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Thanks so much! - Chica Jo and Paul

  • Writer's pictureChica Jo

Relinquishment - In Three Acts

"Our Dream" collage from an interactive barnacle and whale book I made for my nephews.

Dedicated to my fellow sailing mermaid, Anina, who encouraged our work from the get-go and ignited the spark in us all even as her own corporal fire was fading. She was fully loved when she let go of her Earthy holdfast this past Christmas Day.

Act I - The Tempest It was exactly a year ago that The Tempest hit and caused us to question just what the hell we’re doing out here, untethered to a solid land mass. There we were - me, Paul, Gizmo the dog (and our beloved stow-away: a how-the-heck-did-she-get-here House Spider who earned her roving keep by keeping the mosquitoes and flies from eating us), enjoying a pleasant, if somewhat slow and humdrum, sail from the volcanic Isla Coronados to our feels-like-home, tame-wild anchorage just outside Baja’s supremely well protected and overly civilized ($$$) Puerto Escondido.

My sketch of our cherished House Spider.

At least there were some fascinatingly dark clouds gathering around the famed Giganticas Mountains, contrastingly backlit by the setting sun. They offered a distractingly moody chiaroscuro of feeling: bright, soulful uplift set immediately against shadowy, impending doom. Not to worry, just around that rocky corner we had a dear friend docked in the domesticated marina with whom we were eager to reunite. Plus fresh, pre-ordered veggies, boxed and waiting for morning pick up at the marina store, and the stark white Palo Blanco Tree dramatically backed by rugged, sea-blackened cliffs reassuringly marking the spot we like to drop anchor. We were near Loreto in part to begin to lend a hand to much-needed research on how the economically-high-pressured, whale-watching, tourist industry there is affecting the Whales’ winter migratory and reproductive behavior. Are the thunderous and black-smoke-stinky outboard motors on those competitive tourist pangas (picture extra big skiffs) frightening away the very beasts the industry relies upon? Is all their chasing them down (disturbingly reminiscent of a brutal, century’s old whaling industry’s methods) causing the giant Blues, Fins, Sperms, Humpbacks and others to leave their annual mating grounds or not even arrive at all? They’re not typically fond of boats. But . . . Uh Oh . . . back to those mesmerizing clouds (Paul got this pic, looking West) spicing up our bland sail.

Do you recall that early scene in JAWS where the young woman bounds away from a moonlit beach party to frolic-swim out to a somber buoy where the now-mythical Shark yanks her underwater several times before she is eternally subsumed? The most disturbing element of that scene to me, the real-life scary aspect that kept kid-me up at night, was the fact that in her final moments, as she grasped for air, she (and we the viewer from her perspective) could see the tauntingly warm lights of civilization from the vacation houses along the beach and even hear the laughter of her friends around the comforting fire. The joke that was told before her skinny night-dip was likely still resonating in her mind when IT happened. So, as you can guess, those interesting clouds (above pic) were about to turn way more interesting.

Looking East at Isla Danzante from our semi-wild anchorage on a calm morning with the western Giganticas behind us. The hilltop point at left is the "corner" in this story. Paul Pic.

Since there was so little wind we dropped all three of Triplefin’s sails, turned on the noisy but domestically comforting diesel engine, and began to turn the corner. I was at the helm when suddenly the cloud banks’ brows furrowed, condensed, and then became an angry, atmospheric waterfall rushing over those saw-toothed, granite peaks. The wind spiked from five knots to over thirty in a sudden exhale and it kept gusting, like some evil god was trying to blow out his trick birthday cake candles; and we were one of the candles. Boy, were we glad we got the sails down when we did! (Seriously, don’t I know better?) As I was steering into Westerly Zephyrus’ birthday-boy blows, the wheel became useless in my cold hands. WTF? I had no steering! Paul had to feel it to believe it. Then he bounded across the couch, tossing aside festively colored couch pillows, opened the living room floor and yelled, “Fuck! We lost our prop’ shaft! Turn off the engine; it’s useless!”

Paul's pic of a Mexican Dancer (Elysia diomedia) solar sea slug. They eat algae and retain some of the chloroplasts in their skin to get extra food from photosynthesis. These sea slugs have gone green!

Just one restful heartbeat earlier we were casually enjoying the tourist vista (see above pic) of passing Isla Danzante (The Dancer Island). Now we were being helplessly shoved towards The Dancer’s gorgeously bouldered shore where we’ve dived for sea slugs in their ballroom gowns attached to Danzante's frilly skirt of rocks. As the last rays of Jesus-returns-on-a-mission sun-beams shot through the threatening, cumulonimbus tower, Paul snatched a life jacket and went on deck to try to raise our mainsail between blasts. We could see the welcoming red and green lights of the marina entrance buoys - so close yet so far. I radioed for assistance - no response. I managed to raise our friend there who began frantically knocking on doors and was told that even the Rescate Marino (marine rescue) team would not go out in those conditions. With nothing else he could do, our pal scrambled up the rocky point we were trying to circumscribe to at least offer encouragement from the peak. We needed to get inside that bay so we could anchor with some minimal wind and wave protection and, crucially, at a depth we had enough chain for holding our floating home. We were a jumbo-sized, white box getting buffeted around. Maybe, I thought, we should have kept the previous tongue-in-cheek but now-tongue-sticking-out-at-us name of the boat, This Side Up. Changing names is supposedly bad mojo.

