One Week at Sea: 15 Highlights of My First Sailing Experience in Baja, California, Mexico

SV Time Piece Sail

I was a sailing newbie, somewhat clueless but eager to learn. And the captain, John Spicher—the only other person on the boat (his boat), the SV Time Piece—was someone I barely knew (story re: how we met here). The plan: to sail the Sea of Cortez for a week.

A lot could have gone wrong, right? (I was, if you think about it, kinda sorta couch surfing on someone’s boat.)

But it didn’t. Phew. In fact, it actually went well and turned out to be another cool ChickyBus adventure, just as random and unexpected as the others.

SV Time Piece

Sure, I was nervous the first few days–afraid to hurt myself (by getting hit by the ‘boom’ or tripping over the large ‘winch’–I know, it sounds like another language–LOL) and hoping not to be in the way (there’s 200 sq feet of space inside). But once I relaxed and got into the sailing groove–and saw what it was really about–I loved it. So much that I’d hang out on a sailboat again anytime.

The Route We Took

The original plan was to sail from La Paz to Isla San Francisco, but that changed since the wind was not in our favor. Instead, we stayed near Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida. Here’s the route we took and a list of places where we ‘anchored’ along the way.

La Paz, Baja, Map

Night 1: Caleta Lobos
Night 2: Caleta Partida
Night 3: Caleta Partida
Night 4: Ensenada La Galllina
Night 5: Puerto Ballandra
Night 6: Caleta Lobos
Night 7: La Paz Harbor

Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida

15 Highlights of My First Sailing Experience

In random order, here are the most memorable moments of my week out on the water…

1. The Beauty of the Sea

The Sea of Cortez is gorgeous, with numerous colors that are hard to label. Turquoise? Absolutely. Pale green? Yes. Azure? Sometimes. And often, the sunlight seems to dance on and under the surface of the water, making it sparkle and glisten. And throughout, there are patterns—nature’s designs—with subtle fractal-like images mixed in.

Sea of Cortez

Turquoise Water, Sea of Cortez

Caleta Lobos, Isla Espiritu Santo, Sea of Cortez

Caleta Lobos, Isla Espiritu Santo, Sea of Cortez

2. The First Time The Sail Caught the Wind

The first time the sail caught the wind was cool. It had been still for a while, then the wind picked up. John shut the motor off and got the sail ready, making preparations that I can’t quite explain (since I don’t know the jargon). Once the sail was up and in the right position, the boat was moving on its own. No motor. Just the wind propelling us.

What a feeling! Being moved by nature…literally and figuratively. I felt a sense of freedom that’s hard to articulate.

SV Time Piece Sail

SV Time Piece Sail

3. Steering the Boat

A few times, my help was needed, so I ‘took the helm’ and steered. It was fun! All I had to do was fix my eyes on a spot on land to make sure we were going straight, turning the wheel to keep the boat on course. (Sometimes, I had to turn it quite a bit, which surprised me.) I definitely enjoyed this part of the experience.

Me Steering the Boat

4. The Feeling of Being ‘Out There’

When we arrived at the first cove and John dropped the anchor, I got a sense of what it was like to be ‘out there.’ Although we weren’t technically that far from La Paz, it felt as if were. Most nights, there were one or two other boats nearby, but sometimes no one else. And the two islands we were near, Espiritu Santo and Partida, are uninhabited (except for a few seasonal fishermen).

Sea of Cortez

5. Gorgeous Sunsets

All I can say is…wow. The sunsets were all incredible! I was in awe each and every time I saw one. I can’t imagine tiring of them.

Sunset, Sea of Cortez

6. Kayaking Adventures/Having the Beach to Myself

I kayaked quite a few times, by myself, and it was great. I love kayaking anyway—and especially when there are no other people around—so this was wonderful for me.

Kayaking Sea of Cortez

I also enjoyed the sense of adventure I felt each time I ventured out on my own. I loved these mini journeys and what it felt like to arrive on the shore and then go for a swim. Most of the beaches were gorgeous and I had nearly all of them to myself.

Beach, Sea of Cortez

Me on an Uninhabited Island

7. Getting to Know John, the Captain

Like many ex-pats, John is unconventional and thus, interesting—especially because he lives on his boat. That gives him a unique perspective on life. He’s also very bright, a serious sailor (a purist who will wait a long time for the wind to pick up vs. using the motor) and an excellent captain—and I admire and respect him for it.

