Weather Helmed

an adventure in renewing the spirit and living the dream…on a sailboat

Weather Helmed

WE DID IT!!! We are in the Marquesas!

May 9th, 2010 · 14 Comments · Famous Firsts, First Mates, Our Route, Pacific Crossing, Passages

AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!  WE MADE IT!!!!!!!  we are in the south pacific and holy smokes, i can’t believe we’re really here.

After 25  days at sea.

Lord have mercy, I am really really really really really glad to not be moving anymore!

I’ve wondered for days now how to write this post.  Honestly, I wish that I could regale you with crazy tales of all we experienced and how many cool things we saw.  But, all you people out there who were praying and hoping that “nothing would happen” to us, well, your prayers were answered a little too perfectly.  🙂

Fortunately and unfortunately, nothing really DID happen to us.  I mean, nothing.

We saw no wildlife that we hadn’t seen before – namely, the only things we saw out there in the great wide ocean were a handful of dolphins, some flying fish, a sea turtle and lots of boobie birds.  That’s it.  We did see a lot of small random glowing blobs in our wake at night, but it could have been trash for all we know.

We caught no fish.  Even though I faithfully offered three lines daily, regularly changed lures, put out “teasers,” etc., we did not even get a nibble.  At one point, I begged Matt to let me keep them out overnight because even if we did lose a lure (or all three), at least we would know that the Pacific was not completely empty.

We experienced no particularly bad weather. About ten days in, we hit the ITCZ, notorious for squalls and crazy rainstorms.  We almost always happened to be pointed directly at the blackest clouds on the horizon and yet, by the time we got there, the squall had moved on or had dissipated completely.  We had one or two rain showers during the trip, but even that was just your normal rain – we didn’t have any of those full-out downpours that we had heard about.  Every time it started to rain, I threw out a bin, hoping to get enough water so we could wash clothes with it, but never got enough to really do anything.

The weather thing actually got kind of ridiculous for a while…  Every day, we would download these weather faxes from NOAA via our SSB radio.  The weather faxes would show the current sea/wind conditions, and also provide 24-72 hour forecasts so you could know what to expect.  For about the first two weeks, and I’m not kidding, every. single. weather fax. we downloaded showed us to be in the one place on the entire map where there was no wind!!  At first it was frustrating, then it became annoying, then it became rage-inspiring, then it just became laughable.  No joke, we would get a fax and there would be wind arrows all around except in the one degree of lat/long where we were.

We did see beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  The sky out here is HUGE, stretching on forever, and just about everyday delivered a spectacular encounter with the sun.  I’ve seen more sunrises than I care to see again, ha, but it has been an awesome experience to watch the skies change each day.

We also have seen the bluest water you can imagine.  I never thought the ocean could be so blue and so clear.  We had three days right at the very beginning of the trip where we had no wind and were dead in the water.  Because there had been no wind for a few days before, the sea was completely calm, reflecting mirror images back at me.  One morning I dropped some pieces of potato overboard and watched them float down at least 20 feet.  It was amazing how clearly you could see them that far down.  I kept watching, hoping to see a crazy fish come out of the deep and eat them, but, as mentioned above, we saw no fish.  And I wish that I could adequately describe the color of the water.  It’s gorgeous.  I wish I could have bottled it up to take home with me, but, obviously, the color wouldn’t be the same.  The water was the purest, translucent, midnight blue.  Incredible. Some days, I just stared at the water because it really was beautiful simply in and of itself.

Other days I stared at the water because that was the only thing for miles around to look at.  🙂

We saw, too, every star in the sky.  Oh, how glorious the night sky is when it’s completely dark and there is no smog and absolutely nothing blocking your view!  It really is beyond spectacular.  If the ocean alone doesn’t make you feel like an insignificant little speck in the universe, the ocean and that enormous sky can make you doubt your existence all together.  It was so crazy to look up at night and see so many stars, a super bright milky way, dazzling planets… Moonrises, too, have become my new favorite thing.  It would be completely dark and then suddenly, out of nowhere, fiery orange flames peek over the horizon… or the moon winks out from behind a cloud. I’ve never been more aware of the sky.   Every once in a while, I have to admit, though, it did feel a little bit like the movie Truman’s World.  I felt like I was in a “snow globe” but with stars, not snow, raining down around me.