Do you know that our planet gestates about 40,000 thunderstorms daily? And every bolt of lightning that connects with Earth an electric charge rises making our upper atmosphere positively charged while the land and water masses retain a negative one. Incredibly, that amounts to a shocking (hahaha) amount of voltage in the air around your feet even on a calm and clear day. How much? About 100 volts right around your tootsies and, get this, for every meter off the surface of the planet the charge increases 100 volts more! And those electric fields grow even stronger around protrusions like trees, leaves, bowsprits, masts, and stainless steel rigging. Just an Earth Science factoid to hold as you read on.

Given the chaotic blasts Paul could not hoist the mainsail, our only source of controlled movement and stability. Isla Danzante’s serrated jaws were approaching. Like spying the whites of an enemy’s eyes, I could discern bleached barnacles on some of the outlying rocks. Our only choice was to try and partly unfurl the capricious foresail, the jib, at the bow. I call it our pony because when it gets wind it goes from sleeping to galloping in a hoofbeat. Without the mainsail for control we’d still be mostly a subject of the Sea and Atmosphere but it was the only option we had. Muscles and nerves tensed, we got it unrolled to the size of a queen bed sheet and managed to make staggered progress around that point where our mate stood on solid Earth. A point we could now barely discern. Night was advancing to lend Zephyrus a hand as the seas heaved and slapped and His sail-ripping gusts continued to smack our sputtering candle flame down and around.

Our man on the mountain could do nothing but gaze down in breath-held, helpless hope that we’d manage to tack our way up into the relatively sheltered and very relatively shallow bay so we could anchor. But every time we yelled “Helms Allee!” to wrap a winch and switch tacks that old, mythical, vengeful Wind pushed us back towards the night-darkened, sandy beach where a few campers’ fires warmly beckoned. Crouched invisibly in predatory wait, in front of that sand, was a shallow, gnarly reef. I knew its sharp crenellations intimately from all my morning swims there playing tag with Spotted Eagle Rays (see Paul's pic). We HAD to get the mainsail up at least partway, even if it meant risking tearing the sail, busting our rigging, or even breaking our main mast; otherwise our hull would become grist, ground onto Poseidon’s giant sandbox of stone and coral before the stars twinkled over the tragic playground scene. I started to think pragmatically about what things I’d grab before jumping off with our dog, Gizmo, and what I’d have to relinquish. To keep the mainsail slack for raising I struggled to steer us into the brutal gusts that were now bursting unpredictably from 5 to 30 knots instantly, again and again, while changing direction from the West and (holy titty twisters, Batman!) now the North and East too?! Like giant toddlers at party play, Ol’ bronco-busting, spur-clad, cowboy Zephyrus rounded up Arctic-hearted Boreas and normally refined and understated Eurus to extinguish our wavering party candle flame. We were directly beneath a dreaded downburst! An understudied meteorological phenomenon that can be as violent as a tornado. Then somehow - some-crazy-how - Paul managed to haul up the mainsail just enough to creep us forward. The instant the depth was reasonable, in the menacing-squid-ink black, we engaged the windlass (the part that drops and raises the anchor and thick, heavy chain), dropped the mainsail, and I dared exhale with a bit of relief (Honestly, Jo? When will you learn?) as the anchor plunged over the bow.

Our windlass and chain now at anchor in San Carlos Bay.

I knew we’d need every meter of that trusty iron chain we had to hold us, especially with the waves yanking our bow up and down. Even with my headlamp I couldn’t see my party-favor-hued, zip tie markers, so I was blindly counting meters of chain spooling out from below deck. One-one-thousand-one-meter-two-one-thousand-two-meters-three-one-thousand-three-meters . . . . When I estimated about half of the lifesaving links to be out the windlass suddenly banged. And locked. As we drifted towards that night-obscured but certain reef I could not get any more chain out. It was jammed somewhere below deck, in the anchor compartment; past my desk (where fat-n-happy House Spider was clinging) and through the galley (below left) where cauliflower, zucchini, garlic, and soy chorizo sat, abandoned mid-chop, on the cutting board, just fore of the head (center) I just finished decorating with all my blog artwork, from clown-colorful parrot fish to the absurdly long barnacle penis, from a mating ring of sea slugs in honor of a dead writing mentor to electric rays surrounding my son in utero.

