The search for adventure across 7,000 miles of ocean
When you travel, it’s my opinion that you don’t ‘do’ a place, but should look to soak the energy, culture, and feel of that destination through your bones. This post is dedicated to the humble and silent wanderers of the earth who draw their signature on the water with the brush of imagination and courage, in the search for adventure.
It’s pure romanticism, the search for adventure. The thought of discovering distant lands by sea. I lose my self in novels of early exploration (read this book!), wide-eyed at the very thought of chasing the horizon with no reference to time or longitude. Those early explorers tickled death’s door, cast under the spell of an endless blanket of blue. What an adventure that must have been.
Sailing the world has never been so accessible. Modern sailing is much like buying a car and going on a long, remote drive. Maybe in a Volkswagen, an Audi, or a Tesler, depending on your budget, taste, and propensity to adopt the latest technology. Now assuming all new cars have auto-drive, just like a modern sailboat, if you chose, your new car could require absolutely no input from you. While it is advised to become a good driver or Captain in order to route find, once on course, you can just sit back and look out the window.
This is what I learned the majority of folk did when crossing the Pacific.
“You hand steered half of every watch?” other cruisers would say.
“You stayed awake?”.
Apparently, neither steering nor being awake was necessary and us fine folk on 38ft Finding Avalon were quite the anomaly. How interesting!
While the above comparison may seem trivial and sea(wo)manship, arguable takes years to apprehend. The comparison is purely to paint the picture that today’s modern sailing (thankfully?), is a far cry from the adventure and difficulty of the past. One can see it’s universal appeal and accessibility in the thousands of sailboats and adventurers making that same passage across the Pacific.
“Last year over 700 people came to my house to buy chocolate,” said Manfred, a bizarre German man in his 70s who settled on ‘Ua Pou in the Marquesas’ Islands. The first French Polynesian archipelago you hit on the coconut milk trail from Galapagos to Tahiti. He arrived just before the Berlin Wall came down and makes and sells (amazing) chocolate. He engineered his humble abode to be powered by water from a high altitude lake, running through 2.8km length of hose that expels water on to a paddle made from tires, at 8x atmospheric pressure. This then powers the motor he uses for all his modern needs. What a lord!
“This year, I’ve already had the same number of visitors as all of last year and it’s only June!”.
Like other sailors, we heard about his chocolate through word-of-mouth. And like other sailors, we learned to Manfred, we were just a number (I was 752).
During my three months at sea, there were two occasions where I found myself totally in-awe or inspired on a deep level on how other’s approached this ‘adventure’. Unsurprisingly, both instances involved female captains. The first burst of inspiration came when helping a jubilant girl my age, tie her inflatable kayak to the dock in Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas. Hiva Oa was many sailors’ first landfall after the Pacific Crossing and I was intrigued to meet another girl that looked like me. I broke my own vow to not ask the same questions that one must answer over and over again when arriving to a new port (“the quality of your life is the quality of your questions” – Tony Robbins), so I cringed as the words, reluctantly ran off my lips:
“Just me” she said somewhat timidly.
“Rad”, I answered as I held out my hand to help her up onto the dock.I came to learn that Elana had arrived from California. A former foster child, she hoped her story will show other kids from similar backgrounds that life is full of unlimited possibilities. Her passage, all the way from San Diego had taken Elana and her dog Zia, 25 days aboard their 1985 34ft Sloop, named Windfola. The previous year, she sailed to Hawaii and back and now finds herself with dreams of solo circumnavigation (please follow her Instagram here).
The other instance where I was reminded of the romanticism of the past was meeting a young, quirky American couple on a stunning 1967 American classic, 35ft Chris-Craft called “Althea”. Bought for $15,000. Prior to arriving in the Marquesas, the previous two years had been spent living on Althea in a marina in Santa Barbara, renovating her to its current nostalgic, divine, and dreamy existence. Their story was reminiscent of Captain Liz Clark, who also started her solo 15-year sailing adventure in Santa Barbara.
