As COVID shut schools down last spring, so many parents began thinking about homeschooling their children. My inbox has become flooded with messages from friends asking, “What do you use for school?” I decided it was time to blog about my thoughts and resources.
This was me exactly 3 years ago…
I un-enrolled Tyler from public school in Washington State the summer before he was set to enter 6th grade. I remember this day vividly. I was so nervous and conflicted. Was I up for this mammoth task of homeschooling a middle-schooler? I was so worried that I was going to “screw up” my kid.
Evie was set to start Kindergarten that year. With a late September birthday, she actually missed the Kindergarten cut-off but I paid to have her assessed in hopes I could enroll her early. She passed her test, but barely. I truly didn’t feel that she was ready, and at the last moment decided to keep her home as well.
It was then solely up to me to provide education to both of my children. That’s a terrifying thought, right?
I had one school year in our house to use land-based resources, community advice, and unlimited access to internet before we moved aboard our sailboat… and then we would be truly on our own in Central America.
I have a Master’s Degree in Education and have taught High School Technical Theatre, Drama, and also numerous theatre camps for elementary after-school programs. I really believe that this did not help me… It probably actually hindered me when I started out. I was used to structure: Lesson Plans, Rubrics, Schedules, Homework, Grades. I have learned that you do not need any of this to homeschool your kids.
Let me repeat that…
You do not need a strict structure of any kind for homeschooling. You can do whatever you want!
Homeschool ebbs and flows, just like the sea. Some days I feel like a complete rockstar teacher, and other days it’s a huge struggle and I feel like a total failure. And I have learned that’s ok and all homeschool moms feel that way.
I believe that children learn so much more when working one-on-one, even if it’s just an hour a day. As we cruised, our homeschool schedule would look something like the following (and we have found that this is the standard schedule for most nomadic boat kids.):
Approx. 9am-12pm: School work. (I’ll post the resources we use further down this post.)
12pm: Lunch… and then it was time to swim, hike, and explore our surroundings with our friends.
We taught them to cook with us (there’s a lot of math there!), or roll sushi; we did fun arts and crafts (especially Evie); we learned a lot about geography by having a huge map of the world on our wall (this is a must! Buy a map!); we had quiet reading time (Tyler loves to read). This is all homeschool!
Our “Field Trip” days were the best. I know that it’s a bit more difficult to take your kids to museums and such right now, but things are beginning to open back up with social distancing. Our kids learned so much by experiencing art, workshops, and educational performances. There are also so many online resources to have field trips virtually, and unless you’re reading this from your boat with limited wifi, take advantage of that.
So what programs do I use for my kids?
I don’t use a standard curriculum in a box. I pieced together what I felt my kids would vibe with this most.
My favorite resource is the book, Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp. It basically lists what students are “supposed to” know in each grade, and then I find resources to teach them those things.
Evie has used a program called “All About Reading” and “All About Spelling” for the past two years, for Kindergarten and 1st Grade. Huge fans. We love it. https://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/
For Math, we tried a program called Math U See which includes colored blocks. She actually didn’t vibe with it as much as I thought she would and didn’t use the blocks much. We used all the worksheets and she counted on her fingers when she needed help. (You know, the old fashioned way… and I was totally ok with it.) https://mathusee.com/
For middle-school math, Tyler started out our first two years of homeschooling using Khan Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/ and then switched to Teaching Textbooks for Algebra as it was recommended by a friend. http://www.teachingtextbooks.com/
Everything else I pieced together. For example, if Home Learning Year by Year says that Tyler is supposed to learn about WW1 and WW2, I would find a curriculum for that. I LOVE a website called https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/ . I can search for “middle school world war history” and purchase a complete lesson plan from a middle school teacher complete with slides, worksheets, and homework assignments. I also really love https://outschool.com/ for any time we were stationary for a bit in our travels and had reliable internet. When I first began using it for online live classes, it was brand new but I believe it’s pretty well-known now.
You know what else is a surprisingly great resource? Dollar Tree! Seriously. They have a lot of great little workbooks, writing prompts, and fun activities… for a dollar each! It’s a steal!
Some other books I love:
Summer Bridge Activities is a great assessment at the end of the year before entering the next grade. And these Scholastic Workbooks have great activities for the little ones.
