Every year when I return, my mom gives me a stack of carefully clipped articles from various sources that she’s collected for me since my last departure. This year, at the top of the pile was an excerpt from Latitude 38 by Naomi Crum. I learned that Naomi was a young female sailor/surfer who had recently sailed a trailer-able 23’ Columbia from San Felipe in the northern Sea of Cortez to El Salvador with very basic equipment. I was charmed by her courageous spirit and simplified cruising style and thought how much I’d love to meet her…
I didn’t have much time to think about again amidst my speaking tour and busy drive up the California coast. I arrived in Santa Barbara in desperate need of a good yoga class. So I met my friend Nicole at Yoga Soup and approached the counter to check in for the next class.
“Have you been here before?” The young woman asked.
“Yes, but it’s been a long time.” I replied.
“What’s your name?”
“The sailor-surfer?” She asked.
“Yes.” I replied. And right then, I matched her bright eyes and neat brown dreads to the photo in Latitude 38. “Are you the girl who just sailed her boat to El Salvador?” I asked.
“Yes.” She smiled.
Both of us seemed rather astonished that we’d so serendipitously crossed paths, so we planned to chat after the class…
Naomi Crum exuded a silent strength. Being on the clock, she didn’t have ample time to explain the full details of her adventure, but with a quiet confidence and humble non-chalance, she explained the basics of her journey. I could hardly get my questions out fast enough, but that didn’t change the calm, collected tone of her replies. I find her story inspiring for several reasons: That she is 24 years old and female obviously strike a cord, but the fact that she did the trip on a very feasible budget, with modest gear, on a small boat impressed me all the more. Her story is important because she is proof that a voyage doesn’t have to mean endless wads of cash, sponsors, and excessive gear. I have nothing but respect for the Naomi’s approach, attitude, and success…minimal spending and maximum fun! She’s back in California for a few months to save up some money and then head back down to Medusa and continue her voyage south.
Naomi was nice enough to take the time to write up a few interview questions, as I was eager to pass her inspiring story along!
Can you tell me a bit about how you got your boat, what she’s like, and the basic equipment aboard?
“Medusa is a Columbia T-23 that I bought on a trailer from a guy in Alameda, San Francisco. Ever since I really started working and saving towards doing this trip in early 2010, my dad, my uncle and I would email each other links to boats we’d find on craigslist. We were looking in the under $5,000, under 27′ range. The decision was basically between a tiny, trailerable boat that I could take down the Sea of Cortez, or a slightly larger full keel boat which I would have to sail down the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula, but in relative luxury.
Eventually I found what became Medusa–a 36 year-old boat with no name! After many emails from both my dad and I to the poor guy trying to sell the thing, my uncle drove me up and we checked her out. Actually we ‘skyped’ my dad on video so he could check it out too. Pretty exciting! She came with a main and a 100% jib, which were both in pretty good condition, some lifejackets, and a thirty year old 6hp Johnson.
Needless to say I had a bit of shopping to do. My dad was adamant that I got a dinghy just like the one he’d had during his trip in 1981 – a plastic Sport Yak (made by Bic, of all companies.) It’s only 40 pounds, so it’s easy for me to throw around, plus it rows really well important when you don’t have a dinghy outboard! I managed to find an antique one for cheap in Santa Cruz which my auntie picked up on a business trip.
Mum and Dad finally came for their annual 6 week summer holiday, and I quit most of my three or four jobs so that we could concentrate on getting everything ship-shape. My uncle even flew out my mum’s best friend from North Carolina for an intensive long weekend of boat surgery. Pip’s a boat builder so we took full advantage of her! She provided invaluable advice as well as doing the most complicated bits like reinforcing the bulkheads and making various holes. Well you know how it is getting everything ready, for three or four months I kept a tape measure in my purse so I could measure everything I found to see if everything would fit. I was constantly covered in 5200, dust from sanding, and paint.
By the time I was ready to go in late September, Medusa was looking good and I felt more or less ready: I had a handheld GPS, a handheld VHF, a shortwave radio to tune into the weather, my dad’s paper charts from his trip in 1981 (he’d marked on them where he was and when so I could match my progress with his), a chilly bin (‘cooler’ in your language), a two burner camping stove with a large propane tank, extra sails (a storm sail and a gennaker), my dinghy Munter with two pairs of oars, 12 gallons of gas for my newly tuned-up outboard, about eight or ten gallons of storage for water, a three foot speargun, snorkeling gear, a fishing rod with lures, a small portable solar panel which hooked up to my 12V battery to charge my VHF batteries, camera batteries and, music … My uncle had given me two small speakers for my iPod which put out really good sound so that stopped me from going crazy when i was by myself! My mum had liberated old UV cloth from the sailmaker’s dumpster and sewed a tiny mainsail cover and a bimini for when I was at anchor. My parents had also donated me bits from our old boat, Gumboot–Charlies Charts, a sewing kit with a palm, and various simple tools–a hand drill, screwdrivers etc. Most important of all in my mum’s mind was the SPOT (personal GPS) that her friend had given her for me to use.”
