Land Ho!

It all feels very surreal. I can’t believe that I just crossed the Pacific Ocean alone. Is this me? Am I real? How did I do that?

There were many challenges throughout the entire journey, but my last day and night were particularly rough. All of the sea dragons came out to play. Every time I slayed one, seven more were born in it’s wake. My will to live was on the brink of shattering.

It was as if the sea was shaken by my departure. It hurdled obstacles at me to make sure I was truly humbled. To make sure that I had learned all of my lessons. To make sure I never forgot what it meant to linger in its treacherous threshold. To make sure that I knew where I stood on this planet as a human and where it stood as a God.

The day was squall after squall after squall, and it was dark and cold and confusing.

Waves, so many waves. They were disturbed, angry, towering over me. Some twice as tall as the boat. Some would threaten Juniper with a knockdown and then push her keel violently in the opposite direction. Some waves were landing in the cockpit, some in the cabin, some in my face. Salt everywhere. I was drenched.

I kept changing clothes. They keep getting wet.

Meanwhile, my little life inside the boat was thrown this way and that and laying in puddles and piles that were hardening into a chrysalis carved out by the sea.

One particularly large wave knocked down the sail on my self-steering windvane, Ruby, and the boat just stopped all movement. I was still, Ruby was dangling, and the world was chaos. I wanted to get off of that boat, but there was nowhere to go unless I was willing to let the sea devour me. A wall of waves was coming fast behind me, so I righted Ruby and got Juniper moving again.

The breeze was blowing really good too. It was in the mid-20s and it had shifted 40 degrees. The last time I wrote to you I needed to jibe to stay on course. I also needed to put a reef in the main. I waited for a space of calm, reefed the main, removed the preventer, jibed, and went on deck to resecure the preventer.

As I was coming back to the cockpit, Juniper got lifted into the air by a wave and my body went halfway out of the boat. I was holding onto a metal bar that my solar panels are mounted to by one hand and of course was tethered at my waist, but the majority of my body was overboard.

Even tethered, if I fell fully in, I would get dragged along by the side of boat. I would then need to make my way to the stern, grab onto the lowest ladder rung, and hoist myself out. I sail with my ladder folded, so that lowest rung is halfway up the stern, which is hard for me to reach even in the still water of the marina.

To be honest, when I left land, I knew that if I went over there was probably no way that I was getting back into the boat. That was a potential fate and a risk I was willing to take.

There were new phantom’s onboard that day too. One kept setting my depth finder alarm off and indicating that I only had zero or two or four feet of water beneath the keel. It would go off randomly and I was constantly checking my charts to make sure there was enough water. I have run aground before in areas where the charts say there is plenty of water. I know it was the middle of the ocean, but really, you just never know. Especially that day, that day I knew nothing. There could have been something stuck on my transducer, but the alarm came and went and has not done it to me since.

Then there was another phantom that only whistled. I love a good whistle, but that day was not a day for whistling. It went on and on and on and on and on, all day long. It was too much. It was making me go insane. My ears were bleeding. I couldn’t get away from it. Make it stop!

By then I really wanted off of that boat. I was three hours from being 50 nm from shore. That is within the range for Boat US to tow, but they won’t come in squalls or above 20 knots of wind. Without the tow I would not make it to Honolulu before dark, which meant I was going to be trapped out there at sea for one more roller coaster ride into the dark.

At one point, some part of me prayed that Juniper would sink so I could get into the life raft and someone would be forced to rescue me. Then some other part of me started 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 spoke to my mom about my options. She said I can either sail through the night and wait for dawn or we could have the Coast Guard send a helicopter, but I would have leave my boat and life behind.

What?! This was no mayday, only internally, in my mind. I was melting into a pile of sea.

I was fighting the elements. I was fighting myself. I was fighting voices and apparitions that were becoming more real with each day that dragged on.

My friend Tim, who is a former pro surfer and sailor, flew to Hawaii to help make arrangements for my arrival and catch my dock lines. He said my best course of action was to slow the boat down as much as I can and hold off until dawn.

So I tried to slow her down. I put the second reef in and furled all but a smidge of the jib. She was still moving 7 to 8 knots. I hove to and hated it. It’s supposed to be the thing you can do to calm yourself when the sea is not calm, but it didn’t do anything but frazzle me.

