Sailing Into The Night :: A Solo Journey To Santa Barbara Island And Beyond

As I have shared before, I knew I had to get out onto the sea and face the unknown and my lingering (and growing) fear of sailing through the night alone. On Saturday I finally got out there and did it! To say that it was a transformational experience would be a huge understatement.

I left my slip at about 12pm, without much fanfare, but with a bucket of butterflies in my belly. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what I was about to do, and was a bit jittery as a result. As I left the main channel, I saw two of my friends from Bluewater Sailing. Although they were both teaching, they took the time to wish me well and cheer me on, which helped ease my nerves a bit. But still, as I left the breakwater, I was admittedly (and uncharacteristically) nervous and distracted. I have a hunch that this state of mind contributed to the little accident that sadly marked the beginning of my trip.

To make a long and extremely painful (and embarrassing) story short: as I was leaving the bay and getting underway, I slipped on a line in my cockpit and fell hard onto my arm. In my efforts to get my shit together (I am prone to vaso vagal syncope induced by sharp pain, and was trying not to lose consciousness, though I actually think I did for a minute), I missed the fact that a boat was fast approaching me off my starboard bow. I was shaken out of my haze by a man yelling “STARBOARD” at the top of his lungs. The rest was in fast forward mode, as I jumped faster than I have moved in a long time back to my helm and disengaged the autopilot for a last minute swerve. Between that and his efforts to avoid me, we thankfully avoided what could have been a bad collision. Despite the lucky outcome, I know that he was extremely shaken up by the experience and that completely breaks my heart. Besides feeling so awful, I took a huge hit to my confidence and of course, to my ego (embarrassment). It took me hours to shake it off and forgive myself. In the end, I am just grateful it wasn't worse and that the man with whom I shared this stressful experience is totally gracious and forgiving.

Once I shook off the horrible feelings of that experience, I was able to take in my surroundings and the magnitude of the adventure upon which I had just embarked. The first part of the day felt like any other sail, as much of it was spent sailing up the coast towards Malibu. I needed to get high enough to make the island. I had great wind at first, and even was reefed for a while. The wind died down to a very mellow 10 knots after a few hours, and I shook out my reef and had a lovely sail out across the channel. I was trying to trust that I would get lifted to the island as the afternoon went on, but it soon became obvious that the opposite was happening, so after a lot of back and forths, I took a final tack north and it ended up being the right choice as this enabled me to make the island easily. All of this navigational strategy was somewhat new to me since until now all I had ever done were day sails without a set destination or trips to (and around) Catalina. Needless to say, I learned a lot. It was fun to look at my track after the fact and see what I could have done better.

As night started to fall, I was feeling surprisingly calm and completely mystified by the fact that I was out there all by myself. I poured myself a glass of wine and toasted Haunani and said a little prayer of gratitude for this amazing opportunity. Once the sun was gone, it became very dark. I knew the moon would come out soon, but somehow in that interim, I made peace with the night. I recorded a little video (below) in which you can see nothing but you can hear how I was feeling in that exact moment.

Right before I decided to make my first attempt at sleeping, the moon started to rise. It was unlike any moon rise I have ever seen, because she looked as though she was coming straight out of the sea. She was in a waning phase and looked so majestic as she made her ascent. I bid her goodnight and headed below for my first of a series of 35 minute naps. The first one was fitful to say the least, as I was hearing noises I have never heard on my boat before. It was a symphony of bizarre sounds that once demystified, actually became very soothing. The creaks were the most disconcerting to me, but I soon realized Haunani was rolling along as strong as ever and the creaks were just a part of her language. As my friend had warned me, the seas were “lumpy” approaching the island, and he was right. The boat was moving in a way I had never experienced. We were moving along at about 5 knots, on a close reach, which was normal enough,  but the movement of the boat was so odd. It was gentle and violent at the same time. It felt like we were bobbing around on shaving cream waves that were pushing us in every direction, while still moving us forward (weird description I know, but its how I felt). That only lasted until I made my last tack to make the island, and then the seas were following us and gently pushing us along. We appreciated the help, because the wind was very light.

At one point on this leg, after a very rude alarm awakened me, I popped on deck to check on everything. That moment stopped my was so magical. Not only was the moonlight glistening off the water in the most incredible way, but a pod of dolphins suddenly appeared and were LEAPING off the port stern quarter of Haunani. They were not swimming along as I have normally seen them do, but they were enthusiastically leaping feet out of the water and seemed to be playing. I couldn’t even believe my eyes! They were gone as quickly as they appeared, and of course I like to believe they came to check on us and to tell us everything was more than OK. Soon after that, I was getting close to the island and the wind was very light. I decided to motor around since sailing would not only have taken hours, but the wind direction was such that I would have had to tack way away from the island in order to make it. I guess that’s the luxury of not being in a race! I rounded the island at 4am, and then shut the engine off, rolled my genoa back out and started my final leg home to Marina Del Rey. Once I was clear of the island, I got my first real sleep of the night. Two one hour naps back to back were just what the Dr. ordered, and although I cannot say I felt good after that, I definitely felt better. Sleep deprivation and me do not do well together, so hopefully this will be the start of some kind of symbiotic relationship in which we can just learn to deal with each other. Coffee and some good tunes helped me to welcome the day, as well as some sweet satellite messages from my lovelies that had come in through the night. I was disappointed not to see a sunrise, but the grey chilly day had other things in store for me. The trip home was uneventful as the wind was extremely light. Once I was through the shipping lane, I actually motored the rest of the way home, because I wasn't moving at all, and delirium was setting in (and as I said before, I was not racing!!).

As I came down Marina Del Rey's main channel, I was greeted by various friends who also happened to be out sailing. Everyone was so enthusiastic and the cheers felt so nice! My favorite moment was when a dinghy came speeding up to me piloted by a guy with the worlds hugest smile….my dear friend Jaime. He was there to greet me and was taking pics of my girl and me as we came in. It brought tears to my eyes to feel so supported! That was only topped off by an impromptu lunch on the boat complete with mimosas and a couple of dear friends.

one of the pics Jaime snapped as I came into the harbor

one of the pics Jaime snapped as I came into the harbor

When a few people asked me how my trip was, without thinking, I said, “life changing”. I know that sounds dramatic, but it truly was life changing. A portal was opened. One that can never be closed, and through that opening I have glimpsed a new world: a magical world where solace, solitude, living in the moment and self-reliance are queen, and a feeling of being at one with nature takes on new meaning and depth. I stepped through a door of possibility on Saturday night. Although I am not deluded by the fact that I had idyllic conditions, I have proved to myself that I can sail alone through the night. I did what I set out to do! Doing it this one time has given me the confidence to know that I can do it again and again and again. I am so grateful for the opportunity, as well as for the support of all of my friends and family. I am not sure you all know what peace of mind and strength each message, talisman, thought and sentiment expressed gives to me. I felt like you were all there with me in spirit, and that to me, is priceless.

Marina Del Rey to Santa Barbara Island and back again was 126.47 miles and we made the trip in a little over 24 hours!

Marina Del Rey to Santa Barbara Island and back again was 126.47 miles and we made the trip in a little over 24 hours!