A Bad Start
consider whether to go ahead and sail by myself.
Although I have done plenty of solo sailing a 30 to 40 day passage
was a big challenge. Time would be needed to make up my mind, so I
decided to work a couple of more weeks while I thought it over. On
Monday, instead of flying to La Paz, I caught the flight to Ogden and
back to Hill AFB. A lot of deep soul-searching went on for the next
two weeks. While the decision was not easy, I felt that if not now.
then perhaps never. A solo crossing it would be, come hell or high
By the third week in April the boat had been hauled and
painted. All was ready except for last minute supplies, and the final
round of good-bye parties. My good friend Pete (AKA Phyllis Hilton)
was down to La Paz to lend moral support and to make sure that I
indeed untied the dock lines. I got my clearance on the third of May.
It was official. I had a document that listed the next port of entry
as Hiva Oa, Marqueses.
The morning of the fifth of May, dawned bright and clear. The
ship's log records that I left the dock at 0730, although you
couldn't prove it by me. Anxiety is a mild way of describing how I
felt. I was still questioning my ability to handle a month of
solitude. Pete was the only friend on the dock to see me off. I was
hurt that no other friends were there. I shed a lot of tears as I
sailed out of the harbor, realizing that I would, in all probability,
never return. ( Editor note: John never sialed back but has indeed
returned to La Paz).
The first three days were spent drifting around with almost no
wind. I made the decision to sail into the harbor at Cabo San Lucas,
about 100 miles south of La Paz. I had only averaged 30 miles a day!
During that time I had been up day and night in order to dodge all of
the coastal shipping around. I spent a couple of days (illegally) in
Cabo resting up and enjoying my last restaurant meals and drinks.
...Finally Away at last
My passage began at 0730 on May 10, as I cleared Arch Rock at
I've opened my logbook and am going to summarize the passage
as best I can. For the first three days I was sea-sick and hardly ate
anything. Even although I wasn't doing well, the boat was moving
right along, averaging over a hundred miles a day under mainsail
only. The autopilot steered day and night on a south-west course,
while I spent a lot of time in my bunk. On the third day we sighted
Roca Partida; an island only 100 feet high and a quarter of a mile in
diameter. The navigation department took top honors to find such a
small speck after 400 miles of open ocean.
There was no other land between here and the Marqueses, over
3000 miles away On the fifth day I began taking noon sun sights with
the sextant in order to find my location. During the remainder of the
passage only two times was I unable to 'shoot' the sun because of
clouds or rain. The time around noon each day was a special
interlude, as I rewarded myself with a beer & lunch right after I
had calculated the noon position
...Oops out of propane
On the sixth day out, while heating water for coffee, the
propane tank ran out. No sweat, says I just swap to tank #2. However,
the second tank turned out to be empty! When I had the tank filled in
La Paz , a month ago, I had not tightened the small vent valve
enough. The propane had leaked out.. OK, we'll fire up the one burner
kerosene stove. Plenty of kerosene aboard. Unfortunately the stove
requires alcohol to preheat the burner, and I could find no alcohol
aboard. Until I got to the Marqueses, more than 30 days later, I had
no hot meals or hot coffee. I had plenty of food, most of it canned
so no cooking was really necessary. Just no hot food and drink.
Ironically, while removing the propane tanks for refilling almost a
month later, I found a pint of stove alcohol ! I had lots of canned
food aboard so, while food would have been better hot, at least it
didn't require cooking. the greatest discomfort was not having a cup
of hot coffee in the morning
The Doldrums and slow sailing
By the tenth day, after sailing about 1300 miles, we entered
the area called the doldrums. More correctly the doldrums area is the
Inter Tropic Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The steady north east (NE)
trade winds disappeared and the winds became light and variable.
Thunderstorms and squalls alternated with dead calm to produce very
exasperating sailing conditions. During one day I changed sail
combinations 22 times. What wind there was blew out of the south
west, which is right where I wanted to go. Sailing through this area
was a slow process. The log shows that it was 12 days between losing
the NE trades and finding the SE trades. The NE trades were lost at
about 8 degrees N, 122W and the SE trades started about 3 degrees N,
l27W, so we traveled about 5 degrees South and 5 degrees W in 12
days. This works out to less than 500 miles or about 40 miles a day.
Forty miles a day is less than 2 miles a hour! My average speed was
now well below the 100 miles a day that I was expecting. Now I knew
that it would be a slow passage.
