Weather Helmed

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

Weather Helmed

Dear Brisbane, will you marry me?

November 12th, 2010 · Australia, Beautiful, First Mates, shoe-cruising

After just one day of a LOT of walking around, I am SO SO SO SO SO in love with Brisbane!!!  I’ve never responded to a city this way before, not even Paris, and I am a wee bit jealous that Jon will have so much more time to get to know this place.  Despite our relatively free schedule right now, there’s *no way* we could really afford to stay here more than 3 weeks without missing the whole point by continuing to just live on ramen and buttered pasta and never leaving the boat, or without actually finding a job that paid about a gazillion dollars a week. There are so many restaurants that look and smell amazing, the parks – oh, the parks!!! If I told you about them, it wouldn’t do them justice, so I’m going to do a whole other picture post on that in the near future… We’ve picked up some visitors info and you would not believe the FREE live FREE music FREE that abounds in this town. Almost every night there are groups playing somewhere in the city, every Tuesday they have *lunchtime* classical and/or orchestral music in the Cathedral downtown and other churches in the area, on weekends they have a series of “Bands in the Park,” and you can attend ALL OF IT for FREE.  And I thought SF had a good music scene!  There are too many things to do and see here, not even including going to the Koala Sanctuary where I am planning to get my hands on a juicy little furry koala baby, cruising up and down the river on a beautiful paddleboat, window-shopping in the Paddington District, eating at a different restaurant for breakfast/lunch/dinner, AND taking a barista course on making the perfect cup of coffee.  This town is also incredibly romantic.  Last night Matt and I sat in a gorgeous park, admiring the lovely skyline and the lights glittering on the river, and then we made out until the ferry showed up 🙂  Being here feels more like a HONEYMOON to me than any of the other “exotic” places we’ve been to.  Not to mention that the parts of the city we’ve seen so far are so clean that we saw a few women walking down the streets of the *financial district* barefoot and the aussie vibe is delightfully casual and relaxed and people are heart-warmingly friendly.  When we met up with Jon back at the boat yesterday, he couldn’t get over the fact that people actually waited in line at the bar to get a drink – no crowding up and pushing and yelling and stretching to get the bartenders’ attentions. Nope, just patiently waiting and chatting with friends until their turn came around.

Seriously, Brisbane, I LOVE YOU.

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The end of the line.

November 11th, 2010 · Australia, Cheers!!, Famous Firsts, First Mates, Our Route, Passages, The End


We’re here.

I can’t believe it.

The ultimate destination we talked about for so long.

We certainly took the long way around.

But, we made it.


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Goodbye to big sky country: November 10 – our last day at sea

November 11th, 2010 · Beautiful, First Mates, Life on the Boat, Passages, The End

As the end draws near, I’m becoming a bit more sentimental. Ha.

Our last sunrise at sea:

Our last sunset at sea:

Thanks be to a glorious God who has provided so many spectacular skies along the way.

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A brief note about “Buddy Boating” because it’s Wednesday, and you know what that means… (written Nov. 10 en route to Oz)

November 11th, 2010 · Cruising Must-Haves, Cruising with Friends, Famous Firsts, Fellow Cruisers, Funny, Passages, Somebody likes us, The End

Cruisers are generally known to be independent and self-sufficient, yet can often have a herd mentality.  But, there really is something to be said for traveling with other boats.  This passage, for the first time EVER, we sailed within sight and VHF contact of fellow cruisers, and it was fantastic.  Although we did have to keep a good look-out to make sure we didn’t run into each other (and honestly, we almost did once), it was so much fun to have something else to look at other than wide open ocean, AND we had people to talk to!!  After so many thousands of miles of sailing by ourselves, it was a great way to end our trip sharing laughs and coordinates with some really fun people, (who were also there to catch our docklines and celebrate as we pulled into the Quarantine dock in Brisbane.)  While underway, we’ve spent quite a bit of time trading jokes and riddles over the radio and one of the best moments of the whole trip was when the Flight of the Conchords song “Business Time” suddenly came blaring over the VHF courtesy of Dagmar.

