Passage making is hard, by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It tests you mentally, physically and emotionally and not for days but weeks possibly months on end. When you leave the safety of land at some point there is no going back. You give yourself up to the universe and have to deal with whatever the universe is going to throw at you. You have no choice but to “sink or swim”.
September 10th at noon we left side by side with with Randal Reeves on board Moli and that would be the continued effort throughout our trip home. Randall became not only a huge source of information, guidance but a companion for us and especially Steve as we both made our way across the sea. Randal is a well accomplished sailor and is now preparing to be the first person to sail around both Americas and Antarctica solo in one season. He calls this the figure eight voyage to find out more go to his website at http://figure8voyage.com
The first week was something like a dream, Warm air, bright blue sea, full moon and a light 10 knot breeze. Every day and night more beautiful than the last. If every day was like those I would never miss land. We jump off the boat when the winds got light and drag behind holding onto a rope. The fishing was great! I’d cooked up battered fresh dorado every other day for lunch. The good life! Although in the back off our heads we knew that this weather wasn’t going to last forever we sure did enjoy every minute of it.
The second day in the autopilot went out again… This time the magnet in the electric motor shattered and there was nothing Steve could do to fix it. At this point the conditions were so favorable for us that we didn’t mind hand steering through the beautiful moon lit nights and blue as blue can be days. Because of the autopilot failure we changed our watch schedule to 2 hours on and 4 hours off – for a total of 8 hours a day steering.
999.9 km from Hanalei Bay
Kelsey was at the end of her watch right about sunset when she spotted a huge 4ft in diameter and about 60ft long tree floating just 10ft of the starboard bow. She called us all up to see. It was huge we all stared at it in amazement and with relief that it didn’t hit our boat. We had been warned that 1,000 miles off shore we would start seeing trees floating by from the logging companies up in Oregon and Washington. Our imagination would have never imagined how big the trees actually were going to be. The damn thing was huge and we had just barely missed it.
The sun went down and I came up for my first night watch of that day. I was quite a bit worried about not being able to see those massive trees at night and on top of that, a weird mist came over the water. Then all of a sudden I couldn’t see anything at all. The wind stopped and so did the boat. Looking down at the instruments it showed the wind speed at 7 then 8 then 5 the 9 knots but coming from one direction then another then another. The wind was shifting all around us. I waited a while to see if the wind would find a steady direction. After some time I woke up Steve and we decided to heave two.
The wind had picked up while I was asleep and Steve had got the boat back underway. Kelsey was supposed to go on watch at 5am. Not knowing what was happening I was woken by Kelsey… She was too afraid to steer the boat and wanted to trade shifts with me. I agreed and went up top.
With full sails up, the boat was so healed over that Steve was standing on the starboard side straight up with the railing digging into the water. Steve told me that Solace was happy on this tack and that I should keep the boat at bearing of 350 and 000. Steve then decided that Kelsey should be up here with me to be gaining confidence. He left and went down below to wake up Kelsey. Doing as he said I held the boat at 350. Solace started to pinch harder and harder into the wind. She started to point higher and higher well above 000. I tried to counter act to bring her back down to 000. I had the wheel turned as far over as she would go but she was progressively heaving over more and more now with the surfboard attached to the railing now under the water. Holding the steering wheel with all my strength the boat wouldn’t budge. Steve went to come back up the stairs just as his head popped up in the cockpit SNAP! The steering cable broke. Fuck! Is about the only way I can describe that feeling.
In hind sight I should have just let Solace go. She would have just swung around and heaved two all by herself. I would have most likely broken something but it wouldn’t have been the steering cable… with no one on deck and the boat close hauled it wouldn’t have been dangerous to any crew. We can all shoulda, coulda, woulda, but at the end of the day we had unknowingly sailed into our first squall and broken our steering cable, now as a team we were going to have to fix it.
We spent the next few hours in the rain messing with the emergency tiller and lashing it down into place. After some time, we reefed the main and got the boat depowered going a steady 4 knots with the tiller lashed down we no longer had to steer.
