Life on the Open Ocean Pt.1

Life on the Open Ocean Pt.1

The idea of living on a sailboat may seem like a simple life, full of free time and romance. In reality, it is more complex and intricate than life ashore. Celeste Brooke-Landon reveals the realities and practicalities of the “live-aboard lifestyle” in part one of her series. 

I grew up on the B.C. coast, running barefoot along the sandstone and driftwood shores of the southern Gulf Islands, but my sailing adventures actually began in Alberta’s southern foothills…. of all places.

It was there—after over a decade of living a happily landlocked life of horseback riding and ranching—that one evening over beers, talk turned to sailing. My roommate’s best friend, Conlee, whom I’d only ever met in passing, had recently fulfilled a long-held dream of buying a sailboat, which now waited for him in a boatyard down in Ensenada, Mexico.

Christened ‘Akhlut’, the boat was a Reinke S11; a German-built aluminum boat with a practical bluewater design and a history of world sailing.

My roommate and Conlee suggested that I come and visit them on the boat over the holidays later that year—a previously planned ‘guys’ trip. At that point I simply laughed it off assuming the invitation was more courteous than genuine. It wasn’t until a few days later when Conlee got in touch that our real story began.

 

Conlee and I began chatting regularly and within a couple weeks he had invited me to Mexico to help him get his boat in the water. Despite knowing essentially nothing about sailboats, I was intrigued by the idea of such a new adventure and I could feel my wild wanderlust-afflicted soul stirring.

It’s said that travel is the best way to figure out whether two people are compatible…well, off we went on our first official date—a ten-day road-trip from Alberta to Mexico.

We spent the trip laughing ourselves to tears, eating way too many tacos, and exploring every nook and cranny of the new boat.

The previous owner had bought her specifically to navigate the northwest passage for which she had been thoroughly equipped. Not only was every compartment chock-full of supplies and equipment, but everything was still in German and required careful translation. 

We tackled the seemingly insurmountable task with gumption and by the end of the week, and with the last coat of bottom paint dry, the Marine Travelift was picking us up in preparation for our first launch.

With mild trepidation we motored Akhlut from her place at the boat yard to a marina about half a mile away. Our first docking experience was nerve-wracking to say the least, but we finally found a slip and tied our lines.

We were floating!!

The Sail Boat - Akhlut at anchor, Isla San Martin

It didn’t take long before I fell in love with the boat; the simplicity of the space, the feeling of being gently rocked to sleep, and the new sounds—like those of snapping shrimp at night in the calm waters below the hull.

After that trip to Mexico it was decided; I would move onto the boat with Conlee for the winter, beginning in just one month’s time

Suddenly, I found myself faced with needing to consolidate my life on land into a 38ft space… on the water. But I was thrilled by the challenge and lost no time in planning, shopping, organizing, packing…and convincing my family that this was all a really good idea!

Somehow, I made it all work and before I knew it, my mother and I were beginning a 2400 kilometer drive south, and explaining to the border officer why there was a solar panel in the back seat and a surfboard strapped to the roof.

We arrived at the Mexican border at dark the day after leaving Canada. In a new country, and without knowledge of the language or area, my mother and I navigated our way through mad traffic and along dodgy streets only to find ourselves—a couple hours later—unlocking the cabin door of Akhlut.

Conlee was still at work and I had agreed to go down early and get the boat prepared for our true maiden voyage. He and his friend Joel planned to fly down to San Diego a few days after my arrival.

Over the next few days, I took full responsibility of stocking the boat with everything I could think of—still without knowing much about sailboat life.

I made multiple trips to Costco and other stores around Ensenada; and a few solo trips back across the border at Tijuana, for anything that had to be acquired stateside, which included a new anchor and a few additional boat parts.

On the evening of November 1st, 2018, we finally cast off our lines and began our first passage—an overnight sail to a small island off the coast.

We spent the first hours of our maiden voyage on Akhlut under motor; the hum of which quickly lulling me to sleep as I succumbed to the exhaustion of my busy week.

As I slept on the double bunk, I could hear the rhythmic whoosh of the water over the hull as my body shifted with every wave. When I awoke, I felt groggy and disoriented, as though I had just stepped out of a washing machine. All was dark, save for the red glow of the cabin light and I had to brace myself as I moved about.

I peered, bleary eyed, into the cockpit and watched Conlee and Joel setting up the wind vane, a pendulum self-steering device run on the direction of the wind. Once in place, it waved slightly, to and fro, holding us steady on our course.

The seas were undulating astern and I was a bit unsettled by the newness of it all. The surrounding darkness only heightened my sense of vulnerability as I looked at the wild unknown that lay ahead.

Yet, with the sound of the motor gone, I could hear the wind as it coaxed Akhlut forward and in turn began to propel me away from shore to a new life beyond land.

 

Words and photos - Celeste Brooke-Landon
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