Humble Pie! Handed to me by a crazy day on the bay.

What a day!!! I was planning on single handing for the Berger Stein Pt. Dume and return race yesterday (we single and double handers are trying to represent so they keep this series open to us), but I am very glad that fate intervened and my big brother ended up joining me at the last minute. It was a wild and crazy day on the bay to say the least, and having an extra person with me was a life saver! We headed out of the marina towards the start with all of the other boats, and as we got out towards the committee boat, the wind came up pretty quickly and hinted strongly at the wild ride that was to come. I am slowly learning Cassiopeia’s ways, and one thing I learned early on is that I need to reef early and conservatively. She has a tall rig and a lot of sail area compared to Haunani, and becomes overpowered terrifyingly quickly. I reefed my main and my genoa for the start, and I am glad that I did, for she was a handful even with those reefs in place.

As usual, the start stressed me out like crazy. I simply HATE them. I hate being so close to everyone (especially being shorthanded), and I also hate trying to figure out my strategy, because honestly I have none. I wish I could just take my turn and go, because once we get away from the line and out to sea, I am comfortable and confident, but sailing around the line with all of the other boats, creates a lot of anxiety for me. I hope to get over this one day, and I will keep being brave and putting myself in the mix (and learning from my mentors) until I do!

Our course was MDR to Pt. Dume and back. We were hard on the wind all the way up, and the wind was mainly over 25 knots and sometimes up to 30+.  As we tacked our way up the bay, we took a beating. The sea was intense, and the wind was gusty and fierce and we were consistently over powered. In hindsight, I should have taken a 2nd reef in my mainsail, but since my 1st reef is very deep, I somehow thought the second would be overkill. After talking to my mentors and looking at photos of the race, however, I realize that I was very wrong. I also realized that I need to have a smaller headsail on hand. My 140% is reefable, but trying to reef (on the roller-furler) it in those winds was painful (I saw dollar signs flying out the window as the sail flogged during the process). If I had reefed the main again, I would have been able to point higher and I wouldn’t have been pushed down so much.

Once we turned around to run home, the wind was in the 30’s and gusting to 38. We had an unfortunate gybe during which my main sheet snapped and three blocks shattered. I am grateful that was the only damage, because it was very scary and could have been a lot worse in those conditions. It provided another big learning experience for the day: I should have chicken gybed (doing a regular tack and then falling off) instead of attempting a regular gybe in those winds. It’s painful to admit my stupidity, but those kinds of mistakes are how things stick in my brain sometimes. I jury rigged a new sheet (using my preventer) to secure the boom, and we dropped the main. We flew home under Genoa only, at between 8-10 knots. The swells were building and we had a few very fun surfs! It was hard work to steer though, and my hands are still feeling it as I type this. I was very happy to get back into the marina, even though docking in that wind provided one last hairy adventure to cap off my day. My brother was an amazing crew, and when we were finally safely close to home, we toasted the day with a cold Heineken (I just found out they are gluten free by the way!)!

As I fix my boat, and reflect on the day, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gotten to sail Cassiopeia for the first time in intense conditions. I learned a lot about her and myself on that race. I have a list of things I need to change about her set up to make her more manageable for me alone in those conditions. I also realize that before I go offshore alone with her, I need to do a lot more practice sails in the bay when the conditions are intense, yet manageable so that I can create a symbiotic relationship with her. Part of my ease with Haunani was that I had sailed her alone for so long that I could move around blind folded. Also, she was a lot more forgiving of a boat than Cassiopeia is, so everything always felt more manageable. I know that my relationship with Cassiopeia will get there, but I don’t want to jump the gun and put myself in challenging situations at sea before we do. It is a process, and one I intend to honor and take very seriously!

As always, I am so grateful to my mentors and teachers who generously give me the opportunity to debrief with them so I can learn in retrospect. I am also grateful to the crazy day in the bay for teaching me so much in a short time! Finally, I am grateful for all that I have been through until now that has taught me how to keep us safe and moving on a day like that! I am a very different sailor than I was at this time last year, and I am sure in a year from now I will say the same. I love the learning and growth that is always available as I move through these wonderful adventures!! I am also grateful for the opportunities sailing provides for me to remind myself of the importance of “bravery not perfection” (if you have not seen Reshma Saujani’s Ted Talk about this, please watch it!!).

(All photos are by my talented and wonderful big brother, Chris Woods)

flying home in 30-38 knots with just the genoa! It was a work out with those swells shoving us about!

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.


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

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

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!