He also has a humorous side. He jokes around about being a ‘super hero without a cape’ (he even has a book about how to become a super hero). I’m not sure if he’s one yet. He didn’t save me, but he did keep me safe on the boat, so maybe he has potential. :)

John Smiling
He also says he’s ‘fluid’ in 5 languages: American, British, Canadian, Hawaiian and Spanish. I agree re: the first 4, but he may need to work on the last one. When I first met him, he pronounced the second syllable of malecón as ‘con’ when it should sound like ‘cone.’ I worked hard to teach him this and recall that by the time I left, he was almost there. :)

8. Getting to Know the Boat/Sleeping On It

I don’t know a lot about boats, but I know that the SV Time Piece is a special one. ‘She’ was custom-made by the previous owner (took 7 years and 12,500 hours of labor) and is beautiful, with Burmese teak and a lot of attention to detail. It feels very homey and comfortable. It also has lots of storage space, which is great.

Sleeping on the boat was quite nice. I liked how it swayed and rocked gently. I found it to be relaxing. One of the final few nights, the water was a little choppy, and the boat seemed to move up and down a bit, but it didn’t bother me.

9. Eating When Hungry

Sailing reminds me of camping in that you’re responsible for making your food and there’s a certain amount of additional effort involved. Space is limited, so certain meals (like pasta with primavera sauce, which I made one night) can be tricky to prepare. But…just as with camping, when the meal is ready, you’re hungry and it’s truly satisfying.

Lunch on SV Time Piece

10. Drinking Cold Beer

Out on the water—in the heat—beer is often the drink of choice. I more of a wine drinker, but I found myself drinking Pacifica, the local beer. It wasn’t about getting a buzz; there’s something satisfying about it, the way it quenches your thirst. John definitely likes his beer and whether he was on the deck or down below, that first beer of the day always put a smile on his face.

John drinking beer and smiling

11. Being Unplugged/Being in the Moment

The first day of being offline was a little challenging, but then I got used to it and rather liked it. Because of it–and being out in nature–time slowed down and put me more in the moment. Although I was on the boat for just one week, it felt like much longer.

There was a lot of quiet time, so I got some reading done, which I rarely have time for. I put a major dent in ‘Shantaram,’ a book I’ve attempted several times and finally finished it a few days after returning to land.

12. Quirky Stuff/Recurring Jokes

At one point, I thought there was a fake pelican on one of the buoys. That turned into a recurring joke. Later, after hearing John refer to the inside of the boat as ‘down below,’ I asked, “So what’s down below actually called?”

‘Down below.’

‘Oh.’

There were quizzes, too, re: parts of the boat. Many times, I wanted to search for ‘sailboat diagram’ on Google, but couldn’t (see highlight 11.)

13. (Cheesy) Sailing Movies

Ever watch Captain Ron? It’s fun, but cheesy. So is Pirates of the Caribbean (but OK due to the eye candy—Johnny Depp, that is). Some of the other movies I watched were excellent and not cheesy at all (hence, the noncommital parentheses)—eg, ‘Master and Commander’ and ‘Morning Light.’

14. Beating John at Cribbage

Learning to play this game was grueling. Lots of rules and John’s been playing since he’s a kid, so he’s great at it. To my surprise, the last 3 times we played (after the training ended), I won twice. That means I won–for real–per Cribbage rules (best 2 out of 3). This made me happy because I didn’t think I had a chance in hell.

Cribbage Board/Cards

15. Meeting Other Cool Sailors/Dinghy Jokes

There’s more to sailing than being on the boat; there’s meeting other sailors when on land. There’s a pretty cool scene in La Paz—quite a few people from Seattle and some from elsewhere (who live on boats) who have relocated.

I had the pleasure of meeting several, including Tom and Jeannie, whom you see in the photo below (check out their blog here). Awesome folks I’m happy to have hung out with. It was great doing happy hour with them at The Shack (a popular hangout with a fun happy hour and good burgers) and enjoying tacos nearby.

Jeanne and Tom of Big Left Turn

Somehow, this silly word–‘dinghy’ (small boat carried by larger boat)–kept coming up in our conversations, and it cracked me up each time. No matter what, it’s a silly word. Use it in any sentence and you’re bound to laugh.

Me at The Shack in La Paz

Like most customers at The Shack, I wrote on the wall…

Your Thoughts/Reactions/Experiences?

Have you ever gone sailing? For a day? Or longer? As a passenger or did you actually sail the boat? If yes, where were you and what was the experience like?

