IMG_4547 (Large)We left La Paz on a calm morning, excited to make our way out to Isla Espiritu Santo. As we motored on glassy water, bottlenose dolphins jumped in playful arcs around the boat. One of them swam right next to the bow and peered up at Brian. These wonderful creatures are sentient, form tight and long lasting family bonds, and are highly intelligent. They visit our boat often while it’s in motion, swimming laps around it and jumping into the air as if to say “hello” to our little boat and to get a better look at who is aboard. I love this quote about dolphins:

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

IMG_0427 (Large)After about five hours, we arrived at our anchorage on the main island. That evening we kayaked along one side of a tiny nearby island, admiring huge sea birds at close range. Blue Footed Boobies, Cormorants, Frigate Birds and Pelicans all find safety on this tiny, isolated island. We jumped in the water and snorkeled along the other side of the island, enjoying wonderful fish life with many beautiful Triggerfish and some very skittish Grouper. The Grouper are a delicious game fish which are commonly hunted by spear fisherman, which may explain the skittishness. That night we went to bed early in calm conditions, the flat water reflecting the orange light in the sky. Turtles surfaced for air and we strained to get a look at them in the fading light.

IMG_0601 (Large)The next day we snorkeled around the shallow bay. I saw an eye peeking out of a shell amidst red, wrinkled skin. Immediately I recognized it was an octopus, one of my favorite sea creatures. Brian swam over and bravely poked his finger gently into the shell to touch one of its tentacle covered arms. He gently scooped the octopus out of its shell and placed it in my hands. It was about the size of one of my hands, dark red in color, with soft, slimy skin. I felt such reverence as I held and stroked this beautiful, intelligent creature. I’ve always loved octopus and admired them from afar while diving, now I was holding one in my palm as it tasted my skin with its tentacles. Its arms moved slowly across my palm with a hundred little suction cups squeezing and releasing quickly on my skin. After a couple minutes, it began to nibble my ring finger gently with its beak. It didn’t hurt, but I could feel the animal’s desire to get free and I wondered if it would bite harder the longer I held it. We let it go and it swam away quickly.

A few minutes later we found yet another red octopus. Brian once again scooped the little animal from its hiding place, this time a piece of coral. However, this one was rowdy and did not like being handled. He squirmed out of our hands, landed with a plop in the water, and released a cloud of dark brown ink. He then swam away in a fury.

IMG_0925 (Large)Around 10 PM a strong wind began blowing and increased throughout the night. In winter, strong winds from the north, called “Northers”, are common on the Sea of Cortez. These winds start in the US and blow all the way down the sea, creating big waves with frothy tops. Thankfully we were anchored in a bay off the main Sea of Cortez. The weather forecast mentioned a small craft advisory for the next day on the main sea. This means being out in the main sea is dangerous for small boats like this one.

The wind blew all night. I didn’t sleep at all. It gusted up to 40 knots and our little boat rocked and rolled dramatically. Terrible noises echoed through the boat. I heard thuds, creaks, and splashing waves. The boat would swing around over and over again in the bay, blown by the wind. In my mind, I imagined the force of the swinging boat ripping the anchor from the sandy bottom, and the boat being swept out into the main sea and clobbered by big waves. Brian assured me he had set an alarm on the GPS which would beep if the boat moved more than 50 feet. With each thud, I imagined parts of the boat coming apart in the gusting winds. Brian was very sweet and tried to comfort me as my entire body would tense up when a gust of wind rocked the boat or splashed the side with waves. After a couple hours of this, my back and neck felt sore.

I felt composed and aware during this whole episode, and grateful to be near shore and not out in the middle of the big, furious Sea of Cortez. I fantasized about returning home. La Paz was less than a day’s sail away with an airport to whisk me away to safety. I had envisioned a mellow ocean cruise where we would see whales and snorkel with beautiful fishes. This night was anything but mellow and I can’t remember a time I felt more frightened. My thoughts kept returning to the octopus, though. That had been one of my best encounters with a sea creature and left me wondering what else I may see here. I wanted to experience the Sea of Cortez so badly. Wasn’t there some way to avoid storms like this and make this a mellow trip after all? I laid there torn about what to do in these unexpected circumstances.

For a long time, I was afraid to leave the bed and look at the sea around us. I just stayed in bed and hoped for the best as the boat rocked, rolled, and made terrible noises. Eventually, though, my curiosity got the best of me and I poked my head out of the cabin. To my surprise, the waves were not large at all and the boat was still in one piece. The thudding noises were the sea kayak and surfboard shifting around on the deck. The splashing waves were only a couple feet tall, but sounded bigger because they were hitting the boat from the side as it swung around on the anchor. Out on the main sea, I could see big waves with whitecaps in the distance but in this bay the waves were small. Also, it was comforting to see the shore only 100 feet away. I could easily swim to safety if necessary. I returned to bed with a new realization of what was going on outside, and I knew that as long as the anchor held we would be ok. We weren’t in any real danger, but since I was so new to this activity the experience had felt a little intense.

IMG_0620-2 (Large)I felt happy to finally see the sun come up in the morning. Although the gusting winds continued throughout the morning, at least I could sit up on the deck and see what was happening. Somehow that was comforting.

The wind gusts slowly died down throughout the day, but started up again at night. We were relying on text messages on the satellite phone to tell us the wind speeds in the forecast. The latest message hadn’t been so good. Today wind speeds were still forecast above 30 knots and the next two days they were forecast in the 20s. We didn’t have access to a detailed forecast since there was no cell phone access at this location. We hoped the next morning it would be calm enough to move the boat a few miles to an anchorage with cell service so we could see what weather was coming next and form a plan to stay safe and continue the trip.

Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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