January 31, 2010

Five hundred Miles--the slow way

If the wind was in our favour we would have been arriving in Puerto Vallarta today. We knew when we set out though that it would be a light wind passage. The options were to go when it was still stormy (and get a quick ride), go when it settled and hope for enough wind, or wait for that ideal 10-15 knots on the stern quarter... Considering I'm not fond of stormy and we could wait a long time for perfect, we opted for light winds. So we still have 200 miles to go.
We're meeting my mum and stepdad in PV, in four-days, which was part of the reason for our departure (we were having such a nice time in Mag Bay we could have stayed longer.) The other reason is we're all ready to be south. Somehow just being down there and knowing all we have to do for the next year is gunk hole up and down the coast and into the Sea of Cortez is really inviting. This passage to PV is the last big one for a while.
It's funny how I still don't quite feel like I've arrived in my life. I keep having the sense that in one more harbour I'll be there. I'm not sure if it's because we spent the past seven-years being completely goal and deadline oriented, but that self-imposed pressure to get to the next harbour lingers. And the ever-present demand of deadlines just adds to the feeling that we're not quite there yet.
My guess is the fault lays with my personality type. Despite the barefoot-on-the-beach nomadic romance to cruising, to get this far you have to be at least a little bit type 'A' (and likely a lot type 'A'). There's no getting around it--dreaming doesn't get the boat finished or the cruising kitty filled. Then there's the reality of being endlessly aimless--pretty much anyone who gives it a try will tell you that having no goal comes with its own stresses (boredom even). We found it was fine for a year or so, but sometimes you want to feel like you've accomplished more than fixing a boat part, reading a book and looking at the waves. You want to have a purpose.
For today though it's enough to ghost along in seven knots of wind, making maybe four, knowing we have another full day of travel before we drop the hook, watching the waves change colour and shape as the sun rises and the wind shifts. Spending hours on deck with Maia--sighting silvery flying fish as they soar along the surface; cheering as they escape the hungry beak of a Boobie bird; and listening to Maia as she tries to imagine just what it would feel like to fly is fulfilling. Once we get to PV I can work on discovering a more structured purpose to give this life shape. But for today, I'm content.
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January 30, 2010

Day Two

This is a bit of an experiment. We're posting from sea, emailing the posting to blogger using our pactor modem and single side band radio. We probably should have tried this out in advance, just to see what would end up on the blog...
We had a bit of variety over the past 20 hours--the sky started clear but ended up overcast this morning, we've had wind from every direction, ranging from calm to about 10 knots. We've sailed down wind, close hauled and assisted by the motor. It's nicest when the motor's off but we both tend to turn it on when our speed drops below about 3 knots. We're not purists these days.
Last night the moon was near full. I had forgotten how nice it is to sail by moonlight. I like being able to see the horizon and the shape of the waves. I find it comforting. Early in the evening I sighted another sailboat, it was heading north. We called on the VHF to exchange names, route plans, weather experiences. At about 2am we were joined by a pod of dolphins, I watched them as they played in our bow wave by moonlight. The sails were full and we were moving at close to  six knots. It may have been the finest sailing yet.
We'll pass Cabo in a few hours, then it's about three more days to Puerto Vallarta. I'm thinking about things like what to make for meals, how to quiet down our dagger boards when we're close hauled and when we should all sit down and practice Spanish.
Sushi making underway--not bad for our first ever effort.
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January 29, 2010

