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Hop Aboard: A day in the life — Part 3

It’s 8:35 p.m., but knowing we will miss two hours of sleep for our night watches grants us the excuse we need to go to bed early. The boat is usually quite by 8:30 p.m., tonight is no exception. That is until Lauren’s shout cuts across the silence. I jolt up from my book.

“Everyone, quick! Get up!”

She’s on the evening watch and my first thought is something is wrong.
Then comes the words we’ve been waiting for: “Dolphins! Dolphins in the bioluminescence — get up here!”

I swing from my perch and charge up the stairs. Somehow Laina has already made it from her bed to the bow of the boat by the time I’m even to the cockpit. Clinging to the rope in the dark I follow the sounds of her and Lauren’s shrieks of laughter. Then I see it, alongside the boat sprays of stardust streaming from the backs of the dolphins as they leap toward the bow. Like underwater ghosts they come from afar, glowing beneath the black of the water and swooping towards us, growing brighter the closer they get to the to the boat, until finally they burst through the surface in a spray of glittering underwater stars. A plentiful pod is surging to the boat, coming to play. When I reach the bow the entire swath of water in front of us is teaming with glitter as the dolphins keep pace with the boat, jumping and dashing between each other, cutting and twisting back and forth from one side of the boat to the other. Mere feet from us, every move they make creates a trail of light. Their bodies are great silver shapes beneath the surface and their tails send a fin-shaped spray of starlight that stretches into a trail behind them. For a moment, I just stare. Then I fling myself to the net beside the girls adding a shriek of enthusiasm to their unstoppable bubbling laughter. Every move the dolphins make is accompanied by our shouts of excitement, punctured only by our yelling for the others to join us. Seth appears and stands at the cable rail. Soon Bob and Charlene (she usually doesn’t walk around on the boat at night with her shaky balance) also make their way to the net — it’s not as if they could sleep anyway with our involuntary cackling and shouts.
Charlene’s enthusiasm immediately matches ours, and the 70-year-old woman sounds like a school girl.
“Oh wow! Wow, wow, wow. This is amazing!” She giggled right along with us. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!”
For a moment I was so touched I stopped laughing. Hearing  a woman in the last quarter of her life who has traveled to so many places, sailed for 15 years and seen so much, be so excited just made it sink in what a truly special experience it was. Bob too said he had never seen anything like this in his 15 years living on a boat full time. How lucky were we to see this after only a month on board?

My moment of retrospection was interrupted by a dolphin blowing water and a glistening stream of bioluminescent specks into my face. I was right back to cheering them on.

 

(Because we found it impossible to capture images of the dolphins swimming in the bioluminescent waters, here are photos of watching the dolphins by day. It’s a poor substitute, but hey, I guess you had to be there.) 

The dolphins surrounded the boat for more than 30 minutes, and then as they started to drift away so did Seth, Bob and Charlene. But Laina, Lauren and I couldn’t take our eyes from the water. Even when the dolphins were gone the darting of little fish caused meteorites below the surface. When were finally about to turn away, chilled from the wind and being drenched in salt water from the spouting blow holes, we started to see from afar the ghostly shapes moving back toward us from all directions.

They were back.

We yelled for the others to come back out as the dolphins swooped toward us but apparently for some spending a half and hour staring at dolphins playing in the milky way is enough. Not for us. We stood at the rail watching as they returned and then until the glow of the last dolphin finally disappeared beneath the surface again. Still we couldn’t turn away for fear of missing something. Eventually, wet and tired, we forced ourselves to leave the rail. Together we counted to three and spun all at once so that one of us wouldn’t see something irresistible beneath the surface and call the others back.

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HOP ABOARD: A DAY IN THE LIFE — PART 2

The jolt is light, minor compared to many, but it topples me to the floor. Laina giggles and then falls beside me. Usually we’re quite good at staying on our feet while we move about the boat, cooking, cleaning, putting up sails — not so easy when we are standing on the net that spans the bow of the boat, attempting yoga.

