400 Miles :: Finding My Way To Myself

I am not one to lose my words or ability to express my feelings very often, but somehow these two things have been eluding me for days since I returned home last Wednesday morning from my 400 mile solo qualifying sail (for the Singlehanded Transpac). There was so much anticipation and nervousness leading up to this endeavor, that now that it is over, it seems far away and surreal. I had a lot of trepidation about this journey, but truthfully, leaving the dock was all it took to put the nervousness at bay. Once I was headed out, I felt at ease and at peace with what I was about to do.

After a lovely visit from some dear friends, and a flood of intense emotions that I did not expect, I left the dock at about 10pm on a Friday night. It was one of the most beautiful nights I have experienced in a long time. The wind was stiff, warm and uncharacteristically out of the north. The moon was waxing and just full enough to cast a beautiful light on the whole scene. As I exited the breakwater, I noticed a pretty large swell as well as more wind than I originally anticipated. Since I was heading out at night I thought I would be conservative and reef early. I am so glad I did, because once I started reefing my mainsail, I realized that the reefing lines were not in place. They had been removed that day to be reconfigured, and due to a misunderstanding, were not reinstalled (either by me or the person working on them). I was so disappointed and upset because I had bit the bullet, faced my nervousness and left the dock……I was on my way. I swallowed my disappointment, took ownership for my oversight, took a deep breath and headed back in to deal with it. I was close enough to the marina so that I could turn back and run the lines at my slip and not on a dark swelly sea. Thankfully, my friend Thomas came to my aid (as usual), and headed over to help me get the lines in place. It was a bit of a comical moment because we were both tired and totally brain dead. Once the reefs were in place, it was pretty late, and I was cross-eyed (not to mention the old sea adage of never leave the dock on a Friday was bobbing around in my head). I did not want to start my journey feeling like that, so I opted to get a good night’s sleep and head out early the next day. In the end, I am glad I did.

Saturday morning was a fresh start. I left my slip at about 7am, and headed out. I motored 10 miles to the northwest to get out to where I might see some wind. Thankfully at about 10am, the breeze came up and I was able to cut my engine and start sailing. My journey officially began in that moment. I was to sail 400 miles solo and non-stop before I returned home. The wind built throughout the morning, and before I knew it, I was double reefed and flying along in up to 26 knots. I made great time out past Santa Barbara and San Nicolas Island. By the time the sun started to set, I could see them disappearing in my wake. I was a little queasy on this leg, which was very disconcerting as usual. I still loved every moment though and as the evening went on, I became more and more in shock and awe of what I was actually doing.

The next few days were filled with some of the most jaw dropping beauty I have ever seen. I was brought to tears numerous times. I felt as though I was in a sacred cathedral surrounded by spirit. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Waking up every day in a 360’ bowl of glassy purple-blue sea to watch the sun rise out of this horizon was beyond breath taking. The color palette and texture was ever changing, so much so that I found myself exclaiming out loud on a regular basis. I tried to capture this magic in photos and videos, but I am quite sure that they will never do justice to the majesty that I witnessed out there.

The wind was very light for most of my journey, but apart from a couple of becalmed hours, it was enough to keep us moving. I was disappointed to not have more wind, but I realize now that having to be patient and sit with the quiet of it all was harder (better) for me than it would have been to have been distracted and consumed by the constant boat handling and movement that comes with big wind. I had to sit with myself, which mostly was harder than usual, because I felt pretty ill for a few days. I had a hard time sleeping, and became exhausted. That coupled with my mild seasickness and lack of good hot food created a painful scenario for me. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of food, I just had really shitty food. I did not plan well, and underestimated the need for hearty home cooked meals. On a trip this short I could have easily planned for that, but did not. I will never do that again!

I did not see a soul in those 4 days and 4 nights, apart from a tanker in the distance. It was surreal to say the least. It was just my girl, the sea and me. It was the first time in my life I had been out of sight of land, and surrounded by 360’ of horizon for days on end. I thought that this might scare me, but instead, it gave me great solace. I surprisingly had no fears the entire time, except a brief bout of delirium (induced by sleep deprivation) in which I went down some negative roads about the possibility of pirates boarding my vessel in the night. Apart from this silly moment, a few battery issues and the angst that was created by feeling sick, I felt very safe, secure and happy out there.