The Unschooling Handbook helps take the initial pressure off homeschooling. Let your child decide what they want to learn. Or, for example, if a child needs to learn how to write a 5 paragraph essay, they can write about whatever they want. Less struggle that way. Homeschool Your Child For Free was a great resource, especially if you are land-based.
And if you do happen to be sea-based and reading this from your boat right now, Lesson Plans Ahoy is pretty awesome!
I’ve been asked a lot about our decision to stop cruising for a while so that Tyler can start public high school and whether I’m going to continue homeschooling Evie.
Sidenote: for those wondering… we are not selling Litha, we are not moving into a house. We will still be living aboard… in the winter… in New England. (Our site isn’t called “Life off the deep end” for nothin’!)
It’s not that I don’t think I could handle homeschooling a high-schooler. There’s plenty of resources to do that and options for graduation, but we had to make a decision to do what was best, in the moment, for our son. Tyler has aspirations to work for NASA someday and he spends his time reading books about physics. We wanted him to have better access to hands-on science and engineering classes. So, ultimately we made the decision to come “home” to Salem before COVID hit… and then the schools shut down. Not ideal, but full online schooling this year might be a really great way for him to transition from homeschool to public school.
COVID changed our plans in a completely different way with Evie. I planned to homeschool her, but with the school year starting remote, I figured I might as well enroll her. If she doesn’t seem to be doing well, I can always un-enroll her and continue using her current curriculum. So, only time will tell.
I hope this helped you. All of our kids will be fine. Relax and go with the flow. We won’t “screw them up” no matter which decision any of us decide to make for them this year. Feel free comment or email if you have any questions at all! I’m happy to offer advice.
I asked my 13 year old son to blog about our time in El Salvador. I told him it was completely up to him about what to write about. The amount of trash seen on the beaches and in the ocean was apparently what stuck out most for him. Here’s his blog:
El Salvador is a country in Central America; it’s south of Guatemala and north of Honduras. We were recently there for five months waiting out hurricane season. El Salvador is a very beautiful country except for one thing… the trash.
Sailing down the coast we saw more and more trash the closer we got to El Salvador and less trash as we sailed further south. The beaches are covered in bottles, bags, and surprisingly a lot of flip flops?! In some places on the beach you can’t even see sand!
Most people in El Salvador just don’t understand that it’s not good to throw their trash everywhere. While we were at the marina, my parents saw someone dump two whole garbage bags full of trash into the ocean. There was so much trash in the estuary that when we get in the dingy to go somewhere we have to swerve around trash so we don’t get any stuck in our propeller.
In roman mythology, Neptune is the god of not only the sea but of earthquakes. El Salvador is also known as the earthquake country. My mom and I were talking one day about how Neptune might be mad at El Salvador for dumping trash everywhere.
When we were in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua it was so clean, the streets were spotless, and the beaches were clear. While in a taxi, we were telling the taxi driver how clean it was there compared to El Salvador. He said that thirty years ago San Juan Del Sur was trashed and that they were able to clean it up to the beautiful place it is today.
One of the saddest parts is that all of the animals in El Salvador are living in the trash. All of the street dogs have to eat from it and all the cows, goats, and pigs too.
I think that if the country of El Salvador really tries to clean up like Nicargua did, then they could be the great country I know it can be. A way they could fix this is to start teaching the kids how to recycle and that it’s bad to litter. Besides the trash, El Salvador is amazing. There are many volcanos that you can hike up and view the entire city of San Salvador.
Another thing that’s cool about El Salvador is that the homeless don’t sit on the road holding a sign begging for money like they do in the US. They are out there trying their best to sell small things and earn a living. Even if it’s just selling water bottles, or cleaning windshields of cars as they are at a stoplight. Everyone is so kind and nice, they are always trying to help us with the little English they know, and everyone always asks, “How do you like my country?” If the beaches were clean, they would be beautiful. There is white sand, blue water, and the sea temperature is perfect. Maybe you’ll be able to see that in thirty years.