One of the challenges of living on a boat can be lack of room for physical activity, but weIMG_5786 are lucky to live on a catamaran which has ample space to walk around on the deck and also has the front net which Laina and I quickly identified as a perfect yoga studio. Perfect, minus the lurching of the boat that is. We meet at the front of the boat early, before the heat of the morning sun, and fall into the routine we have specifically sculpted for our moving yoga studio. Sometimes, when the early morning sea is glassy, we can move through our routine almost as if we were on land. Other times we eliminate all the poses that include having to balance and are restricted mainly to exercises that can be done from the mat due to the rocking of the boat. Or we just attempt balance poses and end up flattened and laughing at each other.

Despite the interruptions, we’re persistent because it’s our only chance for a bit of physical activity while we’re underway. That and the couple times a day when we haul up the sails or lower them.

After yoga — when Seth and Lauren awake — up we put up the sails and put out the fishing lines. Both stay reeled in during the night for safety reasons. We don’t want to catch a fish when we can’t keep an eye on the line in the dark and Bob doesn’t want anyone out of the cockpit walking around on the boat messing with the sails if there’s just one person awake and it’s dark out.

Breakfast on the boat is anything from granola to eggs, potatoes and bacon, or anything in between depending on the provisions on board.

The free time on the boat can be relaxing but also overwhelming — so I fill it up with things I think are productive. In the mornings while our minds are still fresh and it’s not to hot to think yet Laina and I practice Spanish. Bob happened to have numerous Spanish workbooks on board so we’ve created our own curriculum, combining the workbooks with studying vocabulary, quizzing each other with flash cards and, of course, talking to each other in Spanish. Once our lessons are out of the way and we make lunch with Lauren and get some boat upkeep done, the rest of the day is ours.
When we’re underway for multiple days we slide into a comfortable routine. FullSizeRender (2)For me it is all about striking the balance — not the literal balance of not falling over — but the balance between enjoying free time and staying productive. I relish getting to spend long periods of time reading and writing, luxuries I never seem to make time for at home, but I also it’s easy to get distracted by the ongoing social hour on board. When the cockpit is full we chat and play cards. Sometimes Lauren, Laina and I slip away to the front of the boat for long talks, interrupted only by our shouts when the frequent sea turtle or sting ray appears at the surface. Or we just stand at the bow and ride the swells like a standing only roller coaster, clinging to the cable that spans the front of the boat and whooping as the boat rises up a wave and crashed over the other side spraying us in saltwater.

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Hop Aboard: A day in the life — part 1

The rolling of the boat doesn’t wake me anymore. I wonder if when I return to the real world it’ll be like removing a baby from its cradle and I won’t be able to sleep. Even when I hear my book and head lamp tossed from my raised bed to the floor I only consider for a vague moment a swell big enough launch me off the 5 foot high bed, but then I drift back to sleep.  When I’m finally startled awake it’s not by the lurch, but by my alarm. It’s 2:27 a.m.

Three minutes is the amount of time I give myself to clamber off my high bed and stumble up the steps into the cockpit to relieve the current watchman on duty. Lauren tells me there is nothing out of the ordinary to be aware of and slips off to bed. The half moon is just high enough to cast a shine over our path and I scan the horizon for any sign of obstacles. Then I duck back inside to review the screens. The boat’s auto pilot has us on a set course to our waypoints which are lined up ahead for the several hundred miles — until our next destination in northern Costa Rica. For the next two hours it’s my job to make sure our course stays parallel to the magenta line, that auto pilot doesn’t shift into standby (sending us spinning of course the way it randomly does sometimes) and scan for objects on the horizon and radar. And if anything gets in the way, turn. Beyond that, if a problem arises I’m here to wake up Bob.

In the mean time, I have two glorious hours to myself — something you come to treasure when you live on a sailboat, even if those hours are between 2:30 and 4:30 in the morning.

Our shifts all alternate so each night we have a different 2 hour increment to keep watch sometime between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. Each timeframe comes with it’s own pros and cons, while many people prefer the first shift because it means you get a full “normal” night of sleep, I look forward to the 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. shift, getting to bed early and then starting my day at 4:30 and getting to watch the moon set and the sun rise from the depths of the ocean to replace it.

