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It's Hard!

Stefa Katamay

Mazu
Tayana 37
February 25th, 2018

It started around 1000h, the wind. By 1400h it was blowing a steady 25 knots, by 2300h, 30 knots. The boat sails on the anchor, the snubber lines creaking with each violent gust. The boat heels, sometimes to Port, sometimes to Starboard as the wind funnels down two different canyons in the hills. It sounds like we are underway with the wind waves washing, at times crashing, against the hull of the boat. Startled by the crashing waves, buffeted by a constantly rolling boat, it is difficult to concentrate on anything but the weather.

The night is spent regularly looking out the port lights to verify our position relative to a brightly lit fishing boat moored nearby, and other boats in the anchorage. We sleep in the salon as the pitching of the boat in the wind waves makes the v-berth impossible for sleep. There you’d feel like you’re sleeping on the back of a bucking bronco. At 0300h, Jürgen watches a boat being re-positioned after dragging anchor.

Sand from the adjacent desert blows towards us, whipped into the air by the building winds. The talcum fine brown dust covers the boat inside and out, even though all port lights and hatches are closed. In our hair, the sand has the effect of instant shampoo, soaking up oil and adding body! By morning the boat looks like it’s been four wheeling. The sand, now mixed with salt-water particles, has turned into a sticky salty mud. A thin layer covers the stanchions, decks, hatches, dodger windows, sheets and halyards. Yet there is nothing to do about the mess yet. Similar conditions are forecast for another 24 hours. We re-position the snubber lines, showing worrisome wear from the past night and hunker down for another session, another day and night trapped on our boat.

Nearby desert sand whips through the anchorage at Bahia Tortuga

We’re in Bahia Tortuga, two days south of Ensenada, our first port of call into Mexico. Ensenada, so close to the US, gave us a gentle introduction to Mexico – enough English speakers to get everything done; enough of everything else to wet our appetite for more Mexican culture. In Bahia Tortuga, we’re one more step removed from an English dominated world. We enjoy the fish and shrimp tacos and Internet at Maria’s Cantina, get some much needed fuel and exercise walking the dusty streets of the town. Still, there is little to keep us here.

At Maria’s Cantina, the crews of a number of boats confer over the weather. Gale force winds are coming. The options are to leave now, to stay ahead of the winds or wait until they pass. Two boats, two fast boats, decide they are leaving. The idea of racing back to the boat, making a hasty departure and trying to stay ahead of building winds does not sit well with us. We opt for waiting it out.

Six nights we spend on the hook, with two days sitting in the weather. Once the wind subsides, we use a bucket tied to a line to haul endless amounts of seawater to clean the sand and mud off exterior surfaces. Fresh water, made with the water maker, is used sparingly to clean the inside of the boat and the dodger windows.

Morning light at Bahia Tortuga once the wind abates

We leave Bahia Tortuga, keen to get off the hook and being stuck by the weather. With few places to safely anchor,   we view the remaining time along the Baja coast as a final push to some reprieve from the challenges of ocean sailing. We’re ready for some fun because so far, on this voyage, the moments of fun have been far outnumbered by the challenges.

“It’s hard!” has become our new catch phrase to describe cruising life. We picked up this no-nonsense appraisal of voyaging from a gregarious and very fit young man in Ensenada. He had approached us with an outstretched hand on the dock in greeting, obviously keen to share stories. Yet we were barely past introductions before he exclaimed, “It’s hard!” Passage making is hard. Maintaining the boat is hard. The responsibility is hard. His honest admission was refreshing. We also find it hard. And so do other cruisers. We subsequently meet a determined young woman, cruising with her husband and two young children, who adds that getting enough exercise is hard (and unhealthy), living 24/7 with your partner is hard (and unnatural). We now respond to cruisers stories of challenges and setbacks with our new catch phrase and are met with looks of relief and an emphatic reiteration, “Yes, it’s hard!”