We spent our 1 year “Nomadiversary” in Massachusetts visiting friends and picking up new refrigeration parts for Litha. We didn’t plan to go back to the US but circumstances just aligned for a flight back “home.” We realize now that it was really important for us to go back and remember why we chose this cruising lifestyle in the first place. And, more importantly, to go shopping. Which leads me to things we didn’t expect:
1. Grocery shopping is weird. We expected we wouldn’t find many of our favorite foods from home, but some items we got used to buying in Mexico can no longer be found in Central America. For instance, frozen fruits and vegetables are something I really miss right now. The kids are great at adapting to not being able to find a favorite snack, always finding a new favorite. Did you know there are no lemons sold south of the US? Only limes. Oh and watermelons have seeds, which makes me really concerned as to why they don’t have them anymore when sold in the US. Eggs are not refrigerated which is amazing because we have the smallest refrigerator ever and we eat a ridiculous amount of them. Also, fresh milk is hard to find. I haven’t found half n half for my morning coffee since leaving Mexico. Milk comes in boxes, which is actually really nice when we live on a boat and can store them for later.
2. We didn’t know we needed a lifetime supply of coffee filters and trash compactor bags. Here in El Salvador, we can not find the cone shaped coffee filters that our coffee pot takes. When visiting Massachusetts, we stocked up on a Costco pack of 400 of them. Also, no one has a trash compactor. (Yes, our boat has a trash compactor, which is essential when we aren’t able to dump our trash for long periods between ports.) I couldn’t even find bags for it in stores in the US, but of course, Amazon has them. We miss Amazon so much.
3. I don’t wear makeup anymore. When we used to watch sailing YouTube channels before sailing away ourselves, I saw a lot of women saying things like, “You’ll never need to wear makeup out here. Don’t even bother bringing it on board.” And I thought, “Um, no way. I will bring my makeup. I have to at least wear mascara.” Well, I’m here to tell you that all those women were right. I’m a salty pirate now and all of us cruisers have the same natural look, no one wears makeup. On another note, a bra made of lace is horribly scratchy and uncomfortable in the tropics. Who knew I’d need a plethora of bikini tops! (Me. In bikini tops! Seriously I don’t even care. It is too hot for a one-piece.)
4. Showering rarely happens. Speaking of being a salty pirate, we went from being super clean hygienic people who showered every single morning on land or we couldn’t function throughout our day, to “When was the last time I showered?” Most of the time, a swim in the ocean with a quick freshwater rinse (sometimes not even that) is good enough. Also, fresh laundry happens much less frequently now too. Wearing something one time and washing it is a complete waste of our precious fresh water!
5. The sound and feel of the ocean. I never realized the ocean has such a unique personality day by day. We have sailed in so many different sea conditions that I find the ocean even more fascinating and beautiful than I could have ever imagined. However, I always had this idea that we’d be spending our days playing in the waves and anchoring out to listen to them crashing on the beach at night. We honestly don’t visit many beaches with waves. We anchor in calm protected bays that are great for paddle boarding but we definitely haven’t learned how to surf. Also, we have so many fans going at night since it’s so hot that we wouldn’t be able to hear the crashing waves anyway. It’s great for snorkeling and diving though!
6. Our electronics are prone to death. Salty air ruins everything. Our iPhones and iPads will spontaneously stop charging sometimes, and everything seems glitchy. Also, everything rusts. Zippers don’t zip, and even my can opener ceases up after a while and I have to oil it.
7. We can’t use cloud storage on our phones anymore because we rarely have WIFI. We have to manually download our photos/videos to our computer every week or two. And because we take so many photos, we cleared up space by deleting a lot of apps on our phones that we didn’t think we’d need. However, who knew that other countries used things like Uber (and UberEats!), Waze, and Limebike, and we’d need to re-download them!
8. Our computers and phones think we aren’t American citizens anymore. For example, we can’t download some Netflix shows because they “aren’t available in your country”. And facebook shows me most ads in Spanish (Even when we were back in Boston!) We need to look into getting a VPN so that our devices think we are still in the US.