When life or the sea feels overwhelming, I realized that I need to change my position in relation to the circumstance. So, just before the sunset, I decided that I would jibe around here and there until daybreak, making a “circle” into the night. Jibing is what I had been doing for weeks. I knew that I could do it and stay out of boat traffic and get a little bit of rest. Having made that decision, I re-rigged my preventer so that I wouldn’t have to crawl out of the cockpit in the wee hours.

The sunset that day was bold. The sky was filled with desert landscapes; plateaus, cactuses, horses galloping and wandering without riders. I put my feet in the sky and touched the grit of the earth.

Night fell into it’s spacescape. My boat was heading straight for Kaiwi Channel. I set an alarm for 10 NM from the entry in order to jibe past it.

Meanwhile, I made some food, barely ate it, and then sat down to read my book. I was still conserving my batteries so I had one of my headlamps on. It can project either a white or a red light. To make it go red you have to hold the on button for 10 seconds. I have two of the exact same lamps that hang near my quarter berth. I had the lamp on the white light. It worked for 5 minutes then started flashing rapidly and turned itself to red. I couldn’t get it to turn back to white, so I put the other headlamp on and it did the exact same thing. I wasn’t in the mood for ghost games, so I turned the lamp off and closed my eyes.

Then voices crawled out of the dark. One said, “Help, I need help, please!” It was so loud that I thought it was someone from a passing boat. When I went into the cockpit and looked around there was nothing. I laid back down and that voice kept coming. Where are you voice? I am here. I can help you. Can you help me? I need you right now as much as you need me.

When the alarm went off, I went up to jibe. I could see other boats twinkling on the water waiting for daylight, while the lights of shore teased us all.

Just as I jibed towards the northeastern side of the island I saw lightening streak the sky. Then a wave crashed into the cockpit, across my body, and straight down into the cabin. I turned to watch it leave and the whole crest of it was filled with bioluminescence. I looked up, the moon winked at me and there were millions of eyeballs staring down from the sky.

I changed clothes and went to sleep a little more.

My boat was heading up the northeastern side of the island, towards Chinaman’s Hat and Crouching Lion. Once I got that far north I was going to turn back towards Waikiki.

I did just so at 3 am and that was my “circle” into the night. Turning back put me on a close haul with gusts over 20. Juniper is a big girl. She doesn’t ride fast that close to the wind in heavy seas. I needed her to go as close and as fast as she could. Every boat is different. I have found on my boat, going upwind in a heavy breeze, that I have to keep my sails centered. This meant a sail change in the darkest part of the night.

I tethered to the jacklines and crawled on all fours to hoist the staysail. The world was so black I could hardly see. I came back to the cockpit and the speed I gained wasn’t enough., so I went back on deck and shook the second reef from the main. Then we were moving.

The boat was heeled over pretty good. The ride was a pounding into and up and over waves. Spray was flying across the bow and as the sun came up Juniper turned that spray into prisms.

I was heading now for Koko Head. That was my turning point into the Kaiwi channel. I could see it, but it was still 5 hours away.

Pluto came that morning to fly with me one last time. He didn’t stay long. Just long enough for me to see his feathers and know that it was him. Turns out he’s a Booby.

I could hear helicopters buzzing somewhere. On land that sound is so common that my ears don’t recognize it. But after three weeks of pure ocean and phantom sounds, the helicopters landed hard on my ears. I went inside the cabin to get away from it.

I was almost to shore and so I looked in the mirror. I hadn’t done so much out at sea. What did I look like? I looked feral. A wild woman in rags, covered in salt, with hairy legs, bruised limbs and mangled hair.

I wanted to look “normal” and “clean” but there was no time to take a cockpit shower. So it came down to clothes. What would I wear for the people of the land? The fish and the waves had never cared what I wore and neither did I.

I tried on this and that and was annoyed with myself by the whole process. Why did I care about this? It doesn’t matter the clothes one wears. What matters is the kind of human they are beneath the threads and flesh. What matters is the purity of their hearts. Who cares that I had only showered twice in 23 days? Who cares that I stank? Who cares that I wasn’t fit for the fashion of land? Who cares that my clothes didn’t match and my hair wasn’t brushed, and that my shell was far from beautiful? I had just braved the ocean, stared into my soul, and shook the hand of God. In the end I put on an old loose tank dress that I have had for 10 years.

