Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dead Tired

Yesterday (Saturday) was a beautiful day for sailing, although even I would have wished for more wind. I've gotten much more secure out on the ocean, and by that I mean less afraid than I was at first.

It wasn't so much that the experience, itself, was scary, but whenever I was at the helm, I'd begin to think back to the few flying lessons that I took and also the boy's book, Hatchet, by the very popular children's author, Gary Paulsen. In my flying lessons, it was just me and the instructor and I kept thinking while up in the sky that I had no idea how to land this thing or even find my way back to the airport; I was entirely in the hands of my instructor. What if the instructor had a heart attack, or in some other way became incapacitated, what would I do? In Paulsen's book, the hero of the story, a young boy, is being taken to stay with his divorced father (who lives in Alaska, I think it was) for the summer, and is being flown there in a tiny two-seater plane, just the boy and the pilot, who DOES have a heart attack. Dealing with the terror of that ends up being the least of the boy's problems. The plane more or less lands safely (although the pilot dies from his heart attack) and the boy now has to survive alone in the Yukon. It's really a great book, one of my favorite children's books, but I wouldn't want any of it to happen to me.

So out there on the ocean on a sailboat, even though I wasn't alone with the instructor, it was me and three other equally-inexperienced students, if something happened to our instructor, we might be bobbing about "in shit's bay" (my for-the-occasion alteration of "up shit's creek"). Also, I'm not taking these courses to just tootle around the Marina del Rey marina, or maybe have an occasional three-day weekend cruise to Catalina or Ensenada (although those do make great beginnings). Currently, I don't really consider the possibilities of local cruising in this area to be all that exciting (although as I learn and experience more, I may change my outlook on that). Having a boat in an area with much more to offer, such as, say, the Florida Keys, which as a location just itself is worthy, but also having the entire Caribbean is at ones doorstep from there, is more like it. Even our sailing instructor doesn't have his boat docked here. As I think I wrote before, he has it in La Paz (in southern Baja California), because the Sea of Cortez is his favorite sailing area and it's an easy flight from here to there. I could conceivably see docking a sailboat in a harbor in Fiji or Tonga (or any other place in the world--how about the Mediterranean, or the Stockholm Archipelago, or Indonesia?) and flying there to then explore by sea the regions around those locations.

But anyway, I hope and expect to sail whatever boat I get in oceans other than the local coastline, so if I can't imagine feeling comfortable sailing to Tahiti, then I shouldn't consider pursuing this activity at all, and so I have viewed the experience as telling me, "Gee, can I stand this? Can I stand it for months between here and somewhere else across a whole ocean?" At first I had begun questioning that, but now I don't think I do question it. I am getting much more secure with the prospects, and my understanding and ability.

We were lucky it was so nice, as just the day before, the manager of the sailing school had telephoned all of us to warn us that the class might be cancelled because the conditions could become too dangerous. As it was, they evened out and the day was quite calm--so calm, in fact, that on the return leg of our trip northward in Santa Monica Bay (up to the buoy opposite the Santa Monica Pier), the wind was too light for any but the most patient sailing, so we returned by engine, instead, and even then just barely got back before dark.

And today, Sunday, was dark, overcast, and quite cold (by California standards). In fact, I kept the heater on all day in my apartment, so I'm glad we didn't have a day like today when we went sailing yesterday.

The first portion of the day was in class, though, not out on the water. We were learning about spinnakers, the alternative second sail that you can use in place of the jib when the wind is behind you for any period of time. Spinnakers are the glorious, multi-colored "chute-like" sails that you see when sailboats are racing; they pull the sailboat forward and therefore operate somewhat differently from the other sails that act like an "air foil". Boats pretty much can't win a race without properly using a spinnaker (unless none of them are), and any failure of the crew to quickly and correctly set the spinnaker will for sure lose the race (so the pressure is on them!). An improperly set spinnaker will twist around like an hour glass and therefore be useless, but too much time is wasted in dousing it and then resetting it correctly. Also, these sails are fragile and easily torn when in inexperienced hands.

We practiced on land how to pack this kind of sail in its container that is called a turtle. Packing a spinnaker wrong makes it all but useless to the next crew that hopes to use it. You might not think that such a thing is hard, which it isn't once you know how, but if you DON'T know how, you are subjected to a huge pile of chaotic cloth that is equal to about forty loads of laundry! And in real life, packing that forty louds of laundry is done single-handedly on the bow of a racing yacht out on the ocean on the waves and in the winds and that is moving as fast as it can!