Oh Yeah.

** Not to mention, you can also get really awesome pictures of each other’s boats!!  Here’s Dagmar running circles around us.

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Mixed Emotions (written Nov.9, en route to Australia)

November 11th, 2010 · Introspection, Life Lessons, Life on the Boat, Our Route, Passages, Random Thoughts, The End

When we started this passage, I never thought I would spend almost its entirety curled up in the recesses of the quarterberth or laying on the settee, trying to keep my stomach happy and contained.  It’s strange to me that I’ve sailed almost halfway around the world and yet get the worst seasickness on our last passage.  I wore my trusty, tried and true scopolamine patch for the first 2 days, having put it on the evening before we left, but it was not as effective as it has been in the past and eventually the blurred vision just made things worse.  I ditched the patch and a few hours later found myself leaning over the lifelines staring, teary-eyed and empty, into the frothy blue.  Note to self: never eat kiwi fruit on an upset stomach.  The only other time I’ve gotten sick while sailing was the first time we took the boat out into open ocean, with 25 knot winds and 12 foot seas.  Since then, I’ve felt less than awesome at times, but this passage took its toll.

But, this passage, overall, was about as spectacular as we could have asked for! After all that weather waffling in Noumea, we were one of the first boats to go for it, and I think we had the best conditions out of all the boats that left in this weather window. We motor-sailed for the first day, but then picked up some wind and averaged no less than 6.3 knots for the majority of the trip, spending a fair amount of time averaging in the 7’s.  We had a few spits of rain in the beginning, but that was the worst we experienced.  We were wing on wing for a good deal of the time and it was actually really comfortable sailing.  Despite that, of course, I tried to sleep as much as humanly possible because it was the one thing I could do that made me feel better.
Today, I felt a bit more normal and went out into the cockpit where I caught the tail end of the sunset.  Though the sun was hidden in clouds, the sky was lit up in brilliant shades of pink, and the sky was so BIG, that it hit me suddenly that this would be one of the last sunsets I would experience at sea.  I looked out over the waves, thinking how I have come to take them, too, for granted; now they are just a part of daily life.  Yet, in a day or two, they would become a thing of the past as we docked in Brisbane and started the transition back to our stateside, landlocked life.

For an instant, I felt SAD, nostalgic even, for what we’ve had on this trip.  Although I don’t want to continue sailing, I reflect happily on the better parts of the trip – the glassy seas, the incredible sunsets, sunrises and moonrises, the astonishingly clear water…   Just for an instant, though – until my heart races automatically as I recall just the night before when I woke up, panicked, at the thought of Matt falling overboard.  The list of things I WON’T miss about sailing is still significantly longer than those special few things I will.

When we moved from our Emeryville apartment onto the boat, I had similar feelings of nostalgia.  I hated living in the bay area, hated the commuting, the traffic, the big city-ness.  But when we were on the brink of leaving it all behind, I felt sad – it was the end of an era.  The bay area was where I had met Matt, where we had spent so much of our relationship; Emeryville was our first real home together, he had proposed to me in that apartment, we had planned our lives there.  There was so much history in that little bitty studio.

Arriving in Brisbane, too, feels like the end of an era.  The boat trip has dominated Matt’s life since before I met him, and it has dominated my life for the last several years.  So many decisions we’ve made, practically since we began dating, were based around this trip. And now – it’s over.  I look back through my journals and blogs and think about all our memories – the good and not so good – from the last year and can’t believe that it is all in the past.  In this strange cruising life of eternal summer, I’m eager to return to a world of seasons because they help signal change and the passing of time.  Enough of this tropical nonsense where one day feels exactly the same as the day before! My sense of time is all off, it feels like just a few weeks ago that we made landfall at Nuku Hiva!