When I alerted Paul to the malfunction he was jolted and stunned, with no choice but to rapid-crawl below, through the luxurious solar-hot-water shower, under our jackets and dive suits, and finally into the tiny chamber (far right) where he curled like a 6 foot tall fetus himself, just below my pleading, on-deck knees. He spotted the problem immediately. We’d never before put out all our chain and what was left down there in a sunken-treasure pile was horribly tangled. Gnarled into arthritic, iron knots. Link by link he had to untwist it one quarter meter at a time, then bloody-fist-bang and yell through the deck for me to pull that meager but necessary bit through the windlass and add it to the overboard chain. The chain that was suspending the absurdly dangling, still-useless anchor over the passing-by sea floor. Like acres of sand in the bay’s sandbox hour glass . . . . our time was slipping away below us. The stars were winking at me between the rushing bullet train of clouds when I saw the special fluorescent zip ties marking our penultimate meter of chain. My breath held. Then I felt it. I felt it through my solar plexus. That sweet-rude, whiplashing jerk of the anchor catching and holding in that sand. Our friend called on the radio in relieved tears.

Paul snagged a blurry pic of me when I crawled inside to stir fry our cauli’ tacos.

Those tacos managed to stay down all night even though we were way out in that bay, punk-rocking and mosh-pit rolling (If ya can't leave the party ya may as well join it?) well into the morning when something happened that even the night before could not have prepared us for. I’ll get to that in a bit. First, I have a question for us. Yes, us, my friends.

Act II - The Rocking Chair Test™ How do we know when it’s time to give up and let go? We’re better at knowing when it’s time to reach out and grab hold of a seemingly crazy idea. Six years ago Paul and I applied my Rocking Chair Test™ when deciding to risk our sliver of savings on a classic, Cedar-wood trimaran and dedicate our lives to marine conservation science. Here’s how the test works: Imagine yourself old, wrinkly, and spent - just able to sit and rock on the porch. You’ve outlived all your old friends and family and you spend your dwindling time reflecting on your past decisions: The risks you’re glad you took no matter their outcome and the ones you regret not taking. Imagine your near-death self in that rocker musing over the decision your younger and able self is currently facing. Are you more likely to regret saying “Yes” to the risk or “No” even if you flail and fail? Boom. Decision made. But the other side of the balanced equation is more difficult to solve, isn’t it? When we’re younger we have time to risk diving into things with abandon. When we’re older and there’s less and less sand rushing by underneath our hull and we can feel that ultimate reef getting closer and closer . . . what then? What now?

We recently watched a film (Niad) in which the victorious open water swimmer instructs us all to “Never, ever give up!” (I mean, absolute statements are never correct, right? [hahaha]) I couldn’t disagree more, whether you’re a serial killer, fascist dictator, real estate tycoon, peace activist, or someone trying to live their dream of sailing for science. I think the wiser advice is to pay attention to that deep, inner, hushed sea of knowing as well as the forces of nature and culture in order to intuit when to give up. After all, isn’t life past a certain age really about relinquishing one outdated holdfast after another so as to not suffer by clinging? So as to embrace the changes that are inevitable anyway? But how do we know when to give up on:

  • Those imperial sunset IPA’s or cigarettes that get us through another stressful day?

  • An exercise routine that’s become a jailor?

  • The love of your life and father of your child after he’s become mentally and emotionally unrecognizable and is so afraid of living he desires more his cache of guns and ammo than his family?

  • The love of your life who needs to be rooted on land though you long to become untethered or vice versa?

  • A long sought degree others tell you to forfeit?

  • Three plus decades as a small, economically stressed and opioid-strained town’s old-fashioned-we-trust-you family doctor in order to be a more present husband and maybe, finally, just that groovy record store guy?

  • Revenge in exchange for Forgiveness?

  • A beloved, once-abused, three-legged mongrel whose trust was hard won but once won was tummy-up whole - who reminded you with her toothless smile that every damn day is a gift to open yourself to?

  • Needing to befriend everyone you meet or ignoring strangers because both are just responses to self-perceived inadequacies?

  • Miracle Whip© and French fries or worrying about eating Miracle Whip© and French fries?

  • Trying to figure out what “the rules” are in order to love and be loved by someone and instead just letting go and trusting that they love even your Cool Aid Man, wall-busting bumblery?

  • A sister or brother grudge so gristly and tough you don’t even know what it’s made of anymore?

  • Trust in a mental health care system?

  • Trust in a criminal justice system in the face of absurdity while trying time and again to help someone you love before they kill themselves, an innocent stranger, you, or your child?

  • A lung? A leg? A pancreas? A uterus? A vagina?

  • Traditions, customs, and ceremonies that no longer make sense?

  • Three decades of serving your community as a teacher in the same public school?

