Life on Passage

    A passage is a difficult thing to try to explain to someone that has not done one, much less someone that hasnt sailed at all. Its a sort of suspended lifestyle where everything that is normally a day-to-day activity is put on the backburner while all hands work towards keeping the boat sailing comfortably to a far off destination. 


A bird that decided to hop on for a rest stop(upper right). We dubbed him ‘Little Buddy’

    Leaving at daybreak the first morning everyone is all smiles over morning coffee as weeks of planning and preparation begin to give fruit. A delicious and hearty ‘normal’ breakfast is made while we ride the outgoing tides out of a protected, comfortable anchorage, and we escape out into the open ocean. Afterwards we begin to settle into our ‘passage life’ for the next six days, which is our schedule that allows for at least one person to be awake and on watch at all hours of the day and night. With distances of hundreds of miles between course changes (while Huck averages about 150 miles a day) and a programmable autopilot to keep us on track, theoretically the boat requires very little assistance and mostly just a watchful eye for any unforseen events, other boats, and wind shifts.

     So life begins in a pattern of up on watch and down to sleep, mirroring the up and down motion of the boat in the swell as we sail steadily onward. Simple though this may seem, this is still a rather draining lifestyle over the long term. The constant 1-3 meter swell rocks the boat vigorously, pitching and rolling the floor underneath your feet, the bed while you sleep, the kitchen while you cook, your entire life constantly as much as 17 degrees from either side of center. Just laying down in a stable position on passage is an abdominal workout all its own to stay still, and everything you do entails a constant struggle to stay balanced or stabilized. As a result you burn alot of calories during passage with this constant motion, which would seem a good thing if cooking were not so difficult. Boiling water or hot oil present serious dangers like this, as you’d imagine, and stabilizing knives, chopped veggies, or anything you could cook with is a herculean task. Fortunately for Huck, Heidi is amazing at cooking on passage and determinedly cooked a fantastic and much appreciated hot meal once a day, but even so a large portion of our diet on passage consists of easy to eat/prepare and high calorie, carb-packed foods like ramen noodles, cereal, granola bars, boxed mac and cheese, and simple fruits like apples and oranges.

     Days on passage are typically pleasant and enjoyable as without the ability or energy to do much maintenance on the boat the entire crew is often in the cockpit together chatting and laughing as everyone pitches in small bits of effort to get things like snacks, keep watch, and adjust sails. Often you wake up to flying fish that have inadvertently flown onto the boat, or cuttlefish that have jumped onto deck and leave puddles of black ink everywhere. Birds, hundreds of miles from shore, often land exhausted on the boat to hang out with us for awhile.
 A flying fish that flew up onto deck the previous night

    Nights on passage are a mixed bag of stress and calm. Alot of times it can be difficult to sleep while you are off duty due to the noise of the boat, violent rocking, and the smash and shudder of waves crashing into the hull on occasion. No hatches or portlights are open due to the waves so the interior of the boat can be quite stuffy and hot. So after the sun sets and you tuck in for some sleep if you can catch it, its time to come up for your watch. Some watches are restful and easy, where the wind stays mild and steady, the swell stays calm, and every fifteen minutes your visual 360 degree sweep of the horizon yields nothing but empty, dark expanses of water. Some watches are stressful and work-filled, as many were this last passage when the night sky was lit up as though from a city by fleets of fishing boats numbering in the dozens, each dropping or trailing monstrous nets (that are miles long and irregularly marked if at all), and none with any radio contact nor AIS (a collision warning system) to track them with, leading to frequent and abrupt course changes to avoid them and their nets. The weather also plays a big factor. During our last night of passage a torrential rainstorm came upon us, dropping visibility to zero, pulling all hands on deck for lookout, and bringing us and all the nearby boats in our rally fleet to a standstill for fear of now-invisible fishing boats and nets. That night no one got much if any sleep at all, and all the rally boats clustered together to heave-to or drop sail and drift to wait out the rain until we could see again.
     Passages are not without their upsides though. Theres a sense of community that develops between boats travelling in a vicinity of each other and everyone shares useful information and checks up on each other throughout the journey via VHF and SSB radio. Though some boats had issues on the passage, the community of boats around and ahead of them rallying to assist in everything from anchoring assistance to crafting makeshift rudders and search and rescue is nothing short of inspirational. You get to watch the dawn every day knowing that you are hundreds of miles from any landfall, a self-sustaining, wind-powered island traversing the vast ocean, which is a thrill all its own. It’s exciting to watch the miles melt by day after day with the knowledge that you are getting closer and closer to a faraway exotic land, to places that few outside its native populace ever see. Some nights you wake for your watch and climb out into a night of crystalline clarity, where the innumerable and uncontested stars in the sky cast the sea in soft starlight. Phosphorescence in the undulating midnight waters causes waves and their whitecaps to glow and sparkle while the wake of the boat leaves an illuminated trail of glittering diamond stardust to rival the skies above. Those nights I particularly treasure, and are some of the most tranquil and beautiful that I have ever seen.

