Months since I last posted, having just past our anniversary, a recap of the past 2 years seems fitting. The start of the trip’s impact was great and still resonates strongly within my recollection. Much like recalling the bear in the woods at the cost of the forest’s wonder. Although much wonder is to be told of our experiences in the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands, of New Zealand and Sydney, and of Easter Island, looking back I seem drawn to reflect on the stress of the journey’s start, perhaps in an effort to derive some benefit against the ledger of anguish expended, perhaps as a cautionary tale to those eager to push themselves in a likewise fashion, or maybe like a survivor of any struggle may do. But this, as with most American movies, is developing into a happy circumstance. I had faith that the experience would eventually pay off, but my faith was and is often tested, just as it is for entrepreneurs, parents, and anyone else with a goal to make something worthy happen.
Apologies for those who feel I repeat too often a “woe-is-me” theme. Leslie worries so. I don’t do so to provoke a response, to get readers to encourage me. I’m just inviting readers into my head as I look back on the past two years. This is, I know, a repeat of what I’ve written before, but see it as a summary, a reduction of my thoughts. Know this: I am at this time pleased and more self-aware than I can recall in recent memory. “Much to learn have I,” as Yoda might phrase it. “Learn I have. Learn I will. But never so much as is to learn.”
Two years ago, on Leslie’s birthday, we left Ventura, California aboard Kandu, our 42-foot expedition type single mast sailboat, now almost 30 years old herself. Motor-sailing out from the marina and into the Pacific Ocean, light haze over an otherwise clear winter sky, friends waved us on from ashore. We slipped eagerly toward the calm harbor entrance, a gentle swell heightened as we neared the breakwaters’ opening, flanked by boulders of rock on either side, then passed the detached breakwater covered in a thick overcoat of seabird guano.
The crew were excited. Bryce was standing on the forward pulpit pulling off his best Leonardo DiCaprio imitation of “I’m on top of the world!” Trent was below deck, scrambling to find and play the theme song to Titanic crackling over the loudspeaker. Did they not recall how the movie ended? Leslie was glad to be finally moving, having struggled for eighteen months prior to this day, buttoning up our lives as they had been, still frustrated from having walked away from beloved careers, family/friends, and a cozy home. But she was glad to be following through with the dream. After 25 years of talking about it, planning for it, saving for it, we were gliding out of the starting gate. No more having to hear, “You haven’t left yet?” from marina neighbors, yacht club members, and friends: a welcome relief for Leslie. I was more anxious than excited. Having worked full time on the boat for nearly a year and half, I didn’t think Kandu was yet ready for the demands of the first two, possibly four, long distance crossings that would comprise our first and longest passages. We hadn’t yet put Kandu through a significant shakedown; between extended preparations and a closing weather window (May 1st is the first official day of hurricane season for the northern hemisphere), we hadn’t had the time.
Rather than head directly to Mexico from Ventura, we slipped in and out of Southern California marinas, stopping at reciprocal yacht clubs where we could stay free for 3-5 days at a time. West Marine, the nation’s largest purveyor of marine hardware, mans a store in nearly every Southern California port. I was through their doors like church and everyday was Sunday. Haunted by the knowledge that once we left California, cost and time would be added to each and every project, handicapped by the lack of convenience generously supported by US’s well-oiled consumer culture. The mental stress was heavy. With the safety and comfort of family on the line, “failure was not an option.”
Mexico’s would be our first international border to cross. It’s a day sail from San Diego to Ensenada. Having worked frenetically in marinas between Ventura and San Diego, with no more “free-slip” days left having spent our allotted time in 6 different yacht clubs, and that ever present favorable seasonal weather window closing, my hand was forced again. March 21, the spring equinox, would be our last day in the USA.
Ensenada was a mini-vacation with no major known boat projects left to tackle. Uncle Bill and our mutual friend, Joe Houska, joined us for the border crossing. They returned to California after a few days of helping us out with tasks. As a family treat, we attended what would be for the next two years our last feature film screening in a movie theater. The coves and bays between Ensenada and Banderas Bay ranged from beautiful and remote, to dirty and corrupt. The crew handled well their watches. I was impressed by their desire to hold up their end. Bryce and Trent found ways to have fun at every place we stopped. I could find no desire within myself to have fun; knowing important tasks needed all my available energy. My humbug attitude frustrated me and the crew.
