D-Day

With Ganymede's arrival in Mexico, it's the end of the beginning for the Backyard Warrior. "Hands-On" Sailor from our December 2010 issue

Ganymede's Maiden Voyage

Ben's wife, Danielle, and their pint-sized crew ghost along aboard Ganymede on calm Mexican waters.Ben Zartman

It isn't that we intended to put to sea without proper sea trials—and repeat what we'd done with our previous boat—but it seemed that once again, time, always rushing headlong into tomorrow, put on an extra burst of speed right when we fixed a date for departure. When we sailed out of Florida eight years ago on Capella, our 27-foot Irwin sloop, we were on the threshold of our wedding and couldn't afford to be late for that. So after a couple of quick tacks to figure out how the mainsheet worked, we set off on a five-day passage to Mexico in our newly refit little boat.

This time, having spent just over three years building Ganymede, our Cape George 31-foot pilot cutter, from a bare hull, we did a couple of quick passes up and down the San Joaquin river in a near calm, and then we were ready to go. Departure date had caught up to us again, and we motored toward the ocean with the afternoon ebb.

Had we put it off another week or month, I’m not sure we’d have been any more ready. Something on land always offers tempting reasons to stay put. But we also had plenty of reasons to go. My crew was lined up, they’d ordered their lives around our departure date, and winter had already begun, meaning any delay could make for some really cold nights at sea.

The plan was for the four of us Sal Wilson, Hannah Maufe, John Worden, and I to make the long passage from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas, then sail up into the Golfo de California, where the waters are more sheltered. My wife, Danielle, would then drive down with the three girls, Antigone, Emily, and Damaris.

“How long will that take?” people kept asking me.

“How should I know?” I replied. “I haven’t worked out the distance yet.”

“How much longer will it be?” my crew wanted to know four stormy days out from Half Moon Bay.

“How should I know?” I quipped. “It depends on the wind.

I never did fully work out the distance: What’s 100 miles either way among 1,500 miles or so? You just sail as well as you can, and one day you arrive. In the end, it took a whole month: six days working the tides down the river from Stockton, California, and waiting for weather in Sausalito and Half Moon Bay. We then sailed 13 days nonstop to Cabo San Lucas, then took another week or so working north into the Golfo de California as far as Bahía Concepcion.

It was a perfectly varied trip: huge winds and waves from astern at first, several days of rolly calm, then more wind and more calm. Ganymede was tested on every point of sail, in everything short of a gale. Not all of the gear worked perfectly, but on the whole, the rig that had cost me so much agony of mind to design worked tolerably well.

In spite of the satisfying, though arduous, journey to Bahía Concepcion, I didn’t feel as though the cruise had begun until I’d taken the bus up to San Diego, gathered up Danielle and the girls, and driven back down in Sal and Hannah’s car to do the switch. Only now, with the family all aboard and a dinghy dancing astern in the sparkling wavelets, can I feel that my days as the Backyard Warrior have come to a close. Not because I’ve finished working on the boat—the list of things to do will always be longer than the time I have to do them—but because now, rather than living on a grassy hill with a boat behind the house, the boat is our house, the ocean is our backyard, and we’re home at last.

All that hard work has paid off in spades for Ben Zartman and his family. Bound for the Panama Canal, the crew of Ganymede has set a Caribbean waypoint. Stay tuned for updates!