Orion and the Sea


It’s one in the morning and the wind is blowing 20-25 knots. I’m concerned about our anchor situation. There is a beach 150 yards to our starboard and a sand shoal 100 yards astern. When we dropped the hook yesterday the sea floor did not hold our anchor well, we had to try a couple times before it dug in and held. We’re in twenty-five feet of water and have over 200 feet of chain out, that’s an 8:1 ratio, which is considered good for having an anchor hold. The more chain that is out, or the greater the chain to depth ratio, the more horizontally Orion pulls on the anchor. Horizontal pull is good because it digs the anchor into the ground while vertical pull yanks it out – horizontal holds, vertical releases. Most of me thinks we’ll hold just fine but this one nagging part of me keeps having visions of our anchor gracefully rolling over in defeat and Orion – anchor, chain, galley, head and us in our cozy bed – sliding ever so smoothly up onto the beach.

To combat my worry I set two anchor alarms and have our chart plotter continually mapping our position. I relaxed enough to drift into a half sleep state in which I began to ponder anchors – their different shapes, the way they bite into the ground or grab onto a reef, and how each one does the same thing in a different way. I slipped into thinking about the other anchors in my life, all my relationships that look so different yet accomplish the same thing.


IMG_8525As the foundation for a place called home, my relationship with Megan is a firm anchor. I can count on her to be by my side, to put her hand on my shoulder and remind me that I am part of something bigger than myself, that I am safe and loved. She grounds me. But wandering takes us into uncharted territory, places that don’t feel safe, like exploring the emotions of our past or the unseen truths of our present, like contemplating kids, or discussing attractions towards other people. Or like right now. We wandered into this bay and set our anchor with good intentions but we’re not entirely safe. This is part of exploring wild places, we do the best we can to asses the situation and make safe decisions, but sometimes we just can’t see all the variables or the situation changes too fast to avoid feeling insecure.

Perhaps it’s that we are together 24/7 that my Megan anchor often releases. We’re so close that sometimes there’s just too much vertical pull. My other anchors are far enough away and have enough rope out that all their pull is horizontal, they hold tight. My dad and mom, Marsha, Jenny, all my friends and family are firm anchors. I see these people once or twice a year, perhaps even less now that we’re out here on Orion, but the memories that connect us – the “I love you” and “I’m here for you”, the empathetic eyes, the long warm hugs – pull on me daily.

Other memories anchor me too, the rolling hills of southern California, the babble of a stream weaving through rocks and roots, sand between my toes, the cry of a hawk, the sent of the sea. These memories hold me as I drift into life’s uncharted regions, they ground me, remind me that I am not a separate entity but an individual part of the whole.


We’re in a tight little bay called Balandra on Isla Carmen, an island just off Loreto. We sailed here yesterday to dive and hike but a low-pressure ridge passing to the north is generating strong winds that have kept us boat bound. It’s supposed to blow strong for a couple days. When we arrived two other boats were anchored in the choice spots so we ended up on the sidelines, a fine spot on a typical day but not the best location in a blow. When the other boats left this morning we should have moved, but at this point “should have” is not going to calm my nerves.

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Morning finally came and we moved Orion to a safer location, a chore in these strong winds. The anchor held strong on the first go, even after tugging on it with the motor. Anchoring in stressful conditions is trying but Megan and I communicated well, listening to each other and responding rather than reacting. By the afternoon we decided it would be okay to leave Orion and go for a hike. Isla Carmen is a beautiful desert island, full of hardy plants that appear lush against its arid mountains. We hiked up a wash, through a steep gorge and out into a small valley of rolling hills. All the while grasshoppers jumped from underfoot, dragonflies veered this way and that, and butterflies fluttered about in the late afternoon sun. The butterflies seem to like one plant in particular, a small green plant with purple flowers and a thick heady smell that is hard to get enough of but overwhelming at the same time. Overhead a group of vultures skimmed the cliffs dodging in and out of the rocky peaks, and the cries of hawks echoed through the canyon walls. As we walked back to the beach the sun dipped behind the mountains of Loreto, spraying shafts of light into the heavens. It was a lovely afternoon.

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For all the shadowy reasons that have nothing to do with what’s at hand, our communication broke down the next morning. It seems we have different ideas about the care and keeping of our chopping knife. As usual, the details are trivial, even embarrassing when seen on this screen. The subject of the story doesn’t really matter, it’s that I get lost in it, lost in its “rightness”. The emotions that follow can be broadly described as pain, the pain of wanting to feel heard or seen or whatever… pain. Too quickly I’m wrapped up in story and emotion, overwhelmed or sad or frustrated or a combination of emotions I don’t even know how to name! In this case, I’m frustrated because I want the knife dried and put away, not stuck in the drying rack!

But underlying my story, with all its theory and reasoning, I simply need autonomy. I need my desires to be heard and considered. I imagine Megan needs the same thing because that’s usually the case. We often need the same thing at the same time – to feel heard or seen or considered. We need to feel loved. We need some empathy. Kelly, a mentor of ours, calls this an “empathy train wreck”, a jagged pile of clashing stories. Our stories collide when we name them “right” and “wrong”. But who gets to name the stories? And who “wins” the competition of perspective? And when do we get to hug?

After sorting out the chopping knife wreckage I needed some time alone. I packed a daypack and had Megan drop me off on shore. For a while I hid from the wind behind a sand dune and watched an egret and a blue heron stalk fish in the mangroves. Such patiently persistent creatures deserve to be admired, contemplated in some metaphorical way that teaches us stillness and focus.

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It was midday when the egret flew off to find a shady tree to siesta under and the heron disappeared into the mangrove. I left the beach shortly after and hiked up a narrow rock canyon that opened into a wide bowl surrounded by cliffs and ridgeline. Looking back down the canyon I could see Orion anchored in a small, protected bay, swaying this way and that, and beyond, the islands and mountains folding over each other to the horizon.

I sat down in the shade of a mesquite tree and watched the vultures circle overhead, one even came close enough to look me in the eye but it soared back to the cliffs when I returned it’s wishful gaze. It’s warm up here in the hills, even the shadows hide from the midday sun. The wind is gusty, pulsing through the brush in unplanned waves, momentarily warding off the heat. Little brown birds hop from tree to tree to tree chirping brightly and a small lizard is sitting just over there sunbathing on a tan rock.


This is the Sea of Cortez, it’s raw and wild, a lot biology mixed with a lot of geology – cactus, shrubs, birds, humans, lizards, fish, and whales mixed with dirt, rock, sea and sun, lots of sun. These are the places my anchor can dig in and hold tight. Places to treasure and covet. Places to pull on when I’m lost in my stories, when I need grounding and perspective. The wild inside me recognizes places like this and names them home. This is why I am here, to touch wildness and remember that I am home.

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