INTO THE WILDS
Yachting World|October 2021
JESSICA ZEVALKINK AND LUKE YEATES SET FREE IN THE SEA OF CORTEZ WITH THEIR NEWLY RESTORED YACHT AND NEW BABY

The earth inhales. A treeless desert fevers under a rising sun, breathing the cool air that rests at sea. In the evening the earth exhales, its warm breath accelerates down the mountain sides, returning it to the sea. The Coromuel winds frequent the southern half of the Sea of Cortez in late spring. We prepare for them every evening by setting our anchor tactically, for the gentle exhalations are quick to become 25 knots. Aboard our steel ship, I feel safe, Alekona seemingly uninterrupted by nature’s local phenomenons. Inside lies the entirety of my world, our four month old son Otis.

While Alekona floats steady, Otis grows. The landscape surrounding us looks Martian and the sea is bright green. The Baja coastline has beautiful knuckles in which we can routinely find secure anchorages, and the further south we explore the more natural cavities we find. In early May we’re late in the cruising season and the further we sail the more becalmed we become. But wind or no wind, this exploration is what we’ve been working towards all year. We light up when we find anything over 8 knots and favor night passages over the day, avoiding the fierce heat. Delighted in knowing that our 22-ton steel ship will even budge with less than 10 knots of breeze, we look forward to the Coromuel winds when they blow through.

My husband, Luke, and I became curious about metal sailboats after admitting to the simultaneous thrill we shared sailing through iceberg alley from Newfoundland to England in 2017. Our first iceberg encounter, aboard a fiberglass classic with no radar, shook me to my core with both terror and curiosity. We returned to the US via the Caribbean and, after an entire lap of the Atlantic, all we could talk about was ice.

As a result we began a search for a vessel suitable for higher latitudes. We put in an offer and bought our 1983 Endurance 44 in January 2020. Alekona was built in Auckland, New Zealand, and spent her life cruising the South Pacific and Hawaii before winding up in California. She had all the potential in the world to sail where only the wild ones go. We invested in her with great ambition and a desire to sail a lap of the Americas via Cape Horn and the savage northwest Passage.

Alekona waited patiently in San Fransisco Bay while the world shut down. She waited while we raised the funds to begin preparations for our first journey, and for me to grow with our first child. While the world hid in their homes we took physical and financial risks in bringing our dreams to fruition. We carved out blocks of time to begin the structural work to Alekona’s keel, melting, cutting, and welding steel where rust had damaged the deepest. We prioritized everything below the waterline and focused only on making sure she was safe to sail. We’d wait to shine the bells and sound the whistles.

One year after the purchase of Alekona and back in Michigan, we had a boy named Otis. The goals Luke and I shared stood strong prior to starting a family and Otis did not change our desire to attain them, he simply changed the course and pace in which we may achieve them. Six weeks later we packed up the car and drove west towards the Pacific. After a demanding month at the dock in San Fransisco, I’d learned to finesse feeding an eight-week-old while sourcing parts and working on our old Isuzu diesel. Luke persisted on deck, mounting the Hydrovane, sealing ports, and chasing rust as we worked towards a departure.

SOUTH FROM SAN FRANCISCO

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