In Search of Blue Water: Part 1

Editor’s Note:  This is the first of three narrative accounts of a journey at sea.  More dispatches to land in the coming days.

It’s sometimes hard to swallow:  the stinging reality of things we can’t change.  As regular readers of this site know, my best friend Joe is heading to Iraq on a 1-year deployment.

I’ve known him for many years, since our days teaching at a Boy Scout camp in the Inland Northwest.  Joe taught lifesaving, and I taught rowing, but we both cherished sailing.  We were both introduced to harnessing wind by a laughing coworker pushing us into a small boat, alone.

Those coworkers are long gone, most never having sailed again.  Joe and I…are sailors.

Carmina Mare

I have more time on big sailboats than Joe.  He and I had both applied to work at a Boy Scout Sea Base in Florida during college.  We were both hired.  But the day I confirmed our hire Joe had confirmed his enlistment in the Army National Guard.  As I was swimming in yellow-tailed snappers, and acting as mate on a tall ship, Joe was learning to be an Army of One, trudging through a Missouri wilderness.

It seemed only fitting that as he prepared to deploy to “the Sandbox,” we should try to return to our sailing roots–the wind which made us conscious of who we are, and which forced us to consider deeper truths within us.

I undertook the details.  Joe was wrapping up his time as a music teacher in a rural school district, discovering a budding romance with a woman who knows what loving a deployed soldier could mean, and planning a life after a war.

I tried to find a charter boat to take us to British Columbia, or around the San Juan Islands, but Seattle’s sailing community seems kin to the New England tradition: only those with excessive means can enjoy the open water under sail.  I looked then at Portland, and San Francisco, with nothing screaming to me as a boat worthy of a journey as important as ours.

I stumbled by chance upon and got ahold of Captain Larry Beane. He considers himself a gourmet chef, and everything he owns in the world is within his Carmina Mare.  He answered my e-mail with a call from his Mexican cell phone.  He was to be our guide.

Island life
Catalina’s back shoreline, where the tourists are few and the sea-dogs are plenty.

Captain Larry met us at LAX.

We came upon his black Jeep Cherokee just as a pair of LA’s finest were about to tell him to move along.  We stopped into Ralph’s for a few choice items (Bailey’s, mixed nuts, sunblock) and we three walked to the awaiting Carmina.

The channel was calm, and the sun would set in a few hours.  The wind blew 20 knots, and the swells were steeper than usual.  The Captain said after dark the winds would die and the water would calm.

After two hours bobbing in an open ocean my face turned green.  I sucked on a piece of ginger which helped for an hour or so.  The sun fell, and the waters didn’t calm.  I moved to the stern of the boat, and spent the rest of the cruise nursing a queasy stomach.

I tried to sleep through a pounding night of winds which gusted 30 knots.  The boat heeled 30 degrees, and water crashed over the gunwale.

At 2 a.m. our boat crept toward Catalina.  Our sails were still full, and the Captain yelled to Joe and me.

“I need you both awake and aware.”

He pulled a spotlight from below, and Joe illuminated the shadowy cliffs to our left.  Seawater had seeped into the engine, leaving it dead.  Captain Larry ran from bow to stern setting sails to allow us to sail slowly into Cat Bay.  Silhouettes of boats and buoys lined our way.  We dropped anchor, safe in our anchorage.

Captain Larry plucking a tune on his newly found guitar.

The next morning Captain Larry brought fresh fruit, and made a fulfilling breakfast, true to his gourmet title.  After breakfast the Captain brought out a guitar he had found on a small boat he bought for cheap.  I offered to tune it, and played a tune, while the Captain repaired a tired Carmina.

The engine was stalled, and we had to head ashore for advice from the local mechanic.

A call home after a long night of stern duty.

The three of us piled into the rubber dinghy and headed to Catalina.  The Captain headed to the mechanic, and Joe and I set off to explore.  We walked along the city streets and stopped near the harbor to call home.

After a water fill-up we hiked to a trail.  Joe continued to make calls, and I laid underneath a tree, enjoying a break.  Catalina is a desert climate, complete with cacti and brush, but its ocean breeze make it much better than Phoenix.

After a climb to a ridge, we took in the view of open ocean.  We could see the cliffs we spotlighted the night before, and kelp forests swaying with the waves.

When I find a guitar, I tune it and let the music flow. The captain was a fan.

Only hours out of urban life, our sailing trip had already ushered in the introspective calm of old.  Instead of 10 foot sailboats we were living aboard a 40 foot sailing vessel.  Instead of Northwest forests, we had the salt air.  And instead of teenage problems, we had very real issues to talk about and plan for.

And from the water, everything seemed a bit clearer.

All pictures from this journey will be available in the Photography section soon.  Further installments of this series will be posted in the coming days.

In Search of Blue Water, Part 2

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