I am standing on sand in Hawaii. I can’t believe that I just crossed the Pacific Ocean alone. It feels surreal. Is this me? Am I dreaming? How did I do that?
My last day and night at sea were the roughest. This is what it looked like…..:
9 A.M. I’m sailing through squall after squall after squall, and it’s dark and cold and life is confusing. And There are sea dragons everywhere. Every time I slay one, seven more are born in it’s wake. And there is a voice that keeps whistling and my depth sounder alarm keeps going off. Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep. Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop!
The breeze is blowing real good, in the high 20s, and there are Waves, waves so many waves. They are disturbed, angry, towering over me. Some twice as tall as the boat. Waves are landing in the cockpit, in the cabin, in my face. Salt is everywhere. I am drenched. I keep changing clothes. They keep getting wet. Why am I even wearing clothes?
Wait…The boat just stopped. A wave has knocked the sail off my self-steering wind vane and left me caught in the trough, motionless with a monster of water coming at me. I get the boat moving again. It stops again. I have too much sail up. I go up to the mast and throw a reef in the main. I’m almost back to the cockpit when a mean wave knocks half of my body overboard. I’m dangling over the water, holding onto a piece of the boat by one hand and the whistling keeps whistling and the depth alarm keeps alarming and the dragons keep dragonning. I am Fighting the elements. Fighting myself. Fighting the voices that are becoming more real with each day that drags on. I want off this boat! I debate letting my hand go, letting the waves devour me, melting into sea, piling into salt, calling it fate. Something snaps inside my head. I pull myself back onboard.
3 P.M. Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. I want off this rollercoaster ride! I’m still 50 nm from shore. There’s no way in hell that I’m going to make it to Waikiki before sundown and it’s suicide to try to enter the harbor at night.
Some part of me is praying that Juniper will sink so I can get into the life raft and someone will be forced to rescue me. Then some other part of me is screaming “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” and apologizing to God for whatever crevice those chicken-headed thoughts crept out of.
At the height of my freak out, I call my mom, who knows nothing about the sea or sailing. I tell her that I want to get towed the rest of the way. She calls Boat US. They tell her they can’t tow me because the wind is above 20 knots and I can either keep sailing or the Coast Guard can send a helicopter to rescue me, but I’d have leave my boat behind. What?! I’m not ditching juniper. This is no real mayday. Only in my mind.
I try to slow the boat down, so I can arrive to Waikiki by morning. I put the second reef in and furl all but a smidge of the jib. Juniper is still moving at 8 knots. I hove to and hate it. It’s a maneuver to stop the boat and it’s supposed to be calming when the sea is not calm, but the feeling of not moving frazzles me. I decide to just keep sailing and jibing around until daybreak, making circles on the edges of Hawaii.
7 P.M. The sunset is bold. The sky is filled with desert landscapes; plateaus, cactuses, snakes. I feel like a horse without a rider. Night falls into it’s spacescape. The moon winks at me. I’ve got Juniper heading up the northeastern side of the Oahu, towards Chinaman’s Hat and Crouching Lion. I set an alarm for 3 AM, so I can turn the boat around. I make some food, barely eat it, and sit down to read a book. I’m half a page in when my headlamp gets possessed, it starts flashing all wild then turns it’s white light to red. I can’t get the light to turn back to white. I put on my other headlamp and it does the exact same thing. Damn the ghost. Damn this haunted boat. I close my eyes. I sleep.
I am awakened by a male voice saying, “Help, I need help, please!” It’s loud and desperate and close. I look around, there is nobody, nothing, darkness. I hear the voice again. Where are you voice? I am here. I can help you. Can you help me? I fall back asleep. My alarm goes off. I see the lights of other boats. Waiting offshore. Like me. I turn juniper back towards Waikiki. Lightening streaks the sky. A wave crashes into the cockpit, across my body, and down into the cabin. The crest of it, glowing green.
Turning the boat back puts me on a close haul with the trade winds spitting in my face. I am an idiot for sailing so far downwind past Waikiki. Such a freaking idiot. Juniper is moving slow, 2 knots, and I can’t get her to tack. I need speed. Every boat is different, but at this point of sail, in these conditions, Juniper wants her sails centered; she needs her mainsail, staysail, and only a smidge of jib. In the coal black of night I tether to the jacklines and crawl like a dog to the bow. Heartbeat. I hoist the staysail. Breathe. I shake the second reef from the main. Heartbeat. I can’t see my hands. Breathe. I am a dead leaf jittering on a dying tree. Heartbeat. I dog my way back to the cockpit. Juniper is moving now 4.5 to 5 knots and she is heeled way over. The ride is a pounding into and up and over waves. Boom. Bash. Bang. Spray is flying across the bow.
