“Imagine…..A Sandy beach, A Starlit Sky, A Glass of Wine and Still in Love”
The Moon, Verdi & Vivaldi
“The clouds choreographed their dance across the face of the brilliantly illuminated full moon to the magical notes of Verdi, La Traviata, Act 1, creating a sense of Zen, comparable only to the most peaceful feeling available to a human being…..a sense of completeness, a sense of understanding of life itself, a sense of joy to be alive.
Vivaldi-The Four Seasons-Spring Allegro, intervened with a competitive interpretation of the dance, majestically stating his own sense of the understanding of peace.
The moon stood alone in the center of the two empowering banks of clouds, one to the left, one to the right…..the Master’s notes bouncing from one star-wrapped stage to the other, each vying for the ultimate interpretation of Zen, the embodiment of eternal peace.
A night on the beach, toes in the sand, Playa de Santispac, BCS, Mexico
The Next Morning……..
Our kayak glided effortlessly across the crystal clear water of our beach, reminding us why we keep returning to the beautiful Playa de Santispac. It sits alone, nestled in a range of mountains, its eastern shore slipping gently into the Sea of Cortez. The tranquility transforms your very being into a state of peacefulness.
A handful of vendors visit the beach everyday selling everything from local crafts to scallops and clams….to fifty gallon drums of water. We enjoy it all and it is our habit to buy a little something from everyone. The rewards are great. Today, one of our favorite venders, Chicho, invited us to join him on his ponga in the morning and learn how to catch the local scallops and clams. “I will be here at 8:00 am tomorrow morning,” he announced enthusiastically.
Three young travelers headed for Patagonia in a GMC van…Nathan and Courtney from Brisbane, Australia and Kanki from Japan…..joined us for a drink after dinner. Tony pointed out that our beautiful moon from the night before had disappeared. How could a full moon just disappear, he wondered out-loud. Nathan had heard something about an eclipse somewhere, but he hadn’t listened carefully and didn’t know much.
Within minutes, under a brilliant star-studded sky…..adorned with a vivid show of the Milky Way……a strange, little white light appeared over a peak on the mountain. For the next two hours, we sat in awe as the Earth’s shadow passed over the glowing face of the Moon, providing us with the most stunning eclipse we have ever seen. The magical moments of our life overwhelm us at times.
As promised, and only a half hour late…good compared to most Mexican time promises…. A grinning Chicho bounced onto the beach in his old pick-up truck, ready to take us to sea for the day.
As he tossed our snorkel bag into his ponga and fussed with his ornery engine a few times, he asked, “Listo, mi amigos. Ready to find clams, big ones, today?
Happier than kids in a candy store, we assured him we were ready. The engine fired up and the boat sped across the calm sea. We headed for a place only known to him and he cut the engine and invited us into the water with him. For the next couple of hours we watched and learned as he showed us what to look for to find the beloved clams that he sold to tourists. He taught us how to find and clean scallops. He held my hand as he guided us over the sharp coral of the reef. With no swim steps to assist us, he lifted us out of the water and over the side of the boat, only to take us to another favorite spot to do it all over again. He returned us to our beach camp and humbly asked if we were happy. It was incredibly hard to find the words to tell him how happy we were on so many levels.
What does it mean to watch a man practice a trade that was probably handed down from father to son for countless generations, a trade that has fed him and his children for his lifetime? What does it mean to watch a man so artfully move his body that you feel as though you are watching a choreographed water ballet?
I watched his every move. I watched him spot two, tiny, black breathing holes from the water’s surface. I watched his body gracefully descend to the ocean’s floor and I watched his hand dig deeply and quickly into the sand. I watched as it reappeared holding a giant chocolate clam. I watched twenty-four times and he never missed once.
Now I am left to ponder the simplicity and the beauty of his life, his culture, his dependence on the sea for his every need and his deep love of the ocean. He wants for nothing, other than the clam to feed his family. I wish I had been born a fisherman.
Playa de Santispac, Baja California, BCS, Mexico 2015
“Imagine……….Making friends from all corners of the earth”
We have almost completed nine weeks of traveling the Mexican Baja in our van. To me, it is like Tony and I have been the foremost, number one actors in a Tim Conway/Carol Burnett movie.
