Sailing Solo: Adventures of Antares II
As most of you know I have been planning an around the world sailing expedition for the past 18 months. I find it fitting to be writing to you as I cross the Sea of Cortez away from the Bay of Dreams (Bahia de Los Muertos) and head towards Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where I will be departing for my Pacific Ocean crossing single-handed the first week of March. This all is beginning to seem like a dream come true, because that’s what it has been so far. I am very fortunate to be able to be on such an adventure, but it has come with a great deal of preparation and obstacles I have had to overcome. I realize this is not something for the faint of heart, as it can be quite demanding at times, but also very rewarding. I have had a steep learning curve of sailing, learning mechanics of the boat and dealing with the inevitable breakage of vital components while at sea. It has been a wild adventure from when I left Portland, Oregon in June 2014 and I am extremely excited to challenge myself to sailing solo around the world. I wanted to share with you some of the details of the trip thus far and fill you in on my future plans.
This grandiose idea began on the 4th of July 2013 sitting atop Mt. Tabor in Portland with a small group of friends talking about how awesome it would be to sail around the world and we were all very excited at the time. While everyone brushed it off probably as nothing more than a good idea after a few drinks that evening, I never let it go. Weeks after talking about this with my closest brother Brad, he sent me a link to an Alberg 30 being sold out of Vancouver, British Columbia. This was a lucky find for me because it seemed a perfect boat for the journey, and in fact it was. On September 13, 2013 I drove up to Vancouver, British Columbia to test sail the vessel to Bowen Island and back. After arriving at Bowen Island in the early evening I made the deal and I was the proud owner of a 1966 Alberg 30; blue-water ready…kind of.
After the deal was done I still had more than a handful of work to get myself and the boat ready, especially since this was my first boat. I had not yet sailed in my life more than a dozen times before buying the boat which is considered a bit abnormal and still had to learn what half the equipment on board was called or used for. I bought this boat in the early fall which is not favorable for sailing the Northwest coast so I had the mast taken down and trailered across the border over 1500 miles. Later that fall I signed up for American Sailing Association classes and began reading up on as much as I could about single handling a vessel and sailboat maintenance. It was not as easy at it appeared at first, especially after having a setback Mountain biking in January 2014 when I broke three bones in my left wrist, my scapula, and two ribs. I was told I might not be able to use my left wrist again but luckily the healing was successful and it was still cold and icy in Portland at the time so it was not the end of the trip.
One of the hardest parts for me at this point was not so much the sailing, but the fact I knew practically nothing about electronics or working on boats. This quickly changed though as I began to tackle various projects such as plumbing, engine maintenance and working on the electric components (with various help of course from my friends at the dock on Hayden Island, for which I am very grateful). I was soon graduating from Portland State in the spring of 2014 and was working for the Port of Portland, but realized what I was doing was not for me and wanted to pursue my dream of cruising the world. In June 2014 after leaving my job and graduating school with a science degree I sailed the boat down the Columbia River to put the boat on the hard in Ilwaco, Washington. Once again this was something I had no idea about so with some trial and error, and asking around the yard I was able to install a new Radar, Chartplotter, pull the prop for inspection, sand and paint the bottom, and repair the blisters on the gel coat. After almost five weeks living and working in the boat yard I got back in the water and took Antares II for a test sail to Wesport, Washington with my girlfriend at the time and the ’66 Alberg handled it beautifully…even after a good thrashing on the Columbia Bar upon our return. This was my first offshore voyage and I was already feeling very confident in heading off on this journey at sea.
On August 27, 2014 myself and two other crew mates left the Ilwaco Harbor and crossed the bar that morning around 07:00 with 20 knots of wind and an 8 foot rolling swell, we set out for SW course of 200 miles offshore so that we could make a straight shot back towards San Francisco and avoid the unrelenting low pressure system around the California / Oregon border. Things were quite smooth for the first few days minus 12 hours of vomiting that kicked in only 2 hours into the sail. I was so weak I couldn’t stand to get up or even take in food but luckily this never happened again (I’m blaming it on nerves). While making the turn to head back to mainland we discovered the Navik wind vane was no longer working and when I tried to fix it I broke the tip of my finger and put myself out of commission for about 6 hours, but with a couple pain killers I was able to sleep it off and get back to sailing the next morning. Luckily, we were able to rig the windvane up to work for a few more days but on the 2nd to last day there was no fixing it and we were stuck hand steering on broad reach, with a double reefed main in 35-40 knots of sustained winds with 8’ seas every 7 seconds. This made for a challenging ride home as it rained and waves crashed against the beam of the boat, which made us all cringe thinking we were going to broach or someone just shot a cannonball at us. Luckily through perseverance and about 4 red bulls I was able to bring us safely into Bodega Bay, where we were all extremely relieved! Most people at this point would have probably gotten off the boat and said they never want to do this again, but I somewhat enjoyed the intensity of it all, so in theory this is something I was meant to do.
