Sea sick: Not the Motion in the Ocean (and a Mexican boob job)

by Tawnya Calvillo

It’s now been three weeks since we arrived on land and I’ve finally found it in me to share my side of the story. I’ve never been sea sick, I love sailing, but the sail down for me was NOT pleasant. To be quite honest it sucked. I hated the movement of the boat when we sailed, hated breathing the diesel when we motored, the smell of the food these crazy South Americans cook, the pictures being taken of me, everything.

I spent 98% of my awake time in the “dog house,” the small little platform at the front of the cockpit hidden behind the bimini. When it was cold I was there with layers of clothes and blankets, when it was hot I was there in a bathing suit with a towel pinned over the bimini blocking me from the sun. The dog house happens to be right above the galley (kitchen) so you’d find this life long vegetarian with a blanket over my face half the time to block out the smells of meat and fish being prepared below.

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Thrilled (not!) photo by Ella Jade

It’s a good thing Day 1 started off great or we may have turned around right then. I woke up around 6:30 am. We were about 2 hours off shore from Marina Del Rey. I went above deck just in time to see the sunrise over the Southern California mountains. It felt soooo good to finally see the rewards of our hard work and dreams coming true. We enjoyed the day watching dolphins, painting with water colors, snacking and relaxing. I may or may not have thrown up that day, I can’t remember, if so it didn’t matter, it was my happiest day in months!!

Day 2 was the exact opposite and the next few weeks were down hill for me from there. I woke up that day to gusts of nearly 40 knots, the boat rocking forward, backward, side to side over (and sometimes under) huge waves and rough winds. Everyone threw up at least once that day (except Captain), I certainly did multiple times. Luckily, we arrived in Ensenada that evening and we could regroup on land. It was a nice port, but I didn’t feel any better and hated land too. The town was stinky. Walking around was annoying. The cruise ships were loud. The restaurant food made me ill.

Back to sea….with a few stops in between that you may have or can read about in our previous (and more positive) posts, not a day went by that I didn’t throw up. I only made it to my usual favorite spot, the bowsprit, three times during the entire 17 day trip (11 days which were at sea). Each bowsprit visit for no more than 5 minutes, then back to the dog house and straight to bed by 7 p.m. latest. All the other adult crew took shifts each night, watching the beautiful and calm night sky (but also having to wake up for their shifts which went “A shift” 9 p.m.-12, “B shift” 12-3 a.m., “C shift” 3 a.m.-6 a.m. and “A shift” again 6 a.m.-9 a.m.). I would usually rise around 8:30 a.m. with Ella. Straight to the dog house. Holding back vomit. Totally useless. Ella certainly helped hoist more sails, coil more sheets, serve more snacks and clean up than I did. I did nothing. A useless body aboard. And I hated that too. I’m not that good at sitting still. The one thing I was useful for was navigating our course by chart and I often quit, forgot what I was doing, or slept through that, which sent us off course a few times. The dog house earned a new name “The Throne” as Francisco said, “The queen of the ship ordering people around from the throne.” I never really left the spot, except to lean over the side of the boat of course…posted up there only speaking to say things like “bring me a water, remember extra lemon, I want this snack prepared just like this, can’t you see that loose line, go grab it! Tighten the traveler, take us 4 degrees starboard, don’t talk to me I feel like shit….”  And bless their hearts they (mostly) followed orders day in and day out and even cleaned up after me when I got sick. Ella was cute and would say, “Francisco! Mommy’s throw upping again,” and he’d come to help. I didn’t want him to correct her wording ’til the very last day or two because I liked how she said it wrong. “Throw upping,”  at least it gave me something to chuckle about in between.

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Luckily for all of us, I only REALLY lost it once. Out of frustration, loss of hope and the feeling that no one understood and everyone was so normal and happy sipping their cocktails and laughing the days away while I tried to ignore the overwhelming discomfort, I screamed profanities as loud as I could at everyone, threatened to throw stuff overboard and stormed below to bed.