At Sea

We left Mag Bay this morning. We planned to leave yesterday, but woke to drizzle, so decided to wait for sun. You can do that in the desert.
We spent a quiet day getting chores done then Evan and Maia headed to the beach to look for scallops and clams--they collected a bucket full of what look like big banded venus clams and cockles. We're not sure how we'll cook them yet, but keep changing their water.
Then, just as the sun was setting I saw a boat entering the harbour--Mike and Hyo on IO had arrived and they had just caught a big Yellow Tail tuna. They came over (bearing tuna) and we swapped sailing stories for a few hours. Then it was off to bed--for them to rest up after their five-day passage and for us to prepare for ours.
This morning we headed out of the bay early, for us. Motoring into the rising sun, keeping an eye out for the whales. Soon we saw their spray across the horizon. Next, we were surrounded.
You're supposed to keep a minimum distance from the whales, but someone forgot to tell them this. We put the engine to idle and just listened as they swam and breathed all around us. Maia counted 70 before she stopped. I gave up long before her, too overwhelmed to count. Being in the midst of the huge gentle animals was awesome--in the purest sense of the word.
We wanted to stay, and follow them, and might have, but we could see more whales ahead, and more beyond those. So we raised our sails and sailed out into the open ocean. The low swell rolled under the boat and a light breeze filled out our sails.
Eight knots of wind from our stern quarter, 4-5 knots of speed. We made lunch of the fresh tuna and our fresh veggies and while eating we toasted the whales with white wine. We're starting to find our sea rhythm now; checking sails, watching the horizon, keeping track of our position. A few minutes ago a humpback breached nearby.
The only sounds are our sails and the sea.
N 24.10.5
W 111.40.8
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January 27, 2010

Adventures in Shopping

It’s been a week since our last green vegetables were consumed.
Three days since Maia ate her last apple.
Two days since we ran out of tomatoes.

Every day we go into the little tienda in Magdalena Town and shop. One day we found a few limp carrots. Another day it was eggs and onions. Yesterday it was a small bunch of bruised bananas. Today there was nothing.

We’re headed to Puerto Vallarta soon—there are big grocery stores there. But even if we leave now, we won’t be there for almost five days. Five more days of no fresh food seemed like too long as we ate our cereal with powdered milk this morning. So we piled into the dinghy and set off for Puerto San Carlos—eight-miles.

Eight miles is nothing if you have a car. It's not even a big deal by bus or by bike. But by water it’s wet, and bumpy and far. Made farther by the fact we weren’t sure which part of the town had stores. We asked a fisherman in a panga where to land for shopping. He pointed vaguely at a beach. On shore we found ourselves walking aimlessly along dusty, stinky industrial roads—laden with jerry jugs for fuel and a back pack for groceries. So we asked again--and got another general wave of a hand. So we turned right and headed for a green building.

While we were walking a shiny red pickup stopped beside us, “Are you looking for something?” we were asked by a smiling young man who spoke decent english.
“Pemex-for fuel,” we told him. He waved down the road, vaguely.
“And groceries?” 
Another wave, this time the other way.
Then he offered us a lift.
We were lost and tired from the trip so we climbed in. First we went to the Pemex. But it was when our driver took us to the weekly market and we met his third ‘brother’ that we began to worry.

It’s not uncommon for Mexicans to offer us their services. They’ll fetch fuel, watch that our dinghy doesn’t drift away or scrub the bottom of our boat. Anything, really, for a few pesos. Most of the time the service is fair and well appreciated, but there are moments when it can become quite overwhelming to be seen as rich Gringos who have money to burn. The number one rule of agreeing to any service is setting a price in advance.
We hadn’t done this.

“Me llamo Diane,” I told our cheery driver.
“Gabino,” he told us.
Then I broached the subject of money--and his time. No money, he told us. He said when he has time he likes to make friends. He likes to hear about the world outside of Magdalena. He asked about Vancouver—and if it was true we had no snow for the Olympics.

Gabino runs a whale watching boat, and he’s a fisherman. He’s 35 and has been in San Carlos for 30-years, he says he makes a good life and he likes to give back. He took us to another shop (also staffed by his family-“it’s a small town and my family is big”), and helped us find things that would have taken hours on our own. So we asked him if we could take him for lunch.

