Watching gail force winds scream down the Northern California coast in the outskirts of San Francisco was bittersweet. We were buoyed in Sausalito, a posh town with an artsy feel, fine dining, a watering hole and a ferry terminal to San Fran. Looking West from our boat you could see the golden gate bridge funnel into a city skyline where “anything can happen, and your wildest dreams do come true”
There we were, waiting for the Pacific Ocean to die down and become sailable.
Then it happened.
Unpredictably after two days and adopting the group name “yager-bomb boys” we got the phone call from Captain Rick Whiteing. “We’ve got the weather window, let’s try and get to Bodago Bay; we’ll see how the seas are.” Last minute preparations began, all the port holes closed, nothing left unsecured, lines checked, radar on, wind reading, depth gauge, GPS software, marine radio on channel 16, it was time to go.
I couldn’t fight the haunting voices in my head “You should have gotten scopolamine patches” (small tabs that when applied behind your ear, numb the inner ear which is responsible for motion sickness)
“I was sea sick once…” Captain Rick boasted.
“How bad was it?” I nervously quizzed.
“Oh man…I would have chopped off a finger if it gave me relief, I wanted to jump off the boat” He said in a serious, sympathetique tone.
There I am thinking… “Why did I sign up for this?”
Rodney was springing around like Kosmo Kramer, Josh was very monotone, and Pat was excited but I could tell his balls were in his stomach. We pulled the anchor, put the boat in gear, and I shit my pants.
The 1st few hours weren’t too bad, we motor sailed by the Rock, under the Golden Gate Bridge and soaked in the city skyline as the mild fall sun ascended down over the open ocean. The sky was so clear in fact, I witnessed something magical. As the sun sunk over the horizon the very instant it disappeared a green flash occurred. Later learning that the flash was a result of scattering and refracting light I was delighted to experience this beauty on earth. Taken back by the green flash I was reluctant to realize that the sun had descended and the swell was 8-10 feet with 30 knot winds. To make matters worse, the wind was coming from the North and we were pounding into the waves going a meager 5 knots. Do you know the feeling you get in your stomach when you are driving fast and you hit a steep decline and your stomach drops making you laugh? Well the humor is gone when this happens every ten seconds. Imagine the worst airplane turbulence you have ever encountered and multiply it by 100. Add the screaming noise of a massive motor, throw salt water dripping EVERYWHERE, and come to the realization that this is your life for the next seven days…fun.
We worked in tandem watches, one in the AM, one in the PM covering 24-7. Pat and Carey were 8-12, Josh and Rodney were 12-4, and Rick and I were 4-8. This meant that for 8 hours a day you were expected to be up in the cockpit very alert as to what was happening in the ocean. A master log was filled out every two hours which monitored information such as Latitude and Longitude, course over ground, Wind Speed and direction, Wave size and frequency, magnetic direction, etc. One of the biggest fears was plowing into an errant log bobbing in the water waiting to puncture a hole in the keel. Making matters worse we didn’t have frontal sonar so at night we were basically risking it. Another danger possibility was the thousands of ocean containers roaming the earth which have flung off freighters and lay just under the surface of the ocean, out of human sight. If you hit one of these you are done.
Minutes felt like hours, hours felt like days as we all sat in the cockpit fighting off the hot water swirling in our mouths like just getting pressured into taking a double shot of white rum. The next 48 hours of my life can be easily documented. I didn’t have an intelligent thought, I didn’t laugh, smile or even string together a coherent sentence, I was a zombie. The waves kept getting bigger and we were being thrashed around. When smaller power boats would go by they were only visible when we were at the top of a swell, otherwise your peripheral vision was a very short sighted. Moving around the boat was a task in itself, even harder was taking a leak. Contributing to this state of agony was the over-the-counter motion sickness pills which were making me drowsy and bunged up. Meals were chocolate bars and chips because going into the galley for more that five minutes and you felt like you were going to hurl. On the bright side because of my 4-8 shifts I got to see every sunset and sunrise which are very cool when you are sailing along, 25 miles off the coast of California.
Then the third day hit, seas were somewhat calm and we all seemed to be talking a little bit more. I even made a chicken sandwich in the galley which was divine. The sun was shining, Rodney and Pat were unsuccessfully trolling for Albacore tuna and Josh and I were relaxing in the outside cockpit exchanging stories of times past.
“Look over there boys” Pat yelled, pointing East.
