Neville Shute, one of my favorite authors, wrote, "You can only do something for the first time, once." As we traveled up the west coast of the US in Brownie Lite, his quote kept coming back into my mind. In each of the venues where we presented seminars, we met dozens of folks who were somewhere along the path between dreaming about cruising and actually setting off on their very first voyage. As we listened to their concerns, their plans and answered their questions, I couldn’t help but feel a slight tinge of envy. I can still remember the sheer sense of excitement I felt when we actually cast off our lines on Seraffyn to sail away from Newport Beach almost 45 years ago. For the first time in my life I had no idea of where I would be in a week, a month, a year.
Our drive north along the California coast coincided with the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The highway ahead of us was closed as we approached the Crescent city area. When we did get through this is what the inner harbor looked like. Fortunately the majority of the commercial fishing fleet headed out to sea at the first tsunami warning.
I had no dates in my diary, no job to think about other than the job both Larry and I would share, that of taking care of the two of us and the boat. I can’t remember being scared of the sailing that lay ahead, probably because of the sense of confidence Larry exuded. (He already had a lot of sea miles under his belt.) But I can remember being worried that I’d disappoint Larry if I hadn’t remembered all the things I’d need to feed us well, to take care of our personal and home comforts. It was only a small worry that first day because we had to stop in San Diego to get cruising visas for Mexico. So I’d have the quiet time of two or three days sailing to make up a final shopping list. Then in San Diego, away from the distractions of friends and family, away from the hassle of tying up loose ends, selling my car, getting rid of excess junk, I could top up my provisions and supplies before we sailed into foreign waters and places where we might be far from shops and chandleries for weeks at a time.
Point Hudson, the old marina area at Port Townsend holds a lot of fond memories for us. The symposium we took part in was held in the handsome new Northwest Maritime Center you can see in the background.
Over the years, each time we lifted our anchor or untied our mooring lines to head offshore I found it exciting. In fact even when we are just headed out for a two day venture or a day of casual racing, I still find myself waking before the alarm goes off. But nothing will ever match the deep down, soul-satisfying feeling of that very first day of our voyage when all the work we put into building our boat, doing the sea trials, upgrading the gear then putting provisions on board came to fruition as Seraffyn’s stem bit into the first swells of the open ocean.
The scenery and sailing in the waters of the Pacific Northwest can be stunning. I think we’d have had our home base there if it hadn’t been for the cold and wet of North West winters.
Our seminar tour in Brownie Lite was indeed a nostalgia trip. Between speaking engagements we visited several of the ports we’d explored either on Seraffyn or Taleisin. We shared quiet moments with friends we’d made back then. But most nostalgic of all was the last visit we made, just before we put Brownie Lite back among the grapevines of my best friend’s Paso Robles vineyard property. We took time off to drive an extra 200 miles, out to Bull Canyon where we built Taleisin. The old stone house a friend loaned us as a place to build our boat back in 1980 is several miles up a dirt lane in the desert hills to the northeast of Lake Elsinore, California. When we lived there it was extremely isolated, with few neighbors, no electricity, no telephones and often no road. Those of you who have read the memoir I wrote about it, Bull Canyon, understand my concerns that the advent of electricity and phones, the encroachment of freeways and population pressures from the big cities to the north would ruin this often magical hideaway. But strangely, Bull Canyon seems to have been bypassed by progress.
As we drove up the corrugated dirt road in Brownie Lite we found we still had to splash through the meandering stream three times before we reached the narrows that lead into the canyon. There are a few extra abandoned looking mobile homes plonked in the middle of ten acre parcels of land. But few seem to be inhabited. When we reached the old stone cottage we were stunned to see the dozens of small trees we planted now tower high overhead, defying the desert heat and dryness. The place is deserted, weeds are taking over the yard and even the driveway but the signs that someone else cared for the old stone cottage as much as we did are evident. The skeleton of the boatshed where Taleisin was born still stands; the dirt floor is still damp where a mountain spring seeps beneath it.
Sheer nostalgia took over as we stood in the spot where Taleisin took shape. We were both astounded that the temporary building we set up, using old pilings from LA harbor and second-hand timbers, still exists at all.
Before we left, we wandered up the hill opposite the cottage to find the native paintings on the rocks above the spring there. Then, as we drove back down the canyon Larry was very quiet. Just before we came to the narrows that close the canyon off from the outside world he turned to me and said, "I can’t believe we actually managed to build a boat way out here." Memories flooded back into my mind, memories of the hard work, the hard play and fine parties we had 50 miles from the ocean, yet connected to the salt water by the boat we were building. "I’d do it the same way and in the same place again," I answered. "It was an amazing adventure."
With autumn in the southern hemisphere comes the flight of cruising boats northward towards the tropics. The red boat you see astern of Taleisin is only one of the overseas cruisers who stopped by to wish us farewell. It’s nice to be invited out for dinner right in our own cove. I would have felt a pang of envy as they headed out to sea, but for the excitement of launching my new book and preparing for our autumn seminars.
As soon as we flew back to our home base in New Zealand I began taking a few hours each day to do up the varnish work on Taleisin in preparation for the regatta we host each autumn (Easter Regatta) when we are in residence. As I sanded, then applied a fresh coat of varnish the sun warmed my back and for the first time ever a strange coincidence popped into my mind. Maybe the reason I had such an affinity to the Bull Canyon phase of our life is, I was raised on the edge of the California desert. College friends jokingly called me a Desert Rat – and then I met a sailor and went to sea. Taleisin too could be called a Desert Rat that went to sea.
Lin and Larry
We will be returning to the US in September to participate at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, the Newport Rhode Island Boat Show and the Annapolis Boatshow. You can see the seminar schedule HERE.
If you are considering new rigging for your boat, take a look at the interesting discussion that flowed when we put up a cruising tip called, Guide to Splicing Rigging Wire. Might encourage you to learn a new skill, one that could even earn you some cruising funds along the way.
You might enjoy taking a look at the shorter, twice-weekly blog about writing and being a sailing writer I am posting at http://www.linpardey.com/lins-blog