In Which Zach Attains a State of Higher Enlightenment

One of the activities that I enjoy from time to time is to take hallucinogens under the guise of a factory reset, of sorts. Scramble something already so totally scrambled and you might just end up with everything in its place. Such is the thinking, at least, validated in my own perspective by colorful anecdotes and placebic rational.

This, however, is not a post about that particular prescription.

On Monday, January 30th I embarked on my crossing from Baja to Mazatlan, in Sinaloa on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The journey, as I charted it, was about 198 nautical miles. Within the context of passenger vehicles, but outside of the context of sailboats, two hundred or so miles doesn’t sound like all that far but as it turns out it is well enough to step outside the boundaries of normal quotidien thought patterns.

But first, let’s take a step back. Momo and I reuinted with our boat in the waning weeks of 2022. Time since has been spent in myriad of ways: deep cleaning the boat, projects of repair and improvement, some sailing, some anchoring, and a lot of time tied up to a dock. Many days the boat of the boat has been purely incidental; given breakwaters and docklines our intrepid Shearwater can pose as a waterfront apartment without breaking a sweat. And let me spare you the suspense: a waterfront apartment in the city of La Paz is a marvelous springboard for enjoyment.

I have dedicated no small amount of brain wattage in recent months into the reconciliation of just what being reunited with my sailboat means to me. See, years ago, when this journey was conceived, planned, and initiated, my aspirations were wide-reaching. I wanted to incubate a new me, one better in touch with emotions and limitations and one with more clearly-defined goals. I wanted to deep-dive into new skills. I wanted to cross oceans. And now? What do I want–still those things? Eh, I’m not so sure. I mean, yes, to the degree that personal growth never goes out of style, of course I want those things. But by now, as a freshly-minted forty year old, I also feel like I have a far better defined idea of who I am as this fumbling version of adult human being. Professionally, I’m quite clear on what I want to pursue in the coming decade. Emotionally–er, well, that’s perhaps best fodder for a different post. Some day I would love to cross an ocean, but the daily struggle with an eleven year old dog whose tender hips and profound stubborness against relieving herself on her special grass on board mean that isn’t going to be this newly-resumed trip.

So what does that leave me with? I’ve wracked my brain and honestly the answer that I come up with is undoubtedly the most obvious one: let’s have a little fun, why don’t we?! Unencumbered by such grandiose (and heavy) attachee cases, this period of time with the boat can become anything it wants to be. And it’s funny: I am not the sailor I was before I put the boat on the shelf. Sloppy knots, sloppy movements, I need to stop and think things through rather than reacting fluidly. But paradoxically I am a far more confident sailor than ever before. I generally trust in my boat even as, it too, shows traces of years of neglect. This idea of finding confidence in incompetence is so utterly hilarious to me, and perhaps all too illustrative of the world we live in. But here I am.

So I made the crossing from southern Baja to Sinaloa. Forecasts called for a good clip of wind; I estimated it might take me 40 hours of peppy sailing, so I decided to leave at midnight, which would allow me some wiggle room in my pace while still offering high odds that I’d make my destination in daylight. Historically I like the rhythm of an early half-night’s sleep before a long sailing leg, but my nerves were too worked up on this one so after several hours of fitfull tossing and turning on Monday evening I decided to get up, take Momo to shore for one last runaround on the beach, and then raise anchor.

Underway at 9pm, the first few hours were without wind and glassy on the water. But when the airs arrived, they arrived for good: once I shut my engine off shortly after midnight it remained inert until I was nibbling the shores of Mazatlan, a day and a half later. I would characterize the passage as…spirited. Winds varied, but largely between 20 and 30 knots sustained, though on a great point of sail. The experiece was thankfully nothing so uncivilized as beating into those winds head on. The seas were reasonably rough, however. Sailors–and yes, even those of us who merely pretend at it–often bandy about the adjective “confused” in our lingo as it relates to the sea. This is to say that there were many waves, they were very close together, and they were not exclusively from a consistent direction. The boat in one sense was being propelled very quickly and with laser precision by the steady force of the unerring winds, but in another sense it was being bandied about like the favorite ball of yarn of a playful, if immense, grey/blue housecat.

I paint this picture to set the scene. Some 27 hours into the voyage and I am tired. Ostensibly, I am enjoying myself, but only really in my very tightly-wound, highly anxious, manic type of way. My specialty, as it were. (For all my focus on “having fun” I’m not actually very good at it). I’m no stranger to overnight fatigue but since I got no nap before my Monday departure, I haven’t slept in 42 hours, I’m as close as I’ve ever been to feeling sea sick, and I have another eleven hours to journey yet. I start to feel as though I’ve made some grave error–not in my trip planning but existentially. My caffinations, my dance parties, my karaeokees are no longer keeping me lucid. I begin to visually hallucinate a little bit. There is a moment of dark humor and sheer terror when I believe that I’ve ingested psylocybin on accident by brewing from the wrong coffee tin.

I try to sleep. I’m effectively in the middle of the ocean, miles and miles and miles from anything else. Yes, it is pitch black but I have radar and thanks to my new Starlink I can see weather data and GPS points of commercial ship traffic in real time. My autopilot is steering faithfully. I set my alarm for 15 minute intervals and rest my eyes but the damned pitching and yawing of the boat in the waves keeps sleep at bay. And so it begins. I don’t recall if I experienced an epiphany or if it was a gradual realization, but I feel esctasy. I am joyful. I am without consternation whatsoever, and I might not need to tell you this is not a mental state commonly in my portfolio. In that moment I feel safe and secure, without insecurity or doubt. What’s more, I posess the understanding that in the future my boat has already dropped anchor off Mazatlan and what I am experiencing is no different–no less predetermined–than a movie reel. I don’t sleep the next several hours but I watch this wonderful movie complete with the warm hug of a silver moonbeam that doesn’t lead to Mazatlan, it pulls us to Mazatlan. In the moment I liken it to a Star Trek tractorbeam. I am but a grateful and inconsequential witness. I have many words; I don’t have the words to convey with any appropriate weight this experiece.

So, uh, yeah. Eventually I think I got a few 15 minute cycles of sleep, and then powered up again with caffeine, regained some lucidity (but not anxiety) and finished off my journey, finding a line to straddle somewhere between sailor and matinee-goer. Even with the benefit of some time to digest the experience, I don’t really have a box to put it in. The recreational psychadelics box has a similar shape, but only cursorily. Truth be told I can’t think of another time in my life that I was so vividly without fear or anxiety. It was magical. And, yes, somewhat problematic as captain of this vessel. But magical.

Moving foward, will I retain this inner wellspring of nirvana from which to dip and calm my frequent manias? A tantalizing prospect. Too good to be true, even. What I can say, however, is that even nearly a week on from the crossing, I can still feel the stillness of those moments of certainty–perhaps not quelling but at least burnishing the edges of my central self doubt. And that, it must be admitted, is not nothing.

4 thoughts on “In Which Zach Attains a State of Higher Enlightenment

  1. Nice to see you’re back at it, Zach! Loved reading this post. I’ve got a place on dry land in Yelapa, Mexico— hit me up if you sail by–I’ll swim out and say hello. best, Q


    1. I’d rather have a Palapa in Yelapa than… Love that place, and I’ve never been. I just hear wonderful stories. Good for you! I got pretty close to your shores recently but then turned back to Spring again in the wonderful islands here off baja. Who knows what tomorrow brings though!


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