I get a message from my friend Tim, he’s a former pro surfer and sailor that I know from San Diego and he has flown to Hawaii to greet me. His message comes in way too late. “The tracker shows you going very fast to the wrong side of oahu (North). Get on port tack and go south. It’s tough to go upwind in the trades”.
6 A.M. As the sun rises, Juniper turns the spray into prisms. I’m heading for Koko Head. I can see it, but it’s still 5 hours away from me. There is rain in the skies gut, but there is a rainbow too. The sea is spitting like its got a mouth full of chewing tobacco. Pluto flies over me. Pluto! My love! I hear helicopters. buzzing. After three weeks of pure ocean, the helicopters land hard on my ears. I go inside the boat to get away from them.
Just below my companion way steps there is a river of ocean flowing onto the cabin floor from somewhere aft of the engine. Where is it coming from? Am I sinking? Who the hell cares. I’m almost to shore. I look in the mirror. I look like a feral cat. A wild woman in rags, covered in salt, with hairy legs, bruised limbs and mangled hair. I want to look “clean” but there is no time to for a cockpit shower. So it comes down to clothes. What will I wear for the people of the land?
I try on this and that and pony in front of the mirror and I’m annoyed with myself. Why do I care about this? The fish and the waves don’t care what I wear. A person’s clothes don’t matter, only the purity of their heart matters. Who cares that I have only showered twice in 23 days? Who cares that I stink? Who cares that I’m not fit for the fashion of land? Who cares that I don’t match and my hair isn’t brushed, and that my shell is far from beautiful? I have just braved the ocean, stared into my soul, and shook the hand of God. In the end I put on an loose purple tank dress that I’ve had for 10 years and I’m feeling free of my clothing anxiety, when a wave comes onboard and drenches me. See clothing doesn’t matter. What matters? Survival matters. This moment right now matters.
2 P.M. I sail past Koko Head and Diamond Head, in my wet purple dress. The day is shining yellow and blue and there are no waves. I make it to Waikiki. On the final jibe of my journey, I hear a noise and see two circular disks fly off of the boat and into the water. I look up. My radar reflector is broken and dangling off of my backstay. Another thing to mend, at least it stayed with me until the end. I call for a tow boat to drag me into the Ali Wai harbor. They say it will be a while and that I should I do slow loops and wait and wait and wait and wait.
Two men pull up to me on a boat and shout. “Are you ok?” I say , “Yeah. I just sailed here by myself from California. My engine doesn’t work. I’m waiting on a tow.” They point towards diamond head and say, “You can always go anchor over there while you wait.” I smile and I don’t dare tell them that I don’t even really know how to anchor my boat! I learned how to do use my mechanical windlass just before I left, but I don’t trust myself to do it.
5 P.M. The tow guy arrives with his 8 year old son. They are on a small speedboat and there’s a lot of fumbling to get my boat connected to theirs. Turns out he isn’t the actual tow guy, just a friend of the tow guy, and he has never towed anybody before. I feel cursed. The Ala Wai harbor has a narrow entry channel surrounded by reefs on both sides. As the fake tow man motors Juniper towards the reef I shout, “Remember I need 6 feet of water beneath my keel,” but I don’t think he can hear me.
Surfers are riding steep waves off of starboard and people are walking along the break wall to port. Their bodies melding with palm trees, silhouetted by sun.
I pass the old fuel dock and see twenty cruising boats all decked out for a voyage- water jugs, windvanes, solar panels. Each of them waving a yellow flag with a smiley face on it. I want to be towed into that world of pirate smiles. They look like they all have one foot on land and the other floating into the blue. I can relate to that. The fake tow guy about knocks me into some swell looking boats and some random guy on a dinghy fends me off of them.
I make it to the Waikiki yacht club dock somehow. My mom and Tim are on the dock waiting for me. It’s awesome to see their faces. We secure my lines and I step off the boat and into a Jimmy Buffet song. I eat a large veggie burger, french fries, and drink two margaritas.
I feel like I’m on some strange drug. There is a chaotic pulsing rhythm that surrounds me. I feel dizzy. I find my mind wondering up to the clouds and I keep having to bring it back to earth. I miss whole pieces of conversations. It’s like my head is still at sea. I hear a car horn honk. I scream and almost knock down the table. Everybody laughs.
News is upsetting too. The lungs of earth are on fire!
That night as I sleep in a bed on land for the first time in 23 days, my mom says I wake up moaning and crying, “My neck, my neck, my neck!” I don’t recall any of this. Life on land is too much to absorb all at once. I wish that it could reveal itself slowly to me. In small doses., until I felt ready to jump all the way in. But here I am, submerged by land, sink or swim.