The black velvet sky painted with glittering stars reflects into the freshly polished mirror surface of the calm sea. There is no definition between where the sea ends and sky begins and the infinite horizon makes us feel as if we are sailing through the sky. Maluhia gently slices through the stillness generating millions of shooting stars in her wake as she stirs up the bioluminescence of tiny marine organisms. We are 2000 miles away from anywhere and it feels as if we are lost in space. One sparkle gleams brighter than the rest with subtle undertones of red and green. I snap out of my whimsical state and grab a pair of binoculars afraid of the reality that might be before me. The seamless horizon plays tricks on me and I can’t make out whether I am hailing a ship or a star. Eventually, I discover that I am hailing the planet Jupiter, which has a known reputation for tricking sailors by mimicking the colors of a ship’s navigation lights. I settle back into my watch comforted and mesmerized by the brilliance of my surroundings. We really are sailing through space.
My mind continues to wander out here as I think of the cyclical nature of life and the little patterns that exist to remind us of the significant moments that are worth remembering. I flash back to just a week and a half ago when we entered Honolulu harbor after we frantically ran from Maui desperate to start our journey. We had just secured the boat into a slip in the Ala Wai when the Friday night fireworks started booming above us. It seemed like the ultimate welcome to a port, and it became even more significant when I realized that exactly one year ago to the date (and hour) Mike proposed to me at the exact same spot while we were looking to buy Maluhia. So much has happened in the past year, and this moment of reflection was a perfect time to appreciate all the blessings and start our journey off on a positive note.
We officially departed Honolulu on the 5th of September under the pretense that we were making a run for the weather window. We didn’t get our few relaxing days in Kauai as we hoped, but rather made a mad dash away from the islands with the fear that we were going to get caught in a high pressure system (aka, no wind). A mere 4 miles out of the harbor, our topping lift snapped. It was a piece that we had attempted to fix in Honolulu, but we obviously didn’t do a great job in our haste. Fortunately, we were still close to Keehi Lagoon, so we pulled in quickly, hauled Mike up the mast, and to fixed the problem before we started off once again. The first week was sloppy all around. We barreled through the washing machine seas at a permanent 25 degree angle to the port while the steady 15-30 knot winds facilitated our escape. It took some time for us to get re-acclimated to offshore sailing, but eventually we were old pros. Just as soon as we were moving about comfortably, however, everything abruptly stopped. It was as if someone had switched off the wind and big seas with the flick of a switch. We had entered the doldrums, or the high pressure system that we were worried about.
Up until this point, “entering the doldrums” was merely a fabled expression to me. I had heard stories from fellow cruisers about weeks lost at sea stuck in this mythical vortex, and I have encountered the expression in just about every single sailing book I have read. It sounded torturous and I was led to believe that this was going to be our greatest challenge on this passage. Yet, despite the threats, I wasn’t convinced. I welcomed the still paradise that greeted me when the switch was shut off. Complete and utter silence engulfed us and Maluhia seemed to take a deep sigh of relief as she settled back to center and slowly bobbed along in the lake like sea. Not a cloud in the sky, not a breath of wind, and the bright sun beating down on us warming our frigid limbs and drying out the salty air that infiltrated through our vessel. “What’s so bad about this?” I asked Mike who in return gave me a gentle smirk and replied “just wait”.
We took advantage of the calm and busied ourselves with projects around the boat. Mike pulled out the sewing machine so he could repair our headsail that started to tear during our week of crazy wind. I proceeded to clean the boat inside and out while baking goodies for us to enjoy when the winds picked back up. We even delighted in a much needed blue water swim/bath, which was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time (fortunately my fears of a giant shark having me for his dinner did not come true). It seemed to me that the doldrums were the perfect little break that we needed to ease ourselves back into offshore sailing.