Knock Down and Damage
During the night of May 22, I was awakened by what sounded
like a old fashioned steam locomotive. By the time I got to the
companion way, the boat was heeled over about 45 degrees, and still
going over. By the time I was in the cockpit, the boat was flat on
its' side; a complete knockdown. Water was pouring into the cabin
through the open companionway and if the boat stayed flat for very
long enough water would enter to cause us to sink. Three tons of lead
in the keel slowly tipped the mast and sails out of the water. Sixty
to seventy knot winds against the sails balanced the weight of the
keel so that we were heeled over at about 60 to 70 degrees.. At least
the water was no longer flowing into the cabin. I had to free the
sheets (lines that control the sails) so that the boat could raise
upright again. While it only took a few seconds to uncleat the
sheets, it seemed to me like it took hours. With the sheets running
free the boat lurched upright, nearly flinging me out of the cockpit.
The sound of the wind was almost deafening but added to that was the
sound of sails blowing themselves to pieces. I got the main and
mizzen sails down with only minor damage, but the jib was a total
loss. The jib halyard (line used to raise the jib up the forestay
wire) had jammed in the pulley at the top of the mast and I could not
lower the sail to the deck. Within ten minutes, only rags were left
flying. One of the rags was about 30 feet long and flew from the
masthead like a long banner. Weeks later when we sailed into Nuka
Hiva it was still flying!
I had rigged the boat with twin forestays (something quite
radical) just before leaving San Francisco, arid thank my lucky stars
that I had that foresight. Without twin fore-stays, we could not have
used a head sail for the rest of the voyage, and I would probably
still be heading for the Marqueses.
The whole time, from getting out of my bunk until getting the
sails down, probably was no more that three or four minutes. During
that time I felt no fear, probably because of the high stress and
adrenalin levels; but ten minutes after it was over I ended up with a
case of the shakes. It's amazing the way your body and mind take over
in a case like this, first getting the job done and then when you are
safe, letting you think about it. The winds died as fast as they
came. While I have no way of knowing the wind speed, I would guess
that the gust that knocked the boat down was at least 80 mph.
Inspecting the damage the next morning showed that the forward
lower shroud (one of the wires that hold the main mast up) had broken
in two. The following day I jury-rigged a splice on the broken stay
and to relive the strain I over tightened the port shroud. This
proved later to be a mistake, as the port aft shroud parted three
days later. I effected a very solid repair using sections of anchor
chain and shackles which lasted until new shrouds were made in
Winds at last..and crossing the Equator
The south east trades, when I finally found them, were light
with winds averaging only 6 to 8 knots. My daily average was around
75 to 100 miles. The air was warm and balmy. I fell into a mindset
where the days all blended together. I developed a mediitation
technique that let me out of my body and removed time as we normally
know it. I spent hours and days examining my heart, my soul and my
head to the point that for the first time in my life I really knew
myself. During this time, the logbook only shows the daily
calculations with no comments or observations.
On June 4 we crossed the equator, I had been underway almost a
month ! Since this was my first crossing I had to be initiated from
polly-wog to shell-back. I devised my own ceremony. For punishment I
shaved off my beard and scrubbed down fore and aft. For celebration I
opened a bottle of special wine, given to me years ago for just this
occasion. Pete had packed me a special treat consisting of smoked
salmon, cavier, brie, etc. One glass of wine went overboard for
Neptune while I drank the rest. A great party was held at 0 degrees
lat 130 degrees15'W longitude. I'd traveled about 2000 miles and
still had more than a thousand to go.
On June 12 my log entry reads 'with any luck and another 120
mile clay, we should see Nuka Hiva at dawn' . Friday the13th was not
an unlucky day, as dawn's early light snowed Nuka Hiva dead ahead. I
can't start to tell you of the emotions I felt. There was pride and
joy and happiness and relief and sorrow and a whole bunch of other
feelings all mixed together. I cried, danced, sang and pranced around
like a mad man (which I undoubtly was). Our minds are amazing
By 3:00 the hook was down and I had completed my first ocean
crossing. 31 days, 9 hours and 21 minutes and 3166 miles. After
leaving Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, here I was safe and sound in Tealoehe
Bay , Nuka Hiva , Marqueses .
A personal long- term goal was finally completed !!
Cold beer, propane, fresh veggies and fruit were the
priorities, after that came hot shower and phone calls home to let
all know that I was alive and well. Things went well in my first
south seas stop to learn more read the Nuka Hiva letter.
Here we go again..
It may be a strange thing to say but after only one week at
anchor, I was ready to move on. The Taumotos, those low-lying coral
atolls were calling to me. Besides I had gotten so used to the
passage making part that being at anchor was boring
I got the hook up at 1030 on June 21, cleared for Ahe atoll in
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