The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Port Townsend to New Zealand: Small Boat Big Seas

Cathy Norrie

Pacific Seacraft Crealock 37
March 21st, 2017

Did you ever wonder what it might be like to sail across the Pacific (North and South) in a 24 foot sailboat?  Well, if you had attended the BCA Calgary Chapter February Club Night last week, you would have found out.

Karen and Jim

Karen Sullivan and Jim Heumann  provided us with an evening of insight and humour with the presentation of their voyage from Port Townsend, Washington to New Zealand and back again.  They choose quality over quantity with their 1987 Pacific Seacraft Dana 24 named Sockdolager (pronounced Sock-DOLL-a-jur).  The name comes from an old 1800’s word no longer in use, meaning something really outstanding.

Karen and Jim sailing Sockdolager.

Jim was brutally honest when he commented  “I always wanted to be that guy.  That guy like Larry Pardey.   To build and sail a motorless boat around the world.  Sailing and crossing oceans forever…  I found out I am not that guy.”

Both Karen and Jim talked about the joys and difficulties of sailing a small boat in a big ocean.  Karen explained how it is much easier to find a place to wedge yourself  when the waters get bumpy.  Washing dishes was a snap!  All they had to do was lean over the side with the dirty pot, wait for the boat to roll, et voila – the ocean did its duty and with the next roll a clean pot or pan emerged.

When they found themselves in a crowded anchorage like Atuona, Hiva Oa,  in the Marquesas, they were able to tuck themselves into a little corner where no one else could fit.   Anchoring in shallows was easy…

Karen up the mast checking for reefs.

… and who needed a windlass?  With such a light anchor and rode they could bring it up hand over hand.

Technology?  Absolutely!  Their handheld, $100 GPS unit gave them all the information they needed.  More than enough.   In fact, they had two backups so were able to give one away when they met a sailor in need.

They used their SSB to help a friend who only had a receiving unit, by sending him regular weather reports.

Their simple ship never had a failure.  Despite the fact that they counted 58 squalls on their passage from French Polynesia to Nuie, they sailed on.  When the conditions really got tough (once off the Oregon coast and again off of New Zealand) they were able to heave-to with varied results.  They explained that their success with heaving-to depended on the sea conditions.

They warned us that one would not wish to have to visit the hospital in Tonga if one could avoid it.  Their experience was not positive when Karen had heart issues, when anchored in Tonga.

The audience enthusiastically showed their appreciation of Karen and Jim’s stories and honesty, and left with images in their minds of that small boat successfully sailing across that big ocean.

Sockdolager sailing.

If you would like to read more about their adventure, you might like to visit their blog. For more videos and articles about  Sockdolager and her crew, visit


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