The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

My First Offshore Trip

Laurence Roberts and Mary Anne Unrau

Traversay III
Waterline 43', Cutter-rigged steel hull
July 12th, 2016

Larry and I got together in 1992 and we discovered that we had sailing in common. It seemed like a promising mutual interest, except that our experience levels were vastly different. I’d co-owned and sailed a C & C 27 on the Ottawa River above the Lachine Rapids (for which only 1 chart was needed). I’d learned about tides and currents and navigational aids via CYA courses, but for me these were mostly theoretical and limited to the constrained waters of that river.

In contrast, Larry – who’d also learned to sail in Ontario – had headed off on an Atlantic circuit in his Contessa 32. He’d taken a year’s leave during a downturn in the airline industry – and had returned and sold Traversay by 1980.  When we met, Larry described the offshore passages and adventures he’d had. He also told me of his dream to retire on a boat. He then introduced me to Traversay II (a 37’ Jeanneau Sunshine), moored in his current home city of Vancouver. The combination of man, boat and city proved to be irresistible.

So I moved to Vancouver and started training for the adventures that lay ahead. My desire to Captain the boat involved a few misadventures. A visiting Ottawa friend was quite impressed with my harbour tour, until I fell in the water while tying up at the dock! My next Captaincy took several women friends further afield to Bowen Island. While I was anchoring for lunch, the anchor chain “got away” and, barefoot in a dangerous situation, I had to watch helplessly while the entire chain ran out. I was forced to motor around the chain while the rest had lunch. The dinghy was launched and enough chain handed up to give the windlass a purchase on retrieving the rest of the chain.

By the time of my first overnight trip, my performance as Captain was quite successful. However, the toilet failed and with three women aboard this could have been a disaster. I accessed the outflow with a coat hanger – a nasty business – and we persuaded the toilet to flush, but only by pouring in a bucket of seawater each time. I found out later that we’d misinterpreted a diagram in the toilet manual and had replaced an essential part upside down.

During this preparatory time, I learned to provision and cook with the available storage and an icebox. Not being aware of any cruising clubs at the time, I prepared by reading the Glenan Sailing Manual and numerous books.

Alice and I in Hawaii, celebrating a narrow escape from a hurricane in a red convertible.

Alice and I in Hawaii, celebrating a narrow escape from a hurricane in a red convertible.

Somewhere along the way, a plan to see if we could sail offshore together was formulated. Our destination would be Hawaii – a place Larry had visited, crewing Traversay II with friends and relatives, twice – most recently in 1990 when he did a circuit of the Marquesas (a 28-day passage) and Hawaii during a 3-month leave from work. I researched books about Hawaii – its history and culture and the birds and sea life we might encounter. I also took up scuba diving, initially to partner Larry in cleaning the hull and clearing unwanted ropes off the propeller and shaft.

Our trip alone together to the Haida Gwaii and back had worked out well, but I was worried. Would I be frightened, out on the vast ocean? Would I have the strength and endurance to cope with fifteen-plus days at sea?  Hearing about a recently returned boat docked nearby at Bayshore Marina, I went over to ask how they had fared. Would my recently-run marathon prepare me for the endurance I would need? They discounted the marathon and were more concerned about our small crew of just two – they recommended a crew of four, like they had.

I was anxious to try it and finally the day came for us to leave. My log reads:

Friday June 25 0930h:   We can see the lighthouse on Race Rocks – it’s a beautiful sunny day. We filled with water, called my mother and left the dock at 0800.

We’ve had two wonderful days – our party in Vancouver netted a great number of fascinating books and some helium balloons inscribed with ‘Bon Voyage’. Larry entertained our friends in Vancouver by inhaling some of the gas (rendering his voice preposterous) and then saying “Helium’s a Gas!”

Speaking of preposterous – we’ve both attached the nose-guards to our “glacier” sunglasses and we resemble nothing else on earth! Last night after coming back from a nice meal, which June (Larry’s mother) treated us to, we released the remaining helium balloons and watched them until they were just 3 tiny dots in the sky. We’re both wearing seasickness patches – I hope they work!

When we got off Victoria harbour, I practiced the “man overboard” routine. All the equipment works, although I hope I’m quicker about dispatching it over the side.