And, finally, on May 3, our 20th day at sea, we saw the Equator! 🙂  We crossed it around 5:00 in the morning while I was on watch.  I woke Matt up and we went on deck to watch the GPS turn to 00.00.00.  I tippled some Capt. Morgan to King Neptune and then Matt and I toasted with rum & jumex before he went back to bed.  It didn’t really change anything for us except that, after we crossed, we full-on hit the southern trade-winds, had magnificent, consistent wind and made no less than 140 miles everyday from there to Nuku Hiva.

The thing that has struck me most on this trip is that everyone who crosses the Pacific will essentially have the same physical experience with the elements.  Sometimes you have wind, sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes it rains, sometimes it’s so blazing hot you’re dumping sea water all over yourself. Sometimes the seas are calm, sometimes you have a 12 ft swell and wind chop coming from every direction.  Sometimes you’re sailing beautifully, sometimes you have to motor.  The thing that makes your experience truly unique is how you respond to these conditions – day in and day out, for a month.

We hit our low point about two weeks in, right in the middle of the doldrums.  I had been Miss Pollyanna Sunshine for a few days and Matt was, um, a little more grumpy.  But there came a day when Matt woke up to me cursing at the boat and I later woke up to him cursing at the boat and I thought – what kind of life is this?!?!  What are we doing?!?!  And it was clear that we were not happy.  A few days later, we got out of the ITCZ, had beautiful sunny skies, and were flying along at 7.0 knots and then life wasn’t looking so bad!

As for how I dealt with the conditions we encountered… I had good days and not so good days.  I actually really enjoyed the first couple of days when we were becalmed.  It was the most relaxed I had felt since we left San Francisco. For the next few days after we got some wind, it was fairly easy to be happy because the sailing and the boat motion was so comfortable.  However, that two week point is a killer.  I finally found some strength in an attitude of gratitude. Every time I went on watch, I spent the first 5-20 minutes praying and giving thanks for everything I could think of.  I tried to find ways to turn the negative into something positive:  the equivalent of painfully stubbing your toe but saying, thank God I have a toe to stub!
Focusing on things this way really helped me to stay more optimistic for almost the entire trip. Consequently, it also helped get me to a better place spiritually, which was one of the things I wanted to focus on while we were out here.  Double blessing. 🙂

I also spent a lot of time writing: journaling and actually writing stories.  None of the stories have anything to do with our trip, but it has been fun to re-discover my creative streak. I cut Matt’s hair one day (that was wild), read A LOT of books – almost a book a day, thought a lot about life, cooked a lot of food, and ate about 200 granola bars.

I only broke down and cried once.

To sum up the experience, on one hand it was a disappointment.  Not to be a downer, but I feel totally cheated that we didn’t see more wildlife!  Other boats reported seeing a fish-fight of a mahi-mahi, a dorado, and a shark (i think the mahi was on the line and the others were trying to get it?), a man’o’war being washed into a cockpit, a 200 lb. tuna followed our friends on IO and IO also got serenaded by a humpback whale!  I’m sorry, but a stupid flying fish falling into the cabin simply can’t compare.

But, at the same time, being out in the middle of the ocean, farther away from anything than I’ll be ever again, with the chance to think and write without too much distraction, it was awesome. It was much needed.  I think, too, it was a  good experience for our marriage.  We certainly saw different sides of each other and how we reacted to the various physical, mental and emotional adversity we dealt with. We saw new strengths and new weaknesses in one another, but still found a way to see through it all to the person we love.

