Tag Archives: voyaging with velella

Voyaging with Velella: Home Is Where the Boat Is

meghan asa burgeeThis is the final installment in the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Harvey. Meghan, her husband Prescott, and their cat Nessie have been cruising for the last 8 months in Mexico and the Pacific Northwest.

I find it rather fitting that we should “swallow the hook” in a place called Portland. The Land Where Boats Come to Port.

The moment I stepped onto the dock in Portland, Oregon, it hit me that we were finally home. These were the docks I would walk over and over again on my way to work, these were the showers that I would use every day, this
would be my neighborhood.

No sooner had I gotten halfway up the dock towards shore than, BAM, I almost ran into a little wooden sign hanging over an ASA sailing school. If I didn’t feel like I was home before, now I surely did, with ASA right down the dock from us! Passion Yachts ASA Sailing School has a darling on-the-dock classroom, with a wall of windows overlooking their fleet of Hunters and other small sailboats tied up outside. I made a mental note to go introduce myself. . . after showering.

First, we had plans with some people we’d been introduced to through friends of a friend. Upon shaking hands and exchanging names, they informed us that they already knew all about us. They’d been following Velella’s voyage on
this very blog for months! They have a 20-footer tied up just down the island from us, and we made plans to go sailing together soon.

The next day, we were headed out to the library (one of the very first things I like to do in a new city), and we had yet another ASA run-in. This time literally. We brushed shoulders with a very familiar-looking woman, but sometimes it’s hard to place people, having met them over thousands of miles of docks over the last couple years. We spun around when she said “HEY!” and recognized her voice immediately—it was one of the Croatia Flotilla 2010 participants, Diane! We said, “What are you doing here?!” and she told us that Passion Yachts ASA School was where she sailed out of every Wednesday night. Having met this woman on the other side of the planet, I couldn’t believe how small ASA made our world feel!

The cruising sailor’s range is limitless, but at the same time our communities are very small. I can read the Pacific sailing rags now (such as 48 North and Latitude 38) and identify half of the writers by boat name. I used to not believe sailors when, parting ways, they’d say “I’m sure we’ll run into each other again someday, in some remote anchorage in the world!”
But we’ve had way too many of those small-world sailing experiences now to deny that it’s absolutely true.

Flying my ASA burgee all up and down the coasts started conversations that started friendships. We received invitations to stay at ASA sailors’ homes, and we even received wedding gifts from ASA members we’d met only briefly.

Within the sailing world, ASA’s community reaches wider and wider every day. With a network like that, I rather feel like it doesn’t matter where you are at all—home is where the boats are. . . and where the boats are, there is ASA.

Meghan, Prescott, and Nessie are settling in to home in Portland for the time being, but they’re already talking about when they’ll be able to set off cruising again.
meghan and prescott

Voyaging with Velella: There’s This One Place…

isla carmenContinuing 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.

A V-shaped notch opens at a sharp slant to the Northeast on the very northern edge of Isla Carmen, about midway up the Sea of Cortez. This particular spot is not a place many people get to visit. More often than not, the weather makes it an unsuitable anchorage, and when the weather does behave, there’s room for only one boat, maybe two. This week, we happened to be in the right place at the right time.

As we approached the corner of the bay, I crossed my fingers that we’d have the place to ourselves. We rounded the point and saw with satisfaction that the long cove was completely empty, as were all the other coves we’d passed on the entire North side of the island. The wind, usually clipping down from the North in the afternoons, blew instead from the Southeast, making the secluded little notch a perfectly protected anchoring spot for the night.

The practice of anchoring in the Sea of Cortez’s crystal clear water is delightfully simple: I could see the anchor drop with a puff of sand four fathoms deep, and the snaking chain payed out along the rippled bottom and set the hook solidly. While several dopey-looking puffer fish cruised up to nose at the anchor chain, I jumped in the inviting water for a quick and chilly swim. It was only after I’d toweled off and the memory of the engine noise and jangling chain had faded from my brain that I started to notice the shoreline.
meghan diving
White cliffs dove into the water on both sides of us and converged at a steep sand dune at the head of the cove. Numerous gaping caves lined the anchorage, cool invitations to hide from the relentless sun. We launched an evening expedition in the dinghy, dragging our faces along in the glassy water to view the aquarium passing beneath us. Deep purple, marigold, and white angelfish; spotted brown rockfish; perfect aubergine spines of urchins; and flashing silver schools flitted below in the prismatic evening underwater light. Towering above us rose the unusual white rock of the cliffs, like an enormous brick of salt, carved craggy by the persistent wind.

At the outer lip of the bay, there were three yawning caves, large enough to row a dozen dinghys into. The long light fell across the opening of the first cave like a curtain–bright white entrance on one side, the pitch black interior beyond. As we floated towards the opening, the shadow of the rock fell over us, and with it the damp scent of air deprived of sunlight. The water, even in the shadow of the cave, was clear and cold. Perfectly raked white sand and smooth stones covered the bottom like a peaceful Zen garden. The only movement was from a lone Bullseye Stingray, which twitched, sending a ripple along the length of its crepe-thin body and scattering a flurry of flourlike sand. The sound of individual drips falling randomly around us resonated in the quiet cavern, and occasionally the unearthly groaning of a wave surged and sucked out of the cave’s deeper pockets.
dolphin
Blinking in the sunlight again, we decided to come back first thing in the morning.

The next day’s mission was even more stunning than the first, punctuated as it was by an enormous convoy of hyperactive dolphins. I rowed the dinghy while our visiting friends jumped in and swam with the dolphin horde in no more than 10 feet of water. The beautiful creatures shot through the tropical aquarium outside the caves, circled around rock islands, jumped and dove in pairs, slapped the water with their tails, and did a much better job of catching fish than we did. We reluctantly departed V-Cove midday, but with dozens of dolphins following us out of the anchorage.

It was a place I felt so privileged to have experienced, and a place that we most likely will not be able to return to again. The secret treasures like these, shared with friends and a throng of happy dolphins, are what make exploring by sail so entirely wonderful.

Here’s where the crew of Velella are exploring by sail right now:

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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:

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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.
melinda
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.

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