Our last passage according to each of the 4 Gilberts

What If’s              – by John

What if you almost run into a whale? What if you smell smoke in the middle of the ocean? What if there’s no wind and you run out of gas? What if you need to stand watch all night? Or get sick? Or run into fog?…

These are all good questions to ask. In fact, the prepared sailor intentionally poses these hypothetical questions about anything and everything precisely to equip himself or herself with ready made solutions. Only in our case these particular questions were anything but hypothetical. Truly – as you will likely read in the following accounts with greater detail – we ran headlong into every one of the aforementioned predicaments, all together in just the latest leg or our horrible, wonderful journey.

For the uninitiated “horrible” is the sound of a tractor engine running at high rpm in your living room – for 3 days straight. It’s also the feel of a breeze dying out after you’ve finally decided to put up the sails, again …and again …and again. Horrible is the quality of sleep a 6 foot, three inch fellow gets in a 6 foot sleeping bag, on a 5 foot bench from 12 to 2am. It’s the smell of smoke on a windless day coming from the engine you just spent all last week fixing. Probably most of all, horrible is the sound of that same engine sputtering to death as you approach an unfamiliar, rocky bay peppered with shifting boats – with your sails neatly stowed.

Fortunately “wonderful” is less jarring than horrible. Certainly it is more deeply moving. To see the sunlight reach way down into the clear blue sea; to serenade curious dolphins as the moon bids you good night; to catch and eat a fish the very same day; to watch your wife and kids grow more capable and kind with each passing challenge; to encounter and overcome (or endure!) problems that I had hoped I would never have to; these are the things of wonder that light lasting fires in us.

In retrospect I’m not sure I would have intentionally signed on for this if I knew it would play out like it did – except for one immense fact: we wanted – we chose – to stretch our Faith through this journey, and stretching we are! Of course people regularly face things far harder than these – involuntarily, no less. I absolutely concede the fact that we Gilberts are actually enjoying a blessing beyond comprehension; however, the sum total of significant stressors we faced all in one go still makes me shake my head. When our engine said, “I think I’m done now.” we drifted (literally and figuratively) in prayer. When we faced getting sails up and purposefully sailing toward a lee shore and full anchorage without an engine, again, we prayed to our Heavenly Father. It may seem superstitious to you or a waste of time. We, on the other hand, are seeing God show up more and more in and around our lives as we ask Him to stretch us, to make more space for Him. Now I can’t speak to engines working that once did not, but I can say that Peace and Purpose and Direction have clearly and providentially been finding their way into our crazy lives.

So what if we all put Him to the test – actually? What if He actually showed up? Maybe more importantly, what if you never even tried? Based on our last few days, let me just warn you to be careful what (or Who) you ask for. You just might get it!

Turtle Bay Blog Post               by Toby Gilbert

I woke early Friday morning to the sound of Dad tightening down the nuts on the aft port lights to make sure they wouldn’t leak. I got up, and maybe an hour and a half later we were under way. Over the course of that and the next two days, we would make our way all the way from Ensenada to Turtle Bay; a distance of over 250 nautical miles.

Our plan from the beginning was to do as much sailing as possible. It is slower, but it’s quieter. And it’s also free, unlike using up the diesel we run our engine on. With that in mind, we all had high hopes of being able to sail most of the way. We even checked the wind forecast and chose a window with consistent North wind (that means that it’s coming out of the North) at about 10 knots. Soon after we left though, it became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to sail, at least not yet. What little wind there was, was coming straight out of the South; not great for sailing. That left us with the other option: listening to the loud engine for the indefinite future. Some of the highlights of the first day were being able to see a few whales that came very close (close enough that we actually had to steer around them), and also seeing a very large pod of dolphins come up and swim around right by our bow.

For traveling through the night we set up watches. Dad stayed up from 8:00-12:00, then I would get up and take over the steering from him. He stayed out with me, in case I needed a break, until 3:00. At 3:00 Dad went down and Mom came to take over for me. After staying out with Mom in case she needed a break, I switched with Karis at 6:00, and she came up to do the steering. Over all, I think that that system worked very well. We all seemed to get enough sleep.

