A Photographer goes Sailing
We’re gliding across the Sea of Cortez at a slow but comfortable pace. Deep azure waters surround us in every direction. While the spinnaker is pulling the boat gently on a downwind run, the only noise we hear is the occasional flapping of the massive sail in light winds. Tender swells seem to carry us on a cloud of fluffy cotton as we approach our last port in Mexico. But the sea hasn’t always been so kind to us since we departed the United States.
A few month ago, I had no idea whatsoever what lay ahead of me when I decided to crew on a private sailing yacht. But somewhere through the depth of the World Wide Web I had managed to get in contact with Heidi and Kent in San Diego, California, who were about to fulfill their life-long dream of sailing around the world with their boys Dylan (6 years) and Connor (3 years). It had taken them years of daydreaming, preparation, and great investments into their 52-foot ketch (a type of two-masted sailboat) to get this close to a final departure date. Luckily for me they still needed a helping hand on board, and even though I was a total greenhorn with regard to sailing, my personality, approach to life, and last but not least my skills in graphic design and photography convinced them of my value on board above all other candidates.
Being a half American/half Australian family, they had named their boat Elandria, derived from the Australian Aboriginal word ”Elandra” for “a home by the sea.” For parts of their family voyage across the mighty Pacific Ocean back to the Land Down Under she will also be yet another traveling home for me. Finally I will get to explore some more of our great seas, which cover over 70% of the earth’s surface! And I haven’t even mentioned the gorgeous remote islands and atolls we will visit along the way!
The first leg of the journey will take us down Baja California and then across the Sea of Cortez before we finally reach Puerto Vallarta. This leg is generally known as easy coastal sailing, but more about that later. From Mexico we will then take part in the annual Pacific Puddle Jump “Rally”, a loosely organized group of cruisers crossing the Pacific Ocean from the Americas to French Polynesia. There, we’ll be visiting the exotic islands of the Marquesas, the isolated atolls of the Tuamotus, and ultimately some of the more famous places in the Society Islands like Bora Bora and Tahiti.
Especially for the big ocean crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas, which is the single longest stretch without land anywhere in the world, we will have another crew member on board. Captain Kristian Isringhaus is a fellow German, permanently living in the US. He’s an experienced sailor, who has made the exact same crossing before and worked on historical tall ships for many years. Apart from that, I’m told that he is a very talented writer (to be personally confirmed soon) and will be working on a new novel while underway.
After arriving on the boat, I soon realized that I had a lot of catching up to do. Sailing, it turns out, is not only a complex pastime hobby but also includes its very own language. Nothing on the boat is what it might seem to the nonsailor. The front of the boat is not the front of the boat but the bow. Ropes, when in use, become lines and have individual names for the many different jobs they are used for. Necessary boat vocabulary includes but is by far not limited to cleats, clews, telltales, furlers, winches, booms, shrouds, stays, spreaders and travelers (obviously not talking about Globetrotters here). And then there are the knots: bowline, figure eight, cow hitch, sheet bend, … the list seems endless. As soon as possible I had to make sense of strange sounding commands like “Ease the traveler to leeward and take up on the vang!” (“Yes! Release that blue rope before pulling on the grey one.”) I guess it’s a bit like explaining advanced photography techniques to a total amateur. I might say something like: “To get a smooth bookee you want a shallow depth of field by using a big aperture while keeping the ISO low.“ Specialized skills require dedicated vocabulary and sailing is definitely no exception.
Before I knew it, we were on our way towards Mexico, experiencing unusual weather already. While there was barely enough wind to sail, we were hit by high swells throughout the night. Gale force winds blowing further out in the open ocean were creating the waves that were now shaking us from one side to the other like a rubber duck in a bathtub full of toddlers. I can’t say that I fully enjoyed my first experience at sea, but at least I didn’t get seasick (not seriously), which I thought was a great sign for the upcoming adventure. Looks like I’ll be able to attend my shifts without bucket dad! ;)
After waiting out some weather (as the sailors say) in a marina in Ensenada, we took off again using the wind of the declining storm to drive our sails. While sailing, I always tried to find time to tackle my responsibilities as the official trip-photographer. I quickly realized that a cruising boat is quite difficult to capture in a harmonious way. The scale is huge while you’re bound to be close to the subject. The deck is packed with ropes, lines, stays, fishing rods and other stuff that clutters even the nicest frames. I have almost lost my new drone multiple times while trying to launch and land on the moving boat. But that is probably worth a full blog post with advices for others in the near future! To say the least, the boat was giving my equipment and me a hard time. But I’m confident to get the hang of it before reaching the truly amazing sceneries after the big crossing.
On our way to the next destination, Turtle Bay, about halfway down Baja California, we lost so much time in the lee of Cedros Island that the daylight was fading already when we finally passed the island on our starboard side. In an attempt to reach our destination during the same day, we pressed on. While our concern was mainly with reaching the new anchorage in the darkness, there was a whole other chain of disasters awaiting us before we would even get close to the bay …