Braving the High Seas as an Offshore Novice.

Trip Start Sep 25, 2009
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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, October 4, 2009

The sea is angry tonight. The wind howls at a remarkable 45 knots sending the 15 foot swells violently crashing into Isabella. I've fixed myself on the low side in the bunk of the main cabin in hopes to endure the beatings a little better provided I don’t get impaled by any flying objects that weren’t properly battened down. I dread every time the boat starts to sink and my stomach flies up into my throat as I watch the water crash into the port side hatches and notice the starboard side that I’m sitting on completely submersed underwater. I cross my fingers and hope that Norm, the wind vane, is still on track, "come on Norm, come on Norm" we both repeat as Isabella fights to keep us afloat. She’s a tough boat, I know she’ll come round, but that doesn’t make the knots in my stomach go away. I cringe every time we get slammed by a rogue wave and I hear Mike scream an expletive and jump out the hatch to fix Norm’s faulty track. I become so nervous; would I be able to take control of the boat if something were to happen to him? I won’t let myself think like that because I am confident in his abilities and I know he’s wearing a harness. I sigh with relief as he enters back through the hatch again. He’s a bit soaked and frustrated, but he’s back and everything is ok…for now. The sea is certainly letting us know who is in control this evening.
    Today marks the 6th day of being offshore in the North Pacific Ocean and the 8th day since Mike and I left Seattle on Isabella to sail to San Francisco to find work for a few months. The last week in Seattle was such a blur, that I didn’t really have the time to think about what exactly sailing offshore meant. It certainly isn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced in the few times I’ve sailed before. It’s wild, unpredictable, challenging, and frustrating, yet it is exciting, beautiful, and fun all at the same time. I thought I knew how to sail until I boarded Isabella and realized I didn’t have the first clue. Offshore sailing requires a unique amount of energy, determination, common sense, intuition, and precision. It has been a test of my wits, strength, intelligence, patience, and my stomach! The happy memories I have of playing at sea up until this point have vanished as I’ve suddenly developed a slight unsettling fear after seeing her in one of her wild tantrums that have made me lose my stomach and elevated my heart rate. She’s rudely woken me up in the middle of the night as I’ve been catapulted out of my bunk due to a blow from a rogue wave. The blows against Isabella’s sides feel like blows to my gut. She’s taunted me further in cahoots with the winds as they’ve overpowered dear Isabella while I’ve been hand steering and found myself in the cockpit completely vertical and knee deep in the raging ocean as the entire port side of the boat was immersed underwater….twice. I’ve come to fear Mike’s bathroom breaks where he leaves me in charge. It seems like that is when the sea likes to play her games the most.
    Furthermore, offshore sailing has toyed with my sleeping patterns. Mike failed to mention the fact that I would be on rotating shifts with him for night watch, so you can imagine my surprise when I was woken up on our first night at 2 AM after 4 hours of sleep to take over on the makeshift autopilot that Mike had created during my rest. It was freezing outside, especially since I have spent the better part of the past three years in warm climates and I am not used to cold weather in the least. I nearly cried when I could see my breath and suddenly realized that I would be sitting outside in the shivering cold pushing a button to make the tiller swing back and forth. The cold instantly blew off my groggy head and my energies went to staying warm instead. The first hours passed quickly, but then I made the mistake of looking into the cabin to see Mike peacefully resting snuggled up under the covers and instantly felt envious. The last hour was torture as I fought sleep and shivered my way to a miserable state of mind. The only relief was the breaking of dawn and a beautiful sunrise that warmed my spirit up again. Welcome to the world of night watches. I had no idea what I was in for. Even still as I’ve become more accustomed to them, I wonder how long it will take to actually get used to them.
   Amidst all these little trials and frustrations, however, there is plenty of good. For one, I have seen some of the most incredible scenery, sunsets, and sunrises that one could ever imagine. I’ve been amazed at the sight of the swells behind us and the way a squall looms over us and disrupts the placid, sparkling sea. We were even lucky enough to see a pod of roughly 20 Pilot whales migrating north swim right next to our boat. They were huge! Additionally, we caught a 15 pound Mahi Mahi which has given us our fix of protein for the past few days. Given that Mike is a professional chef; I’ve learned some amazing ways to cook fish. He has delighted my taste buds with the creations he so effortlessly prepares for our meals. I am mesmerized by him in the kitchen as he whips up such gastronomical feasts with the simplest ingredients and equipment…all while maintaining perfect balance as we roll over the enormous swells. In fact I am in constant awe of all the things he can do so well. He’s the handiest person I’ve ever met, has an extremely clever and detailed mind, and is fearless in the face of the violent seas that make me shiver with fear. If it weren’t for him, this experience would be torture. He’s incredibly patient as he teaches me the workings of the boat. When I was feeling frustrated he comforted me with his stories of when he was learning and then handed me a few books to read that may make me feel better. Fortunately, they did. So it has been great getting to know Mike and enjoying the downtime when we can swap stories about our lives and learn from each other. In fact, that has probably come to be my favorite time of day, just after dinner before the first watch begins with happy, full bellies, we light the old oil lamps and diesel heater and sit with each other and chat while the sea gently sways us. It feels so surreal and old fashioned as if we have gone back in time.
    The list of positives continues to grow each day. I’ve come to love sailing and hate when we have to motor (especially without a proper autopilot). I enjoy how the days and nights become muddled together as we chip away at boat projects, read books, and entertain each other with silly stories of our travels. I love the dynamic backdrop that can change in an instant and that rocks me to sleep every night (even if it is a little too much sometimes). I’m fascinated by the weather patterns and navigation by sun and stars. I like the challenge of gaining my sea legs and trying to do all sorts of activities that would otherwise be easy were I not rocking back and forth. I love it all, even if it is an adjustment.
    Three days ago I was really uncertain about what I had gotten myself into. I was trembling with fear at 4 AM in the cockpit of the boat harnessed in and praying that I wouldn’t be taken out by a wave. I was hand steering while listening to Mike’s commands; the seas were out of control. I wanted to give up right then. It all suddenly seemed like a very stupid idea as I was taking a gamble on my life. Maybe I was overreacting, but you can never underestimate the power of the sea. But now I wouldn’t want anything to change. As we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 3 AM with a full moon brilliantly shining above, I couldn’t have been happier about this new place to explore. The rough seas make the special moments that much sweeter; they put the bigger picture of life into perspective. We pull into the Sausalito Yacht Club feeling weary, boat destroyed, and egos shattered, but excited about the adventure that so eagerly awaits us.  
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