If you’ve never sailed, would you like to? As a passenger? Or would you want to get more involved, maybe learning how to handle the sails, etc.? Would you want to try this somewhere local or maybe in another country?

By the way…

I enjoyed this experience so much that I’ve been fantasizing about sailing again! Sure, I’d love to return to the Sea of Cortez and see more of it. No doubt. But I’d also love to go somewhere far away, like Indonesia—maybe near the Gili Islands or elsewhere.

Sounds like a cool adventure, doesn’t it?

16 Responses to One Week at Sea: 15 Highlights of My First Sailing Experience in Baja, California, Mexico
  1. Hogga
    September 5, 2013 | 9:58 am

    that’s so cool! I’ve always wanted to learn how to sail
    Hogga recently posted..Street Art in Montreal: Notre-Dame-de-Grâce MuralMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      September 5, 2013 | 11:15 am

      Let’s go! And please bring Chicken Chunk. He’d be fun to have around (and he could double as food). :)

  2. Sara
    September 5, 2013 | 1:11 pm

    Wow! Awesome trip!
    looks like a great experience. The water looks gorgeous. I’ve never sailed or kayaked, but I might try it after reading how much fun it was. Great pictures.!

    • CB Driver
      September 5, 2013 | 7:32 pm

      Thanks, Sara! It was cool. The water was quite wonderful! Maybe we can go kayaking sometime. I love to do it in Princeton, not far from the university.

  3. Maria
    September 6, 2013 | 5:53 pm

    You look so relaxed… so when are you going boat shopping? :-)
    Maria recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – JapanMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      September 6, 2013 | 7:34 pm

      Good question! Actually, I have taken a peek…he he..and I’ve looked at some meetup groups for people interested in sailing. Maybe I’ll try to learn the basics and see what I think/take it from there.

      Chicky Boat? :)

      Maybe I should see if that domain name is available.

      • buddingspritelet
        September 7, 2013 | 1:17 am

        Yes! Chicky Boat :-D I will come on as crew :)

        • CB Driver
          September 7, 2013 | 7:22 am

          Cool name, isn’t it? :) I’ve read somewhere that you some fairy powers. I think you’d be the perfect person for getting a boat out of a storm. Please send over a resume (via my contact form) and I’ll see what I can do. Good cooking skills and the ability to choose white wine appropriate for hot weather–preferred. :)

          • buddingspritelet
            September 7, 2013 | 7:14 pm

            Zipping it over now ;)

  4. Robert
    September 7, 2013 | 7:23 am

    Wow, you do get off the beaten track, don’t you? This is so good. Beautiful mix of photos and supporting story Lisa. :-)

    • CB Driver
      September 7, 2013 | 8:05 am

      Hi, Robert. Yes, I do… :) Thanks for the positive feedback! PS: Have you read about how this sailing trip came about? It was one those ‘random travel moments.’ Click here.

      PS: New Trippy Travel Photo game has been posted. Some fierce competition for you and Jeuren–LOL. :) #justkidding

      • Robert
        September 8, 2013 | 5:38 am

        Oh, I like how your sailing trip started – thanks for pointing me there. You just looked so relaxed.

        [We have been away for 2 weeks - round trip driving 8000 miles up to Cairns in northern Oz.]

  5. Charu
    September 9, 2013 | 1:36 pm

    That is beautiful, Lisa! You look SO sunkissed and happy!

    • CB Driver
      September 11, 2013 | 7:50 am

      Thanks, Charu! Sailing (well, being a passenger) was definitely one of the most enjoyable things I’ve tried over the past few years (although flying that plane in Princeton was rather cool)–and being out in the sun always puts a smile on my face! However, I must say there were times, especially back on land, when it was a bit too hot. Even so, it was great and I hope to do it again in the future!

  6. Ryan
    September 15, 2013 | 1:47 am

    So very cool. I’ve always dreamt of sailing a boat of my own, or at the very least someone taking me out to teach me how to sail! Looks like an awesome time, something I definitely have to try.
    Ryan recently posted..Am I not Prepping Enough? 60 Days until my trip to Thailand!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      September 16, 2013 | 8:26 am

      Hi, Ryan! You dream of sailing your own boat? That’s great. Maybe you should check out findacrew.com. People there are looking for crew (and other situations). Maybe you could work for someone in exchange for some lessons.

      I think it would be cool to learn, for real. One of my local friends just told me she has a sailboat and that she she used to race. She said she could teach me some basics. I hope we can make it happen!

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