Thrive or Survive?


Bryce expresses in image the crew's feeling of leaving Ventura Harbor after a year and half of delay, Santa Cruz Island in the foreground, the autopilot set for Marina Del Rey.
Bryce expresses in image the crew’s feeling of leaving Ventura Harbor after a year and half of delay, Santa Cruz Island in the foreground, the autopilot set for Marina Del Rey.

In 1990, a different crew of mine and I had planned to sail out of Ventura Harbor aboard Getel, my uncle’s 32-foot sailboat, for the Marquesas in French Polynesia, where I was to conduct research for my thesis study. The date we chose was February 9th. Having waved good-bye to family and friends, we motored out of the marina with the intention of “swinging our compass” (calibrating it). The seas proved too rough to perform the operation so we returned to execute the maneuver inside the marina. Once complete, we felt it too late to head back out so we spent one more night in Ventura, aboard Getel. We left pre-dawn, after I made a pay phone call (remember those?) to wish Leslie a happy birthday. With calmer seas, we successfully departed and 25 and half days later, arrived in Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas.

Flash forward 25 years, my mate and I planned to leave Ventura Harbor for Marina Del Rey on the 9th of February, initiating our “slow start” to our world cruise. The morning of our planned departure, with better technology available, we could read that the seas were high, 10-15 feet, and that a Small Craft Advisory was posted, warning smaller boats like ours of the challenging conditions. Taking advantage of the forecast, seeing a window of benign weather for the next day, we postponed our departure one day, leaving again on Leslie’s birthday.

My cousin-in-law, Scott Landry, not one for coincidences, believes we contrived this circumstance in order to create an interesting blog post. He would not be convinced otherwise. That’s one of the take-aways I find so interesting about the cruising lifestyle: it provides an abundance of unbelievable stories, events that are difficult for non-cruising families to fathom. Delaying our trip the one day, having just delayed it two days because of a forecasted rainstorm (which came as predicted), brought great disappointment to the crew. Bryce and Trent moaned when they heard the news. Leslie was incredulous when before dawn I told her we’re not leaving. I had to prove my case, offering NOAA weather forecasts, real-time weather buoy data, and the red-lettered small craft advisory atop the NOAA Marine Weather Forecast page. Then there were the sneers from yacht club members who felt that if we couldn’t handle uncomfortable conditions for a brief, 10-hour trip to Los Angeles, how could we expect to handle the rigors of the open sea, across much longer passages? There was significant peer pressure to leave that drizzly morning, with the sound of waves breaking over the detached breakwater, the barrier of stout guano-covered boulders that protects Ventura Harbor’s entrance. But I held my guns, which leads me to the other take-away I get from the blue-water cruising lifestyle: philosophical perspective development.

This past year, one lesson keeps popping up time and time again: whether to live a life of avoidance or a life of purpose. A cruising sailor can plan routes to avoid hurricanes, or he/she can plan to arrive during the region’s prime weather windows. It’s a subtle but significantly different approach. The first means a sailor is willing to skirt the bounds of the worst weather, knowing they can survive what’s in between. The second means a sailor is aimed at enjoying the experience, knowing full well that difficult, unforeseen circumstances can occur. The difference is that the former, in avoiding disaster, is willing to survive the experience of cruising, whereas the later, seeks benignity, accepting the unforeseen hardships that inevitably arise with any venture. Sailors know that even though regions close to a hurricane belt may not experience the full force of 70+ mph winds with enormous surge and seas, they will experience stormy weather with winds of 50 mph, heavy rains, and thunderstorms (lightning): an unpleasant experience at best. I can’t afford that. If I want to sail around the world, I have to manage two things: 1) our costs; we spent well over our preparation budget, pulling from our cruising kitty, potentially shortening our trip, and 2) our enjoyment; if Leslie, Bryce, and Trent aren’t having great experiences, they’re not going to want to continue. So, if I want to sail around the world with my family, I must find inexpensive ways to create positive experiences. One simple principle is to allow weather to dictate your schedule. It is often said among cruising sailors that the single most dangerous threat to the wellbeing of a vessel and her crew is a schedule. Keeping a schedule, trying to depart from or arrive at a particular location at a specific time is what gets most cruisers into trouble.

On the first day of our voyage, I didn’t want to knowingly create an uncomfortable experience for my novice crew, sailing against a small craft warning. Let the negative come unforeseeably. I choose instead to take the peer pressure and depart under a favorable weather forecast. I’m glad I did. Our first of hopefully many more sojourns to come was a benign one. Leslie awoke the next morning, happy and excited for the cruising life we’ve begun—my birthday present to her, but even more so, to myself. I can’t control the weather, I can control when we leave. When possible, I prefer leaving within a good weather forecast window to a questionable one, choosing thriving o’er surviving.

Kandu tucked between Del Rey Yacht Club's mega-yachts.
Our first stop, the Del Rey Yacht Club Guest Dock.  Note how Kandu is tucked between DRYC mega-yachts and the Ritz-Carlton to the background on the right.  This isn’t Ventura any more.

So, if postponing departure for but one more embarrassing day makes for not only a ‘thriving’ experience, but also an historic coincidence, then so much the richer the event, so much the sweeter the story, so much more important it is to follow one’s truer purpose.

Eric Rigney

2 thoughts on “Thrive or Survive?”

  1. Great post! Send it into Cruising World!! We left Turtle Bay Mexico and got blasted in a near hurricane force winds and sea (40+ foot) off the southern tip of Baja. Years later in Tonga, some told me that there is only one day you can choose in a passage, the day you leave. Engrave it upon your soul as a sailor. You made the right choice… Sometime when we look back at all the mistakes we made, I am surprised that we made it as far as Tonga.

    IMHO, get an early start and skip Dana (too congested) and continue on to Oceanside… Also give La Jolla a wide berth as the kelp extends out 4 miles or so from the coast. Also don’t try to cut corners around San Diego, follow the buoys!

    Sorry to see you guys go, have a blast!!!

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