I stepped out into the cockpit feeling free of my clothing anxiety and then a wave came onboard and I got drenched. It felt like the sea wanted to show me just how insignificant clothing is.

Anyway, I made it to Koko Head, in my wet dress. From there I fell off to a broad reach and sailed straight over to Diamond Head. Then I made slow loops in front of Waikiki until the tow came to pull me into the Waikiki Yacht Club.

On my final jibe, just before the tow arrived, I saw two circular disks fly off of the boat and into the water. I thought about it for days. What could they be. What is circular? My radar reflector! I was right. The radar reflector is now dangling by one thread on my backstay and is only half the reflector that it used to be. Just another thing to mend. At least it stayed with me up until the end.

The tow guy took three hours to arrive and it was a lot of fumbling to get the boats connected once he did. Turns out he wasn’t the actual tow guy, just a friend of his, and he had never done it before.

I took a deep breath and held onto my faith.

The harbor in Waikiki, Ala Wai, has a narrow entry channel surrounded by reefs on both sides. As Juniper and I were pulled between them I shouted, “Just remember I need 6 feet for my keel,” I shouted as he towed me towards the reef.

Surfers were riding steep waves off of starboard and people were walking along the break wall to port. Their bodies and palm trees, silhouetted by the sun.

I passed the old fuel dock and saw at least twenty cruising boats all decked out for a long voyage- water jugs, self-steering windvanes, solar panels, etc. Each of them waved a yellow flag with a smiley face on it. At the tip of the land a large flag with the same symbol waved in the wind. I wanted to be towed into that world. They looked like like-minded salty souls, with a foot on land and the other floating far away. Them I could surely relate to.

We made it with a little help from another guy in a dinghy who was fending me off of the fancy boats. It was the kind of ending a journey like that needed. Flawed but safe.

In the end, I am so happy that the tow couldn’t meet me offshore. It feels incredible to have sailed the entire way to Waikiki and to have only relied on help at the tail end.

My mom and Tim were at the dock when I got there. It was so awesome to see their faces. My mom took three flights just to see me and she was the one person I really needed to see after that experience. It was a dream.

Once the lines were tied. I stepped off the boat and into a Jimmy Buffet song. I went and ate a very large veggie burger, french fries, and two margaritas.

Being back on land feels like I am on some strange drug. It’s hard to describe other than there is a pulsing that surrounds me and makes me feel dizzy. All around me I feel a very chaotic rhythm and energy that puts me in an altered state. I find my mind wondering and I keep having to bring it back to earth. I miss whole pieces of conversations. It’s like it’s easier for me to still be partly at sea than fully on land.

Yesterday I heard a car horn honk. I screamed and almost knocked down a table. Why did we create that noise? It’s awful.

My first night in a bed, my mom said I woke up moaning and crying in pain. She asked me what was wrong and I yelled, “My neck, my neck!” She started to massage it and I went right back to sleep. I don’t recall any of this.

News is upsetting too. The lungs of earth are on fire!

I wish that life on land could reveal itself slowly to me. As if it was inside of a tide pool exposed only on new and full moons. I would go and visit land each moon and look at the buildings and the people and the flowers, while absorbing the sounds and the news. I would visit it like this until I was ready to jump in. But here I am, sink or swim.

38 Replies to “Land Ho!”

  1. Love and peace to you as you continue your reentry to life on land, until you take off again with the whales. ? ? Take your time, if you can. So proud of you and Juniper for bringing each other in, safe, if battered. I am changed and inspired by your journey. Love you, M

  2. Congratulations! So happy you safely made an incredible accomplishment. Enjoy your mother’s company. You both deserve it. Looking forward to your next adventure.

  3. Olivia!! This is so amazing. Each day I look forward to reading your beautiful and brave writing. It’s been surreal in many ways too for me as I am in the process of chemotherapy for advanced cancer. Many times your experience at sea mirrored some of the deep truths I have been exploring and having to face. Although my journey is taking me a bit longer your courage has inspired mine and I look forward to finally landing, cleared of dis-ease, but I’ll never be the same. Only a more evolved human, much like you who pushed yourself to the edge to discover what truly matters. I will miss your writing, but am so happy you made it safely to land. Big hugs, Cally

  4. Wow, what an amazing adventure you’ve taken us on! I’ve been in awe of you ever since I first heard of your plans from your friend Nerea. I’ve been following your journey from your first day at sea and I’m so glad I did; every blog entry was extremely inspiring and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and congrats on facing your fears and fulfilling your dream. I can’t wait to hear/see more from you in the future, which I’m sure will be filled with many more adventures and dreams.

