It is a long way to Mexico from where we started. Figuratively and literally, we really are a long way from home.
We’ve dreamed of sailing southward for almost 2 decades: an open-ended voyage with no particular destination other than south. We’ve been prepping almost as long as we’ve been dreaming: over 30 thousand nautical miles of cruising between Seattle and Juneau; over 5 years of crewing on a race boat; sailing in every season; going out in gale force winds just to see what it’s like (BTW – it can be fun!); four circumnavigations of Vancouver Island, one of which was non-stop from Shearwater to Victoria down the outside; a couple of trips to the Gulf of California to crew on a friend’s boat and…oh yeah…lots of boat work!
We made the big left turn at the end of August and have had a great time making our way south since then. We are currently sitting in a place called Little Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island It’s very beautiful here, but to call it an anchorage is a bit of an overstatement. It is a shallow spot on the side of an island. We hope the wind doesn’t blow from the northeast because we’ll have to leave – even if it’s 0200h. The weather isn’t particularly nice, so we’re both below puttering away at something. My something is a list of things we’ve learned so far.
- Love where you are. You can think of every place you stop as a destination or a transit point. If you choose to think of places as transit points, you will never arrive anywhere and will always be looking ahead instead of living where you are.
- Plan ahead. I know this is somewhat contrary to the last point, but it is necessary. The most obvious things you’ll need to prepare for (worry about?) are clearing into Mexico and finding places to stay. The first is easy – have all documents and receipts on board both physically and electronically. The second will require some forethought. Marinas in Mexico are currently oversubscribed. Like many things wrong with the world, this is partly the fault of COVID and might change as cruisers start leaving Mexico for the South Pacific in greater numbers than they have in the past 2 years. As of right now though, slips are being reserved months in advance. The two most critical places that this will affect you are clearing in at Ensenada, and summer storage if you plan to leave the boat in Mexico for hurricane season. Book these events well in advance.
- The West Coast of the U.S. is beautiful. This is a good thing as anyone doing the usual “leave B.C. in early September and start down the Baja in early November” will be spending two months on the American west coast. The highlights for us have been the towns, with Santa Rosa Island being a standout exception. We had extended stays in San Francisco and Monterey and had a hard time leaving both.
- It takes a while to feel comfortable in a place. For us, the first five days in a new town are the hardest, and most exciting. After six days, it starts to feel like home. On a trip like this, the “feels like home” sensation is a welcome relief from the untethered feeling of moving constantly.
- OMG…it is expensive here! Think Canadian numbers on a price tag denominated in American dollars and you’ll still be low. We spent $50 CAD on two iced coffees and one ham and cheese sandwich in Santa Barbara. Nothing is cheaper here, except maybe diesel if you pick the right spot. Do not wait until you’ve left to do or buy things for your boat. Set your budgetary expectations accordingly for the trip down and try to have fun without going broke.
- It’s really cold! You’ll need warm clothes. A full enclosure will be most welcome too. We had dinner on a friend’s boat last night; I wore thin wool socks, pants, deck shoes, a t-shirt and light fleece. We ate below to stay warm and I wasn’t over-dressed. The aft side curtains of our enclosure have not been removed since we were in Georgia Strait, and the windward forward side curtain is usually secured too. The reason it’s so cold is that the water temperature is Broughton-esque until Point Conception, where it warms up to a balmy 19 degrees Celsius – still chilly. I get a kick out of local sailors down here talking about how cold it is up north…they have no idea!
- Sail your boat in tough conditions as much as possible. If you’re afraid of sailing southeast down Johnstone Strait in a 35kt northwesterly with the sun shining and the current with you, you will be very afraid off of Cape Mendocino in 35kts in the fog at 0200h. One of the best things we did to prepare ourselves for this voyage was our three-day non-stop trip down Vancouver Island’s west coast. The west coast of Vancouver Island is a great training ground, because there are so many bail-out options if things don’t go your way. We had heavy winds for the 12 hours between Brooks Peninsula and Estevan Point – conditions that were similar to those we’ve seen three or four times since we left Canada. Experiencing these winds close to home in familiar waters helped boost our confidence when we encountered them in a more committing location.
- Do as much night sailing as you can – overnights are preferable and multi-nights are better yet. You can do this by taking part in one of Bluewater Cruising’s Vancouver Island Sailing Experience (VICE) adventures. We accrued our experience on our own, but there is comfort in doing something intimidating with others. Even if you plan to day-hop down the coast, having the confidence to sail overnight is an essential skill that will allow you to make passage decisions based on conditions instead of time.
- Figure out how to sail downwind efficiently in everything between 8kts and 40kts. If you don’t have a whisker pole, consider getting one. Make sure that you have an easy to use and strong preventer system rigged from the end of your boom. We also have a four-part tackle to pull the boom down to the rail – it really helps keep the noise down when reaching in lighter winds and in rolly anchorages.
- This one goes with number 9 – get an asymmetrical spinnaker or some other light wind sail. We’ve been out since May 1, have sailed from home to Juneau to SoCal, and have put an estimated 800NM on our spinnaker. We use a sock to control it and never fly it without having the main up – we learned the latter the hard way…many times. We take the spinnaker down at a set cut-off windspeed to avoid any debate. If you’re curious about using a spinnaker in the ocean short-handed, take a look at Sailing Florence Around the World on YouTube for some ideas.
- Bonus point. Make sure you love spending time with your partner. This lifestyle will not fix a problematic relationship.
The trip is nothing like I expected, but exactly what I expected at the same time. The biggest mental hurdle to get over has been the commitment involved. We’ve spent two months a year aboard for the last 20 years and I thought this voyage would be an extended version of that. It’s not. Turning left at Flattery is a hard maneuver to reverse. Giving up our moorage in Vancouver is even harder to reverse. We changed everything about our lives to make this happen – most of which is impossible to undo. In for penny, in for a pound!
Day to day, the hardest part for us so far has been sleeping in rolly anchorages. Unfortunately, the coolest places seem to have the rolliest anchorages. However, this is the adventure we were looking for. It’s beautiful, challenging, inspiring, and occasionally a little scary. It will define this part of our lives. Now, it’s only 750NM to go before the next big left turn!