Hibernating in the tropics
This is Clouds Form Over Land, weekly writing about life at sea and going ashore.
We arrived in Cartagena a bit before the winter solstice and settled in for a hot-weather hibernation.
The trade winds frequently blow above 30 knots and in the higher latitudes northerly winds make northerly progress formidable, especially in a small craft powered by the wind. This year things seemed extra squirrely with the third La Niña in a row.
Seasonal planning has been a companion in unlearning urgency while living unpredictably and aligning with the weather. Winter is often a time of going deeper and going inward, and I hoped for both during our longest, intentional stop on the route from San Francisco to the Chesapeake Bay. I wondered how all this time would get filled before we set sail, and as we get the last tasks completed before departing, it seems to have flown by.
Here are those four steps again:
Write a syllabus.
Add pins to the map for excursions near and far.
Make a project list.
Give the closet and dwelling a seasonal refresh.
According to Plan
Deepened my knowledge of sailing through storms and boat maintenance.
I cozied up with Storm Tactics by Lin and Larry Pardey. This tactic allows the vessel to stay stationary and experience less turbulence by staying behind the slick it creates on the water. Folks tend to try to run with storms, which can often lengthen the amount of time in dangerous or at least less desirable weather. We hove-to on two memorable occasions - when fixing a leak 40 miles offshore and when crossing the Sea of Cortez. This strategy is often the safest option but can be difficult to choose because all forward progress is lost. I wanted to cement the learnings before heading offshore again this spring. I also read the majority of the boat maintenance tome by Nigel Calder. Sometimes troubleshooting on a 43-year-old vessel feels like staring into the bottom of a deep well, and this book served me well by drawing boundaries between systems and stating
The textbooks turned practical with an in-depth unclogging of our toilet, a simple solution for a 12-volt fan, and a fix for a bilge pump float switch. I also designed and built a wood shelf for a closet to maximize stowage space. More than all that, I signed up for the mental load of figuring out which projects great and small we should tackle while here (62 by the latest kanban count), and worked with contractors to get fresh paint on the decks and a few engine parts overhauled. I have years of experience in this type of process and relationship from working for solar and geothermal companies, and it was the delight of the season to apply the skills in such a different context.
Recovered fiber arts fun.
Since adolescence, I’ve had a craft project close at hand. I wouldn’t be feeling the cozy vibes of winter in the heat of Cartagena, but I did want to sew up some sundresses, make progress on a long overdue coat for Scott, and knit a sweater for the fall. One of my dress attempts was a flop — hopefully the last time I need to learn that the sack dress trend is not for me. I salvaged it into a cute cropped tank.
I cast on the Halibut pattern by Caitlin Hunter in February. My mom packed the yarn from our local shop in Michigan and delivered it for a visit around my birthday. I’ve been knitting it slightly chaotically - first the body, then a partial sleeve, then the neck. If the sea state is calm on our crossing to Mexico, the hours of the stockinette shift will help pass my 3-7 AM and 3-7 PM shifts. My husband and I have the same chest measurement, so it may be a fight for who wears this one the most. The halibut reminds me of buying seafood from my friend Jocelyn’s business Fishwife in Oakland, CA.
Mended and made community.
For the past eight months, I lead a mostly-weekly mending hour on Mondays on Zoom. I sat alone for a few sessions, and Melanie and others joined for many more. We mended piles of sailing gloves and socks, a couple of dog coats, a beloved hip pocket belt from Elyse at Little Wings, and many garments. This practice taught me about starting something small and the power of showing up when we don’t necessarily feel like it. Over and over, we exclaimed, “wow what a quick fix” to items that had been lingering and languishing. I aim to pick this practice back up in the fall.
Offline, I grabbed my sailor’s palm and fixed some boat gear:
A third for crossing the Western Caribbean.
Our friend John is hoping aboard for the 1200-mile crossing to the Yucatan. The additional person allows for more rest, which tends to allow for more fun too. We had a third aboard for crossing the Sea of Cortez (thanks Jen!) and from Zihuantenejo to Acapulco (thanks Tyler!). This passage is our longest yet, so I wanted to reconfigure the sleeping situation. We have three sea-going berths, but only two have lee-cloths - fabric designed to hold a sleeping sailor I mentioned earlier. I fired up the sewing machine and had just enough Phyfertex mesh leftover from when Hogin Sails moved workshops and offloaded scraps into the back of my station wagon. I also bought additional sets of twin sheets at the Colombian version of Bed, Bath, & Beyond to keep things fresh.
Unlocked connection with improved language skills.
Improving my Spanish skills has been a constant since our first stop along the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. I took classes in high school and college, kept the knowledge somewhat fresh with travel, and dove in with a three-week intensive course in January. This was the focus I needed to move on from a plateau and speak with more ease. I’m an ambivert, happy in solitude and when mixing it up with others. The class I took focused on past tense and conversation skills. Soon I was confident asking the barista for a barber shop recommendation for Scott and getting to know more people around the marina. As a surprise to no one, greater fluency lead to more fluid interactions. I’ll be sad to leave the friends made here and looking forward to keeping in touch on What’s App.
We visited the Aviario Nacional in Baru and were delighted to see countless new species. I agree with that meme — birdwatching does really come on fast as we age.
Figured out a movement routine.
Exercising in a small boat in a hot place has its challenges, and I’d all but come to terms with my peak fitness alluding me during this time of bathing suits and sun dresses. Somebody said, “we change when we can no longer remain the same”. I had my moment getting winded by a fairly simple activity on the boat and decided I needed to get moving daily to create the habit. 3x/week or some other frequency meant I could always snooze it. Now I get up earlier and go up to a deck at the marina before the flurry of the day sets in around me. Cypress joins for some stretches and bird-watching of her own. Most workouts come from the 28 app, which takes menstrual cycles into account and advantage.
A few of my favorite things: green nail polish, cacao de la mesa from Juan Choconat, sleep masks, cardamom, Maia Toll’s oracle cards, water with lime juice, postcards, salsa dancing, arepas, and novelty ballpoint pens.