This was the true shakedown trip, which proved to shake not just the boat but also my crew. Everyone was a little on edge after being up for 48 hours being thrashed around so I took it easy and hung out at the South Beach Harbor in San Francisco for the week before making my way to Sausalito to repair everything that failed including lifelines, the bow pulpit, leaking chain plates (which let in a great deal of water on the starboard side). After getting the boat back to a safe working condition with the help of South Beach Riggers, I still had to get a new windvane but this was a daunting task because they start at about $3000 and you have to install it yourself, which is not an easy task for someone never having done something like this before. By the time I left San Francisco I had had two new crew aboard. The one was a prudent Bay sailor but both were greenies of the open ocean, and one had never even sailed before, but worked on a fishing boat in Australia. This turned out to be alright though because we only hit one bad weather system in Monterey where we hit a local low pressure system of 50 knots of wind and breaking seas. We all handled it well though and decided to turn back to Moss Landing where we sailed over 8.5 knots downwind throughout the bar which was a little crazy, considering it is only about 600 feet wide! We had a great time stopping at all the major ports along the California Coast and the two of them departed in Marina Del Ray in Los Angeles. I was becoming more comfortable being on my own out there as I learned to navigate weather systems better and was starting to do all most all of the sailing on my own. I still wasn’t comfortable being just by myself though so I picked up a new crew member from Marina Del Ray after the other two headed back home. I left Marina Del Ray at the end of November and I made my way down to San Diego and had a four week stop over in Mission Bay where I installed the new wind vane which took a lot longer than I expected, but overall it was a success and on December 20th I set off for Mexican waters.
The trip down the Baja Peninsula was very enjoyable with solid sailing downwind most of the way and I made a few stops along the way including Ensenada, Turtle Bay, Abreojos, and Cabo San Lucas. We made some longer passages two of which were over 250 miles each and I didn’t get a real shower for almost 14 days which was new to me, but really didn’t bother me that much. One of the things about the Alberg design is that it is confined to a very small space with not much room for luxuries such as refrigeration or a shower, so I have learned to live very simply to say the least! Once I arrived in Cabo San Lucas I decided it was time for me to be on my own and so a few days later I sailed North towards La Paz. My first stop was Los Frailes 45 nautical miles North of Cabo San Lucas and in the mid afternoon I was hit by what they like to call a Norther or Chubasco. It brought sustained winds of 30 knots and gusting winds of 45 knots within an hour; this didn’t stop until 03:30 the next morning. I attempted to sail in every direction including back to Cabo, but with approximately 6-8 foot square waves breaking waves every 4 seconds it made it nearly impossible and it was the first time I actually became nervous about my safety, so I decided to heave to and drift for the next 9 hours. Once this passed I had a smooth sail the rest of the way and made it to La Paz three days later where I met a wonderful group of cruisers who showed me around and introduced me to a great sailing community. One of the best things I did there was put a third reef point in my main sail because there has been a number of occasions that I wish it was there previously!
As I look back over the last 18 months I can say I have accomplished a great deal getting ready and it has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done mentally and physically. I am hoping that I can take away from this trip a number of great stories, learn more about myself and others of the world, and become a better sailor. I realize this has just been the beginning and what I am getting into is one of the more dangerous expeditions someone can take on, but feel I am ready for this. I learned recently that you can no longer get insurance as a single-handled sailor crossing an ocean, but for other sailors out there they realize this is just insurance making an excuse, because with proper planning and navigating within the right seasons and weather windows it can be done safely. I have been diligently preparing for this trip since the day I started and have not taken anything about it lightly, in fact I may be a little too serious, but I think that is for the better! For those of you that know me well realize I have had a few close calls with death over my life, so this trip means a lot more to me than just sailing. It is my way of truly living and getting out to experience all the world has to offer.
I am planning on leaving from Puerto Vallarta around March 10th and expect to be in Hiva’Oa in the Marquesas around April 10th. I am signed up with a group called the “Puddle Jump” which is an organized fleet of all vessels crossing the Pacific towards French Polynesia ( this event is hosted by Latitude 38 out of San Francisco). Once I reach the Marquesas I will have 90 days to explore all of French Polynesia and will make my way down to the Cook Island, Tonga, and Fiji for the months of June and July. From there I will be setting a course for New Zealand to ride out the Tropical Cyclone Season for 4-6 months where I plan on working under a 1 year holiday visa (just a tentative plan). Around March of 2016 I will then be setting off to sail towards Darwin, Australia and from there I will decide my next course of action for continuing my route West.