Our First Offshore Adventure
It was 1995. We had spent 3 years building our sailboat Synchronicity, a Fraser 41, in our backyard. That day she was delivered by truck to North Vancouver, B.C. and launched in Mosquito Creek Marina. What a day it was! With the girls tucked away sleeping in the v-berth, Dave and I sat on the settee looking at each other. Silently, I thought, “What have we done?”
We had sold all of our possessions, including our house, and now moved onto a sailboat with our two young girls, ages 3 and 8. Were we crazy for doing these things? Neither set of our parents ever voiced disapproval of our plans to sail the world. Not that we needed their endorsement, since we were well into our 30s. But does seeking approval from our elders ever go away? Looking back, we decided to accept their quietness as approval for our own sake.
Fast forward to 1998. We had lived aboard in North Vancouver through three dark, wet winters, and it was finally time to wave goodbye to our friends and family. The emotions I had were excitement mixed with fear and anxiety about not knowing what it would be like to sail offshore.
We decided to do a straight shot to San Diego. We received a decent forecast and went for it. My confidence built as I took my turn on watches with Dave. By the time we arrived in San Diego, 9 days out from Vancouver, I was elated. I had managed my seasickness and been a part of our first sailing voyage from Vancouver to San Diego! That was just the first of many passages that took us all around the world. Four years later we returned to Vancouver, sailing under Lion’s Gate Bridge, feeling elated that we had circumnavigated the globe and curious to see what would be next for our family.
Heading Off Again, Years Later
Time hop once more with me. It’s now 24 years later, and here we are setting sail once again. This time it’s just Dave and me. Our daughters are both married and have their own lives. Leah, age 35 has her own boat (one foot bigger than her parents’, she’ll proudly tell you) and is raising our grandson with her husband aboard. Jess has a thriving baking business and just got married. This time, Dave and I will be doing this trip without them, taking family and friends as crew from time to time.
People ask how it will be different. I ask myself that question too. Now 61, I feel less confident to sail on a big adventure than I did 24 years ago. Even after 37,000 nautical miles and a lifetime of cruising memories, I struggle with those demons: my inner critics. As a life/career coach, I know them only too well. My inner critics have been screaming into my ears: I’m not fit enough, I don’t know how to sail, I’m not strong enough, what if I mess up, what if I can’t do this. But then I think, “Dave is depending on me,” and work on hushing those inner voices.
As we neared our jump off date in early September, my anxiety was over the top. My cousin Val was coming with us on the first leg to San Diego. She was excited – I just felt dread. I woke up most nights with heightened anxiety. My brain felt scrambled, wondering: can I do this, what will it be like without our girls beside us all the way, am I up for it, can I REALLY do this again, am I too old. The doubts crept in once again.
I sought the advice of my friend and personal coach, Pam. She sent me texts saying, “You’ve got this.” Searching for the confidence, I kept wondering why is it as we get older we lose our confidence? Does everyone go through this? Daughter Leah helped me get in touch with what I liked about cruising – the people, dolphins, sunsets, stars and visiting new places and cultures. I weakly held onto those thoughts.
Our to-do list was never ending. Dave was busy with boat projects and retiring from a construction career of over 40 years. With help from Val and another friend, I got the boat provisioned. We had set Sept 5, 2022 for leaving and the date was closing in.
Sept 5 arrived. We left amidst tearful goodbyes with our girls, their husbands, our grandson, and a few close friends. The first few days we motored and cleared into the US. That was the easy part.
The first night passage was up the Strait of Juan de Fuca and around Cape Flattery. Val kept watch with me. She struggled with seasickness. The motion was all too familiar. Juan de Fuca (we like to call it Juan de Pukey) didn’t disappoint. Washing machine-like waves coming from all directions, hurtled Synchronicity around. We learned later the cross-swells were the remnants of typhoon Merbok. While Val puked, I maintained my 3 hour watches, looking at the amazing starlit night, remembering one of the reasons I really do like sailing. As we started down the Washington coast, the swells became a little more regular and my body slowly got used to it. Sturgeron was and still is my best friend at sea. The seasick meds worked. Phew!
With the weather not improving and the winds increasing, Captain Dave decided we should stop at Gray’s Harbor in Washington, a small fishing port. We spent a few days there waiting for improved weather.
Back out sailing, a few days passed and my anxiety slowly reduced. Then off the coast of Oregon, the winds once again built. This time both our autopilot and Monitor Windvane self-steering systems failed. The Windvane, which Dave rebuilt, had too much flex in it and would not steer a course. The new, heavy-duty autopilot, which had steered us so far started to make screeching and grinding noises, until it finally quit working altogether. Of course, it was the middle of the night.
If ever there was a time I should fall apart, it was now in the dark of night when I was faced with hand-steering. Our compass light was out as well so we literally had only the stars to guide us. My tears appeared as Dave woke me for my watch and explained the circumstances. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to him, knowing there was no choice but to suck it up and take the watch. Val was still struggling with seasickness, so it was up to me.
Blinking back my tears, I heard the voice of my coach Pam once again, “You’ve got this,” she whispered in my ear. I dug deep that night to steer in winds from 25-30 knots, gusting 35. And then a wonderful thing happened. As the waves crashed, the self-steering sat useless, our crew was immobilized with seasickness, and it all started to get really intense, this Grandma’s confidence came back! Not all of it, but enough to hand steer my two night watches, safely guiding Synchronicity and her crew through until Dave took his watch at 6:00 a.m. Enough to know I was going to be OK. “It’s like riding a bike,” I heard in my head. And indeed, I felt that I could do this again.
The rest of the trip to San Diego went without too many glitches. We chose to stop in Bodega Bay, the Channel Islands and Catalina. On Sept 29, 24 years later, we landed once again at Chula Vista Marina, just before light gave way to darkness.
A small sense of warmth came over me, a knowing that I can and will do this. As we prepare for what’s next on our adventure, my inner critics are still there, but quieted by a tiny all-knowing of what I am capable of!