Sailing Lessons: Changed in a Moment

It was time to start home but that was going to be a challenge. We had been blessed with strong winds blowing from the north to push us south on our journey but now we needed to sail north – against the prevailing winds – to get home to San Diego. On top of that, the cold California current runs north south and we would have to fight that too. It seemed like our best bet would be to use our tiny 35-horse power engine and scoot north during the night after the winds have died down.

Poor Jan was so excited she didn’t manage to get any sleep the night before at all so when I woke up at midnight, she was already awake. Ensenada had been a wonderful stopover. The people were so friendly and the food was delicious. A half-moon was just rising when we untied from the dock. The water in the harbor was mirror calm. The dimly lit green buoys were on our right and the red buoys on the left marked our channel out into the bay. Once there, we were greeted with large, slow swells that had traveled from distant shores. The boat began to corkscrew uncomfortably. We couldn’t see the approaching swells. Back and forth. Up and down. Side to side. It grew darker and darker. The motion was nauseating.

Dawn was welcome. It didn’t make much difference in the motion of the boat but at least we could see what we were up against. It was going to be a slow bash northward. At one point our speed dropped below three knots. “We’re walking to San Diego,” I complained. Jan was exhausted and I was green – very green. Soon I had the opportunity to enjoy the fine fare of Ensenada over again – and again.

We love sailing but not this part. I had to have a break from five hours at the helm and somehow Jan and I were able to trade positions behind the wheel on the bucking bronco without anyone going overboard. “I hate this,” Jan replied. I went below to check on the little diesel engine and try to find some relief. The way things were going, this was sure to be our last voyage!

Suddenly, I heard Jan laughing and squealing like a little girl. I popped up on deck just in time to see “Sally,” a 45-foot blue whale. (I knew she was at least 45 feet long because our little boat only measures 40 feet from stem to stern!) She was just a “biscuit toss” away and keeping pace with us. (Yes, she had to slow way down.) “I’ve named her ‘Sally,’” Jan announced triumphantly. Sally rolled up on her side and looked us over before crossing our bow and swimming down the other side. She seemed to shake her head as if in wonder. “What are these crazy people doing?” and then she sounded. Her massive fluke swung high into the air and she seemed to leave a hole in the ocean as she slipped beneath the waves. In one magic moment everything had changed. All of our troubles were forgotten and we were left with a sense of wonder and awe.

I can’t help but think it will be that way for Christians when we meet Jesus. All our troubles will soon be forgotten. Maranatha – Come Lord!

Sailing Lessons: Trust

Jan and I just returned from a vacation in Mexico on our beloved sailboat, Santa Teresa. We’ve owned Teresa for many years. She was built in 1969 from 16 tons of Mahogany and, as Captain Jack Aubrey said in the movie Master and Commander “There is enough of our blood in the wood to make her a near-relative!”

Santa Teresa at Sail

As we sailed, Jan and I tried to think of lessons the experience was teaching us about the Christian life. For example, I can’t think of a better lesson on faith than to check your chart and your compass and then sail “over the horizon.” You believe there is an island waiting for you out there. It will have a wonderful anchorage and delights for us to enjoy but to get there we have to sail out of sight of land. We trust the compass to show us the way but there is a very serious moment when the coast disappears and all you can see is an uninterrupted horizon of blue all around you. You keep sailing by faith and then there is a moment of magical joy when that fuzzy cloud on the horizon grows sharper and reveals the island you have been sailing for. It is one thing to sail from point to point but quite another to let go and step out on faith.

During the first week of our trip we had clear blue skies but the winds and the waves drove us on. We reached Isla Coronado Sur in record time. At one point our 16 tons reached 8 knots driven by the wind alone! That was glorious but when it came time to anchor for the night, the island didn’t protect us very much. All night long Teresa bucked and rocked at times threatening to throw us out of our bunks. Just a few yards away were dark, ugly rocks bathed in white foam. The shore seemed to be smacking her lips wanting to devour our little wooden boat. The only thing holding us in safety was a thirty-five pound anchor, a hundred feet of chain and two hundred feet of half-inch nylon.

That gives you a lot to think about as you lay in your bunk through the night. Is the bottom hard-packed sand or soupy mud? Does the anchor have a good bite or has it become fouled in the chain? Are the shackles tight or slowly coming unscrewed with each jerk on the chain? Is the rope chaffing against the hull or a rock? Are we fast or are we slowly inching towards those jagged rocks? Many times I sang the old hymn that asks, “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?” Jan reached across the v-berth and took my hand. Even as the wind sang in the rigging, she smiled in the darkness and said, “I’m glad we used the best anchor!”

