Let’s get one thing straight before we set sail on this tale. If I ever gave anyone the impression that during our sailing adventure I was Captain Courageous, I admit now I was all show, no go. At the start of this voyage I was hortified. This is a combination of horrified and terrified. Horrified at what I had so casually committed myself to do, and terrified of what lay ahead. I had put all my eggs in one basket and now I had to try and keep that basket afloat, particularly because I had Rebecka aboard and it was clear she would be an excellent adventure partner in the future. If there was a future.
On this trip we had three levels of valor displayed. I was the least valiant, Rebecka was brimming with boundless enthusiasm which she admits in hindsight was because of ignorance of how small was our boat and how big was the ocean, but the hero of the trip was our boat. The Iowa Waltz was our David against the sea’s Goliath. Built back in the early 60’s when oil was cheap and fiberglass hulls were so thick they were bulletproof, her full keel design meant that she would sail straight no matter what ignorant missteps I subjected her to.
If the Iowa Waltz had a voice it would have been that ever-patient English lady on our car’s GPS. “Recalculating, recalculating.”
We sailed south from San Diego in January of 1985 with big plans unmatched by nautical skills. But in my own defense I must say that no sailor really learns to sail in bad conditions until they cast off on an adventure and start cruising. The reason is because when your boat is in a slip in a marina and you planned a pleasant Sunday sail, if it is stormy and windy Sunday morning, the boat stays in the slip.
You learn to sail in a storm when you are 20 miles offshore, halfway between point A and point B and a storm catches you. We had a few of those and I will share those adventures at some point in a section which should be entitled, “The seven key mistakes I failed to avoid when you see a storm approaching.”
Of course, the cruising life is easier now with weather satellites and real time radar. We had none of that in the 80s, and, in fact, GPS had just been made available for private citizens, it cost a fortune and you could only get a reading twice a day when the satellite passed overhead.
To summarize, when we weighed anchor in San Diego Bay and headed south, it was the blind leading the blasé in a great boat. Our motto should have been “God watches out for babies and fools.”
The first leg of our trip was from San Diego to Ensenada.
When entering a new country the Captain alone must go ashore and present themselves to the harbor master with passports, the boat’s paperwork and pay for what amounts to a visa for the boat. Because only the Captain is allowed to go ashore to present the papers, we made out our paperwork so Spanish speaking Rebecka would be the Captain. There is a small fee for the visa and usually a large bribe involved but when the Harbor Master saw that Rebecka was the Captain and I was listed as sailor he laughed so hard he just stamped our paperwork and waved her away.
The second leg of our trip was to San Quintín which is about 200 miles from San Diego. That was an interesting trip involving running aground and having to get towed off a sandbar. Enough said about that.
From San Quintín we sailed off the coast about five kilometers to the small island of Isla San Martin which is uninhabited except for a fisherman’s camp in which live 20+ lobster fishermen for six months out of the year.
The fisherman went out every morning at dawn, pulled the lobster traps up from the bottom of the ocean, took out the lobsters, kept the ones which were”legal” (long enough, therefore old enough, to have reproduced) then the boats headed back toward the island, placed the lobsters in a floating holding pen, pulled their boats up on the stony beach and had nothing to do for the rest of the day.
When Spanish-speaking, beautiful, blonde Rebecka rowed in to shore she was an instant hit and, in a preview of what the next 35 years of my life would be like, I received the polite nods reserved for the man who was accompanying her.
We spent a month there, sharing meals, life stories and incomprehensible jokes.
For me the high point was going out one morning to pull lobster traps. When I asked about tagging along they were initially hesitant because I was a gringo and they thought gringos were too weak and lazy for the work. I resented that but could not deny it.
Eventually the leader of the group agreed to take me out on his boat. And the work proved to be too hard for me, pulling up traps which were weighted with rocks keep them in place. And if that weren’t enough, they were filled with lobsters.
If nothing else, I looked the part of the successful hunter gatherer!
But I did my best and they found great amusement in watching me being nearly jerked overboard by the weight of the trap as I slipped on the wet deck.
When they dropped me off on our boat they tossed eight “shorts” in to our cockpit. Shorts are lobsters which are too young to sell and illegal to possess, but they wanted to share the bounty of the sea with Rebecka, I mean us.
And the next morning a different boat stopped by on their way back from pulling their traps and they gave us eight shorts.
And the next morning a different boat, eight shorts, and on and on it went.
Rebecka and I had lobster in every conceivable manner – lobster and melted butter, lobster sandwiches, lobster and rice, lobster and pasta, lobster pancakes and finally Rebecka said, “All right already!”
After that, every morning a different boat would give us our daily ration of illegal lobsters, we would thank them profusely, and when no one was in sight we would slip them over the side of the boat away from the island.
I have never been fond of lobster since, but I still love Mexican hospitality.