I am in the throes of transition. My journey, months nascent, is about to emerge from its chrysalis. Perhaps not unrecognizably, but something like irreversibly.
I am pecking these words on my keyboard in San Diego, poised to soon cross the dividing line into Mexico. Although I would have thought this traversal would glow with greater splendor in my psyche (and, indeed, it may yet when the border is actually aft of my vessel) I don’t find myself holding it as much of an achievement. In fact, I feel precisely as I did all those weeks ago in Vallejo: like the first real sailing legs of my life are about to begin. This might be because the nature of the sailing beyond Ensenada will be wholesalely distinct from my nibbling progresses to date. This might also be because I have recently surrendered my cherished Momo to the care of family and the guilt and shame that I feel for both abandoning her and for subjecting her to such an uncommon lifestyle to begin with.
You see, up until this point I have managed to ping and pong at relative leisure down the California coast, traveling only on one single occasion longer than sixteen hours in a leg. The roughly 800 miles from Ensenada around the southern tip of Baja will not present me with such luxuries. Yes, (weather permitting) I should be able to break it up into a handful of legs and anchorages, but the Pacific Coast of Baja is long and rural and relatively exposed. At points my journey will entail sailing for days on end, with little respite. Momo is a great boat dog: she loves the sunshine and the company and patiently puts up with the inconveniences. Even so, I didn’t feel like I could ask her to make this portion of the trip with me–I don’t hardly know what to expect from it so how could I so casually demand that she sign up for it? If something goes wrong, or if the swell prohibits anchoring and beach landing at our waypoints, there is very little recourse in action. Yes, people and dogs do this all the time, but I just wasn’t comfortable with it.
I am feeling her absence profoundly, quite possibly exacerbated by my own uncertainties about the undertaking to come. Apart from the intensifying of the sailing logistics, this next phase also represents (or so I’m told) a distillation of the difficulties of boat ownership. To cross this border is to leave behind the infinite boat chandleries, the easy Amazon deliveries, the clean diesel fuel and specialized boating infrastructure so common around the cities of Coastal California. I can’t speak to the true level of accessibility of these things in Mexico–I’m told that with every passing year the proliferation is generally greater–but I have been advised (only by every person, publication, and institution that I encounter) to stock up on all conceivable spares before dipping further downwards.
So stock up I have.
I’ve never been much of a shopper (ebay automobiles (filters: convertible, price <$1,999) aside). Almost every stitch of clothing that I own has been generously gifted to me by some caring soul over the years. These once-nice articles remain in active rotation for years-if-not-decades with little heed to their threadbare nature. I’m also a Christmas Grinch, much to the chagrin of anyone who ever thought they might receive some well-chosen gift from me for the holiday. I guess I did manage to accrue an immodest wine collection over the years, but that was mostly due to working in the industry and whirlwind days of itinerant drinking with a credit card unwisely on-hand.
The point is, I finally get it. The whole shopping thing, I mean. Retail therapy. My bank accounts have been unleashed upon the world; for whatever legitimate practicalities these purchases represent, they are every bit equally an attempt to solve the unknowability of the future by concrete machinations. And the scary thing is, even as my balances are precipitously plunging it just gets easier and easier to spend the money. The sheer momentum of it threatens to become a tsunami.
And what are these purchases? Well, I broke down and paid out many boat bucks for an electronic autopilot system. And, since my power drain will increase, new blades and bearings for my wind generator (currently lashed to silence its tremendous wail). A satellite messenger/tracker to receive weather reports and transmit my location when I’m off the cell grid. A new LED anchor light. 2 spare raw water impellers for my cooling system. Six oil filters. 14 fuel filters for both my primary and secondary inline filters. 6 gallons of 15w40 HD diesel oil. 4 v-belts. A spare marine alternator. 3 gallons denatured alcohol for my stove. New dock lines. Flags (US, Mexico, yellow “quarantine”, and “happy hour” martini). New digital charts for Mexico and Central America. Fishing hooks, fishing line, fishing permit. A book, World Cruising Routes by Jimmy Cornell that I’ve long wanted but didn’t want to shell out the mangoes for. Now? 60 ripe ones, no problem.
All of the purchases are individually defensible, yet as an aggregate there can be no doubt that I am conflating preparedness with some sort of sacrificial act to please Poseidon. Will it be enough? Of course, I have no doubt. Buuut just in case, maybe I’ll go buy a few more things.