Day 2 (Saturday) was relatively uneventful, with a few exceptions. Most of the day had no wind, but there were two or three times when it seemed like there was enough to sail in. We would put up all the sails, sheet them in, and cut the engine. That was usually about when the wind started to fade into nothing again. Looking on the brighter side of things, we were getting a lot of practice at putting up and taking down the sails.

The most eventful part of the day came at the back end of one of our sailing attempts. After hoisting all of the sails and sailing very quickly, nowhere, we took down all but the jib (the sail at the very front of the boat) and started the engine. Except the engine didn’t start. That happens sometimes, because we have a starter that sticks sometimes. Whenever that happen, we have another way to start it, which we proceeded to do. This time it did start, but another thing happened as well. The engine began to smoke a little bit. Upon seeing this we quickly shut it off again. After looking it over very thoroughly, and praying just a little bit, we tried again. This time it started without smoking. After that, we set a timer to remind us to check it regularly, just to be safe.

After motoring through the night, we woke up to our last day of that particular leg. On day 3 (Sunday) we decided that we weren’t going to sail at all, because we knew we could get to where we were going before dark if we motored the whole way. My favorite part of the third and final day was when we succeeded in catching a fish with a hook and line we tried dragging behind our boat as we motored. The fishing line was attached to a small section of “mule tape” (strong webbing we have on board), along which was affixed a short length of shock cord, to absorb some of the shock if a fish were to bite. We let out about 100 feet, and let it drag. Maybe half an hour later, Dad looked back and noticed that the shock cord had pulled taught. We went aft, and could just make out a fish bouncing around on top of the water. Dad pulled it in, lifted it up onto the deck, and quickly dispatched it with our ice pick and filleting knife. After making a couple of slices near the gills, and putting it in a bucket of water to drain the blood, Dad pulled out the 2ft. Skipjack Tuna we had caught, and began the tricky job of slicing off a couple of fillets. When that was done, we dropped the rest overboard, knowing that some other animal would make use of the carcass, one way or another.

Our final surprise of the trip came at the very end. It was Sunday afternoon, and we were 1-2 nm (Nautical Miles) from the mouth of Turtle Bay. Mom, Dad, and I were hanging out in the cockpit, when the engine started making odd noises. It didn’t sound like the engine had anything wrong with it, it just started to get quieter and run at lower RPM’s. We soon realized that we were running out of diesel. As I fastened the halyards (ropes used to pull up the different sails), Dad cut the engine. After a minute or two of wild pitching and tossing, we got two sails up and began to sail toward the mouth. Fortunately (and/or providentially), there was more than enough wind for us to sail into the bay. As we sailed into the bay we looked North and saw maybe 8-10 other boats anchored inside. Making our way to our prospective anchoring spot, we carefully thought through how we were going to anchor after sailing in. This was going to be our first time anchoring directly from sailing, at least in any kind of foreign territory. We had done it once before, in San Francisco Bay, with little to no wind. This was different. Normally we take down the sails and start the engine when we are getting ready to anchor. We usually motor up to the spot, stop, drop the anchor, and then back the boat up in order to pull the anchor, so that it can dig in and hold better. This time we would have to sail up to the spot, drop the sails, try to drop the anchor when we stopped moving forward, then slowly get blown downwind until the chain gets taught, and hope that it holds without us needing to force it to bite. After carefully thinking it through, we made a go of it. To our surprise, it went almost perfectly. We sailed in, Mom turned up into the wind to slow down, Karis dropped the jib on top of me so that I could bundle it all out of the wind, Dad lowered the anchor down as fast as he could hand over hand, and we drifted backwards until the anchor stopped us.