“Wow…” We all murmured looking over to see a group of Dolphins trailing the Wanderer. Some as close a two feet others a half a mile away, all chasing our boat, it was exciting. Every time you looked you would see more, after a few minutes they were on both sides of the boat. You could tell they were having a blast, every once an a while there would be a frisky one that would explode out of a wave and with an exhale he would turn on his side and make a loud slapping noise on the water. After five or ten minutes of the first sighting there were dozens of dolphins all following us, something that I dreamed of seeing if I ever got the chance to sail.
They say 72 hours is when the average person starts to get his sea legs. For me it was 48. I was cooking up a storm, playing backgammon, reading, watching DVD’s, it was really quite relaxing. I was getting into the routine of waking up at 4am to start my day with naps here and there but never any more than three hours at a time. Kerry also introduced us to a Jimmy Buffet album “Banana Wind”. With a very Caribbean feel to it we played it all day and it really added to the atmosphere of being at sea. It will always remind us of the days we spent motor-sailing the Pacific Wanderer back to Vancouver.
That afternoon which happened to be my 24th birthday the propane stove crapped out and we made the decision to stop in Brookings, Oregon. We pulled into the small fishing village which had a feel to it much like that of Maine. Stepping on solid ground after 50+ hours of rolling and tumbling was nauseating in itself. Pat, Rod, Josh and I went for a stroll to the local pool hall and I still didn’t feel like I was off the boat. We were having a game of pool and it felt as though the floor was moving just like the boat, an unusual sensation. After a great meal and a random entry into a Texas hold-em tournament it was back to the boat for sleep.
The next morning we were off again, saying goodbye to dry land the second time was much easier, in fact I was glad because I had become accustomed to the perpetual movement. Back out on the ocean it was more of the same except for the fact we were coming up on Cape Mendocino which is notoriously one of the worst stretches in the North Pacific Ocean. Our laptop/GPS unit had us making our way around the cape at midnight. When I woke up at 4am for my shift and looked at the two posts on the Captains log the seas were calm! The wind was non-existent and the waves were down to a very comfortable 3-5 feet. Now that we were all salty dogs with sea legs the days were fantastic, filled with fishing, backgammon, decent food, interesting conversation and best of all a tremendous learning experience. This leg of the trip took us just over 72 hours. Days melted into each other and your time became more orientated around your watches. Everyone stopped sleeping as much and we all seemed to be up for most of the day. This became a problem for me because I was only getting maximum three hours a day; I was finding it very hard to fall asleep.
On the sixth day we were slated to round the corner, leave the Pacific Ocean and turn east into the straight of Juan de Fuca. When the sun rose we were experiencing a strong southerly wind which changed the dynamics of the ocean. We rolled out the mizzen, cranked out the furler and rode huge ten foot swells as 30 knot winds sent us screaming North at 12 knots. We took the boat off Autopilot and took turns at the wheel; it was phenomenal! When the boat rose to the apex of a huge swell the 5 ton vessel picked up momentum and jolted forward with the wave. At the wheel it was challenging to keep the boat going the ideal magnetic direction, the waves were so powerful that a few swells could knock the boat off course as much as 20 degrees before you could counteract it. The southerly wind put us into the straight hours before we were slated to be there so we made the turn and kept pushing on to Vancouver. The waters were riddled with massive logs everywhere, we hit one dead on, making three loud cracks as it rolled under the boat but no visible damage was sustained. After a very long day of sailing we decided to anchor 50 miles south of Vancouver because winds were picking up and there were so many islands that we had to maneuver in the dark. At this point in the trip the movement wasn’t bothering any of us, it was more the constant noise of the engine always present, you couldn’t escape it. When the engine was finally turned off after 80+ hours I was a happy man. I laid on my bed which was more like a sliver of space and got 4-5 hours of sleep at once. I still woke up at 4am and had a rough time getting back to sleep but I managed to do so.
25 days after I left Canada with Dad and Pat, I was about to come back to our nation via the Pacific Wanderer. That last day was filled with as sense of accomplishment and camaraderie among all gentlemen onboard. The trees surrounding the metropolitan area of Vancouver are changing color filling the scenery with reds, oranges, and yellows that remind me so much of New Brunswick. I couldn’t help but think of years past making the road trip home from Fredericton for thanksgiving weekend. The trees color rushed back memories the drive home, the smell of crisp fall air, turkey, and great company.
My thanksgiving “road trip” this year is one I will never forget.
I could say so much more but I don’t want to take anymore of your time. We are now in the process of getting to the South Pacific. Vancouver is sure full of obstacles that sidetrack you from getting organized but we hope to be flying to New Zealand by next week.
Thanks for reading the blog.