Article and Images by Jeff Kemp. OCSC Member since 1997.
I recently had the vast good fortune to have been a passenger/crew aboard the schooner ‘Seaward’ on her trip north from San Pedro (the port of Los Angeles) to Sausalito.
‘Seward’ is an 82 ft. stay-sail schooner operated by “Call of the Sea”, a non-profit organization based in Sausalito whose educational mission is to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds, especially youth, to connect to the sea and San Francisco Bay through sailing a traditional vessel. This mission is fulfilled, in part, by offering berths aboard Seaward during their annual voyage to and from Mexico. She leaves San Francisco Bay in late fall and returns in the spring. The voyage is a series of passages from port to port, (San Francisco Bay to San Pedro, San Pedro to Cabo San Lucas, Cabo San Lucas to La Paz, and into the Sea of Cortez) on which a person can reserve a place as a passenger/crew.
I booked space for the final home-bound leg. I joined the boat on Thursday, March 24. We departed San Pedro on Friday, March 25, and arrived in Sausalito on the evening Tuesday, March 29. We spent two nights at anchor, one in Port San Luis and the last night in Half Moon Bay. There were 4 crew, and 10 of us paying passengers/crew. We were divided into three separate watches of 4 or 5 persons. A full time crew member served as captain for each watch. A watch stands 4 hours on duty and 8 hours off. My watch was from 0000 to 0400 and 1200 to 1600 within each 24 hour day. ‘Standing watch’ is to be responsible for sailing Seaward on her intended course. Each person takes a one hour turn at the helm during their watch and when not at the helm, is responsible for navigation, trimming of sails, and in general being immediately available to deal with whatever may arise. When not on watch you are free to eat, sleep, read, help out with chores, or whatever you want. Speaking of sleeping, each person has a fore and aft facing bunk to call their own. The conditions coming north where the predictable northwesterly winds and swell (read: right on the nose). This made sleeping a bit of a challenge, especially at first. I’m sure I was weightless a few times as Seaward pitched downward off a swell. However, we all got into the right rhythm within a couple of days.
The cook/deckhand (a fulltime crew member) turned out breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. The food was just fine by my standards. It’s not gourmet but you are not in a gourmet setting, and certainly not paying gourmet prices. This trip was an honest to goodness blue water passage aboard a medium size sailing vessel. The night watches deserve a special description. My watch came on deck at midnight. We took over from the 2000 to 2400 watch. The course was given, any special instructions relayed, entries were made in the log and the off watch dismissed. There was no moon during most of my night watch. Also, when along the central coast, there are almost no lights visible on shore. The term ‘dark of night’ has a whole new meaning at sea. It isn’t dark, it’s black! It’s blacker that black. The only light is the faint glow from the binnacle. But, this makes the phosphorescence in the water look like a flash bulb, and the stars……..! There were times when visibility was clear enough to see the Milky Way spreading across the entire sky. You simply have to see this!
Ah, but 0400 eventually came around, my watch was dismissed, we went down below to the dimly lighted cabin, peeled off multiple layers, and headed for our bunks. The passage continued, the routine was quickly engrained, and all other things in the world were put on hold.