Hop Aboard: Crossing the Tehuantepec

My only warning is the brief lurch as the bow of the boat dips, then a wall of water crashes over me, and, ironically, the Fundamentals of Sailing book open in front of me. This is our first indicator that things could be a little different in the Golf of the Tehuantepec than the placid waters we’d experienced so far. 
I jumped up, as the boat pitched again, and ran to grab ahold of the guide line, for the first time really needing the rope rather than just using it as a precaution. The rope spans from the cockpit to jib sail and in addition to raising the sail also serves as something to hold onto to when walking across the boat. We usually hold it just to keep Bob from yelling, “One hand on the boat!” Now I used it for fear of being thrown over the low wire rail between me and the ocean, which, for the first time since we had joined the boat, was forming white caps. 

The increasing intensity came as no surprise. We had spent the past three days in bays surrounding Huatulco waiting for an opening in the weather in which to cross the Tehuantepec. The golf spans 260 miles and is backed up against the narrowest portion of mainland Mexico, allowing for winds to funnel down from the Golf of Mexico and creating a high potential for gale force winds. In addition, this hazard is expected to be the greatest during the months of January and February. We are right in the midst of “gale season.” 

So, back in Huatulco, when Seth’s scanning of weather reports yielded a prediction of a three day weather window, we lifted anchor the next morning. 

But still, as I rushed into the cockpit with my sundress drenched in salt water, I knew the choppiness and dipping of the boat only startled me because I was an amateur, spoiled by nothing but smooth sailing on the steady catamaran. For now we had nothing of gailforce winds often present at this time of year and the swells — which seemed big to me — were nothing to concern the captain. 

The boat continued to roll and pitch enough to keep us all in the cockpit unless we needed to go out to adjust sails, but by the time darkness fell it had subsided enough to let some of the crew sleep and to not pose too much concern for the lone watchman throughout the night. 

This was only day one of the crossing. 

By the time day two arrived the sea was so flat we could see turtles swimming under the surface of the water and the only wind was straight on the nose of the boat, making it useless for us to even lift the sails. We motored through the calm seas, with our only concern dodging the fishermen’s nets that occasionally appeared out of nowhere and forced us to make sharp turns to avoid them. It was easy to see why the nets were so plentiful in the area. We caught three of our own fish back to back on our trolling lines. 

And the rest of the crossing passed without another wave, proving to the Tehuantepec, for the brief span of time we occupied it, to be as gale-less as the rest of the coastal waters. 

Hop Aboard: Off to Sea

It’s a rare moment when being splashed in the face with salt water makes you lean in for more — but when the culprit of the spray is a dolphin, it’s one of those times. Our first day at sea and I was laid out across the front of the catamaran watching dolphins twisting beneath the surface of the deep blue water and periodically jumping from the water inches from my face. In the hours since we had left the boat-filled Zihuatanejo harbor we had seen multiple pods of dolphins, passed three whales, caught a stunning skip jack tuna and seen heards of sea turtles glide past the boat.We were being spoiled, Lauren and Seth assured us as the tuna was being cleaned. Between the majestic marine life and the calm seas it made our first day adjusting to cruising seamless. Other than the slightly more intensified rocking and the interruptions of someone hollering with excitement anytime they spotted a jumping dolphin, life was pretty much the same at sea as it had been in the harbor. Occasionally sails needed to be put up or taken down, at which point Seth, who grew up sailing, gathered us around to give us lessons on raising the sail or adjusting the angles. There is also much to be learned about the GPS, autopilot and radar features on the boat. Bob teaches us how to steer the boat, both by adjusting autopilot or turning the classic silver wheel in the center of the cockpit. These are all things we must learn before our first solo night watch. Also how to stop and start the engines, speed up or slow down, and what to do if there is an emergency: wake up Bob. 