We took him to his favourite torta shop (this time not staffed by family). When the (really excellent) food arrived he told us he was a Jehovah’s Witness. I braced myself for his sales pitch, realizing that the true cost of our morning together was about to be paid, wondering if we could maybe just offer him money after all. But then he began to talk about other things; the weather, the recent storm, September’s hurricane, my work. We traded business cards.

After lunch he drove us back to the dinghy—we miscalculated the tides and it was high and dry. Gabino helped us get it the 50 metres down the beach. Then he turned to Maia, took her hand in his and told her he had something serious to say. “Ah, finally, now we’ll pay,” I thought, assuming he would try to convert her.

“Always remember that friends are better to have than money,” Gabino told her solemnly. 
He watched her, to make sure she understood, before he released her hand.
“Friends make you rich..."

January 25, 2010

Where we are--Mag Bay

Bahia Magdalena is a remote bay on the south west coast of the Baja. It’s 50km of shallow estuaries, white sand beaches and mangrove lagoons. There are only a couple of settlements on the bay—and they have the feel of a forgotten frontier to them. When we go into the village we’re surrounded by children; Cassandra and Alejandra are the most outgoing. We felt rich when the small dusty tienda had both eggs and onions in stock.

In September hurricane Jimena blew through the area destroying buildings and sinking boats and now, in January, most of the homes and the village church are still without roofs. But the kids are well dressed, they all have bikes and everyone greets us.

Despite the area’s poverty, or maybe because of it, there’s almost no development on the bay. Gray whales come here every year to give birth; migrating birds fill the wet lands; the waters are alive with marine life. A five minute dinghy ride from our anchorage takes us to places where our footprints are the only ones to mark the fine white sand.

Exploring is easy here—we’ve walked through the desert, swum in the clear waters and paddled through a mangrove lagoon. At night we watch the sky fill with stars so bright they’re reflected by the water.

Mag Bay isn’t the type of place to end up in travel articles or guide books, but it’s the type of place we set out for. It’s the kind of place that years from now, when we’re home and settled, we’ll remind each other of…

January 24, 2010

Everyday Beauty

Normally we crop garbage out of our pictures, changing the angle, altering the perspective. Its always there though.

One of the most memorable moments of my life came while sailing off of Vancouver Island many years ago. We had become becalmed and floating beside our boat was a large, ungainly looking bird. We were, “as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean" and were able to watch the bird closely. It seemed to like us and we passed the hours talking to it. Our friendly bird never strayed more than a few feet from our hull and when the wind finally rose we watched in awe as the bird spread its endless wings and lifted in breathtaking flight. It circled our boat a few times then glided away. We had seen a Black footed Albatross.

Albatross are a good omen for sailors. Seeing one at sea is akin to sighting the Greenflash or a Kermode bear. For me they bring to mind beauty and hope. I was reminded of our albatross a few months ago when I was confronted by a series of photos making their painful way across the Internet. Chris Jordan's beautifully composed and artfully rendered photographs were taken on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand in the North Pacific. The macabre subjects are dead albatross chicks. Their parents had sought food and were seduced by the plastic refuse floating in the Pacific Gyre, or The Great Garbage Patch. The tiny chicks starved, their bellies full of our trash.

This is one ecological disaster that won't let go of me. With each image, when I look at the tiny body that should have grown into one of the world's most magnificent birds, the deep part of me that is a mother howls in rage and shame. I am reminded of how many plastic bags I've filled with things I wanted but didn't need, and how many cheap and useless plastic trinkets I've given Maia – thinking I was nourishing her in some essential way. I am forced to realize that just like the Ancient Mariner my actions “killed the bird that made the breeze to blow.”

 We see plastic everywhere, it becomes overwhelming. Some of it can be recycled--the fishing line, the water bottles, the plastic bags. Mostly though it is with us forever.