But, just as I romanticized our bay area life when it was ending, I find it easy to romanticize this “cruising” life as we say goodbye to it – which is ridiculous considering how miserable I’ve been at times!!  We have experienced and seen some amazing places, met some great people and done some cool stuff, but, as this passage has oh so kindly reminded me, I am not cut out to live like this full-time.

I am insanely proud of Matt for pulling this whole thing off – for having a dream, planning, researching, and saving to make it happen, working like a madman to get the boat ready, and having the confidence and courage to throw off the docklines with only a worrying, unskilled first mate like me as permanent crew.  People have said that we are an inspiration to them to follow their dreams, but I should point out that Matt is truly the inspiration for that, I can only hope to simply inspire others to find a brilliant, ambitious, determined spouse 🙂

As I sit out in the cockpit under the night sky, pondering this past year, I hear the oh-so-friendly, poofing sound of dolphin breath.  As if they’ve heard my jumbled thoughts, a small group of dolphins comes leaping towards the boat, their torpedo bodies barely visible as they streak glittering bioluminescence across our bow.  It is a farewell of sorts, I think, just for me. THIS is definitely something I won’t get back home.

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Final FINAL Passage!

November 3rd, 2010 · First Mates, Introspection, Life on the Boat, New Caledonia, On Safety, Passages, The End

So, as I’m sitting here thinking about what to write in this post, it feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in this same spot getting ready to film my Bon Voyage video the night before we set off across the Pacific. Now, **nine months** and over TEN THOUSAND MILES later, we are about to leave on our final passage EVER (well, at least on Syzygy).

During the first six months or so of our boat life, I was incredibly negative and really not enjoying myself most of the time, but these last three months have been sooooo much better. I’ve really enjoyed the places we’ve been – Beveridge Reef, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu… And though I still detest passages, overall, I feel like I’ve been able to handle them a lot better and have spent far fewer hours hating my life (maybe this is because Matt & Jon have taken all the watches). All that said, though, I’m quite eager to return to the States to the familiar and the comfortable, not to mention being in regular contact with friends and family.

Unlike many other short-term cruisers, Matt and I are NOT returning to our “before” life. We are changing cities, changing states, changing cars, changing homes, changing jobs. But, even though we plan to change so many aspects of our life, the details are not quite worked out, so we have yet another adventure ahead of us! The first part of which will be figuring out how to get all our stuff off the boat and back to the US in one piece and without depleting our bank account!

This passage, from Noumea to Brisbane, could be our most…um… interesting one to date. The weather looks alright right now, with a bit of nastiness maybe a few days out, but nothing that seems too serious as far as we can tell. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers, though, as we’ll be out for 5-7 days and we would really like for this passage to be as painless as possible!

So, thank you AGAIN, to all of you who have followed us from the beginning and have supported us and encouraged me on this journey. I can’t believe our trip is *almost* over!

Just another 800 miles to go…


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Still time to vote!!

November 3rd, 2010 · Uncategorized

Ok, so I now only need about 3,000 more votes to be in the top 20, but I’m still feeling optimistic! 🙂 Voting ends on November 10!

Vote for Me
Good Mood Gig from SAM-e

a huge thank you to all of you who have already voted – and voted more than once! Even if I don’t get in the top 20, it means so much to know that you took a few seconds out of your day to think of me 🙂

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Weather waffling and McDonald’s in Noumea

November 1st, 2010 · Fellow Cruisers, Life on the Boat, New Caledonia, On Safety, Passages, Random Thoughts, shoe-cruising

