I am not sure where to even start with my experience yesterday. I guess I will start at the beginning. When I decided to enter the SHTP last September, my sailing career took on a life of its own. Until then, solo day sails (albeit many) and solo trips to Catalina were the pinnacle of my singlehanded sailing experience.
As a way to train and learn, and take things to the next level, I joined PSSA (Pacific Singlehanded Sailing Association). I am so grateful that I did, because even at this early stage in my membership, this group has pushed me to learn and grow as a sailor in ways I cannot even explain.
Merely their existence as experienced and brave singlehanded sailors is inspiring, then you add the actual experience of being surrounded by them all on their boats at the start of a long race, and the expression “being humbled” takes on a whole new meaning. I was sincerely taken aback yesterday as we all gathered and swarmed for the start of our race to Bishop Rock (about 100 miles offshore). I was so proud to be a part of it, and felt pretty good as Haunani and I crossed the starting line neck in neck with all of these experienced guys.
We all headed out, and fairly shortly (as usual) Haunani and I were at the back of the pack. I still felt good though, and we carried on, taking in the beautiful day. The wind came up a bit about 30 minutes out and I was getting overpowered and pushed down into a big tanker. I needed to be able to point higher and make my boat perform more efficiently. I first reduced my headsail and traveled my main way up, to see if that would help. It did for a bit, and I was able to clear the tanker. It soon became obvious that I needed to reef my main as well though. I noticed at the start that two of the guys were already reefed. I wish that I had followed suit. When I reefed, I had a few embarrassing snafus (thankfully I was alone) involving my new 3rd reefing line getting stuck around my boom and an accidental 360. It was not pretty, and I was a sweaty mess by the end of it all. I did get Haunani reefed though (even if it was NOT in record time), and we were on our way once again. It was a beautiful day, and I was thoroughly loving being out there. The afternoon light started to soften, and I was marveling at what we were actually doing out there. Despite my lifetime of sailing, I have never sailed a distance like this, nor through the night….let alone by myself! As we sailed along, I noticed that my new autopilot was not holding a course as it should. We were rounding up and zig zagging. I hand steered for a while and that was much better (so I knew that my sail trim was ok). I was getting hungry and was in need of warmer clothes and the head, but couldn’t leave the helm. When I did my boat would round up and basically stop. It was very frustrating to say the least.
As the frustration set in, so did all of my fears and self-doubt. I started to imagine the night, and how I would handle this issue as well as all of the other unknowns that lurked. I have AIS and radar, but truthfully have never had to trust in them as a safety measure in order to sleep without worrying. I was afraid I would never sleep, and I was already exhausted (I had not slept well the night before because of nerves). This little cocktail of emotions and exhaustion was what sent me spinning off into a bit of a melt down. The tears came, and then came the “what do you think you are doing out here” self-deprecatory thoughts. I went down every road from feeling I was letting myself down (as well as my Dad…and Thomas who had worked so hard in the days before my race to make my boat ready), to the fear of being judged by my fellow sailors, to “imposter syndrome” (those of you that have it know what I am talking about :-)). It was a negative spiral and I knew I needed some perspective. I called my dear friends Thomas and Silvia who had just been out on Thomas’ boat to watch the start, and they were both extremely supportive and offered calming and sound advice…mainly not to beat myself up and to do what I felt was right. I then called my Dad and Jaime, who both said the same. That is when I decided to turn around and head home. I was completely mortified to have to call in on the radio to announce in front of all my fellow racers that I was quitting. It was a very hard moment for me, but also a necessary one, so I bit the bullet.
Despite the agony of making the decision, I am glad I headed back, because my autopilot continued to give me problems (even worse at that point). Despite this, we had a beautiful sail home and it provided some quiet time to reflect on what had just happened. I realized that technical difficulty aside; I was not ready for that trip. I had not sailed my boat (except 2 short sails in super light wind) in almost three months. I had done a lot of sailing on other boats, but not the kind I needed to do to prepare for this trip and keep my chops up. I was rusty, and as a result, my confidence was not where it needed to be to tackle something so big and new. I also did not give myself sufficient time to learn and become familiar with all of my new electronic equipment, including my autopilot. It was a bit of a scramble at the end to even get me off the dock yesterday.
What I learned through all of this is that I have a very solid foundation, but in deciding to take on this new level of sailing, I am once again a beginner. I have to be patient with that fact. The way through it is practice and exposure, and knowing when I need to back off….like yesterday. I have become healthily aware of all that I have to learn, and am very committed to learning it. The next month will be filled with long practice sails, and deep study and practice with my new equipment. Everything is always all about growth and the process for me, and a big part of that is embracing and learning from the tough stuff. Yesterday was one of those times and I am very grateful for it!
Haunani and I tucked safely back into our slip around 7:30pm
Thanks to my dear SIlvia for capturing these shots