Monthly Archives: April 2011

Voyaging with Velella: First Class Tickets

Continuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott, and their kitten Nessie have just concluded a 6-month sailing adventure in Mexico and are returning to explore the Pacific Northwest by sail.

I was extremely tired from traveling as I walked into a Wal-Mart to pick up some cat food yesterday. I barely noticed the huge display of familiar Mexican food items in front of me: masa harina, pan tostadas, cane sugar bottled Cokes, Penginos, and other typical corner store stock. It slowly dawned on me that literally everyone around me was speaking Spanish too—and I almost asked “Donde está la comida para gatos?”—when I realized with a start that what the heck was Mexico doing following me to Hood River, Oregon?!?

We’ve come to Prescott’s parents’ home hear Hood River to “decompress” for a week while we wait for Velella to arrive by Yachtpath ship. We figured it would be good to come to this quiet country place first to alleviate the culture shock of returning to the US. But (despite the local Mexican population here that tricks my tired mind into feeling like we’re still in Baja), it’s still shocking to be home in the states.
yachtpath ship arrives
Last week at this time we were in limbo in La Paz, waiting for our Yachtpath ship to arrive. By the middle of April the heat had become aggressive—not stiflingly humid, but a dry baking heat like being in a kiln. By the time the ship arrived I felt like I was going to melt to my grave, and was glad to leave Mexico for the temperate and beautiful Pacific Northwest summer. Of course as we approached the carrier ship at sunset, all the emotions of change came flooding over me. Pride for all the miles passed beneath our keel, futile longing to rewind the tape and play it again, fear for Velella as we left her in the care of other hands to make the long transit home.
velella hoisted by her own petard
The loading operations went smoothly, and before we knew it we were being zipped to shore by a panga as Velella was being hosted by crane onto the ship called the BBC Rhine.

As we headed to the airport and waited for our flights, I realized with some sadness that I hadn’t brought home a single “souvenir” from our time in Mexico. I’d been too busy living the whole adventure to even consider that someday we’d be looking back on it. I browsed the jewelry shops, thinking perhaps I’d take a keepsake to remind me of this time, but I knew that no token could capture it all. As our flight soared above the Sea of Cortez, we pointed out the islands we’d called home for the past couple of months, I realized that what we brought home were priceless memories and thousands of photographs and a changed way of being.

There’s nothing quite like the first time for anything, and it’s been bittersweet to close the book on this tropical sailing adventure. But we’ve no doubt that we’ll point our bow south again someday, and meanwhile we will be exploring the Pacific Northwest by sail.

The very day we arrived in Oregon the tulips blossomed, all lipstick red and lemon yellow in the mossy woods. We are taking hot baths and sitting by the woodstove and waiting for Velella—because where ever she is, we’re home.

velella sailing
Stay tuned for the further adventures of Meghan and S/V Velella!

Voyaging with Velella: Going Home

Continuing the Voyaging with Velella series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, Prescott and their cat Nessie are concluding an extended cruise along the coast of Mexico.

We are anchored amongst a thicket of sailboats in La Paz. The sunsets here are look like a forest of masts on fire, trailing red smoking clouds across the evening sky. We’ve returned to the flock.

As daunting as it is in some ways to re-enter “society” after weeks in island isolation in the Sea of Cortez, I’ve always loved being in the company of other boats. We row to shore during the morning and appraise each one, walk along the yard fence and comment on the shape of that one’s underbelly and this one’s prow. As usual with any gathering of boats, the range of personality is huge—from the cruiser who has every current convenience and spotless canvas coverings for it all, to the floating piece of (steel? wood?) that has lawn chairs strapped into the cockpit, propane tanks rolling around the foredeck, and hanked-on Kleenexes for sails. And of course we note their names: Wandering Puffin, Murre, Arctic Tern, Rocinante, Gypsy. . alongside Neener Neener Neener or You Got A B Kiddin Me. Almost every single day I turn around as we’re rowing away and pridefully tell Velella that I think she’s the prettiest girl at the dance.
rowing out to velella
People love cruising for different reasons, I know that. Some are fueled almost completely by the desire to travel, so they are content to navigate in anything that stays afloat. That’s cool. Others are racers are heart, and above all else yearn to make mile upon mile under wind power alone, teasing every inch of speed out of their well-tuned rigs. Good for them. We fall into a third category: We just love living on our boat. Regardless of where or how far the boat ever travels, the liveaboard lifestyle alone is a strong enough pull to the water.