My turn to cook and clean today. We’ll reach the real open sea tomorrow, and Larry offered to do the job then. What will I cook?

Tuesday June 29 1900h:  A beautiful sail these 2 days – have seen absolutely fabulous sights. We now have an interested, black-footed albatross friend I’ve nicknamed “Buddy” – he appears 2 or 3 times/day (sometimes with a mate) and handles flying and dipping over the water in a most magnificent fashion – I could watch for hours – heavenly! And speaking of ‘heavenly’, both last night and tonight, with the sun fairly low in the West – its rays have spread out the most elegant carpet of sheer Botticelli gold – a filigree without parallel. Next to this golden pathway, I noticed a frothy, delicate plume of spray – we watched as the plumes progressed parallel to the golden carpet and then turned resolutely north … a whale making for its summer home in the Arctic.

… and more wonders to report … the billions of stars and the Milky Way – the progress of Venus in the early morning … tonight – the biggest and most intact rainbow I’ve ever seen – perhaps like the one Noah saw! It dipped into the water at both edges!

Wednesday June 30 1300h:  At 1130 hrs last night, I was wakened by Larry calling: “The dolphins are here!”  I rushed out and in the light of the moon, which made a bright path just starboard of the bow, I saw all these agile, little dark forms leaping all around the boat. One could not imagine a more joyous revelation of the energies and excitement of being alive than these little creatures embody. The way they leap right in front of the bow, chris-crossing and playing all sorts of gymnastic tricks – it was wonderful. Later, I stayed to revel in the view – the sea, struck by moonlight – looked like a large platter with the sides gently sloping upwards, all washed by the most pearly white, diamond-studded moonlight.

The skin on my hand is peeling, so I’m using Polysporin and a bandage on it. A few days ago, I neglected to exercise caution or wear rubber gloves while handling boiling water.  In choppy seas, I poured a poultice of coffee grounds and boiling water over my hand. It doesn’t hurt too much anymore. I’m trying to break my caffeine addiction, so I have a headache. Luckily, I think I finally have my “sea legs”, so look forward to no more patches and no more nausea.

We’re making magnificent time; we’ve had wonderful winds. We’re already through about a third of the trip!

Friday July 2 1315h:  Hurrah – seasickness overcome (finally) – after two Transderm V patches, I’ve achieved my “sea legs” – or rather, my “inner ear” (balance?) has been beaten into submission and no longer wants to confuse and upset my stomach with valid but inappropriate messages regarding where the level should be. {My glee at conquering seasickness was premature … my log was abruptly curtailed after the July 6th entry because of seasickness. I finished writing about the trip at a later time that year.}

Apart from seeing ‘Pal Buddy’, (the black-footed albatross) and his mate for a short time last evening, we have seen no other sign of life. No ships, no lights from planes, no jet streams, NOTHING!

Our noon calculations today showed we’ve gone about 1,060 miles, with about 1,300 left to go. By tonight we’ll be halfway there! We’ve now turned, so the wind will be coming more and more from behind us, (Trade Winds) and we can continue on the line Larry’s drawn on the chart straight to Hilo.

The Loran isn’t working any more. The Loran works by measuring the distance to a chain of shore stations and we’re now out of range. It won’t work again until we’re nearer to Hawaii, so Larry’s taken to using the sextant. He’s so wonderful at navigation. He double-checks everything. I would never have been able to have had this experience alone. We’ve changed the watch schedule somewhat. Six hours ‘on’ is just too long. So last night, I watched from 2000h to midnight. Larry watched midnight to 0400h and I got 0400h to 0800h again. Larry does all the cooking today, and then tonight I get the 8 hours (interrupted) sleep. It’s nice to have a day off and be lazy.

Actually, 80% of the time I like standing watch – I usually just sit at the top of the stairs and lean on the hatch cover. The dodger protects me from wind, rain and big waves – and I like listening to and watching the changing panorama of sea and sky. The dawn really “sneaks up” on a grey day like this morning. The grey of the clouds starts to lighten as they are back-lit by the sun, which has seldom made an appearance for the last 2 days!

