The first time we took Vela to our J/40 Velella, she was just two-and-a-half weeks old. We pulled up to the Point Roberts border crossing. “Just the two of you?” the border officer asked.

“And our daughter,” Ches said, passing the border officer her birth certificate. He rolled down the back window so the officer could see Vela in her car seat.

Our daughter… It is still surreal to me that I have a daughter, I am a mom, and Ches is a dad. She was born on July 12th and is named after the constellation Vela (pronounced VAY-la) that is part of the Argo Navis collection of constellations. Argo is the ship in the ancient Greek myth where Jason and the Argonauts search for the Golden Fleece. Vela, the sail, combines with two other constellations (Carina, the keel, and Puppis, the poop deck) to make up the ship.

The author, Vela, and Laska soak in some family time aboard their J/40.

By the time she was six weeks old, Vela had spent 10 nights with us aboard Velella, three of which were at anchor. Before one of our trips to the boat, my friend Mara asked me if going sailing with Vela was relaxing or stressful. If you had asked me this question before Vela was born, I would have probably answered, “Stressful.” A lot of my trepidation stemmed from the unknown; we had no idea, and no way to predict, what our child would be like. Maybe she would cry a lot, maybe she wouldn’t let me set her down, maybe she wouldn’t like sleeping in a different place at night.

Luckily, none of my concerns manifested into reality (except for the rare occasion that she really doesn’t want to be set down, but that’s why they invented baby carriers). We eased into things by deciding just to go down to the boat and stay at the dock. That way, if things went horribly, we could just go straight home. We packed up all Vela’s gear, trying to anticipate which things would be helpful and which would take up too much space.

It was busy down at the marina and we ran into lots of our dock neighbors as we hauled all our supplies to the boat. Everyone was excited to meet our new arrival and asked if we were taking her sailing. We laughed and explained that this was just a trial run to see how things went, but soon! We have always felt at home in the sailing community, swapping cruising stories and trading tips for boat projects. We have met such interesting and friendly people, building friendships that we will value forever. Soon, Vela will be hearing the stories, eventually telling some of her own, and finding her place among her fellow sailors.

A bassinet makes a comfortable sea berth.

After spending four nights at the dock and escaping the heat wave back in Vancouver, we had settled into a routine, created new systems for meeting Vela’s needs, and were navigating our new job as parents. We started changing diapers on the floor of the salon after she peed on the settee cushions during a diaper change. She slept in her bassinet set up on the counter in the galley so our friendly but curious golden retriever, Laska, couldn’t pester her. She slept better overnight, and so did we, with the gentle sea breeze blowing in the hatches. Ches carried her around the deck and showed her the lines and pointed out birds flying by. Being able to focus on our new little family in such close quarters brought us closer and we bonded over the challenges we overcame together.

Ches needed to get back home so he could get some work done; but it was still hot, so three days later we were back at Velella. This time we were ready to take Vela for her first sail. Again, we had a carload of supplies, mostly for Vela, but we had edited things a bit based on what we learned from our last trip. For instance, we didn’t end up needing her lounger pillow and her bassinet, but we 100% needed more clothes and burp cloths.

We lashed Vela’s bassinet into the cockpit and set her down so we could cast off from the dock. I was extremely happy to not be pregnant anymore as I tossed the dock lines onto the deck while I pushed off, stepped aboard, and swung my legs over the lifelines. We planned to head to Sucia Island in the San Juan Islands. It is one of the closest islands in the San Juans to Point Roberts, and massive Echo Bay on the southeast side of the horseshoe-shaped island always has space for one more.

Sucia was a safe choice for Vela’s first sail given the short distance, but it is also one of our favorite spots. The island is a Marine State Park with campsites and walking trails on shore, and will no doubt be a familiar destination for many 48° North readers. On various occasions, we have anchored in Shallow Bay (best for sunsets), Ewing Cove (good spot if you can snag an open mooring, with easy access to shore and more seclusion than Echo Bay), Fox Cove (good lunch stop, can get some strong current, we have never spent the night here), and of course, Echo Bay, where we would be going this visit. There are two more coves with park mooring that we have yet to explore: Fossil Bay has moorings as well as a dock and Snoring Bay has a couple moorings tucked in it. All the anchorages have park-maintained moorings (pay on shore or purchase an annual pass from Washington State Parks), but most also have space to anchor. “Sucia” means dirty or foul in Spanish and refers to the numerous rocks and reefs around the island, so use caution when navigating near the island and when entering anchorages.

Velella at anchor off Sucia Island.

As we motored out of the harbor, Vela fell asleep almost immediately, the gentle rumble of the engine and motion of the boat putting her to sleep. We hoisted the sails and enjoyed a beautiful downwind sail in about 10 knots of breeze. With a blanket clipped to the dodger to keep her out of the sun, Vela lay in her bassinet with her arms up next to her head to brace herself as we rocked and rolled in the waves. The edge of her bassinet worked like a lee cloth, and she eventually ended up nestled in against the edge when we started to heel. We checked on her constantly, making sure she wasn’t too hot or too cold, watching to see if she was waking up or if she was hungry, but she slept soundly the entire way to the anchorage.

Echo Bay, as expected, was full of boats of all shapes and sizes. We tucked in up by some of the boats on the park moorings that line the head of the bay. I hoped none of our neighbors would be too annoyed by Vela’s crying in the middle of the night. With the sunshade rigged up over the cockpit and Vela enjoying a bottle, we congratulated ourselves, and Vela, on a job well done. We were proud of ourselves for continuing to seek adventure, even if it was a bit more challenging with a baby in tow.

The trip home the next day went just as smoothly, giving us the confidence to plan more cruising trips with Vela. Since then, we took her out for two more quick jaunts to Sucia — once with my in-laws and again with a friend who was visiting from Portland. It was great having the extra hands for either pulling lines or holding Vela, but after that first trip, we knew we would be able to handle it all on our own.

A new sailor enjoying the motion under way.

Since Ches and I both grew up sailing, we are thrilled to be able to provide the same opportunity for Vela, especially here in the PNW, where the cruising grounds and sea life are so spectacular. We can’t wait for the first time she sees a breaching whale or dolphins swimming by our bow, or the first time she revels in the solitude of a remote anchorage all to ourselves. Our dreams are filled with trips to Alaska, a Pacific loop, and (maybe ambitiously while juggling our careers) a circumnavigation — one can hope. For now, short trips to the San Juan and Gulf islands are perfect for this new phase. No matter where we are headed, it is such a joy to be able to explore the amazing Salish Sea as a family.

Lauren Upham and her husband Ches call Vancouver, BC home. They cruise frequently on their J/40 Velella with their daughter, Vela and golden retriever, Laska.