Crossing 3,300 miles of the Pacific Ocean over 26 days
What is sailing the Pacific Ocean really like? Three of us did this ocean passage and 3,300 nautical miles in 26 days, on 38ft Elan sailing boat, Finding Avalon
Books read (so much reading!):
- Further Than Any Man – The rise and fall of Captain Cook
- Swell – A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening (again!)
- Where the Crawdads Sing
- Big Magic – I could only read a few chapters of this!
- The Only Astrology Book You Will Need – I wanted an ASTRONOMY book!
- Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson’s autobiography
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck – declined to finish as found it repetitive!
- Open – Andre Agassi’s autobiography
- 2x Mahi
- 1x Albacore tuna, approx. 15kg
- 1x 133cm Wahoo approx. 40+kg!
Fish that got away:
- 2x Mahi let go as too small
- 1x Marlin – jumped out the water and spat the lure
- 1x huge tuna – landed but the wire tracer snapped when we lifted it into the boat
‘It’s a sight we’re unlikely to ever witness again’, I said to Xanthe. ‘People in inner cities will never get to see this’. I was of course, alluding to the clarity of the night sky. The sheer enormity of the vastness darkness above us, punctuated with scattered light and unexplainable glow. Darkness was also all around us. Never before have I felt the true insignificance of my being, then floating 650 miles from any land. 2,350 mile from where we started, after 20 days at sea, sailing the Pacific Ocean.
I’ve always been attracted to challenges that made me feel small. I’ve written whole articles about how being put in your place by nature is good for your soul. I thrive off it. Be it in the mountains, a forest, or at a remote surf break. But nothing prepares you for the opposing isolation and freedom that you feel at the mercy of the elements. The mood swings of Mumma ocean. Life several weeks from land. Nothing is comparable.
What’s important is to rise and fall like the tide. To appreciate the colours as they dance in the sky at every sunset and rise. To feel the wind on your face. To take the time to appreciate the clouds forming, the storms clearing and the sun shining.
It’s day 20 and I’m living in my own perpetual groundhog day. The wind has died and the ‘miles to destination’ numbers crawl at a snail’s pace. Like a kettle that never boils, the more I look at the navigation screen, the slower the miles decrease. While I’m eager to get off this boat I’m also hyper-aware of this unique moment where we are totally disconnected. Immune to the date or time. Governed only by the setting sun, the wind and my need to satiate my hunger. It’s a moment I sink into with great appreciation, reaching for yet another book to pass the hours that rise and fall with the rolling sea. Cooking dinner is our creative outlet. Dependent on the conditions, you either look forward to it or dread it!
We were not to be void of things going wrong out here. At about 700 miles offshore from Galapagos we were forced to backtrack and make a 180 turn. Our destination was a waypoint in the middle of the ocean North East of where we were. Our friend’s on a boat called Gea, had snapped some of their rigging and we were to rendezvous in the middle of the ocean, to pass them spares and supplies. Two boats bobbing about, passing banana pancakes, muffins, wine and wire between them, on an 8-foot mal surfboard. The decision to put the captain overboard wasn’t taken lightly but it was the only solution. It went without a hitch – The detour added an approximate 2 additional days added to the passage.
Our fishing wins continued en par with the 960 mile Panama to Galapagos crossing in that we were pulling wonderful pelagic beasts from the depths of the ocean on a frequent basis. We even hooked a Marlin but (luckily?) it breached and spat the dummy, wriggling free from our grasp. We landed a huge tuna and that night, enjoyed fresh nigiri that would be the envy of the finest Japanese sushi chain. Several more Mahi Mahi were caught, some we let free as we thought them too small, other we ate. One tuna I fought for 30 minutes was so large (maybe 30kg), it tore the wire connecting the lure to the fishing line as we pulled her up onto the boat. The poor thing had the Freya lure wedged so far into its mouth, there is no way it would survive. But the final nail in the proverbial coffin came when we caught a 133cm long Wahoo that must have weighed in excess of 40kg, it took both Xanthe and I to lift it, albeit just barely!
The Wahoo raged as it was gaffed through the body and lifted onto the swim platform at the back of the boat. Thrashing side-to-side still with our homemade lure in its mouth, it slashed a deep cut through Jackson’s thigh. “My leg my fucking leg”, he swore. “Stab it in the head”. I stuck my knife deep into its head several times, praying it would give up the fight. All the while Jackson’s leg gushed blood in my peripheral. Shit got serious REAL quick.
Fish under control, dead and tied onto the back of the boat, we lay Jackson down and elevated his leg. It was serious: a clean horizontal cut just above his knee, at least 8cm long and probably 3cm deep on the medial side. With control of both his ITB and VMO muscles (two of the front quadriceps), it appeared that the lure had not cut through any major ligaments or muscles. All my first aid training kicked in and I grabbed my first aid kit that I keep well-stocked in anticipation of my own likely skull dragging encounters with reefs and sharp objects. I cleaned the cut with 2x vials of saline solution, then alcohol, finally holding it shut with my hands as the bleeding slowed to a trickle. It took the best part of 90 minutes to get the wound dry enough to apply steri-strips. After several failed attempts, we eventually we had a clean, dry wound, secured closed with steri-strips and super glue (the glue reinforced the edges of the steris, not the wound). A compression bandage held everything tight. To reduce any movement that would open the wound, I made leg splint from a sawn-off IKEA coat hanger, my SAM splint and a Valdez Heli Guides Ski strap.
