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Exploring the Sea of Cortez (part three): Of shoes and ships and Shakira singing

December 7. We are at El Embudo. This tiny bay has space for only one boat to anchor at a time.

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Fortunately, when we arrive here at 5 p.m. we find the inlet unoccupied. If we had been forced to find new anchorage in the dark, we would no doubt have had another of what our captain calls “interesting” adventures.

Hairwash! The next morning, while everyone else heads for shore, I finally get to bathe … in seawater, of course. Since our limited supply of sweet water has been reserved for more important purposes, my hair now resembles a long neglected mophead impregnated with used motor oil and grease. Tucked away in one of this boat’s many hidey holes is special soap that works in seawater, but we are unable to find it. I resort to my good old soap-shaped bar of stainless steel which amazingly removes garlic and onion from the skin. Will it work in salty water? Will it work on hair? To my surprise, it does. My hair is still like a mophead … but a clean one.

pg7bWe raise anchor at 11:38 a.m. and soon experience a choppy sea. This time, instead of bang! bang! bang! we are rolling wildly with almost everything on every shelf launched into the air and distributing itself all over the floor. It’s hard to say which is scarier … oops, I mean more interesting: the rock or the roll. The former frays the nerves while the latter wreaks havoc with anything that’s not nailed down.

The sail! At last we hoist it. The engine is turned off, the sail is unfurled and now it is the wind that’s carrying us to Espiritu Santo Island.

At last I discover what sailing is like and it turns out to be the most marvelous experience. There is no more banging now, just silence, blissful silence. And although we are moving at high speed, the ride is smooth and we are no longer battered by icy spray because the wind is with us instead of against us. Riding on the wind is really cool, and with all of us relaxing on deck, no longer shouting above engine noise, happily engaged in civilized conversation, we somehow get into a tongue twister competition, which Captain Rich easily wins with his contribution:

A skunk sat on a stump and thunk.

The stump thunk the skunk stunk.

The skunk thunk the stump stunk.

Which stunk? Skunk or stump?

As darkness descends, the waves get choppier and gusts of wind set the boat rocking at irregular and unpredictable moments. It’s time for our last dinner and Chris fries up the frozen shrimp we have been saving for this occasion – it’s party time!December 8. We spend our last night anchored in Bonanza Bay which has a spectacular, two-mile-long beach upon whose gorgeous white sands I cannot spot a single human being. During the last few moments of light, we watch the adventures of an osprey who sits atop the tallest cactus on shore, occasionally swooping down to catch a fish.

This same evening, we use up the very last drops of our drinking water. “No problem,” says the Captain, “we can substitute beer.” It turns out, however, that we have a liter of fizzy mineral water left, which, I discover, turns toothbrushing into a whole new and delightfully bubbly experience.

By the time we hit the sack, the boat is rocking so badly that the Captain gets up four times in the night to make sure we are still anchored in the same spot. To sleep I have to get a good grip on the bed so I won’t roll into the wall. At first my mind keeps wandering to tomorrow: if the water is so choppy here in this protected inlet, what will it be like out in the open sea? Will we be forced to stay in Bonanza Bay an extra day, missing our plane? Or, worse, will the anchor work itself loose, sending us crashing into the rocks?

“Has the anchor ever come loose on you?” I asked Captain Rich earlier.

“Oh sure, many times!” he replied, as always with a big smile.

Along with the roar of the wind and the normal creaks, whaps and gurgles, tonight the boat is making new noises: Thunk! Bump! and Raka-raka-raka! as the turning ship scrapes against the anchor chain. Well, at least the anchor is still there, I say … but where is “there?”

All the ingredients were present for a night spent in wide-eyed paranoia, but, while holding on to the wildly rocking mattress, a kind of peace comes upon me and I decide to stop worrying and enjoy this truly bizarre experience of being thrown around all night. Amazingly, this actually works and I think I slept better this weird night than any other aboard the unforgettable “God’s Way.”

As the sun comes up over Bonanza Bay, the thrashing of the boat actually becomes worse instead of better. Even the Captain admits to having a less than happy stomach. How is this day going to end?

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Well, Chris makes scrambled eggs for all of us, as if to say, “Who cares what’s going to happen to us? Let´s enjoy what we’ve got!” And somehow those eggs seem to me a good omen: don’t worry, enjoy a good breakfast and everything will turn out fine. So, we do just that. Eat breakfast, raise the anchor and — to everyone’s surprise, I suspect — once we are under way, the boat becomes more and more stable. We are now being pushed by a favorable wind in the general direction of La Paz. We are on our way home!

In fact, we made it to La Paz much faster than we expected. Then, as we approached the berth reserved for us at the marina, at least 20 people popped up from I don’t know where, some of them in a little dinghy.  “Welcome back, Richard!” they all shouted, every one of them kindly offering to lend a hand, which made us suspect that he must have quite a reputation on this pier, particularly in regard to his boat-parking skills. Bravo, Captain Rich! You brought us back alive.

Upon arrival home, I discovered I could barely walk a straight line across the living room: the walls were heaving! And as much as I didn’t want to accept it, they kept moving for five more days. Meanwhile, friends were asking: wouldn’t you like to do it again?

Funny, every time they ask me that, the words of a certain sea chantey pop into my head, not one of the many rollicking tunes sung by my brother and his wife, the famed duo Pint and Dale, but a little song by their composer friend Tom Lewis, which, at the moment, sums up my feelings perfectly:

An ex-sailor-man is the only thing I want to be,

I’d rather cruise a country road than sail upon the stormy sea,

I’d rather drink me tea in bed than leave me breakfast in the head,

An ex-sailor’s life is the life for me!

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