When we’re not following someone around to try to learn as much as we can about the process that is underway, helping with cooking or cleaning, the rest of the time is ours. It feels like we have much more free time now that we are away from the port and activities such as swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding and going into town are no longer an option. But sadly busy days aren’t the only thing we parted ways with in Zihuatanejo. Maca, our Chilean sweetheart, decided to switch boats to continue the rest of the trip south. She has a flight booked out of Costa Rica so joined a boat that was leaving the port sooner and planning on making a faster journey. So now heading south on VIVA it is just six of us, Bob and Charlene, Seth and Lauren, and  Laina and I. Being constrained to a 44 foot vessell, concerns about crew dynamics were one of the many leaps of faith we had to take when we joined them, but so far the group seems to be a seamless fit. Our spare time is spent reading, playing cards, practicing Spanish, learning more about sailing and just staring out at the sea waiting to see the skyline be broken by the silhouette of a dolphin. 

 

Hop aboard: Meeting the Crew

Obnoxious Hawaiian shirt? Check. Bob, the captain whose boat we’d be moving on to had agreed to meet us at the airport to show us the way back to his boat. He was standing at the doors of the small balmy Ixtapa airport in short-shorts and a bright pink and blue button-up T littered with hibiscus flowers. Though he told us he’s 72, his mustached face looked closer to a decade younger. Surprising for someone who has spent that decade living on a boat. In any case, he didn’t give off any murderer or sex-trafficking vibes so we walk up and introduce ourselves. We timed it to land at the same time as another new crew member and Charlene arrived within minutes. She couldn’t be more different from Laina and I. She has been sailing for 15 years and is close to Bob’s age though she too looks much younger. It was immediately apparent we would be able to learn a lot to learn from her — and once the stories started they didn’t stop. But we need all the advice we can get, and if that starts on the collectivo ride to the port, all the better. Plus, her chatter and previous experience sailing with Bob granted us a level of comfort that may not have existed if it was just the two of us being picked up by a strange man. 

We were met at the beach by a man-bun toting guy who looks like he could have been at home in a rock climbing gym in Arcata, just add a tan and midwestern accent. Seth loaded us and our belongings into the dingy and began to make his way through the sailboat-filled harbor towards the catamaran with the words VIVA printed across the side. Hanging off the side of the boat as we approached were two mermaid-like young women, waving and cheering our arrival. They assisted us as we stepped onto the boat and greet us with hugs, introducing themselves as Lauren and Maca. The young women’s warm welcome and Seth’s familiar character gave the boat a homey feel even as it rocks gently beneath our feet. We were shown through the cockpit and lounge area to a central kitchen with steps that descend on either side to two cabins and “heads” — boat lingo for bathroom. Laina and I would be sharing a room which also doubles as a laundry room, but of course for the two of us sharing a bed in a small space is nothing new. We were excited to settle in and stash our belongings in the odd assortment of cupboards in our room. 

Even as we are unsure of how long we’ll be staying, it feels good to move in and imagine ourselves living in the little room with a window just big enough to see the bay and beach from our raised bed. The first challenge will be adjusting to boat life, but we learn we will have the benefit of being able to do this with an escape route on hand — VIVA will be staying in the harbor for the coming week to stalk up on provisions, make repairs to the water pump, fix an alternator and get ready for a stretch of sailing in which we won’t expect to stop much in the coming weeks. Despite my eagerness to see if I can stomach sailing, the idea of getting to know the boat and get a better sense of the crew before we commit to our first stretch on the water is comforting. Plus being in a harbor surrounded by other boats introduces us to a community we didn’t even know to expect would come with sailing. Just like any other outdoor sport, “the cruisers” as those making the coastal journey call themselves, all seem to know each other and like to get together to drink and talk about close calls in the language of sailing that we understand about as well as Spanish. But thankfully they also seem more than happy to invite the new clueless California girls aboard and show us the ropes — literally and figuratively. In typical form, they combine tails of rough seas that have me considering swimming to shore while I still have the chance with reassuring us that we will be just fine and love life on a sailboat. 

We’ll see. 