I don’t know if Jordan’s pictures have made me more observant of what is happening to our oceans but I know we can’t sail more than a few miles without seeing garbage at sea. Lots of it. We find it tangled in rafts of kelp, floating as escaped balloons or discarded water bottles. We see it littering otherwise isolated and pristine beaches. This refuse is not washed clean with the next tide, where it disappears forever. Instead the bright bits are carried by the currents deep into the centre of the ocean where they swirl and beckon and look for all intents like something that can sustain life.

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January 22, 2010

A Visit From the Christ Child

It looks like it’s shaping up to be a strong El Nino year, which means, among other things, that the weather is a bit unpredictable and that this year’s trade winds may fail. If you live in California you’re getting the brunt of El Nino, the Christ Child—the jet stream, which normally passes over B.C. and Alaska, has moved way south and the lows are coming fast and furious over California and the northern Baja.

As cruising sailors our lives are linked in a very direct way to the weather—every move we make is a response to weather faxes and forecasts. We watch isobars the way some people watch football. We move when the forecast says to move. But still, we’re caught off guard sometimes. El Nino’s are like that, they bring weather that no one quite expects.

Right now we’re hunkered down off the little village of Magdelena with wind shuddering through our rigging and the first rain in months washing away layers of accumulated dust and grime. Around us are four other cruising boats, beyond that are nine big fishing boats—the kind that almost never leave the fishing grounds. On shore it’s quiet, the little village is still and dark while we wait for the oh, so, rare rains to pass.

Outside the safety of our harbour is the kind of weather you expect up in B.C., 20' waves, gale force wind and driving rain. But as the boat rocks in the wind waves we stay inside--cozy and warm, sipping hot chocolate and eating popcorn and imagining that a faraway winter has come for a (hopefully) brief visit.

January 20, 2010

Wind, Waves and Weather

We left the marina in Ensenada when the docks threatened to break apart. As surge from a passing storm funnelled into the harbour the docks would lift--1 maybe 2 feet. The boats would be wrenched sideways and the whole setup creaked and groaned as boards pulled loose. You’re not supposed to anchor in Ensenada, but as conditions worsened we were told to go out, we’d be safer, the docks would be safer. On the hook it was calm, it was easy to forget there was swell surging in and a storm passing by. We waited for the system to pass, then headed south 250 miles, searching for a Mexico we both remembered.

Last time, I discovered the Mexico I’ve grown to love in a harbour called Turtle Bay. There we met two fishermen, Ignacio and Alfredo. They came to sell us fish and, not knowing it wasn’t done, we invited them aboard and gave them cool drinks. After that they brought us a new fish everyday, but wouldn’t take money anymore, we were friends now. For three weeks they would visit us with fish and a recipe for cooking it, or invite us to shore for celebrations. We learned our first Spanish from them. I baked them their first chocolate chip cookies.
Ev enjoying the great sailing - tweaking sails, watching our progress
One of my first published stories was about that friendship, and as we approached Turtle Bay, I decided wanted to give Ignacio and Alfredo the book their story is in. I thought I could find them in the dusty little town, which is so far from the highway and so tied to the ocean. But just hours after settling in, while we were still relearning our way though the maze of narrow streets and poor cinderblock houses, we discovered another storm was coming. This one would leave us exposed to wind and swell in Turtle Bay. So we left--with me glimpsing but not grasping the memory of how it feels to love Mexico.

We had to outrun a building South Westerly storm. In our little boat we never would have tried. We would have hunkered down in Turtle Bay and held on, knowing we were safe enough, just not comfortable. With the cat we can flee.
The sunrise at the beginning of my 6am watch.
Our boat does not sail like a monohull. It’s taken me time to trust the feeling of dancing over waves rather than slicing through them. We skitter and shudder in a way that our little cutter never did. But we’re fast and we don’t heel. And as the wind shifted from our nose to our beam and the seas built to a steady rhythm—it felt like we flew. Eight knots is my favourite speed on the beam. And heading downwind, surfing on huge swell, ten knots can feel good. Beyond that it gets too loud and too much like ice skating down an incline out of control.

