In October 2015, I left San Francisco with the enormous ambition of sailing around the world with my boyfriend…or at least as far around as we could go. I wanted to step foot on the most remote places in the world, to meet people from all walks of life and I really, really wanted to see the underwater worlds that, up until then, had only existed in Planet Earth. In embarking on this adventure, there was also something much deeper I wanted to accomplish: I wanted to know what I was really made of, with the world as my backdrop.
We have these ideas of who we think we are, what we like, what we don’t, what values are important to us, and often times, we are wrong. I’m sure at one point or another, our teenage-selves retorted to our parents, “You have no idea who I am!” Well, the funny part is, we, as in you, me, many of us, really have no idea either. That is not to say that we’re roaming around the world lost. I simply mean that moments that test our true character are rare.
Nearly sinking your sailboat is one of those rare moments.
That almost happened.
After an ultra-rushed sail through crappy weather from San Francisco to San Diego (and when I say rushed, I mean it took us 6 days…yeah, for context, we move about 5 miles an hour), we made our way to Baja California. We would be spending the next 4 or 5 months in Mexico waiting for the storms to pass in the South Pacific so we could cross the big blue to French Polynesia. During this time, we had really no idea what to expect. The only Mexico we knew were the party capitals of Cabo and Cancun and the vague memories of Spring Break’s of yesteryear. That was certainly not what we were after now.
The Mexico that welcomed us this time, however, was so far from what we remembered.
We spent that winter exploring ghost towns along the Sea of Cortez, hiking mountain tops that maybe no one had touched before and swimming with sea lions and whale sharks in the open water. We had found magic in Mexico. But I’ll tell you alllll about that another time.
After a sunny Christmas on Isla Coronado, eating fresh clams and watching humpback whales breach from our boat, the weather changed and a nasty storm was brewing. It was time to move on and find a safe shelter. Unfortunately for us, the safest spot was 3 hours away…straight into the storm. Now, let me take a moment to go over the last few sentences I just wrote. Clams, whales, safe shelter? These are most certainly not a string of words I had used prior to this event in my life.
On we went, severely hungover from a margarita Christmas, and freezing cold in the changing climate. We had made it about 45 minutes towards our destination when we realized that the bathroom was filling up with water. Then the bedroom. Then, like a scene from Titanic, the water flowed from under the bedroom door to the living room (or saloon, in sailor-speak). Within a matter of ten minutes the floorboards were floating around, all of my dry clothes along with them, in knee-high water.
This is the number one worst nightmare of any sailor. Sinking your ship. And we found ourselves living, no longer the dream, but the nightmare.
As man-friend starts preparing our emergency life raft in a full-fledged panic, I distinctly remember myself pausing, looking around at the pure hell I was in, and deciding that this was not the way I was going to end any part of my life. I realized that, though in matters at sea, I revert to him as captain, sometimes everyone needs someone else to be boss. My name had been called.
I put my big girl pants on and decided that we were not going down without a fight. When all three pumps we had failed, we got down in the thick of it and bailed out the water by hand, using little buckets and my favorite mixing bowls. Mind you, shit is going crazy outside. Let’s not forget we are headed towards a storm.
We finally made it to safety, anchored, and stopped to actually take awareness of the situation we had just faced. At this point, we still didn’t know why the boat was filling up with water and we had no idea if it was done filling up with water. What we did know was that we needed to put our two, or four, feet on land and breathe.
I hiked up the steep, slippery mountainside to see my little home from a different point of view. That little home that had already carried me through so many miles, so many adventures, that made me feel safe…until it didn’t.
I stood there, between a towering, proud cactus and the mighty, powerful waves that could have killed me, and I became acutely aware of the strength that lived in each of us. I started to cry, tears of pride, that I had not gone down so quickly, but that, instead, I fought. I fought for what I loved, what I cherished, and for the first time in a long time, I fought for myself.
In this moment, I learned the undeniable strength of things greater than myself, and I learned the greatness within myself.