Hop aboard: I decide to try sailing 

I’ve taken a few ferries in my life. And that just about sums up the amount of time I’ve spent “at sea.” By this afternoon I am going to be living on a boat. I don’t remember deciding that I wanted to go sailing, and I still don’t know exactly how the idea spiraled from the category of all my other adventure fantasies to sitting in the Mexico City airport getting ready to board a plane to Zihuatanejo. It’s there in the port city midway down the Pacific coast of Mexico that I’ll be meeting a group of strangers and committing to living in a 44 foot vessel for an indefinite amount of time.

I found VIVA on FindACrew, a site that links captains and their boats with potential crew members. A boat’s profile describes the journey it will be undertaking, level of experience necessary to join, and details about the boat and captain. Like WOOFING, WorkAway or a dating site, those who are “looking” also create a profile to express interest in working onboard a boat and describe themselves. VIVA is traveling from northern Mexico to Panama and invited me to join the crew.

That was when it occurred to me that I should invite my little sister to move onto the stranger’s sailboat with me. We had individually conceived the dream of sailing years before via some podcast or another, but the concept had remained just that, a concept. In the years between then and now we made no moves to research sailing, take any classes, or even try it for that matter. But when the opportunity arose the timing seemed just right. My sister, Laina, would be taking a semester off school, and I would be between jobs doing my usual vagaban thing — why not give it a shot.

Bob, the captain of the catamaran, was gracious enough to not only invite one zero-experience person aboard but encourage me to bring my sister as well. Despite the fact that neither of us even know if we suffer from sea sickness.

We decided to meet the boat midway along their trip. We have the option of staying for as long or short of a time as we like because the boat will stop at ports along the way. So for now our plan only extends to seeing how it goes. You can’t exactly plan much further than that when you are about to be picked up at the airport by a captain who you don’t know much more about than the fact that we can expect him to be in the most obnoxious Hawaiian shirt in the airport.

In other words, this could be the beginning of a very short story about meeting a creepy dude at the airport and deciding to never get on board, or it could be the story of discovering my new favorite outdoor sport or mode of travel. I guess you never know unless you dive in — head first with no prior research as to the depth of the water, right?

Realist Packing Tips Unleashed

I’ve boarded the plane. I don’t have to worry anymore. I’ve got what I’ve got, and whatever I’ve forgotten, I’ll figure it out when I get there. But sometimes, getting to this point can be as tough Newt Scamander getting his fantastic beasts back into his suitcase. 

Do you imagine yourself as a carefree traveler but find preparing for your trip to be anything but carefree? 

Do you browse packing lists with recommendations for your destinations? 

Read blogs about packing tips? (Clearly.)

Ok, but really, packing for an international trip isn’t any different than packing for anything else, and getting hung up in thinking that it is could be your first mistake. 

Me, I’m on my way to Mexico, one way ticket. My backpack (carry-on, so I don’t have to worry about it getting lost in the bowels of the plane) weighs 14lbs. I’ve made the mistake of over packing. But not this time. And now, neither will you: 

Step one: Clothes 

Who ever started this travel packing myth that you should get a whole new wardrobe for your backpacking-touristy days, it caught on like a Murtlap to Jacob’s neck, and I’m tired of it. 

All the sudden you have all these items you need to get specifically for the trip. Your new must-haves: Those light, quick-dry kaki traveling pants everyone recommended. A loose thin shirt to cover up from the sun. Clunky sandals that are “comfortable.” Knee length shorts. A modest one piece bathing suit. 

But just step back and imagine yourself wearing these things at home, feeling natural in them. Then dump out your pack and instead pick out your favorite tank, shorts, flip-flops and string bikini. (Being modest while traveling is overrated, look what the locals wear.) If you wear jeans at home, bring jeans. If you normally wear a baseball cap, don’t bring one of those floppy safari hats. The back of your neck will survive without the 360 degree protection. Promise. 

Cut to the chase: You don’t become a different person when you travel. Just bring a couple pairs of your normal clothes. 