9. The language barrier is harder than I was expecting. Our Spanish is getting much better, and I’m definitely able to do things like order at restaurants, buy my meat at the deli counter at the grocery store, ask for directions, etc. But it was especially hard when we needed to make doctor appointments for Evie. I don’t know medical terms at all and that was pretty stressful. A sick kiddo in a foreign country was no bueno. When we were in Mexico, there were plenty of people who spoke English in tourist areas (in Guatemala too) but not here in El Salvador. Also, we’re pretty much an anomaly here. There is no real cultural diversity, and very little tourists. We get stared at like, “What are those gringos doing here?” everywhere we go. (It might also be because Justin is 6’3” and that makes him the tallest person in this entire country. It could also be that I have purple hair.) However, when we do meet the random English speaker, they’re so excited to talk to us and help us find what we’re looking for. They’re very proud of their country and they always want to know what we think of it.
10. Everyday tasks take forever. I knew that tasks like grocery shopping would take longer than when we lived on land, but I really didn’t understand just how long. Appreciate your cars people! Sometimes it takes me an entire day to buy groceries. For instance, I walk from the boat to the road, wait 30-60 mins for a bus, take a 1.5 hour bus ride from Costa del Sol to Zacatecoluca. Next, walk to the mercado to buy produce, and then walk to the supermercado to buy the rest of our essentials. Then carry heavy canvas bags back up the road to wait on a hot bus until it’s completely full, and then drive the 1.5 hours back, and carry my bags back to the boat to put everything away. And then, “Oh shoot. I forgot rice vinegar.” Repeat steps next day.
11. I don’t have the free time I thought I would. I guess I thought I’d be bored sometimes and the sailing life would provide the relaxing atmosphere to learn to play the ukulele, or learn new cooking methods, or just sit and read books all day. Accomplishing everyday tasks, homeschooling, building my online business and seeing clients, blogging/vlogging/podcasting for Life off the deep end, doing boat projects, and socializing with our friends… there’s absolutely no time to take up a new hobby.
12. The sailing community is even more amazing than I expected. It is really rare for us to have an entire day without spending time with friends. Tyler had over 20 boat kids at his birthday party back in La Paz. And even though we don’t have any kid boats here in El Salvador anymore (We’ll catch up with some when we head south), we’ve made amazing friends here and the kids learn to have adult conversations (and adults learn to have kid conversations.)
Going back to the US, the kids have a newfound understanding of how fortunate they are to have this unique lifestyle. Cruising has become normal everyday life for them and they tend to forget what we’re giving them. They complain when it’s time to do school work, they complain when we have to walk in the heat and spend all day looking for some item dad needs to fix the boat. But even though Massachusetts was a nice break seeing their friends and ordering their favorite foods at restaurants in English, they were glad to be back home on Litha. We have traveled 2750 nautical miles so far and visited 4 countries (plus our own) We are excited to see where year 2 takes us.
To see and hear more about our travels from the past year, subscribe to our YouTube channel and listen to our podcast!
Up: You get to go to all sorts of places. And when you’re down south its warm!
Down: On the way to all the places there can be big waves and you get seasick. And being seasick isn’t fun.
Up: You can find other boat kids everywhere. Almost everywhere we have been there has been at least one boat kid.
Down: There are not a lot my age. Most are below the age of 11 and that kind of sucks.
Up: The ones that are my age are awesome friends.
Down: Most of them are somewhere else right now and we might not see each other again.
Up: I can talk to all my old friends online and even play video games with them.
Down: We don’t have Wi-Fi that often and I can’t talk to anyone without it.
Up: When you are “boat-schooled” you have lots of free time to swim, play at the beach, and hang out with friends.
Down: You have lots of free time and when you’re stuck on the boat some days, you can’t go anywhere and it can get boring.
Up: You meet amazing famlies that are so much fun.
Down: You almost always have to say goodbye.
Right now we are in La Cruz and probably going south to El Salvador and have to say goodbye to friends again. We hope to see them again someday, and we will probably meet new friends. Being a boat kid comes with a lot of ups and downs but it usually ends up being okay.
Eh… not really! But we hear that all. the. time. Let me tell you what our life is like since moving aboard our sailboat, fixing it up for 5 months in San Diego, and sailing down to La Paz Mexico…
Pro: We live on a sailboat in Mexico! I mean come on! It’s sunny, warm, and the water is clear. It’s our dream come true and we’ve worked so hard to get here!
Con: We don’t live in a house anymore, which means we have no stable ground. This is especially stressful at night. Will our anchor hold? Will another boat drag into us? Will we be rocking and rolling all night long? Will the wind pick up overnight? You never sleep soundly when you live on the sea.