  • The thought that you could ever hope to feel anything again like the feeling of snuggling with your two-year-old child when they still thought you were the whole world?

  • High heels, lipstick, shaving your legs? Shoes, button-down shirts, shaving your face?

  • Waiting for someone you love who hurt you to say they’re sorry?

  • A monument? A flag? A country? A political system?

  • Trying to please everyone by acting nice?

  • Trying to recall the sound, feel, texture of your mom’s laugh as it Doppler-shift recedes into the past?

  • Being a fool by sitting on your hands instead of standing on stage and risking looking like one?

  • Trying to reach a long lost friend to tell her you’re sorry for an old, misguided mistake?

  • Not writing to thank and congratulate another old friend long disappeared into a League of Ivy who’s dad taught Shakespeare while yours tried to teach you not to say “ain’t” (No joke: I just had to look up how to spell the old bard’s name correctly! I swear . . .) and who now is an intimidatingly successful and published writer with a vocabulary yours could never hope to match (but, really, do you need all the best words in order to speak truth and beauty?) and whose recent, bravely honest book just helped you recognize your own maternal, honest bravery?*

  • Flying? Driving across the country solo? Driving to the grocery store?

  • Relying on sex humor as a deflecting, social and emotional buffer?

  • Being a push-over by saying “Yes” to things you do not really want.

  • The illusion of objective reality?

  • Not using your voice to call out that you feel cold and alone and need help?

  • Wearing a face mask? Wearing a social mask? Wearing a bra? Undies?

  • The notion of becoming a successful _________ (artist, writer, photographer, videographer, musician) and instead just dive in and do it without care if you succeed or fail?

  • Telling lies because if people knew who you really are they would reject you?

The whale puppet with golden barnacle puppets on his back that I made for my nephews to go with the interactive book (see lead photo)
  • Swallowing hook-line-and-sinker a stinker of an original-sin-type lie others once told about you?

  • Friends who ghost you after you’ve shown them your vulnerabilities?

  • Eating things that are bad for us?

  • Eating things that we are bad for?

  • The existence of an entire species who evolved right here, alongside us?

  • The comforts of a daily routine in familiar places?

  • Pestering your dear, land-loving friends and family to join you in your watery dream before you’re too worn out to raise a sail and drop an anchor? (This near-ship-wreck account will do the trick, huh?)

  • Single use plastics? Fossil fuels?

  • Running, sailing, finning away from the people who love and want to help you?

  • A Humpback Whale sister wrapped like a mummy in an abandoned gill net and leave her behind to die slowly, alone?

  • The crazy hope that the rescued Humpback Whale sister will somehow find your sailboat and frolic with the human creatures who saved her after three years has gone by?

  • A dream for which you’ve watched the turned-grey man you love spend six unforgivingly mean and sweaty years working mostly in a toxic boat yard and depleting your savings to turn homey This Side Up into the sailing-for-science beast, Triplefin?

Flip over warring Orion to see Danante, who dances joy across the night sky as a reminder. (My drawing)

There we are, my friends. I do not know when we know it’s time to let go, but somehow we do. After miraculously getting anchored securely that fateful night despite all efforts of those mythical, party-boy gods to extinguish our flame, Paul and I had two intense conversations. First, we spoke words of Relinquishment that we were both afraid to utter. Before we collapsed in our wave-wracked bunks that fateful night, as the constellation Danzante rose, dancing joy, over Isla Danzante, we whispered that once we fixed our diesel engine’s prop shaft and had one last season with it that we were done. Throw-in-the-towel-and-ring-the-bell done. We just could not take the stress any more. Little did we know then what big momma Nature had in store for us in the morning.

Next, while tucked in our rocking cradle and like the seasoned sailors we were becoming, we reminisced. It had been almost two years since we were there, sailing in the Baja Sur area between Loreto and La Paz, where and when we rescued that horrifically entangled humpback whale. We tried to get there to possibly glimpse her again the year before but ran aground, literally teeter-tottering on an uncharted Baja rock (that Paul was, to my befuddlement, trying to chart!?) when we first crossed the sea from the mainland. We managed to get released. (Well, Paul did. I just sort of ran around on deck like Chicken Little praying to something above the clouds that I had no faith in. And that’s just one of our mis-adventures over the last eight years of trying to live our sea dream. I haven’t written here about most of the incidents because that’s not what this blog is about, but I promise to give a snapshot rundown in an upcoming post for the curious and/or sadistic among you.) Once freed from that stony fulcrum we tucked and turned tail and sailed back to Sonora to haul out and spend months patching our banged up keel. So we missed that winter’s migratory Humpback whales and our nutty hope of reuniting with the individual we saved.

