Wednesday, October 10, 2012

You can make it back.

Pelican is anchored safely in Radio Bay which is in Hilo harbor off the big island of Hawaii.  I sailed here non stop from Fiji which took over seven weeks.  The rhumb line is 2800 miles but because the entire passage is uphill, the GPS recorded over 4400 miles sailed.  Simply put, it was a grind... 

I didn't make any of my trophy destinations that I blogged about on the eve of my departure from Fiji.  It is ok.  Those places are still out there.  The story isn't over. The stamina for my detour below the equator had run its course and it was time to get back to the original plan which was to sail to Hawaii from Mexico.  Hawaii is now only one passage away from my home port.  So I am back on track, just a season behind.

It is hard to describe why we make the decisions we do.  When I left Mexico in March and sailed to the Pitcairn group, I went with the least conservative option.  I was not even interested in the Marquesas and when I calculated that the Pitcairn group might be possible without tacking, I said, why not go for it?  When in Fiji in August, I pretty much did the same thing again.  Visiting the trophy spots and selling the boat in Australia would have been the most conservative bet.  A part of me wasn't satisfied with that.  Any well found yacht can sail downhill across the Pacific.  The challenge is, what do you do when you get across?  Many west coast boats sit in Mexico delaying the puddle jump not because of the initial 3000 mile passage but because they don't want to deal with the consequences once on the other side. From all the possible things I could think of doing with the boat, the most rewarding and also the most extreme from a sailing point of view turned out to be the simplest idea - sail the boat back.  Conventional wisdom says that if you go west of the Cooks, you have gone too far, but there is one strategy that is not talked about much - the equatorial counter current. A thin band of water that sets to the east between 5 and 8 north.  Being close to the edge of the trades, the winds are lighter.  The plan was that if I did the bulk of upwind work against a light force three with a knot to a knot and a half current boost, how bad could it be?  There was one catch, however.  The location of the current coincides with the doldrums.  Who the heck said there is no ITZC west of 160 west?  Or that you will never see winds over 35 knots in the doldrums?  Other random bits of tribal knowledge accumulated from years of sailing were dispelled as well.  "There is only bad weather on the northern boundary of the doldrums, never on the southern" or "You will never see a wind from due north but you will see a wind from due south".  The weather turned out to be a total mixed bag - good and bad - and the only truth I found after over three weeks in the doldrums is that I never saw the wind come out of the westerly quadrant, ever... 

It was a decisive moment while still within sight of the Yesawas off Fiji.  Part of myself dreaded the passage.  You know very well that a passage of this magnitude is guaranteed to have some brutally low moments.  Gear will break, you will burn out and absolutely regret the decision. You have to accept it and make your peace as you need to be fully committed otherwise you will fail.  You have to remember that this is why you love sailing.  If it was only easy and pleasant, it would be boring and without a sense of accomplishment.   I looked toward the west, downhill, knowing how close I was to my first trophy destination.   Then I turned around and looked behind me.  Those winds and seas had been pushing me for so long... The decisiveness set in and I said to myself, let this be the moment.  I sheeted in the sails, pushed the tiller to the low side, and turned Pelican around right into the trades and the accompanying swell.  The shift was immediate and dramatic.  The pronounced heeling, the first jarring stop, the first bit of spray that makes it all the way back to the cockpit.  Bring it on!

It was a beautiful passage.