going to try to explain some of Facebook’s quirks and get us all onto a nice broad reach.

1. The New Profile
asa new profile
Over the course of the past two months, Facebook has been switching everyone’s personal profile over to the “new” profile. If you’re a Facebook user, you’ve certainly seen this happen to your page. Now they’ve made the same change to business pages, such as ours. That’s it on the right. The new profile is (in my opinion) elegant, efficient, and kind of confusing. The tabs that used to be along the top are now on the left – Wall, Photos, Videos, etc. The posts on the Wall now appear “out of order.” Why they did this, and how they choose what order the posts should appear in, I have no idea. But when you come to our page and want to post something on the wall, don’t get upset if your post doesn’t appear immediately at the top. The Wall may look different to everyone, so you never know who might see your awesome sailing photo from the Bahamas, and really, that’s the magic of social media!

2. Why You Only See Updates From SOME Of Your Friends

This is Facebook at their most tricky. Ever wonder why the same group of people always comments on your posts and updates? Or why you never see updates from Bobbi Sue, but Joey is in your News Feed twelve times a day? Here’s the answer: Facebook only shows you updates from the people you interact with most. They try to whittle your hundreds of friends down to a manageable amount–and this can be good or bad. What if you like reading somebody’s updates, but you never comment or “like” them? Well, they might start to disappear. BUT NEVER FEAR! You can fix this. In your News Feed, scroll all the way to the bottom and click on “Edit Options.” A box will appear, and you can change the setting from “Friends and Page You Interact With Most” to “All Friends and Pages.”
edit options bar
3. Photos

Facebook has just launched a new way of viewing photo albums, involving a “pop-out” screen, which I can only describe as “bad.” It’s confusing to look at and every time I see it I think for a minute that my computer is broken. Sadly, as far as I know, there’s nothing we can do except hope that they improve it eventually. Viewing individual photos seems to be the same as ever, which is fine by me.

I hope this has helped you navigate the stormy seas of Facebook. Rest assured that whatever those crazy guys up in Silicon Valley dream up next, we will continue to provide a relevant, fun and interactive place for sailors. (And we’re doing the same thing on Twitter, too!)

If you have any questions about Facebook or anything else related to social media, drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to help!

Voyaging with Velella: Lessons from La Cruz

the bayContinuing 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 in the tropics.

We’ve been living at anchor in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, hanging out between visits to beautiful Banderas Bay. The water is flat here and the winds are consistently great for sailing, kind of like the Mexican equivalent of San Francisco, minus the fog. Despite the good sailing here, anchoring options are scant, with La Cruz being the only place that’s really protected from prevailing winds and swell, both in Banderas Bay and 30 miles on either side of the entrance. Luckily, La Cruz has an enormous anchorage, and as I write this, we are one of perhaps 55 boats seeking shelter from a howling norther coming out of the Sea of Cortez.

Northers are a common weather pattern in the Sea in the winter, and the strong ones can affect us even way down here. Southern Californians will can commiserate; the Santa Anas that howl over the Pacific there from an easterly direction are a result of the same high pressure system that produces northers in the Sea of Cortez. The Sea also has the nice feature of basically being a 600-mile wind tunnel. So we’ve got that going down here.

By noon, the clouds marched in and piled up and it feels just like home in the Pacific Northwest. The wind is screaming down our dorade vents and we put hot chocolate on the stove. We thought about lighting the propane furnace (but then decided that we’ve gone soft and refused to be that wimpy. We put pants on instead). All 55 boats here are hard-back on their anchors, and you can see people out on their decks checking for snubber chafe frequently. We snapped the sail covers closed so they wouldn’t flap, and turned on the GPS anchor alarm to alert us right away if we pulled the hook. No sooner had we done that than we hear on the radio “La Cruz anchorage: There’s a boat on the run.”

We turned up the handset and recognized our friend Will’s voice responding “Can you describe where the boat is that’s dragging and I’ll come help you get a hold of it?”
runaway boat
“It’s the Melinda, the pretty little schooner, she’s on the run and headed past the green boat in the middle of the anchorage.”

At first she was difficult to spot from our vantage point, because she was headed almost straight for us. When people started to realize which boat it was, several dinghys zipped over to help. The first tactic when dragging anchor–whether in your boat or on someone else’s–is to let out more scope on the chain, which is exactly what they did. Letting out more scope changes the ratio of water depth to horizontal pull on the anchor (and the more horizontal pull, the better chance the anchor has of digging in). But it was soon clear that letting out more scope would not stop this boat from dragging because she had already gained too much speed. And she was dragging her hook right across a row of boats, threatening to pull out their anchors too.
stormy skies
She was headed fast towards a neighboring boat who we happened to know was engineless. If Melinda pulled our neighbor’s hook out, he’d have to raise sail and maneuver out of that forest of boats fast–and in high winds. So Prescott rowed our dinghy over to our neighbor’s boat to lend a hand on deck. We decided I should stay onboard Velella because we were also in the wayward boat’s path–I wanted to be able to fend her off if need be.

