2020: Level 9

Posted:  October 28, 2020
👁 980   4

If you are no stranger to this blog, you probably have noticed things don’t always seem to go our way. Despite the bright outlook sailing at the beginning of this month brought, it was only in line with the traditional chaos of 2020 that we would be forced to roll the dice and progress to the next level of Jumanji. 

Upon our return from the island we were feeling refreshed with a renewed sense of focus and determination to get back out there and do it again. As we made strides in accomplishing boat tasks and blazing through work (our real jobs) we realized that Level 9 of 2020’s Jumanji was a doozy. On October Chris’s Papa Tom passed away, leaving the Neely family without a matriarch. 

Papa Tom, from whom Chris received his middle name “Thomas,” was 95 and had just suffered two strokes a few days prior to his passing. As a young kid, Chris remembers his grandfather working away in his woodshop building things like small wooden boats with Chris glued at his side, taking it all in- it’s no wonder he has taken to woodworking so naturally!

As if losing a grandparent was not enough for one day, a few hours after Papa Toms passing we were en route to the emergency room to get Chris checked out for potential cancer. Doubled over and uncomfortable, my usually upbeat husband spent the morning staying busy through the pain despite my many suggestions to take it easy and not overextend himself, quite literally. Not knowing how to slow down, he went to work helping a neighbor with his Hans Christian 41 and returned to Avocet only 30 minutes after his departure, calling to me through the portlight “Babe… we have to go”

Chris, on a much better day

I sat with Chris outside the ER where he filled out his paperwork before the nurse admitted him. The double-doored entrance was where we were separated, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Once out of sight, I was able to open the flood gates and cry on my way back to my car. I may not have been allowed inside, but I wasn’t going anywhere until I knew Chris was alright. 

With severe pain in his groin area and a family history of cancer (his dad passed away from cancer when Chris was 13), we knew that going to the hospital sooner than later would be in our best interest, especially since we would like to have kids someday. After two hours of separation and waiting anxiously, Chris was released with a clean bill of health besides the source of his pain, which the doctors had no answers for. After conversing with the doctors as well as some research (not on WebMD, according to them Chris was already dead) we think it was likely a minor hernia which unlike severe hernias can actually resolve themselves as long as you take it easy! 

Boat bound with an order to remain below deck and not lift anything, Chris dove into editing work for his clients as well as our YouTube channel. Speaking of work (and 2020 being a major bummer) I lost one of my bigger (and favorite) clients in October since they decided to move the position in-house. Although the decision did not ultimately make sense to me or others, I thanked my client for the opportunity they gave me to grow their social media accounts (nearly 80,000+ combined followers) the past 2 years and opened up my services to new clients since I then had the time and bandwidth to work with them. Within 5 hours I had signed 3 new clients, and began optimizing their various social channels for growth, just one piece of the total digital marketing puzzle. 

Despite October’s many downfalls, there have been some incredible moments that make up for it. On October 10th my Aunt Jen and Uncle Jeremy welcomed their first child into the world, my new cousin Joel. His sweet face brought nothing but a smile to my own, definitely giving me another round of baby fever, which is something I “suffer” from frequently and is only remedied by baby animals or looking at my bank account and remembering that kids can be expensive. 

Reminiscing on the previous sail to the island

Following Joel’s arrival to the outside world, Chris and I set our course to Little Scorpion Anchorage, one of our favorite spots on Santa Cruz Island. The weather was finally looking like fall, gloomy with a brusqueness to the air, deterring many other boaters from venturing out but we couldn’t care less and were excited by the potential lack of people. 

We were all ready to depart our slip the morning of October 22nd; the boat was provisioned, we had finished our work for clients, and we had someone to relieve us from our house sitting duties for the few days we were gone. Of course, once again, in true 2020 fashion, we were absolutely blindsided by a near-disaster that further delayed our sailing plans.