The worst part of standing watch occurs when you suddenly give in to the motion and tiredness and sit down on the couch. If you do this, you have to get the alarm set to wake you every 15 minutes. It’s awful when you’re having to “piece” your way in 15 minute segments, from 0600h to 0800h. When 0800h finally appears, much as you love your shipmate, there is no money on earth that will keep you from waking him exactly at 0800h or even at 0755h!

I’ve been trying to learn astro-navigation, following a book called “Self-taught Navigation” by Robert Kittredge. I was not too far off today. Larry explained what I did wrong. I’m also finding it difficult to stabilize the sextant.

Sunday July 4  1430h:  Well – we’ve slowed down somewhat over the last few days. Our day’s run noon July 3 to noon July 4 was only about 120 nautical miles. The motion is pretty comfortable. We’re sloshing gently from side to side – wing on wing – moving forward at 5 knots and sideways at 4 knots, Laurenzo says! If we continue this slowly, it may be another 10 days to get there. However, it’s a beautiful motion.

I haven’t seen my albatrosses since Friday night when there were three! The last exciting thing I saw, at around 0600h, was a pineapple headed north of us! So, we must be going in the right direction.  We discovered 2 opalescent squids dried onto our foredeck, when Larry went up there to change the headsail. We don’t know when they leaped up!

So far, I’ve read: Michael Caine : “What’s it all About?“; Margaret Visser “Much Depends on Dinner“Larry McMurtry : “Some Can Whistle“; Johnny Wray : “South Seas Vagabonds“; Richard Bach : “Bridge Across Forever“; Mavis Gallant: “Home Truths“; and Patrick O’Brien: “Master and Commander“.

Tuesday July 6 2000h:  It’s beautiful – sub-tropical weather. I exceeded my sun quota today. I’m ever so slightly pink. Larry found a tiny flying fish on board. The temperature outside is 24 degrees. The water is still pretty cool (I know from the bath I had!)

We had an amazing sunset last night: dark clouds; a purple dome over the sky; florescent pink, orange and yellow in the small cloudless space between sea, and clouds and the waves all fuchsia, and dark purple with white crests. Truly explosive!

Yesterday, masses of Portuguese Men of War expanded across to the horizon for an hour; then suddenly nothing! We’ve spotted a total of three airplanes and that’s all the life we’ve seen since the ship last Wednesday.

We’re looking forward to eating out. Eating a green SALAD and indulging in ICE WATER. We might also see real musicians and dancers playing and performing to that steel-guitar music we’d been hearing on the radio.

Monday July 13:   ARRIVED in Hilo last night, in the middle of the night, after a trip of 18 days and 4,800 nautical miles. This morning, I’m sitting in the cockpit relishing the (somewhat squalid) view of a Hilo trucking lot, which contains GREEN palm trees and a RED cardinal. Something besides BLUE!

Many magical and exciting moment followed on my first offshore trip. The Hilo Customs officer came aboard with a large bag of papayas, which were shared around the Radio Bay anchorage. We dove on a charter at Molokini Island – my first warm-water dive. We followed this up with dives on Maui and Oahu, after filling our tanks ashore.

In Honolulu, Larry went back to work and I stayed aboard at the Ala Wai Marina. Waiting for my daughter Alice to arrive, I went on a tour of Iolani Palace and learned more about the history of Hawaii’s Royal family – the loss of sovereignty and the death of all members of the Royal family. I wandered into the intriguing, massive stone building of Kawaiaha’o Church, and instantly saw the large, protectively covered Grand Piano. Hawaiians (led by the Royal family) embraced Christianity in the 1800s, and had the Church built and opened by 1842. It has been dubbed the “Westminster Abbey of Hawaii”.

Inside the church, the Bosendorfer instrument I played in 2014.

Inside the church, the Bosendorfer instrument I played in 2014.

Once in the Church, I was lucky enough to meet a kindred spirit, George Free, a church member and music lover. I was shown the many magnificent oil paintings of Hawaii’s Royal family. The Royals also granted valuable lands in perpetuity to their people, and endowed the Kamehameha Schools for Hawaiian children. Descendants living on the Mainland are encouraged to come back for high school, and are provided with residence on the school grounds.

