Northern Passage surged ahead as
another swell rolled past, the autopilot clacking as it spun the wheel to port
to correct the yaw, then to starboard as the swell passed under the bow and
Northern Passage nearly dipped her boom in the water with the roll. I swayed
easily with her and smiled; this is awesome, I thought.
Ever since I was born I have been
sailing on my dad's 36 foot Columbia Gotta Go, but in 2009 we bought Northern
Passage, a 51 foot ketch and in 2010 sailed her up from San Francisco to
Seldovia, Alaska. Then in 2012 we left Seldovia and sailed south to Mexico,
where we spent nearly 10 months. It was on this trip that I fell in love with
the sailing life.
It was when I took the
eight-to-midnight watch about 200 miles north of Huatulco that I got "the
sailing bug." At eleven o'clock pm, the course was south-southeast, and
Northern Passage was flying, she was making seven knots with a 25-30 knot wind
off the port quarter, and surfing down the 8-10 foot swells. I glanced around
the cluttered cockpit, my sister Carmen asleep on the starboard bench with the
cat Tiger, lines coiled in the well, all lit by the dim glow of the chart
plotter. I sat behind the wheel, occasionally checking the course or the radar.
Every twenty minutes or so, I would get up, clip my life jacket onto the
jack-lines and go outside to look for ships and to trim the sails. On one of
these occasions, when I was returning to the cockpit, I saw Tiger crouching on
the aft deck. When I walked over to investigate I was shocked to discover a
small brown bird sitting on deck, as we were 30 miles offshore. I grabbed Tiger
and put him below before he could kill the bird. Then I woke Carmen. She
immediately got a bird book and identified the bird as a storm petrel. It did
not look hurt, but did not move when I approached it, not even when I picked it
up and put it in the dingy where it was safe from Tiger.
After the excitement over the
bird was gone and Carmen was sleeping again, I went out on deck and sat by the mizzenmast
looking back at the brightly glowing phosphorescent wake under stars so bright
you could read from their light alone. As each swell overtook the transom, and
Northern Passage surfed down I felt an exhilaration that surpasses any other
feeling I have known, before or since. It was then that I knew that this is
what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The rest of the night passed
without incident until midnight when my mom took over. As I stepped below I
looked back at the wake and smiled. That night I slept better than any other
and when morning came I was up on deck at seven to take the morning watch.