I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying interviewing my fellow singlehanded sailors. It is so wonderful to get a glimpse into their processes, minds, hearts and beautiful boats! This interview with Matt Harwich was certainly no exception!
This particular boat has had a special place in my heart since I first laid eyes on her. I am not exactly sure why, but she makes me swoon just a little every time I see her. It’s a tender kind of crush that only happens once in a while with boats. When I got to “meet” her in person on Monday, I felt truly honored. Pavlova is a Pacific Seacraft 31, and is a regal lady! She has been kept in Bristol condition by Matt. He has been her steward for the past year and a half, and in that time you can tell they have solidified a great relationship.
We set sail on a perfect southern California afternoon, leaving out of the Cal Yacht Club anchorage with a nice afternoon breeze building. As we cruised out of the marina, I took in the well thought out and sturdy details of Pavlova’s design. She is a solid sea going vessel that instantly made me feel at ease and as if I would be well taken care of if I headed out to sea aboard her sturdy decks.
Our mellow sail provided much opportunity for chatting and sharing our stories. Matt, like me, only recently joined PSSA in order to become a better sailor by pushing himself in its challenging races (not to mention surrounding himself with its experienced sailors). He took on one of the PSSA’s most challenging races this year, and because of my awe at his bravery and ensuing experience, that is mostly what we talked about. The Guadalupe Island race is legendary, and only happens once every two years. It is a 582 nautical mile race downwind around Guadalupe Island culminating with a harrowing beat back up to the east end of Catalina Island.
I didn’t do the race this year, but was lucky enough to head out with the racers at the start (as I headed to Catalina for the weekend). Matt and I were neck and neck for a good while as we headed across the channel. I kept a respectful distance as not to interfere with his progress or wind, but we were close enough to exchange a few enthusiastic shouts back and forth and for me to offer my good wishes for his journey. Matt was one of only two singlehanders in the race, so I was particularly impressed with his determination. There was something about seeing the two of them heading off together that day that really moved me.
Throughout the race, I watched the track of all of the racers with vigilance and excitement until each was safely home. There were some moments where I could tell Matt was not making much progress and I was sending all of the good juju and support I could muster his way. Unbeknownst to him, he and Pavlova had a major cheering section aboard my boat that weekend, and among my friends (anyone who would look at the tracker on my phone with me) after that. On Monday, I was happy to hear about his entire experience, which of course gave me a deeper understanding of what I saw on the tracker. From both a physical and emotional standpoint, it seems that his journey was chock full of learning and adventure.
Matt reported that the first part of the trip from Marina Del Rey to the west end of Catalina and then downwind to Guadalupe Island was “quite relaxing”. He even got one six hour stretch of sleep, which when recounted at our PSSA meeting on Monday was met with gasps of disbelief (and I think, mostly envy). Everyone knows what a precious commodity sleep is on trips like this and it appears that Matt was able to capitalize on Pavlova’s sturdy and dependable ways to bank some serious rest! It seems that most of the racers had a pleasant trip downwind, but it was when they all rounded the island and were faced with big winds and seas that the real adventure began. During this time is when Matt faced his biggest challenges. From the way it sounds, they all came one on top of the other in a six hour period. When Matt first told me about his trip, he said that “the most satisfying part of the journey came through adversity”, he went on to explain that “for those six hours I was singularly focused and living entirely in the moment. There were no thoughts of the past or the future, just the now”. I thought this was so poignant and true. He had to remain present as he experienced everything from taking on water to a bilge pump malfunction to autopilot failure and most terrifying, a moment when he feared he was about to have an electrical fire. During these six hours he was hove to in 30+ knot winds and 13’-15’ seas. All of the issues were handled with what seemed to me like efficiency and determination, but I imagine those hours to be pretty harrowing. I suppose in those situations, you have no choice, though but to put your head down and get things done.
My favorite part of the story is his landfall, when after the icing-on-the-cake of engine failure a short distance out, he was towed in to Avalon. When the tow guys and the harbor guys found out where Matt had just come from, they were beyond enthusiastic and supportive, which made me so happy to hear. He was then able to make it to the shore and with wobbly sea legs find his way promptly to a well deserved cold beer. His wife and friends arrived in short order from the mainland to celebrate Matt ad his incredible accomplishment!
After hearing Matt’s story and having the honor to sail with him aboard Pavlova, I felt grateful and privileged for having spent an afternoon with 2 such valiant souls (yes I do think sailboats have souls). I enjoyed every minute, and when I left I gave Pavlova a little pat and silently thanked her for taking such good care of my new friend! With each new connection forged through PSSA, I am more and more grateful. It is truly an honor to be in the company of such brave and capable sailors, not to mention wonderful people!