Slowly with each passing day, I grew restless of not moving and began to obsess over our course, specifically how much distance we still had to cover. The threats were coming forward in my mind as I started to picture us bobbing in the same spot for 45 days with no food or water to drink (we didn’t have time to get our water maker hooked up before this trip). I was living the nightmare of the doldrums. Three days in and we seemed to actually be moving backwards and twirling in the middle of the Pacific. The sea had become a minefield of rubbish and the only thing catching on our fishing lures was plastic, nets, and rubber. Maluhia gracefully dodged giant fenders, glass fishing balls, and partially submerged containers that had fallen off the freighters and we worried about the debris snaring our prop or gashing our hull. This was not good. I sheepishly asked Mike for his thoughts on turning on the motor, even though I knew that he was adamantly against it. He delighted in my realization of the horror of the doldrums and shot me a told you so glance. Yet, despite his purist beliefs on firing up the “iron genny” (motor), he actually was all for it provided that it would work. You see as we were leaving Honolulu, our engine overheated, and while Mike was able to amend the problem at the time, we hadn’t fired it up since. This would be our tell all moment: are we sailing purist with no engine on this trip or will we be able to compromise and get a little push out of the doldrums? Fortunately for us, the motor worked just fine and we eventually made it back into the glorious wind! No more hand steering (we also don’t have an auto pilot which is another reason why we don’t like motoring) and no bobbing about for 45 days hungry and thirsty! Maluhia assumed her heeling position to the port and charged through the rolly seas delighted to be moving once again.
Our celebration of passing through the doldrums was shared amongst our community of fellow sailors also making the passage. We have a network of 3 other vessels out here and it has been one of the best things about this crossing. We all check in via SSB twice daily to share positions, weather conditions, and amusing stories (we even had a rendition of Happy Birthday for one of the Captains). We are neck and neck with a boat called, Good News, who is also heading to San Francisco. Our main weather informant is John on Sherpa, who is heading to Santa Barbara. Finally, our dear friend and beloved comic relief Robbie on Q-Wave (our original buddy boat from Honolulu) is heading to Mexico. We also check in with Robbie every three hours throughout the day to keep each other company and to help each other figure out our best options for routing. Robbie has been sailing for 40 years and is on his 4th circumnavigation. His wisdom is like gold to us as he has really inspired us and encouraged us in this lifestyle. Mike says he has never had this kind of community on a crossing before and we are both really enjoying it. It helps to know that there are others out there close by just in case anything goes wrong. It is also nice to hear how everyone handles themselves out here. For instance, Aj, the youngest crew member out here (18) vividly describes his dreams of a Five Guys Burger over the net as he points out the lack of homemade meals on board and the fact that he ate his way through his three week stash of goodies all within the first week. Robbie on the other hand keeps us entertained with the trials and tribulations that he has faced on this crossing. Between torn headsails, battery acid infused back up sails waiting to blow apart any minute, his prop being entangled by a net, and a wave coming inside and soaking his electric panel (just to name a few); it is hard not to feel sorry for the guy. We almost turned around a number of times to provide assistance, but the distance between our boats was so great and it was too dangerous to do so with all the nasty weather lurking about. Through it all he has remained in good spirits, but we really worry about him. We have established a great bond out here with these fellow sailors, and we seek refuge in their voices at our twice daily meet ups.
After twenty days at sea, we have finally had a rendezvous with one of our buddy boats from our SSB net! We have spotted the sails of Good News many times in the past two weeks, however, we have never been close enough to see the hull of the boat. On this particular morning, we happened to be in the right place at the right time. We were so close and our paths were going to cross in no time. Mike took over the helm and steered us right for their boat, while I went down below and prepared a bag of cookies and fresh baked bread to pass along to the men who didn’t do much cooking on board. I gave them a hail on the VHF asking if they could see us. They had been down below so they didn’t know how close we were, so when they looked outside we heard them screaming and laughing over the radio at our proximity. It was such a fantastic moment as we approached this vessel that up until this point we only knew as voices over the SSB. Mike did an incredible job steering under full sail, as I hung over the bow sprit with a fully extended boat hook bearing my bag of goodies. It was bumpy and wet, and it seemed like we wouldn’t be able to get close enough, but just as I doubted it, the perfect swell pushed us up right next to their starboard side and Aj, eagerly grabbed the goodies off the boat hook. We all laughed and relished in the moment. All of us except Mike that is. When I looked back at him at the helm, he had a look of utmost concern and worry. Later, I discovered that what he managed to pull off was an incredible feat. He was so worried about crashing into their hull and it took him extreme concentration and skill to make it all happen. He really is an amazing Captain. That was a most memorable experience!
