You no doubt read Captain Dan’s entry a few days ago which gives his take on this passage but as he said, “Jilly probably has a different perspective.” He’s absolutely right so I thought you might be interested in hearing my take on what happened on this journey.
On board Dazzler we have a running joke about what I signed up for and what I got. Whenever the weather is bad or won’t allow us to go to a much desired spot or we are having mechanical issues or even when I’m being rousted from our cozy bunk at the butt crack of dawn to leave someplace to get somewhere else, I always say, “But I signed up for the Princes Cruise.” You know, this is the one where I get breakfast in bed, the weather is always perfect, it’s brochure sailing, there’s sundowners each night on the lido deck and nothing ever goes wrong?
Well, we awoke early on the morning of October 18th. The sun had not yet peeked her head about but the pale grey glow that meets the horizon was getting brighter with each passing moment. The time had come and much more quickly than we had planned…more quickly than I was ready to accept. We had hoped to spend a week or more in Nuka’alofa in the Kingdom of Tonga but Mother Nature had other plans. Alas tis’ the story of a sailor’s life as we are always being driven by her whims.
We spoke briefly with the sailors aboard two other boats who were also making ready to haul anchor and head south. We would leave together yet we would travel together for not much more than a day. SV Tatt Av Vinden (Gone with the Wind) is a longer, faster boat and SV Nala Danica had chosen a slightly different route to New Zealand than we did but it would be nice to have company if even for a short time.
As we were preparing for departure I knew I wasn’t ready. I could feel it. I wasn’t mentally prepared for this passage. It had come too quickly. For the first time since we left México seven months ago I was feeling a bit afraid of what was to come.
Of course ever since we arrived in Nuku’alofa the only discussion amongst cruisers was this passage and the weather. Weather this and weather that, my router said this, what did yours say? What window are you taking? You know they are calling for an active cyclone season with the possibility of early storms don’t you? It was all consuming and it droned on and on like the incessant humming of an overhead power line. There were stories of past cruisers who abandoned their vessels on this very passage, not because they were sinking, but because they couldn’t handle the beating Neptune was handing over to them. Yes, I was made all too aware of the dangers of this 1100 NM crossing. This passage is one where three main bodies of water converge…The Pacific Ocean, The Tasman Sea and The Coral Sea. With that comes all the potentially chaotic weather forces that occur in an area like this. If you don’t plan correctly you can encounter truly treacherous weather that has claimed more than a few ships. In other words…the main point was this….Pick the right weather window or you will definitely regret it!
Now I trust Dan and his decisions regarding our sailing like no one I’ve ever known. I watch and listen as he studies the weather patterns with the veracity of a hunting dog seeking fresh kill for its owner. I see how others flock to him for his advice and follow his lead. I know he will never knowingly put us in harm’s way. Yes, intellectually I know all this but when the chatter of doom and gloom becomes so incredibly loud it often drowns out the inner voice of reason.
That said, whether I was ready or not was not up for discussion. This was the window Dan had chosen and we were hauling our anchor. The winds were swiftly blowing across the water at a good 20 knots and there was a cutting chop in the waves of the bay. Once the anchor was free I turned the boat into the wind and pushed the throttle forward. I took a long, deep breath and said a small, quiet prayer asking God to bless our passage and keep us safe. With the anchor secured Dan came into the cockpit and took over the helm as I went below to get out of the wind and rest my broken toes.
As I sat at the table trying to find my “passage mentality” I couldn’t help but feel a bit saddened that this magical journey which began almost seven months ago was soon to be over. Even now tears fill my eyes as I think back on all of the beautiful places and amazing people we’ve been so blessed to see and meet. There’s the couple who fixed us dinner at their humble home in Fatu Hiva and Paul who invited Dan to jam with him at the quay in Nuka Hiva. The dear rangers, Harry and John, in Suwarrow and the wonderful young Bartender, Sonny, who shared stories of his culture and his people in American Samoa. There’s the large family who invited us to sit with them in a bar in Huahine and Chief Ladu and the people of Mata Maka. And there’s the cruisers who have become like family who will continue on their own journeys. We may or may not ever see them again. There are the picture postcard scenes of Maupiti, Niue, the Tuomotus, Marquesas, and Tonga. And then there’s the underwater adventures like swimming with the stingrays or snorkeling underwater tikis in Moorea or the amazing Japanese Coral Garden in Tonga. And who can forget all the whales? Oh those amazing whales. Yes, the list is too long to give in detail. Suffice it to say we’ve amassed a lifetime full of memories in just a few short months.
So much has happened in these last seven months that my mind is still trying to file the memories away and yet in just eight more days this leg of our journey will be complete. This adventure that we both dreamed of for so long will be over and a new one will begin. A new one that we’ve yet to even have time to imagine. It seems too soon. I’m just not ready to leave it all behind. Yes, I was definitely feeling sad and emotional and here I was on a passage in rough seas. No, this was not shaping up to be such a great day.