There was a half decent day for me around day 15 as we crossed the Sea of Cortez. The water was like a pool, not even a ripple. We stopped and swam, you can read about it here. EVEN I made it all the way out of the newly named dog house and into the water. I walked around the boat a bit that day and surprisingly laid on the deck for an hour or two instead of the thrown which I would ruthlessly tell you if you sat there, “Get out of my spot.”

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FLASHBACK to December while we were still in Marina Del Rey working hard for hours on end to prepare for the trip. It was Dec 8th, I walked down the dock ramp towards our boat slip. As I walked passed the pile of Sea Lions sun bathing on the dock the smell of these marina pets was extra strong that day. I instantly started leaning over the dock gagging. I went straight to the store that night and picked up a pregnancy test which read “best results first thing in the morning.” I woke up Dec 9th, my birthday, pee’d on the trusty stick and watched TWO lines appear. Happy birthday to me! I calculated the due date based off my last period…. Happy birthday to Francisco! Due August 9th, his birthday! That evening on this same lovely day of mine, our dear Kiran was brought into the world as well!!! Ella’s first little brother, born a month before his due date, on my birthday!

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Kiran and Ella

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The next six weeks of boat preparation leading up to our Jan 26th departure would be hell. I was sick with Ella, maybe a little more than the average morning sickness considering it lasted 24 hours a day for a couple months straight, but it was bearable and it diminished around 12 weeks. This time would be different. 24 hours of INTENSE discomfort and we had SO much to do to prepare for sea. We had originally planned to leave around my birthday, but as with most sailing journeys there’s no definite departure date between preparing the boat, ourselves and watching the weather, etc. I ended up in the hospital sometime around early January because I had become so malnourished and dehydrated from not holding anything down due to how sick I was. They kept me longer than expected and gave me more than double the fluids and medicine they had anticipated. I was diagnosed with HG (hyperemesis gravidarum), which is basically EXTREME and never ending sickness during pregnancy, a rare experience that blesses only 2% of pregnancies. I wanted to get out of the Marina already!

Great, now I had some rare acute pregnancy sickness that only this poor pirate and the Princess of England share. I was prescribed pills to take multiple times a day to help with the vomiting. I hate taking pills. They did help a little bit, though it was much more discomfort than just nausea I was suffering from, so I often day dreamt they were morphine pills. I very seriously say, I contemplated if I might need to check into a mental institute multiple times. I didn’t even want to see or talk to my best friends because it was too much effort and no one I knew truly understood the intensity, mothers or not. I tried anything and everything to feel better. I became depressed which I had never really experienced in my life. Finally, I spoke to one of my childhood best friends, Sheena who had HG with 1 out of her 3 pregnancies. Gosh I love that woman, the sweetest. It broke her heart to see me that way because she KNEW. I was directed to information and support groups online that basically said there’s nothing that helps, “All the advice people give you for morning sickness are not going to help you, this is not morning sickness.” It was suggested that the best thing was support, bed rest, and mental strength. I stopped reading the support site as I couldn’t stand to do anything at all. Portia researched many times in hopes of supporting me and finding anything that could help. She recently told me she had read many forums of women feeling the need to be institutionalized, and sedated, I wasn’t alone.  I hope some day I can put into words inspiration and advice that might calm another HG expecting mom.

On the BRIGHT SIDE, and not just talking about this hot Mexico sun…..last week at 17 weeks pregnant, I woke up a new person, feeling at least halfway myself!!!  Pretty good, not amazing, but super happy to be functional, to have an appetite and my mind not so blurred, enough to look at a computer and write this post. Enough to finally enjoy where we’ve journeyed to and walk my ass to the beach or day spa to relax. Being debilitated since the sea lion initiation and several weeks into my 2nd trimester, even having spent weeks back on land, was making me feel mentally insane again, a loss of hope that it would never ease up, and now I didn’t have the sea to blame for it still lingering! BUT low and behold….here I am! Feeling what I would say is normal pregnancy sick, which is a huge relief (although it would be really awesome if it would disappear completely), it’s really something to feel that way with out a minute of relief for that many months STRAIGHT. It’s like waking up with a horrible hangover, the kind where you want to die and say you’ll never drink again, contemplate going to the ER. The kind where you feel it all the way until falling asleep the next night, but you make it through and wake up the next day just a bit worn out, but the next day after that you drink a beer! Yep, that kind, only it never went a way for even a minute, no next day beer for me.