For instance, consider this. Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon. The van’s name is bigger than the engine! We chuckle as we toddle up 16% grade mountains, sometimes in 1st gear, but never more than 2nd.
Big rigs, loaded down with cargo, lumbering along under their own weight, pass us, their grinning drivers waving. Buses, driven by mocking drivers and burdened with tons of passengers and their luggage, pass us easily. It is obvious that the passengers are making fun of us. It is a little embarrassing, although not one soul in Mexico has given us the finger or shot at us. We can only assume that these drivers are hourly employees for their company and quietly are thanking us for their extra earned income.
We did hear a rumor that a bunch of drivers got together and had a rally to get a ‘Volkswagen Camper Lane Only’ on Mexico 1. We don’t know how that turned out.
Our next adventure is scheduled. Our plan is to sail the boat farther south than we have ever done in California. We are headed to Dana Point and we will do it from the extreme southern end of Catalina, a course we have never sailed.
We are happy and excited. We dress in our warmest winter clothes… after all it is August 2nd, Tony’s birthday and who would expect it not to be freezing cold in the middle of the summer, especially in southern California? We pull in our flopper-stopper, top off our fuel tank and set our course on our brand-new GPS and radar system. We’re off!
The sun comes up and the sea is beautiful. We can hear whales spouting and we enjoy hundreds of dolphin, leaping and pirouetting in the air, as they voraciously fish for their breakfast. Pelicans circle above us, intent on stealing anything the dolphin capture. Our music is drifting gently into the morning breeze and we munch on our breakfast of fruit and cheese. The winds are light, the sun is warm. We are on top of the world.
Actual Notes from our Cruising Log
Halfway across, our new radar and GPS system shut down. After many attempts and one threat, we got through to a technician at Raymarine and he was able to get us up and running again, albeit without any of the co-ordinates we had previously set. As I spin into panic mode, I notice how calm Tony is. Fortunately, he had learned to chart courses, didn’t trust the GPS anyway and had been hand-charting our course on his chart all the way along. Is it no wonder I always feel safe with him? We managed the Channel into Dana Point with ease, anchored like pros and spent the next week playing in the beautiful warm water, under a pretty blue sky. We sailed up to Alamitos Bay, spent time with our friends and attended our daughter’s baby shower. Promising to return for the birth in September, we headed back to get more experience with our sailing skills in Catalina.
Our first major trip had been successful. We walked on air and could easily pat each other on the back. We felt we had come a long way.
The summer was quickly wrapping itself up and we decided to take the long way back to Alamitos Bay. Our newest grand-daughter was due on September 10th, and since we had done so well on our last trip to Dana, we wanted to re-visit it and possibly, sail a little further south to Oceanside. Besides, we now knew the course by heart and “what could possibly go wrong?” we asked ourselves.
Actual Notes from Our Cruising Log
Halfway down the island, we hit serious fog for about two hours…thick, soupy fog. Fog so thick, that when I went up on the bow to stand watch, I couldn’t see Tony at the helm. We had to use our radios to communicate. The radar worked beautifully and so did my air horn. At one point, three dolphins surrounded our bow, giving me quite a show in the milky air. After a near miss with a large power boat, that apparently couldn’t hear my horn over his engines, we broke through the fog into sunny, warm skies.
In hindsight, we probably should have gone straight to Alamitos Bay and skipped Dana Point.