I came to appreciate the simple rituals of my days and nights on the boat. I woke every 1-2 hours and logged my position, checked my sails, my batteries, the horizon and my chart plotter for ships and then tucked back on for another nap. During the day I was awake more, but still kept the routine of logging my position and checking all of the above regularly. I had a morning routine of cleaning and organizing the boat for a fresh start to the day. Mornings were when I felt best, so anything that required any energy was done then. The days and nights went on like this, augmented by nature’s beauty bringing me to my knees on a regular basis. I saw whales, dolphins, sea birds, land birds, jellyfish, dazzling stars, dramatic moonsets, sunsets and sunrises, the gamut of colors and textures of the sea and sky…it was utter magic. I listened to beautiful music, took sea water showers on the bow, lounged around without a stitch of clothing in the mid day sun, organized my boat, did some writing……there was a never ending infusion of beauty and inspiration which kept my spirits up despite feeling pretty crappy for most of my trip.

My favorite part of the trip was my last day and night. I was finally feeling better, which was cause for celebration in itself, but somehow that day seemed to hold the most magic of them all. I took in the sunset over San Nicolas Island on the bow with my 1st glass of wine of the trip. The combination of the island’s odd shape and the cloud formations made for one of the most spectacular sunsets of my life. I watched the liquid golden ball slowly drop as I reflected on so much….this experience, my life, loss, love, growth, my upcoming pacific crossing…it was a very introspective moment for me.. I was able to let go of some big things as that night arrived. Soon after dusk, I heard the blow of a whale very close to me. I could not see where it was, but the sound was so awesome and comforting. I was settling in for a long night of no wind (based on the predictions that were shared with me by sailing friends), when I felt a little ruffle in my hair. That is when I knew in my guts that I would be home by morning despite that bleak wind forecast. The breeze came up and I was soon scooting along into the night. When I reached Santa Barbara Island, the wind died for a bit, but I could see the wind line out past the island and my prediction definitely came true. I had the most incredible sail home that night under an almost full moon. I was moving along on a close reach at about 7 knots and Haunani was in her groove. I spent much more time on deck taking it all in than I had been able to before. I was feeling so good and was also so happy to be approaching my goal of sailing 400 miles alone. At about 4am, I crossed my personal finish line, and had a solitary celebration as Haunani carried me home. I watched the sun rise over Santa Monica Bay and turned my engine on as the wind died to travel the last 8 miles to the marina. I received so many lovely and supportive texts and calls as I made my way home, and was greeted on the dock by Thomas and Jerome when I pulled in. All of this topped off with a HUGE much needed hot breakfast complete with mimosas and my beautiful friends. I was delirious but beyond happy!

Once I got my wits about me and could reflect on my experience clearly, I understood why they make you do this sail to qualify for the singlehanded transpac. It is truly a shakedown trip. It is just long enough to see if you can be out there with yourself, and like the company you keep. It is just long enough to test your boat, your systems and your will. It is just long enough to push yourself to the edge of exhaustion to see how you react. It is just long enough to know whether you like being alone on a 34 foot capsule in the midst of a 360’ sphere of unpredictable natural solitude. Turns out I did! In fact, I loved it!

I loved the solace of the endless horizon. I loved being surrounded by water and sky. I loved that every moment was filled with natural beauty with each experience of it more surprising and unique than the next. I loved the routine of being at sea and the simplicity of daily life. I loved that I could only rely on myself at any given time. I loved that the only one out there to hold me accountable was me. I loved the quiet windless moments and the intense windy ones equally. I loved being a part of every mood of the sea. I loved the moon and the stars and every sunrise and sunset. I loved the sound of the water moving along Haunani's hull as I slept. I loved the steadfastness of my boat and how safe she always made me feel. I am truly humbled and deeply changed by the whole experience, and I know that this is only the tip of the iceberg! Talk to me in mid July!

Lessons learned:

Plan for meals and make sure hearty hot meals are involved!

Measure water intake and make sure I always drink even if I am not thirsty.

I am responsible for my boat, and the buck stops with me.

I need to learn more about efficient energy management.

Take motion sickness medicine before I leave on a big trip.

As Dad told me....make a check list and perform it every day.

SLEEP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

our track complete with my 52 mile dogleg in the middle :-)

our track complete with my 52 mile dogleg in the middle :-)