Because I was so sick I didn’t see anyone and chose to not tell many people that I was pregnant before departure. As far as I was concerned, their opinions on sailing while sick didn’t matter anyways and I felt, “Well f*!# it, send me to sea. I’d rather be suffering sick out there than stuck on land.” 

Did sailing make my diagnoses easier or harder? Probably a bit of both. I think it certainly eased my mental state, not having to drive around town taking care of errands or see anyone in public, etc. but it was physically harder being swished around at sea.

Would I still make the same choice? YES! (that is to this whole sailing thing)

So anyways… SURPRISE!!!  It’s a Mexican boob job! The more kids you have the longer it lasts!

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Here’s a courtesy pic for anyone who read this in hopes of a nice boob shot.

(Yes I made a joke about Mexicans having lots of kids, yes I’m half Mexican, yes I love Mexico and Mexicans and all humankind) #theoceanhasnowalls

One last thing. While I’m on my rant, I hate these stickers..
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But guess what…

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Cabo to Puerto Vallarta Part III: A Rocky Arrival

By Portia Leigh

It was 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, February 12. For some reason I woke up 25 minutes before the alarm I’d set for my 6 a.m. shift— it would be the last time I’d watch the sunrise alone above deck for a while as we were nearly to our destination, and I intended to savor every last drop of it.

Thankfully, the universe had other plans– I did not spend the morning alone. If I had, we might have found ourselves in a perilously sticky situation.

I heated up some water for tea and poked my head above deck to say good morning to Francisco. “Good morning,” he said with a chipper smile. “We are off course, if we kept going through the night we would have run right into land.”

“Oh man, but we’re okay now?” I asked.

“Yeah, we caught it early enough,” he replied.

I climbed above aboard, wrapped myself in a blanket, and took a seat on the cockpit’s portside bench with Francisco sitting opposite, looking out over the ocean to starboard. It was still dark and the air was filled with dew, but it wasn’t overly cold.

“It’s crazy how calm the water is, it’s like we’re on a lake,” he said.

“I know. It’s kind of eerie. Just think how somewhere else in the world, this very second, another boat is being ravaged by the sea, the same body of water that is connected to us right now.”

Francisco looked up and saw a single cormorant circling above us. “That is the same kind of bird I saw a few nights ago, the one that freaked me out in the middle of the night as I watched it circle our mast hundreds of miles off shore,” I said. (I was quietly thrilled that someone else had a chance to see this peculiar pterodactyl like bird, it seemed otherworldly, truly).

“I see why it freaked you out, what a weird sight,” he replied.

“Hey, you know you can go to bed if you want, I’m up now so I can keep watch,” I said.

“I want to wait until we make this last turn,” he replied.

I smelled smoke from a fire and it was getting stronger, “Do You smell that?” I asked.

“Not really,” he replied.

“It smells smokey, like someone is burning trash on land, I guess the wind is carrying it towards us.”

“Maybe.”

We sat there for a few minutes, me keeping watch over the water from the bow to the portside of the boat, and Francisco checking our course on the navigation and looking over starboard.

It was barely 6 a.m. and the sun had yet to offer any light, but the moon, that magical full moon, was so unnaturally bright, it was almost bizarre. It was fate.

Looking out on the portside I saw a dark shadow about 50 feet in front of us—I rubbed my eyes frantically and thought to myself: am I still asleep, are my eyes playing tricks on me, WAKE UP!

