The 18-day crossing from Paradise Village, Nuevo Vallarta (near Puerto Vallarta) Mexico to Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela in the Galapagos was difficult. The weak and variable winds, thunderstorms/squalls, and mixed seas wore us down and consumed nearly all our diesel. Mid-May marked the beginning of the northern hemisphere hurricane season. For us, that translated into high sea temperatures that saturated the humid horizon with afternoon and evening thunderheads. At one latitude, sea and ocean shared the same temperature: 89oF, making refrigeration a full time job. Rain forced us to close nearly all Kandu’s hatches and portlights. Under such aquatic lockdown, internal cabin humidity became oppressive.
The RADAR scanned for squalls and showers, which formed mostly at night in the beginning, but then bled into the day, such that every hour felt like we were dodging something. Rain appears in red on our chart-plotter, giving squalls a vampiresque appearance. Near the end, we gave up running away and took our wet licks hoping we’d avoid lightening. Southern depressions and east-southeast winds made mixed seas the whole way. We later learned the unusually heavy swell from these southern depressions caused much damage in the Galapagos and in parts of southern Mexico after we left. For us, that southern swell made for an uncomfortable ride. It was difficult to get anything done. Even sleeping was difficult.
Satellite texting was our greatest entertainment, reaching out and communicating with family and friends (and manufacturers). Every time the device chirped, each of us wondered for who the message would be. My long time friend, Deren, did a lot of legwork for me from his Puget Sound home, as we tried to resolve problems while underway. I’d give him the background, he’d do the research and reach out to the manufacturer for support. Our system worked well.
As the winds switched back and forth in velocity and direction, we made such little progress. Normally, over a long distance, Kandu seemed to average about 5.25 knots/hour, or 125 nautical miles a day: our performance when we sailed down the Baja coast from San Diego, and so that’s the basis I used to calculate how long it would take us to arrive in the Galapagos. With little wind and higher than normal seas, we motor-sailed so we could average closer to 90 nautical miles (1 nm=1.167 miles) a day under the keel. As we got closer to our targeted port, the wind and swell shifted toward our nose causing us to have to tack back and forth, so while we passed 90 nm of water across our water line, our distance over land shrunk to 40 nm/day.
As we got closer, we also developed a charging problem: the engine’s alternator was no longer charging the batteries. We were using the ship’s batteries to power our autopilot, chart-plotter, RADAR, and refrigeration. When wind conditions allowed, we’d use our windvane to steer the boat, but that was not as often as we would have liked. The 2kw gas-powered Honda generator didn’t charge the batteries very quickly, so at times we had both Kandu’s diesel engine running while we ran the generator: a veritable cacophony of combustibles.
The slow performance, rough motion, high humidity, and power issues brought me to a point of significant doubt, questioning the whole plan to sail around the world. Having spent more than three years of great effort and financial commitment to get to this point, with no end of effort and expense in sight, with great discomfort to all on board, it wasn’t making sense to continue. My goal was to bring us closer as a family as we explored together the wonders of the world, working as a crew aboard our proud vessel. Why not sell the boat, take the money and rent places in beautiful, remote places around the world instead. At the rate we were going, we could only support ourselves two, maybe three years. And so far, I was having very little fun, and the boys and Leslie were upset that my attention remained focused on the needs of the boat, no time for play and exploration. In Mexico, we missed all the good stuff. We missed seeing and petting the grey whales in Baja by four days. We missed an exceptional festival in Banderas Bay by a couple weeks. We were late in the season to leave Mexico for Galapagos. We were always just shy of experiencing some wonderful event or ideal weather circumstance. I was exhausted and feeling deflated and defeated. How could I have so misjudged what the experience would entail? With my previous experience and years of research, how could I be so off the mark? I don’t recall ever being so wrong. My normal optimistic demeanor seemed more a sophomorically naive character flaw. As the rising sun struggled to light the morning sky, standing at the mast, still days away from a Galapagos arrival with fuel running out, batteries not charging, thunderheads still pouring rain on us, I wondered who I was and if I could do this . . . if I should do this.
Captaining a small sailboat across a couple thousand miles of eastern Pacific ocean with your wife, two young sons, and octogenarian uncle with a few more hundred miles to go before you reach the nearest point of land, . . . one has few options. There is no quitting. There is no room for self-pity. So, I ask, what then is the lesson? What is the reason for all this misery? Why am I at this low point? With such self-inflicted stress and burden, what can be learned? What can I take from this that will make all this loathing worthy? I’m not getting it, the lesson that must be slapping me in the face, the one that shouts at my soul. What is it? What am I supposed to learn from this??? Standing at the mast, I quiet my soul, my brain, my heart, and listen. I just wait and listen for the answer. It doesn’t take long, less than a minute, before it comes. Eric, you must sail the wind you have, not the wind you want, and you must sail it to the best of your ability with what you have, without burden, sans self-pity: realize the terms and adjust accordingly, with resolve and without angst–sail the wind you have, not the wind you want. It became my motto. If I have to tack back and forth for the next week, so be it. If I can do better, I will. If I can’t, I’ll accept that I’m doing my best and receive the outcome without judgment. It is what it is, and I’m doing the best with what I’ve got. What comes of it is good enough, and I will seek to be satisfied with what comes.
About four days later, we reached the Galapagos with less than 15 gal of diesel remaining from our tanks’ original 115. The benign weather normally associated with the bay we entered vanished on our approach, roughing up the bay and flooding the streets. It took two days to get cleared in and approved for landing, a story in itself, and another 6 days before our charging problem was resolved. After that, I enjoyed several days of Galapagos exploration together with the family. For the first time in three years, I was working on being a dad again. I recognize I have a lot of catching up to do, and that I’ll only get there by . . . sailing the wind I have.
by Eric Rigney