Actual Notes from Our Cruising Log
The next day started out fine. And then, the wind came up. And then, the sea raised hell. And then, the giant multi-million dollar power boat, anchored in front of us, broke loose from his anchor, without the Captain on board. We raced to fend off, but he hit us. The wind swung him back and we waited for him to come back at us. His wife, onboard alone, tried to help us fend off with the second hit. The Harbor Patrol appeared out of nowhere and the wife reached her husband by phone. Her words, stricken with panic, informed her husband, “Our anchor is drift….we just hit!” The wind pulled them back again, but the giant boat took aim at us again. The man showed up in his dinghy, but didn’t seem to know how to react. The Harbor Patrol yelled, “Take control of your vessel, Captain!” and he ran to his helm. Tony held us off the best he could. I started the engine and joined the fending off party and Tony worried about him taking out our rigging. The sea was raging and the wind was howling. After many anxious minutes, the man got his boat away from us, but he could not pull his anchor up. It was just dragging across the bay, being pulled by the water and wind. He finally got it up above the water line and moved down into the channel. He eventually got the boat docked on an end-tie, but not without a lot of trouble. His anchor remained dangling from his bow. Damn these full moons! Fortunately, we took no damage and survived nicely. Thank God! The man and his wife left the marina a couple of hours later. We remained on our boat on anchor watch. Hopefully, tomorrow we will head for Oceanside.
Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men go awry. This lesson should have been learned on our first day of retirement, but is has taken a little while for us to acknowledge it.
Actual Notes from Our Cruising Log
The interesting thing about this adventure is that not a day goes by that you don’t learn something…sometimes something largely significant, sometimes mildly significant. Today turned out to be a largely significant learning day. For days, the weather forecasters had been warning surfers and swimmers about what they called a High Surf Advisory. We paid no attention. We weren’t going to be surfing or swimming. They forgot to warn sailors leaving harbors. Engulfed in our innocence, or our stupidity, or our naivety or whatever, we casually steered the Nelly Gray up the channel, while putting up our sails. We sailed out past the breakwater and made a left, headed for Oceanside. A roller, possibly the size of a ten-story building rolled under the boat, broadside. I turned to look at Tony and saw another coming at us only seconds away. And then, another. Nothing can describe the ride, sideways, down rollers this large and then, the immediate return up the side of another one. Simultaneously, we agreed to turn around and go back. Simultaneously, we agreed to get a slip and have a quiet week-end. Simultaneously, we agreed to drink a lot. We also agreed that we both had learned what a High Surf Advisory means. We revisited Tony’s interpretation of the size of rollers. These particular rollers were larger than anything we had ever seen, so I asked him to categorize them. He had previously said if they scare him to death, he figured they were six to eight feet, so these rollers were large enough to make him move inland 500 miles. We spent the next three days in a slip, eating out, playing on Wells Beach (our feet permanently planted on solid earth) and visiting the Ocean Institute. A great time in Dana Point!
At this point, the best decision seems to be to return to Alamitos Bay and await the arrival of our grand-child. But alas, we can’t seem to do anything without a little drama.
Actual Notes from our Cruising Log
Great ride up. Seas calm, wind light, sun out. Figures. We’ll be grounded for about a month, so it stands to reason that the weather would turn nice. As luck would have it, just when you think you’re safe, fate has a surprise in store for you. Heading into the Seal Beach channel, I went to the bow to put on our dock lines. I, busily involved in my chore, hear Tony call to me to bring the jib line to him. I look up and two small engineless sail boats, filled with kids, are headed towards our boat, coming the wrong way up the channel. I race the line back to Tony and he tells me our engine died when he put it in reverse to avoid a collision. We start to pull the jib out, to sail off the rocks we were heading towards, and the dock line I had been setting up wraps itself around the jib. Tony tells me to keep the boat under control and runs up to free the sail. Keep the boat under control? I have no steerage, no engine and my bow is pointed towards the solid rock jetty. Like I said before, not a day goes by without learning something. I learned that it is going to take more than this to give me a heart attack. Suddenly, the wind caught the sail, I was able to steer the boat and we sailed up the harbor. Ironic that as soon as Tony came back to the cockpit, the engine started. Think God may be testing us?
All is well that ends well. Our baby girl was born beautiful, healthy, happy and hungry, nine days after we settled ourselves in our old marina. Our friends waited with us for Kaylee Alana Winslow and we celebrated together.
Two weeks later, we returned to our adventure, none the worse for our trials and tribulations over the last four months, but a whole lot wiser, experienced, and happier than we had ever been.
Yes, a sailor’s mantra is that ‘All is well that ends well.’ This should unarguably be the first lesson a sailor learns. If we land our boat in safe harbor, hurting no one around us, or ourselves, our journey has ended well. This part of our journey had ended well for us. We thanked God, as all sailors do.
