July 9 provided perhaps the most enjoyable day of sailing of the entire trip. With a WNW wind varying from 8 to 15 knots we sailed towards home wing-on-wing, surging down the faces of the six foot swells. I spent hours sitting at the end of the bowsprit peering into the thick overcast, trying to raise the form of land while knowing it was still too far away, the surges from each passing swell lifting me high in the air before shoving me down towards the green-gray surface of the sea. In the early afternoon we were greeted by two massive blue whales not a hundred yards off our port side. The behemoths blew a few times, slowly slithered aft looking like the Lochness Monster sliding across the surface of the sea, before disappearing astern of us. My father was left peering in our wake, certain the graceful creatures were hell-bent on ramming "Avventura." Soon after the whales disappeared sea lions began popping up here and there to take a look at the unnatural intruder. They'd look at us, give a little bark of disgust, and return to their realm (or was it a bark of "welcome home"--I've lost my ability to understand the dogs of the sea). Just before sunset a single whale spouted just once in the distance as if warning me things wouldn't stay this perfect much longer, and sure enough by sundown (not that the sun ever showed her face in the overcast fit for the Pacific Northwest) the wind had disappeared and it was time for the return of Mr. Drone the diesel burner.
As my final night at sea wore on the seas began to smooth out, and by the time I emerged from below to take over on my night watch I rose to find the lights of San Clemente Island off the port bow, seven miles away across a silky smooth sea. I passed much of my watch belowdecks, enthralled by the sounds of once-familiar radio stations, and emerged for one of my regular scans of the horizon to find a small fishing boat two miles away and coming right for us. I followed his course on radar and by sight and new we were heading for a collision. Looking at his lights I knew it was my right-of-way; but if cruising teaches you anything it is that the only "rule of the road" is might, combined with speed, makes right. Sure enough the guy never altered speed or course and I was forced to turn behind him, passing a few hundred yards astern. When I was relieved of my watch I gave thanks that my final close encounter had been dealt with without incident, and slipped into the deepest sleep of the voyage. Soon my mind began to wander and I found myself immersed in a nightmare unlike any I'd had in years. I was running somewhere on the outskirts of Los Angeles, listening to my Ipod and minding my own business when a silver truck pulled up beside me, passenger's window rolled down. The passenger pulled a gun and aimed it directly at me. Before he could say anything I had turned in my tracks and begun to run away, and in seconds I was being shot at. That was when my father woke me up: a hint of wind had arrived; should we set sail? So what's my take on the dream? My subconscious mind was perhaps warning me that despite all the places I've been I'm returning to what can be the most dangerous area of all--Southern California. (For a little back story to aid in the dream, the silver truck I saw I had encountered before back in 1999. I was skateboarding along the street I live in a half mile from my home, heading to check one of my favorite surf spots when this silver truck slowly pulled up from behind. I was with a group of friends, but as usual was bringing up the rear. The passenger window of the truck rolled down halfway and a big Mexican guy looked right at me, rested the barrel of a silver handgun on the edge of the window, and said in a low tone: "You better run motherf..." I'd never come across the man before; just some punk gangster out to scare a 15 year old kid.) Not the kind of welcome home dream I was hoping for!
When I emerged from my dream I found that a southerly wind had indeed started to show and before long we were motorsailing along at six knots. This breeze proved to be persistent, though light (7 knots), and in the end we were able to motorsail with it all the way into San Diego Bay. July 10 dawned brighter than the previous handful of days, and there was immediate hope that we might actually see the sun. In spite of clearing skies the horizon remained hazy, and it took until we were 16 miles away, just after 1100 California Time, for me to give the shout: "Land Ho!" The next few hours were almost torturously long. The bittersweet landfall I had anticipated turned out to be far more sweet than bitter, and I found myself unable to sit still, leaping around the boat in excitement, a smile beaming across my face and my eyes permanently fixed on the growing familiar form of Point Loma. Kevin said I was like a "little puppy," and I felt like I was floating on the surface of the sea--riding a high aided by prolonged sleep deprivation and 18 months of travel away from home.
By the early afternoon the sun was out in full force and I could feel my nose beginning to burn. To hell with the sunscreen, that meant spending time below, one last burn won't hurt me. We neared the point and a submarine came up from astern, passing far to starboard and guiding us into the familiar channel to San Diego Bay. By 1600 the point sat abeam of us, we were inshore of the kelp beds, and my cellphone was back in use. Moments later we slipped past the Point Loma Lighthouse, with Ballast Point falling by the wayside soon after. Once past the bait barge we turned up into the wind and took down the sails one last time. Then, at 1630, I nudged "Avventura" alongside the Harbor Police dock, shut down the motor, and the voyage was complete. 16000 miles and I was home again! All I could think of was the Robert Louis Stevenson quote:
Home is the sailor, home from the sea!
--July 11, 2008. Noon. In my room overlooking Garbage; Azure Vista, San Diego, California.
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