This is the 2nd in a series of interviews I am doing of single-handed sailors that inspire me. I think Jaime will get a chuckle out of the title of his interview, because years ago when I first met him, I told him he was LA’s best kept secret. I said this because Jaime was born and raised in Los Angeles, and has lived here his entire life (a rarity in these parts), and knows more about all of the hidden blessings and history of this place than anyone I have ever met. He not only knows a lot, but also takes advantage of all that this beautiful place has to offer behind the hustle and bustle of the crazy city. I also said this, because Jaime is one of the most humble and down to earth people I have ever met anywhere, let alone in Los Angeles, a place where this kind of thing is a hard gem to mine.
Please keep in mind that I have known Jaime for a long time, and have taken some liberties as I write this based on our history and my intimate knowledge of some of his stories and sailing history. As I have said in a previous post, besides my Dad, Jaime is one of my original sailing mentors. He is the reason I originally joined PSSA years ago (even though I did not do any races back then), and was my introduction into the world of single-handed racing. I had never contemplated such a possibility until I heard about Jaime’s amazing experiences racing in such historic PSSA races as Guadalupe Island and Begg rock. This awareness opened up a world of possibility and a whole new arena of adventure to me.
Jaime has been in and on the water his whole life. He has been knee boarding for years and continues to blow people away at the local surf breaks at age 59. He would never tell you this, but I know that he is somewhat of a legend among the young locals whom he surfs with. He is also a very experienced diver, and I have had the pleasure of many a delicious meal on his boat consisting of fresh caught lobster procured on his night diving adventures.
Although Jaime was introduced to sailing at a young age, he did not start becoming serious about it until about 18 years ago when he started crewing on various racing boats in Marina Del Rey. He learned a lot from the people he raced with, and caught on quickly to the sport. So much so that he decided to purchase his first boat in 2001. He purchased a new Jeanneau Sunfast 37, and sails the same boat (although much more tricked out) to this day. He learned mostly by sailing, sailing and more sailing, but also from tips from his dear friend Rick Ruskin. Once he bought his boat, he jumped right into racing with a crew. Although he did not expect to become a racer at first, he became very competitive and passionate about it. After about a season of crewed racing, Jaime joined PSSA. He told me (with a wink) that he was tired of people breaking things on his boat, and therefore wanted to sail alone. I know that he was half kidding when he said this, but I do believe there is some truth to that based on my own experiences of sailing alone vs. sailing with others on my own boat.
Jaime says one of his favorite things about single handed sailing is the peace and quiet that he experiences on his boat when he is out on the sea alone. He said that this especially applies to the balance it provides in contrast to his experience of having grown up in LA where the energy of the city can feel the opposite of peaceful. He also echoed my own feeling that being alone on a boat is one of the best ways to truly experience your own emotions and to have the space to process them “in your own way”.
Another reason Jaime chooses to mostly sail alone is that he does not like putting his life in another’s hands. He would rather be the place where the buck stops when it comes to safety and crucial decisions at sea. Jaime is a retired hillside construction contractor, and a sought after expert in that field. He says that in 35 years of this dangerous work, he never had an accident (which is a rarity in that field). This kind of diligence translates into his sailing. As I have said in a past post, he is one of the safest people I know on a boat. He is always aware of every detail, and extremely conscious of keeping himself and anyone else on his boat safe. I know that when I am with Jaime on a boat, I always feel protected and in very good hands.
When I asked Jaime about his most magical experience on a boat, he paused and smiled and said, “man, why do you always have to ask me the hard questions”? It took him a minute to think of the answer, and I am convinced that the one he gave me wasn’t his original thought. That’s one thing I love about Jaime though, that many of his memories and experiences alone on his boat are sacred to him, and he keeps it that way. He did share one of his peak single-handed sailing experiences with me however. It was a PSSA race from Marina Del Rey to Begg Rock a few years ago. He describes the moment like this: “the winds were high and I was sailing along next to a few other boats at 12 plus knots about to round the rock. At that moment a huge 60-foot whale breached right as the sun was coming through the clouds. It was nirvana. You expected to look up and see God”. As he recounted this memory, I could see bliss and joy on his face. It was as if he was re-living it as he shared it with me.
Conversely, when I asked him to share his scariest moment on a boat with me, I could see clouds pass over his eyes. He shared two experiences with me, one of which occurred on a boat that my older brother also happened to be crewing on. They were racing in the 2011 Mackinac Island race and got caught in the severe storm that took the lives of 2 other sailors. His main point in sharing the story was to emphasize weather awareness and preparing for an oncoming storm (battening hatches, reefing, crew readiness etc.) way before one would think it necessary. The way these things were handled on the boat he was on was not exactly the way he would have handled them. From both my brother's and Jaime’s accounts, I know that this experience was beyond terrifying. Thankfully they were all safe in the end.
Another scary experience had nothing to do with the weather, but with drug runners in Mexico. Jaime was cruising on his own in Mexico a couple of years ago, and found himself in the middle of a drug drop. He said that packages were being dropped all around him, and that this moment scared him more than any terrible storm ever could. He said “I would much rather deal with what nature can deal out than what humans are capable of”. Needless to say, he is here to tell about it, but says that he was terrified of what could potentially have happened at the hands of Mexican drug dealers if he made a wrong move.
As we wrapped up our interview, I asked Jaime what kind of advice he would give someone like me who is starting to be more serious about single-handed offshore sailing. He said “Go have fun. But mainly, go get on your boat and sail the shit out of it”….simple yet powerful advice, and delivered in true Cantu style! And, it is exactly what I plan on doing!
My biggest take away from interviewing Jaime, as well as from sailing and being friends with him for so many years, is the importance of being prepared and thinking ahead. Part of this is being methodical in logistical preparations for a big sail and a bigger part is to be very aware of weather patterns at all times. As I typed that, however, I realized that the most important thing I have actually ever learned from Jaime comes from witnessing him first hand in his element. He fully enjoys the process and takes in the beauty and adventure of sailing with enthusiasm, and never takes any of it for granted. Seeing Jaime on his boat reminds me that having fun is the most important ingredient, for without that, everything else becomes meaningless. I am so grateful for Jaime and his continued friendship and influence on my sailing practices. His parting words to me were “always check the weather and reef early”. Sound advice from one of my sailing heroes!