Our first sunset in Indonesia. 

     Then after all the days and nights sleepless or otherwise, after the drenching rain, after the horrendous and exhausting dance of dodging fishermen and their nets for days on end, after six days and seven hundred miles you finally see the dark silhouette of land on the horizon. The elation, relief, and excitement are immeasurable after having crossed safely, and the gray overcast morning that we dropped hook in front of the bright colored mosques and churches of Debut, Indonesia was a beautiful day indeed. Cruisers often say “passage is hard,” but everything worth doing or having always is.

The Joys of Cruising


The only thing of note at Cape Bowling Green, the sunrise.

Getting a taste of a new lifestyle is quite an intoxicating experience. Cruising is a world far removed from mountains and snow, and even what I know as work in restaurants is not the same in other parts of the world. Every day is a new adventure in a very literal sense as more often than not we wake up in a different place than we were before, and I’m finding that there is a lot of truth in the cliche, “the more I see, the less I know”. 


Our new friends ‘Mikado’ against a sunrise cloud bank

A sailboat is a lot of work to live on in the sense that there is always something that needs doing. Our grill is stowed away and requires some fair effort to deploy whenever we want to grill steaks, veggies, or burgers. Getting to shore after a passage is preceded by 10 minutes of wrestling the dinghy off the foredeck and then wrestling an outboard motor into place on the dinghy.  The small space is not much effort to keep clean, but it is a persistent effort on all three of our parts to keep it tidy. Stainless steel always needs polishing (my restaurant friends are familiar with this) and woodwork always needs sanding and varnishing. Even just general organization of things in and on the boat is always an ongoing process of tweaking and refining baskets and storage spaces, and there is an entire wall space devoted to post-it notes with various larger scale tasks that need doing that I have not even mentioned. 


Paddle boarding in the rain with myself (front), Nat (right), and Heidi (left)

The work pays off tenfold though. There’s a pride in living on something you actively work to keep beautiful, and when someone compliments how good your boat looks it’s hard not to beam knowing you had a hand in it. All the maintenance and projects keep us moving to and from dozens of tropical paradises each more beautiful than the next, and I’ll be damned if the work of putting the grill in place doesn’t make the food taste that much better. Reeling in and cleaning fish in the middle of a sail is quite a messy task, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re eating piles of bluefin tuna sashimi two hours later. True to all walks of life, you truly get back all the effort you put into this lifestyle.


Me trying desperately to not dunk Josh and myself into the water, 2 people on a board is hard!

The best part of it all though is the people. Even though I’ve only had a combined total of about 3 and a half months of “cruising experience” over the last three years, the people you meet and the stories you hear are the richest reward. The cruising community is small and everyone is bound by the same weather constraints, so you end up seeing the same boats repeatedly even if you don’t ever meet the sailors that belong to them. Inevitably though you end up at a nothing bar on a nothing island with some of the neighbors you’ve shared anchorages and marinas with for days and weeks on end, and sailors being a generally agreeable lot with all the same problems and similar dreams friends are made quickly and happily. 


