27 years of joy together, yesterday

James and I met in Seattle, Washington, in 1996. We’ve been together ever since and we continue to establish how well matched we are. Some of the stories are told in previous years’ blogs, so why reiterate when I can link back? But… The way I (Dena) was attracted to James in the beginning was a solid foundation for where we’ve come together. Smart, focused iconoclast with a strong fuck-it tendency and a stronger give-a-shit? Sign me up. Here we are, that much closer year by year to our best selves in great part because James and I work together. My ethical bright lines and James’ energy for getting to the right side of history; James’ deep and thorough musical knowledge and appreciation and my scattered and strong tastes; my hunger for his presence, his body and James’… And Dena, the person on this planet I (James) love the most! Her clarity, her passion, her hunger for adventure. Her willingness to learn and experience everything as it comes makes and keeps me the person I have always wanted to be. Her joy, intelligence and presence are my inspirations and have been for almost three decades now! …And then there’s the music we created together. Not just the harmonies of the bodies and the swells of our emotions but the actual notes from things that inspired us. We bought a digital recording studio on the Big Island of Hawaii at a garage sale for a few bucks (that we could have bought some food with…talk about poor in paradise, word!), we taped the lyrics we loved to the cinder brick walls and marine-grade plywood bulkheads and wrote a bunch of songs around those words, then we made up some more words and adopted those that Dena’s dad had been writing and[…]

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Un-still life in Praia da Vitoria

Autumn in the Azores is a fantastical experience! The weather is the rockstar and you are only there to watch and survive if you can. Our last post glossed over something we hoped wouldn’t be a big deal. When we anchored and went ashore on day one, right after the sail from Angra, the weather was already starting to get a bit overwhelming. As I (James) was getting in the dinghy, I got a gust that blew me hard into the portside solar panel corner and cracked another rib on my body…my 8th as an adult and, believe me, this one really hurt! I’ve done this enough to know that the first day is actually the best for the pain so we continued with our plans and I rowed us in to the marina. We checked in with officialdom and walked up the hill to the grocery store for a much-needed provisioning run. We were back on the boat less than an hour after making landfall. Two days later, we rowed back to the marina from across the bay (about a nautical mile each way), which proved that we hadn’t been doing that kind of rowing for a while. Even the downwind row to the marina kicked my (James’) ass but then again, I do have a broken rib. Dena rowed back against the wind and the fetch and it was kind of a huge deal. But she rocks like that and made it look easy. Really, I (Dena) just kept on keeping on. I’m pretty good at the endurance game when I’m not wearing the wrong (i.e. knitted) gloves. The gales roll through like trains every other day or so, meaning one day you’re in paradise and the next you’re in Dante’s seventh circle with the hounds of hell[…]

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An overnight to another world

We set sail away from São Jorge in the early morning hours, ahead of the catamoron that rolled out backwards to set a main that they didn’t even use to blast ahead of us to Ilha Terceira. We sailed and sailed like we do to a place we’d never been. Again the sailing was spectacular in ways that can not be understood by people who have never done this. There aren’t enough expletives, only images that can only be captured in the light of the sun. The sailing…was sailing… We gybed to a port tack about 45 minutes out of Velas and used that tack all the way into the open Atlantic flow and still didn’t have to gybe or tack, we just adjusted the sails for the wind and loved our planet the way you do. As the local star descended the horizon, Pico winked one last time from the stern of S/V SN-E Cetacea. The open Atlantic welcomed us with a darkness that would not allow a moment of laxity. The local fishers don’t always adhere to norms of lighting, so the radar was a guide of sorts. Like all technology, it lied like a rug! We swapped watches all through the night and watched as the traffic came and went. Somehow we all ultimately missed each other. This wasn’t going to be an extended stay. The anchorage is open to the south and we had some bad southerlies coming, but it was impossible to resist getting a look at the town. And a very good lunch that started with the bread and cheese board. …at the fort that’s been turned into a hotel. Like any good one night stand, it ended almost before it began. A jazz festival in the marina serenaded us on a night too[…]

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Ancestral Azores

We woke up early to sail from Faial to São Jorge because we had no idea what it would take to get that hook off the bottom. It was a good thing too! We’d been warned by the guides that there was shit to pick up, but the most dramatic stories involved chain and home-welded grapnel anchors. It didn’t take Dena much longer to weigh anchor, she just got a whole lot of funky garbage up with the chain this time. We’d been in Horta for what seemed like a really long time. I (James) don’t mean years, I mean weeks. After the 29 days crossing from Bermuda to the Azores, any time spent in any one place seemed like a very long time. We did everything we wanted to do in Horta, like hiking, writing, provisioning, and repairs, so the next obvious thing was to sail away. We had another incredible adventure between the islands of Faial and São Jorge! It was only 22 nautical miles but we were on a hard beat in 15 to 20 knots of wind with a double-reefed main and the staysail for about six hours. Finally, we were able to veer off to a close reach and take that all the way into the protected harbor of Velas. S/V SN-E Cetacea performed like a dream and we had the hook down long before the day was done. This was the big one, folks! We’ve been pointing the boat at the Azores and specifically São Jorge for about a decade now so, when we sailed into this harbor, we had some emotional gravity in our wake. Dena’s maternal family came from São Jorge by ship in the early 20th century then crossed the North American continent by thumb and train to the Central Valley[…]