Now we had to all work together to figure this one out! We had over 1,500 miles as the crow flies still to go to Vancouver and even farther if we were to change course to San Francisco. None of us knew exactly how quadrant steering worked so it took us quite some time to figure it out. The first thing we tried was to mend the broken cable. We tried this by taking two of the four clamps on the end of the cable that attaches the wires to the quadrant. We took those two clamps and fastened the two broken ends of the steering cable together then Steve wove the two ends together with a small wire after that adhered them together with JB Weld. It took 24 hours for it to adhere. 30 hours later we tested the JB weld and almost immediately the wires slipped apart.
We had been in the lead until now but Randal had gotten close enough to coordinate a rendezvous. Just about sunset we spotted Moli on the horizon. Slowly but surely Randal was right by our side. Kelsey and I had made peanut butter cookies. Steve, with a good toss managed to throw them over to Randal. We all took turns chatting on the radio. When it was my turn, I talked to Randal about the quadrant steering. He described a diagram he had once seen. Saying that there were two separate wires that attached to a bicycle chain. We had figured out the bicycle chain bit but hadn’t realized that they were two cables - not one. That small bit of information is what inevitably fixed our steering cable. We talked well into the dark and both went on our way.
After Randal had left we soon thereafter decided to switch our course from Vancouver to San Francisco. The weather is normally predictable in the north pacific. The pacific height usually slowly shifts up and down the cost. You follow the trade winds and have to make your way around it. This year the height seemed to not only have no position to call home. One day there would be one high then the next two, then the next no high at all. Making planning your route nearly impossible. On top of that at the rate we were now moving we wouldn’t be making landfall till October. That means we wouldn’t be making our way south till November at best. Sailing in the pacific north west in winter … no thanks! Last but not least we had a friend out in the middle of the ocean and he’s headed to San Fran. So we decided in our current state that was the best course of action.
As a low pressure system approached the next day. We postponed our fixing of the steering cable and focused more on steering with the tiller and making way. We jerry rigged a pulley system to the forward cockpit to help keep out of the weather. We steered like this for the next few days… until the wind picked up. The wind picked up to 30 – 40 knots and the seas 10 -15 feet and we just couldn’t do it anymore. We were all just too exhausted to steer. After some struggle we managed to get the boat heaved two and we waited for the brunt of the weather to pass. With the current watch schedule we hadn’t got more than 3 hours of sleep in the past two weeks. A full night’s rest was so necessary. The next day still too exhausted we didn’t even want to look outside. Instead we spent the bulk of the day fixing the steering cable despite the sea state. We fixed it by in short replacing the steering cable with a very strong rope called Dynima. By the end of the day we had the quadrant steering fixed. Steve, eager to get underway to ensure that Randal didn’t get too far away. Over some debate Kelsey and I convinced Steve to wait one more night. Nothing good happens when you change plans so late in the day.
At first light we got underway, but Randal was nearly 400 miles in front of us now. The first day the wind was still westerly but by the next day it shifted to North East. The wind change gave us two options: head north west, or head south east. Not wanting to head back the way we came we headed south east. The only good thing was we were close hauled… at this point of sail Solace practically sails herself. For the next week we hid down below. The further and further Randal got from us the more bummed Steve got. Negativity is like a virus, it spreads through one and then to the rest of the crew. I spent the majority of my day’s ether painting or trying to sleep as much as possible.
Finally, another low moved in, and the wind slowly shifted to north west. Solace finally could head up! Everyone’s attitude improved and we were gaining ground in the perfect direction. Solace was hauling ass! It’s really amazing how fast Solace can go with next to no sail out. Often times when the winds above 20 knots we will have just a small handkerchief of a jib out and we will still be going about 10 knots.
I was on watch late afternoon. The Sun was bright and the air was cold. Yyyyyinnnng! The trolling pole started going off. I let go of the steering wheel and saved all the line from going out. Gave a couple cranks on the spool to make sure the hook was set. Kelsey dashed up the stairs sat down at the trolling poll and started reeling it in. I went back to the helm. It was a fighter! I Slowed the boat down and then eventually heaved two. Kelsey cranked it in. Slowly but surely we could start to see it. It was HUGE! By far the biggest tuna any of us had ever caught. Neither Kelsey or I were strong enough to bring it on board. Kelsey got a good gaff in and Steve with all his strength fell backwards onto the deck and flung the tuna on board. The tuna was about 4ft long and approximately 80 lbs. Steve spent the next hour filleting the fish. Kelsey took the majority of the meat cut them into steaks and stacked them neatly in the freezer. We ate the rest as sashimi. This was by far the best tuna any of us ever had.
