Solo Sailing from San Francisco to Hawaii




I departed San Francisco on July 30th, leaving the city for what I presumed was to be good weather for the first week. The forecast called for 20-25 knot northerlies the whole week however there was a significant NW swell of 13-15’ which was supposed to subside in a day or two. Unfortunately, there was no wind to be found for the first two days and my electric autopilot snapped its belt which left me hand steering as the windvane only works if there is wind. After motoring 100 miles offshore I was forced to turn off the engine to conserve fuel and with no sails to stabilize Cascadia, I was left floating beam to the swell. This was probably the most unpleasant feeling that I have ever had in a boat as Cascadia rolled 30 degrees from port to starboard for over a day

After about a day the winds eventually filled in from the NW and I was scooting along, although the ride remained unpleasant as there still was a considerable swell that I was taking almost directly on the beam. I considered pointing a tad bit more south to quarter the swell but I thought I would give it a day to see if conditions would improve. In hindsight, I should have altered my course as Cascadia was getting bashed by waves, some clearing clear over top of the cabin.

Needless to say the first week was absolutely hell. It was cold, wet, and I seriously considered turning back several times and sailing to L.A. or Mexico if conditions got any worse. When I was thinking of how to describe that first week, the thoughts of having the Flu combined with being forced to ride an amusement ride nonstop came to mind. I was completely fatigued, sick, and irritated with the conditions, but when I almost reached my tipping point things drastically changed for the better.

By day 8 and roughly 900 miles off the coast of California, the swell and winds veered to almost directly astern of me. The air and sea temperatures also rose rapidly; I was officially in the NE trade winds. It was like flipping on a light switch and it proved to be some of the best sailing I have ever encountered.The warm winds and gentle swell made the next 10 days to be quite delightful and made the trip well worth it. There was of course the occasional squalls and periods of chaos, but it was all quite manageable when compared to the first week.

During the first week, most of my time was occupied by managing my fatigue, which meant that I would wake up on scheduled intervals to adjust sails, check my course, and then go back to bed. But upon entering the trades winds, I had a lot more free time, so much so that I was worried that my boredom would eventually get the best of me and cause me to loathe any future voyages after Hawaii. Yet, this was not the case as I spent most of my time watching TV and movies which I had previously downloaded, or I read the few books that I had aboard. In addition, I spent a lot of time perfecting my sail trim or trying different configurations. Eventually I figured out that simply flying the headsail with a whisker pole was the easiest and safest, which netted me an average speed of 4.6 knots. Use of the mainsail provided a lot more stability and about a ½ knot more of speed, but often I was sailing too deep and wrestling with that sail at night when a squall popped up was not worth the added benefit it provided.

Another way I occupied my time was by fishing, which is incredibly easy out in the middle of the ocean. I am by no means an angler, yet nearly every time I cast my pole out I was bringing in a Mahi Mahi. The fish tastes alright, just like any other white meat fish, but eventually I stopped fishing altogether as I grew rather tired of the flavor. On my next passage I will be certain to bring gear to target different species such as tuna.

The last 500 miles of the trip were extremely excruciating as I was so anxious to get to shore and celebrate the unprecedented feat of mine. I would often calculate my speed and distance, anticipating the hour I would make landfall. I must of done this 100 times, with different speed configurations to predict best and worst case scenarios. To top it off, I had ran out of movies and reading material, forcing myself to read the most obscure things such as the back of cereal boxes etc., it was really quite humorous now that I think about it.  In addition, the wind seemed to be dying the closer I got to Hawaii, thus my speed and morale slowly sank as speed slowly dropped from 5 knots, to 4, 3, then down to 2 ½ knots.

This reduction in speed ultimately added an additional day to the trip as I arrived in Hilo, Hawaii on August 19th at 4:30 in the morning. Nevertheless, I was so relieved and proud to drop my anchor in this small harbor as I had completed what very few solo sailors have set out to do.