Everyone knows that Super Heroes have archenemies. Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker and…Spiderman, the Green Goblin. Who knew commoners also have them. We met ours in Catalina…..He came to be known as…..The Weatherman. He proved to be a cunning, strategist lulling us, at first, into complacency.
We spent our first few days in Avalon as relaxed and content retirees. We strolled along the village streets, drank coffee in our favorite little restaurants and treated ourselves to a movie in the theater.
I realized, and accepted, the fact that my previous free-for-all shopping habits would no longer be possible on our meager Social Security income. The realization that extra money must now be saved for wine took hold. Our first lesson of retirement…..conserve money for your priorities.
In over-whelming heat and without even thinking of bringing bottles of water, we hiked out to Wrigley Gardens, discovering new- born baby squirrels behind a fieldstone wall.
Upon arrival, sweating and dying of thirst, we learned our second traveling retiree lesson. Always carry cash. With only a credit card to our avail, we were refused entrance and needless to say, the purchase of life-sustaining water. Third lesson…always bring your own water. Feeling that we were off to a good start with retirement rules, we repeated the exercise the next day and got it right.
Thoroughly enjoying our first retirement vacation, we decided to take the next step and sail up to the Isthmus to meet with two of our children for the week-end. For some reason in our relaxed, euphoric state of mind, we did not hear The Weatherman laughing.
Actual Notes from our sailing log:
We have convinced ourselves that the weather will be much better in the Isthmus. Based on our previous experience, our only concern is that the harbor will be full when we get there. We are locked into the marine layer all the way. Winds are blowing. Waves are crashing onto the beam of the boat. We add another layer under our Alaska jackets and put another blanket over Charro.
We weren’t at sea very long before the skies turned gray, the wind came up and the ocean started to roll. It didn’t take long for me to get sea-sick. After several hours of solo sailing through the unexpected storm, Tony navigated the harbor on his own. I did manage to help lash the boat to the thrashing mooring and not fall in the water.
This trip became a mumbo-jumbo of trying to keep warm, stay on-shore to avoid the pitching and rolling of the boat, escape the inevitable sea-sickness on my part and still try to enjoy the company of our children.
A bit dazed, tired and stunned that one small harbor could get that rough; we limped back to Avalon under dark skies and heavy seas on Monday. Deciding this was just a fluke weather system, we agreed to wait until July before attempting another stay in the Isthmus. This time, I thought I heard laughing, but decided it was just the three-foot waves breaking on the hull of the Nelly Gray.
The wind and seas did not let up. Memorial Day came and went, leaving in its wake, crashed boats and broken mooring lines. Harbor Patrol boats sat at their moorings damaged from trying to save the boaters from killing each other. The weather did not lay down for three days. We spent most of our time fending off boats and, fortunately, took no damage.
Actual notes from our sailing log
As the hundreds of power boats prepared to leave, sustained twenty-five mile an hour winds kicked up out of nowhere. The ensuing chaos enveloped the harbor like a plague. As the wind caught the fly-bridges of the on-the-move boats, the captains lost control of their vessels. They crashed into each other, one right after the other, fouled their props, hit the harbor boats and struggled to get their vessels back onto their moorings.
Still optimistic, we found ourselves with a couple of nice days in June and decided to sharpen our anchoring skills for our impending southbound trip to Mexico. A beautiful sea and sunny skies took us to a pretty little cove, halfway between Avalon and the Isthmus.
We anchored easily and set out to enjoy the day. We prepared ourselves a nice dinner on-board, passing on our plan to have a picnic on the beach. The sea had gotten a little rough. We finished our bottle of wine and went to bed, happy with our successes of the day.
At ten o’clock, our archenemy struck again. We awoke to the boat wildly pitching and rolling. The moonless night sharply diminished our ability to see anything at all, but we knew the shoreline was rocky.
For the next two hours, we worked at saving ourselves from crashing into the shore. Our dishes and anything loose flew violently around the cabin, as the wind howled.