We watched the clouds fill in around us and felt the seas build higher. We sensed we were on the edge of something powerful. Then, after 42 hours, we entered Mag Bay. All around us we could see signs of Gray whales. The females are here to give birth next month. And the spray from their blow holes is like a mist. We watched their slow progress, head, back, tail, breath as they swam all around us.

We sailed up the bay, not wanting to add motor noise to their silence. Then we anchored off a village of 110 adults and 30 children. Soon the Port Captain came out—we gave him our documents and served him tea and cookies. We spoke halting Spanish, searching for words, making mistakes. I think he understands English though.
I thought this the last time when we met him too.

January 12, 2010

Mexico, finally

We’re in Ensenada, Mexico, which, considering its only about 75 miles from San Diego isn’t much of a feat. Some journeys aren’t measured in miles though—they’re measured in acquired stress. And by that measure we’ve come a really long way.

The Journey:

Seventy-five miles is one of those awkward distances. In a good wind we can do it in day time, but if the wind is light we need to make it an overnighter so we can arrive by daylight. So with light winds forecast we pulled out of San Diego, just as the sun was setting. By the time we hit the channel the night was black. The predicted swell of 7-9 ft was slow and rolling and the wind was too light to sail in. So we motored, me at the wheel, dodging small fishing boats who were tending traps and trying to make sense of channel markers. Then the engine began to vibrate.

Vibration is seldom good and after throttling back we decided to put on the autopilot to try and work out the problem. Then the auto pilot wouldn’t work. So out came the spare and we went back to trying to sort out the persistent vibration. Just as we were about to turn back to San Diego we decided to have a look at the propeller by flashlight—it was dark, and the propeller is well under water, but even through the murk we could see we had caught a very large ball of kelp.

  Evan using the boat hook to remove kelp from the prop - it's easier in daylight

We freed the propeller and rudders repeatedly through the night and were thankful when we finally pulled into Ensenada even happier to see our friends Mike and Hyo from IO waiting on the dock for us as we tied up.

Ensenada doesn’t allow boats to anchor out in the harbour and some of the marinas are ridiculously expensive, so we did our research and made reservations with Baja Naval. When we arrived we called on the radio—they responded they were readying a slip for us and to stand off. Moments later were we waved into a slip, in what later turned out to be a competing marina—Marina Ensenada. We were back in Mexico.

Our Arrival:

We met Mike and Hyo in Coos Bay, where, in the pouring rain, Mike helped Evan to stabilize our mast for the trip south. After that we stayed in touch by email and by blog and were happy when we found ourselves sharing a dock with them again in San Diego. They left a few hours ahead of us for Ensenada and after they told us the story of their overnight passage, which included a nasty holding tank disaster, we decided their night was worse than ours so I cooked us all breakfast and we toasted our arrival before we headed to check in.

I tend to wax poetic about arriving in harbour by boat. In the right moment I’ll tell you how you go through all these unchanging and ancient customs on arrival. How you visit the Port Captain and customs and immigration, how it’s lovely and ritualized and often fun.

Ensenada isn’t like that.

To streamline procedures they’ve centralized all the services into the same building--the same room actually. It’s just a large waiting area ringed with glass windows, each window an office for one or two people. We arrived at 11am and almost immediately it was clear we had problems. Our crew list was missing our middle names and we were told we needed a better document to prove we owned the boat—so Evan headed back to the boat to print new crew lists and find another document. Then Mike and Hyo had their turn. I lost track of what happened to them after Mike was chastised for not having his middle name on his passport and Hyo had to head out for more photocopies of something. By then Evan was back and things started to disintegrate.

In Canada you can have a federally registered vessel or a provincially licensed one. Ours is provincially licensed. Mexico wants the boat’s title document—and neither of these documents is a title document. We don’t have an actual title document in Canada, which we explained, just a variety of pieces of paper, none of which is very grand or official looking. This was a problem we were told, it didn’t matter how we do it in Canada, what matters is what they want in Mexico and what they want is a fancy piece of paper. No matter which piece of paper we offered it was found lacking. But it was only declined after making its slow rounds of the streamlined office, where each person, in turn, faxed it to another office for it to be rejected.

