The Best Laid Plans...

by John Dutton
Summer 2008

A loud exhalation of air brings me back to the present. A gray whale surfaces beside us on the calm, slick sea under a blazing sun. It’s near enough that I see the blowhole close before it slips into the depths. There are more whales around us; their blowing has been a regular occurrence this afternoon as they lazily surface every several minutes. At first we were surprised and awed by the behemoths. Now, their breaths are just an annoying marker of the neverending hot and windless hours of a surprise triple-digit heat wave.

My friend Bob and I had great plans: sail a beach catamaran down the Sea of Cortez, camp in pristine sandy coves, catch fish to supplement our rice and beans, reach along at 15 knots while miles of coast fly by. It was to be a speed run from Bahia de los Angeles to Bahia Concepcíon.

Our plan was flawless. We had maps of the coast and planned our daily miles and the beaches we would camp on. We noted the danger zones where miles of cliffs stretched on with no escape route if bad weather hit. We talked to those who had gone before about weather and winds. We made special stuff bags to fit our gear through the small access hatches to the space inside the hulls. We carefully planned our water, the one thing we couldn’t do without, but also the heaviest of our supplies. Then nervous we would run out, added more. We lashed it down at the front of the tramp along with our other gear that wouldn’t fit through the hatches. A friend even hand-painted an “expedition flag” to fly from our masthead.

Now that flag hangs limply from the mast as we drift along in our heavily laden 18-foot catamaran. We haven’t made any real progress down-coast today, or the day before, or the two days before that. It won’t be long before the sun goes behind the Sierra de Camalli, relieving the day of its scorching glare. We’ll need to get to shore and make camp soon. We’ll need to decide how much longer we head south, hoping for wind. But getting to shore means paddling in this heat, and deciding to turn around and head north
means abandoning the trip. We’re both loath to do that. The plan is perfect. The wind will come.

But the plan was our undoing: our schedule too airtight, our gear too comprehensive and heavy. The plan turned our catamaran – notorious light air speedsters – into a lumbering barge, unable to adapt to the uncertainties of the sea and the weather.

Each morning the sun breaks the horizon, a searing ball of fire, and
the already hot day grows even hotter. The beach is punctuated by the occasional desiccated body of a washed-up shark, testament to the power of the harsh sun.

Each morning we get on the water early, hoping to make up lost miles. But the day just grows hotter, the morning zephyrs die out, and the afternoon breeze never comes. Our trolling lines lie slack in the water, the lures dangling straight down to the depths, useless. We’ll soon be out of food and water. There’s no shade on an open boat. Linger too long, and we’ll end up like the scorched carcasses on the beach.

Another loud rush of air pulls me back to the present. We need to get to shore. We need to turn around, backtrack up the coast to the truck and trailer. Still we linger, unable to accept what is right in front of us. Our minds and spirits wilted in the heat. It’s only a matter of time before the morning brings another blazing sunrise on a calm sea, and the choice becomes obvious.

About the Author

John Dutton lives in Santa Barbara with his wife and daughter. Whether surfing, sailing, paddling or fishing, he spends as much time in, or on, the water as possible.