12:30am. My second watch of the night has just begun. Chase and I sit bundled in the cockpit of the Sea Casa, our harnesses tethered to the jacklines. Bleary-eyed, we watch the bow of the Sea Casa rise and fall with the rolling swells against the black of the Baja night.
A cool, salty breeze shakes the sleep from me. I check our heading on the chart plotter and give the sails and rigging cursory inspections. Honestly, I don’t really know what I’m looking for, but everything seems to be fine.
Time passes slowly. The ship rolls rhythmically with the sea and wind ruffles the sails. Moonlight breaks through a low cloud cover and casts a silver light on the scene. Peaceful is an understatement.
In the distance, Chase and I spot the faint glow of lights. Is that a tanker? Looks like it could be a tanker. I trade my coffee for binoculars and squint into the blackness. Whatever it is, it’s big.
Should we wake up Connor?
Yeah, let’s get Connor.
Chase unclips his harness and heads below deck to wake his brother. This isn’t the first time we’ve interrupted Connor’s sleep, and it likely will not be the last. With practiced efficiency and confidence even in his zombie-like state, Connor confirms the distant lights are those of a large container ship from Singapore. He adjusts our course to avoid the other vessel and heads back below deck.
Connor and Chase Jackson, brothers from Southern California, are sailing the Sea Casa from Los Angeles to Panama and hopefully onward across the Pacific to Fiji and Australia. They plan to hug the coast of Mexico and Central America on the way to Panama, where they will prepare for the Pacific crossing. The journey will likely take them two years. The plan, however, is only that: a plan. The winds may take them elsewhere.
The duo and their vessel are an anomaly in the long distance sailing world. Most long distance cruisers skew towards the older, often retired, and wealthier demographics. Their vessels are sleek, 50 ft. blue-water boats with polished teak-wood and the latest in modern comforts.
The Sea Casa is definitely not a state of the art blue-water boat. Built in 1985 and measuring 31 feet, she is a reliable and sea-worthy ship, although much humbler than many of her cruising peers. By Connor’s own admission, the Sea Casa is no one’s dream cruising vessel, but she'll do the job just fine.
Nor are Connor and Chase your typical cruisers. Still in their twenties, the brothers are thirty years greener than their average counterparts, and neither has a long history of sailing. In fact, save for a week-long crash course from Connor, Chase has never sailed. This will be his first time at sea.
Chase is also a type-1 diabetic. Regulating one’s blood sugar levels manually through diet and self-administered insulin injections is no easy task on land. Like most things, the process will be severely complicated by living aboard a small ship in the middle of the ocean.
5:45am. Connor wakes me from a tired sleep. My morning watch is set to begin at six, but a fiery Baja sunrise has prompted Connor to rouse me earlier. I pull myself from my berth and stumble up on deck, clipping my harness in to the jacklines again as I take a seat in the cockpit.
The sky is a deep red, glowing like the embers of a dying campfire. The color in the sky is confined to the area near the horizon, as darker, slightly ominous rain clouds occupy the higher latitudes of the sky.
The winds have died in the wee hours of the morning, and the Sea Casa is now motor-sailing. Powered by a trusty diesel engine, she chugs along South. The fiery red in the sky fades to a muddy orange as day breaks. The winds are calm and the sea is glassy. Chase is awake now too.
The three of us sit in the cockpit, silently enjoying the pure magic of hot coffee on a crisp morning. A pod of a hundred or so dolphins joins us, breaching off our Starboard side and playing in the wake of the Sea Casa.
9:15am. Gray metallic light shines through broken clouds and reflects off the water. The Coronado islands appear as two distant specs on the horizon. A navy destroyer shows itself in the distance. On the radio, we hear the military will be conducting a live fire exercise. Unfortunately, we will be too far south to witness the spectacle.
The winds are still light-to-non-existent, and the Sea Casa is still under power, motor-sailing towards Ensenada at 4-5 knots. Perfect trolling speed.
Chase unclips the cedar plug lure from the fishing rod mounted to the stern of the ship and drops it into the sea. Within minutes, the reel is humming with lunch on the line.
Today’s catch is Skipjack Tuna. Yesterday’s was Bonito. As Chase gets to work fileting the fish, Connor tosses the lure back out. It’s not five minutes before we reel in a second Skipjack. Two is enough for today, we decide. I reel in the line and clip the cedar plug back to the rod.
We baked our Bonito yesterday, so we decide to sear the Skipjack today. The process of turning a live animal into an edible meal is often a messy one. Blood and guts stain the deck of the Sea Casa’s cockpit.
2:00pm. We are on a straight downwind run, making good time. Connor has rigged the sails in a ‘wing-on’ formation. Around us, storm clouds are forming and a light rain is falling. Chase is at the helm.
In the distance, we see the clouds becoming more menacing as a decent sized squall heads our way. Lighting flashes on the horizon. The storm approaches.
Suddenly, lightning rips open the sky directly above the Sea Casa. Simultaneous with the blinding flash, a deafening crack of thunder stuns us. The smell of burnt ozone fills our nostrils, and the static electricity in the air is palpable. We place an emergency GPS transmitter in the ships oven, which will act as a Faraday Cage and protect the device if the ship is struck by lightning.
Quickly, Connor removes the wing-on formation, furls the foresail and puts a reef in the mainsail, reducing the available surface area for wind to catch. We put our harnesses back on and fasten ourselves to the Sea Casa’s deck. Connor fires up the diesel to give the ship a little more purchase while punching through the swell.
Within minutes the wind is whipping, swell is breaking on the Sea Casa’s stern, and a violent downpour is giving the Sea Casa and her crew a thorough cleansing. Once situated though, the Sea Casa proves herself, bashing through the chop, still making good time on course to Ensenada.
As quickly as the squall arrives it departs, leaving us soaked and smiling. The sun dips low on the horizon, lighting up the storm’s remaining clouds in an electric pink. The Sea Casa is bathed in the orange glow of sunset. In front of us, a full rainbow appears off the bow over the coast of Baja. Growing stronger, it is soon a double rainbow, with the main piece connecting all the way across the sunset painted sky. A story-book reward for enduring the earlier inclement weather.
The rainbow dissipates. The sunset colors slowly fade to darker hues of their earlier selves. Then to blue; then black. Night is upon us.
Something about the Jackson brothers’ journey is especially inspiring. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of the great explorers of old taking to the seas to discover new lands.
More likely, it’s because Connor and Chase are such relatable characters.
Neither was born and bred into a sailing life. Their boat is a far cry from state of the art. No corporate backers will be footing the bill. Their health is not perfect. They are not superhuman. They are just like anyone else, or you and me.
Ordinary guys, doing extraordinary things.
1:15pm. The Sea Casa has cleared the bureaucratic hurdles of customs in Ensenada, and has been successfully imported to Mexico. Our bellies are full of local street tacos. We have all gotten some much needed sleep.
Outside of the bus station, I hug Connor and Chase goodbye, wishing them fair winds and following seas.
I can’t help but feel pangs of jealousy as I watch Connor, Chase, and the Sea Casa fade into the distance through my bus window.
El deseo del mar. The lure of the sea.
This bus will take me to Tijuana, and then to another back to the States. Back to my life on land. Connor and Chase are heading back to the Sea Casa.
Back to their lives at sea.