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January 25, 2003
Ode to Latitude 38

The following was a letter published in the San Francisco sailing magazine, Latitude 38:

What a treat to have San Francisco pay us a little visit by way of Latitude 38! My boyfriend Curt and I have been cruising the Caribbean aboard our boat, Force Five, since May 2002. Today a neighbor at anchor here in Anegada saw that our hailing port is San Francisco and brought us the latest copy. Reading through it and news of the city I love, it reminded me of how I got here and the crazy path we seem to be taking. I am a San Francisco "Marina Girl" turned cruiser - having done it the rather reckless way. I say that because until we bought our boat in Saint Martin and started our run south for hurricane season, I had never sailed.

It's been a long road to becoming a Cruiser, and I did not trade in my Marina Girl status for sailor easily. Swapping my Kenneth Cole loafers and Kate Spade bag for flip-flops and a back-pack was the beginning of a long initiation into the club we call "Cruisers". And though I can now confidently call myself a happy member, still on Sunday mornings, I sit in our cockpit at anchor beside yet another paper white sand beach in gin clear waters (to which I am longingly reminded of martinis) feeling my heart ache to be having brunch at my favorite spot on Lombard Street with the San Francisco Chronicle in one hand, decaf latte in the other. A true testament to the incomparable merits of the fine city of the Golden Gate.

How did such a strange transformation begin, you might ask? In true metropolitan city dweller bravado, I fell dramatically in love with my Captain, Curt, over New Years Eve in Tahoe 2002… with passion and with both feet first. We mused about sailing off into the sunset, throwing both convention and our cares to the wind. And somewhere along the line, the starry eyed idea started to become a discussion of reality. We didn't want to be one of "those" people that talked about doing such things, but then never did.

It sounded perfect. Adventuring to exotic destinations in the Caribbean, sailing from port to port while our Bay Area pallor gave way to a healthy golden glow. Never mind that I had no idea how to sail. I mean, I had been to plenty of parties at the Saint Francis Yacht Club, and spent even more Saturday afternoons at the docks at Sam's - I thought that had to count for something, right? I just loved the idea of trading in my all black, city wardrobe for a bright palette of sailing, Caribbean style, attire.

Now certainly, I jest a bit here. A little anyway. I really didn't have a clue how to sail, but then, that's where Lin and Larry Pardey come in: the gurus of cruising, I had been told. I thought, "I'd done well in undergrad, surely there are enough books out there to help me find way through life on a sailboat…." And the Pardeys seemed to have written the guides for my coursework: Self Sufficient Sailor, Cost Conscious Cruiser, The Capable Cruiser, and the like. It wasn't until later I realized that the books I'd read were wrong!

We are not cruising among 28' boats with no engines, no watermakers, no refrigerators, and no showers. But this was the premise under which I'd entered into the purchase of our boat, ala my Pardey U. education. Forgoing modern amenities such as proper showers is one thing if your cruising brethren are all in the same boat, but it seemed to me quite another when the retirees in their 45 foot floating RVs around us were enjoying all the conveniences of life on land. I felt like I had been had. I wanted to dinghy over and shake "The Self Sufficient Sailor" at them - and scold them for not doing their homework. This just isn't the way cruising is supposed to be done!

Adjusting to life on board was more than downsizing from a San Francisco studio apartment to a thirty-four foot Lavranos Holiday racer/cruiser (who would have ever thought you could "downsize" from a SF studio anyway?!). The world around the walls of our new home (or hull as the case may be) was drastically different as well. No Whole Foods or Molly Stones, no Trader Joes from which to provision. I have yet to find even a single recipe for calabash or salt fish in my monthly arrival of Food & Wine Magazine. From Sonoma to Saint Vincent- how was a Bay Area couple to get by without our wine country neighbors to fuel our sundowner cocktails after laying anchor in a new bay? Something felt terribly awry.

Ten months Starbucks and Union Square shopping spree free, I had an eye opening experience the other day. We had just arrived in the BVI (not long after a five hundred mile sail due north from Venezuela… take THAT all you island hopping forty-five footer, ex-regatta racers turned "Cruiser"), and walked from the North Sound of Virgin Gorda to Spanish Town to clear-in with customs (did you notice I said walked, not hailed a taxi?). Upon handing the immigration agent our paperwork, he read it over and passed it back through the slot in the glass window - "Your occupation please."

"That's right." We don't work."

"No, what do you do back home?"

"We're unemployed. We don't have jobs"

"Yes, but what do you do?"

"Well, we live on our boat and sail it around."

"Okay - so you're a 'sailor' then. Put sailor down."

I just had to laugh out loud! "BAH! Me? A sailor?" What would my girlfriends back home say to that? But then of course, upon later reflection, I suppose maybe I am. Huh. Marina Girl turned sailor. Who'd have thought it? Along our path from Saint Maarten to Trinidad, and from Trinidad to Venezuela, and from Venezuela back up to where we sit at anchor now- the Disneyland we call the Virgin Islands, I somehow must have earned my Cruiser wings. Perhaps I was too busy hauling jerry jugs with water, or adventuring off to find a little market, or plotting our course for an island a distance of five days at sea away, to notice.

That doesn't mean I can't still miss the home we call San Francisco, and doesn't mean I can't long for just one brisk afternoon hike in Muir Woods or along the headlands of Marin. And it certainly doesn't mean that after everything we've seen and done, we don't wholeheartedly believe San Francisco is our favorite city in the world (all something for wanna-be Cruisers to remember as they revel in their most recent issue of Latitude 38 from their Bay Area base). But at least for this afternoon, I'll continue to put together our plans for our next big adventure: our sail to Cuba. We'll let you know how it goes.

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