Hello!! I don’t know if I ever updated where we currently are, but we are at the Port Moselle marina in Noumea, New Caledonia. New Cal is an island country that is about 800 miles east of Australia. I was very excited because our guidebook hailed Noumea as “the Paris of the Pacific.” hahahahahaha I laugh at the preposterousness (is that a word?) of the guidebook’s claim. Noumea is NO Paris, I can guarantee you that! But,it does have some restaurants and a few nice boutiques, and there are yummy pastries and baguettes and here at the marina, we have nice hot freshwater showers and we are just minutes away from the daily outdoor market. I was disappointed at first that it didn’t have more of a parisienne charm, but I have resolved myself to enjoying Noumea’s strange vibe and, since the weather between us and Oz is looking pretty crummy, what more can ya do? 🙂

Ah, the weather. For the last two weeks, few people on the dock have talked about anything else. Every internet cafe has several cruisers in it, all looking at various weather websites, trying to determine whether and when it’s safe to leave. One minute, tomorrow looks good, the next minute, we hear everyone’s waiting another week. The prognosis changes by the hour. There are a couple of weather routers we’re listening to as well – people based out of Oz or NZ who get paid to tell cruisers what the weather is doing. We are currently getting reports from IO & Totem who are communicating with weather router Bob McDavitt. So far, despite our initial doubts, he has been right on the money as to what is happening out there in the Coral Sea. So, all of us here on the dock sit and wait and check the weather four times a day, hoping that a magic wand will wave the 50kt winds away and give us 15kts out of the E for a good seven days in a row.

While we wait, many of us hang out in the McDonald’s across the street. They have fountain drinks (ice!!), oreo mcflurries, air-conditioning and, most importantly, free, relatively fast internet. Hallelujah! Entering through the sliding doors and sitting down and being enveloped in that COOL albeit fast-food-fried, greasy scented air is pure luxury compared to melting in our claustrophobic cabin. I know people blame places like MickeyD’s for the downfall of local cafes, but sometimes, *sometimes*, it is SO GOOD to see those huge, yellow, familiar golden arches glowing above the street, announcing a comfortable place to rest one’s weary bum and a warm meal to fill the belly, those perfect golden arches like a happy, guiding light leading us home.

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This is not a joke – PLEASE VOTE FOR ME!!

October 29th, 2010 · Famous Firsts

As you all know, I’ve struggled with being happy while on this sailing trip.


I just came across this blogging contest thing tonight on the Sam-e website and decided to enter it.  I’ve NEVER entered any kind of contest like this before but it would be really really cool to win. True, I can’t exactly say that I have “an undeniable good mood,” but Sam-e is for people who have difficulty maintaining a good mood anyway!  See, I really AM the best person for this job 😉

Anyway, it would be really awesome if any of you – my sweet, patient readers – would take a second to vote for me.  Votes have to be in by November 10. Thank you!!!!!!

Vote for Me
Good Mood Gig from SAM-e

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A Seaworthy Vessel (written 10/21 en route to New Caledonia)

October 26th, 2010 · Fellow Cruisers, First Mates, Life on the Boat, On Fear, On Safety, Our Route, Passages, Random Thoughts, This Could Have Been Us, Vanuatu

Our initial plan was to leave Fiji on Saturday Oct. 9.  We didn’t feel too concerned about weather since we hadn’t heard rumors of anything nasty coming up, but – as usual – it’s always a good idea to check.  The weather for the near future – 2 days out – looked perfect, but the weather beyond that looked scary.  Our weather websites were showing 25-35 knots of wind with gusts up to 40 and a15-20 foot swell.  No thanks!  I fairly insisted that we stay nice and safe in Port Denerau.  We were looking at a 4-5 day passage to Tanna, Vanuatu and so would be right out in the thick of the storm if we had left as planned.  We are so near the end of the trip, I thought, why risk it?!  So, we hung out in Port Denerau for another week, leaving the following Thursday once the weather had calmed down.

After a relatively benign passage, we arrived at Tanna, Vanuatu early Monday morning pleasantly surprised to see some of our cruising friends – S/V Savannah & S/V Victoria – anchored in the bay as well.  When the sun was a bit higher in the sky, we called them up to say hello and it wasn’t too long before K from Victoria stopped by our boat.  She came on board and we chatted about Fiji and the passage and then she started telling us of the local news.