We force ourselves to resist dwelling on what is hard, as that will inevitably lead to what Robert Pirsig*, best known for penning Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, refers to as cruising blues. According to Pirsig, scores of cruisers set out on their voyaging adventures with thoughts of escaping reality, only to discover that the reality of cruising is harder than the reality they left at home. Pirsig argues that the gains from cruising are to be found in the self-discovery that comes during long hours at the helm (or weather bound on the hook, we might add). “This self that one discovers is in many ways a person one would not like one’s friends to know about; a person one may have been avoiding for years, full of vanity, cowardice, boredom, self-pity, laziness, blamingness, weak when he should be strong; aggressive when he should be gentle, a person who will do anything not to know these things about himself …” Ouch! Yet there is no way around these moments of personal discovery and that’s hard too!

Back on the boat we spend two uneventful nights voyaging, our regular watches stress free compared to worrying about dragging anchor in Bahia Tortuga. At Bahia Santa Maria, endless miles of beaches, pods of dolphins and crystal clear water surround us. On shore we play in the sand dunes, jumping from the highest dunes, whooping with mid-air joy, sinking knee deep into powdery sand that only two days earlier befuddled us with the mess it made on the boat. Riding the shore break on our SUPs and crashing through it in the dinghy, washes away feelings of heaviness that are inevitable from days of sitting in the cockpit. This is not hard.

We are reminded that the headwinds we face, on the boat and in life, are more apparent than the tailwinds. And this is backed by research! Psychology professors Tom Gilovich and Shai Davidai** argue that “barriers and hindrances command attention because they have to be overcome; benefits and resources can often be simply enjoyed and largely ignored.” They go on to provide evidence that a practice of gratitude helps bring the tailwinds, those positive things that make the good things happen in our lives, more apparent. We will continue to acknowledge cruisers’ trials with “It’s hard!” yet now we are better equipped to understand why it seems that way.

*”Cruising blues and their cure” by Robert Pirsig (originally published in Esquire, May 1977)
**“Why is my life so hard?” Freakonomics radio podcast, March 15, 2017; The headwinds/tailwinds asymmetry: An availability bias in assessments of barriers and blessings. Davidai S, Gilovich T, J Pers Soc Psychol. 2016 Dec; 111(6):835-851

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  1. Ricky says:

    Love the attitude of gratitude. We just sailed with a young sailor on a day trip out of La Cruz to Punta de Mitas. It was funny to here those same words “Its Hard” come out of his mouth all the while whales are breaching around us and we are cruising a steady 6.5 kt under a clear blue sky . Perspective is everything . I appreciate yours Stefa.

    I hope your finding lots of reasons to forget the other side of cruising 😉
    We’re heading back to La Cruz tomorrow , I think you will really enjoy this place🤗

    Ricky
    Stay Salty

  2. Carolyn Daley says:

    Dear Stefa, I have never read such an eloquent, well written, and ‘bang on’ description of our cruising life. Thank you for putting into words, the emotions, fears, and understanding of what this challenge called ‘cruising’ is really like. We sailed down in 2011 and faced a similar sand storm in Turtle bay. Your description brought our experience immediately back for us… thank you.

    We are still in Mexico, sailing SV Shannon’s Spirit, and currently moored at El Cid marina in Mazatlan, waiting for a suitable weather window to cross to La Paz. We hope to spend some of March and most of April north of La Paz. May I ask where you are now and your plans (written in sand below high water, of course :-)? Carolyn

    1. Stefa Katamay says:

      Sorry for the very long delay in responding Carolyn. We sailed from La Paz to San Carlos throughout the month of March, spent a few weeks getting Mazu ready to leave on the hard in early April then returned to Canada at the beginning of May. No idea what we will do next! And not thinking about the boat at all at the moment. To talk further if desired please email me at mazu.tayana37@gmail.com
      Stefa

  3. Arvind Maharaj says:

    Excellent article, with a real-life moral at the end. So, so true.

  4. WILLIAM DOMB says:

    Thanks for sharing. Particularly enjoyed the Pirsig perspective.