And then I saw a thin line of water breaking on the shadow in front of us, this wasn’t a trick, “ROCKS, dead ahead,” I screamed, “Right, hard right, turn now!” (In the midst of panic my ability to differentiate between port and starboard flew out the window)… We literally missed a line of jagged rocks (about the length of the boat) jutting out of the ocean by less than 20 feet; we were headed straight for it! Had Francisco not stayed above board, had the full moon not shone bright and illuminated the path ahead, and had I not woken up 30 minutes earlier than usual, there’s a solid chance Violeta would have careened into an unforgiving jagged wall of rocks.

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Francisco and I looked at each other, half panting from the adrenaline and half laughing at the insanity of the seriousness of the situation we nearly missed.

“Portia, you just saved us all,” Francisco said.

“Thank god you didn’t go to bed, who knows what would have happened if you did—I might have gone down stairs to make some tea and then what?! We’d have been stranded on the rocks in the middle of the Sea of Cortez,” I said, shuttering at the thought of how the situation could have been altogether different had I been alone.

Francisco laughed and said, ”And we were just talking about how calm and gentle the sea is here, Ha! Maybe that bird was trying to give us a warning.”

“Maybe,” I said.

The depth meter was still occasionally ricocheting from 135 ft down to 35 ft, it was definitely best that we both stayed aboard and kept watch. Two mini rock islets, about 15 feet high, extended out of the sea a few hundred feet in front of us to port. At one point I saw another dark mass in front of us—again, unsure of whether my eyes had not fully acclimated, but after the last near miss, I told Francisco to make another hard right. I still don’t know if the second rock mass was a figment of my imagination or not, but I’m happy we didn’t have to find out.

We cruised for about 30 minutes keeping watch until we were back on course (unfortunately the first rock mass we saw was not marked on the GPS or physical map, although there was a symbol marking “shipwrecks’ quite close to the coordinates, but far from exact). The depth meter continually increased until the water was about 200 feet deep. The sun had finally come out and we both could relax. Francisco went below deck to make us some toast and another round of matte, and I kept my eyes peeled for potential obstacles. Instead of obstacles though, I caught sight of a massive spout of water being expelled several feet above the sea line, I screamed again, but this time with delight, “Whales!” Francisco was above board within seconds, and I ran below deck to grab my camera. We spent the next few minutes watching the whales splashing their tales around, about 20 nautical miles outside Bahia de Banderas (Bay of Flags).

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The rest of the crew woke up, and took turns looking through the binoculars as we neared land, everyone trying to spot the breakwater that borders the entrance to Paradise Village Marina—our new home! We found it. We got together and took our first group photo. Cheers to our first journey together.

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Welcome to Nuevo Vallarta!

Cabo to Puerto Vallarta Part II: Everyone Takes A Dive & Violeta Breaks the Wind Barrier!

By Portia Leigh

It was the first full day into the next leg of the journey and after our toilet victory (see last post), the rest of the day was all about relaxing— truth be told most days on the boat, other than a few wild curve balls thrown by the sea, have been about relaxing; regardless, we chilled harder that Friday than we had in the three weeks since we left Marina Del Rey. And it was glorious.

As we crossed the Sea of Cortez we instantly began feeling the heat of the tropics at a little over 22° N and just under 108° W. It was like night and day compared to the weeks spent in the Pacific Ocean to the west of Baja California—when, like clock work, we were layering ourselves in snow clothes from the time the sun went down until it was high up in the sky the next day.

Thankfully, it doesn’t look like we’ll be doing that again for many, many, many months! (Did I say many? Man is it hot here…)

By 11 a.m. that day everyone had stripped down to their bathing suits; and with mind bogglingly calm waters and little wind, the only logical thing to do was go swimming. Francisco turned off the engine, put out the swim step, and tied a few ropes to the port-side winches so we’d have something to grab onto if we started floating away.