Living aboard is like owning your own island. We get to row out to our home, surrounded by a moat of privacy. On our island we bake fresh bread. We crank whatever music we want to without disturbing the neighbors. We shower in the sundrenched cockpit. We have only our own creative projects to keep us busy, and only the weather reports to tune into on time. The physical distance from the rest of the world makes you feel like you can control your own life, at exactly the pace you want it to be. It’s like inhabiting a small cabin on a cliff, overlooking a city stretched out in tiny silent frenzy beneath you.

It’s unbelievable real estate, no matter where you are. I’m convinced that we’ve stumbled upon the most brilliant, best kept secret on the market.
fireworks over the sea
I woke up from a dream last night and the air was unusually calm in the bay. I pulled on my bathrobe and peeked out into the cockpit to see that all was well. As I inhaled the salty still air and scanned the horizon, I caught my breath on a surreal vision. The rising moon had etched the black silhouette of a sleeping schooner into its enormous glowing belly, like a huge gold coin stamped with a proud sailing ship. That is the picture of this lifestyle’s currency, I thought, as I crawled back into bed with a skylight view of swaying stars.

Next week our overhead view will be much the same, but we’ll have traded our sunshowers for flannel sheets and Pacificos for hot cider. After soul-searching for a long time, we realized that two major ocean crossings this summer in order to get the boat home to the Northwest via Hawaii was simply not our idea of an enjoyable honeymoon. So we’re headed home with Velella the expedient way (via Yachtpath carrier ship) to take advantage of the stunning Pacific Northwest sailing season in the San Juan Islands. Although we’ll have to leave behind the tropical heat in Mexico, the things we love most about our little private island know no season.
on the bow
In the Northwest, coffee in the morning will be all the more welcome, our well-sealed decks more appreciated, our propane fireplace and glowing oil lamp beacons of creative coziness. And the pale spring Northwest moon ascends through night air crisp with cherry blossoms. When we exchange our gold moonrises for silver ones, we will still be just as rich living aboard.

The Voyaging with Velella series will continue with the crew’s sailing adventures in the Pacific Northwest, so stay tuned!

Upcoming Photo Contest Theme

learning to sailAs you may be aware, each month we have a friendly competition on Facebook to determine the sailing photo of the month. To enter the competition, all you have to do is “like” our Facebook page and post your picture on our wall with a short description. You can also tweet it to us or even email it if you need to.

These photo contests also have themes. In the past we’ve done, “Your Best Day on a Boat,” “Sailing Pets,” “Winter Sailing” and more. I’m very excited about this month’s theme, which is:

First Time Sailors/Skippers

We know there are a lot of great pictures out there of people going sailing or learning to sail for the first time. (Extra kudos if the picture is from an ASA course!) And we want to include as many people as possible, so please also share pictures of yourself or a friend skippering a boat for the first time. This is all about sharing the excitement of learning to sail with the American Sailing Association.

Please note, I’ll be away on vacation through April 22, so the contest will commence after I return. Take the time between now and then to look through your pictures, or even better, to take new ones! Happy sailing and I can’t wait to see your snapshots. –Ben

Voyaging with Velella: The Sea Monster

Continuing 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.
nessie watching
I blame Robin Graham for this. And Tania Abei too. Their descriptions of kitten-companions aboard their circumnavigating sailboats tore at my heart until I became obsessed with the idea of having a boat kitten too.

“But it doesn’t seem like the right environment for a cat.”

“How are you going to make sure she doesn’t fall in?”