That night, just a couple days’ sailing distance from where we found and risked Paul’s life to save her, we wondered, would we ever see “our Humpback” again? We knew we’d recognize her. One of the heinous ropes that bound her had sliced deeply into her dorsal fin and surely left a recognizable scar. Paul got this voucher photo of her with the damaged fin before she breached in freedom that long ago day. But, would she recognize us, her Homo sapiens? As a sound-communicative beast, would she recall the particular rumble of our cranky diesel engine that protectively circled her for the hour or so it took Paul to cut and cut and cut and pull and tug her free? Would she recognize from below our fairly uncommon three hulls that resemble a mother whale with a calf on each side? Would she know Gizmo’s sea lion-like bark as a familiar, concerned call from the deck? Would my tearful silhouette at the helm be one she recalled from the spy hop she gave me before turning south and raising her flukes in a deep dive to try and rejoin her friends and family before they reached the open Pacific? Had she then found her tribe? How stunned were they at her reappearance? Surely they must have stayed with her in mummy-wrapped, helpless horror for days as she struggled to free herself only to grow more cruelly tangled. Did she have children? How did they, her family and friends, her kin, know when it was time to let her go, to give up on her, and swim away? What was she able to convey to them about her rescue and miraculous Resurrection if she survived the stress of entanglement and reunited with them again? Was she able to express that it was those funny looking animals with not-fins (arms and legs) and, incredibly, with “starfish” on the ends of their not-fins that could magically cut, grab, and pull off the lines that bound and gagged her? Could she relay to her kin the sound of our specific diesel engine, Gizmo's particular bark, or Paul’s absurd yet compassionate attempts at comforting Humpback-speak as he climbed on her head, reached in her mouth, and snipped? Could she convey to them my relieved, ecstatic ululations when Paul severed the last line and, instead of sensibly fleeing immediately, she gently (so as not to injure Paul) fluked directly over to me as the engine rumbled? We dared even wonder if her group’s annual song had an element of what surely must have been a myth making revival of her, their beloved sister, who they had no choice but to give up on for the sake of the migratory greater good. We said good night with this question bumping along with the waves: Would we see her, our beloved Humpback Whale, again - before we give up on Triplefin?

Typically, when we get a grand nocturnal blow like the one just recounted, we wake to stunningly calm conditions the next morning. Not so that next morning. Zephyrus halted his brutal, birthday-boy gusts but polar-born Boreus, hungover from the party, was emitting a stale but still-pissy-strong exhale. The port captain kept raised the red flag, warning boats to stay put. Everyone in the pricey marina, including our pal we were eager to rejoin, was stuck on their boats tied to their mooring buoys. At least it would be a quiet day, devoid of those desperately-whale-searching and noisy tourist pangas. (Even House Spider was still, perhaps resting up for something.) Sipping our lidded coffees, we peeled back the living room floor to expose the diesel engine (triggering Gizmo to sigh and retreat to the stern deck, just not able yet again to face the fact that even the existence of his floor can’t be trusted), and pondered our disconnected prop shaft. At least it was still there, dangling, not a toy lost forever in Poseidon’s dark sandbox. Suddenly, The Giz started barking his I-ain’t-kiddin’-you-bipedal-fools-there’s-something-serious-going-on-and-you-better-get-your-hairless-asses-out-here-NOW bark. Out we jungle-gym climbed from Triplefin’s belly to see what was up. We weren’t on fire or dragging anchor or about to be rammed by something. But Gizmo’s nose was vertical and pumping to locate the source of some alarm-worthy scent. We patted his head and told him to take it easy, no People or Dolphins or Slinkos (Sea Lions) would come around to play on a choppy day like this. Then we heard it. Well, not it, them. “Phoooo!” and another “Phoooooo!” There, just a few meters from our feet two Humpback Whales surfaced to exhale.

Then they shallow-dove and swam right under us, checking out our three whale-black-belly hulls. They surfaced again, tilting to the sides, their eyes taking us in. Boreus blew our coffee cool as we watched them watch us and tolerated Gizmo’s excited barks as they played around us that morning. I know what you’re wondering. We were too. As you can see from Paul's pic, this one of the pair had indeed escaped an awful net entanglement. You can see the rope scars. But the dorsal fin damage doesn't look quite the same to us as our sweet Humpy. (Damn, y'all, there are a whale-shit ton of ghost nets out there.) But, still, if our disentangled Humpback survived and found her pod these two would surely be part of her communicative clan. Before successfully fixing our prop shaft, we radioed in to tell the marina of our visitors and every sea-locked sailor was envious of our bumpy but Humpy emergency anchorage.