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The five of us stood aboard looking over the edge, all primped and ready to swim, but nobody made a move… It’s a bit unnerving diving into something so vast for the first time. After some back and forth deliberation over who was going to take the plunge, I flung myself overboard before I could think about it any more. I plummeted into the still waters with surprising force. Within a minute I was back clinging to the rope threatening to scale my way up the rope if someone didn’t join me—my feelings were equal parts bliss and fright—it was eerie being alone in such a massive body of blue.

Francisco, then Tawnya, and after much coaxing, Ella jumped into the ocean. It felt cool as you entered, the force of your body pushing the cold water to the surface only to abruptly settle back down and allow the few feet of warmth that naturally rested on the surface to return. It was perfect. We splashed around in awe of the water’s silky calm beauty.

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Diego shook his head at us as if he wasn’t going to come in, and then he disappeared below deck. Right as we were crawling up the ladder, he remerged suited up with fins, snorkel and mask, and a knife strapped to his leg.

He and Ella jumped in together while the rest of us chilled aboard. They didn’t last long though, soon enough all of us were on board basking in the sun. Ella grabbed the purple wind inflatable couch my mom got me for Christmas and flung it open on deck, and Francisco put on Yo La Tengo’s “Summer Sun,” the perfect tune for the day’s vibe.

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The wind decided to bless us with a gentle breeze, so Diego and Francisco broke out the spinnaker. It was the first time she had been up on the trip (and only the second time since Francisco bought Violeta several years ago). In spite of its 80s tracksuit style print, the kind that brings to mind over exposed chest hair and a gold chain necklace, the spinnaker’s Sea of Cortez debut was a momentous event. It looked glorious the way it stretched from the bow to the front of the cockpit enveloping the wind like a kite.

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We kicked it up a notch with Jamiroquai’s “A Funk Odyssey,” and soon everyone was moving and grooving around the boat, never tiring of the warm tropical sun and smooth waters. Ella helped me wash my hair in a bowl, which felt surprisingly luxurious (probably more so considering I hadn’t showered in two days).

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We cruised slow and easy at 3 knots. Nobody felt the need to rush and motor to our destination, everyone felt happy just being, patiently going with the flow and seeing what the ocean wanted to show us; and boy did we see a lot. We saw a plethora of dolphins, a few red jellyfish, a whale’s tale and a sea turtle the size of a small tire.img_5298

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The following day was just as peaceful—calm waters all around. We put the spinnaker up again, this time with the mizzen, and that’s when we saw a bit of action, we were seriously cruising! Francisco called out, “Violeta broke the wind barrier!” It was true, we were sailing nearly two knots faster than the wind was blowing. Incredible!

I began to feel a bit of melancholia the closer we got to our destination, I just didn’t want to go back to land. The peace that comes with being surrounding by miles of ocean, with nothing solid in sight (aside from the boat), is one of the most freeing experiences I have had. The magnificent beauty of the sunsets, sunrises and star-filled nights, and their impermanence, filled me with a rare and simple joy– bringing into perspective all those that I’d missed because I was too busy doing something else with all the “luxuries” and distractions we have on land.

I told Ella about the magical moonlight and the way the clouds had turned into faces as I sat on my shift the night before, and she was so intrigued by this that she convinced Tawnya to let her stay up with me that night. We set up to cushions on the bow, watched the clouds and listened to a Norse mythology audio book— and she told me a story of creation, and how whales, dolphins and elephants are sacred animals because they made the earth. Needless to say, the last night sailing across the ocean aboard our lady Violeta couldn’t have been more perfect.

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Moon Rise over Sea of Cortez
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Mast in the Moon Light

The following morning we nearly stumbled into a perilous disaster, one that easily could have put the whole trip to an end! But we’ll tell you about that in Cabo to Puerto Vallarta Part III, coming soon! 