“So kind of to recap…In terms of navigating I used the handheld GPS, paper charts and dividers. I had no instruments for wind speed, wind direction, ocean depth, or anything; I had no chartplotter nor radar or HAM radio. For sailing I had no roller furling but I did have two bungee cords to attach to the tiller for “self steering” (good for 30 seconds max), for cooking I had my camping stove, to wash the dishes (and myself) I had buckets and the ocean, for entertainment the portable speakers and a deck of cards, and for feeding myself I had the speargun and fishing rod. My changing crew and I found that without a fridge, and thus without fresh food, we were pretty keen on finding fish so we’d take the speargun out as much as we could- it was also something fun to do after anchoring.
Of course, it would have been nice to find at least a windvane or some kind of semi-reliable self-steering, but whenever I had passages longer than 30 or 40 miles I always had one or two crew to help me out, so I didn’t miss it that much. The two things I DID wish I had were shade for when I was under sail and a portable fan.”
You sailed from San Felipe in the Sea of Cortez to El Salvador, right? A couple highlights? Any not so fun moments?
“I did sail from San Felipe to El Salvador… I think the highlight of the trip was probably the Sea of Cortez, it is really such a magical and isolated place, all of the anchorages were so protected and so pristinely beautiful and the diving was fantastic… I spent two months sailing south along the west coast of the Sea and could have spent twice that! I also loved waking up every morning stoked about whatever might happen that day!
I had two or three experiences when I was really feeling like not being on the boat, at all. One time was when I was by myself in Puerto Escondido, and the swell rose a lot, very quickly. Suddenly the anchorage became very unsafe- the huge swell was creating insanely strong eddies and boils sucking their way across the bay. Within about a minute I was swinging around, bashing up against a panga, with my anchor rode wrapped around the panga’s mooring line. At one point my outboard was being scraped up and down the hull of the little fishing boat which was slightly terrifying. Being by myself made this situation super stressful, as I had to do three or four things at once- start the engine, keep the boats from destroying each other, and figure out where the anchor rode was going. Eventually I ditched the anchor and motored out to a slightly safer spot, re-anchoring temporarily with my stern anchor while some local fishermen helped me recover my bow anchor.
I anchored out away from the currents with both anchors deployed but in a fairly unprotected spot, lay in bed checking the anchor every ten minutes till about 4am when I gave up. I was so glad to pull up the anchors and sail out of there to Puerto Angel, where I was sure I could get a good rest. Unfortunately, Puerto Angel was almost worse than Escondido! The swell was rolling straight into the tiny, normally
well-protected anchorage and reverberating off the steep shores. Using a stern anchor to try and stay pointed into the swell didn’t work as the swells were coming at me from all angles and by now I was feeling pretty worn down by the sea conditions. I couldn’t cook or hardly move around the boat, so doing pretty much anything was out of the question. I wedged myself in on the floor using sails, blankets and pillows and tried to cease to exist for a while. The huge swells lasted three or four days and I couldn’t even take advantage of them for a surf as I was too afraid to leave the boat! Times like that I really thought hard about a warm safe bed in a nice, sturdy house on solid land…But they were few and far between and that experience made me super grateful for the calm and protected anchorages I found down the coast!”
What would you say was the most profound thing you learned/saw/felt that you weren’t expecting?
“I think something that I wasn’t expecting… When I was still in the making money and planning stages of the trip, my uncle kept trying to convince me that if I really wanted a surf trip, it would be much easier to buy a Toyota pick up and drive down the coast – surfing from a sailboat can be kind of difficult, he said. Even though the guy knows what he’s talking about, I was pretty sure that I would be able to pull it off.
Yeah, it’s not that easy, I found out. The problem is you have to get to a protected anchorage by nightfall, or spend the night out on the ocean. Without a chartplotter or radar or anything, I didn’t want to enter unknown anchorages in the dark. There are a couple of places where it is relatively easy to get to surf spots from the boat, but often times the surf spots are too far away from an anchorage to be able to do more than a one or two hour drive-by surf. There were times on my trip when I was having multiple sessions a day for weeks on end, but there were also times when we had to sail past peeling barrels to get to the next anchorage before dark.”
What would you say to other people thinking about doing a similar trip?
“As to advice for someone interested in doing a similar trip, what can I say. I thought it was pretty much the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, however, it’s not for everyone. It was pretty much like nine months of very salty, very basic freedom camping. Plus, living on a boat comes with its own specific quirks. You can’t get anywhere very fast. You’re constantly rocking around. Everything is salty, all the time. If something goes wrong, you have to deal with it yourself (i.e., if your motor breaks in the middle of the ocean, it’s up to you to sail to safety. Similarly, if your rudder snaps off in the middle of the ocean, good luck.) So for some people this is not their idea of a fantastic time. But for someone who is keen enough, I would definitely recommend going as simple and as small as possible—less money, less maintenance, more fun!! Other cruisers may think you are crazy but DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM.”
THANK YOU NAOMI! For having the courage to go out and see for yourself! Wishing you the best on your adventures ahead…