Our dear friend Mike Leary and his lovely girlfriend Kris are not only sailors but also land explorers, often taking off for months at a time to explore the beauty of terra firma. When they depart on these grand adventures, Chris and I are often asked to step in and take care of the Leary home and feed it’s furry and gilled residences. Smokey 10-year-oldr old main coon mix that is as soft as a pillow and as talkative as a toddler, absolutely infatuated with our Cleo. He is a good, well mannered boy that loves to cuddle and remind you when his food bowl is empty. Recently, while we have been working on the boat, Smokey has been escaping the enclosed back yard after his breakfast to visit with neighbors; He always returns but man is it annoying! 

The second or third time Smokey had houdini’d his way over the fence, Mikes neighbor Kelly mentioned that Smokey had gotten into a tussle with another cat and had a minor scratch on his face. When we saw him that night, he looked alright, just a little disheveled and defeated. Within 2 days the right side of his face had swelled up to the size of a golf ball, prompting Chris and I to take him to the Animal ER the morning we were supposed to leave for the island. Upon Smokey’s admittance, the vet notified us that we couldn’t leave and had to remain in the parking lot until they knew what the treatment would be and could charge our card accordingly; another COVID-19 implementation. Stranded and hungry we Postmated coffee from a local coffee shop as we waited anxiously to hear about our furry friend Smokey. The clock kept ticking and our sailing window was closing by the second. Nearly an hour and a half later, the vet called us and told us that Smokey had to have the swollen area lanced and stitched with a temporary drainage tube… we were so relieved that we had made the right call by bringing him in when we did.

Smokey was not going to be released from the vet until 4:00pm which would have significantly delayed our mainland departure, likely pushing it to the following day. Thankfully we have a group of incredible friends and the crew of ValHowell came to the rescue stepping in for us so we could get some sailing in. We cast off at 1:00, just in time to catch the light afternoon wind. With full canvas up we left the breakwater and set our course set for Santa Cruz Island. Although it was only blowing 9 knots, we were determined to sail and kept tacking towards the island, enjoying the sound of Avocet gently slicing through the water like a hot knife through butter. 

We set anchor at Little Scorpion around 4:00 in the afternoon and were greeted by familiar faces aboard Rocinante, a Gecco 38 that looked strikingly similar to a swan… for good reason. Brian and Brianne welcomed us aboard their beautiful Rocinante for sundowners once we had settled in. We had actually met them in the marina the week prior as they stopped by to provision, and were thrilled to reconnect away from the mainland with the island as our backdrop. 

We woke up at 9:00 the following morning to overcast skies and a calm sea. You’re not supposed to say the word “calm” on a boat, the same way you aren’t supposed to step on a crack or spill salt…  it supposedly provokes Poseidon, and I don’t feel like thats the right thing to do this year so instead we opted for a synonym and said it was “mellow,” all the same. It is unlike us to sleep in past 8:00, but we accepted the rest as it was apparently much needed and finally got up to start our day. 

Fall fashion, but floaty

It was a slow morning; I made pancakes from scratch and got started on a sourdough boule to accompany the evenings dinner. We launched Little Wing and said good morning to our friends then motored around the anchorage. The water was a bit colder than the last time we were here, and without a water heater on board for freshwater showers we decided to forgo the snorkeling, no matter how tempting the clear water and glistening treasures under the surface were.

Ah, that’s right… I forgot to mention what happened to our water heater. Back in the marina I went to grab reusable bags for the store, which we keep tucked away in the locker under our bed. Sharing the large space with our reusable bags was our 4 gallon aluminum water heater that had decided to fail which resulted in a puddle that was (thankfully) contained to that small locker. Chris removed the water heater the day prior to our departure after ordering a new 5 gallon stainless steel tank, which is much more healthier to be drinking, bathing, and washing dishes from anyways. It was an upgrade we had intended on making later but Avocet made it clear she wanted it now. As I boiled hot water on the stove that night to wash my face, I was reminded me that instant hot water- in addition to fresh water- is an absolute luxury, and on land we are seldom reminded of these lessons.  