  5. Thanks for taking us all along. It must be very disorienting on land after 24 days at sea. I was watching your Nav on Saturday night at a party and showing people the pings every 30 minutes. Must’ve been because you were close to land and getting a good signal. I thought you were hitched up and not worried about batteries anymore. That’s awesome you got all the way to Waikiki before towing. Congratulations. Be proud. I’m sure it’ll take some time to sink in and digest all the lessons. Aloha! ??

  6. I cannot get over your courage to set out on your own and make your dream come true! I truly am in awe! Congratulations on realizing your dream – you are AMAZING!

  7. Pluto, juniper, Olivia and the sea – what a team. Your words, spirit and strength have changed something inside me. I feel blessed to have been a member of your fan club on your inspiring journey. Now, I must meet your mother. What a woman she must be. Much Love. Brynn

  8. Olivia, You are certainly a MIGHTY GIRL!! Thanks for the wonderful journey blog! When is your book coming out? Dee Hickman

  9. Absolutely incredible journey & thank you for sharing it with us! My wife & I have been anxiously reading your entries & so glad you made it safely.

  10. Thank you for sharing your thrilling , insightful, very personal , extremely well written , journal of your Pacific Odyssey….and particularly thankful for your safe arrival back on land !
    Kenny McRae

  11. Olivia- Thank you for sharing your incredible journey with the world. I have hung onto each word and think you are an inspiration! Congratulations on reaching Hawaii…and may God continue to bless you in your journeys <3 XO Nancy

  12. Olivia, you are one hell of a woman! Thank you for sharing your journey with us and glad to hear you made it to your destination. Looking forward to your next adventure.

  13. I was so blessed to have seen a tiny glimpse of your journey. Thank you. Thank you. Namaste.

  14. What a journey, I hope you’ll write a book. I can’t wait to read it!
    Thanks so much for sharing your story, such a brave adventure.

  15. I have so enjoyed following your journey! You’re an incredible writer and woman. So glad you’re safe!
    Wow is all I can say!!
    XXOO Peggy Mitchell

  16. Olivia, I keep trying to find the words to describe how I feel about your fearless brave spirit and your beautiful writing. Truly, words aren’t enough.

  17. So proud of you! Amazing writing, awesome adventure. I can feel the bond between you and your parents, and especially your sweet mother. Can you post a picture of her smile when she finally got to hug your neck? Congrats! Lisa

  18. Dearest Olivia, my heart warmed when I read that you were tethered in the sea in high seas!
    Pleases don’t forget to tether to the ground by lying on it! Grounding is as important as waters of the ocean we need both tether woman tether! The sky,sea stars,and land there all yours! CONGRATULATIONS!!

  19. Every bit of this is amazing, and you’re writing is beautiful! I can’t wait to read more. Huge congrats Olivia ?

  20. You are possessed by passions and dreams that make most tremble and turn away. Maybe it is the trembling itself that guides you, but would there were a way to teach the will to turn toward the unknown that resounds in you! The world would be so much better for it.

  21. You are a very talented writer. This story needs to be published. SAIL or some other top rack magazine would be appropriate.

  22. Olivia, Such a sigh of relief while reading Land Ho!! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, all the ups and the scary downs. You are an exceptional woman and writer. Thank you and God Bless!

  23. Olivia! I love your adventurous spirit, you’re inspirational. I remember us meeting many years ago at Frisner’s drumming class in either Brooklyn or Hunter College. Since moving to San Francisco I have started swimming in the Pacific, but even crossing it by plane seems too daunting, too vast. Congratulations on defying your fears! Keep it up!

  24. I am humbled by your spirit, your courage and tenacity. Never put your pen down. You are a gift.

  25. Thank you Olivia for allowing me (and others) to read your expressive writing and sail with you. You are so cool… for lack of a perfect description, cannot wait to meet you. I met you as a baby).
    Hugs, love and sending you confidence in whatever you want to do. ? BTW, your satellite access was fabulous.

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