We are less than an hour into our journey when I’m siting at the table and I hear it. The boat lunges into the trough of a wave and there it is, the splash that says we’re taking green water over the bow. Then I hear the next dreaded sound, a second splash that says the water is now pouring through our forward hatch onto our bed. I leap to my feet and see water everywhere. Our bed is soaked, the floor and walls are soaked and I’m bounding toward the stateroom to get the hatch shut before we get hit again. Before I know what’s happening I’ve slipped on the water and my right foot slams into the wall. I’ve already got two broken toes on that foot so the pain is excruciating. A few sailoresque expletives come flying out of my mouth but I can’t stop to tend to my foot right now. The hatch must get closed and I need to get the soaking wet blankets and pillows off the bed. Dan here’s me cursing and is asking what’s wrong. I don’t have the time to tell him and he can’t leave the cockpit as there are a lot of shallow spots here and he needs to focus on navigating. He keeps asking what’s happening and I just keep working and ignoring him.
Meanwhile I’m trying to mitigate the situation while I’m being bounced off the walls like a pinball at the hands of the Pinball Wizard. I’m in tears because I’m in serious pain and I now have three sheets, three pillows and a comforter that are drenched in saltwater. Oh yes, there are four dresses that were hanging on the back of the door that are soaked as well. Did I mention the floor and walls? Yeah, it was a total mess! And the worst of it is we have no real way to dry everything right now because every couple of minutes we are taking a wave into the cockpit so we have to put them under the dodger one at a time. This will take a few days to even get things dry enough to bag. They will have to wait to be washed until we reach New Zealand. Ughhh!
Of course none of this is doing anything good for my mental state out here. I’m not sure if it was all the chatter from the cruisers, my injured feet, the dousing of green water or just all of it combined but I spent most of the first day of this passage in tears. I wanted nothing more than to jump ship. You know…“Beam me up Scottie”. I felt so sorry for Dan. He’d never seen me like this on passage but he was so good to me. He did his best to make me smile with his silly jokes and he gave me lots of reassuring hugs. He even took longer watches so that I could stay below and keep my feet up.
By day two my breakdown was over and I was back to being the Best Mate Dan has come to rely on out here. We were still in some pretty rough seas and getting bounced around quite a bit but I kept trying to think about day #4 when the weather was supposed to settle down a bit and things would get better. Focusing on the positive to come calmed me down quite a bit.
At this point the only real problem was that we were freezing! We thought we were headed into the South Pacific summer but it feels more like winter. We’re wearing sweatpants and shirts, two pairs of socks, foul weather gear and gloves. Since we only have one blanket on board that is not salt infused I’m wearing two coats and my foul weather gear to sleep. I’ve even taken to pulling out additional clothes and putting them on top of me like blankets. We definitely weren’t prepared for the cold. Hopefully when we reach New Zealand it will be warmer on land.
If you read Dan’s post about the engine problems then you know that it got worse before it got better. Being on the turbulent ocean in high winds with an engine that’s overheating and no generator to produce the extra power we need was not at all comforting. I was preparing to empty our Engels refrigerator so we could shut it down to conserve power. I also reached out to my brother, Brad, and Dan’s sister, Tina. They are the two emergency contacts we use while sailing. While we were not in an emergency situation we figured it would be good measure just to keep them in the loop on what was happening. I messaged them several times with updates and position reports as well as information on what food stores we had etc… After all, if the worst did occur this information would be helpful for SAR (Search & Rescue). Of course, this is the Dazzler crew and we won’t ever go down without a fight! As the old salts say, “You never step down into a lifeboat, you step up into one.” For you landlubbers that means you don’t leave your vessel until she’s going under.
Fortunately, Dan, once again proved that there is absolutely nothing he can’t fix. Yes, it took about 36 hours and we had to hove to for a few hours but he was able to diagnose and repair the engine problem. And let’s be clear, doing that in high winds and 2.5-3 meter swells was no easy feat. Of course I knew all along that he’d be able to fix it even when he was having some momentary doubts.
By day four the weather had settled down and everything was beautiful. It seemed hard to believe that just a few days earlier I was cursing King Neptune for the wickedness of the ocean and I was begging God to let this trip be over quickly. Of course at that time I was cold, tired and miserable and beginning to second guess the decision to make this journey to New Zealand. My body was aching from being tossed into walls and stairs and whatever else was nearby and all I could think of was land. It had consumed my every thought.
But something happened on the final night as I looked out across the then glassy ocean reflecting the silvery full moon. I wondered how I could ever have wanted this trip to end. It was absolutely magical out there. The sea was so flat you couldn’t see where it ended and the sky began. The stars were as bright as I’d ever seen them and everything was right with the world again. It’s funny how easily we forget the turbulent seas that tossed us about when the sea is calm and the moon is shining brightly overhead. Yes, when everything is working together in harmony land is the furthest thing from my mind.
I’m not sure if that makes me a fair weather sailor or not but I do know that I understand all too well the dangers that surrounds us out here. That knowledge is what makes me curse mechanical issues and the foul weather and rejoice in the moments of bliss when all of nature’s elements are in complete harmony. Sitting in the cockpit on that final evening I couldn’t help but praise God and good King Neptune for the blessing of a magical evening and safe passage. By the time the sun rose above the horizon we were off the northern tip of New Zealand and this part of our journey was all but complete.
So, it looks like instead of signing up for the Princess Cruise I keep insisting upon; I signed up for an exciting and adventurous life aboard Dazzler with the man I love. No, it’s not always perfect and we may have some pretty tough times out here but the thing is, I wouldn’t trade my life with Dan and Dazzler for anything in the world! That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy some calmer seas from time to time…but I think you know what I mean.
Until next time…
Jilly & Dan