When evaluating what worked and what didn’t on this trip, I had very few things that I plan on changing or repairing. I thought that losing my autopilot was going to be a serious hardship, yet I probably would of only used it less than 24 hours the whole trip as the windvane worked quite well. In addition, while the solar panels provided good output when it was sunny, they were quite deficient on cloudy days which I encountered most of the trip. Nevertheless, I don’t think I will add more power as the only power intensive system I have onboard is the fridge yet I found there is little use for fresh food as most days it would be too difficult to properly prepare any sort of homemade meal. Asides from that, I have consistently ran into a problem of finding water in my fuel. On two occasions I found my Racor completely filled with water and had to change my filters during the middle of the trip. This is something that I definitely will want to rectify before departing on my next passage which I think will be to the Christmas Islands and then America Samoa.


Author: Andrew Stephens

A Pacific Northwest native and recent graduate from Seattle University, Andy is currently sailing his 30′ Cape Dory sailboat around the world. You can find more information him by visiting his website or on his YouTube channel.

16 Comments on “Solo Sailing from San Francisco to Hawaii

  1. Congrats Andy, you are a true sailor I’m proud of you . In all of your adventures in life you’ve learned the skills and determination to achieve goals most people only dream about. The Coast Guard taught you discipline , running marathons taught you to hang in and never quit, and you loving family taught you that you will always be
    Loved and supported no matter what.

    1. Wow Andy, that first week leaving the mainland sounds terrible! Glad things improved and congratulations for making this journey successfully!!!

  2. So glad you made it! I think I saw your site on someone’s sail blog around the time you left (we’re sailors and live in Everett) and have been following your progress! Congrats!

    1. Nice! Although my homeport is out of Elliott Bay in Seattle, I grew up in Everett and I think when all is said and done I will be bringing Cascadia back to Everett.

      1. my Hawaiian co-worker just pointed out to me that there are two storms on their way to Hawaii right now, he thinks that is why you are in Honolulu right now, maybe it’s a good protected area, I hope so!!

        1. Yes, that’s why I am in Honolulu, the harbor is better protected than most anchorages and the hotels block a lot of the wind! The first storm hits today and Hurricane Lester is due to hit Saturday.

  3. Congratulations Andy! What an incredible achievement! It sounds like a lot of highs and lows over the past 6 weeks. Your determination and persistence are inspiring, and I hope Hawaii is a great reward for all that incredibly hard work! Have fun!!

  4. Congrats on your landfall and what sounds like a nearly routine passage! Inspiration as I work on preparing my cape dory for a similar journey. Excited to read the next installment. Fair winds!

  5. What a great adventure to read this last post. My spirits were going up and down with yours as you felt the disappointments and the get all jazzed again as the winds picked up. And the last s l o w sail to land would have been rough. My friend at work Doug said I needed to send you a Wilson basket ball to talk to like Tom Hanks to you wont get so lonely- find a PO box and I’ll send you a friend. 🏀

  6. Nice story Andy. Well said with truthful descriptions of the ways you feel when your whole environment is kinetic. Moving home with Cascadia pitching and yawing and the seas sometimes like a washing machine. Those of us who have been in similar conditions know “this too will change”. Glad you’re well in Hawaii. We’re loving it here in the Sea of Cortez. Dodging hurricanes and living moment to moment watching to see which way they’re going. Sadly for you, most we’ve seen go NW towards you!!! Stay safe and congratulations. Spotty wifi coverage here, so until next time….Due West

  7. Great storytelling! Those views are amazing – the color of the water is absolutely stunning, and I look forward to seeing more of that! I completely agree – windvane steering is something that you can stare at for hours and hours on end.

    Keep up the great posts and videos – I am living my dream through your experiences!

    1. Steve! Thanks so much for your words of encouragement and support on patreon! It’s great knowing that people at EBM are following along as I really enjoy sharing my story with us “cold water” sailors back in the Pacific Northwest.

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