Sailing #1, Short hops, long stops

When we lived on our sailboat, the “Iowa Waltz” down in Baja California, Mexico in 1985 we traveled for eight months as part of a tribe of four boats – “Eclipse,” “Sarabande,” and “Bosun.”

“Eclipse” was the biggest boat and sailed out of Vancouver, Canada.  The crew consisted of Blair, Pat, and baby Leilani who was one month old when they set sail for warmer climes.  Pat was a nurse, which was nice to have as part of our team, and Blair was an architect and had built their boat so he was our resident expert on how things went together.

Chuck and Sheleen were on “Sarabande” which sailed out of Oregon.  Chuck was the maintenance foreman in a sawmill and he was absolutely tickled when something broke on one of our boats so he could fix it.

Jim was single-handing on “Bosun” and he always said that just because you are sailing alone doesn’t mean that you won’t have crew problems.  I’ll be telling many Jim stories because he was a fun, mysterious guy.  After spending time in Vietnam with the military he had worked for Air America, a CIA cover, delivering what he called “hard rice” to Cambodia. He gently mocked Rebecka and I for our liberal ways in supporting the Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua and said the only reason he wasn’t training the Nicaraguan army was because the Dictator Samoza was too cheap to meet his salary demands.  He professed to be an expert water well digger and was called away now and then for a week at a time “to bring in a well.” He always returned with a big pile of money, shaking hands, and a thousand-yard stare.

We sailed together under the rubric, “Short hops, long stops” which meant sail for one day, stay put for a few weeks, but our “long stops” often lasted a month or more.  Once we were anchored in a cove we liked, or in the lee of an interesting island, we would stay there until someone got bored.

Then on an evening like every other evening, we would be sitting around in the evening drinking and someone would blurt out, “Where to next?” We would pull out the navigation charts, search for an interesting cove or island further along the coast, and as the Sun rose, we would weigh anchor and move along.

“Short hops” meant that we tried not to sail at night, so we looked for destinations we could reach in a single dawn-to-dusk trip.  We could never enter an unfamiliar port in the dark because it was just too dangerous navigating in unknown waters, particularly in small coves in Mexico with no lighted buoys to guide us into a safe anchorage.

During the month or so we might be anchored up in a beautiful little cove on a long stop, we would gather in the evening on the largest boat, Eclipse, and play Trivial Pursuit which was the hot new thing in 1985.  Even though I had only a moderate level of trivia knowledge, I delivered my wild guesses with such authority and conviction that when I hit pay dirt, everyone thought me a bloomin’ genius.  Rebecka and I made a good team because she was strong on academic things, like Shakespeare, and I was pretty good on news of the previous 25 years. “Name the SECOND astronaut to orbit the earth.”  Scott Carpenter. 1962. Number of orbits, 3.  Most famous quote, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”  I still know my space trivia.

Because our stops could be long, and we might be anchored up in a very isolated spot, we would often start to run out of supplies (this ‘shelter in place and make do with what you have’ is nothing new for Rebecka and I.)  We would often barter with passing boats for rice, beans and coffee.   Things weren’t considered dire until it started to affect our adult drinks.

Our Trivial Pursuit nights were always well irrigated with beer and rum for the first few weeks of a long stop.  First, we would run out of beer, which only I considered the loss of a loved one, then we would run out of coke.  This was something everyone dreaded because it meant we had to transition from Rum and Cokes to “Rum and Tang.”  We used lime flavored Mexican Tang to give some very faint hint of the tropics, but as everyone who drank Tang as a kid knows, it never fully dissolves.

We called them “Tangos.”

Blair, who hosted us on Eclipse called them, “Rum and Sediment.”

Oh what I wouldn’t give to be once again on the deck of a sailboat, in a small bay in Baja with those people.  And a beer.


Our boat was named “The Iowa Waltz” in appreciation of my time as a legal services lawyer in that welcoming state.  Our tiny rowboat was named, “Alice” for my mother.  The original Iowa Waltz is a song by Greg Brown which we played at our wedding, two years after we left the boat.

Published by Robert Lang

Social Justice lawyer and mentor, nurturing calmness, kindness, and adventure. Just trying to leave something good behind.

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