Now, fast-forward a month. There we were, out for a week with some cetacean experts searching for whales to collect observational data. We were especially hoping to glimpse the behavior of one special whale, spotted in the area, who is a wondrous mutt: a hybrid of a Blue Whale mom and a Fin Whale dad (I know . . . Who knew!?). No luck. Our partner, Fernando Martin Velasco, managed to capture an incredible sound recording of a big male Sperm Whale deep in a trench sonar-targeting and hitting giant squid. (The hammer taps are sonar echos off the prey and get close together as the Sperm Whale honed in on his target.) We counted a few few dolphin pods and Paul got the following slo-mo video of one. But as much as we tried, unhappily relying on our cacophonous and dirty, internal combustion engine as there was little to no wind that whole week, the Whales eluded us. Even for the high-pressure, tourist pangaleros. We whispered, wondering if indeed the irked whales were changing their behavior and not migrating so far north up the Sea of Cortez anymore.

Then it was back to just me and Paul and Giz (and grown-thin House Spider who was busy crafting a pearl of an egg case in the bookshelf!) on Triplefin. And guess what? It was another quiet, light-wind, unexciting day, and we were in no hurry on our all-three-sheets-to-the-wind, motor-off, barely-moving-sail to fossil-fabled Isla Monserrate. The seas were glassy. And guess who came to visit? Yep. A solo Humpback found us. Again, Gizmo the Wonderdog alerted us, and there they were, just floating on the surface so close we literally (and I literally mean literally!) could have just stepped off our port side and, whale willing, stood on their back and held onto our railing without wetting our ankles. WTF?! They hung by our side so long I decided it was hot and still enough to risk a snorkel. I got my mask and snorkel and gently lowered myself into the water. As I did, the leviathan bid us adieu with a body bow and deep dive away. Paul checked the dorsal fin when she rolled. Nope, no old rope scar. But, still. Had whale-word of our old friend’s Resurrection gotten around?

Part III - May The Force Be With Us Now, I know this tale is getting long in the baleen but I need to recount what happened a couple months after that, once we took the last bunch of local teens out for a sailing adventure, before hot-hot-summer. It’s the event that caused us to decide to finally do it. To quit it. To give up. To let go. It’s a salty tale that begins with our secret knowing that it might be our last chance to sail Triplefin up to the relatively cooler waters of Bahia de Los Angeles to hopefully glimpse for the first time a whale shark. Those gentle-giant, spotted glamour-pusses gather there in the summer to escape the extreme heat further south where we still were. Where we still were, waiting for the delayed southerly winds of Notus, that infamous desiccator of crops, livelihoods, and sailor’s plans to blow us surely North. He was late with his summer-lazy, Pacific exhalations so we sat and waited. And waited. And waited. At last, he blew and we flew. We made wonderful progress North before the wind died for the day and we decided, as always, reluctantly, to drop sails and fire up Ol’ Stinky so we could motor to a decent wild anchorage before dark. Should we have taken as an omen the fact that the anchorage we were aiming for was the same one at which a year before we see-sawed on that rock? We listened to the monotonous transmission growl for a few hours until the fossil-guzzling beast decided to give one last, familiar “CLUNK”, give up, let go, and just die. Irreparably. That meant we needed to turn tail and head due South to get back to the mainland and the spot where we haul out and that we had to do it the old fashioned way. Sailing with lots of tacking since party-latecomer Notus would now be against us. After two days and nights of practically crossing the Sea of Cortez every time we tacked just to make any Southerly progress we were at last within radio reception of our home port. Oh, yeah, it was pretty bumpy too. So much so that when I fell into the corner of the galley counter top while delivering some rice and beans to Paul (and flushing a few flies towards emaciated House Spider) I cracked a rib. It hurt to inhale that fresh sea breeze, and much more to laugh (inciting the comedian in Paul).

We radioed a request for a power boat to come and snag and drag us through San Carlos Harbor’s rocky needle eye entrance (see my sunrise pic here) that’s way too narrow for us to risk without engine control. We needed help getting in there to drop anchor and get hauled out ASAP. Unfortunately, to our dread, the only person able to push us was the locally infamous (and because of that and Mexico’s strict anti-defamation laws let’s re-name him) Darth Vader. ** Because like that mythical, evil, dark-side father you cannot ignore, this crusty ol’ fellow had a trustworthy reputation as untrustworthy as a promised, prevailing wind and as potentially damaging as a sudden, haboob-spawned water-spout. Pretty much any bad situation will likely be made worse with his greasy-palmed “help”. But, we were physically exhausted, super-hot-sweaty, injured, limping, and sleep-deprived (something he could sense) so we accepted the last resort of the Dark Lord himself who told us to call him when we were at the entrance to the bay.