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Enjoying Horta

I (Dena) just folded a long grocery store receipt and had one of those thrilling moments that is so very prosaic when it comes down to it. The receipt is in Portuguese. To figure out what it says, I have to apply my understanding of Romance languages (though English is not exclusively, well…that’s a long side conversation…and my grasp of Spanish is significantly un-fluent but definitely helping) for terms like alho (garlic) and queijo (cheese) and frita (fried). But then, there’s all the rest. I love this moment, this way of being, this foreignness as a comprehensible puzzle. This level of engagement with people and places and, yes, even receipts. I thought about avoiding the most highly trafficked sailor’s destination, in the mindset that we’re least likely to meet interesting locals there, but the family that created and runs it shares my maternal family name, Azevedo, so we went to Peter’s Sport Cafe, had a couple of the famous (and cheap) Gin do Mars, and ate a stunningly meaty grilled tuna steak that balanced on the edge of enjoyment for these two mainly-not-meat-eaters before tumbling decisively onto the side of relishing the flavor and appetite-fulfillment. The roasted sweet potatoes were also surprisingly pleasurable and there was almost enough sauce for these sauce-hounds. We took our first walks somewhat cautiously since Bermuda proved that atrophy at sea was a thing. Now, I don’t want to spend too much time talking/complaining about this part. Look for a Boat Projects post about how it all went. It all started with a rich fuck who fucked up, though, and ended with us being forced to raft on the marina wall through a contrary wind that eventually tore a section of our teak caprail apart. But…the beauty. From Horta’s harbor, the ever-changing, constantly engaging scenery[…]

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29 days at home

Wrapping up into usable sound bites and elevator pitches an adventure such as our trans-Atlantic passage needs another kind of author altogether, maybe an author who thinks they don’t write fiction. We do write fiction and we are also aware that the truth is in the story and the story is always the adventure. The truth is in the hundreds of Portuguese man-o-wars, the little fishies that hovered in and around our hull’s shadow for a thousand miles, the dorado that scoffed at the rusty lure, the dolphin, the arm of the galaxy spangling the nighttime sky. The adventure is in the squalls and storms, the joy of feeling truly at home on the ocean, the sundogs and threatening clouds and all the fucking gybes… We sailed our 9.07 meter electric sailboat across the Atlantic flow of the Earth’s ocean, 1798 nautical miles from Bermuda to Faial as the albatross flies. But, um, we’re not albatross. We are a family of three on a vessel under sail and electric propulsion only, moving mostly downwind, and that meant gybing. About a thousand times…okay, not a thousand and not even once a day, but some days we did it three or four times so, believe me (James), we did a lot of gybing. Going back and forth, we went 1907 nautical miles to cover those 1789 direct miles. A gybe (even on a nice day in the Chesapeake Bay) is a big deal. If not done almost perfectly every time it can bring your whole fucking rig down. Now, we have this really cool device called a boom brake that (wow!!!) works like gang-busters to control the speed of the boom as it crosses from one side of the boat to the other. Just like any other piece of offshore sailing gear,[…]

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fuzzy sheep slippers in front of the waste-oil reservoir

Watching Don from Bermuda

We are officially waiting. Tropical storm Don is circling (WTF!?!) between Bermuda and the Azores. If we were to leave today (which we strongly considered), we would run into the headwinds (easterlies) off the storm several days out. Instead, we’re chill’n in Bermuda. AYFKM!? There’s always something to do. Cleaning (because we got some serious salt) and painting, little things here and there. The weird and wonderful thing? There aren’t any crucial projects because, amazingly, we didn’t break anything on the way here! We blew in here on 18-22 knot winds and rowed hard (one way) in order to check out the town of St George. As soon as it laid down, though, we rowed over to check out the dramatic bones of a wreck right off the small craft mooring area. After the scorching heat and dead calm of the middle-part of the voyage, Bermuda’s fresh breeze and pleasurable warmth have felt reassuring, welcoming. We are getting to know the tangled streets and alleys of St George. The laundromat is just uphill from the dinghy dock on Shinbone Alley. Google maps doesn’t encourage the pedestrian path between the two, but we figured it out on the way back. Every single towel aboard had been pressed into service for sopping up some kinda thing. All those rain storms plus that one rogue wave that inundated even Beluga Greyfinger where he swayed down below in the main saloon…Whew. Lotta work for towels. Buying and adding value to the laundry card has been the one and only transaction that required Bermudian cash. Everyone else accepts BM or US dollars. James circled the neighborhood for the correct BM bills in sufficient quantities for the machine while I (Dena) pretended to understand the nice elderly gentleman who wanted to tell me all about his[…]

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