After three hours we were told we couldn’t be cleared into Mexico. When we asked what this meant we were told it meant we had to go home.

Back on the boat we sorted through every piece of paper we have—looking for one that looked formal and said we owned the boat. The next morning we headed back in, new paper in hand. We started at immigration and this time our fancy paper passed. We spoke to one woman who mentioned that in Mexico it’s about appearances—official looking outranks actual official.

From immigration were sent to the banker’s window to pay for our tourist visas, then headed back to immigration to show our receipt, from there we went to the port captain’s window to officially clear in and get more papers for the boat which we needed to take out for copying, then we took all those papers to the banker to pay--for something, then returned to immigration for a stamp on the papers which we then needed to get a copy of, then we headed to get a fishing licence, paid for it at the banker, returned with the payment receipt to get our licence, then we went to customs with all our papers, which he went through carefully, then we pushed the ‘spot inspection’ button and hoped we wouldn’t have to get the boat inspected because we’re sure they wouldn’t like our cat’s papers either.

Each time we moved to a new office window we had to line up, often passing the same people embroiled in the same process (most who were chastised for missing middle names). Eventually we were done—we got a green light so no inspection was needed.

 To celebrate we went for fish tacos.
We’re in Mexico.

January 10, 2010

Around San Diego

It's easy, when you're cruising, to see just about every type of hardware store or repair shop but miss out on sightseeing. There's a few reasons for this. Mostly we're so busy trying to get all our systems running so we can get to the next port while we have a weather window, that taking the time for fun can seem, well, frivolous. Then there's the expense of attractions - living a vacation lifestyle everyday is pretty unsustainable.

 Big Balloon at the Big Bay Parade

We've found what works for us is to keep a schedule not unlike we had at home. Work and school in the mornings with free (or nearly free) stuff mixed in with errands in the afternoon. We try for a few big ticket items or inland travel on the weekends (although we do mix our weeks and weekends up to take advantage of quiet days at museums).

Scenes from our day at the San Diego Zoo
In San Diego we wanted to visit the zoo (and three friendly busses later we were there visiting animals in cages - which seems so different than the way we have been seeing them) and Balboa Park. Balboa Park was built for the Panama-California Exposition to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal in 1915 and expanded for the California Pacific International Expo in 1935. The Spanish Colonial architecture makes it worth a visit alone. The museums are all nice and most only take an hour or two to see - so you can fit in a bunch in a day.

We spent a day at Balboa Park visitng some of the 15 museums and numerous gardens.
Even though exploring San Diego is fun and we're hanging out with some great people it's Mexico we keep thinking about. With the roar of planes overhead, the sound of traffic and the lights from shore I'm reminded why we're here and where it is we want to go. Wandering the busy streets feels like goodbye.

January 8, 2010

Getting Gone

I’ve had a few people send notes asking us to detail the exact steps we’re taking and list the stuff we’re buying while we prepare to leave San Diego. The thing is everyone has different things on their list at this stage. Ours included getting our Pactor modem running (which it now is – so this means I’ll be able to send and receive work emails over single sideband radio networks), getting our water maker running (check), setting up a downwind reaching pole, sorting out our weather forecasting systems (we’ll be listening to Don from Summer Passage) as well as downloading weather faxes, organizing our paper work (still need to order boat cards… sigh) and stocking up on things that we found were either hard to get or too expensive to buy in Mexico:
favourite crackers and cookies, maple syrup, hard sausages and hard cheeses, batteries and software, favourite treats from Trader Joes, movies and school books, jams and chocolate, wheat free flour and pasta, vitamins and guide books, favourite herbs and spices, dry bunk material, boat parts and fishing gear… 
Personally, I also needed to clear my schedule of deadlines for a few weeks--so I was filing stories and sorting pictures.