Pro: Sailing the world is an amazing experience for our children! We are teaching them so much about the world’s different cultures, languages, and cuisine! And we are able to spend so much quality time as a family!
Con: We live in a 54 ft space with our two children… whom we see 24/7. We homeschool them, which is a ton of work and worry. We almost never get time alone without them (or each other for that matter!) Did I mention it’s a 54 ft space?
Pro: Speaking of cuisine and culture, we are able to try so many new delicious foods, and also learn how to shop and cook them ourselves!
Con: Mi Espanol no es muy bueno. (My Spanish is not very good) so it becomes really difficult to order at restaurants, or ask for an item at the supermarket, or even directions to said supermarket. My usual quick errands take half the day due to language barriers and travel. We ride in a dinghy from the boat to a dock, and then walk to the store with no vehicle. Sometimes I miss my car and drive-thrus; and, even more, online ordering!
Pro: We meet amazing people. There’s such a growing community of cruisers and kid boats, all of whom decided to leave their “normal” life and embrace crazy as well, so everyone you meet is like-minded and laidback. The kids have made the best friends, and so have we!
Con: We have to say goodbye a lot. Sometimes our friends’ routes are not the same as ours, and it’s really sad to move on, but this is the lifestyle we all chose for our families.
Some days it really does feel like a vacation. For instance, the day we swam with whale sharks with a boat full of tourists was a trip of a lifetime! But most days, it’s just typical day-to-day life. School, work, cooking, cleaning, and boat projects (all a bit more difficult without an unlimited amount of water, power, and WIFI).
As you see, all of these cons are a trade-off for the pros– For the days that we are able to spend the afternoon snorkeling, paddle-boarding, hiking, and having potlucks on the beach with friends.
[To hear more about our day-to-day life, be sure to check out our Podcast, “Life off the deep end” available on Apple Podcast (itunes), Google Play, Podbean, Stitcher, and more! Search for us wherever you listen, or click the Podcast tab on our website!]
We both lie awake at night filled with anxiety about leaving for Mexico next week. I have frequent dreams about my boat dragging anchor and crashing into the rocky shore, or even flipping completely over. It’s nerve-wracking to live in a floating home with no stable ground. And now we are about to leave our home country, with no idea when we’ll be back. Are we ready? Is the boat ready?
It has been a chaotic whirlwind of stress and excitement since we purchased our home afloat 5 months ago in San Diego, a city we were barely familiar with. I thought I’d catch you up. Are you ready? It’ll be a long one… fair warning…
After selling our home in Seattle and almost everything we owned early last year, we spent 5 months driving down the west coast with our 2 kids and our cat in a 26’ travel trailer. We shopped for boats as far north as Victoria BC, and after a boat in Ventura, CA didn’t work out, we ended up in San Diego.
On August 16th we closed on our boat while living in our trailer in El Cajon, CA, 40 minutes east of San Diego. Our 1988 54’ Irwin Ketch Sailboat was moored at Fidder’s Cove Marina in Coronado, which is owned by the US Navy. Since we are not military, the moment we received documents that we owned her, we had to move her immediately.
That day was full of tears. Tears of joy and tears of terror. After many failed attempts and many, many phone calls, we received our proof of insurance, and were ready to take her to the only marina in the entire bay that could accommodate us, Chula Vista Marina. The morning we were to receive final closing documents, the marina told us that they “weren’t taking reservations” after already approving us and giving us a slip number. (I read reviews about that marina, saying you need to get everything in writing with them, and I didn’t listen to that advice. So beware if you’re ever in this situation.)
Okay, so, we owned a giant project sailboat and had nowhere to take her, and we needed to move her that afternoon. (Tears I’m telling you! Tears!) We ended up reserving 15 days at the Harbor Police Guest Dock. They charge $1/ft per night, and you can stay 15 days out of every 40 days. So, we drove to Coronado and showed our paperwork to the marina personnel, and a man escorted us down to the dock and watched us as we motored away.