As we were practicing this, I kept thinking of "pack your own chute," which refers to hang gliding and parachute packing.

Using this sail out on the ocean is not practiced in these basic sailing classes, because the liabilities to the school are too great. This is the kind of sail that could pull a person right off the boat if they aren't extra careful. Also, the sail, itself, which costs several thousands of dollars, is too easily shredded by inexperienced students. The last time use of this sail was taught in a class like ours, the group managed to bend to uselessness the spinnaker pole, which is like a "boom" that is installed for use with the spinnaker. So that ended that.

However, use of the spinnaker on the boat while sailing IS taught in the school's racing course, so students do have a chance to learn it if they wish and sign up for that specific class.

The sailing component of yesterday's class, in the afternoon, was mostly to fine tune our sailing experience, to this time explore north of the marina (as last week we explored south), and to have a chance to sail a boat that had an outboard motor. Up to now, when we had a sailboat that had an engine, it was the inboard diesel engine. These two types of engines operate differently, of course, diesel inboard versus gasoline outboard (and then there would also be a third type, gasoline inboard; as to whether there is a diesel outboard, that I don't know).

At first I thought learning about the outboard was a step backwards as, "of course" I would want an inboard engine, but outboards do have some advantages, particularly on a smaller boat that a person like me is more apt to end up getting. The bigger the boat, the more expensive, of course, but also the more difficult to handle without a crew (30 feet is offered as a possible threshhold--a boat longer than 30 feet on deck is probably more than a single-handler can handle). As I don't expect to have a crew, there definitely is a size consideration even if money were no object (which is not the case with me). An inboard engine, of course, takes up interior space that otherwise could be put to other use, whereas an outboard can be simply hung off the back of the boat. With an outboard engine, you don't necessarily have to have (to buy and to carry) another engine for your dingy; whenever you are anchored off-shore and are "tendering" in to land, you could use your sailboat's outboard on your dingy (involving perhaps the unscrewing and screwing of about four bolts, I think). An outboard engine is lifted up out of the water when you are under sail in order to reduce drag; the propellers of an inboard engine will always produce that drag.

Anyway, I enjoyed the outboard motor as much as I enjoyed the inboard. I was the first one at the helm, yesterday, which meant it was my job to start the cold engine. It started with my first pull; none of that tiring, frustrating wrestling with the outboard that is sometimes shown cartoon-fashion as a typical frustration (which had previously soured me on this kind of engine). So I liked it from the start! We took the boat by engine out of the marina and into Santa Monica Bay, at which time we raised the jib (the main sale had already been hoisted out in the marina) and shut off the engine. The wind took us north at a reasonable and enjoyable speed. I had never seen the cities of Venice (California) and Santa Monica from the ocean side before; it was a beautiful view. There were two piers, the Venice pier, and the Santa Monica pier (with its ferris wheel and other amusement park rides). It is tempting to a boater to want to go close to those piers, but we were warned to stay at least 50 feet out due to the underwater dangers closer in. Our instructor told us that once Santa Monica had a small marina, but that was destroyed a couple of decades ago. There is still wreckage from that underwater and there are tiny white floating markers in a line across the water that delineate for boaters that hazardous zone. There is no safe anchorage in Santa Monica Bay north of Marina del Rey until Paradise Cove north of Point Dume (beyond Malibu) or south of Marina del Rey until Redondo Beach, neither destination were we able to make in an afternoon's sailing. So unless one leaves early in the morning with stopping for lunch in either of these two spots, there is really nowhere to go and anchor in one day of sailing out of this marina.

Catalina is even further away, and generally is reserved for a three-day weekend (or longer).

What I enjoyed most about yesterday's sail was seeing the dolphins (!) and the sea lions. I had never seen dolphins out in the wild before; I had only seen them in marine parks such as Marineland or Sea World. I was extremely excited to see them, first one, and then four more swooping up out of the water quite near us. Our instructor said that he sees them all the time in the Sea of Cortez, and many, many whales, too, who come there to winter. I would really like to see that someday, and I imagine I will! Of course, there is also the possibility of seeing whales in our area during their twice-yearly migrations.