Meanwhile, the people rescuing Melinda were having a hard time because the owner had not left the keys in the ignition when he left the boat. While it’s counterintuitive to leave the keys in the ignition when you go ashore, it’s a good idea for this very reason. The community of cruisers is a tight one, and people are always looking out for each other’s boats when people go ashore. It’s a good idea to leave your keys in the ignition in the event that someone has to jump on your boat and help you out!

As it was, there was no way to turn on the engine of the dragging schooner. With a small fleet of four dinghys acting as tugs alongside, and a guy at the tiller of the schooner steering her, they were able to push the bow this way and that as she drifted through the anchorage, keeping her clear of all other boats. When they reached a large clear spot, they dropped the hook again and let out plenty of scope, letting the strong wind help set her back on the hook.
The captain of the wayward boat came back just as they were getting the hook set again. To his credit, he got on the radio and gave a gracious apology and thank you to everyone who had helped. The responses were “Well said,” and “Don’t worry about it, it happens to everybody,” and “We’re all here to take care of each other,” along with a series of microphone clicks on the VHF (a sailor’s substitute for a round of applause).

Morals of the story: 1. It’s always, always better to have too much scope than too little when anchoring. 2. Leave your keys in the ignition when you go ashore so other cruisers can more easily help you out if there are problems while you’re gone! 3. Most importantly, being gracious about your mistakes is an excellent way to make friends, both in sailing and in life.

Here’s where Velella is dropping anchor tonight.

View Voyaging with Velella in a larger map

Seminar for Cruising Couples in Miami

sideways sailingSingle-handers and other brave (but lonely) seafarers tend to get most of the press, but let’s face it, it’s a lot more fun to sail the seas with somebody. Maybe this is something you and your partner have always wanted to do, but the idea of learning everything you need to know leaves you feeling a little bit…sideways.

That’s why ASA is sponsoring the “Cruising Couples” seminar series, presented by Jeff Grossman & Jean Levine of Two Can Sail. They will be holding this immersive, day-long seminar on February 19 at the Miami Boat Show, and it’s a can’t-miss for the couple who has always wanted to charter or cruise together, but needs a bit of advice and encouragement.

Jeff & Jean, along with their crack team of captains, authors, meteorologists, marine surveyors, and ASA instructors, can help you “take the drama out the dream.” The seminar focuses on such varied topics as planning, teamwork, facing your fears, and dealing with nasty weather. The Two Can Sail team has collaborated on a Seminar Companion Guide which each participating couple will receive, in addition to a free pair of tickets to Sunday at the Miami Boat Show. And, equally important, there will be plenty of time for socializing, asking questions, and discussing the topic with the experts and your fellow cruising couples.
green water
These seminars have limited space, and at the time of writing there are ONLY 10 spots for couples remaining! (It is highly recommended that both people attend.) The cost is $275 per couple, but if you’re an ASA member make sure to ask for your $15 discount. If only one person is able to attend, the cost is $150. To register, visit their website here, email them, or call 727-644-7496.

Jeff & Jean will have you “right side up” and fulfilling your sailing dreams!

Highlights from Strictly Sail Chicago 2011

snow outside navy pierThey were building snow sculptures outside of Chicago’s Navy Pier last weekend, but the real action was inside where the 16th Annual Strictly Sail Chicago Boat Show was being held. ASA was there along with many of our affiliate schools and legions of other exhibitors from every sector of the boating world.

Our representatives bravely left the comfort of a Southern California winter (ASA is headquartered in Los Angeles) to face the bitter cold coming off of Lake Michigan. (Although, truth be told, the temperatures weren’t that bad, low-30s and high-20s. Easy for this writer to say, having stayed nice and warm in So Cal!) As always, our booth was staffed by our fabulous instructors, who donated their time in order to have a chance to meet sailors (and potential sailors) face to face and lend their expertise to any questions.
asa booth

An exciting new development at this show was having ASA instructors also staffing the Discover Sailing booth. We’ll be continuing this at Strictly Sail Miami, from Feb. 17-21. What’s even better, thanks to the paradisical weather of Miami’s Bayside Marina, ASA’s Discover Sailing activities will include 90 minute on-the-water sailing clinics! Click here for more on this and other exciting features at this show. Note that we STRONGLY recommend booking a spot on the sailing clinics in advance, as we expect them to be VERY popular. Oh, and don’t forget you can get a discount on your show tickets with coupon code “ASA” by purchasing them online here.
discover sailing booth
Despite the cold, Strictly Sail Chicago was by all accounts a great success. Some of our members wrote to us describing it as “a great show” and “the best in years.” The big boat manufacturers were out in force: Jenneau, Beneteau, Hunter, Hobie Cat, and more, showing off their newest and coolest models. Even round-the-world sailor extraordinaire Zac Sunderland was there–and look for him in Miami too!

If you’ve got any tales from Chicago to share, please leave a comment. And let us know if you’re heading down to Miami!