By Portia Leigh
We left our slip in Marina Del Rey, California at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday morning and headed south towards Mexico. Watching the sun come up on the open sea was magical and it was incredibly calm so it was easy for me (Portia) to make breakfast for everyone without having to worry about getting seasick every time I went below deck. Ella stood tall peering out from the bowsprit with the wind in her face, courageously looking over the horizon as the boat gently rocked to and fro over the oncoming waves.
The entire day was astonishingly peaceful. We set the autopilot for a 145-degree course, passing the cliffs of Palos Verde on our left and eventually Catalina on our right, and spent several hours relaxing in the sun, listening to music and painting with watercolors. Every two hours we unrolled the map and marked our coordinates, something Ella especially enjoyed; in fact, every time she got bored she would ask if it was time to make another mark on the map.
I did a bit of yoga on the bow, Diego set a few fishing lines out off the stern and we all lit up with joy when a small pod of dolphins decided to join us, jumping and splashing alongside the boat as we cruised. The wind was minimal, but we put the jib, stay, main and mizzen sails up anyway and cruised at a steady five knots for about 20 hours. The seas were incredibly kind that day, so kind that we all managed to have three full meals without any issues. Ella and Francisco spent an hour singing and dancing while preparing a delicious sauce that they let simmer for several hours until it was time to eat that evening.
Overall the, calmness of the sea that day was a real treat, one we would truly treasure and know the value of the next day when things got rough. Diego, Francisco and I each took three-hour shifts that night keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic and wind changes. I took the 9 to midnight shift. The stars were so bright, I wrapped myself in a blanket and sat staring at them from the cockpit. It was so peaceful just feeling the motion of the waves and sitting by myself in the dark, the time passed quickly and before I knew it Francisco was there to take over. I went to my bunk, laid down, and listened to a meditation, but I began to hear new sounds beneath the boat (although it’s hard to say they were new, because I hadn’t actually slept on the boat while traversing the ocean yet). I felt a bit uneasy not knowing what was going on above board, and then I heard “the bell” ringing, the one you ring to call everyone up to say ‘all hands on deck’—I flew out of my bottom bunk so quick I’m surprised I didn’t bump my head. I dashed through the saloon and rushed up the stairs before my eyes could make out what was what and said, “What’s up, is everything okay?” It was then that I saw Francisco comfortably curled up in a blanket in the cockpit, he replied, “Yes, everything is fine.”
A little perplexed, I quickly realized that no bells had been rung on the boat, just those inside my headphones– there were bells at the end of the meditation I was listening to. (haha Dork!) I busted out laughing, feeling quite stupid, but equally entertained, and went back to bed. I still felt slightly uneasy though, as if something was coming, but I went back to bed anyways.
At 5:30 a.m. I sprung up as I felt the boat rocking, heeling over to starboard and the sound of the winds picking up to an un-ignorable howl outside. I got up, but didn’t anticipate the boat’s motion, I struggled to get a grip on the door as she swayed side to side, and while I managed to get the door open, I almost fell on my way out — thankfully the slamming door didn’t wake up Ella. I saw Francisco putting on his warm layers in the saloon and Diego perched over the navigation station taking our most recent coordinates.
“Good morning, what’s going on up there? Has it been like this for a while?” I asked. “The wind is starting to pick up,” replied Diego. I put on my snowboard pants, and as many other warm layers as I could, and followed the boys above deck. We each clipped on life vests and harnesses and hooked ourselves to the lifelines. Francisco went up to the main sail and I watched him tie off ropes for a good couple minutes before I made it out there to help—I guess I was still half asleep and it took a few seconds for me to realize Hello, you should be doing stuff!
We reefed the main sail, brought down the mizzin completely, and went back to the cockpit. We stayed there keeping each other company as the seas proceeded to get rougher and the winds escalated from 15 up to the 30+ knots. It was only about an hour or two before Tawnya and Ella were awake, strapped in and snuggled up above board—thank god, because Tawnya is significantly better than anyone else when it comes to mapping our course and we were a bit off.
I tried to go below deck at one point to go to the head, which was only slightly successful, and then opened the conjoining bathroom door to Ella’s and my V-berth to check on things (maybe find my phone)—everything was wet, water was definitely coming in. I reached my arm up to secure the top hatch, obviously it wasn’t closed all the way, but after only a few turns of the screw, the swaying of the boat really hit me and I was about to puke. I took three steps, gripping the sides of the walls and the doorframe, and leaned over the toilet, but the feeling soon passed. I was able to make it all the way across the salon to the ladder that led above deck and I hoped I would make it all of the way outside, but I didn’t. I stopped and hurled into the trash. First time in my life that I’ve ever felt better after puking.
Once in the cockpit I curled up in a blanket with Ella and Tawnya, each of us leaning over to puke at one point or another. The seas were rough and the wind started making its way up to 30 knots, which made for a bumpy ride. Tawnya took the helm and started cutting the waves at an angle, which smoothed things out a bit, but it was still quite intense.
Diego always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time– he kept announcing there were free showers and laundry if you sat near him, as he was drenched by the crashing waves at least four times, but he never lost his smile.
Francisco was the only one out of the five of us who didn’t puke. I managed to get some sleep in the hammock that hangs from the ceiling beside Francisco and Tawnya’s bed, even though it continually swayed a good 160 degrees from side to side with increasing force—I lined pillows down the left side of the hammock so it wasn’t so startling every time my body careened into the bed post. Getting in and out of the hammock was beyond awkward in the midst of the boat’s continuous motion, and I almost face planted down to the floor several times, but this was literally the only place I could be below deck without puking. I woke up frequently thinking someone might need something on deck. It was hard for me to tell if I was hearing the voice of one of our crew members or the squeaks from the boat.
Crackers and pistachios were the only things any of us managed to eat that day; that is of course, until we made it to the Ensenada Cruiseport Village marina and docked our boat. Having been faced with ravaging winds and intense waves non-stop since 5:30 a.m., we were all basking in sweet relief when we finally made it to the dock around 5 p.m. on Friday. The complexion of the wind and sea between Thursday and Friday were like night and day, but everyone on board remained calm and collected even when things got uncomfortable.