15 days. That was all the time we had at a dock. I’ve heard many people say, “Before you go cruising, make sure you pretend you aren’t at a dock for a few weeks. Unplug from shore power and practice living off the grid.” Well, we didn’t have to pretend. We were going to be living at anchor in the A9 Cruisers Anchorage in a very short amount of time. That time at the dock was so stressful as we were determined to get as much work done as possible. We had no choice. We emptied 14 giant garbage bags of junk the previous owners left behind and scrubbed every inch of the boat. We moved aboard 4 days after her purchase date, clearing everything out of our trailer and driving back and forth from El Cajon to sell it before our reservation at our campground ended.
The rest of our time there was spent doing projects that would allow us to live at anchor. Justin replaced all of the exhaust hoses that were leaking. He worked on the engine, and ordered parts for our generator. We replaced all 12 house batteries, and installed solar panels. We even ordered a new custom mattress for the master cabin so we didn’t have to sleep on a bed from 1988.
And then, we were on our own, with our first 30 day permit at A9. (You can reserve up to 90 days there, and it’s free for Non-San Diego residents.) I was so nervous to anchor our huge yacht in a crowded anchorage near the Coast Guard Station in San Diego Bay. I stayed up late that night, watching the swing of the boat to make sure we wouldn’t drag or swing into another boat.
We spent the first 30 days taking our dinghy back and forth to the dock to shop for parts and doing many, many projects. Justin finally got our generator working so we didn’t need to depend on solar alone, and we added even more solar. He installed our new water maker just as our water tanks read empty. We purchased a new larger anchor so we felt a little more at ease floating there after that. We remodeled our pilothouse, painting and adding blue vinyl, and buffing and polishing all of the plexi-glass. It was so yellow and foggy we could barely see out of it before.
We met many new boat friends, and had endless visits from friends and family to see our new home and help with projects. We took occasional days off from boat work to visit almost all museums in Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and Maritime and Midway Museums. Trying to make life as fun as possible for the kids. We spent a lot of time at the amazing Waterfront Park that has a playground so big and amazing that even Tyler liked to play there.
We had a renaming ceremony after peeling off the old boat name and ordering new lettering. We named her Litha, which is the Celtic/Pagan celebration of the Summer Solstice. (Opposite of Yule, the Winter Solstice.)
After our first 30 days at anchor, we spent over a week at Kohler Kraft boat yard, which is the only yard in San Diego that will allow you to do your own work. Litha’s masts were removed for all new rigging, sails sent off for servicing, and then she was pulled out of the water. We had our leaking prop shaft seal replaced, and while Justin worked on wiring the masts, I sanded and painted the bottom of the boat.
We put her back in the water where she belonged, and more friends came to town to visit. With our prop shaft now repaired, we were able to cruise around the bay and visited a couple other anchorages. La Playa (way too crowded), and Glorietta (our favorite!) Then we headed back to the Guest Dock for 10 more days of projects. We re-bedded all of our windows and portlights, made a new headboard, and replaced the original washer/dryer with a new high efficiency combo unit. (That was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears and we appreciated the help from our friends so much!)
And then, our 2nd 30 day permit at anchor in A9 was spent meeting many more boat friends who were heading to Mexico for the Baja HaHa rally. We had even more friends come to visit from Seattle to help with even more projects. We spent time shopping for new safety gear, electronics, and provisioning for groceries. We got into the live-aboard groove. We figured out how often showering and doing laundry is acceptable, and we figured out where we could park our truck and how to climb through a hole in the fence that said “No Trespassing” to make errands a little quicker. San Diego was beginning to feel like home. And each time we did something that used to scare me, it became less scary. From cruising out to open ocean, raising our sails, and heading back and forth to Mission Bay; to anchoring, to docking at the pump out station. Small baby steps through fear.
It was time for our shakeout cruise! 3 months exactly to the day we purchased her, we set out for Catalina Island. We left at 3 am (our first-ever night cruise) and it was honestly pretty terrifying at first. We could see all these lights from different small fishing boats and much larger container ships in the distance, and it was hard to tell how far away they were as we were figuring out how to use our radar. It didn’t take us long to figure out what we were seeing, and our eyes began to play less tricks on us. We watched the sun rise with dolphins swimming along the bow of our boat. Seriously. MAGICAL! The whole trip to Catalina was amazing (except for some problems with our holding tank… there’s always something). We arrived in Two Harbors in the afternoon and even though it was a pretty chilly 65 degrees in November, the water was clear and beautiful and we swam and snorkeled anyway! We spent a week there over Thanksgiving.
