Before heading to bed last night we checked the next day’s forecast, and saw there’d be some wind, but not too much, so thought it would be a good day to make the hop up to Bahia de Los Angeles (again, BLA). We had heard from our friends on Cavu that they believed the grocery stores in the village of BLA received their shipments on Fridays and stocked their stores on Saturdays, so Saturdays were a good day to head into the town to provision. We’re definitely getting low on our fresh food, especially as our fridge has struggled in the particularly warm waters, and we lost a few of our items along the way from lack of coolness.

When I popped into the cockpit after waking this morning I was greeted by some very dark, very fast moving clouds across the sky and some solid wind whipping across the anchorage. We were well protected from much swell, but we figured the Sea was a little bit bumpier out past the protection of the anchorage. We checked the forecast again, and could see that the sea state was supposed to grow over the next few days, which would mean we would likely not want to move the boat until Monday if we didn’t move it today (being Friday). We hummed and hawed…or, well, I hummed and hawed, worrying the conditions would be such once we left the anchorage that we a) wouldn’t want to head into the wind to raise the sails, and b) would be such that we really couldn’t turn around, so would have to head as far as BLA, at least. On the other hand, it was only about 15 miles to get to BLA, and we could cover that in about 2-3 hours, so how bad could it really be?

Stu tried to convince me we should raise the mainsail while still within the shelter of Cala Puertocito de Enmedio, after raising the anchor. I was nervous about doing it, as the wind was gusting over 18 nautical miles per hour, and we were rather close to shore on our leeward end (meaning I was concerned that as soon as we pulled the anchor from the bottom we’d start to be blown onto the rocks rather quickly, and I was concerned that even with the power of the motors I wouldn’t be able to hold us away from the rocks in the time it would take Stu to raise the sail and reef it. Reefing a sail basically means you don’t put out the full amount of the sail, and use various means to tie down the extra bit of sail (less sail means less wind power, and when the winds are stronger that means you can still have the sails up without feeling over powered). My mistake.

By the time we lifted the anchor and we had left our little protected cove, the waves were already larger than I was comfortable turning up into for Stu to raise the sail. See, we have to turn the boat directly into the wind for the sail to be raised (so the sail doesn’t get filled and powered before it is up to the desired point, as once it is filled it is nearly impossible to raise it any further). Stu also is the one who raises our mainsail as it heavy enough that I need to use the winch to wind it up the whole way, and it takes me quite a bit of time to do, and the longer it takes, the more precarious the situation. I do raise it in lighter winds, but in this case, turning into the wind meant steering the boat directly into steep, sharp waves that were very close together (and through the turn into the wind, at one point we’d be completely side-on to these waves, which can be a dangerous thing for our shallow-drafted boat (basically things get quite tippy at that angle with how light and shallow our boat sits)). 

In the end it would have been interesting to try to sail in the conditions, as we were heading directly downwind. This means the wind was perfectly behind us, instead of at an angle. What this means, for those who are not sailors, is that in order to get wind into the sails, the sails have to be let out a very long ways, sort of like wings. A few things can make this tricky. Firstly, the further the mainsail is let out (the big sail in the middle of the boat), the more it shadows the head sail  (the smaller sail up front), which makes it hard to sail the head sail at all. So, often, we switch out the head sail for our spinnaker, which is the big red sail many have seen photos of already. The spinnaker is a very lightweight sail, which makes it perfect for sailing in light winds. But, as winds get heavier, it either becomes too big a sail for the strength of the wind, or the wind risks ripping it due to its strength. Launching a spinnaker (which is the moment we put it up and it fills) carries with it inherent risk, and to do so in stronger winds is simply not wise. Added to this, our true wind log wasn’t working, so we were making calculations as to what the actual wind speed was (and at best we figures 20-23 nautical miles per hour), which was stronger than we were comfortable launching the spinnaker in.

There is another reason why sailing straight away from the wind carries risk. To put the main sail out far to the side, we use both the traveler, a line that is attached to the top of our bimini (the roof over our heads in the cockpit) and the main sheet, which is a line attached to the boom. Without going into all the technicalities of what does what, and when to use which, suffice to say, the further the boom is over the side of the boat (that’s the big bar at the bottom of the sail, that attaches it to the mast, the big pole in the center), the more chance there is it could swing across the boat rather uncontrolled. When we’re sailing straight away from the wind (what we call dead downwind), the chance of the wind shifting slightly, and coming from one or another angle, and accidentally switching the boom from one side of the boat to the other, is greater. If the boom were to swing across the boat unexpectedly, with the full weight of the sail with wind on it, it could cause catastrophic damage to the boat. The weight could tear out the various things that attach the lines to the boat, it could break the boom, or it could put too much stress on the hard rigging that holds our mast up. There are means of preventing this (such as tying a line from the boom to the side of the boat it is sitting on), and we’re working our way through these as we get to know the boat better, but that still requires us to actually get the sail up, which we were past the point of wanting to try in these conditions.

I had a long chat with Stu as we made our way this morning as I was experiencing both anxiety and seasickness. These lead me down a bit of a spiral, as I started thinking things to myself between ‘are we going to get there safely?’, ‘what happens if we tip over?’ (admittedly, a favorite of mine in moments of anxiety), ‘If I can’t handle this now, how will I ever handle bigger seas or sailing offshore’’, and even ‘I bet Stu’s ex-wife handled this better than I can’. Oh joy, eh?  

Needless to say, when the brain starts to spiral in anxiety, it doesn’t help the way I’m viewing the state of the seas we’re in or how nauseous I’m feeling! At the same time, when my anxiety is stemming from a place of (perceived) real danger (how is our boat is handling the conditions we’re in), versus the anxiety that accompanied my former career (will I screw this up, will someone sue me, will I end up homeless because I’ve been sued and kicked out of my firm etc), it does have a way of making me feel very alive. The fact I can’t just walk away, disassociate or bury my head, but instead need to actually live in the moment, assessing the risks and being part of the team that is moving our nomadic home from place to place, feels incredible to get through and overcome.

I remember reading in several different places that the cruising lifestyle has the biggest highs and the biggest lows, and wondering how anyone could feel lows when choosing their own destiny and ‘living a dream’. I’m starting to think it isn’t so much about highs and lows, but rather more about just feeling everything more. Everything seems bigger and more real when you’re surfing this big floating bus up and down the waves, and wondering if you’ll actually make it to the next port. Or maybe, I’m just what my Mother used to call me, and a little bit melodramatic 🙂

Poor kiddos feeling the effects of the bumpy sea state.

P.S. When we spoke to some other cruisers the day after the next, and talked about our ‘spirited’ passage on this day, turns out we weren’t the only ones who had experienced it, and maybe I wasn’t being too melodramatic 🙂