The thing is the final to-do list can be a never ending trap--and for lots of people it is. I’m always reluctant to tell people what it is that we are trying to get done because when I do it usually elicits one of three responses: they either think we aren’t doing enough (aka less than what they would do), doing too much (aka more than what they would do) or it sends them into a panic as they realize they totally missed a step that may or may not be important.

Last time we headed south, we spent over a month in San Diego working from dawn to dusk trying to plan for every eventuality and making sure we didn’t forget a single item that we might someday possibly need (I even pre-bought birthday and Christmas gifts). We got caught in the trap of second guessing our list and checking with every cruiser and every book for tips on what we may have forgotten (thank goodness we didn’t have blogs to read to increase our anxiety…)

What we discovered is Mexico (and beyond) had people living there, that we didn’t need to carry enough food to make it for months. There were mechanics and hardware stores so we didn’t need to stock every spare part, or to imagine and prepare for every eventuality. All we really needed to do was know our boat and prepare to be self-sufficient for a few weeks – but not for months or years.

I think cruising is foreign enough that we feel safer and more prepared if we can just make enough lists and buy enough stuff. Because it’s all pretty hard to imagine what it’s really like to untie and let go, we grab on tighter, trying to manage an unknowable future.

But it is unknowable, in a good way. So, I’m sorry to the people who wrote and asked for my list—I don’t really have one that’s universal enough to share. There are books and articles filled with suggestions and ideas, but I think my main message is simply to decide what you need to be comfortable and safe, then pare down the list to the things that are unique to you, your boat and your lifestyle. Then randomly cross off half the things on your list with your eyes closed—you’ll never miss the stuff.

But do make sure you stash away a few treats so that at one of those cruiser potlucks, the ones that happen way far from specialty stores, you can be the boat that brings out the cool appetizer…

January 5, 2010

Talk to Strangers

 There are certain rules most parents teach their children that don’t apply sailing kids. Things like bathe often (we’ve rejigged that one to bathe when you can, preferably with as little soap and water as possible), get dressed for school (who needs to get out of their PJs to home school?) and eat everything on your plate (an especially hard goal when you’re not even sure what something is…) 

The rule we most brazenly ignore though is the don’t-talk-to-strangers one. In fact Maia learned almost from the outset that if she doesn’t talk to strangers, she’d be pretty lonely. These days Maia can strike up a conversation with just about anyone, on almost any topic. Which has brought us to the point of having to break another one of those parenting rules—Maia’s begun making friends out of strangers and then they invite her places, without us. She’s going places with strangers. 

In fact, right now, she’s swimming in the pool of an adjacent hotel with a little girl called Sophie, and last night she was out on shore until well past dark playing freeze tag with four boys from another boat, and the night before that she went with a family to a bonfire at the beach. For a child who was aching with loneliness less than a month ago she’s really getting this talking-to-strangers thing down pat.

I was startled the first time Maia was invited to play on another boat without me. I knew the time would come—but it really does feel odd to send my daughter to play on a transient boat where (like us!) the owners have no fixed address. We just have to trust they’re not running (albeit very slowly) from the law. Or planning to kidnap her. And hope they won’t be careless with power tools, or something.

As counterintuitive as it seems to send Maia off to play after gathering no more info than a first name and maybe a cellphone number, I realize that it’s really no different than what she’s seen us do. She’s watched as strangers come to our boat to lend a hand, or have a meal and then walk away as friends. She watched us climb into strange cars to go get boat parts or leave in high-speed dinghies to fetch groceries. She’s watched us trust strangers. 

The father of a friend she recently made explained why he likes bringing his daughter to the transient dock in San Diego to make friends. “The kids who sail haven’t been taught to be afraid yet,” he told me “they embrace adventure. I want my daughter to learn that feeling.”

Me too.