Under the direction of my Doctor brother (thanks Mark!), I gave him a course of doxycycline antibiotics that I had a Doctor In Bali prescribe to me just a month prior. Different antibiotics do different things and Doxycycline is one of the best for skin infections including staph infections. The antibiotics were a precautionary measure. We were 1,000 miles from land and if his leg got infected we would have a very serious problem on our hands.
The weather the following days was kind to us with light winds and calm seas, allowing us to sail upwind. Jackson rested and Xanthe and I took over his shifts, day and night. The doxycycline reduces your body’s ability to protect you from the harmful rays of the sun, so it was imperative Jackson stayed out the sun and rested. After a few days of sheer exhaustion, it was clear Xanthe and I could not continue the long watches we were undertaking and we were forced to developed a new routine of set watches where Jackson could be out of the sun and also on watch when the engine was on to make life easy for him.
I consoled myself with a daily double gin and tonic and joked that we would sail into the Marquesas held together by duct-tape, recycled bits of rope and a Captain held together by superglue, a ski strap and a coat hanger!
Watch Alexa’s day in the life at sea – Week 1
It wasn’t just the crew that was flailing; the sustained wear and tear on the boat was becoming apparent. With our fatigue came small mistakes in wind awareness. We accidentally jibed several times, sending the mainsail swinging violently across the boat, snapping the ‘preventer’ ropes and the pulleys they were attached to. This happened several times and we were running out of spare rope! Them the mainsail came tumbling down as the main halyard snapped right at the top. A new creaking developed and it appeared the mast was leaning to one side wearing away at the bottom leaving black metal shavings everywhere. There was a tear in the bottom of the jib from chaffing against the lifelines. As the miles to go dropped from 800 to 400, a day didn’t pass when something didn’t break. I consoled myself with a daily double gin and tonic, joking that we would sail into the Marquesas held together by duct-tape, recycled bits of rope and a Captain held together by superglue, a ski strap and a coat hanger!
There was an inverse correlation between our eagerness to see land and those final miles trickling down on the GPS. Anticipating the distant smell of wood fires and lush volcanic forests, every 50 miles sailed became a notable milestone – 300 to go, 250… 2 more days! We dreamt of fresh baguettes, French cheese, Orangina (because you know the French have Orangina!). I dreamt of muscular, tattoo’d Polynesian men and ice cream (not together although in hindsight, that is a nice thought!).
Going to sleep that night, tired and worn down, I set my alarm excited for my watch. Darkness would lift and land would be in our sights. Then eagerness arose me from my slumber. That, or was it the smell? For the scent was the first thing I noticed. Going up the stairs from the galley, there was a floral, sweet aroma in the air. Dampness mixed with jasmine. Wet leaves and fresh crashing waves. LAND. I could smell land! Then the heavens opened unleashing a violent squall to rival all squalls. I was in my underwear with just a thin T-shirt, Bluetooth headphones getting drenched. I couldn’t leave the helm to get my jacket, or take one hand off the wheel to throw my headphones to drier climates. Having let Jackson sleep half an hour extra into his watch, it was time to wake him and relieve my not so enviable position. I took shelter. He took the helm. 10 minutes or so later the squall past leaving moody greys to rise from the shoreline, steam circulating the lush greens and rock formations. My morning ritual of bean grinding and coffee brewing played out in front of the most majestic landscape. We watched another boat Boag motor passed us to our starboard side. We could almost smell the pizza.
It was a feeling. One of clarity, wonder, and patient respect for relinquishing control.
So what does it feel like to cross the largest ocean and spend 25 days at sea? Well, it’s hard to explain, because for me, it was all an emotion. Apart from being unexplainably tired all the time, it was a feeling of clarity, wonder, and patient respect for relinquishing control. The one thing that will stay with me is the rhythm of it all. The little patterns you notice when you are truly in tune with your surroundings; the moon rising in the east (who knew?); the stars that indeed light and guide your way if you would only pay attention. The absolute vast expanse of it all. That we are truly insignificant specs part of something far greater than we can comprehend.
What’s important is to rise and fall like the tide. To appreciate the colours as they dance in the sky at every sunset and rise. To feel the wind on your face. To take time to appreciate clouds forming, the storms clearing and sun shining. To be willing to alter your course in line with what life throws at you. To not want to manage and control everything. To understand that some things can’t be managed and it’s best to go with the flow. That most of your problems are in your head and staring aimlessly at the horizon over the ever-expanding ocean is indeed medicine for the soul.
Please help support Xanthe & Jackson’s dream on Finding Avalon and click through to their YouTube Channel and subscribe. You can watch more videos of our Pacific Crossing adventure and follow them in (almost) real-time as they make their way back to Australia.