Watercolour - Lost at Sea
Randal, now close enough to land to receive Coast Guard radio broadcasts got word that a 35ft sail boat named Watercolour, with a pink dingy had gone missing. Randal relayed the radio broadcast to us... We were all shocked! Thats Paul! We had made friends with Paul Lim while we were in Hilo. Paul was a cheery guy, extremely smart and likable. One morning Kelsey and I had complimented the color of his pink dingy. He went on to tell us he painted it that color because no man in there right mind would steal a pink dinghy. "theft proof". Later that day I had to scare some young Hawaiian boys off who were trying to steal it. Among other positive experiences hanging with Paul, he was also kind enough to give us a whale pump rebuild kit. Out of all the people we met along the way there is no doubt that he was each of our favorite. We couldn't believe he had gone missing. We both departed from Hilo on the same day nearly 2 months ago. For the next few days we speculated what could have gone wrong and all sure that he was still alive and making it all work somewhere out there. In our thoughts we still hope the tide brings Paul Lim to land, where ever that may be.
A trail of light
My 1 am to 3 am night shift has slowly but surely become my favorite watch. As we have made our way across the sea and just a few hundred miles off shore from the mainland my 1-3 am shift has become 3- 5am shift. The night is always darkest before the dawn and at this time I get to see the sky at its best before she fades to purple and slowly turns to day. With just a sliver of a moon set just after the sun, the night’s sky couldn’t be much darker. Not a cloud in sight - the stars dance across the sky with the milky way prominent just over head. It is almost as the night sky reflected in the tar black water as Solace makes her way through the glassy phosphorescence sea. With every small wave that hits the bow, its bounces off with light up almost like glitter on top of the water. Solace creating a beacon of light around her as she glides through the glassy sea. I moved my cushion off to the side close enough to the railing to watch the glittery sea and the starts above but just close enough to the wheel so that I can still steer. The night is calm with just 200 miles to go the wind has died on us. Too eager to see land after 25 days at sea we had turned on the motor and continue making way. I spent the first hour going between watching the the starts and the sea. If you looked deeper into the water you could see huge glowing orbs pass by in schools. I had never seen squid before and I was remarkable to see how bright they glow. Some pass by on the surface others deep down below, with a variety of sizes from only a few inches to ones as large as a foot or so. The bigger ones closest to the surface you could see the detail of the squid and the ones farther off look more like light bulbs floating in the sea. As time wore on, it’s amazing how slow time seams to pass on watch. You literally watch the the seconds pass by as you grow tired and weary. Occasionally you’ll get lost in a train of thought and when you come to the end of the thought think well some time must have passed? At least 10, 20 minutes or so… Look down at the clock and only a minute maybe two has passed by. Slowly but surely the regularity of the squid passing by stated to diminish. With an hour still to go, I gazed down in to the darkness hoping the squid would return. A huge creature made its way towards the boat moving fast! A trail of light quickly made its way across the sea to the bow of the boat. I made sure the boat was steady and worked my way forward to the boson’s chair. A pod of dolphins had come to swim with us. Dancing in the front of the boat they light up to appear like ghosts. So excited, I laid belly down on the boson’s chair with my arms stretched down towards them. They would jump and squeak just below my arms then dash off glowing, drawing lines through the ocean as they flew. Then the lines would make their way back to the bow. More and more dolphins were joining and I just had to go wake up Kelsey and Steve, something so common as sleep was not worth missing an experience like this. Kelsey sat near the bow and I gave her my jacket as we both admired the dolphins glowing in the sea. How I wish I could capture a moment like this. There are so many moments like this where it is dark and the boat moves to much even on the calmest night to clearly capture these moments. I hope I never forget it, by far one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Even now just a few short hours later its seems so much like a dream, if only my dreams felt that real.
Finally! The sun was on its way up and we had only 20 more miles left to go! Last night the Coast Guard broadcast had issued a small craft advisory but thankfully they predicted the weather wrong. With no clouds in the sky and not an ounce of wind we made our way under the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco Bay. It took us 27 days exactly to make the passage from Kauai to the mainland. We celebrated with beers and enjoyed the warm sunshine. The bay was glassy and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful way to end our journey home.