Once we got precariously close to the rocky entrance and dropped our sails the soul-sucking, work yard vampire radioed to say he just didn’t feel like coming out now. It was Saturday on a holiday weekend and going on suppertime. I should add that this information came to me while in the midst of a menopausal hot flash so I was spitting testosterone-spiked treble-hooks. The grizzled and grasping Kraken spotted our weakness and demanded more money on top of the already extortionist fee and we conceded. My friend, it was already so overwhelmingly steamy that I was down to the bare minimum: worn out, baggy bikini bottoms (the top lost long ago to some other absurd emergency) and a way oversized, long-sleeved, soft t-shirt that I was keeping soaked for the meager evaporative cooling properties. Ol’ Darth Vader then deemed our situation perilous (uh…profitable) enough to show up (and it should be mentioned that a couple years before we pulled his unmanned boat off the rocks and saved his ass - for free). Then the blood and hope-sucker proceeded to do just what one would expect: make every single thing as difficult and dangerous as possible! Just getting his hard-sided panga tied tight to our side was to risk finger loss. Indeed, as he man-splain-yelled at me to hurry up and tie him on, a feat which required making loops between two hard surfaces and timing the extraction of my fingers between wave-surges, I noticed that at least one of his not-helping hands, kept safely on his lap, was missing three to four fingers. With the wave action blurring things I couldn’t make an accurate count. But at least three. (And now that I think of it . . . Where WAS his other hand?) Once tied on he started yelling at me to shout various commands at Paul who was at the socially-safe helm trying to steer us through the rocks. Naturally, Sir Vader made sure to ignore my earlier request to tie up on the helm side so they could communicate directly. So in addition to scrambling for more inflatable fenders and trying to squeeze them in between our two boats (again imperiling digits) I had to relay demands back and forth between them over the roar of his whiny-smoky outboard. Did I mention my cracked rib and how it hurt to breathe? Yeah. But, we got it. We were slowly making progress into the holiday-weekend-busy bay. And THAT was the problem.

Not one of the big party barges, but look at that diesel exhaust! Paul pic of a tiny motor boat in Bahia San Carlos.

It was 5 pm, exactly when all the party barges take their beer-bonging, reggaeton-blasting clientele out through that same narrow passage to revel at sea! And you don’t go out to P-A-R-T-Y at a crawl. No way. You go full throttle, baby! Now, if they were to pass us and make surfable wakes on our side without our sidecar demon attached, no big deal. But of course that hell-bent amputee had forced us to the wrong side of the channel so the clueless fiesta barges were making wakes on the side with ol’ Grumpy-Stumpy imperfectly attached. (Hey, I can say that because I too am missing a finger [a good chunk of one, anyway] and kid-me thought I was possessed by a demon [long story].) With each wake his panga would bang into ours taking with it pricey chunks of paint and fiberglass (Did I mention that our personal Lucifer also conveniently does overpriced fiberglass repair?). That’s when I became a semaphoring bowsprit. In my sagging bottoms and soaked, dingy-grey tee-tent, I began frantically leaping and waving my arms and hands (Oh . . . that rib!) to direct those power boats to pass on the counter-intuitive side. And it was working! Until.

Until there came THE Godzilla of party boats packed to the gills with sun-screen-greased humanity all flesh-pulsing with some techno beat. I swear, for real, the craft was visibly tilting to one side because more bikinied revelers were hanging off in that direction. Do you think that captain was looking at middle-aged me out there doing my best imitation of a panicked fiddler crab trying to direct landing planes on an aircraft carrier? Hell, no. And that motorized beast was flying . . . straight towards our clinging, fiberglass, flank wart and its hell-bent, gravitational pull towards disaster . . . or at least towards another couple thousand US dollars of repairs. I jumped and waved, adding an exaggerated can-can, all without effect. So, when it was the very last possible moment that they could change course without risking a head-on-collision I did what I had to do. It was a last resort, I swear to you. As a feminist I’m not proud of it. There is family precedent for such behavior though. After my parents died it came to light that my wild sister, Henri, while living impoverished in New Orleans after high school and supposedly “shucking oysters” for a living, was actually an exotic dancer on Bourbon Street. So, with Darth Vader bouncing over my shoulder like one of the four horsemen of the impending Apocalypse, I lifted my sopping hoodie over my head and wiggle-waggled my middle-aged tah tahs! And, IT WORKED! IT WORKED! They went around us! My tater tots got the job done, people!!!

A sailing friend just gave us this Greek glass charm to ward off the evil eye. We're not superstitious but, why take chances?

The whole scene seemed to also unmask Darth Vader who was all a red-faced giggle when we dropped anchor and set him free. I feel that joined ride of desperation forever bonded us as haphazard partners in this absurd quest for surviving at sea. I thought maybe he’d use his semi-functional, tentacular club to toss some of our pesos back up on deck at my feet (like my sister must’ve had tossed many a Mardi Gras bead), but no. Like many sailors, he is reliable in at least one way. He offered to tow us to the marina in the morning to haul out (for a fee) but we decided, against his crusty warnings, to ask a couple sailors to push us with their marshmallowy, inflatable dinghies instead. I know he’s no monster and doesn’t deserve these playful, verbal jabs, but still. No need to enter another light saber duel with his dark side forces and risk dismemberment or further debasement. ***

That night - that last night on the water, sitting up with the corpse of our diesel engine (and noticing our House Spider’s egg case had a hole in it), we took The Rocking Chair Test™ but applied it in the opposite direction: When to say “No” and let go instead of when to say “Yes” and grab on.