Step 2: Entertainment 

You’re on vacation. You think you’re going to have all this extra time on your hands so you need to pack books, cross word puzzles, games…Stop. Just bring one book, you can exchange with other travelers and hostels, or find a used bookstore. If you do want the extra frill, fine. Just don’t bring electronic entertainment. Thieves are opportunists. Wave laptops, iPads and nooks around and they’ll be on that like a Niffler in a jewelry shop. 

Cut to the chase: Don’t bring random extra entertainment items you don’t use at home. You won’t use it abroad either. Leave your valuables at home. 

Step 3: Personal care 

They have stores in other countries, damnit. Stop acting like you’re going to the moon. Don’t bring your entire trip’s supply of shampoo and Q-Tips. Just bring what you need to get started. As for first aid, meds, etc. — you’ve probably packed a whole bag of precautionary items but haven’t thought of the one thing that’ll actually hit you while you’re there. Just find a pharmacy when the dreaded strikes. 

Cut to the chase: Again, there are stores where you’re going. (If there aren’t stores where you’re going, my bad, go look up one of  those destination-specific lists I told you not to bother with.)

3 exceptions to the necessities-only clause:

1) Sarong

This thin piece of cloth is multipurpose and takes up hardly any space or weight. The sarong can take the place of a towel, dress, skirt, blanket, sling — you tell me, get creative! 

2) Underwear, damnit!

Why does everyone recommend only brining two pairs of underwear? Yes, it’s true, you can wash them in your hostel sink and hang them from your dorm bed  every evening, but really? They are the smallest item in your bag, bring as many as you want! 

3) A journal.

I know I said don’t bring anything you don’t normally use at home, but, while I’m guessing you don’t keep a journal at home, I do think this is one exception. Everyday is new and unique when traveling and not only will you want to remember every moment of the ups and downs, but the journal can also be used to keep track of budgeting and write down important information. 

TOP 10 RIVERS FOR WINTER WHITEWATER IN WEST VIRGINIA

Are you in West Virginia this winter and looking for the best rivers in the region?

My article in Highland Outdoors has you covered.

TOP 10 RIVERS FOR WINTER WHITEWATER IN WEST VIRGINIA

Beginning in spring and running through fall, West Virginia is the Disneyland of whitewater. During October, the Gauley is like the 405 in LA. Rafts up to 16-feet long maneuver around each other like minivans on the freeway. Kayakers dart between them—the motorcycles of the river—trying to pass and avoid getting run over. The passengers, ranging from overzealous teenage boys to grandmas looking to check one last item off the bucket list, hang on for dear life.

When T-shirt weather begins to fade, so does the chaotic clientele. As commercial rafting operations and tourism-supported businesses go into hibernation, local boaters come out to play. Although the industry is slowing down, the whitewater is ramping up. As Appalachia’s autumnal rains hit, creeks that have been dry for months begin to run.

>> Continue to www.highland-outdoors.com/whitewater/ for full article.

Looking for a winter job? Try raft guiding abroad

For those of us who live seasonal job lifestyle, sometimes the toughest part is finding a way to continue the adventure while simultaneously not going broke during the winter months. Summer jobs abound, but finding something to keep you going through the year can be a challenge. Because of this, I’ve compiled a list of the best countries to get a job as a whitewater raft guide this winter. Whether you need work, or just a new wild adventure this winter, check it out.

Top five places to work as a river guide this winter 

Turquoise water, tropical canyons, an international trip lined with world-renowned rivers—it’s what whitewater dreams are made of. If you’re like most raft guides, however, a vacation on the other side of the world probably isn’t in the budget. So, try getting paid for it instead.

For most raft guides, the end of summer means hanging up the guide stick, heading back to school, sliding into a desk job or hitting the ski resorts to coax runny-nosed toddlers down the bunny hill. It doesn’t have to be that way. Operations on some rivers continue throughout the winter months, and while turning raft guiding into a means for travel or a year-round career can be intimidating, by following the sun, you can make raft guiding more than just a summer fling. When temps cool in North America, we recommend looking for work in these five gorgeous and balmy locales.

>> Continue to Rapid Media for full article.