 

Cabo to Puerto Vallarta (Part I): Gas Station Rip Off, Sunset Magic & Hair Clips in the Head

By Portia Leigh

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We left our slip at Marina Cabo San Lucas around 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon, moving all of 20 ft. across the water to the marina gas station parallel to us. Despite being in Mexico, we knew we weren’t going to be getting any price breaks by refueling in Cabo; and as we expected, the diesel prices were equivalent to those in Marina Del Rey, CA. But what we didn’t expect was to be charged a $50 (USD) fee just to dock the boat at the gas station on top of paying for the actual gas—So what you’re saying is we have to pay you just so we can pay you? I don’t get it… One might assume that the $125 per night slip rental fee we paid would buy us the right to just pay for the gas and bypass that asinine additional fee (one which we weren’t informed of until we were already filling up), but it was not so. If you’re crossing by Cabo I strongly suggest not filling up your tanks at Marina Cabo San Lucas, the whole situation was disgustingly rude.

Just as quickly as we said a not so fond farewell to the tourist-saturated circus, we found ourselves peacefully enjoying an epic sunset over the famous Cabo San Lucas arch; and from then on, the evening was pure magic.

Ella and Tawnya whipped up a lovely stir-fry for dinner (one of their ultimate favorites) and everyone made their way to bed shortly after. It had been a long day packed with a monumental grocery store excursion, the refilling of ice, water and fuel, as well as the handling of multiple other odds and ends necessary for making the next leg of the trip as smooth as possible.

I’m on the 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift (and the 6 a.m. until someone else wakes up shift) so I sat up watching the moon shine down on the water, reveling in the unbelievable beauty of it all. I felt a noticeable difference between the Pacific Ocean to the west of Baja and the Sea of Cortez— which probably has more to do with the wind (or lack of) at the time, rather than any real difference between the waters. That night, as we headed southeast from the lowest point of Baja across the Sea of Cortez towards Puerto Vallarta, the waves rolled in parallel to the hull causing Violeta to rock dramatically from side to side.

The night was rather uneventful, until I went to the head and tried to pump the toilet… it wouldn’t flush. Ughhh, it was too late to ask Francisco what to do, so after my shift was done and Diego took over, I went to bed. Still, as Violeta rocked side to side, my mind ran wild with images of the toilet bowl overturning into a filthy catastrophe– I was sure a pee-soaked floor would inevitably be waiting for me when I woke up. To my astonishment though, not a drop spilled!

I went above board for the 6 a.m. shift, which has become my favorite part of day. Watching the moon’s final descent to the west as the rising sun paints the sky with color from the east is tragically underrated.

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This morning was particularly special though; the ocean was calm, quiet, and virtually without a ripple. It looked as smooth as velvet, appearing if a plaid-like pattern was superimposed upon the magical blue water — it’s hard to describe exactly how I felt gazing into it at dawn. My body felt physically different, as though the subtle current was moving into me and slowing things down with every breath… I felt like Jello, haha, calm, tingly, Jello.

I found a baby calamari deceased on deck and I hooked it to Diego’s fishing line, maybe this will help us score another fish! (It didn’t..) Soon Ella was up, and she joined me for a bit of yoga, pranayama and meditation.

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It was a lovely morning… and then I remembered the toilet situation. After pulling a pair of snug rubber gloves on up to my elbows and cleaning out the toilet with a red solo cup and a turkey baster, Francisco went to town. He got the Phillips and flat head screw drivers and some paper towels together, singing a song that went something like Get yourself a red solo cup we’re gonna have shit party, (something, something) Hey Mr. Hanky!

As he entered the bowhead he requested I put on Beethoven’s 9th to set the mood, it seemed most appropriate for the job. After having removed the hand pump, connecting plastic box housing and hoses—he found the culprit—a miniature and wildly unruly hair clip had gone astray and found its way into the toilet, the creator of all our subsequent woes. Lesson learned: No loose objects in the bathroom!

