Posted by John
It was most likely 1962, the year of the Seattle World’s Fair, when my parents took me to tour a visiting sailing yacht tied up on the Seattle waterfront.
I didn’t expect much. It was just another thing I got dragged along to see. That happened a lot with my dad. But once onboard the boat, there was something about the coils of rope and the rigging, the blocks and pulleys and all the lines angling up toward the top of the masts that stuck with me.
When we went down into the cabin below I recall the three of us sort of standing in a corner waiting for our eyes to adjust to the dim light. Looking back now, I think my parents probably felt a little out of place, like being at a party where you know no one. There were many people—not so much gawkers such as ourselves, but men and women somehow more knowing of each other and of that particular boat. They were sitting and standing around a table, many drinking from bottles. I remember it clearly, I think. There was something about the way they laughed and told stories in the dimly lit and smoky space that made them seem extraordinary to me. It was as if they had been somewhere beyond the horizon, over the edge of the earth, and were somehow on a different plane than the rest of us. They not only knew what was beyond the edge, but they had been there and back.
I can trace my desire to sail off beyond the horizon to places unknown all the way back to that day and that moment more than fifty years ago. My interests went in many different directions over the following years, but somewhere in the background that desire was always there as a “someday.”
In the pre-dawn hours of May 7, 2017 we arrived at the Marquesas Islands in the vicinity of Nuku Hiva and Ua Huka after sailing 33 days and 2,894 nautical miles non-stop from Banderas Bay, Mexico. My first view of these islands was not as dark protrusions slowly rising on the distant horizon as I had always imagined, but as small smudges on a radar screen in the middle of the night, thought at first to be rain showers.
The trip wasn’t easy. A 42-foot boat can be a confining space for three people. Even though the boat was moving, the scenery didn’t change. The horizon looked the same in all directions, and no matter which way we pointed the boat, we never got any closer to it. The sun went down and came up again, over and over, and the horizon was still out there in the distance.
The ocean is never flat. Even when it was calm with no wind waves the surface still undulated. We went up and down on these constant undulations. When up, we got a view; sometimes looking across the swells was almost like looking across the rolling hills of wheat country. Other times we just got slammed by the force of an energy that had traveled a great distance, it seemed, just to whack, roll and spin us before passing under the boat, laughing as it came out the other side.
The sky was full of fluffy cotton ball clouds that constantly morphed into whimsical shapes, faces and animals. The clouds were very good at it. They didn’t expect anyone to be watching and so they didn’t care, trying as many new shapes as they wanted. The rising and setting sun colored these shapes, sometimes spectacularly. But again, they didn’t care. Who was this show for? Just us? We were a thousand miles from the nearest land and hadn’t seen another human in days.
The birds would sometimes hitch rides with us, even spending the night. Did they have a clue where we were taking them? One poor guy got a little too complacent. A big swell knocked us, and he fell off into the water, bouncing through the bowsprit as he went down.
The stars were there at night. When there was no moon, Jupiter and Venus were the brightest objects. They reflected off the water like moonlight. Once Venus came up behind a cloud and it was so bright its light lit the edges from behind. The glow of the Milky Way was startling to see when looking up from the cockpit while alone at night. More than once I mistook a star just rising above the horizon for the light of a distant ship. But no, it was a star.
It is hard to think of Nuku Hiva as just another stop in our tour. I think we truly went over the rainbow.
Note: with all the things that broke, ripped, shredded or fell apart on this trip, one victim was the computer (and related software) used to create these blog posts. We are hoping it is just a humidity issue, but could mean new laptop time. Another was our Wi-Fi extender that allows us to leisurely do these posts from the boat at our convenience. We are currently making do, but perhaps more slowly than we’d like.