These monarchs were quick to embrace all innovations from Europe – they sought to emulate the best of European culture and they became accepted peers of European royalty.

The Hawaians had a strong tradition of music-making (including chanting, singing, nose flutes and ceremonial conch shells) and the well-travelled Royal family learned to love European classical music. They imported instruments and teachers to introduce this music, and quickly learned not only to write music but also to play it. Queen Liliuokalani (Hawaii’s last monarch, who died in 1917) was a concert pianist who wrote beautiful music for her people.

Kawaiahao’s Church music program had also benefited from an endowment over the years, prospering under the genius of Richard (Buddy) Naluai – a concert organist and multi-talented person. George introduced me to the Church’s magnificent Steinway Concert Grand piano, and upon playing it, I fell in love with the piano. When Buddy heard me, he asked me to play for the Sunday broadcast on August 16th – it would be heard over all the Hawaiian Islands, along with the bilingual service.

Myself and my friend Buddy (Richard) Naluai, organist extraordinaire, chef, flower arranger.

Myself and my friend Buddy (Richard) Naluai, organist extraordinaire, chef, flower arranger.

Buddy and I became close friends and he introduced us to the local and cosmopolitan foods of Honolulu (he had once run a catering business). I watched him organize the huge Ikebana floral arrangements, which graced the front of the Church. His mother, Abigail adopted me as her ‘haole daughter’ and I was accepted as a member of her ‘ohana’ (family).

Just before my first appearance at the Church, Larry started warning me from Vancouver about a weather system, which was endangering the Island of Oahu. All of a sudden, the approaching hurricane became a reality. The New York Times published a headline: “Hawaii Is Put on Alert As Storm Intensifies”. Our official warning about Fernanda arrived as a Hurricane Alert notice from the Harbour Master, on the afternoon of August 15, along with 17 precautions we must take. Many of them involved tough operations and I worried about my hands. Alice was quite blasé about it all – we had rented a car and loaded dive gear, water and tinned food into the trunk. She envisioned running a profitable salvage operation after the event.

4 Hurricane alert p1

I was worried about how Traversay would fare, but I also looked forward to playing that beautiful piano in my first broadcast performance! It was scheduled for the day of the dreaded hurricane, Sunday August 16. I decided to play. The Chopin Etude went well and luckily the hurricane’s arrival was still pending. After the service, Alice and I rushed back to Ala Wai and with the help of friends, we attacked the Harbour Master’s list. The hurricane passed us by and on Monday, August 17th, the headline on one of the local papers read: “Phew!” …  We were relieved. The Island surfers had some terrific waves.

I have returned many times (by jet airplane) to perform in Hawaii and to visit my Hawaiian ‘ohana’ – once playing while flanked by the Queen’s portrait.

That incredible first visit to Hawaii fixed my determination to continue the adventuring. We had Traversay III built by Waterline Yachts of Sidney, BC, and in the summer 2014, after eleven years and a circumnavigation, we finally returned to Hawaii by sailboat. I again played the same Etude at the Church and visited with Buddy, George’s son, David Free, and ‘Mama’ Abigail, who was then over 100 years old, came to hear me play her piano.


  1. Tricia Bowen says:

    Hi Mary Anne and Larry
    Thanks for letting us in on your earlier adventures on Traversay I and II. What a wonderful story. Reminded me of our early sailing days in 1990 as well.

    We are in Brookings, Oregon working our way back to Victoria by August (hopefully) from our 3 years cruising to Pacific Mexico. Hope to reconnect in person once we’re back in our local waters.

    Cheers…Tricia and Jim Bowen. S/V Falcon VII

  2. Shaun Peck says:

    Dear Mary Ann,
    You are a remarkably talented musician. Your story of you and Larry and music in Hawaii is inspiring.
    I would like to congratulate you and Larry and Traversay III on your 55 day non-stop passage from Victoria to Townsville Australia this year. An amazing passage. For Bluewater Cruising interest here is a link to your blog.
    Shaun Peck

  3. Dsavid says:

    Fabulous article!

  4. David says:

    I spelled my own name wrong… LOL … I’m sober… Great article… very encouraging.

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