While admiring the sea caves and view of our floating home in the distance, Chris and I spotted an animal perched on a small rock. It appeared to be a large bird, extremely dirty and oddly shaped. We took guesses as to what species the animal was as we slowly approached with Little Wing. To our surprise, it wasn’t a bird at all! It was a baby harbor seal that took one look at us and plopped into the clear water below, dancing through the kelp forest towards Scorpion Campground.

Unfortunately we were unable to go to shore at Scorpion this trip, largely due to the Scorpion Fire which had burned through 1,400 acres, thankfully sparing the historic structures. The nature conservancy and national park do an excellent job preserving the island and since the fire had wiped out a majority of the vegetation along the south side trails of the island they closed them to the public to allow the area a chance to regrow. 

It was 2:00 in the afternoon and we were both feeling a bit hungry so I made a loaf of focaccia bread, fresh pesto (thanks to Bentley the basil plant) and pulled out the mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes to make panini’s. We ate lunch in the cockpit and played a round of Bananagrams which is one of my favorite games, introduced to us by Shannon while we were on Prism cruising through Costa Rica back in 2014. With full bellies and a good brain work out we were ready for a nap. The cool weather made our blankets call to us, so we joined Cleo in the V-berth for a quick nap. The sound of the waves crashing into the islands edge serenaded us through our heavy forward hatch that was open for fresh air and the ambiance to seep in.

An hour later we awoke, just in time to watch new neighbors attempt to anchor. At first they came way too close to us and let out the most amount of scope we had ever seen. Thankfully, they realized their mistake and pulled their anchor to reset further away from us. The rest of our afternoon was spent working on our diesel heater which as mentioned before, was temporarily out of commission until the ducting was replaced. Before our mainland departure Chris received the parts needed in the mail so we would be able to make the repair at the island, which in theory sounded more relaxing than being at the dock but it was boatwork nonetheless. Despite the many attempts, the fittings were still not right and our diesel heater was not operational. Luckily there were no casualties in the shoe department, so even though it was unsuccessful this time, we were one step closer to victory.

When the tools were finally packed away I unpacked my galley and began slicing, dicing, and melting to prepare for our cheese fondue dinner, one of the items on my “October Bucket List”. In the middle of whisking the cheese on the stove, Chris called me above deck to watch the sun set with him. The orange and pink sky melted into the island as the sun began its decent into the horizon. Once the moon replaced the sun we both retired below where I resumed my galley duties and Chris worked on editing videos for clients. Minutes later we had a pot of delicious melty cheese fondue that consisted of warm “wheaty” fall flavors. Cleo curled up at our feet while we watched a movie as we dipped various veggies and sourdough chunks into the warm pot, enjoying another night of “mellow” swell and wind. It was a relatively early bedtime, and we slept soundly.

Unfortunately, our responsibilites in Ventura called to us and after a quick morning motor around the anchorage we pulled anchor and set sail for our home port. It was blowing approximately 9 knots, which was extremely light but enough to fill our sails so we shut off the engine and slowly made our way back to the mainland. Once we got out of the lee of the island the wind managed to pick up a bit and we were cruising along at a respectible hull speed when we were joined by TWO pods of short beaked common dolphins who escorted us for quite some time, dancing under our hull and vanishing into our wake.

Pulling into our slip next to Mama Neely’s Mason 43′ is such a welcoming feeling, it makes returning to the marina a little easier on our wanderlusting hearts that long for life outside the breakwater. We just keep reminding ourselves that every day of hard work is one day closer to simply relxing, which seems to keep a fire under us to carry on. With the end of the month quickly approaching we are excited to celebrate Halloween and welcome the new month of November with all of the craziness it may bring.

Chris and I appreciate you all taking the time to read our blogs and always enjoy hearing from you, so please feel free to drop a comment or email us! We love to chat and answer questions!

Stay safe out there,

Marissa, Chris, and Cleo




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