Love From La PazMar 26, 2020
For Colin and I, the tectonic Covid-19 shift revealed itself slowly, then all at once.
We were a week away from departure for the South Pacific when Tonga closed its borders. Bummer, we thought, but we’d work around it. Then the Cook Islands followed suit, and we were sad, but a bit like Wile E. Coyote, not realizing he’d run off the cliff, continued with our preparations. Finally, three days from departure, we read the official report through rusty high school French: Polynesia was closing its borders and it would seek to repatriate foreigners who were already there, with or without their boats.
Colin and I could no longer deny the inevitable. After all the work and money and sacrifice, our South Pacific adventure was out—at least this year. Our emotional response got shuffled inside of our practical one like a demented deck of cards: Consider new destinations, top up the water tanks, bicker about something stupid, apologize, hug, replace the zinc, read the news, patch the dinghy, do yoga, read more news, admit to feeling minor panic, hug again, feel authentic gratitude, laugh with our families on the phone, laugh with our boat neighbors, laugh with each other, have 1001 discussions about what to do next and finally, choose our next intended destination.
Before we get into our choices, though, we want to acknowledge that whatever sacrifices Colin and I are making are absolutely pale compared to those faced by so many of you. People around the world are suffering physically, emotionally and economically, as are beloved members of our own family. In the shadow of that ultimate truth, being unable to sail our yacht to paradise seems more than ridiculous to dwell on. So no feeling sorry for Team Pristine, as we send out our heartfelt hopes that this virus has only the. slightest of touches on your lives.
Perhaps not the most flattering photo we’ve ever taken, but plenty honest. This was us at Pristine’s Covidpocalypse HQ.
As for where we will go instead, every cruiser we know in Mexico has been evaluating the situation and coming to their own answers for their own legitimate reasons. The options are few as hurricane season looms in 6-8 weeks. We can’t go south of the storm zone since Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador are also closed, so it’s best for us to get north—either sail far up into the Sea of Cortez or bash our way up the Pacific side to at least San Diego. To understand where Colin and I netted out, it helps to explain why we didn’t plow ahead with our puddle jump voyage, consequences be damned.
French Polynesia, like most nations of the South Pacific, comprises hundreds of islands and a widely scattered population with extremely limited resources. In the best of times, cruisers should be very thoughtful what they buy in a market because the island may not see another supply ship for a month or two. Taking that baseline to the extremes of a pandemic, the suffering that such isolated people might face made it very clear to us why they wouldn’t want the additional burden of foreign nationals at this moment—and a burden is the last thing we’d ever want to be.
So that brings us around to evaluating Mexico. While Baja is not French Polynesia, and has come a long way economically in the last several decades, it still has limited resources. Colin and I have the utmost respect for the amazing people of Mexico who’ve met us with nothing but heartfelt kindness and generosity in the last two years. The last thing in the world we want is to take anything from them in this challenging time, be it as extreme as a hospital bed or as small as a bag of rice. We are privileged cruisers on a sailboat and we don’t want to become a burden to another country’s citizens.
Thus, out of love, it’s our intention is to return to California for a while. We pay a fortune in taxes for the benefit of being a burden on Governor Newsom, so it’s the fairest trade we can manage. To seal the decision, the vast majority of our tribe is California-based, and after a self-imposed quarantine period, we’d like to be there to help our loved ones and community in every way we can.
Of course, it’s not as simple as hopping on a plane for us. While our blue-water sailboat can go most anywhere safely, it can’t go everywhere in equal comfort. We’re likely in for a more grueling sail north against the winds and currents of the west coast than we would have been on a month-long downwind reach across the Pacific. That said, many have done the infamous Baja Bash before us, and lived to grouse about it.
Our next choice is when to leave. The longer we wait for northerlies to ease, the more likely we are to have only a hard slog north as opposed to a really hard slog, but we continue to monitor the other aspects of this rapidly evolving world and will aim for a good balance. Of course, we cannot assume the universe will allow the choice to be ours forever. There are rumors that at some point Mexico may introduce a lockdown as well, possibly removing the California option.
In the meantime, we live with the same uncertainty all of you do—sailing may just have given us a little more practice at it. On a boat we live by weather, so a week at a time is usually about as far out as we can set a working plan anyway, and even then we’re always ready to change it.
So with every day’s itinerary up for grabs, we lean on rituals to ground us to reality now as always: morning coffee in the cockpit watching the sun rise, yogurt for breakfast, salad for lunch, Colin strumming the guitar after dinner, one episode of some downloaded show before bed. In between, there is reading, writing, boat work, Spanish lessons, and celestial navigation practice, but also lots of zoning out looking at nature. These things will be the same, more or less, whether we’re in a slip, at anchor or on passage, wherever in the world that may be.
As sailors, we also find we remind ourselves often of the Buddhist philosophy that expectations are the root of all suffering. We’ve had to let go of plans many times before when winds had different ideas so we can let go of the South Pacific as well. And though we have a working plan to point the bow to California, we hold our expectations with the lightest of fingers. It’s easy to forget that we’re not guaranteed anything in life—not health or longevity or a paycheck or even three square meals a day—but it feels liberating to us to remember the truth: Everything that comes to us is a wonderful gift.
To share one last perspective on living through difficult times, several years ago, I was lucky enough to hear the infamous war photographer James Nachtwey speak in San Francisco. When asked how he dealt with the emotional impact of watching the worst side of humanity play out before him decade after decade, he corrected the questioner. It was not just the worst side of people that came out in wartime, he said, but also the best.
Sitting in that packed auditorium I felt one of those shivers that goes to the bottom of your spine, and fervently hoped that if I ever encountered such extreme conditions, I’d be the person to meet them with the best of my nature, not the worst. Now, as we face not a war but a time of heightened fears and the remote but real possibility of physical harm, I can only hope Nachtwey’s insight will inspire me to meet this moment face-to-face, with all the calm, compassion, fairness, courage and love in my soul.
Fair winds and following seas, dear friends.
Colin & Chey
We are extremely grateful for Neil and staff at Marina de la Paz for working so hard to keep us both safe and sanitized, to Club Cruceros for the critical informational and community service of the morning net, to Sheri from SV Pablo and Bruce and Nancy from MV Outrider for the rides offered at a drop of a hat, and to Tess and Phil of SV Sispi Mor for being such incredible dock mates and sharing beers, stories and laughter in better times.
And to our families for being our center in both good times and challenging ones.
We love you guys!
A Few Photos From Carefree Days
My Mom, getting into the spirit of the La Paz Carnival festivities last month.
Watching gray whales from the beach at Todos Santos
Cuties! Suzanne and Brian Bayley feeling the sand in their toes.
Photo credit: Suzanne Bayley (Nice one, Mom!)
We will all be silly like this again soon enough!
Boy Meets Killer
Read the first five chapters of The Prisoner's Apprentice — the award-winning novel based on the shocking true story
Shall We Be Friends?
Get a behind-the-scenes view of the writing process and just-between-us secrets about upcoming books. Email love letters, delivered monthly.