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Trader Joe’s and Two Years Before the Mast

One thing we do like about Trader Joe’s, beyond great pricing on food, is the sailing imagery they utilize in their stores. The store’s roots in California are a reminder of the early trading days of sailing ships along the California coast. How did we make that leap? We’re rereading Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr., first published in 1840, about his two-year voyage from Boston around Cape Horn to California. We’d forgotten how beautifully it captured the early trading along the coast of California before it was a state and before there were harbors, breakwaters, marinas or any sort of facility to support the marine trades. Anchoring off San Diego, Dana Point, Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco in 1835 was a raw experience for mariners, with a long row to a rough beach landing to conduct their primary trade in cowhides.

Fast forward almost 200 years, and the coast has been reshaped and the transfer chain of goods from ships offshore to the shelves of Trader Joe’s has been dramatically transformed. Richard Henry Dana Jr. was picking up cowhides, while we are looking for the perfect avocado.

This boat could be sailing on a sea of plastic in the Pacific Garbage Patch.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

The challenge of shopping at Trader Joe’s is all the plastic. A couple of years ago they made a huge commitment to reducing/eliminating the plastic from their stores, but we think the pandemic has slowed that down and made it worse at all stores. There’s a nice sailing drawing of clean, green sailing on the Bay right above their great “deals” on water in plastic bottles. Ugh.

Two Years Before the Mast
‘Two Years Before the Mast’ is a great read and reminder of how the coast has changed.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

If you’re a California sailor and you haven’t yet read Two Years Before the Mast, it’s a must-read. It’s also interesting to reflect on our current coastal trading as we pick our way through the plastic-packaged food with the sailing backdrop to remind us of how hard it is to change our collective course.



  1. Sylvia Stewart Stompe 2 years ago

    Hey John, Love your posts, love this book and really love the anti plastic message. Urging everyone to just say no to single use plastics and vegetables wrapped in plastic wrap!

  2. Nick Brand 2 years ago

    I remember from an earlier re-read that the crew would hurl bundles of cowhide from the top of cliffs to the beach below, where they were picked up and loaded onto rowboats to be taken to the trading ship. Dana also sketches an interesting portrait of Spanish California settlement, with visits to rancheros, their families and daughters. During the Gold Rush, the book went through several reprints, since it was the only account available of what life was like in California for those prospective prospectors!

  3. Peter Detwiler 2 years ago

    Along with “Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, ” Dana’s “Two Years Before The Mast” fired up my dreams about sailing in the early 1960s when I was a Southern California teenager. I still have my tattered copy of Royce, and I re-read “Two Years” about every 10 years. After this prompt from John, it’s obviously time to read Dana again. Thanks for the nudge!

  4. milly Biller 2 years ago

    Definitely a must read for anyone who sails the California Coast. His descriptions of not only shipboard life, but the interaction with the Spanish settlements and portraits of life here at that time, are very thorough and detailed.

  5. Dave Ge 2 years ago

    RHD was a tougher man than I’ll ever be:)

  6. RON HARBEN 2 years ago

    I just delivered a Transpac 49 from Hilo, HI, to Oxnard, CA. As I was reading the description of the the terrible storm that the Pilgrim encountered off Point Conception, I was in the midst of a similar storm in the same locale. We also experienced 40+ knots of wind and 25-ft seas on our transit of the Point just as Dana described it. Ironic, I’d say!

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