Amazingly, our anchor held, but we swung around it at 360 degrees and barely missed the boulders protruding from the sea. At midnight, the full moon quietly rose from behind the mountain in front of us, the sea calmed to a reasonable level of safety and we sat the rest of the night, trying to ward off our remaining fears of death.
In the morning, we hit the sea running and hurried to the Isthmus. Tucked safely onto our mooring, a bottle of opened wine ready to be consumed, we both came to the same conclusion at the same time. This was happening to us on purpose. Someone, or something, was pulling the strings on our life. We had never heard of this prolonged type of weather on Catalina. It was summer, for God’s sake!
We began to analyze possibilities. We helped ourselves to more wine. It seemed to us, after many scenarios, that Fritz Coleman, our local weatherman had seemed rather bored for the last couple of months. No one could blame him. He had to deal with the constant sunny, warm California weather. What weatherman goes through four years of college to put up with that nonsense? Who better to pray for some exciting weather, and then get it? Of course, this theory made perfect sense. Our archenemy was Fritz Coleman, THE WEATHERMAN.
It turns out…fourth lesson of retirement…that knowledge is power. Tony had always told me, “Margo, always know your enemy. You will win the battle.” We took on The Weatherman with a fierce vengeance. We spent the rest of the summer studying the weather. We used his own systems, which he continued to confront us with on a daily basis, as study guides.
Tony Studying the Weather
Our new found knowledge gave us the courage to circumnavigate the island. We watched buffalo walk and sleep in the mountains and we were treated to eagles and their young flying over our boat, hunting their breakfast.
Actual Notes from our Sailing Log
Looking forward to this new venture and the possibility of seeing buffalo and eagles, and also, to completing our long-planned circumnavigation of this island. Just the kick in the butt we needed to get started.
At seven a.m. this morning, we let our mooring lines go and headed out to conquer the legendary, gut-wrenching, wind-driven, ocean swirling West End of the Island, in an attempt to reach Cat Harbor. The tales we have heard are enough to put fear into the devil himself.
The ever-present gray skies, filled with enough moisture to mimic rain continue to plague us. We’re a little grouchy, not enough coffee and never any sun. We dress in four layers, t-shirt, sweater, sweatshirt and our best form of protection, our jackets from Alaska. We are ready to face whatever.
I stay at the helm until my face freezes and then Tony takes over. I crawl to the protection of the dodger and pull my coat up higher around my neck. It’s July, for God’s sake.
As we pass each cove, the anticipation of the treacherous West End grows at a rapid rate. Signs of civilization disappear and only looming mountains dominate the coast. We are alone. Just us, the boat and giant rollers.
We can see it. There it is. The famous West End. It’s 8:30 in the morning. We haven’t had enough coffee. We aren’t ready for this.
Tony works his way around to the left. We are expecting terrifying winds, sea serpents breathing fire, devils from hell rising from the sea to reach out and grab the boat, sucking us into the eternal depths of the ocean.
What do we get? The most beautiful, amazing scenery anyone could imagine. Towering cliffs, endlessly being drenched in crashing waves. Pelicans and seagulls, flying the thermals across the cliffs. The sea rolled gently beneath us, guiding us towards Eagle Rock, as if the whole thing was just child’s play.
Passing Eagle Rock, the sea kicked up a little, throwing us around a bit, knocking down our egos just a tad.
Calming again, carrying on just enough to let us know who’s boss, the water mellowed and let us continue our journey.
An hour and a half later, we sit on our mooring, enjoying bacon and eggs, and patting ourselves on the back for conquering the sea serpents
We learned that in order to empty our holding tank, we had to tackle a floating dock rising up and down and backwards and forwards every time we pulled up next to it. I learned to jump onto it without killing myself, lash the boat onto the pilings and get the job done.
Actual Notes from our sailing log
As Tony maneuvered the boat towards the dock, I got ready to jump on. It floated away. One leg over the side, one leg on the boat. Watching the dock float away in the current, Tony re-maneuvered the boat and I re-positioned myself for a second try. The fifteen mile an hour winds did not help my plight. Again, the dock floated away.