“You know, cats HATE water.”
as a kitten
Given the severe overpopulation of homeless cats and kittens in the Los Angeles area, I was shocked that I couldn’t just go to a shelter and rescue one. Everyone seemed to disapprove. Each location made us fill out a huge interview describing the living arrangements, etc (as though whatever home it might go to could possibly be worse than a flea-ridden shelter cage). More often than not, people determined that a boat was an unfit home for a cat. (I mean, they hate water.) I felt ridiculous and exasperated explaining that the cat would not be living IN water. Our floating home is cozy and full of nooks and crannies and fresh fish! We were denied again and again. It was astonishing how people who knew so very little about boats and what it meant to live on one were so quick to condemn the unknown.

Ultimately, a non-profit called Kitten Rescue decided that we were fit parents for a little calico that I’d fallen in love with. The director visited the boat personally and decided to give us the kitten for free (with all shots and spaying paid for!) because she thought our boat was a wonderful home for her. So we named the little calico Nessie, after the sea monster.
nessie in hammock
Nessie has been sailing with us for a year, and has thousands of sea miles under her whiskers. She has a fabulously glamorous life. She enjoys sashimi frequently, loves sleeping under the sunny warm dodger, tears around the boat chasing flies away for exercise, and meditatively watches the sunrise every morning. She even plays chess and has been known to help hoist sails.

So to all those of you who would eschew having a cat onboard, don’t be so quick to judge! If a kitten starts sailing young, she’ll be an old salt in no time. Who knows, she might even start swimming.
nessie playing chess
nessie in the rigging
nessie sleeping

Click here to see where Velella and Nessie are living their glamorous shipboard lives right now!

Sailing Destination: Italy’s Amalfi Coast

positanoIt’s a hard job, but somebody’s got to do it. I’ve just returned from a week of cruising on the Amalfi Coast, a region of southern Italy known for its stunning views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, delicious seafood and the local speciality liquer–Limoncello. Though my trip was in late March, the tourist (and sailing) season doesn’t really get cranked up until mid-April. However, from my base in the cliffside town of Positano (pictured at left) I got to experience first-hand the rich maritime history of this region, and scout out the must-see destinations for a cruiser or charterer.

Positano’s relationship with the sea goes back to its founding. According to local legend, Byzantine pirates were sailing by with a stolen Madonna icon when a terrible storm whipped up. They heard a mysterious voice shouting, “Posa, posa!” which means “Put down! Put down!” They landed at Positano, then a tiny fishing village of the Amalfi Republic, and that icon can still be seen in the town’s cathedral today. One of Positano’s most famous native sons was the sailor Flavio Gioja, who invented the modern compass. Though some scholars doubt he even actually existed, this hasn’t stopped the people of Positano from naming nearly everything after him.
positano opposite view
For a while in the 15th and 16th centuries Positano was a major medieval port, under constant attack by Saracen pirates, but by the 20th century it had become a poor fishing village once again. It wasn’t until after WWII, when John Steinbeck visited and wrote an essay describing it as a “dream place” that Positano became what it is today–a charming sightseer’s destination.

Most Amalfi coast sailboat charters (both skippered and bareboat) are based out of the major cities of Naples to the north and Salerno to the south. Positano and Amalfi Town have a few of their own charter companies as well.

For the visiting sailor, Positano is a delight. Just a few miles off the coast, and clearly visible, are the famous Islands of the Sirens from The Odyssey. Unlike Ulysses, you won’t have to plug your crews’ ears with wax and lash yourself to the mast as you sail by. There is no marina in Positano, but the harbor is calm. Several excellent restaurants and cafes line the beach, so you won’t have to walk far to get a great meal. I recommend Chez Black for great mussels and clams and friendly waiters who will always bring the dessert cart by.
If you need to stretch your legs after being onboard, you will find no shortage of paths, alleys, staircases and piazzas to explore. Positano is full of boutique stores and cafes, so pace yourself. The town is built into a cliff, and that’s all the excuse you need to stop for a cappuccino or a beer and admire the view. It’s not a big place and you can see most of it in a few hours. Nevertheless, it would take months to discover all of the little nooks and crannies Positano has to offer.