I don’t feel like a legit sailor just because we sailed across an ocean.  (I really only changed the sails when Matt told me to or I felt like the boat absolutely needed it. Matt is the real sailor.)  Because we had such an easy passage, I almost feel like just about anyone could do what we did if you had slightly more than the most basic knowledge of sailing and navigation, common sense and a bit of luck.  Obviously, sailing skills will get you to your destination safely and in a reasonable amount of time, I don’t want to make light of their importance – I certainly could not have done this without Matt and his knowledge.  But I think the real tests of crossing are in overcoming the other physical, mental and emotional challenges of being at sea, alone, for so long, on a boat that is falling apart before your eyes, and staying sane despite the constant lack of sleep and frustrating issues you encounter.  I think that enduring those trials – and coming through with a smile on your face, saying you’re glad you did it – is how you truly earn your way into the great ranks of those who have successfully crossed the greatest expanse of open ocean in the world.

And that, my friends, is why I am getting a marquesan tattoo.




**To read my daily journal from the trip, check out this page. I’m also working on getting some videos posted there – stay tuned!  Just have to find more reliable (and faster!) internet…

Tags: ··········

14 Comments so far ↓

  • Jonathon Haradon


    I love your insight on everyone’s experience being similar, how you deal with and react to it being what makes you unique.

    And girl, you are a legit sailor. Looking forward to you teaching me some sailing stuff.

    See you soon.

  • eydie

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!! I knew you would do it and you are a true sailor.

  • Nikki

    WooHoo and Hallelujah!

    So Thankful on so many levels for the many successes of the journey. I can hardly wait to hear your voice, read your stories and try to imagine as you recount the many tales….uh…. of non-events?

    btw…. the forecast for today was sun….it’s hailing in SF.

  • Diane

    Hey Guys!
    We’re so happy to hear that you’re in and had an uneventful passage. Stories of survival at sea and all that may make for great reading, but as you know, they rather suck when you’re enduring them.
    We’re totally jealous, of course. The Sea of Cortez is awesome. And I just had some utterly amazing sailing in the Caribbean but I’m looking forward to earning my Marquesan tatoo, too.
    Next year…
    There seems to be an awesome crowd in the Sea this summer- so their should be plenty of diving, hiking and fishing in our future for the next few months.
    We’ll look forward to keeping up on your adventures.
    Diane, Evan & Maia
    ceilydh @

  • Jim

    You guys are heroes!!

  • MOM

    Well, your trip was certainly a confirmation that God answers prayers However, I did request favorable winds, but 25 days wasn’t too bad. Like, Nikki, I can’t wait to hear your voice & hear your sea=faring tales of non-adventure. If you post another video, please include a “Hi Mom” or something similar in there! Love you both!! MOM

  • Lara

    congrats! glad you guys made it safely!

  • Karen

    Awesome!!!!!! What a wonderful experience for the both of you! I was delighted to hear that you made it there safely even though you did not experience any sealife. I prefer you do not meet up with Moby-Dick! The trip is not over though unless you fly home now 🙂 of which I would think both of your families would love. We love you both dearly and wish you the best for your future sailing. Along with God, there are multiple angels watching over you! Keep us posted. Love you!

  • Amy

    first, i’m so so so thankful that you’re safe!

    you are freaking awesome, i am so impressed! i cannot wait to catch up! i’ll read your daily journal during the “moments” i can. let me know when you can skype! the 3 boys and i miss you!

  • Rob

    Congratulations! That’s quite an achievement! Impressive.

    Rob (a reader in the UK)

  • Jenny Halteman

    Congrats – I can’t wait to see the tattoo photos!

  • Ray

    Yeah…tattoos pictures, please! I thoroughly enjoy reading on ya’ll’s progress in multiple regards. It sounds like your getting a lot of what you wanted out of your time spent on the sea. Keepthe stories coming!


  • Aunt Mary & Uncle Steven

    Congrats on your safe trip. We put a little money on your “Syzygy Drink” account. Enjoy some drinks on us. Much love to you both! Aunt Mary

  • kevin

    I have read every sailors log. Most of them incredibly boring, the rest I read because I have invested so much time. But you are amazing! Keep sailing, keep writing, keep me entertained. 🙂

Leave a Comment