Month: November 2016

November 4, 2016 Andrew Stephens

            I left Oahu just after sunset and pointed Cascadia on a southwesterly heading. Her next landing, the small island port of Majuro would lie nearly 2000 miles to the southwest in the Marshall Islands; a tiny coral refuge in the otherwise vast and vacant Central Pacific.

This trade winds filled in abruptly once a mile off the Island and I quickly reduced sail to keep Cascadia on an even keel. The further I got offshore, the more I was exposed to the sea state that the island of Oahu had been previously protecting me from. By midnight, the conditions had deteriorated to the point where life aboard Cascadia had become almost unbearable. A moderate SE swell combined with a large NE swell and fresh NE trade winds to make the saltiest of sailors green behind the gills. The motion of Cascadia had become unpredictable and as such I confined myself to my bunk to rest and hope the seas would abate the following morning. Nevertheless, the next day only brought stronger winds and larger swells and I continued to fall ill from the constant bucking of the seas. The first several days were a blur as I drifted in and out of sleep; fatigued by the persistent roll of the boat and only awaking to adjust the sails and check my progress. By the third night, I awoke to my headsail flogging as the winds have further increased, reducing sail even further in order for the windvane to be able to steer my desired course.

I crawled out into the cockpit and eased out the jib sheet and hauled in on the furler to reduce the headsail to what was now only a 1/4 of its original size. With the sail set,I turned around to see a giant sea bird only a foot away hiding behind my dodger from the relentless seas. Startled, I screamed like a little schoolgirl, and although no one was there to hear me, I must say I was embarrassed and ashamed by this instinctive reflex. The bird acknowledged my presence but looked at me as if I would take pity upon his poor soul who no doubt had been exhausted from our current weather we were experiencing. I empathized with this bird, and with my pride already bruised I let him stay shielded from wind and seas. I retired back to my bunk, and when I awoke the following day I stepped out into the cockpit to see that this bird had shit all over my boat! I mean it was everywhere, and I am just looking at this bird thinking “I just did you a solid and you just shit all over it!” I scurried him off the boat and spent the morning cleaning the remnants of what I thought was to be my new companion for the trip.

That afternoon, the seas continued to increase and the winds held strong. Over the course of my time spent on boats I had on occasion become queasy, but I have never been actually seasick; however, it was now day three of this passage and I felt worse than ever. I stared helplessly at the horizon, watching it bounce and roll in relation to the ship as I tried to futilely get my sea legs firmly planted. Nevertheless, it was of no use and before I knew it I was projectile vomiting all over the cockpit. I tried to puke over the side but the seas were too rough to get close enough without risking myself falling over this side as well. So I did my best to time the roll of the boat, waiting for a strong roll to starboard and then using gravity to my advantage, pulling my vomit away from the boat. This was only somewhat successful as my puke was all over, and as the ship continued to roll I had difficulty maintaining my composure as I sat awkwardly perched next to the toerail, continuously coming into contact with the puke the lied all over the boat. It was all over my hands, face, and even in my hair. It was safe to say that this passage was not going the way I expected it to.

        The following day both, the seas and winds abated to a gentle 6’ west swell and the typical 15-20 knot tropical trade winds that sailors have relied on since the dawn of sailing. Cascadia and I quickly fell into a daily routine, just as the days would fade into night, so to would darkness of the night giveaway to a new and beautiful day. Each sunrise in my mind was a victory, as if I was saying “I made it! I survived the day, now I just a have to do it again.” And so with every sunrise I was truly grateful to start a new day.

Living day to day makes time transpire quite differently while at sea. As each day is roughly the same, with the same scenery, swell, and wind…there in nothing that really differentiates one day from the other, ergo, it becomes difficult to remember exactly what happened not only a week ago, but what even happened yesterday as there was no event that differentiated one day from the other.  The only thing that seemed to break up the monotony of each day were the incessant squalls that seemed to be increasing in force the closer Cascadia and I got towards the equator. For those who don’t know, there is a zone called the inter tropical convergent zone (ITCZ) where the southern and northern hemisphere’s trade winds meet. In the middle of the zone is the infamous doldrums where sailors have been becalmed for weeks while transiting across the equatorial waters, however on the edge of the doldrums, the air is highly unstable, which allows for numerous thunderstorms and disorganized squalls. Every day that passed brought Cascadia and I closer to the ITCZ and as such, the frequency in which we encountered the storms also increased.

These powerful cells contained so much water vapor that as they passed overhead it would often rob whatever daylight there may be, and reduce visibility to less than ¼ mile as the rain came down from the heavens unlike anything I have seen. Sometimes these squalls would only last for 30 minutes and other times they would last for most of the day, but they almost always brought a change in wind direction and velocity, and if they caught you off guard it was pure hell trying to get Cascadia under control, especially in the middle of the night. Because of this, I never fell into a deep sleep while sailing as I am always listening to the boat, the wind and sails. Any slight change in conditions immediately catches my attention, often causing me to spring from my bunk in the dead of night within seconds of awakening and dart outside to start grinding away on the winches and adjusting the sails, for if I was not to attend to these change in conditions, it could have catastrophic consequences on my gear, and turn a difficult passage into an impossible one.

Although this passage brought many hardships, it was actually quite enjoyable most of the time and I actually started to look forward to all the squalls as they permitted me to take a cool shower everyday washing away the layers of dried sweat that accumulated throughout the day as sweltering heat and humidity only seemed to increase each day that we inched towards the equator. The last two weeks of my passage were actually quite pleasant and I spent most of my time binging Netflix series that I have downloaded, reading the occasional book, and practicing my ukulele. In addition, I received so many messages of support from people all over the world. It was amazing to see how so many people have enjoyed hearing about my adventures and they all definitely added to the overall morale of the trip. But above all, such long passages really allow for a person to think and eventually you start to really start questioning reality as the everything seems so bizarre. You are so far from anywhere you imagined, sailing a 30’ sailboat across the largest ocean in the world. I would often step out on deck and just stare at the empty horizon in disbelief…I am literally in the midst of living my dream. There are few people that I know that can say they have had a similar experience.