There are many other excellent places to see on the Amalfi coast between Naples and Salerno. Amalfi and its neighbor Ravello are also cliffside towns home to spectacular gardens and churches, while Sorrento and Vico Equense on the Bay of Naples are more like normal Italian towns, grids of narrow streets full of vibrant foot traffic. Sorrento does have a proper marina, though a small one. Naples itself is a teeming metropolis full of history and beauty, but watch out–it has a very depressed economy and can be a rough place for the visitor who doesn’t know their way around. Many people also stop at the island of Capri, a very touristy locale but one with stunning views. The very brave can even ride the rickety chairlift to the top of the mountain!
pompeii and vesuvius
If you have a day to devote to it, the astonishingly preserved Roman city of Pompeii is a worthwhile experience. We all learned about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in school, but seeing the place firsthand is amazing. Nowhere else on earth can you find such a clear example of how ancient people lived their daily lives. Hire one of the expert Campania region tour guides to explain what you’re looking at. These guys are pros, and there are very few signs or plaques at Pompeii.

The most important thing to remember about visiting this part of Italy is just to relax and go with the flow. Don’t try to do everything, just go where the wind takes you. It’s very hard to have a bad time here. Spend hours over dinner, sit and ponder the view, strike up conversations with local shopkeepers. You’re living la dolce vita.
satyr and positano

Voyaging with Velella: The World a Spare Room

Continuing 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.

He’s driving me completely nuts.

We’ve had a lovely “early honeymoon” this week, sinking into the solitude with each other (after a month of guests aboard) and exploring some of the most remote anchorages we’ve yet seen. As the sole boat in an enormous reef-fringed anchorage on an uninhabited island, you can hike up the cliff in the nude if you feel like it! There’s nobody for miles but the scuttling crabs and soaring hawks. Yesterday I laid in bed for almost the entire day reading a book, which is a rare treat even when you’re on perma-vacation like we are now. We cook food, read to each other, play chess and cribbage, swim, sleep, you get the picture. It’s been beautiful, and all the more savory because we’ll be leaving Mexico in less than two weeks.
anchorage baja
As our wedding date approaches and our sailing trip comes to a (temporary) end, we’ve been congratulating ourselves on the wisdom of heading “off the grid” during our engagement. We spent the last six months working really hard together, overcoming fears, facing a huge range of problems, and enjoying many spectacularly gratifying moments as well. Lots of “quality time.” Our guests (fellow cruisers and landlubbers alike) often remark that if you can get along with each other on a 35′ boat for this long, you’re well equipped for marriage.

If marriage is eternal tolerance, then yes, I would think we’re well equipped. I mean, I can’t imagine a point in my life where I will ever be MORE annoyed with this man on a daily basis. I’m so sick of hearing, “Can I squeeze past you?” (about 12 times per day), that I’ve started to just say, “No more squeezing past! If I’m occupying our 1-foot-square galley, you can’t ‘squeeze in’ too!” There’s no room in our bedroom for both of us to get dressed at the same time! Now that I sat down to write you need something out of the quarter berth beneath me?! I’m sure he’s just as annoyed with me because, after all, we only have 35 feet, and that’s mighty little for two to share. But for the most part, we suppress these annoyances because, well, we chose to live in a tiny house.
sailing baja
Compounding the small space arrangements is the fact that absolutely everything we do is a decision to be made, which amounts to about 65 decisions we make TOGETHER per day: do we tack upwind to get to the cooler anchorage North of us or head around the corner to the South for a more comfortable sail? Should we reef the main now? Should we fly the staysail with that? How about trimming in, easing off, closing that thru-hull valve, anchoring in three fathoms or five, and oh I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the things we decide on together. Naturally, both being well-educated and stubborn, we have a few differences of opinion on our forced and frequent collaborations. Just a few.

Having such confined space to cohabitate (and make so VERY many decisions within) is a struggle-I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t. We all need space to live. But while everybody else may have larger homes than ours, and rooms they can retreat to for peace and quiet and space from one another, nobody has the kind of backyard we have. It’s full of dolphins.

We have the whole navigable world to stretch out in-and it’s always a million-dollar view. You are all cordially invited to visit as guests to our expansive, skylight-lit spare room. It’s easy to get started learning to sail: Just click here.

And click here to see where Velella is squeezing into right now.