It’s the midnight to 3am watch. The moon is full and the stars are sparkling in the sky.
You can feel the boat lift as the next big wave barrels down from behind you and you square up as the white topped crest rolls forward.
You feel the surge as she accelerates fast down the wave. The mechanical autopilot whirs into life and corrects the course as the boat reaches the bottom of one wave and readies for the next one.
We’ve been at sea for over 30 hours since passing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and have just passed South of Point Conception.
It’s one of the windiest points on American Pacific coast - affectionately called the Cape Horn of the Pacific Ocean.
We have a brand new crew assembled on board Team Aretha for this passage.
I’d arrived a week earlier to prepare the boat and get all the final checks prepared to make us safe for sea.
First to join me is Oliver. An entrepreneur from London with a quick witted reply, a wry smile for all occasions and an appetite for saying Yes to life.
This is his first time offshore sailing and he’s understandably a little apprehensive as to how his body would find the conditions.
Pete arrives next. A former US Navy Admiral with quite literally millions of miles of ocean experience. Dry humour, a romantic love of the sea and who seems to lose years every time he steps on a boat.
Last and by no means least was Neil. A vast amount of sailing experience - both cruising and racing under his belt with an eye for details and always kind hearted and looking out for other people.
It was the first time they’d all met.
Of course there is always an element of uncertainty when you bring together a fresh team for a new expedition challenge.
Our mission: a safe and happy passage from San Francisco to Ensenada in Mexico covering some 600 ocean miles.
Read the personalities wrong and you’ve got a tough job with a team in what can be challenging conditions.
It’s the same as building a team in business.
Getting clear on the story of where you are going and why, how you’re going to work together and building on the strengths of each person in the team.
Our story as a fresh team unfolds.
In the day prior to departure I run safety briefings on the boat and walk through the equipment, how to use it and how we set the boat up.
Each of the team are encouraged to work their way around the boat, finding the fire extinguishers, the first aid kit, the emergency equipment, the valves to shut down the gas, getting lifejackets that fit, learning the boat rules and getting used to the new environment.
On a boat safety always comes first and getting everyone comfortable with systems and processes is key.
The weather is checked and rechecked. We are looking good for our passage South.
No matter how well prepared you are, you always feel a little apprehensive before any expedition. I reason the butterflies are there to keep you on your toes - complacency is always dangerous in any situation.
The evening before I have a call with my normal co-pilot, my wife Nichola (who was out here some 6 weeks earlier doing the first part of boat preparations) and we run through our checklist and make certain nothing has been missed.
Happy that we have thoroughly prepared and are safe to go, we set our departure time as 0900 the following morning. We time it to catch the ebb tide flowing out underneath the Golden Gate and to pop us out like a cork into the Pacific.
Its a windless morning and everyone is awake early. Neil arrives with fresh coffee and Ellie his wife brings a fresh notebook complete with an inspiring quote for us to use as our logbook to record the journey.
We are ready ahead of time and slip lines at 0845 and reverse out of our berth. The water is flat calm and as we motor out of the marina there is excitement as we are finally underway.
A classic San Francisco fog hangs in the still air. We hope it lifts to allow photos as we pass underneath the iconic bridge that stands a testament to the Gold Rush here back in the day.
Fortune is smiling on us and as we motor underneath, it lifts enough for photos and Facebook lives to capture the moment.
For the next 24 hours we are windless and our diesel engine does the heavy lifting as we clock up the miles heading past Half Moon Bay and Monterey.
At midday we move into our watch system. Ollie, Pete and Neil will each be responsible for a watch of 3 hours. 3 hours on watch and then 6 hours off watch.
I’ll be joining Ollie for all of his watches and part of the other guys watches and getting rest when things are settled.
Rule #1 of the sea if that there is always someone on watch - especially when you are close to shipping channels. Cooking and cleaning is shared between us.
Absent of wind to sail, expectations shift to looking for wildlife. This coastline is famous for migrating whales of a variety of species and we are hopeful.
We are about to get the finest wildlife show on earth.
The first humpback whale is sighted a mile or so off the Starboard bow. The unmistakable spout of water signalling its presence.
Within half an hour we have humpback whales all around us. One passing in front of us causes us to slow and then stop the engine to avoid any risk of collision.
In the milky calm waters, the only sounds we can hear are the spouts of the whales and the slapping of huge bodies on the water as these magnificent creatures launch themselves from the water and slam down.
It is as though they are talking to us.
Sea-lions stop and watch as we glide by looking up at us with curiosity.
It is a magical moment and we count upwards of 6 Humpback whales all around us.
As we continue South for the evening, our escort of whales and sea-lions are joined by dolphins. We are the only boat for miles around and our team are taking in the magnificence of what we have experienced.
The calm weather helps our crew to find their sea-legs with the exception of Ollie who is looking a little green and takes to the cockpit with a blanket and pillow to be in the fresh air. We have a compassionate crew and he is well looked after by all.
Over the next 24 hours the wind starts to fill in as predicted and we are able to hoist sails and move from being a motor boat to a sail boat.
We past Point Conception during the night and make the choice to run with the wind rather than cut inshore and pass via the Channel Islands and the Santa Barbara passage. There is less shipping this way and the need to gybe (changing the boat direction) will be easier in the day and when we have more sea room so that we can take our time with a crew who are less experienced in sailing Aretha.
The wind builds and it’s not long before we have 20-25 knots and are constantly surfing at over 10 knots.
What’s great to see is the way everyone has settled into life, watch handovers are seamless with strong communication sharing whats been going on and what to watch out for and we sail as a happy crew enjoying the experience (Ollie stoically maintaining all his watches and making the most of clear night skies).
We are covering miles quickly and by the following mid afternoon are far enough South to be able to make the gybe we need so that we can head in on one straight line to Ensenada.
The gybe manoeuvre is a little complicated. We need to drop the staysail, furl the genoa move the spinnaker pole from side to the other, re-run the lines, then gybe the mainsail and reset the genoa and staysail on the other side.
We have a full brief before we do anything and work through each stage on step at a time making sure we are clipped on as we move around the boat. We aren’t racing and we have plenty of time.
It takes us a good 30 minutes to do the manoeuvre and to debrief afterwards. We are now on one long tack all the way in.
The sun shines. The wind blows. And we are surfing along in royal blue seas.
The only downside is the speed. The picture we all had of fresh sushi onboard is overboard as we are going too fast. At least that’s our excuse for a zero fish count.
When I offer this paltry excuse to my son Columbus later on, he simply rolls his eyes at me. He is confident he’d have landed fish. Time will tell on the next part of The Great Mexican Adventure.
As we close the 200 miles or so to land we have to remain alert. There is more shipping, some shallow areas and a US Naval Ship undertaking firing practice not that far from us.
The wind gradually dies in the last 100 miles and once again canvas power turns to diesel power as the sails hang limp.
We call landfall in the last 10 miles through the hazy sunshine that we have become used to on this stretch of water and by sunset we have safely navigated to the boatyard Baja Naval where we will get Aretha taken out of the water and have repair work undertaken before the next stage of the Great Mexican Adventure.
The team started as strangers and we have all bonded as good friends with a host of stories and experiences. It’s with sadness that one by one the team have depart to their families and we all prepare for our next adventures in life.
It’s been a privilege to share time with this brilliant group of people and to have bonded in such a short space of time.
And so it is now that after a whirlwind tour of the US for TV and speaking appearances I’m now heading South in an Uber back to Ensenada listening to the theme tune to Top Gun.
Part 2 of the Adventure is about to begin with some returning members of Team Aretha…to be continued…