As we walked around, cleaning and stowing things, we couldn’t help but laugh at how many eventful things had happened, and yet how, in the end, everything turned out perfectly fine. That evening we sat down to a lovely dinner of rice and fresh, pan grilled (it was too windy for us to use our real grill outside) Skipjack Tuna. In fact it was the best fresh-caught Skipjack Tuna I have ever had (also the only Skipjack Tuna I have ever had). After setting an anchor alarm connected to a GPS, we went to bed, looking forward to a long, restful night’s sleep. As I lay in bed, I drifted off to sleep hearing the reverse of what had awoken me the morning we left, Dad now loosening the nuts on the aft windows to let the cool Turtle Bay breeze in.

Karis’s version:

At the beginning of this latest eventful journey, none of us expected the excitement that we had in store. We left tourist-town Ensenada at about 7:00am to sail to Turtle Bay. Considering that we are somewhat low-key people, getting up and ready by our goal of 7:00 was tiring and I was coming down with a cold. So after my help was no longer needed, I went down to try and get my very necessary 12 hrs of sleep.

While I was trying to doze off, I heard Mom, Dad, and Toby hauling up the sails and cutting the engine. In less than an hour, though, the wind had completely died and we very reluctantly turned on the loud, droning engine, and dropped the slatting sails.

I wanted to pull my weight (even if I was a little under the weather), so I went out and took the wheel for a while. We do not have an autopilot (they are finicky and like to stop working at inopportune moments) so someone is always at the wheel. I fell into the bad habit of staring at the compass for too long and looked up just in time to see a whale spout much too close for comfort!

I shouted “Whales!” which may not have been the cleverest thing to say, but it got the job done. We were heading at an intercept course with two big, beautiful, boat-sinkable, humpbacked whales, which didn’t seem to bother them in the slightest. We, on the other hand, changed course quickly, deciding that, as amazing as they are, we did not need a closer look than the one we had just gotten.

After that the fickle wind strengthened, we raised the lovely sails, turned off the loud engine and the fickle wind died. We turned on the loud engine. (Please understand that sailboats are called sailboats for a reason, they are supposed to sail during any sort of voyage and only motor into the port or anchorage.) After a light lunch, those of us that were not actively employed in steering the boat laid on deck enjoying the strong sun and warm day. Once we were well out of Bahia Todos Santos (the bay that Ensenada is in), which is very dirty, the water became the most startling blue. It was pristine, clear, and a deep royal blue-indigoish color. It reminded me sort of of the Foster City lagoon, only real.

We had periodically seen dolphins, but Toby saw a huge pod coming right at us, and we all rushed up to the bow to watch the show. Dolphins like to play around boats and especially like swimming right next to the bow. I don’t know how many there were, possibly hundreds, but it was truly spectacular. The combination of the crystal clear water and dolphins and whales and beautiful desert mountains all made for an excellent day.

I went to bed early after some Bleak House read aloud to Mom. When Toby woke me up at 6am I was still quite tired because my cold, the motion of the boat, and the noisy engine made my sleep light at best. Fortunately, some dolphins and birds kept my attention until I was relieved. The wind appeared to be sufficient for sailing, so we put sails up and turned off the engine. The wind didn’t last, and we dropped the sails and turned on the engine.

Are you noticing something here? Yes, sailboats are supposed to sail, not motor, for goodness sake. Motoring is for silly powerboats, not beautiful, quiet sailboats. Motoring is loud, and awful, and terrible and many other superfluous adjectives. I really hope you’re laughing now, if only to balance out all of the sighs, groans and great frustration we had the next two times we repeated that process.

After one of the sails up/down processes when we started the engine Mom smelled a skunk At least that’s what burning rubber smells like to her, but to us it smelled like we should turn off the engine in the very near future to figure out what was going on. We are pretty sure that when we started the engine that time, a spark from that fell onto one of the many rubber hoses and was smoldering there and creating the smell. After some prayer we started the engine once more, this time with no difficulties.