Patrick was an expert glassier, having worked for Channel Islands Surfboards for 10 years. Alyssa was the boat’s captain. She owned a sextant and taught herself electronics, one of the many hard skills acquired in any boat refurbishment. Alone, she had meticulously rewired every cable on the boat, all with neat little labels going in and out of a circuit board that now resembled a colourful work of art. Together Patrick and Alyssa had no plans… and no refrigerator. They had zero desire to hurry, or to ask those same cruiser questions, or to follow that well sailed Rhum line.
Althea’s passage to the Marquesa Islands took them 28 days using only the flight of their sails. When arriving at land in Hiva Oa, the wind died and they chose to sit outside the anchorage for 3 extra days. They refused to turn the engine on for the last desperate push into port (and believe me after 28 days at sea, you are becoming a little desperate!). After 3 days, they gave up and motored in jumping in the ocean screaming with delight while dropping the anchor. Although they did have a generator onboard, Alyssa refrained from turning the inverter on to charge any modern electronics for fear it would break (it didn’t). Instead, they read each other books. In a bay filled with 20 horsepower tenders partnered with boats housing the latest sailing gadgets, Altheia had a solid hull rowboat (with a removable sail), called “Althea Later’. Their choice of adventure was as organic, reminiscent of those sailors of the past.
When you travel, it’s my opinion that you don’t ‘do’ a place, but should look to soak the energy, culture, and feel of that destination through your bones. ‘To do’ was a phrase I heard far too often across the Pacific aka the coconut milk run. In contrast to all this ‘doing’ that was taking place like ticking actions off a ‘To-Do’ list, my mind wandered to another solo female captain that only a six months earlier, I had the pleasure to invite into my home during her book tour of Australia. Liz Clark is a lady with a pure heart, love of slow-travel, and purveyor of the organic. She has been exploring the less sailed, alternative routes of the Pacific the past 10+ years, with an imaginative, courageous and time-rich outlook. After reading her book Swell for a second time during my Pacific Crossing, I found myself yearning to stray off course, and even travel alone again.
One afternoon, Alyssa from Althea and I found ourselves in a deep discussion. We explored whether the authenticity of our interactions with the island’s indigenous people, were diluted by one’s individual status. If one connected as a member of a larger group, in a couple, or even appearing as one of a group of boats moored in a bay, you were received differently. Liz Clark also pondered this same thought. With her curious soul, inquisitive mind, and explorer’s thirst, not dissimilar to that of the first surveyors of the Pacific, she discussed at length her desire to connect on a deeper level with the people and cultures of the places she visited. That same desire was what drove her way off the coconut milk trail, to islands way off course. In her book Swell (seriously, read this book!), Liz spoke of her consciousness being heightened through that mindful effort to connect, share, and venture outside of being just a number.
This year, 4 of the last 11 months have been spent at sea, crossing over 7,500 miles of ocean. I’ve found that something deep and primal has been ignited in me. Captain Cook spoke about the constant desire to return to sea, and I found myself sharing that same thirst and its antithesis, the partnered restlessness on land.
Jumping at the chance be on the open water again, I flew to Tonga to help sail Alfie, a blue-water, dreamboat 52ft Tayana mono-hull, through the rough 1,250 miles to New Zealand. Nearing the end of ‘the season’ all the boats have since moved on and the questions being asked have shifted from ‘where are you going’, to ‘what are you doing’? If there were, any questions at all.
Vast expanses of Tonga’s northern waters remain unchartered and little to no information on surf-able waves exists online. We are forced to explore by sight, by satellite, and by intuition. That shift of mindset marked the return of excitement for ocean exploration for me. “Adventure” of course, means different things to different people and in Tonga, on sailing vessel Aflie, I’m overflowing with inspiration again. Just like Alyssa and Patrick did on Althea, we make the concerted effort to go ‘off course’ and to truly explore, independent of the regular flow of traffic or compendium recommendations.
We started asking better questions, being pointed in the direction of salty seadogs with all our answers. And just like that our world expands and for me, the adventure was well and truly alive again.
This post is dedicated to the humble and silent wanderers of the earth who draw their signature on the water with the brush of imagination and courage, in their search for adventure.