Sr. Hernandez not relinquishing as a machinist yet and seen here cradling our coupler he precision made from scratch!

We asked our adult-diapered, rocking selves if we would regret letting go of our sea dream turned nightmare now. Boom! Decision made. We were D-O-N-E done. Paul immediately began what has now been a seven month, absurd process of acquiring, installing, uninstalling, readjusting, re-reinstalling, un-uninstalling, rebuilding and refabricating, and re-re-reinstalling a new electric engine that came all the way from Australia, maties.**** Devilish Darth Vader has an angelic, Obi-Wan-like nemesis in this green-going Tempest: Senior Luis Hernandez. This calm, reliable, incredibly affordable, old-school machinist in a rough-n-tough part of Guaymas wielded his light saber of a blow torch with a magic-seeming attention to detail that truly rescued our oh-no-not-to-specs new engine. Going to visit him is like making a pilgrimage to a wiser being.

Perhaps we’ll look back and blame it on those Humpbacks who came enigmatically to visit, but it seems we are not yet ready to Relinquish our Triplefin Sailing for Science dream all together - just that damned, fossil-fuel guzzling, reliably unreliable hellhound of an engine. It feels good, looking out on deck as I write and seeing our boat skin taken over by more solar panels and opening our living room/office floor to admire some big, high-tech batteries surrounding a silent engine (see pic). Maybe we Homo sapiens are finally catching up to our distant cousins, those solar sea slugs, who went green eons ago (see caption of Mexican Dancer pic)... But I worry. Will the Humpbacks - will “our” Humpback Whale - recognize her Human Beings without that rescue-associated rumble? We shall see.

As I meditated out on deck that last hot and almost-still morning, awaiting haul-out, I noticed something strange. What were those eerie, glistening threads floating upwards from our lines of stainless steel rigging? I got my granny glasses to see and then yelled to Paul to come look. He ran out, thinking “Now what?!” What he saw were dozens of itsy bitsy, baby spider hatchlings who evidently took their own, collective teeny-tiny Rocking Chair Test© (Oh, goddess, can you picture the adorable cuteness of baby spiders imagining themselves old in miniscule rocking chairs???). Feeling static electricity on their leg hairs, they intuited it was their time to venture outside, climb up the metal rigging, spin out a first-ever silken line, feel the unsettling electric sensation of that thread’s negative charge being pulled up into the positively charged, bright blue atmosphere, risk letting it lift a few first hairy back legs and then bodies up and out, and then finally, completely letting GO! *****

"Zane Feet with Spotted Eagle Ray in Skate Egg Case with Fossils" painted by me as a reminder to hold on to my son (then 9 years old) because I would soon have to begin letting him go.

* I highly recommend Kate Cohen’s book, We of Little Faith. Even if you’re not a friend of hers who lost touch due to feelings of inadequacy like I am, you’ll feel like you’re sitting with her on a porch in rocking chairs (or maybe next to her on a pew in the stained-glass glow of a gothic cathedral) having a reuniting conversation. She’ll make you think about some of your typically thought-free, yet critical life decisions and challenge you to find and speak your own truth. Thank you, Kate!

** Please know, I had a creative blast with making elderly Sir Vader into a purely evil character for the telling of a good yarn. I hope you know, even though all that happened when he “rescued” us was accurate in my tale, the actual human being is, like all of us, a much more complicated person. I understand that he is a devoted father and craftsman, does a lot of charitable work in the local community, and is a lover of wild creatures. And besides, his unscrupulous-seeming behavior with us is surely a left over byproduct of whatever challenges he faced to survive and be loved . . . like us all. And when he finally decides to give up and let go he will leave us all a bit impoverished, and not just fiscally.

*** I swear on Davy Jones’ Locker, guess who, while I was writing that very bit just motored over, for the first time these seven months later, on his hard-edged panga to say “Hi” and warmly congratulate us on our new electric engine? I swear, I don’t make this stuff up. You’d never believe me!

**** A sea’s worth of gratitude goes to our generous donor, dear friend and merman, Rob Sevekow. Our new electric engine was made possible by his gift and belief in our marine conservation work. We’re sure glad that at 89 he hasn’t yet let go of living fully. The last we heard from him he busted out of a retirement home, blasted across the country one last time against everyone’s admonishments, and is now Winnebago dreaming!

***** Check out Erica Morley’s 2018 research paper (and cool spider ballooning video!) on spiderlings sensing and using electrostatic forces to lift and carry them for miles to disperse:

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Keith York
Keith York
Feb 27

I have a particular fondness for this story. I freaking love your writing. I always learn so much. Darth Vader made me laugh. A lot


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