That night I slept remarkably well (and even had a dream involving greek mythology) and woke up ready and happy to take over so Mom could get some rest. It was windy and colder than the past two days, but there was a glorious sunrise and I was feeling great. We had considered sailing in the steady wind (which none of us trusted to stay once the sails were up) but that would be slower and probably make us arrive at night, something we wanted to, and could, avoid if we just kept motoring.

So throughout the cloudy morning, Dad and I put on the sail covers amid rolly seas. For the record, there were no mutinous thoughts that we should sail; we all had considered the pros and cons and were settled on our choice to motor.

We were wanting something to do, so Toby and Dad put out our fishing line. In less than an hour we had caught a fish! Everyone was running about for cameras, knives, gloves, de-hookers, and the lot. A couple times as Dad was pulling the line in, we thought we had lost it, but in a few minutes Dad had pulled aboard a small, very edible, Skipjack Tuna, a relative of normal tuna. After killing it (don’t ask how) Dad cut off four lovely cuts of fresh fish for dinner. The fish was a little under 2 feet and weighed less that 10 lbs we guess, but the whole process was a lot of fun, especially eating it!

Then, about a mile and change away from Turtle Bay, we ran out of gas. Of course. Only the people who had been desperately trying to sail would run out of diesel 1 mile before they needed it. So when we should have been motoring, we sailed. A healthy breeze blew us into the bay and we anchored without a single problem. We’re just pretty darn cool, now, aren’t we?

That makes us sound like amazing sailors who are ready for whatever comes at us, rain or shine, engine or sails, but I’d be lying to say that. None of us were sure how it all was going to turn out, but we were all doing everything we could to be helpful, smart, and safe. And through it all we knew we were in God’s hand, doing our part in His perfect plan.

Fortunately, that plan meant our anchor holding in the vale of Turtle Bay, with fish on the grill.

Our passage according to Kristin

Our journey through life is certainly a constant lesson in how to respond to the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the joys and disappointments we face. And our passage from Ensenada to Turtle Bay was no exception.

We started with a joyful high Friday morning – it was warm and sunny; we were helped off by our new friends Mark & Jean (hope we get to see you in La Paz!). We motored out of Bahia Todos Santos, past the islands of Todos Santos, looking forward to getting to some wind and setting the sails. Disappointment #1: the light wind we tried sailing in shortly died down and away. Engine back on.

Shortly thereafter joys #2 & 3: firstly, Karis had to quickly alter course to avoid running into a couple of whales! They were swimming across our path, only about 30 yards from us! Wow!! Then, a bit later, an enormous pod of dolphins swam our way and accompanied us for a while. Seeing about a dozen of them jumping out of the water together, swimming towards us was incredible! And seeing them swimming feet from our boat in the beautiful blue water – joyful!!

The rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully, everyone intermittently resting, steering, eating, reading.

Night watches started around 8pm with John taking the first 4 hours solo. Toby got up at midnight to take the wheel from John, while John stretched out in a sleeping bag in the cockpit next to Toby for the next 3 hours. At 3am, John went below to sleep in a real bed, while I got up to take the wheel from Toby and let him stretch out and sleep in the cockpit (we like having a 2nd person right there in the cockpit to assist if needed through the night). By 6am, with the skies starting to lighten, Toby went below, got Karis up to take the wheel, and I stretched out in the sleeping bag to snooze. My personal disappointment #2 was in taking my watch earlier, the skies were partly overcast and the moon had set so I had few night lights to enjoy through the dark early morning hours.

Joys #4 & 5 came during Karis’s watch Saturday morning – another pod of dolphins joined our progress for at least 45 minutes, maybe an hour! Karis enjoyed them from the wheel, then woke me up so I could take the wheel and she could go forward on the bow and see them closer up. Karis also sighted our first official albatross – both blackfooted and lysan. We’ve so enjoyed our novice birding – seeing new species and identifying them.