Natalie handled her passenger much more gracefully than I did

This was the exact case with our new friends Chris, Nat, and their two boys Josh and Sam on Mikado. A quick meeting on Middle Percy Island a couple weeks back has led to smiling friendly faces at several anchorages since, and it’s wonderful to have curry nights and paddle boarding expeditions with new friends. They also are excellent at translating and teaching all of the Aussie slang that sounds so bizarre to my American ears (a barney is not a children’s TV character, but rather an argument, for example). Of course, eventually our paths will split as we continue north towards Indonesia and they round west from Cape York towards Darwin. But that’s the nature of Cruising as well, you meet fantastic people along the way and you share different pieces of your journey with different people. Everyone is a beautiful chapter in someone else’s story, but the length of that chapter in no way impacts its value or the stories and memories made therein.


The rainbow lorikeets are extremely friendly

This life is perhaps more centered around enjoying the present moment than any other lifestyle I’ve experienced or encountered. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of planning and forecasting involved, but the purpose of it all is to make now as beautiful and enjoyable a moment as possible. So it teaches you not to be sad about leaving a gorgeous postcard landscape or close friends behind, but rather to look forward to the next vista, the next ocean, the next beer and the next step with as much excitement as possible. If you’re always excited to move forward, you won’t ever be sad looking back.


Currently we’re anchored for our third day at Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island (which confusingly is in no way Magnetic beyond its jaw dropping landscapes) off the coast of Queensland, preparing to move north once again. This time we are moving towards the Hinchenbrook Channel and Island, by some accounts one of the most beautiful places in Australia. The coastlines have grown less mountainous and more tropical by the day, and the weather and water gets warmer even though we can’t swim much after this stop due to Crocodiles, but who can complain from paradise? Cheers everyone, I’ll talk to you again from Cairns!


Closer shot of ‘Mikado’ under sail.

The Journey West

     Shrinking an entire life to fit into one backpack provides some unique perspective on what is important. Oddly enough, it was easy to dispose of all the toys and things that one becomes accustomed to in the modern world; computers, phones, snowboards, skateboards, clothes for all occasions, all went into the trash or to charity. The harder thing is leaving behind the people that have carved places for themselves in your life and the places that fill memories with familiarity and comfort. 

     I’ve always been restless and have wanted to undertake a trip like this for a long time, so I was surprised at how sad I was to leave. My last few weeks in Colorado were filled with equal parts excitement, joy, nostalgia, and trepidation. Seeing old friends and new ones to celebrate a next great step makes you realize how much value is in the place you call home, and reminds you how much of yourself was built by things, people, and places that were entirely out of your control. 

     Shortly before I left a dear friend said something that really resonated though. She said: “That feeling of uncertainty and fear you have right now is a feeling we should always chase.” She’s right. That feeling of building trepidation is the same one I’ve felt before. It’s the fear before the plunge into a ski jump for the first time. It’s the nervousness of showing a chef a dish I had made for a nightly special. It’s the tongue-freezing anxiety of presenting a company to would-be customers and investors, a project that mentors had said was doomed to failure.

     I know what comes next.

     Adrenaline. Joy. Victory. An irresistible smile of rare confidence, and an insatiable desire for more. My finest moments, the ones that define me and that represent significant crossroads in my life have all been preceded by this exact same feeling. We as people are at our best and strongest not when we know the way forward, but when we forge our own way into the unknown. Great things have never once been done with certainty.

    So it was with new calm and resolution and a total of about 27 hours of planes, airports, shuttles, and one international date line that I arrived at the other side of the world in Australia. It took all of 30 minutes to see Kangaroos, they seem to have the same frequency of appearance of deer back in the states. Awesome, inquisitive, interesting creatures. Of more concern than giant hopping mammals though is the insane price of beer on this side of the Pacific, it’s nearly twice what it is in the states. Oh well, I suppose there must be some downside to long beautiful coastlines and fantastic, friendly people.

     It’s amazing after leaving one family back in Colorado that I am greeted here by another. We’ve got a condo by the beach for the next week or so as my cousin who is also visiting isn’t quite as keen on sailing as I am, but I don’t mind. I think that the best way to celebrate arriving at my new home after all these months of preparation will be to relax, catch up, and soak up sunlight as only a late-winter Coloradoan can. Cheers!