Faith in the chart and faith in the anchor are important but how much more important is our faith in a loving heavenly Father? Trim your sails and let’s continue the adventure!

We’re Back!

Thanks for all the prayers and kind wishes for us while Jan and I were away sailing. It was the most refreshing vacation we’ve enjoyed together in many, many years. It was just the two of us on our beloved sailboat, Santa Teresa. After stopping at the Municipal Docks (known as the “Cop Docks” because of the Harbor Police office there) where we were able to load our food, supplies, water and a thousand and one other “don’t forget the _____” items, we had a delightful, fast sail south to the Coronado Islands just across the border in Mexico.

The Coronados are a wildlife refuge and while you can’t go ashore, you can watch over 60 species of birds and 3 types of seals and sea lions. They say the fishing is great but we were too busy doing nothing to fish. (Now that is saying alot!) On the third day, we hoisted our anchor and had another wonderful sail to Ensenada, Mexico. While it is only 70 miles from San Diego, if felt like a million. We stayed at the Baja Naval marina where we were hosted in a most delightful way. The food, shopping and especially the people were truly wonderful. What surprised us was how uncrowded it was. Every three days a cruise ship would pull in but they stayed in a very small district and gave us the rest of the city.

Besides sea food, we enjoyed sidewalk cafes and coffee and nothing tastes better than hand-dipped ice cream on a hot August afternoon. We had time to sleep, read books, meet interesting people and do a whole lot of nothing. It was delightfully decatent!

From Ensenada, we sailed south between Punta Banda and Isla Todos Santos and on another fifty miles to Santo Tomas where we discovered guidebooks don’t always give good advice. The picture of the anchorage on the internet looked great but we we arrived it was open to the weather and choked full of kelp. We tried vainly to anchor three times but eventually gave up. We did collect an amazing harvest of kelp on our anchor and sailed north through the night back to Ensenada drawn on by visions of garlic shrimp and Cerveche.

Finally we had to come home so we slowly did the “Baja Bash.” (The wind and the currents run north-south so a sailboat has it’s work cut out for it going north!) Even though we started north at midnight when the winds were calm, we still fought corkscrew seas. On the other hand we met a curious “little” blue whale Jan dubbed “Sally” who swam with us a way. She was longer than our boat and was very curious. Sally would roll up on her side and look us over before crossing our bow and swimming down the other side. Her spout was enormous and when she finally sounded, she left a hole in the ocean. We also saw two different species of dolphins and a couple more varieties of whales but by the time we anchored by at Isla Coronado, we were truly spent.

Thursday night, after we had been in our bunks for a couple of hours, a large American sportfishing boat pulled up alongside and hailed us. A 30 year old American tourist had rented a small, sit-on-top, kayak at Rosarito Beach and had gone for a paddle into the big blue ocean. Unfortunately the wind and the waves that we had fought all day north, caught him and carried him out to sea. Perry was in shock and blistered by the sun. Can you imagine what it would feel like to paddle against the Pacific, alone, for eleven hours? Just as the sun went down, he was spotted by the fishermen and brought to our sailboat. Jan filled him with soup and drinks and we tucked him in bed while stowing his kayak and paddle on board. We contacted the Coast Guard and they asked us to bring him along with us to San Diego the next day. We thought he might have a problem clearing Customs without a passport or ID (those were left as a deposit for the kayak in Mexico) but the blisters on his shaved head and the glowing red burns on his legs apparently convinced Homeland Security his story was true.

All in all, it was a most wonderful vacation and I’ll be sharing some more of my meditations on the Holy Spirit from the book of Acts tomorrow. Thank you for your prayers and patience!


Jan and I are cruising in Mexico aboard Santa Teresa, our beloved sailboat.

By the way, she was named “Santa Teresa” when we bought her many years ago. Sailors are a very superstitious lot (Son’t begin a voyage on Friday because that’s the day Jesus died; don’t change the name of a boat; and especially don’t allow red-headed women on board! Well two out of three ain’t bad…).

When we moved aboard ST, Jan searched the internet to find out who Santa Teresa was. It turns out she is the patron saint of romance and headache sufferers. Now that’s a perfect name for a boat!

I am so glad so many of you have enjoyed my new book, Wind from the Shadows: Meditations on the Book of Acts. [Update: Through a special arrangement with my publisher, this book is now available free as an eBook! Visit the “John’s Books” link to receive your copy. Blessings! John]