Throughout Saturday we had disappointments #3-5, I think, trying 2 or 3 more times to put up sails only to have to take them down again because the wind left us. We also had some spells of fog – it was beautiful and a little odd that far out from land (I’m guessing 20-40 miles offshore). I was reminded of the scene in C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader when the ship was engulfed in the fog island and Lucy spied an albatross circling above crying out “Courage, Dearheart!” – Aslan’s comforting message to her and the rest of their crew, and me, too.

Another disappointment came Saturday afternoon when we gave up on our final sail attempt of the day only to have our engine start smoking after needing to jump start it (the starter’s been a little sticky lately). We cut the engine, investigated, floated for a while, prayed the whole time, then tried starting it up again. All seemed well at that point, so we motored on, checking it regularly to make sure it stayed that way.

At this point we were set to keep going all the way to Turtle Bay so we began our second night watch following the same pattern as the first – we all thought it had worked quite well the first night.

My joy from night 2 : the swath of glowing bio-luminescence trailing behind our boat. I could also see the occasional glowing creature to the side of the boat as we went along. What an amazing Designer to have made such creatures for us to enjoy!

Sunday dawned and we were looking forward to making it to our anchorage in Turtle Bay. Ironically, all Sunday morning we had perfect wind for sailing, but because we wanted to make sure we made good enough time to get to Turtle Bay before dark, and because our previous engine questions, we kept motoring to just get there.

John suggested trying to fish again (we’d set up a trolling line from our boat Saturday but had come up empty) and within the first hour we’d caught a fish! Our first! A skipjack tuna. John and the kids reeled it in, took care of the messy job of killing and cleaning it, and bagged up some lovely fillets that we’d enjoy grilled later. JOY!!

Our final disappointment came about 1-2 miles outside of Turtle Bay. We were so close but then… the engine slowed, then sped up, then slowed more, then sped again, then slowed even more… Yep, we were out of fuel. SO, engine off, sails up, and we were faced with sailing into the bay and to anchor. God is so good, though, for when we really needed it, He gave us the wind we needed to get to where we needed to go. No one panicked, we prayed again, we all chipped in and successfully sailed to the anchorage, dropped the jib, dropped the anchor and thanked God heartily for His goodness and care. And yes, I can’t tell you how good that tuna tasted, freshly grilled, floating securely at anchor Sunday evening!

So, our many joys and many disappointments. How do I make sense of it all? I think of Paul as he wrote to the Philippians: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

So that’s where I land. God gets the praise when things are great and not so great, and we look to Him always. His grace is sufficient. Always.

View from anchor out to Turtle Bay entrance

P.S. So it’s taken a few days to get into town and get an internet connection to get this up. We promise not to flood you with this much text all the time, but thought it would be fun this time. We’ll catch you up on our stay here in Turtle Bay in the next day or two. Love to all!

8 thoughts on “Our last passage according to each of the 4 Gilberts”

  1. Truly a mixed bag of blessings, beauty and hard work. I envy you the sunrise, whales and dolphins.

    As always, my prayers follow you daily.


  2. What a great adventure!! Praying for each of you as God stretches and molds you out there. Be safe–miss you! 🐳

  3. Loved hearing all the perspectives and all that you’re learning through this adventure. Never seen so many dolphins together! Very cool 😀.

    Also wanted to wish you belated happy birthdays Kristin and John!

  4. Amazing! God is present and good! What an adventure during these past few days… an example to me of how life is unexpected at times – our journey (physical and spiritual) doesn’t go exactly as planned in my mind – sometimes so “terribly” – and yet – God redeems it all! Blessings to you all! Love you!

  5. Praising our amazing Lord with you all! What a glorious adventure is the path of the Lord! He is with you and He always makes us more than conquerors, though, as in David’s life, the Lord chooses different ways to conquer so as so keep us dependant on Him and build our wonder as John describes! Onward and upward, Gilbert family! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Just back from our mundane trip and very happy to hear all versions of the passage to Turtle Bay. What an exiting and blessed time for all of you. Sounds like you are getting what you expected from the trip so far. Love to all.

    Dad and Danielle

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