Learning. Learning. Learning

I have always been an avid learner and seeker. People who know me well know that when I decide to take something on, I dive in head first and will stop at nothing (and maybe even become a tad obsessive :-)) to learn as much as I possibly can on the topic. I have certainly been a life long student of sailing, but since deciding to do the SHTP, I have taken that drive to a new level. I wrote a bit about that in a previous post, but that was mainly focusing on book learning. I recently decided to take a hands on class to bone up on my knowledge of navigation, weather and night sailing. I did this by taking the ASA (American Sailing Association) Advanced Coastal Cruising (ASA 106) through Bluewater Sailing in Marina Del Rey. Fifteen years ago I completed the comparable certifications up through this point with US Sailing, and though I opted not to go for the certifications this time, it was a valuable experience. I definitely learned some new and important information in this course, mainly about navigation, effective use of radar, and how to better keep the boat balanced in big winds and seas for the most effective performance (as well as minimal pressure on the rudder). Another important thing I was reminded of, is how much I actually do know, and how trusting that is just as important as seeking support and new knowledge.

The class was comprised of 2.5 classroom days, and 3 nights on the water with 3 other students and an instructor. The goal was to plan a voyage from start to finish, and undertake all of the tasks to make that happen. I was lucky to have great crew-mates and a great instructor. Sadly, however, I started off the trip fighting a bug of some kind, which I am convinced contributed greatly to my 2 days of seasickness.

Tim plotting our first leg

Tim plotting our first leg

Intermittent seasickness aside, the trip went well, and despite not feeling at all like myself, I enjoyed a lot of the beautiful moments that only being at sea can provide. We headed out of Marina Del Rey on a Wednesday afternoon around 4. We got to put our radar to the test, as we were blanketed in thick fog for the first hour of our journey. The fog lifted just in time for sunset, and from that point on we enjoyed a beautiful cruise (under power) up to Paradise Cove, where we anchored for the night.

Carl on foghorn duty coming out of the marina

Carl on foghorn duty coming out of the marina

staying warm in my awesome new  Gill  gear (thank you Jerome!) before all the sickness set in

staying warm in my awesome new Gill gear (thank you Jerome!) before all the sickness set in

We all stood an anchor watch, and being the last one (lucky me), I woke everyone at 6 the next morning for an early departure. Our original plan was to go to Santa Barbara Island, and then to Cat Harbor, but given the intense weather that was developing to the northwest, we decided to abort that plan and head straight for Catalina in case we needed to seek shelter from the storm. Seeking shelter was indeed what was called for, and we ended up on a mooring at the Isthmus for 36 hours or so. It was the roughest ride on a mooring I have ever had, but I was glad to be there in safe harbor because the winds ended up building to 30-40 knots, and there was a substantial swell to contend with. We were one of only 3 (non-company) boats in the harbor, and the dinghy docks and gangways from the main dock were removed to prepare for the weather, so there was no going ashore for us. Bobbing violently around on a mooring with 4 (albeit very cool) other people on a 41-foot Hunter was NOT my idea of fun, and only exacerbated my looming motion sickness. Finally after 2 nights in Two Harbors, the weather improved and we set sail for Marina Del Rey at 4am Saturday morning (to get our requisite night sailing time in). I was overjoyed to wake up and feel semi-normal, so I greeted the chilly early morning with enthusiasm! Once we got out past the lee of the island, we realized that despite the improvement in the weather, we still had some serious conditions to contend with. The gusty 25 knot wind was basically on our bow, and the swells were about 10 feet. This did not make for a comfortable ride at all, and forced us to motor sail (with a very reefed mainsail) for quite awhile. After about 45 minutes of this, the seasickness took hold of me again, and it was way worse this time. It did not let up for 8 more of the 10 hours that we were out there. It was total torture for me on so many levels. I have been queasy here and there, but have not thrown up or been debilitated from seasickness in 30 years (when crossing the Alenuihaha channel from Maui to Hawaii Island with my Dad). It was a very humbling experience to feel that way again, and caused my mind to spin off in many negative spirals, questioning my entire sailing career as well as all of my current goals. I even wandered into a debate with myself about whether or not I should even keep my boat. I was feeling pretty bleak despite the beauty that surrounded me, but that's how badly I felt, and how much the seasickness was skewing my sense of reality.

here we are on the way to Catalina, round one of queasiness behind me

here we are on the way to Catalina, round one of queasiness behind me

Our trusty instructor, Eliott

Our trusty instructor, Eliott

stormy Isthmus Harbor

stormy Isthmus Harbor

About an hour out from Marina Del Rey I started to feel better, and was able to take the helm as we returned home. It helped to focus my mind and feel the breeze in my face. The weather was sunny and beautiful, and we were under full sail by then. The closer we got to home, the more my queasiness lifted, and I was once again in love with sailing and all of the dark and ridiculous thoughts had passed.

I am grateful for the patience and compassion of my crew-mates, as well as the inevitability that seasickness passes. It is truly one of the worst feelings of all time.  I know I am prone to feeling this way, but sailing alone helps keep it at bay due to the intense focus and responsibility that comes along with that there is another reason on my list of why sailing solo works so well for me!

sunrise over the big swells. So beautiful! I am glad I was able to grab this shot despite my nasty queasiness

sunrise over the big swells. So beautiful! I am glad I was able to grab this shot despite my nasty queasiness