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Sailing decompression: a San Diego sea passage to La Paz


It was 4 a.m. on thanksgiving when I untied the Encore from her slip in San Diego, California. The full moon was barely visible through the clouds as I tossed the dock lines up onto the deck and clambered aboard. My dad piloted the 34 foot sailboat out of the bay and past Point Loma, as he had done many times before while I tidied up and brewed some coffee. This time felt different though. The journey we had just begun would take us almost 1,000 miles south into The Sea of Cortez, a distance further than either of us had previously traveled by sailboat. Our excitement and nervousness was amplified by the darkness and constant drone of the shipboard radio relaying the buoy reports and the U.S. Coast Guard’s small craft warning in a crackly computerized voice.

Yacht under sailSoon we were on our southerly heading and surfing down the faces of the heaving following swell, dipping below and climbing above the horizon in the cold grey light of the morning. The hull shook as the Encore knifed its way through the water. The sails were full and the only sound was the water flowing beneath us. It took a while to get used to the omnipresent silence over the course of the trip. As we left land behind, the absence of noise was profoundly moving in the vastness of the open ocean.

The days were long but never dull. I was disconnected from everything, a hundred miles offshore. Even when we did pull into an anchorage, there was rarely cell service. My isolation from social media, school, and social responsibility hit a reset button in my head. My original anxiousness during the long legs transformed into unhurried bliss. When I read, I didn’t check the page numbers. The destination and eta ceased to dominate my mindset; instead the knowledge that we were making progress was enough. I rarely looked at my watch. It felt as if the fast moving, modern world had overtaken me as I drifted out to sea, taking a part of me with it that I really didn’t miss.

Under sailI felt myself fall into the rhythm of the sea. Life was taken a day at a time, I lived moment to moment, neither worrying about the time passing nor coming. The further South we sailed, the more in tune with myself I felt. The freedom I felt was intoxicating. I felt the feeling reach a climax as I sat over a shallow reef, floating alone on my surfboard in Bahia Santa Maria, a hundred miles from anything except small fishing villages. The water was clean and clear as glass. Looking down, I could see schools of juvenile bonito and garibaldi weaving through the large clumps of colorful rocks beneath my feet. Catching the wave was surreal. The fast, hollow point break would pick me up and hurl me along the shoulder of the wave. I felt like I was flying as I looked down through the shallow water at the reef. Every fish and rock was completely visible, blurring as I shot inches above them. The peeling face before me was a pale translucent green. The warm water sprayed as my board sliced through the wave. I could taste the salt in the air as I shot out over the lip and off of the face at the last second, splashing into the water beside my board as the wave crashed on the rocks ahead. The complete seclusion, adrenaline, and utter beauty of the place made my head ring. Pure elation flowed through every inch of my body.

I had never felt as alive as I did over the course of the three weeks it took us to arrive in La Paz. The salt air and easy flow of life seemed to heal some unknown illness that I possessed. I felt cleansed by the rhythm of the sea around me and everything seemed more real. Happiness felt more joyful, fear felt more authentic and pure, time felt irrelevant. I was seduced by the sea’s fickle love and wrath. I know I’ll always remember those days as some of the greatest of my life.

Sailing boat at sea

All photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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