Out here in the open ocean, everything becomes clear. We have finally had a chance to relax a bit; a welcomed reprieve after the last few months of pushing to finish up our jobs and get the boat ready for this crossing. I knew we were stressed out at the time, but looking back we were out of our minds! I am sure there are things that we missed; friends we didn’t say goodbye to and little important details that accompanied the boat work. But, we did what we could to do and pulled off somewhat of a miracle trying to balance everything. Many wonder why we rushed out of Maui like we did, and the reason is because of the weather and the difficulty we were having with the inconsistencies of the harbors. The beginning of September is the absolute last window for crossing the Pacific, and many would even say that September is too late. We took a gamble and well we have certainly been experiencing one of the weirdest years of weather out here according to many seasoned sailors and weather routers. This is Mike’s 5th crossing at this time of year and he has never seen weather quite like this. While we seem to remain unscathed from the threats that loom around us (a hurricane below and gales above and behind us), those threats do not go unnoticed and they require us to be creative with our route planning.
All told, we have been pretty lucky with the weather provided all the oddities that are surrounding us. We have been able to carry on normally with most activities and find fishing (to date we have 8 Mahi Mahi and 1 Tuna), reading, and movies to be most popular for our daily activities. Most days have been pretty mellow and we canter along through the mild swells like a wild horse. This boat can run! Our buddies from the net constantly wonder how we move so fast, and they pick Mike’s brain as if he is the ultimate sail trimmer with an intuition that can’t be rivaled. While this is partly true (that boy certainly knows how to manipulate sails), he would tell you that he is lazy and just lets the boat do what she wants to do. We feel as if Maluhia is like a caged animal set free (she did sit tied up to a dock for about 16 years) running with reckless abandon, steering her own course. We follow her lead assisting only when mother nature decides to take the upper hand and make her presence well known.
I am longing for the doldrums once again. The closer we get to land, the worse the conditions become. We haven’t seen the sun in days, it is freezing, the entire boat is soaked inside from the dew and salty air (thank you leaky windows), the seas are huge and confused, and it is blowing up to 35 knots. We took down the main sail yesterday as the winds started to build and we are now only moving under storm sail alone. We are now on a starboard heel (or a port tack) so we have had to adjust to everything being launched the other direction. It has become hard to even move around down below and it is miserable to be outside in the cockpit. I have been chef extraordinaire on this passage (a trainee in the school of Chef Mike’s crash course to offshore cooking) and now I can’t even begin to think about trying to cook (did I mention that our freezer is full of about 8 Mahi Mahi and 1 giant Tuna just waiting to be eaten?) At times like these, I result to doing what I do best…sleep! Somehow I can sleep through the roughest conditions, and I am thankful for that, but I have to make sure my Captain gets his rest too. We are 200 miles from the entrance to San Francisco, but with these conditions it may take us up to 3 days (normally it would take us a day to a day and a half). I have Mexico on my mind as I rummage through our vessel on all fours looking for anything that will keep me warm (really regretting leaving all warm clothing in California at this moment). Unfortunately, my fuzzy socks that brought me so much joy upon their finding have become a deathtrap as I quickly learned when I jumped out of my bunk and slid across the wooden floor at rocket speed and crashed face first into the closets. Are we there yet? Defeated, I crawl under damp blankets shivering to sleep dreaming of our arrival.
Three years ago this exact same time of year, Mike and I crossed under the Golden Gate bridge in his boat Isabella. The seas were rough and I remember frantically writing a blog down below as if I were writing my last will and testament. Mike and I were still getting to know each other and that was our first big passage together (my very first offshore passage). I remember being amazed at his ability to work so well under such immense pressure; he wasn’t even fazed by the seas that were crashing over him. I was in awe of him and completely trusted this man with my life even though I barely knew him. Knowing I was consumed by fear, he gently coaxed me out of the cabin to witness the full moon above the Golden Gate, and in that breathtaking moment, I knew everything would always be ok.
Now as we finally cross the entrance this go round after 23 hours of motoring through dense fog, I am not consumed with fear, but rather I am filled with joy and confidence. With the completion of this 24 day passage I have now reached 11,000 offshore miles at sea in the three years I have been with Mike, and I have gained an abundance of knowledge that continues to expand each and every day of this lifestyle. For us crossing under this bridge three years later is the pinnacle of reflection and significance for we are returning married, with a new boat, and a wealth of experiences under our belts that have colored our lives in such a brilliant way. It is the end of the beginning of our voyage..a small stepping stone to the bigger adventures that lie ahead.
Land ho!!! Its time for a beer!