We sat there watching the dock float around like a rubber duck in a bathtub. It occurred to us that this might be some kind of sick joke on the part of the Harbor Patrol.
Tony decided to approach the problem backwards. He positioned the boat sideways to the dock and waited for the wooden monster to float back. He yelled, “Jump” at the right moment and I jumped, landing on both feet with a thud. He yelled, “Grab the line,” and I grabbed the line, ran down the dock to secure it to the bow and then ran down the dock the other way to secure the stern line, all before the dock floated away again.
Tony became a master at the helm. I learned that I could put a boat on a mooring under the absolute best…and the absolute worst of conditions. We learned to get the boat back to the mainland with an overheating engine and no wind. We learned to install our flopper-stopper and stop the pitching and rolling of the boat and we learned how to repair a dinghy leaking air in the middle of cresting waves and blowing sand. Best of all, we learned how to stay one step ahead of The Weatherman.
The Isthmus Mooring Field
But most importantly, we learned to love and trust each other no matter what. It was quite a summer and…. only the beginning.
On the first morning of our retirement…to borrow from an old Irish expression, we were full of ‘spit, vim and vinegar’. We couldn’t wait to get going.
The parties and good-byes were complete. Our residency in Florida was established. Our cars were sold. Opting to live ‘bow to stern’ on our thirty-six foot sailboat, we had eliminated every single thing from our life that didn’t comfortably fit within its confines.
Ready to Go
Our friends of twelve years stood waving on the docks of our marina, shouting well wishes as we sailed out. From our stereo, Chris Isaak serenaded the all of Alamitos Bay with Tony’s chosen song for our retirement, ‘Think of Tomorrow’.
We realized, as the marina’s new tenant pulled into our slip, that we were officially homeless. We owned no property on land… there was no space to return to and there would be no turning back. Our next stop was a mooring ball in the Isthmus on Catalina Island.
We had committed our lives to the sea and sailing, visiting foreign ports, meeting new, exciting people and eating strange foods. We saw ourselves sitting on exotic beaches, sipping wine and eating fresh fish. We pictured ourselves holding hands as we gazed up at star-filled skies and hiking through beautiful mountains.
As I stared at the water beneath us, I became acutely and painfully aware of our decisions. We had never even considered the possibility of anything going wrong with our starry-eyed, romantic plan. Panic welled up in my breast and crippling fear gripped my soul.
As Chris Isaak’s words, ‘You can always count on me’ filled my head, I looked back at Tony, standing strong at his helm… and he was smiling. He smiled the same confident smile that had calmed my fears and had given me strength to go on for almost half a century. Once again, calm embraced me. His eyes told me we were going to be OK. We needed no words. We both knew that the future…. a new, exciting alternative lifestyle…lay before us.
As we headed down the channel and into the open sea, we became aware that the present was our immediate problem. We had paid no never mind to the two storm flags flying from the fuel dock. Santa Ana winds were blowing like crazy and giant swells engulfed the breakwater as the huge black storm approached our bay. We turned on our heel…. without a moment’s hesitation…and raced as fast as a sailboat can race, back to the public marina to rent a slip and seek temporary shelter.
The first night of our highly anticipated, new-found freedom was spent less than one-quarter mile from our marina…. along with the second night.
The raging storm did not turn to beautiful sun and seas until our third day. Our friends had stopped by on several occasions…. bringing along bottles of wine…. to casually inquire as to why we hadn’t checked the weather and…good-naturedly laugh at us. It is true that our egos were a little bruised, but the wine was really good.
There is a good possibility that had we known even the smallest detail about the summer we were about to experience, today we would be sitting in rocking chairs somewhere way inland, as far away from the sea as we could get.
When I got married, my father said to me, “I am only giving you away once, don’t come back.” Kidding of course, his words stayed on my mind until this day. I attribute this ‘little joke’ to the reason we did not give up….we could not ‘come back.’ Every marina in California had at least a one-year waiting list. It is well known that no one in their right mind gives up a perfectly good slip. We did. One can only wonder why.
We would find out. We would learn lessons about courage, about being a team in the worst of times, about living out and accepting our decisions and about what is means to have the best time of our lives.