My first overnight sail at 15 years old in Mexico

Off the coast of one of the most vacant parts of Mexico, my father and I were driving a 45 year old sailboat at the darkest hour of night when Mother Earth turned on us with wind and rain. Our Gps malfunctioned, and our only compass was twirling like a maniac, and the wind wouldn’t allow us to move forward, but instead drifted us towards land.

When I was 6 years old, my family decided to leave our home in the United States and live on a sailboat, in the Carribean, for an entire year. This dramatic change was set up so that when we returned, everything would be back to normal again.

Mexico

Yet before I knew what was happening, 9 years later, after selling our house and ending up living in Mexico, my father and I were bringing our sailboat “Melekai”, our home for the past decade, on a 400 mile sailing trek from Mexico to Guatemala so we could store it while we were off to Malaysia. The 3 week trip dragged on to be a 2-month adventure after we went through two storms.

One in particular, the first one, was the worst.

So just a few hours before everything just went nuts, off the coast of southern Mexico on “Melekai”, a 52 foot long 20 foot wide sailing catamaran, we had been sailing for an entire day when rain and wind were suddenly battering us. As I ran inside and out of the cockpit holding a cheap, year old HP computer that we used as a GPS, it was pouring rain on my father because our helm wasn’t covered. So through the pounding of the rain, I yelled to my Dad to tell him which direction to steer us in.

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That night we were off the coast of the most jungly, uninhabited part of Mexico, and not a single light was poking out behind the black blanket of night to check up on us. I remember this particular night as being one of those ominous ones, you know, the kinds which seem to seeth with something evil. And I was bit nervous, because this was the first time I had ever driven the boat overnight.

After the rain had died down and things were a bit calmer, I was driving when suddenly there was a loud crash, and the whole boat shuddered as something had landed on the front of the boat. I didn’t have the faintest idea as to what had just fallen onto the bow of our boat, and as my Dad was in the Engine room, the loudest area onboard, and it was way too dangerous to walk up there to see what it was, I had to keep driving.

At this point, I was a bit scared. I was scared because I didn’t know what had just fallen 10 feet in front of me, and I was scared because if our rusting little HP suddenly decided that it didn’t want to work, I could run into an Oil Rig without knowing it. Or if there was a boat, or heck, even a Tidal Wave, I wouldn’t know, until it was too, late. A million and one things could happen in that moment.

That was when I became terrified. I had an hour left to go on my shift though, and in that hour I tried my best to ignore my fears. I sunk myself into steering the boat, thinking only of the rocking and listening to the creaking as we rolled up and down waves.

But suddenly, just when I thought I would never be let off from my shift, my dad was tapping me on my shoulder and I was so relieved. It was around 1 in the morning by the time I was sliding of the helm and headed towards the bed. I had slipped by my fears and now I could sleep, and when I woke up it would be sunny, and joyful out, and the world would be just an overall better place.

My Fathers yelling brought me out of bed and standing beside the helm where he sat on the edge of his seat, waiting for me to jump on. I was shoved back into realization only 20 minutes after I had gone to sleep.

Our GPS was malfunctioning, our compass twirling like a ballerina, and a strong gust of wind bellowed directly against us so that we weren’t even moving forward. Waves were tossing us around so forcefully, water propelled 50 feet high every time our bow slapped against it.

I grabbed our useless GPS, silently vowing to never buy another HP ever again, and tossed it on our table inside before taking control of our boat in one of the worst predicaments you could be in while sailing. My Father quickly disappeared into the Engine Room to goad our engine into beating out the wind that was only gaining force against us.

I drove about every other 15 minutes that night, as my dad switched places with me every time he went to check on the engine. We went back and forth, against the wind and with, trying to get us away from where the mainland was, even though we didn’t exactly know where.. That night was all a blur of confusion, mixed with determination and plenty of fear. I remember even stuffing our passports in a trash bag incase we found ourselves broken from the waves, or violently shipwrecked in the jungle on land.

After 3 hours the wind died down and the compass had calmed, and I was utterly exhausted. I had just survived my worst nightmare. When everything was running smoothly once again, my father took the helm and I jumped into bed.

6 hours later I woke up in a happier world that I had been in the night before.

It was sunny, practically waveless, and I was more than happy to take the helm.  My dad and I were laughing, mostly in relief, over what had happened that night.  It also turned out, to my surprise, that our Gps had actually started working just a little while after it had played dead. We looked at our progress that night, and it turned out we had done little loops, back and forth from the mainland, for 3 straight hours. We’d gotten so close to running aground that at some points, if we’d sailed just a little farther, we would’ve been officially shipwrecked.

Now what had happened that night did not make another night of sailing look very enticing. To top it all off that crashing sound I’d heard in the middle of the night had been part of our mast, one of the wings that held ropes and wire. It had split off and its 20 pound-self free-falled 60 feet down, catching itself on a wire and dangling beside the mast, luckily not swinging like a wrecking ball into our heads.

I wasn’t so keen on another night of sailing, but after I took the helm and drove around 11 in the morning, one of the most beautiful days had started. The water was crystal turquoise, and the wind was pushing us in the right direction (Thankfully).  And even a pack of Dolphins popped out from the deep blue, and swam with us for the whole afternoon, and into the evening.

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When my shift started at 9 at night, and I still had several hours to go, I noticed it wasn’t as intimidating. It dawned on me that one of the worst possible sailing nights had happened to me, and I had survived.  So I sailed peacefully, knowing I could handle some of the worst things Mother Nature can throw at me.

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Wasn’t all thunderstorms and crazy compasses

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First fish of the 2-month trip! A good omen for sure

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7 thoughts on “My first overnight sail at 15 years old in Mexico

  1. Pingback: Let’s Collaborate! | Sincerely, James

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