October 29, 2018 | San Diego Harbor, California
A few years ago I was paddling along the Potomac River in D.C., listening to the forest and the sky, when a thought came—sail to Japan. It came out of the blue, with no connection to my professional life or personal history. So I said sure, that sounds like a fine idea.
After a winding path from an office in D.C. to a farm in Hudson Valley, New York, to a farm in San Diego, California I found a boat and a captain. Her name is Celtic Song and her name is Captain Diane Berol. We trained together for over a year with an eclectic group of salty crewmates, until everyone could heave-to, retrieve a person overboard and dock the boat.
I stowed my books in my parent’s storage unit, stuffed quick-dry clothes into a waterproof backpack and mailed my absentee ballot. Finally, we were ready to untie the dock lines and head south to the Sea of Cortez with 149 other boats.
Friends and family keep asking if I feel excited. I felt adrenaline during the final preparation, nostalgia for a full life I’d grown and was leaving, but not excitement. Until the huge fleet of kindred spirits, twirling police boats and a mariachi band surrounded us in San Diego Harbor. Then I felt goosebumps and couldn’t stop smiling. Horns blared, fire boats blasted water in all directions. Kids and old folks in pirate outfits, with giant inflated pink flamingoes on deck celebrated the beginning of a journey. Even a massive battleship barreled through and broke up the parade for a moment but didn’t stop our momentum. My eyes filled with happy tears.
A flat, calm almost windless sea welcomed us. We cruised through the Coronado Islands, with the autumn light beaming through waves crashing on the stark cliff sides. A steady south swell twinkled grey under a cloudy sky. Diane served up spicy chicken soup to soothe our bellies and calm our minds after a full, emotional day. A sea lion rested atop a kelp forest.
We reviewed night watch protocol: if you see a red light off the starboard side that means a boat is crossing our bow so take note of the vessel’s distance and speed. If it is within a mile of us, hail them on VHF to determine their intentions. Check AIS every 15 minutes during your watch to see if you are on a collision course with anyone. Check radar at a six mile range. Stay tethered in and don’t go on deck unless you wake someone up to watch you. Roger roger.
I was nervous to do a night watch for the first time by myself but I settled into the responsibility. The autopilot stopped working for a minute, so I reset it. The traveler came undone so I re-cleated it. Ensenada sparkled in the distance. Our fellow fleet’s navigation lights comforted me. A proper beginning.