Coming into Banderas Bay, port La Cruz, two significant problems arose: the newly factory rebuilt hydraulic cylinder that allows the automatic pilot to steer the boat failed due to my improper installation, and the masthead VHF antenna connection failed, severely limiting our radio’s reception and transmission performance to just a mile instead of 8-12. After many stressful days of research and measurements, a replacement hydraulic system was identified, expensive, purchased, delivered, and installed. The delay meant that Easter Island would likely have to come off the list. It was maybe 10 days since San Diego and I was missing West Marine like a crack addict. Time prevented repairing the VHF masthead antenna connection properly so we installed a new one behind the cockpit until I had time and a steady place where I could tackle the masthead solution. We picked up Uncle Bill at the Puerto Vallarta airport with all the parts I’d ordered, an action in which all future visitors to Kandu would engage. “Hardware mules” is what cruising sailors refer to friends and family who visit, laden with ordered parts and supplies, cheaply freighted and easily passed by customs. With the ticking weather window to sail to the Galapagos rapidly closing (“You should have left 4-6 weeks ago.”), we buttoned up Kandu, and on May 1, left Puerto Nuevo bound for Isla Isabela in the Galapagos with Uncle Bill aboard. Kandu was as ready as I could make her and I was satisfied enough, all things considered.The eighteen-day passage was extremely hot and muggy, seas from several directions, confused and varied winds, and nightly attacks by incessant squalls. Rain forced us to close all hatches and portlights, converting our living space into a tropical sauna.
Sea temperature and air temperature were the same: 89 degrees F. Sweat and grime were immediate. Tempers shortened and mechanical problems continued to develop. This time, the engine’s charging system wasn’t functioning properly and I couldn’t figure out why. The off-again/on-again shifting winds exhausted my patience.The awkward motion of the boat in the three-way swell was annoying. I wondered if we could make it to landfall before running out of diesel fuel. But this wasn’t a weekend trip in some campground. I was in the middle of a remote part of the Pacific with my precious family. Like a scene out of Apollo 13, I must work from the parts and pieces I have on the boat.
Digging deep within my soul, I get hit by the life lesson I’ve discussed before: I can only sail the wind I have, not the wind I want. Somehow the sentiment comforts me. Do with what I’ve got, as best I can, adapting with demands of the moment. Throw shoulda, woulda, coulda out the door; and open myself to what’s possible, and then do that. That’s all I can do, that’s all anyone can do, so do it and move on to the next thing. Leave perfection to the saints.
My experience at Isla Isabela, the largest island in the Columbus Archipelago aka the Galapagos, questioned for me what was becoming the theme of our trip. Should it be about spending time together as a family exploring new lands and cultures, or would it be about me getting the boat ready for the next crossing while the family begged me to join to them on one of their snorkels, bike rides, or other excursions?
Turns out, of the fifteen days spent in Puerto Villamil, five were rain-drenched workdays, eight were sunny workdays, and three were amazing excursions. Twenty-percent fun, eighty-percent stress and work. I did not like this version of the 80-20 rule. But what could I do?
The conditions of the Mexico to Galapagos crossing proved too much for Uncle Bill, who celebrated his 84th birthday on our Galapagos arrival. He did not join us for the crossing to the Marquesas. Unlike the Galapagos crossing, the 24-day crossing to the Marquesas was swift and dryer. The seas were larger and still a bit confused. In brief, the conditions were not comfortable, but the ride was a bit more pleasant, not as hot and less rain, no squalls. We arrived in Nuku Hiva with a couple more boat issues for me to resolve before heading on.
A late June arrival in the Marquesas meant we were about three months off from the ideal seasonal weather window based on our planned itinerary. In order to catch up and be in New Zealand by November, we would have to cut our French Polynesia stay by several months. Considering that we had pre-established deep relations with many Marquesans friends, leaving so soon would have robbed us from an opportunity too valuable to lose. Our Marquesan friends said we had arrived during a grand Matava’a year, an inter-island cultural event staged in December once every four years. A French sailor familiar with the area and all of French Polynesia advised that an El Nino year was expected and that the Marquesas Islands were the safest place in French Polynesia to avoid hurricanes, also the least expensive and most authentic in terms of Polynesian culture. Another Marquesan friend advised us that they could enroll our boys in the French public school. And two different American cruisers, both with at least one circumnavigation under their belts advised that the elements of French Polynesia combine to create a superior cruising experience: tropical beauty, warm and friendly people, access to French food, and all essential services. Add to the mix that Leslie and I speak French and this all made for a compelling argument set aside the original itinerary and, instead, rest.
