The Tortoise Race

Rob always describes sailing with other sailboats as a tortoise race.  And much of sailing, especially our type of sailing—in a heavy ocean-going boat—is slow.  Our hull speed (the optimal fast speed for the boat) is 7 knots, which is a little over 8 miles per hour to you landlubbers.  We don’t move fast, and when fighting current and waves with minimal wind, we move even slower.  The cruising life (sailing as a means of travel) requires acceptance of the fact that nothing happens fast.  

It is a life away from the hustle of the 9-to-5, where really anytime can be 5-o’clock.  It is supposed to be leisurely.  But coming from a life of impossibly-stacked deadlines and to-do lists longer than the day, living leisurely seems stressful.  It is not the environment for which I am programmed.  How am I supposed to get anything done waiting for my email to load for longer than a few seconds? I have already thought of 10 other things I need to do while waiting for the first thing on my list to happen.  To accomplish a menial chore like emptying the trash, I have to move seven other things to get to the compartment where the trash bags are kept.  I want to make lunch, and it is another game of moving things around to cook and clean.  I want to upload this post, but the signal is weak here because it is just so ridiculously peaceful.  How am I supposed to live with this peace? 

An oft-quoted definition of cruising is: endless hours of boredom punctuated by a few moments of terror. 

That rings true for our cruising adventure so far.  A perfect example of that was our last passage, which was from Crescent City, California, to Eureka.  We had waited almost a week in Crescent City for favorable weather (to us that means waves under five feet and wind less than 20 knots—more seasoned sailors would go out well before the seas quieted to that).  It paid off in that the eight-hour passage was boring—slow-rolling swells and not much wind.  It was entering Eureka where the moment of terror occurred.  We know to never enter a new harbor at night.  We also know to never enter a bar (where a river meets the ocean) during an ebb (the predominant river current is leaving the river, leading to low tide).  But we did exactly those two things.

We had radar and reliable GPS, and the captain believed that, because the ebb was almost over, we would be fine (he approved this story).  As we got closer to the bar, the waves started to build but, at that point, it was too late to turn back.  To do so would put us in more imminent danger of being rolled by a big wave.  We were surfing in on 10-foot waves.  I looked back at Rob at one point and saw a wave rising behind him in the darkness.  

The captain redeemed himself and handled the boat well.  We made it through the bar in 15 minutes, and our terror was over.  Returning to the slow life, we entered the marina and aimed for our assigned slip, taking it very slow…to the point that we were not moving.  We had  hit the bottom and were stuck.  But that was no additional terror, it was more of the slow life.  We knew the marina had a reputation for irregular dredging, the bottom was sand, and it was low tide (we just entered the bar at the end of the ebb).  So, we had a good laugh and sat still, with no other choice, for 45 minutes.  Then, the tide gently lifted us and we took a spot on the outside pier with plenty of room underneath.  

I hope our log will be a space where we can all reprogram some to live slower, enjoying the world and people around us but knowing that a moment of excitement will pop up soon enough.

The passage from Crescent City to Eureka, California. The seas were calm. We still had smoke, but the sun was peaking through it. (Video bonus: the end of today’s peanut-butter-jelly time)

Run aground, 30 feet from our assigned slip! We patiently waited 45 minutes for the tide to lift us.

Our view from the dock, where we eventually tied up in Eureka. Notice the pelicans flying in a line just above the buildings.

8 thoughts on “The Tortoise Race

  1. Sarah, I so enjoy hearing about your adventures. It’s so much fun following along with someone you have met and experienced a small part of their personality. Please, please keep the stories coming. Safe travels my Friends !!!!

    On Fri, Sep 25, 2020 at 11:34 AM Leaky Little Boat wrote:

    > mapachecaptain posted: ” Rob always describes sailing with other sailboats > as a tortoise race. And much of sailing, especially our type of sailing—in > a heavy ocean-going boat—is slow. Our hull speed (the optimal fast speed > for the boat) is 7 knots, which is” >

  2. A wonderful article Sarah!

    Best wishes, Richard Hopefully this will get to you…

    Sent from my iPad


  3. Great read! I can’t say that we’ve *never* entered a new harbor after dark, but we really don’t do it anymore. It’s amazing how your eyes can play tricks on you at night when entering close spaces, even with GPS, AIS, radar, etc. We’re getting good at timing our arrivals or at least slowing the boat down as we get close. We’d rather be safe than sorry. I know the feeling of just wanting to get in when the seastate is rough. =) Hope to see you guys down here in Mexico before we take off Westbound in April!

  4. So glad I found your story (thank you, OPB!) so early in your journey! I agree with Mike… keep the stories coming. I’m really looking forward to following along 🙂

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