Bogotá Map

Cold Beans and Submarines

The gang of heavy gray clouds that has circled us all morning finally closes in. Swell feels more like a submarine than a sailboat as the rain pours down so heavily that sea and sky blur together. We run about catching rain in any vessel we can find to hold water. The poorly functioning watermaker contaminated our drinking water supply a few days prior, and we are desperate for some salt-free refreshment. We fill the buckets, water bottles, teapot, jerry cans, pots, and pans. Once the tank is topped off, McKenzie grabs the soap, and we strip down to bathe in the falling torrents. The cool drops pelt our naked bodies. We open our mouths and lie back on the deck. There could be no lovelier shower than this no sweeter faucet than these clouds, nor fresher air, nor broader seascape. I’m alive! Thank you, heavens!

We are seventy-five nautical miles out on the farthest offshore passage either of us has ever taken. When the Lost Coast Explorer continued south, McKenzie and I pored over the chart to choose our next destination, spying an isolated little island about 400 miles offshore, renowned for hidden pirate treasure and abundant sea life. After sorting through the piles of damp swimsuits and rotting provisions, we prepped for the passage: calculated the distance, stowed the surfboards, hoisted the outboard and dinghy, ran the jacklines, tied down the jerry cans, readied the fishing lines, checked the engine fluids and belts, raised anchor, and headed for sea.

It was daunting to point the bow straight west, but with McKenzie as crew, I knew I was in good company for the challenge. We’d met on the Big Island of Hawai’i years before, when she’d accidentally backed over my surfboard in a sandy parking lot. Miraculously the board came away unscathed, and it turned out she was my sister’s friend. When she emailed asking if I needed some crew with photography skills, we planned a date for her arrival. Aboard Swell, McKenzie and I had clicked like ruby slippers.

McKenzie shares my delight in new experiences, no matter how good, bad, or bizarre. She’s tough, independent, and dangerously witty. Her easygoing attitude, lack of time constraints, and well-traveled confidence make her an ideal voyaging companion. Plus, she’s four-star behind the camera, willing to haul and schlep, pull or tie any rope, and she is and probably will be the only person ever to make a quiche aboard Swell underway. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching her annihilate Latin male egos in the surf with late drops on the biggest waves of the day. Our unspoken agenda is simple: surf hard, learn hard, laugh hard, and seize each day.

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Hours after our deck showers, the rain hasn’t let up. I had been so focused on the surf, I realize that I hadn’t checked into the typical winds and currents along our route, nor received a recent weather report. We’re committed now, so I hustle through wet sail changes due to the light, shifty headwinds.

The rainwater is finding its way into more than just our water containers. It leaks down the mast and onto the cabin sole; it drips from the corners of the front hatch onto the forward bunk. It creeps in from around the portlight seals. The humidity permeates our pillows and blankets. It feels like we could wring water right out of the air.

“I feel like fly tape,” McKenzie writes in the logblog. By the second day, the sticky dampness is becoming intolerable. We attempt to cover the leaky spray dodger and bimini with a plastic tarp, but the water still finds its way in.

By evening, the rains slacken, but sharp headwinds fill in where it leaves off. We’re now close-hauled, heeling way over, and beating into a stiff, short chop. In an attempt to distract ourselves from the rodeo ride, McKenzie clutches her way below to heat our teapot of fresh rainwater for some tea. “The stove won’t light!” she calls up.

“Did you turn on the propane switch?” I ask.

“Yeah, it’s on.”

I crawl to the back of the cockpit and open the propane locker. The pin on the pressure gauge hangs limply at zero.

“No! How?” I wonder aloud. We lost all the propane.

I hear the lighter clicking again and again, hoping for a miracle. Our wet butts and bunks and the bucking headwind slop have shortened our morale, but now, no propane? It can’t be! We assume our soggy positions in the cockpit in silence. It’s McKenzie’s turn on the high side. She fights the steep incline of Swell’s heeling with all four limbs while infuriating drips of water spill down on her head. I just had the pleasure of the same experience, so I understand when she soon retires to the “cocoon” our shared sea berth below. I stay on watch on the “throne” the soggy stack of cushions on the leeward side of the cockpit where gravity holds us up against the lower side of the cockpit’s teak washboard.

The wind builds steadily overnight, turning the sea into an army of wave soldiers insisting that we are headed in the wrong direction. Every time we launch up over a wave and crash down into the next trough, it feels like a bomb detonating under the hull. I remember Barry warning me that his Cal 40, Antara, “had a tendency to slam quite fiercely going to windward.” As the conditions deteriorate, we consider giving up on our destination.

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