The sea lions, of course, were, in their own way, fighting over the Santa Monica buoy just like they had been fighting over the El Segundo buoy last week. This buoy was loaded with sea-lion-flesh, yet one more wanted very much to get up there, too, but not having much luck when we first saw him. He would poke his nose up out of the water, attempt to lift himself up onto the buoy while growling at whichever sea lion was in his way, which already comfortable sea lion would "shout" or scream back at him and snap at his nose, making him fall back down into the water. The poor sea lion would then swim around the buoy and try again at another section, with the same bad results.

Finally, he found a sea lion who seemed compassionate and welcoming; instead of screaming at him or snapping at him, "she" (I am only guessing at their genders) sniffed at him and they rubbed noses. Norman on our boat said, "Ah, now he is making love, not war," and sure enough, after we came about the buoy, which we had chosen as our turn-around spot, we found our sea lion, now comfortably ensconced on this buoy. Some other sea lion was now standing up and barking his displeasure to the skies, I guess he resented the increase in crowding, but all the others ignored him and continued to "snooze" peacefully, including "our" sea lion. Both Norman and I said simultaneously, " pays off!"

I kicked myself or not bringing my camcorder.

The most beautiful time was when we were back inside the marina and heading due east up the channel, the just-setting sun was directly behind us and cast an amazing transparent light blue glow over the waters of the marina and reflected a myriad Christmas-like lights from the glass of all the buildings. It made me want to go sailing out there during the Christmas season when many of the boats decorate their riggings with Christmas lights.

It takes a while to get up the channel and then into our slip. The instructor and Norman rushed off to the bathroom (as this boat did hot have a head) and left me and Shay to cover the mainsail and fold up the jib (the sail in front). We covered the mainsail fine enough (this will be the sixth time I've done that), but when it came to the jib, I realized I really didn't remember how. I had never actually folded it before, but had only watched other students do it while I had performed other tasks. As for his part, Shay was no help, offering only that I should unclip all the whatever-the-hell they are called (jibhanks), clips that attach the jib to the headstay (the rigging that the jib is attached to), which I dutifully did, but then as I attempted to somehow fold up the sail, I was left holding an embarrassing mess just as the instructor returned (sails are much bigger when you have them in a mess on the deck than they look all nicely hoisted).

"You unhooked all the jibhanks!" he chastized, which ended up being the LAST step in the process, not the first. So now it was dark, and Norman, who was standing there on deck at the bow of the boat, hooked them all back on again so that then I could fold the sail properly. The instructor guided me into doing what I was supposed to do (NOW I know how!) and then, additionally, showed me how to properly gather and tie together the sheets (ropes that control the jib), which he does leaving a perfect "skein" of ropes (that's how it looks to me), whereas mine was, well, as the instructor said, "getting better".

Then I, too had a chance at the bathroom, and then got in the car to go to dinner. Along the long route from Marina del Rey back to Hollywood, I went to Cora's Mexican restaurant in Culver City, which I discovered last weekend. Cora is a real sales person for her restaurant, knowing immediately who is a first-time visitor, a repeat vistor, and an old hand. For my now being a "repeat" visitor, she treated me to a complementary guacamole, which was quite delicious. I also happened to quite enjoy the "Pacifico" beer that I asked her nephew, the very-cute-but-hardly-knows-a-word-of-English nephew, Lalo, to bring me, in honor of my dreams of sailing on the Sea of Cortez. I'm not loyal to any particular brand of beer (there must be close to several thousand different brands), but will choose whatever seems to match my mood, memories, or yearnings (advertising, logos, and packaging go a long way with this). Then, after dinner, I hit the road for home.

This ended up being, possibly, potentially the most dangerous road journey I had taken in years, and I am maybe revealing myself to be an irresponsible driver for continuing it. I wasn't drunk, not by a long shot, but in a way it almost felt like I was. What I was, was absolutely incredibly tired. I'm not quite sure why. Although like most everyone else these days, and especially in these stressful, crushed-by-work times, I never get enough sleep at all, and certainly not quality refreshing and rejuvenating sleep. People like me, people I know, often wake up more exhausted than they were when they went to bed.

