25 June 2006 | La Paz
My sail from Cabo San Lucas to La Paz was uneventful. But I do enjoy sailing at night and observing the stars free of light pollution. It is spectacular. My best run off the coast of Baja was for five hours at night on a beam reach with the wind between 19 and 21 knots and unreefed. Now that was fun, but I did feel compelled at that speed (almost 9 knots) to keep a constant lookout (with night vision binoviewers). From all my sailing adventures so far, I have learned several things, beyond the fact that the Pacific and the sky above it are both much, much, much bluer than the Atlantic and its sky.
Success at cruising is a mixture, I think, of knowing what to do, when to do it and why, having an eye for distant problems and having backups to boat systems or knowing how to fix or repair what breaks or quickly substitute in some other system or approach. Mechanical aptitude and ingenuity are helpful traits. These virtues, along with not running the boat into land, rocks or docks, keeping sea water out of the boat, keeping the pointy end of the boat aimed generally in the direction you want to go and keeping oneself in the boat, are what make for mechanically successful cruising. Good maintenance also matters as a means of minimizing breakage and surprises. It is not an adventure for the forgetful or the inattentive. Fear of land helps too as do cooking skills for a wide variety of the foods of the world. The flexibility to acquire new tastes is adaptive. A sense of who and what is dangerous is also key. Methodical is a mindset that works well for cruising. Sailing skills per se are the least of it and the skills easiest to acquire. Weather, wind and current savvy matter greatly, as part of a sense of how boats move in different types of wind and water, something many do not understand well, including the deceased author Patrick O'Brian.
One can know a great deal and still have much to learn. No one knows it all or is even close to it. Talking with other cruisers helps. Reading helps. Each skill set or knowledge area can always be raised to the next level, often without diminishing marginal returns. The learning curve is endless and the intellectual challenge, continuous and considerable. It is not an endeavor for the lazy or lethargic. That is why, I think, we find so many boats for sale in various parts of the world. Their owners realized, after sailing for a bit, what they needed to know and how to go about preparing themselves, but found those tasks too much or daunting. Good sailors are noteworthy. They are also articulate and well read generally. They have a learning bent and are always looking and searching out more knowledge and wisdom of general value. From the lore of the sea and the terms of ships, boats and boating they acquire a love of language almost for its own sake. In many ways they come to be walking encyclopedias, but with a strong bent toward the theoretical as well. I have also learned that my extensive reading of much if not most of what was available on sailing and cruising over the years was good preparation.
I have received favorable comments on the boat and the boat's systems installations. See the picture of the radios and electronics installation I mostly did above, showing an ICOM M802 SSB marine shortwave radio, a Pactor III modem (the combination of these two allows me to send and received emails while at sea), an ICOM 706MKIIG ham radio (my call sign is K8KIM), a common speaker, a antenna tuner switch, a fixed VHF, a portable VHF, a depth meter and wind instruments panel, a portable GPS chartplotter, a remote autopilot terminal, a PC and its charting program plugged into a fixed GPS unit as backup to the chartplotter (with a full set of paper charts as back up to that and with a sextant and sight reduction tables to back up the GPS units), a Radar terminal (with a spare magnetron), a C.A.R.D. system (Collision Avoidance Radar Detection system), a Watch Commander single hander's wake-up alarm system, a graphing digital barometer, a hand held all-band receiver/transceiver and the boat's electrical panel, all in very little space inasmuch as part of the top shelf is solely for different flash lights, a hand held sonar unit, and a green topped tupperware box of hand-held, back-up GPS units and the bottom shelf is entirely for two larger flashlights, a 1000 meter rangefinder and multiple binoculars, some in blue cases. The orange C clamps keep the laptop computer in place underway.
Aside from the mechanics of cruising, there are whole other and greater dimensions to cruising: the histories, languages and cultures of the places visited and, most importantly, the people encountered -- both the cruisers of many nationalities and the local or indigenous people. They offer a whole different and new set of opportunities and learning challenges, especially if you can find a language in common with them. From my year spent in Ensenada mostly with Mexicans, I am now fluent in Spanish and have also taken a beginning course in French taught in Spanish from the Mexican National Autonomous University, mistakenly promising my French teacher I would not leave French Polynesia until my French was at least as good as my Spanish. With the languages, you can become involved in the lives of locals much more effectively; doors open, they take you into their homes and lives and the exchange is mutually beneficial. In Ensenada, for example, I became close friends with a young woman lawyer who, upon learning I was born in Mexico, but only stayed until I was three months old, got me full Mexican citizenship documentation, including a Mexican passport, all at no charge to me. The downside is leaving friends behind when you sail off. It is a very big world and life, and Americans in the USA do NOT have a corner on how best to live it. That much is quite clear.