 **Stay tuned for part II of the journey to Puerto Vallarta and find out how Violeta broke the wind barrier!

First Leg to Mexico

By Portia Leigh

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Violeta leaving Marina Del Rey, CA

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.

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Ella on the bowsprit

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.

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Charting the course

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.

Voyaging Violeta
Violeta breaking through the waves

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.

Who Put Water in the Diesel Tank?! and how we bounced back…

We woke up Wednesday morning at 3:30 a.m. with a voyage to Mexico burning bright in our minds. Francisco turned on the engine and let Violeta run for about 30 minutes as I (Portia) cooked breakfast and Diego topped off our water tanks—we were all itching to get out there, but today would not be the day— without warning, the engine abruptly shut off. Francisco tried again and again to no avail to get her engine to turn over; so we all decided it was better to go back to bed and reconvene in the morning to figure out exactly what had gone wrong rather than keep trying and wear out the starter completely.

Francisco called our trusty marine mechanic Tim, a knowledgeable and all-around friendly guy who knows how to put a smile on your face, even in the most dire of situations. He showed up immediately. By the time I woke up around 8:30 a.m. Tim was already elbows deep in diesel, tinkering away in the engine room.

Ella yelled from the aft, “Someone put water in the gas tank!” I groggily moved from my comfy bottom v-berth bunk thinking Wtf? Who would do that? – I learned the answer several hours later and it came as an alarming surprise, it was me! The intake holes for the diesel and water tanks on deck are quite close to each other, so I guess it’s an easy (rookie) mistake to make—just not one I thought I would make; and that in no way removes the overwhelming guilt.

(Thankfully) Tim said he had managed to bleed the water from the second tank and she was up and running again by late morning; but to my horror, the consequences of my faux pas were far from over. With a new plan set to embark later that evening I left to do our remaining laundry. I came back to the dock just in time to watch Francisco, Diego, Tawnya and Ella aboard Violeta heading to the gas station to fill up the second tank (with DIESEL) to replace the amount of water we had emptied that morning!

I sat on the dock awaiting their return for a solid two hours, but instead of my boat family, I was greeted by a sheriff who jumped off of his boat and onto our dock slip. After a short conversation he informed me that his team was towing Violeta back to the slip. “Her engine is broken, it’s shot,” he said calmly.

Incite internal panic NOW. My guts literally sunk out of my soul. Oh my god, I’ve destroyed our engine, the journey we’ve been planning for months is caput and it’s all my fault! Okay, calm down, breathe, I can sell my truck quickly and that will pay for a new engine, it will be okay, it will be okay—I said to myself desperately trying to console the building panic.  In the video below they arrive back to dock in tow of coastguard vessel and getting hooked up to side of sheriff to be directed back in to our slip.

Violeta and crew came into view shortly after—Ella on the bowsprit smiling and waving— in fact, everyone is in good spirits, as I stand there thinking: Really, you guys aren’t ready to slit my throat? Apparently they had attempted to motor out past the breakwater after filling up the gas tank to test the engine and work out any left over water, but the engine had shut down and wouldn’t restart. They quickly raised the sails, as they were dangerously in between the breakwater rocks and a huge rigger boat, but the wind was not in their favor and they were still too close to land to have no engine quite yet. The currents proceeded to pull the boat dangerously close to the Venice Beach shore, until the coast guard and sheriff came to the rescue and towed her home. Well that’s it, there’s no way we are leaving today I thought to myself, but Tim came back that evening and bled more water from the second tank and Violeta was up and running once again. Whew, that was a close one.

