Tough Lesson

Mex-Gal 10
Early evening squall

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.

Sleeping takes us away...
Sleeping takes us away…

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.

Avoiding the storm . . .
Avoiding the storm . . .
. . . and giving in.
. . . and giving in.

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.

Repairing a propane issue.
Repairing a propane issue.

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.

Another thunder cloud . . .
Another thunder cloud . . .

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.

And another . . .
And another . . .
And again . . .
And again . . .

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.

God cloud?
The “God” cloud?

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.

In the rain with a new attitude
In the rain with a new attitude
Crossing the equator
Crossing the equator

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.

Land Ho! Hoisting the courtesy and Q flags.
Land Ho! Hoisting the courtesy and Q flags.
Arriving in the Galapagos on Uncle Bill's birthday, a lot to celebrate!
Arriving in the Galapagos on Uncle Bill’s birthday, a lot to celebrate!

by Eric Rigney

12 thoughts on “Tough Lesson”

  1. Dear Eric, I see signs of wisdom in that post. To use a land-lubber’s aphorism, “Bloom where you are planted.” Looking back on all of the angst from your viewpoint in the Marquesas, I imagine you are now breathing deeply once again, and letting enjoyment flood your life. Is it true that things mean more when you have to struggle for them? What’s your take?
    Your last post brought me to tears. You did not hold back.
    Have a wonderful year in Nuku Hiva or where ever you are. (I remember Kent trying to get a plane ticket to Ua Huka, I think it was.) Love from betsyandgary

  2. Strange you should write, “Eric, you must sail the wind you have, not the wind you want…”
    I am on land, as sunny and terra-firma as California can be. But life causes me to have the same doubts and ask the same questions you asked yourself. And the answer that came to me some time ago? “I have to live in the world I have, not the world I want.”

  3. I did get the feeling from your texts that the going was rough on this leg of your journey, You laid it all out there making your writings very enjoyable. The calm after the storm and now enjoying the fruit of your labor. Much love to all as always, A.A.

  4. UB here. I was so glad when we spotted the Galapagos and the torture was finally ending. Soon after leaving Mexico, I regretted signing on for the passage. Even though you warned me that the winds would not be favorable, I never expected the constant rock and roll and had forgotten how miserable it was to be on a sail boat when the engine was running. Diesel, as you know, are the nemesis of sailboats. Looking back, I’m so glad that you decided to push ahead as what happened after we arrived was well worth all the discomfort of the passage. My only regret is that I wish I had had more energy to be more helpful on the trip. What a great first mate and crew Kandu has.

  5. So enjoyed your writings! You do have a way to express yourself through words. I am guessing a lot of this came from journalling at the time of each of the changing circumstances. Through the tough times is when we have to dig deep, and this is often when we learn the most about ourselves. It is all preparation for what is in front of us or maybe it’s to teach us about something we had over looked as we passed it. Glad you came to the conclusion that sailing “with the wind you have” is what is important. This is a good lesson for all of us!! It might not be the “wind” we want, but it all can have the same significance for our “wants”. Thank you for sharing your adventure, your lessons, your family, your ups and downs, your celebrations, your thoughts, your pictures….!!!! Enjoy being a Dad! Hugs to all 🙂

  6. Hi Rigney Family,

    You are missed in Ventura. I saw your position, and am glad you are at Nuku Hiva. Is this where you are staying for awhile?

    I’m still working on cartoons, living on my little sailboat, and playing music.

    Keep up on the blog posts. I enjoy hearing everyone’s perspective on the trip.

    Take Care,
    Rick

    1. Hello Rick – Great to hear from you. Yes we are here in Nuku Hiva to stay for awhile. It is so lovely here and we enrolled the boys in the local middle school. They are enjoying being with other young people; the French assimilation is great for learning the language.They pick-up new words everyday and are understanding more and more. We speak to them in French and now they are required to watch all their movies in French. Glad to hear that the cartoon business is holding and that life on your boat at West Marina continues to please. We do miss home.Best to you!Leslie

  7. Have I told you that I just LOVE that you and your family are doing this??!! And how jealous I am? 🙂 What a great experience for you and your family to have inside and out. It takes courage to do what you all are doing but the gifts you’re gaining will be priceless. After reading this I was reminded of Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements- one of them being Always Do Your Best. Your best will change from moment to moment; it will be different from when you are healthy to when you are sick. Under any circumstance simply do your best and you will avoid self-abuse, self-judgement and regret. Sending love and safety energy your way!!!

  8. I love reading all about your adventures!!!! Great lesson for everyone! Very timely for me! I’ve enjoyed the posts so much I’ve shared them with family. My apologies ahead of time if you get random responses! 🙂 Keep blogging and happy sails!

  9. My long time friend, Tony Alcock shared his recent manuscript with me. In it is the hot spot to your site. Just wanted you to know that as a fellow skipper, I can identify with your challenges. As a father I resonate with your questions about the wisdom of such a voyage. You have inspired me with your resolve and focus to sail the winds of life that we are provided. Thank you for sharing honest feelings with all of us. May a safe wind be at your back for the remainder of your journey. John

    1. Our adventure continues to be a journey of internal discovery for me, of having to make adjustments, both small and large, putting into question pre-conceptions. It’s not usually fun while in the midst of it, but rewarding on the other side of the process. Often, I find the changes, although profound in affect, are subtle in execution. Like drinking lots of water, having good posture, eating the right amounts and types of food, etc.; all simple concepts difficult to exhibit. Thank you for your kind words and support. Eric

  10. Interesting read. Glad you all made it safe. Weather is always unpredictable. Love your pix!!! Following your trip will be fun. Say hi to Leslie and the boys!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *