February 20, 2024 we motored as the sun emerged from a week long sleep. Ahead was the most exquisite sight I have ever seen. Words cannot do justice for what we saw. The Seno Glacier, one of Patagonia’s jewels. From a distance the glacier looked white. Upon closer inspection it was varying colours of blue, from light blue to cobalt.
We anchored Synchronicity and launched the dinghy to get a closer look. The bergie bits, broken off from the glacier were miniature works of art.
We found a small piece of ice about the size of a dinner plate floating. We scooped it up and have it safely tucked away in our little freezer for when we can share it with our family.
After our breathtaking visit of the Seno Glacier we settled back on Synchronicity to let the beauty of this place sink in.
This cascading falls kept us company overnight at anchor. A truly magical place.
Easter Island anchorage hanging out with the big boys
We had been nervous about the passage from Easter Island to mainland Chile for some time before the trip. While in Ecuador Dave brought up that this passage would be challenging, because of the variable winds and the succession of lows that pass through the area. Little did we know just how difficult it would be. The challenges actually began before we even left Easter Island, as the anchorages there were untenable.
After one week spent at Easter Island we decided to get out of dodge! During our short stay at Easter Island we fought terrible anchorages, spending the majority of our time circling the island looking for sheltered waters. Even the town came with a surf landing. On Sept 11, 2023 we cut our visit short and prepared to check out for Valdivia, Chile. We radioed the Armada and in Dave’s Spaglish (a little Spanish and a little more English) we asked to check out. We were told to meet the Armada ashore at noon. We waited for the Armada (Customs) ashore for 3 hours. Eventually we called the Armada on the radio to enquire why they hadn’t met us. After a confusing radio conversation (with our beginner Spanish) the Armada sent a police car to pick us up and drive us to their office. They finally gave us a zarpe (necessary paperwork to clear out of Easter Island) for Valdivia, Chile.
After checking out we had a wild dinghy ride back to our boat with a squall providing too much wind raining down upon us, and waves splashing continually over the dinghy.
Returning after the dinghy ride ashore to Synchronicity. Time to go!
Easter Island hadn’t finished with us yet. We had one more go around with freeing our anchor from the bottom. In the large swell the chain fouled on the rock and coral causing the boat to snub up hard. We had put a float on the anchor in hopes of ensuring we could free the anchor when the time came. While using the boat hook to snag the float, a large swell came through burying the float below the water level. The boat rose up, the float stayed under, and the boat hook pulled the float out of Dave’s hand. With these kinds of conditions, we feared upping the anchor could tear our windlass off the boat. We had to work on the anchor for quite a while to free the chain. Pulling this way and that with huge swells snubbing the chain tight, we eventually got free and were able to recover the anchor. At 4:30 p.m. Monday, Sept 11, 2023 we upped our anchor and set sail for Valdivia, Chile.
We hired Commander Weather to provide forecasts for what we knew was going to be a somewhat challenging passage. What we didn’t know was how challenging! Commander Weather forecast said it looked good for four days with some weather late in the week to keep an eye on. We had three days of decent sailing with the wind on the beam and the sun out.
Commander Weather Forecast
Commander then told us to go south for a day to avoid a front. Wind came with the front right on the nose, so we sailed due south very slowly for a day. Eventually we turned back to be on course and the wind was ahead of the beam. Second forecast from Commander Weather said we would get 40 kts of wind. In that period, we had squalls with 40 kts, and other squalls with hail. The sky was without light, hues from gray to black adding to the dread we felt. Night was worse with visibility being poor and waves breaking over us. And the temperatures started to drop. Clothing layers were added.
Every day the squalls lined up like soldiers ready to pummel us with their intense wind. We started looking at these weather bombs as constant weather, not squalls, since they hit one after another.
Our windvane, Windy was a solid and reliable third hand. When a small period of calm arrived, we tried to use the autopilot. It was acting up once again, even after bleeding it to remove any air. During this passage our one-year-old wind generator blew up and quit working, so Dave tied it down. When the wind lessened Dave released the generator and then it blew up again. Once again Dave tied it down. The next forecast from Commander said gusts to 50. Commander said go north to avoid a cold front which would have made us fight to get south to Valdivia. We ignored Commander’s advice and held our course. Our daughter Leah was also providing weather info to us. She agreed we should hold our course. That night we went through the front. Winds were high but were on the stern and we were able to sail it. The next day we realized we had gone through the front anthe weather opened up with winds finally looking favourable. Davsaid it was a miracle. At times I was so worried and prayed all would be well, and then twice we saw rainbows. Those rainbows were a sign that gave me reassurance we were going to be ok.
We relied on Starlink for internet as well as our InReach to chart our course. Once a day we turned on Starlink and heard from our family. It was a highlight to our day. Electronics are challenged in boat environments. Our iPad and iPhone started to act up due to the continual moisture. Neither wanted to charge. This was followed by a loss of internet and satellite for three days. We felt sick. Leah was used to hearing from us daily. She was our communication person. After day 3 our Starlink and InReach miraculously started working again and we received an InReach message from Leah.
It said, “I decided I would wait a week before contacting the Chilean navy. I figured that would be as much time as you would want to spend in a liferaft.” I bawled after reading her message. Guilt filled me that we were causing so much anguish to our family. And the harsh reality of what could happen sent shivers through my body.
For the most part the waves were strong and crashed relentlessly into our hull. 15 footers smashed over the cabin top and dodger, hitting the hull hard numerous times. I often jumped when the hull was slammed by the water. The waves cascaded over the port side windows looking like thunderous waterfalls. They had no rhythm. Swells came in different directions which only added to the chaos. Movement was treacherous.
Looking Out From the Port
Sept 18, 2023. We continued to beat into the weather. Commander Weather forecast was 45 knots that night. I burst into tears. I was terrified. I was plagued with the thought that I couldn’t do this anymore. Well, that wasn’t an option. So, I pulled up my big girl panties. I practiced taking deep breaths and reminded myself of my coach Pam’s words, “You’ve got this.” Honestly there wasn’t much I could do other than hang on and pray. We were sailing with the staysail and a small handkerchief of our jib out. Daughter Leah sent an email saying: “There are all these moments you think you won’t survive and then you survive.” – David Levithan. There was some solace knowing our family was at home in Vancouver rooting for us. That night winds were as high as 40 kts. Dave crawled up to the bow and took the staysail down, replacing it with the tiny storm staysail. We had the drop boards in and relied on the AIS for shipping during our watches, with occasional popping our heads over the boards to check for traffic. Fortunately, there were no ships in the area. We weren’t even halfway to Valdivia.
Then at one point our rigging came loose – the Cap shroud. Thankfully, Dave spotted it was slack on the leeward side. It kept unwinding itself, so he put a wrench on it and taped it to the lifeline.
Dave Being MacGyver
We could have lost the rig but thankfully Dave caught it in time.
With all this water coming over our boat we found leaks everywhere. The worst was the port side where the stanchion leaked – and the butyl tape failed. Prior to leaving Canada we rebedded all our stanchions changing from 5200 to using butyl tape. We learned too late, that in the extreme Mexican heat the butyl tape melted and started to squeeze out of the stanchions. Once back in cooler waters the seals were gone. Salt water poured in behind the stove, through a locker and onto the floor. I was sponging up puddles three times an hour. It was very disconcerting. Thankfully, the bilge pumps kept up and our sponging helped. I hate to think what could have happened if the bilge pumps broke down. The leaks were everywhere. Leaks in the aft cabin caused our bedding to get wet. I made hammocks of plastic and wrapped our soggy mattress in plastic so we could still sleep there off watch. Unfortunately, that didn’t last as the water seeped in again. We were down to a couple of small dry blankets that we used on the port side of the boat on our curved settee. Sometimes we slept laying down, sometimes sitting up. Sometimes the motion was so violent we couldn’t sleep.
Catching Some of the Leaks
Dave Sleeping in the Last Dry Spot
Mary Trying to Stay Warm and Dry and Sleep
We discovered the port side aft cabin locker where I stored all the eggs also leaked, shelves were wet the whole trip. A ceiling leak in the galley almost took out the light. Fortunately, Dave spotted the light filled with water, and got it drained before the light burned out. The light under our dodger turned itself on because it was full of water. That light was discovered too late to save. It seemed at times everywhere you looked water was leaking into the boat.
At one point the motion was so bad with the leaks everywhere. I turned to Dave and asked him if we were going to die. I didn’t really think we were going to but it had crossed my mind and I needed to hear him say no. He turned to me and with a big hug said no we would be ok. Somehow that was a little reassuring. Dave offered the option of turning around and heading back to Ecuador. I looked at him incredulously. I said no way were we going all that way back! Miraculously even though the motion was the worst we have encountered I never once got seasick – and I didn’t even take seasick medicine. I even managed to cook most days. Instant noodles became our go-to lunch. At one point the stove stuck under full gimbal. That was a first. A few of the day’s meals were cold as it was too dangerous to cook.
Stove gimballed to the max
We stuck to our three-hour watches. Three hours on, three hours off. The motion (yes worth repeating again) on Synchronicity was excessive, ongoing and relentless. In over 30 years of sailing (including a world circumnavigation) we have never seen motion like this. No matter what you did you had to hold on. I gripped so hard to stay upright that I ended up with blisters and then callouses on my hands. No movement could be made without a tight grip on a handhold, and a plan where to grasp next. Going to the head (bathroom) required gymnastics, balance and sheer strength just to hold on as the boat plunged. Plus patience as I would inch along to get to the head and strip off my pants. I’ve often thought in these conditions a tail could be very useful.
My body ached from bracing myself when doing any movement. One night as I opened our aft cabin door, a large wave hit. Before I knew what was happening I came flying out the door and was thrown 6 feet across to the galley, hitting my head on our stove and sliding to the floor. I sat on the wet floor taking stock of my body hoping nothing was broken. Tears streamed down my face. My shoulder hurt, the back of my head had a bump, my thigh and back were bruised. Thankfully nothing was broken, except maybe my pride.
For almost the whole trip we had a triple reef main and storm staysail. At times we could unfurl a little of the genoa to help with the speed. During the worst of it we sailed with a tiny handkerchief of a storm staysail. The winds pushed us north. Then came one more miracle. As we approached the Chilean coast slowly the skies lightened and the sun peaked out. The wind clocked, and we were able to sail directly to Valdivia with a couple of better sailing days bringing us to our destination.
When we finally arrived in Valdivia, Dave said this passage was more of a challenge than he ever thought it would be. Yet, we made it after 19 mostly terrifying days. These 19 days brought us closer as a couple and a team.
Happy Dave as We Enter the River to Valdivia, Chile
Happy Mary as We Enter the River to Valdivia, Chile
Oh and our wind generator…we sent it back to the manufacture. They said they had never seen anything like it. In the manufacture’s words the wind generator had “catastrophic failure”. I wonder what the winds really were at times. Maybe it is better that we don’t know. I think we are done with long passages in the variables for a while…
“Do You Anchor at Night?” and Other Passage Queries
People often wonder what a sailing passage is. Our definition of a sailing passage is where you sail non-stop day and night to your destination. That might be one night or thirty or more! Here are some fun questions we have been asked about doing sailing passages:
Do you anchor at night?
On a passage the waters are too deep to anchor. For example, on our biggest passage across the South Pacific we were in waters over 1000’ deep for almost one month. We carry 300’ of 3/8” chain which would not go too far in those depths. So, passages require us to sail non-stop day and night, 24/7.
How do you carry enough food?
I calculate how many days we will be on passage and then add “emergency” rations after that. Things like dried beans and rice, cans of chili, chicken, tuna etc that would last us 1-2 months after the calculated passage time if needed. It’s a safeguard against boat breakdowns or other emergencies. We might carry 100 eggs for a 2-3 week passage, 6 rolls of paper towel and 10 rolls of toilet paper. Fresh produce and meat usually last a week or two, depending on the temperature (less time in the tropics). I find citrus lasts longer as does romaine lettuce and cabbage, carrots, onions and potatoes. Fortunately, we have a fridge and a small freezer so we can carry more than we did when we sailed in 1998. We have a lot of lockers as we built the boat and put storage everywhere possible. It’s a necessity to track all the non-perishable food. I keep a laminated list and use a dry erase marker to mark how much of a particular item we have, where it is located, and how much we have used. Otherwise we would never find that bottle of ketchup!
What do you eat on a passage?
On passage, breakfast is help yourself. A typical breakfast might be yogourt, granola and the local fruit of the country we are leaving, bacon and eggs, or cereal and fruit. Lunch can be leftovers, salad in a jar (you build the salad ahead of time in a mason jar), bean or other salads, sandwiches, cheese, pickles, olives and crackers. If the weather cooperates, I might make nachos, Kraft Dinner, hot dogs or soup. In the heat, salads are often a favourite lunch fare.
Salad in a jar for lunch
Dinners are usually one pot (two maximum). The weather dictates dinner options. One-pot meals are a must when the seas are rough. I always provide warm meals unless the conditions (read high winds and rough seas) say otherwise. Normal dinners are like home, but simpler. Meat plus veggies or salad, or pasta or casseroles. I’ll make pasta, quiche, Shepard’s pie, soups, meatloaf, chicken or roasts for dinner. Again, the wave and wind conditions dictate what I cook. I do all the cooking and Dave does the dishes. Coming down the coast of Oregon I was able to make Cornish game hens! Off of Los Frailes in Mexico, dinner was a can of chili warmed up as conditions were so rough.
I often cook a few things before we leave port as I can be sea sick for the first few days and we may have rough waters. Also, being at anchor or a dock, we lose our sea legs so we need to get used to being out again. I will also look for prepared food in the grocery stores before we leave. Recently we had 7 for dinner unexpectedly so I was able to bring out pulled-pork that was was pre-prepared and served it with salad and bread.
Food, drinks and snacks are an important part of a passage. The crew always looks forward to meals and snacks. I always pack away special treats to mark milestones like when we crossed the equator or celebrations like 1000 days at sea or a birthday. On our South Pacific passage everyone got to choose their juice one day in the week. I’d put it in the freezer and serve it very cold for dinner. Everyone looked forwarded to that. Simple pleasures are what’s important on a passage.
Do you cook underway?
Definitely! Some people only like to cook when they are doing day trips (where they stop each night). On a passage that’s impossible. Dave would starve! I’m responsible for all the provisioning (shopping and planning for food and sundries) and cooking. So, yes, I prepare 3 meals a day, plus snacks.
What’s the longest passage you have done?
Our longest passage was from La Paz, Mexico to the Marquesas Islands in 1999 with our girls. It took 28.5 days.
How do you stay awake that long?
Ha, ha… you don’t. We are very careful to keep watches 24/7 on passages. When we had the kids with us we did 2 hours on and 2 hours off for Dave and I. During the day our daughter Leah would do a watch to give us both a break.
Moon rise… and squid on the deck following a night watch going from Huatulco, Mexico to Bahia del Sol, El Salvador
Now that it is just the two of us we have decided to do 3 hour watches. That means one of us is always on watch for 3 hours, then the other person takes over. All day and all night. I have the 2100h to midnight watch if anyone wants to message me then! And then the 0300h. to 0600h watch.
What happens on a watch?
During our watches our first responsibilities are to not hit another boat and to stay on course! Sounds easy in a big ocean but you would be surprised how many boats you see. Technology has greatly improved since we sailed offshore previously. We now have AIS – Automatic Identification System. If a boat has AIS we can see them being tracked by their unique transceivers onboard. Fortunately, ships (freighters, cruise ships) are required to have AIS. We can normally see the name of the ship, how big it is, its speed and compass course, how close to us it is (when it could possibly hit us) and where its final destination is. Other pleasure boats are not required to have AIS. We have found that fishing boats rarely have AIS. Most sailboats do carry it.
Off of Mexico had some great currentgoing with us
With our navigation system and AIS we can see the relationship between other boats and us which helps inform if we are safe or need to change course. As well, we watch every 10-15 minutes with our eyes for boats or other obstructions (fish nets, for e.g.). We also have radar which will show thunderstorms as well as boats.
Next, we check that we are staying on course. If the wind changes direction or speed we may have to change the sail configuration, or in the case of no wind, fire up the Iron Genny (motor!).
What do you do besides watch for other boats, change sails and navigate? Do you have anything to entertain you?
Passages are a great time to read. On our circumnavigation our 11 year old daughter Leah read 17 books on the 28 day passage. With technology now Dave and I have Kindles as well as iPads. With Starlink we can even occasionally watch a downloaded movie or YouTube if we have internet. Star and moon gazing is also a favourite pastime. Watching the ocean wildlife is probably one of the most memorable pastimes. Since leaving Canada in September we have seen many turtles, dolphins (my favourite), rays, fish, whales and all kinds of birds. We even had a bat sleep over one passage night off of El Salvador.
I never tire of seeing dolphins
What happens off watch?
Off watch activities depend on the time of day. We often will nap. I will cook the meals and provide the snacks. Sometimes it’s catching up with each other – usually in the day. During the night we definitely sleep for our 3 hours off watch.
So, as you can see, passage making has a lot of moving pieces and we are never bored!
We had a great sail from the islands off Puerto Escondido, Baja, to Topolobampo, Mexico. This crossing was bittersweet as we bid goodbye to our dear friends Bruce and Gina on Dreamcatcher. Over twenty years ago we met while both sailboats circumnavigated. We had a wonderful month cruising north in the Sea of Cortes with Bruce and Gina. Now it was time to head to the mainland of Mexico.
Sailing into the entrance of Topolobampo was intimidating. Surf was on both sides. Fortunately with very well marked waypoints and buoys it was fine.
The town of Topolobampo looks like the Easter Bunny came through and painted it. It sits on a hill overlooking the marina. The town’s fishing fleet is well-matched.
We had googled a recommended restaurant Don Gato so we set off to the town to find it. Google Maps took us to the left around and to the top of the town hill. When our destination appeared there was no restaurant. We checked our directions and we had followed them correctly. An hour and a half later we arrived at the waterfront Malecon and there was our restaurant. What we didn’t realize was had we gone right instead of left on our walk, the restaurant would have been 15 minutes away! Well we got a tour of the town and some exercise so all was good. The food at Don Gato was delicious.
We received a warm welcome to Topolobampo marina. The marina is located north of Mazatlan and makes a great stop for boats transiting the area. Nelson, the Marina Manager went out of his way to ensure we had everything we needed and even arranged our ride to pick up our rental car. Located next to the marina is a concrete fuel dock. It might be tenable at high tide. We chose to jerry jug the fuel. Laundry can also be sent out.
Once in the Topolobampo Marina Dave arranged to pick up our rental car from the Los Mochis airport – a 15 minute drive from Topolobambo. The Topolobampo marina manager, Nelson, had one of his employees drive us there. At the airport rental car booth there was a flourish of Spanish which Dave and I desperately tried to understand. The rental agency person looked at our faces and realized we didn’t understand anything she said. She came out of her booth and took us outside to meet two other employees. We got into the car –I thought it was our rental. It was dirty, dented and old! Well, if it is mechanically sound I thought – that’s what matters. Turned out this wasn’t our rental (phew) it was how we were getting to our car! It soon became apparent we had to pick up the car from the heart of Los Mochis – a 40 min drive away (even though we booked it to pick up at the airport). Once at the other rental location we were motioned to sit down. Again questioning faces. Preguntas? Questions? They wanted to wash our car before we took it.
Two hours after arriving at the airport we were on the road- in a beautiful Nissan red rental car! It was 3 hours to Alamos on a good highway. We went through 3 military check points. A little intimidating with the well-armed military folks. Each time we rolled down our window and Dave would start with “lo siento, no hablo espanol” (I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish), and they waved us on. US has warnings in these areas re the cartel but we felt safe. People said travel during the day and all will be ok. Policia or military appeared to be searching only the semi trucks pulled over at each stop. By the last checkpoint when Dave rolled down his window and the policia saw we were gringos, they just waved us past! The rest of the drive was uneventful. Along the way there were vendors hawking their wares as well as two toll booths. When we couldn’t understand how much to pay the toll booth woman held up a 100 peso bill with a smile.
We stopped at a restaurant in the city of Navajo (sp?) for lunch and then drove onto the Pueblo Magical Alamos- meaning magical town. It truly was magical, sitting in a valley with houses all adjoined, cobblestone narrow roads, and white concrete and brick Spanish style casas.
We met Kelley 24 years earlier in San Diego on our first sailing trip. I had just hung up from an emotional call with my Dadprior to leaving Mexico for the South pacific passage to the Marquesa Islands. It was going to be a big passage of 3000 miles and I truly thought we might die on the trip. Kelley was there and when I shared my fears,edhe hugged me and said, “Mary the ocean is safe. More people die every day on the highways.” Somehow this did comfort me and to this day I still remember his hug and words of assurance.
Approaching The Colonial, the hotel our friends owned, Kelley and Janet were standing outside. It seemed like no time had gone by as we embraced our friend Kelley and his wife Janet.
Entering their home, I felt like Cinderella. A large open courtyard filled with huge plants, flowers, antiques and paintings is surrounded by 10 hotel rooms, each with their own bathroom. Beautiful Mexican tiles lined the bathrooms. The rooms had fireplaces and sitting areas. Sadly, it was too hot for a fire!
At the one end of the courtyard a spiral staircase led up to a two-level terrace where you could look over all the town rooftops and hills. Kelley designed and built the spiral staircase – a true work of art.
At the other end was a grand ballroom complete with an 1865 square grand piano. The ceilings were over 20’ high with matching arched windows along one side that opened to a huge coffee roaster – they sell their coffee. Kelley is an expert at making cappuccinos
Our friends had their own separate suite next to an indoor pool and commercial kitchen. Everywhere I looked were beautiful artifacts and Spanish architecture. I learned that the hotel had 15 bathrooms, 10 rental rooms and 10 fireplaces (all wood burning but one). Janet had first bought the mansion when it was in ruins.With Kelley, extensive renovations were done to bring it to the magnificent place it is today.
We did a lot of reminiscing on this trip about our past sailing days. It was truly a special visit seeing Kelley after so many years and meeting Janet, who we instantly loved.
After a quick 2 day visit we drove back to Los Mochis Airport to return the car. Or so we thought! There was no one at the Alamo rental agency. We tried calling the number on the business card we were given, with no luck. We waited 3.5 hours. We noticed there were more staff than passengers at the airport. Finally, we talked to someone from another car agency who phoned Alamo. Thirty minutes later they arrived. The agent felt bad because she didn’t start until 3 pm but no one told us and the car had to be returned at 10 a.m. At least she drove us back to the boat. Mexican time
Leaving Topolobampo we chose to anchor just inside the entrance up a side channel. This gave us a good jump off for an early start the next day for the long run down to Puerto Vallarta.
Learning and development professionals say that you really know and understand something when you can teach it to others. I was reminded of this when our dear friends Pam and Rick joined us for the trip from San Diego to Mexico. They were both new to sailing, and we wanted them to have an enjoyable experience.
It was both Dave’s and my job to introduce our friends to the world of sailing and all Synchronicity’s ins and outs. I didn’t realize the benefits of teaching our friends the ropes on Synchronicity.
Questioning my knowledge and ability sailing is something I do regularly. I knew I could show our friends some basics. For instance I always feel like I have it together when it comes to provisioning (that’s figuring out what food to buy and prepare for our trip). Yet I think I lack in the sailing category and all things to do with running the boat.
What I learned this leg is that I really do know more about Synchronicity and all her systems, quirks and idiosyncrasies than I give myself credit for. Teaching Rick and Pam how to use the stove and head, what the different boat names are – like the galley for the kitchen (why is that?), sheets not ropes, what to be aware of on the 3 hour watches when underway, anchoring and alot more. It was definitely a boost to my confidence showing our friends what our life was like sailing. My inner saboteurs once again were quieted as I taught our friends each new thing.
Seeing Pam and Rick experience their firsts sailing, reinforced how special this lifestyle is. Sun rises and sun sets reignited my passion for nature’s incredible beauty.
Watching the antics of pelicans made me laugh. Seeing the stray dogs in the Mexican streets brought back memories from 23 years ago when Jess wanted to bring every stray back to the boat.
Through the eyes of our friends we learned the humour of the sailing life. Pam would crawl into the aft cabin remarking the bunk was like a one person sleeping bag for two! She added she felt like she was a butterfly going into its cocoon. After struggling with seasickness in rough conditions Pam remarked, “I left my stomach in San Diego.” Pam added that the best of sailing was hitting 9.2 kts under a full moon with flat seas. And the worst of sailing? Leaving San Diego harbour and feeling like you were being tossed around in a washing machine.
Watching Pam and Rick share in experiencing first hand our lifestyle makes me appreciate all over again how fortunate I am to be on this adventure, and how grateful to Dave for being my partner in all of this. Oh ya… and I’ve got this!
It’s 24 years later and somehow Dave and I expected things to be the same at Chula Vista Marina. Right? Nope!
Gone is the RV park across from the marina which had our beloved pool and jacuzzi. We were so looking forward to a soak. Offshore sailing does a number on your body. Aches and pains from bracing against the constant movement and wind, with Synchronicity lurching and dancing on top of the waves. The RV park is being replaced by a 1600 room hotel and conference centre. At least Dave can eye up the construction site.
What are you doing all day? This question was posed by several people.
1. Fixing Boat Parts It started with the Windvane that Dave rebuilt prior to us leaving Canada. The Windvane lovingly know as “Windy” steered us many offshore miles when we circumnavigated. She is like the crew member that never tires, doesn’t need breaks and eats nothing – well maybe a little WD40 once in a while! For some unknown reason it didn’t work on the trip here. We decided to buy a new Monitor Windvane. Dave just installed it.
2. Installing New Equipment We ran out of time to finish installing equipment before leaving BC. We both swore when we sailed again we would have a water maker. Now we have one installed. Still to test… excited to have.
3. Boat Maintenance Anyone who owns a boat knows that maintenance takes up a good part of your time. Synchronicity’s motor is located in the galley. Dave had the nasty job of replacing the mounts and aligning the engine.
4. Trying New Recipes I’m in my happy place when I’m baking. We have friends coming who are gluten-free so I tried out a gluten free bread recipe.
It was 1995. We had spent 3 years building our sailboat Synchronicity, a Fraser 41, in our backyard. Today she wasbeing delivered by truck to North Vancouver, BC and launched in Mosquito Creek Marina. What a day it was. With the girls tucked away sleeping in the v-berth Dave and I sat looking at each other on the settee. Silently I thought, “What have we done?”
We had sold all our possessions including our house and now moved on a sailboat. With our two young girls, ages 3 and 8.Were we crazy for doing these things? Neither set of our parents ever voiced disapproval (or even approval for that matter), ofour plans to sail the world. Not that we needed approval since we were well into our 30’s. But does seeking approval from our elders ever go away? Looking back, we decided to accept their quietness as approval for our own sakes.
Fast forward to 1998. We had lived aboard in North Vancouver through three dark, wet winters, and it was finally time to wavegoodbye to our friends and family. The emotions I had were mixed excitement with fear and anxiety, not knowing what it would be like to sail offshore.
We decided to do a straight shot to San Diego. We received a decent forecast and went for it. My confidence built as I took my turn on watches with Dave. By the time we arrived in San Diego, 9 days out from Vancouver, I was elated. I had managed my seasickness and been a part of our first sailing voyage from Vancouver to San Diego. San Diego was just the first of many passages that took us all around the world. Four years later we returned to Vancouver, sailing under Lion’s Gate Bridge feeling elated that we had circumnavigated the globe, and curious to see what would be next for our family.
Time hop once more with me. It’s now 24 years later, and here we are setting sail once again. This time it’s just Dave and I. Our daughters are both married and have their own lives. Leah, age 35, has her own sailboat (1’ bigger than her parents’, she’ll proudly tell you) and is raising our grandson with her husband aboard. Jess has a thriving baking business and just got married. This time Dave and I will be doing this trip without them, taking family and friends as crew from time to time.
People ask how it will be different. I ask myself that question too. At age 61, I feel less confident to sail on a big adventurethan I did 24 years ago. Even after 37,000 nautical miles and a lifetime of cruising memories, I struggle with my inner critics. As a life/career coach, I know them only too well. My inner critics have been screaming into my ears: I’m not fit enough, I don’t know how to sail, I’m not strong enough, What if I mess up? What if I can’t do this? But then I think, “Dave is depending on me” and work on hushing those inner voices.
As we neared our jump off date in early September, my anxiety was over the top. My cousin Val was coming with us on the first leg to San Diego. She was excited…and I just felt dread. I woke up most nights with heightened anxiety. My brain felt scrambled. Wondering… can I do this? What will it be like without our girls beside us all the way? Am I up for it? Can I REALLY do this again? Am I too old?
I sought the advice of my friend and personal coach, Pam. She sent me texts saying, “You’ve got this.” Searching for the confidence, I kept wondering why is it as we get older that we lose our confidence? Does everyone go through this? Daughter Leah helped me get in touch with what I liked about cruising – the people, dolphins, sunsets, stars and visiting new places and cultures. I weakly held onto those thoughts.
Our “to do” list was never ending. Dave was busy with boat projects and retiring from a construction career of over 40 years. With help from Val and another friend, I got the boat provisioned. We had set a date for leaving and it was closing in… Sept 5, 2022
Sept 5th arrived, and we left amidst tearful goodbyes with our girls, their husbands and our grandson, and a few close friends. The first few days we motored and cleared into the US. That was the easy part.
The first night passage was rounding Cape Flattery. Val keptwatch with me. She struggled with seasickness. The motion was all too familiar. Washing-machine like waves coming from all directions hurtled Synchronicity around. We learned later the cross-swells were the remnants of typhoon Merbok. While Val puked, I maintained my 3-hour watches, looking at the amazing starlit night, remembering one of the reasons I really do like sailing. As we started down the Washington coast the swells became a little more regular and my body slowly got used to it. Sturgeron was and still is my best friend at sea. The seasick meds worked. Phew!
With the weather not improving and the winds increasing, Captain Dave decided we should stop at Gray’s Harbor in Washington, a small fishing port. We spent a few days there waiting for improved weather.
Back out sailing a few days passed and my anxiety slowly reduced. Then off the coast of Oregon the winds once again built. This time both our autopilot and monitor self-steering system failed. The windvane which Dave rebuilt had too much flex in it and would not steer a course. The new heavy-duty autopilot which had steered us so far started to make screeching and grinding noises until it finally quit working altogether. Of course it was the middle of the night…
If ever there was a time I should fall apart, it was now in the dark of night when I was faced with hand-steering. Our compass light was out as well so we literally had the stars only to guide us. My tears appeared as Dave woke me for my watch and explained the circumstances. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to him, knowing there was no choice but to suck it up and take the watch. Val was still struggling with seasickness, so it was up to me.
Blinking back my tears, I heard the voice of my coach Pam once again, “you’ve got this,” she whispered in my ear. I dug deep that night to steer in winds from 25-30 knots, gusting 35. And then a wonderful thing happened. As the waves crashed and the self-steering sat useless and our crew was immobilized with seasickness and it all started to get really intense, this Grandma’s confidence came back! Not all of it, but enough to hand steer my two night watches, safely guiding Synchronicity and her crew through until Dave took his watch at 6:00 a.m. Enough to know I was going to be ok. “It’s like riding a bike,” I heard in my head. And indeed I felt that I could do this again.
The rest of the trip to San Diego went without too many glitches. We chose to stop in Bodego Bay, the Channel Islands and Catalina. On Sept 29, 24 years later, we landed once again at Chula Vista Marina, just before light gave way to darkness.
A small sense of warmth came over me, a knowing that I can and I will do this. As we prepare for what’s next on our adventure, my inner critic is still there but quieted by a tiny new knowing of what I am capable of.
Twenty years ago we were arriving home with our two daughters after circumnavigating the globe on our sailboat Synchronicity. I remember the feeling when we first set sail as a family. Excited, anxious, nervous, curious what life would look like on a boat with our little family. Facing our first passage. We spent 4 wonderful years with our girls visiting 37 countries.
Fast forward and now Dave and I are once again setting sailing- this time without our kids. The same feelings are there.., though for me I think there’s more anxiousness and less confidence. Now older I’m not sure what to expect. I’m working hard to bring out the coach in me, practice my Positive Intelligence/Mental Fitness. I’m looking forward to time with Dave, the beauty only the sea can bring, dolphins and sunsets and getting that feeling back that I can and will do this! Today we leave!!