June 18, 2017


Last night at 8:07 p.m., I wasn't supposed to have been watching the sun set in Long Beach.

I was supposed to have been back in San Pedro by then—actually, by a full 37 minutes before that.

When I booked myself on a late afternoon sailing excursion on one of LA's tall ships—the brigantine known as "Irving Johnson"—I didn't expect to find myself in the Port of Long Beach, stranded at sea, until nearly 10 p.m.

But that's not the only unexpected glitch in my sailing excursion last night.

It had taken me a year to get onto the Irving, having literally "missed the boat" the first time I tried to go.

Around this time last year, I couldn't find the berth from which the tall ships were supposed to depart. I'd bought a ticket but never received any instructions or confirmations other than a receipt for the financial transaction.

I drove in circles around the Ports O'Call in San Pedro for over a half hour, on the verge of tears, trying to milk some signal out of my phone and finally departing in defeat.

I emailed my sob story to the Los Angeles Maritime Institute, the non-profit that runs the tall ships excursions—who, objectively, had failed in getting me to the meeting spot and was mostly to blame for my wild goose chase. And, fortunately, they agreed to honor my ticket for the same sail this year as the one I'd missed last year.

I'd chosen this particular excursion—a social media-friendly cruise geared towards photographers—quite carefully, since most of LAMI's sailing time is spent educating youth. The two tall ships—the Irving and the Exy—are "teaching boats," so most of their offshore time is spent with kids camps or family cruises.

But when I arrived (late, of course, but not too late this time), something seemed amiss. Boxes of pizza were piled up on a table. Cases of beer were being ravaged by a group of young people—all of whom seemed to know each other. No one had cameras. And at least half of them were dressed as pirates.

The captain explained to me that there were, in fact, two groups on the boat: the photographers and a graduation party. Out of 55 total people (including crew), I only counted myself and one other women (and her young niece) among the photographers. Everybody else was there to celebrate their completion of med school and the doctors they would soon become—and much of their celebration involved drinking like sailors.

I tried to make the best of it. I really did. I asked the captain to show me the cannons that they always kept on board, and he actually mounted one for me—though there was no gunpowder to be had to fire it off.

I took as many photos as I could.

And I tried to get chummy with the crew.

But I was insufferably an accidental party crasher, and I was too old and too attached to my camera to fit in.

I love a good party, but I was utterly unprepared for the drunken mayhem that ensued. And since no one offered me a slice of pizza or a snack—and it wasn't until much later than anyone offered me a drink—I just tried to stay out of the way, backing up against whatever surface I could find, fighting seasickness, hunger, and thirst all at once.

It was a beautiful night for a sail. I could acknowledge that.

And I might have even survived the two-and-a-half hours that the private party had chartered the boat for.

But our return time had come and gone, and we didn't seem to be anywhere near the Ports O'Call docks.

I saw one woman throwing up over the side of the boat. Many others were stumbling and spilling, their faces red from the wind and the booze and the laughter.

And while the day had started off in the midst of a heat wave, it was getting cold and blustery—and the only reprieve we got was when the boat stopped moving.

"There are some really great shots you can get from over there," one of the crew members offered while I sat shivering, arms crossed, desperate to get off that boat. "I just want to go home," I said. "What's going on?"

"We're fixing the engine," she said, explaining that if we didn't get moving soon—and the sails weren't enough to help us drift back—we'd have to offload onto a rescue boat in order to get back. "And how long will that take?" I asked. Another crew member who was walking by just then grumbled, "I wouldn't hold your breath."

I try to be flexible with whatever life throws at me. I try to believe that whatever happens is for a reason, and that even if something is unpleasant or uncomfortable, it's probably the canoe I need to take to get to the other side of the river.

But this boat ride had me second-guessing myself. Maybe there was a reason why I'd missed the boat that first time a year ago. Maybe I should've stayed home with my cat, as I'd been inclined to do earlier that afternoon—and as I'd wished I'd done when I hit traffic upon traffic on the 405 and the 110 on my way to San Pedro.

Maybe I should've made sure I got there earlier, so I would've had the chance to change my mind and turn around and go back home once I'd found out about the private charter that had crashed my photography cruise.

I would've avoided having to explain myself over and over again to curious partiers who couldn't figure out who I was or who I knew or why I was there.

Had I just been in San Pedro and seen the tall ship and decided to join? Had I gotten on the wrong ship? Did I want to take photos of the party for them?

No and no and no.

I just wanted to get off that boat. I wanted to be in my car, driving to the 9 o'clock show in Hollywood I'd also (foolishly) bought a ticket for, thinking an hour and a half would be plenty of time to get there.

I wanted to become invisible so I could stop feeling awkward and out of place. I may be an extrovert, but I can be incredibly introverted—and I just did not want to have any part of a pirate graduation party with a bunch of would-be doctors getting their ya-yas out.

Maybe I could've blended in better. Maybe I could've made some friends. Maybe I could've gotten drunk, crashed at a surgical professor's house for the night, and kissed someone inappropriately.

But all I'd really wanted was a nice, civilized time at sea on a historic boat that I might enjoy photographing.

Sure, I got my pictures. It was a nice sunset. And we eventually got back to San Pedro safely—without having to offload onto a rescue boat.

But I guess this type of situation—which I characterized at the time as a "disaster" though nothing broke and no one died—is what I risk by making adventure my hobby.

It doesn't always work out. It's not always amazing.

And the only thing I can really say after the fact is, "Well, at least I tried."

Related Posts:
All At Sea
The View By Boat
Photo Essay: USS Iowa, The Last of the Battleships

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