I learned a lot from this mistake—and albeit mortifying, to the point of wanting to stick my head in the sand, put my tail between my legs and never admit this to anyone ever—my mistake might just be helpful for others who make this mistake so now I’m going to explain how you can recover from this perilous error. However, before you go too far to the point of your engine dying completely, you can prevent this by paying close attention to the racor, where you can see the diesel gas that’s about to get sucked into the engine—here you’ll see a line between the diesel and the water when water is about to be sucked into the engine, if it’s all pink in the racor, you are fine, but when you see that line between the two liquids you’ll know it’s time to unscrew the valve below the racor and let the water drain out before it gets sucked into the engine…

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Racor

If you do not get to the engine in time and your engine dies this is what you do to recover (All measurements for the nuts and bolts are from our engine, which is a Marine Diesel Ford Lehman):

Unscrew the two white knobs (drain caps) at the bottom of the two fuel filters next to each other and the bleeding screws (9/16th nuts where my finger is pointing) on top of each one and let water drain out. Then tighten the bottom white knobs and leave the top nuts loose. Go to the control panel and turn on the fuel transfer button until clean fuel comes out the top of the screws—tighten the top screws and turn off the transfer fuel button.

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Now loosen 1/2 inch washer below fuel injectors (picture below) and run pump until clean fuel comes out (only a little will come out) and tighten the washer again.

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Washer below fuel injectors

Then loosen all 6 injector nuts (5/8ths) and have someone above board turn the engine over, about three times until they start spitting out fuel. Tighten the injectors, and now move over to the air filter and as someone is turning over the engine spray the air filter with starter fluid, this will take about three times but now you should be good to go.

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six fuel injectors

Anyways, although I’m super embarrassed about it, I hope my error proves helpful to someone out there. And in the next post we actually make it out to sea, so stay tuned!

Violeta’s Nearly Ready for the Mighty Pacific Ocean

Flashback to November and we thought we’d be all settled into Sayulita, Mexico and enjoying warm 80F temperatures and sunny skies by Christmas, but December came and went and we found ourselves ringing in 2017 from Marina Del Rey, CA. Sure, we are itching to get out there, but Violeta is more than a means for getting from point A to B, she’s our home and like any trusty vessel, she requires a lot of tender love and care in order to get her ready for an extended journey like the one we’re about to embark on.

Over the past month we’ve made a lot changes and upgrades, most are necessities, but we splurged for a few luxuries, like our new hot water heater! For weeks I cherished every hot shower I took on land, believing that this sweet luxury would soon become a memory. Ella was so excited about the hot water heater that she decided to pamper Tawnya and I with a foot scrub and massage the night it was installed!

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A lot of our work has been dedicated to sanding and varnishing Violeta’s hand and toe rails from bowsprit to stern, 7 layers to be exact, each one requiring us to sand down the varnish before adding another layer, which means waiting a day for the varnish to dry.

Over the last two years Violeta has made several short voyages to Catalina and around the Santa Monica Bay, but she hasn’t been out for more than a few days at a time in quite a while. Some of the repairs we’ve made in order to make our upcoming voyage as seamless as possible include installing a new jib sail, as the previous one was pretty old, and a rolling furler, which means we’ll be able to easily roll the jib sail around the stay and hoist it up as opposed to having to manually hoist it up and god forbid, wrestle it down in the wind. We’ve added a second reef line to the main sail, because after testing it in a storm we quickly discovered that one was not enough, so now if the wind goes above 30 knots (about 30 mph) we can call upon the second reef line to help us out. Violeta’s oil has been changed, and we’ve also made a vital adjustment to our two diesel fuel tanks– as before we were unable to isolate them from one another, a necessity if we ever happen upon bad fuel, a sticky situation that could easily become perilous if the tanks mix and we aren’t able to switch from one to the other.

We also installed a new aft head (back bathroom), because with 4 to 5 people living aboard, having two toilets is going to be a major bonus; and reconstructed the mounts for the galley stove so it has more room to swivel back and forth without crashing into the back wall when the boat is heeling over.

All in all it’s been a lot of work, but thankfully we’ve had several helpers who have lent a hand and sped up the process. Next up is preparing galley!

voyaging violeta
Diego (upper left) painting, Andrew (upper right) working on the aft head, Tim (bottom left) working on the engine room and Scott (bottom right) reconstructing the stove mounts