But I thought the night before I had a reasonably good night's sleep, perhaps longer, and better quality, than I had for the several weeks before. But for sure I still have an immense "sleep debt" that would never be repaid even if I slept as long as Rip Van Winkle. Is there any court in which one can declare bankruptcy from their sleep debt?

But anyway, perhaps it was a combination of my normal sleep debt, and the activity of sailing out there in all that fresh air, and then the cold weather that came in on us that required me to put on a heavy jacket, and then the one bottle of beer, all conspired to make me as suddenly sleepy as all the people in Sleeping Beauty's palace. It was weird.

I felt more or less okay whenever I was actually in the process of driving; my mind was engaged by that. But when I stopped at a red light, oh boy, for a moment or two, I would actually fall asleep and then wake up. It wasn't enough to incapacitate me, but it WAS enough to make me very, very concerned.

I am in the process of trying to read a book about sleep by a major sleep scientist who reveals more things about sleep, the benefits of it, and the dangers of not getting enough of it, than a person could imagine. Most people (me included), thought that going to sleep was a gradual process and you therefore have some conscious awareness and control over how close you are to actually falling asleep. But this is not true.

In one of the author's experiments, he had a test subject who had been kept awake for more than 24 hours. A bright light was put so that it shone directly in the subject's eyes. The light would flash at random moments, but at least several times a minute. Whenever the light flashed, the subject was supposed to press a button. After quite some time of this, there was a flash and the subject did not press the button.

"Why didn't you press the button?" the scientist asked.

"Because the light didn't flash," responded the test subject.

But it DID flash; everyone saw it, except for the test subject. The scientist then realized that the test subject had fallen asleep, which is why he failed to see the flash. When they questioned him about it, they had awakened him.

What they learned from experiments like that, and others, was that there is no "gradual going to sleep". The brain will suddenly shut off and the person will be instantly asleep, and this will happen without any control of the individual, but will be done involuntarily BY the brain when the person is so sleep-deprived that it the brain feels it is necessary. This presents an immense danger on the highways, because fatiqued drivers will instanteously fall asleep at the wheel. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a trucker who inexplicably lost control of his rig very early in the morning going through an underpass (a tunnel, really) on the truck lane of Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles. He smashed into the side of the tunnel and was trapped inside the cab of his truck as the resultant explosive fireball consumed him. When I read about that, I immediately thought that he must have suddenly fallen asleep...and if so, I hope he was asleep as his body was incinerated in the cab of his truck.

This could happen to any of us.

And it was happening to me, one stop light after another, as I made the tortuous way back home. It seemed that as long as I was actually moving, I was okay, but doing nothing at each light was just too much "nothingness" and I would basically black out. Fortunately, this also meant that the car was stopped each time, not moving. Then, as the light would change and the cars ahead would move forward, I would suddenly wake back up again and see that I was now five car lengths or so behind--maybe not quite far enough for the cars behind me to start romping on their horns, but ALMOST!

I wondered if this were bad enough that I should actually find some place to pull over and rest in the back seat of my car. Well, it wouldn't be impossible to do that, but I just didn't want to. This was a VERY crowded (and not very safe) urban area, moving in agonizing slow motion, and all I wanted was to just get home and get into my own bed.

Instead, I turned the radio on and made myself sing or talk along with every word that I heard. This seemed good enough to keep my brain engaged even during the stop lights, and in this way, I managed to get home. I told myself that the minute I got inside my apartment door, I was going to drop everything I was carrying, throw off all my clothes, and get right into bed without even brushing my teeth (I have NEVER gone to bed without brushing my teeth before) and that is exactly what I did. It wasn't late, only about 7:00 or 7:30, and yet I fell right to sleep and didn't wake up until about 5:00 in the morning. Even then I didn't get out of bed, but went back to sleep and never did rouse myself from bed until later this afternoon. I didn't even have a bite to eat until 3:30.

I don't ever want anything like that to happen to me again. I am really, really, really going to have to get enough good quality sleep somehow. I don't know if that means going to bed earlier and earlier each night in order to ensure it, going to bed at 8:00, say, or even after I get home from work, but I HAVE to do something. This is fundamental.

But one thing for sure that I can say--I understand the phrase "Dead Tired." "Tired" is bad enough, but it could make someone "Dead".

Right after I post this, I'm going to bed.

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