When the storm began to rage, there were a few villagers on Tanna who were insisting on going back to their home island, a dozen or so miles away.  The owner of the small boat that would be ferrying them didn’t want to go, but the people persisted.  Not too far offshore, the boat capsized in the waves.  Of the twelve people in the boat, a handful were able to swim to shore.  Strong currents took the others out to sea.  The next morning, SeaLevel, a fellow cruiser, pulled into Port Resolution, greeted by dozens of men in outrigger canoes calling for help.  SeaLevel took on several of the villagers and called to an approaching boat, Endless Summer, to go back out and see if they could find any remaining survivors.  Of course, with the currents, the wind and the waves, it was difficult to even know where to start searching.  SeaLevel later described to K how one villager, maybe a Shaman (?) stood at the bow of the boat and chanted and prayed, eyes closed, fingertips to his forehead.  Finally, he told the skipper calmly, “I see them. I see them in the water.  We must go this way…”

Three people were rescued.

I had barely recovered from the drama of that story before we talked to Savannah who told us of another disaster.  Savannah had left Fiji just before the storm, putting them out in the middle of it a few days later.  They were down below, safe in their cabin, watching hundreds of gallons of water pour over their portlights as the 35 knot winds threw spray across their beam, when a message from Air Rescue New Zealand came blaring over the VHF.  An EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) from a sailing vessel had gone off just thirty miles south of Savannah; all vessels in the area were requested to keep a lookout; Rescue NZ was on its way.  A few hours later, another message came over the radio that the rescue helicopter was low on fuel and would have to return to its base.  It had scanned the vicinity of the EPIRB’s position and found nothing, BUT there was debris in the water.  As a cruiser, your heart stops when you hear those words.  Debris in the water.  No boat, but debris in the water.  You have only one thought – the boat must have sank.  My throat tightened as I thought of all the people we have met along the way, all the cruisers we knew who were in Fiji this last month, all of them planning to head west, all of them feeling the time crunch to get to New Zealand or Australia before the cyclone season…  What if it was someone we knew?

The name of the vessel was never given over the radio and, so far, we still have no idea who it might have been.  I dread the thought of getting to New Caledonia or Australia and hearing about the boat who was supposed to be there, too, but isn’t.

I’m thinking of these stories tonight as I lay on the settee, cocooned by the leecloth as we are heeled over about twenty degrees to starboard.  We are close-hauled into 25 knots of wind, pounding into 8 foot seas.  Sometimes the boat will lift up on a wave and then crash down into the trough of another, sounding and feeling like we’re doing a giant bellyflop.  We land unceremoniously with a bone-jarring THUD, so hard and loud that I wonder briefly if what we hit was actually water.  As we surge along, the boat shudders constantly as waves rumble beneath us.  There’s the occasional ear-deafening WHAP as we collide with a wave and water spews over the sides. With the moans and creaks of the boat filling my ears, I recall a journal entry I had wrote in the earlier days of our trip:

“…people often say, “Oh, that boat has served me well…” In our case, the only reason the boat has “served” us well is because Matt replaced everything on it! It’s not because the boat in and of itself is anything spectacular.”

I think about those words and realize that I am right, in a way – Matt did practically replace everything on the boat, but the real truth is that our boat is seaworthy also by design.  That is one of the main reasons Matt wanted a Valiant – they have a reputation for being strong and sturdy.

And as I lay here on the settee, wind howling, waves crashing, boat pounding and pounding and pounding forward, I realize: my heart is not racing, my hands are not clenched in fists, my mind is not running wild with terrifying scenarios of us capsizing or drowning or getting dismasted.

I am not afraid. I am not even worried.

I still may not love the boat, but I have finally learned to trust it.*

*although I have long since learned to trust (and love!) the man who researched, found, purchased, repaired and sailed it.  🙂

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