I flung open the starboard side door. No one saw me as I stumbled past the ship's wheel and out onto the deck. Good.
Clinging to the railing as the boat listed and swayed in the salty bathtub, I worked my way astern, looking for the best place to hurl what little food I'd eaten overboard.
Puking always feels so pathetic. This time was no different. I'd strategically limited my morning meal to toast and a banana to mitigate the potential for this exact form of embarrassing expulsion, but my inner ear had other thoughts. Time to feed the fish.
After laugh-barfing my guts into the Sea of Cortez and onto the side of the ship, I wiped the shame-tears from my face and lollied my way back below deck. I laid down with a shirt over my eyes and headphones in my ears and thought about anything but the roiling, foamy sea til I fell asleep once more.
I was first introduced to Bob Shinn by name only, when Mark and I stopped into the harbormaster's office at one of the marinas in La Paz looking for a ride to the Mexican mainland. It's not uncommon for cyclists to exchange labor as deckhands/cooks/gophers for a ride aboard a seafaring vessel heading east. Sure, there's a ferry that'll take you to Mazatlan or Tobolobampo, but why pay for something when there's a better, free-er alternative?
As we were walking out of the marina office, the harbormaster - Tom - said he DID know of one person leaving for Puerto Vallarta in the next few days. A retired Navy Captain, we were told that Bob Shinn was a great guy full of stories. He'd likely have a place for us on his boat.
Bob's business card in hand, I sent him an email that night. This is how he replied:
We were in. At 1700 the next day I was aboard Bob's boat, swapping stories and reviewing a potential sailing itinerary with him. He told us that his friend and fellow Midshipman - Dave - would be joining us as well. We'd sail to the Bay of the Dead on the first day and then spend two more crossing the Sea of Cortez, with a possible stop at the Islas Marias. If we felt up for it we might hit a cove or two on the way into Puerto Vallarta. Yes sir.
I slept on the boat for two nights before we set upon the open water. Bob was full of trust from the start: he gave us an access key to the dock and left his boat open for us to come and go as we pleased.
Our first order of business was to stock the boat's kitchen for the ~5 day trip. Eggs, deli meat, and bread were the only items Bob requested. His list seemed a bit incomplete to me, so I picked up some fruit to fight off scurvy and some cookies for the kids. Now we were ready.
In the early morning of January 5 we fueled up at the marina, flushed the waste from the boat, and set off. We'd sleep anchored in the Bahia de Los Muertos - the "Bay of the Dead" - on our first night at sea.
I woke up just before 5 a.m. on January 6th. We were anchored in the Bay of the Dead - named not for any sort of haunting mythology but for the concrete moorings (the "deadmen") buried beneath the waves - , and the stars were still the loudest light in the sky; their illusion of permanence on bright display.
I clothed myself and clambered my way to the main cabin and out onto the deck. Bob and Dave were not long behind; I could hear them rustling in their quarters astern. For a few moments, though, I was alone in the dark. The moon was meek and pensive above a shallow mountain to the north, but it cast enough of its light for me to see the ripples on the bay's surface. I stood on the starboard side of the boat and listened to the water lap at the ship's broad belly, absorbing the natural silence of a passive ocean and a barely perceptible morning breeze.
And then a sudden interruption of that brightblack silence: the unmistakable exhale-inhale of something mammalian in the water beneath me. I couldn't see the creature; I don't know if it was a whale or a dolphin, but I said hello. Good morning. Hi.
It was a pleasant start to what would be a long day.
I have no platitudes to spout about sailing or boating or traveling by water. I've been a passenger on cruise ships and ferries, but that's not what I mean. Spending time on the open water in a small, engine-powered seacraft is still a foreign thing to me, and each day presented an entirely new experience. I loved it. The seasickness, the early morning grogginess, the close quarters, everything. I took it all in.
And so, on day two, still sleepy from setting off before dawn from the Bay of the Dead, I climbed back below deck to catch a few more hours of sleep before immersing myself in the day. When I woke up, the Baja Peninsula was a faint stroke of gray on the horizon, and the Sea of Cortez was confused and choppy.
Bob remarked that there didn't seem to be much order to the waves. As soon as it felt like we'd gotten in front of each peak - as soon as it felt like the waves were only pushing us forward - a sly outcast would creep up from the port side and turn us into another oncoming wall of goofy water.
It never felt dangerous, but I was sure to always have a hand on a nearby railing or counter.
Given the water's tumultuous behavior, Captain Shinn made the executive decision to skip the frivolity of spending a few days nestled in coastal coves to just head straight for Puerto Vallarta. We'd arrive in two days.
With the boat on autopilot and not much to do but cook and clean dishes, I spent my time reading, writing, sleeping, and basking in the sun.
I also ate this mustard-laden turkey sandwich and then puked off the side of the boat: I only puked twice at sea! Whatever, I had fun with it.
We arrived in Puerto Vallarta late in the morning on January 8th. The Mexican mainland greeted me with what felt like mid-summer temperatures on my northern skin; it felt like a Chicago July. Stepping off the boat and onto solid ground was certainly a welcome relief for my landfaring legs. Steady ground is under-appreciated.
Once we had unloaded our gear from aboard "Andante," it was time to say goodbye to Bob and Dave. I shook each of their hands with complete appreciation and admiration. These two gentlemen - both retired Navy Captains - kept us on course and entertained, and for that I'll be forever grateful. I look forward to reading Dave's book about his epic reconnaissance patrol in the Pacific Ocean during the height of the Cold War once it is published later this year, and I just recently sent Bob an email updating him with details of the bike journey since we parted ways. I hope to one day help a wayward traveler the way Bob and Dave helped us on our journey. Thanks again, Captains.