I started writing Letters from Kate as a weekly newsletter to family and friends in 2008 when we bought the boat. They went out as emails and when I got organized appeared on a page of the website. Last year I changed format and started using a more modern blog platform to share our “Letters”, thus removing the newsletter page from the website. I thought I would start sharing some of our past adventures with you in a Throwback Thursday series. I hope you enjoy! H
I dash up the stairs, across the cockpit of our little boat and lean out over the side just in time. My recently eaten peanut butter sandwich comes up in a violent convulsion of abdominal muscles, each new heave making a prefect splash in the calm water before floating into our wake in oddly recognizable chunks. A wave of relief washes over me, as if I have dispatched some of the worry that has been clinging to me since we left the dock in San Diego at 3am this morning.
I stay hanging out over the cool stainless steel railing watching my reflection in the glassy sea. I look pale, despite being bathed in the warm afternoon light that is reaching across the sky behind me. My eyes look shadowed with worry.
“Are you alright, Honey?” Steve asks from behind the wheel. I give him a thumbs up as I wretch one final time.
Perching on the big primary winch staring into the distance I try to find the faint line of the horizon where the sky stops and the sea begins, wanting to focus on something other than the sharp tang of acid that is coating my mouth. I’ve been seasick before, I know all about that kind of queasiness but this smacks of something different. There is a nervous aftertaste and a hint of insecurity.
Steve shifts uncomfortably, trying to relieve the pressure on his right leg. He won’t say so but I know his leg must be throbbing and his foot swollen. After getting around for weeks without crutches and more recently without his plastic walking boot he decided he was fit for sea. I’m not so sure. He couldn’t stand the thought of delaying our departure any longer; we were already 5 months behind schedule. I knew there would be no arguing with him, he could be as rigid as the 30cm of titanium holding his tibia together. All I could do was hope I was ready to take up the slack.
“Want me to drive for a while, let you sit down?” I offer, knowing what his reply will be.
“Nah, I am fine,” he smiles at me. “Besides, we’re almost there.”
After hours of motoring we were finally rounding the break water at Marina Baja Naval. Despite having left so early we were now racing to get tied up at the dock before dark. But that was the least of my worries. We still had to clear into the country and everything I’d read about port clearance said it would be an all-day affair, with lots of paperwork, stamps, offices and payments. I’m not even sure we have all the right documents or that we’d cleared out of the United States properly. But I have the whole night to lose sleep stressing over that, we are already way past office hours, especially government ones on a Friday in Mexico.
Just off the bow in the water I spot a log, a great hunk of slick roots pointing its shiny fingers skywards. I am just about to ask Steve if he sees it from his position when the log rolls and disappears and a sea lion head with little blinking eyes pops up in its place. We’ve only covered 60 NM and the sea is already playing tricks with my mind.
After narrowly avoiding the native wildlife and navigating the confines of the marina Steve backs the boat into a slip. He has years of experience driving boats, but backing up Kate is always a breath holding manoeuvre. The direction of the prop walk from the offset and undersized propeller is never predicable, except that almost never allows the boat to reverse in a straight line. At low speed we have very little in the way of steerage, so it is a fine balancing act of speed and direction.
As soon as we are near enough to the dock I leap ashore and stop the backward momentum of the boat by quickly securing the dock lines. If we don’t work in perfect sync with each other we risk ramming into the dock. I know it looks like a smooth operation from the outside but I am practically vibrating from adrenalin by the time I step back on board and start cleaning up on deck. Sensing my anxiousness Steve comes over grabs my hand and pulls me gently towards him for a kiss.
“Good job Honey,” he whispers. His touch extinguishes my nervous energy and mutes my frantic mind.
We track down the guy from the marina, a well-spoken local who assures us that we are free to roam about town for the evening and deal with the formalities in the morning, he’ll vouch for us. With the boat secured and after a quick shower we are both ready to find a quiet bar and celebrate our first official day at sea.
Walking along the waterfront girls in narrow doorways sing out to us “Hola amigo! Fish tacos, muy delicioso!” I am not sure if they are calling out to me or to Steve, or even if they are really selling food. The restaurants lining the street are no more than a few dirty tables and some mismatched plastic chairs. Their voices, red lips and kitten heels exude a sexiness that makes me uncomfortable. We don’t stop to sample their wares.
When we do finally find a place to stop it is definitely not a quiet hole in the wall. It is jam packed with people, music, beer and conversation. It seems everyone is in a celebratory mood and it doesn’t take us long to get infected by the energy of the place. We sidle up to the bar, order two cold beers and let ourselves be wrapped in the sing song Spanish that drifts around us. Picking through the mix of languages we learned that we had arrived just in time for “Carnival”; the raucous weekend celebration before lent, a last ditch effort to indulge in all pleasures of life before following the straight and narrow for forty days. For the next three days the town will be engulfed in an orgy of music, food and alcohol and we are expected to party alongside the locals, the festivities running night and day.
A ranchero band comes through the door; short men in tight jeans, bright boots and large belt buckles. They are the cowboys of the Baja peddling an instant party with their mobile band. They play a variety of rockabilly ballads with polka rhythm lines. A guitar, clarinet and tuba playing strangely familiar tunes that I can’t help but hum along to. A spontaneous dance floor erupts and couples of all ages are weaving around the band, their movements abbreviated by the lack of elbow room.
We let ourselves get swept into the frenzy and carried away on the frivolity of the night. For the last nine months I have been preparing, for tomorrow, for next week, for six months down the track. I have been trying to plan how we’ll live and what we’ll need, where we’ll sail and what we’ll find when we arrive. I have been weighing out provisions and a myriad of probabilities without ever realizing how much was weighing on me. For the first time in months I feel light, I have finally accepted permission to relax.
I turn to Steve and see the same relief washing over him. The shadow in his eyes is gone and there is an easiness in the curve of his lips. The bartender places two more icy beers in front of us and Steve lifts his bottle towards me.
“Viva Mexico!” he beams at me, his eyes looking deep into mine.
“Viva Mexico!” I reply.
The clink of our bottles coming together is carried away on an ocean of noise, taking with it my concerns about check-ins and repairs, about where we are headed and if we are finally ready. I let the cold beer slip down my throat and fill me with possibilities. I could feel the excitement start to bubble up inside me. I had no real idea about what sailing across the Pacific Ocean in a 41’ boat would entail, if I would be enough of a woman to even take on the challenge or if our relationship would survive the journey. But for the first night in a long time I was intoxicated by the adventure we had planned together. It made me feel like I could take on the world.