Staying in the Marquesas until next season would reset the weather window clock, allow me to catch up with most of the boat projects while having some fun, give us a cultural immersion experience few families can experience in the Marquesas, save some money, and the boys would learn French. On the other hand, to try and catch up with the planned itinerary would have entailed nearly non-stop boat maintenance, missing many of the cultural gifts of each port, just a quick dash through the South Pacific. Sure, sticking to the five-year plan we’d be able to chalk up more countries visited, spreading the time and cultural exchanges over multiple countries around the world instead of concentrating on French Polynesia. But if I’m working all the time, what I’m getting out of it? The scale tipped heavily in favor of staying, so stay we did . . . not just for one year, but two.
The Marquesas long-stay experience proved so wonderful that we decided to extend our stay in French Polynesia a second year, this time in the Society Islands, in Raiatea and in a marina.
It is from here that I write. To help make things even easier and more fun, we bought a very used car.
From here, we calculate we can get a jump on the weather window in our bid to finish a circumnavigation, but now within a much quicker two years. We hope to leave this May. To shorten the distance and save time, we plan to sail up the Red Sea instead of around Africa. Pirate circumstances have dramatically changed around the horn of Africa in favor of passing through this previously perilous region. From Raiatea, I can calmly finish the last big boat projects, having Kandu ready for the two-year push while the boys complete a second year in French public school and play in a beautiful part of the world in a familiar culture. Through it all, Leslie keeps the family fed, tidy, healthy, and the bills paid, along with other boat projects. We have a nice routine. The municipal marina provides electricity, water, and easy access to land, while fending off swells generated from seasonal storms. From Raiatea, we can affordably fly to bucket-list locations missed due to our delayed start or to be missed by our new itinerary.
First in line, we flew to New Zealand for a two-week drive-about.
This important region was removed from our new sailing itinerary as was most of Australia. So from NZ we flew to nearby Sydney for another two weeks.
After a week in Tahiti, we returned to Raiatea for 10 days, then back to Tahiti for a flight to Easter Island, removed from our itinerary due to boat preparation delays and additional repairs in Mexico. We stayed two weeks and experienced most of the Tapati Festival.
As such, overall, we had an extraordinary (and much needed) 7-week family vacation exploring New Zealand’s north island, visiting friends old and new; Sydney with my brother Curtis and his partner, Joel; Easter Island and the Tapati Festival with Marquesan and American friends; and more excitement in Tahiti with great Tahitian and American friends. The result: a full decompression from the grueling post-departure months, living on the boat, and the upcoming pre-departure boat preparations. I couldn’t recall when I had last felt so unburdened.
So, the experience up to the Marquesas was unpleasant. The effect: the shadow of the difficult start permeated my being. I didn’t realize how much of it I still shouldered even after we decided to hit the pause button, how the weight of the burden had left an impression and thus continued to shape my perspective and my day-to-day attitude towards the future. After the recent “vacation,” for the first time in too many years, I felt I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, and doing it all for the right reasons at the right pace.
In summary, we left our homeport twenty-four months ago. The first four months were frustrating and pressure-filled. The following 20 months have been rewarding, very much so, yet tainted by an overshadowing stress established by the first four months, and the year and half leading up to the departure. Still, that was closer to the 80/20 equation for which I was looking when I originally planned this trip. Unfortunately I allowed the 20 percent pain to blur the 80 percent pleasure. After the vacation, I knew more than ever that this habit needed to end. Better to take a page from Bryce and Trent’s playbook and find ways to have fun wherever we are, whenever we can, not looking for the closest hardware store. What would be the point of all this if I were to allow the emotional turmoil of the past to continue to spoil our adventure any futher?
Okay, so the focus now, for me, is to schedule time off from boat projects to have guilt-free fun, especially during the week, even just an hour. This is not easy for me to do. Another goal is to source an air of joy from within myself, draw out the “vacation” me, especially when I’m working with Leslie and the boys. I want to be less critical, less gruff. This too does not come naturally to me. To help me with this goal, I picture in my mind the on camera, off stage demeanor of Chris Martin, lead singer of the rock band Coldplay. I want to be more like that, confident, quick to smile, ready for something fun. This will not be easy for me, not by a long shot, but it’s important . . . to me and my family. I want develop joy and happiness more so than even my elusive washboard abs. In other words, wake up and smell the moai. In a strange way, I feel like the trip I envisioned 40+ years ago is just beginning, and I’m exited about it, and about doing it with Leslie, Bryce, and Trent aboard Kandu. In short, two years after leaving California, I find myself loving to sail the wind I have, . . . although missing a wee bit the convenience of a West Marine.