What Sailing Taught Me About The Final Frontier

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Space Nation Navigator

We passed under the Golden Gate bridge on our ?41 foot sailboat, into the wild and unknown. The flat waters of the Bay morphed into the slow swell of the sea, and for the first time since I moved onto my boyfriend?s boat near San Francisco, I felt truly at the whim of nature. It was a new wilderness, unpredictable, terrifying, beautiful. And I was ready to explore.

We pointed the boat north and headed toward Point Reyes National Seashore where we planned to anchor for the next couple of days. The wind was strong as it screamed over the Marin Headlands, and the sailboat heeled hard under its power. It took us seven hours to get to our destination, and we anchored near white cliffs that reminded Sir Francis Drake of home.

The waves broke hard on shore and the boat bobbed and swayed in a fierce wind that didn?t let up for 24-hours. I made ginger tea to quell our seasickness. Out there, everything mattered. Every decision felt momentus. Where should we anchor? How often should we check our depth? Would the anchor hold in this blustery wind and the changing tidal currents? Hearing a shore break while anchored on a sailboat isn?t the most relaxing thing in the world, and we felt so alone in the sea, watching the moving figures of people on their walks, safe on shore. I felt stir-crazy, wanting to get off the boat and feel stable land beneath my feet. Being stuck in a space that?s only 150 square feet for hours upon hours is rough, and we questioned whether we really wanted to someday sail the 30 days required to get to the South Pacific.

We thought a movie would take our minds of the rolling sea, so we settled in bed to watch Passengers, a sci-fi flick about a man who wakes up from hypersleep 91 years too early on a spaceship speeding toward a distant planet. As we watched the man stumble around the ship completely alone, we realized we weren?t alone at all. It was only him and the vast vacuum of space, his only social interaction a robotic bartender. When watching this movie, we realized how lucky were really were to be just offshore of land. There were trees, animals, fish in the sea. If we really needed to, we could both hop on a paddleboard and get to the beach, where other humans were. Being alone on a boat is nothing near being alone in space. Plus, we had each other, where the main character had no one. Just himself, up too early, no way to get back to sleep. It seemed terrifying.

But sailboats and starships have similarities. On the sailboat, my boyfriend and I are living minimalistically in a small space. We learned to work together, to each have jobs and duties on board. We are exploring the earth?s last frontier, where not many humans go. We are subject to the true power of nature, and are humbled by the sea, the wind, the currents, the tides. In space, astronauts also deal with the unknown. They know their roles. They most likely feel alone in the vast abyss of space. They see the beauty of planets, galaxies, nebulas, asteroids. They are subject to the power of nature. Every decision could mean life-or-death. They are far from help or rescue.

On our second night anchoring at Point Reyes, the wind died and the boat shifted sideways to land. With the tide dropping until midnight, we were afraid the boat could swing around its anchor and run aground in the shallow water near shore. I brought pillows and blankets out on deck and made a little nest on the stern. I looked up at the sky, seeing the spread of the Milky Way and the pinpoints of a million stars. Coyotes yipped from the shore. The cold wind whispered over my face. And the depth counter ticked down. From 25 feet. To 20 feet. To 17 feet.

My boyfriend decided we?d need to head to deeper waters at 11:30pm that night, so we pulled up anchor and motored further offshore to 35 feet. Only then could I retire to the bed and sleep, and he woke up every 90 minutes to make sure we were safe.

Living and traveling on a sailboat is no easy feat. You have to have your wits about you, ready to make split-second decisions as nature throws curveball after curveball. When were done with our trip, we felt exhausted and ever so thankful for protected anchorages and marinas.

I can?t wait to explore the unknown of the sea, to experience nature at its most rugged. To pull into new anchorages and take a paddle board to land to explore the nearby forests and deserts. My boyfriend and I will be alone on our tiny boat in the vastness of the sea, but we?ll have each other, and that will be enough.

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