. . .
Next, we planned to head to Santa Barbara to visit some friends, and then visit Santa Cruz Island. We checked every weather app we had and chose what we thought was the best weather window to leave. We set out in the dark, at 7pm. After about an hour of calm motoring, we hit swells. Or rather, swells hit us. That’s about when we realized we really didn’t know much about checking the swells at sea. We would check the speed of the current when cruising in the San Juans on our J24, but there aren’t really swells in the Puget Sound. Duh. Open ocean.
In the pitch black of night, the first one hit us from the port side and caused the whole boat to violently rock back and forth. Things that had never fallen off counters, and cupboards that had never opened started banging and crashing around. Justin went downstairs to investigate and left me alone in the cockpit. And then another wave hit, same thing. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic. It’s not like huge crashing waves were covering the boat or anything, but they were the biggest rollers I had ever felt and it was so dark, I couldn’t see them coming. And they came fast. Miles from land in the dark, rolling ocean, the Coast Guard in Long Beach comes on the radio announcing a Small Craft Advisory. To say I was terrified is an understatement. Were we a “small craft”? I don’t even have google right now to check. Where was all the knowledge that should be in my brain from taking ASA 101-104? I decided to forget our coordinates and turn starboard so that the waves would come at us mostly from behind. The moon was almost full and my intuition had never been stronger to face and follow the moonlight. With this light shimmering on the sea, I could see the swells and they looked HUGE. There was no way we were heading to Santa Barbara. Justin was being logical and figuring out a plan, but I was determined to follow the moon. After a couple hours heading towards the Californian Coast, we decided we would stop in Long Beach for the evening. I would not admit this at the time, but riding those waves (when the moonlight allowed me to see them) was actually kind of fun after I began to calm down in the hours after my initial terror.
We had heard so many stories of sailors crashing their boat due to arriving in an unfamiliar port at night, so it was our biggest rule that we would never, ever, do that. We didn’t really have a choice at that point. However, we knew that Long Beach was a huge shipping port in California, not some tiny island in the South Pacific. Our charts and navigation apps were accurate, and the channel was well marked. If cargo ships could make it through the channel, we would be fine. There was no danger of running into a reef or anything like the horror stories we had heard. So that’s what we did. Around 1am, we anchored near Island White in Long Beach Harbor.
We spent a week in Long Beach exploring and waiting for a system of squalls to pass through. We visited the Queen Mary, saw a movie, dined at restaurants, and decorated the boat for the holidays. For a few days it was so windy and rainy that we stayed aboard and didn’t get much sleep due to the loud wind, and our hatches leaking onto our beds. (We hadn’t gotten to that project yet!)
When the sea calmed, we sailed south to Newport Beach and spent a couple nights anchored in the busy harbor full of multi-million dollar homes and cruised around on our dinghy looking at Christmas lights.
And then it was back to San Diego for our last 30 days at A9. Coming back to “our anchorage” was like coming home. We spent time on more projects, visited family in Arizona for the holidays, and when our permit expired, we subleased a mooring ball near the sea wall in downtown San Diego. That’s where we are now. Our to-do list has gotten shorter and shorter. We have new insurance that will cover us down the coast of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez, we have new international health insurance, we have Mexican fishing licenses, and we have even spent time drafting up a Will with a lawyer friend of mine. All ducks are slowing getting in a row. We need to sell our truck, pick up one last part at West Marine, and then just wait for the best weather window to head to Mexico next week with some new boat friends.
Well I told you it’s been a whirlwind, and this is the longest blog post ever to prove it. Sorry! But you’re all caught up. Litha’s project list is now a normal everyday amount, like most sailors. I am still terrified, but also excited. After talking to other cruisers, the swells we had that night were definitely in the scary-uncomfortable range, so now we know our limits. The moon will be full on January 20th. Exactly 5 months since we moved aboard. The weather, current, and swells seem to be in our favor according to predictions. So, I think that’s the best evening for us to leave San Diego for good, and to follow the moonlight to Ensenada Mexico.