Hawaii to California

Steve Hodges

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A 19-day voayge across the Pacific

Many people would probably consider 19 days at sea to be a long time. And it can be—or not, depending on the voyage. I’ve been fortunate that most of my Pacific crossings have been fun as I recall. Of course, it helps to have a poor memory when recalling the “fun” of extended sailing trips. At least, I remember thinking that while underway.

One such trip was on a well-appointed 47-foot solent-rigged Garcia Passoa sailboat. I met the yacht’s owner, Michael Jefferson, during the 2012 Singlehanded TransPac yacht race—my first, his fourth. Mouton Noir, with an aluminum hull and swing centerboard, was designed and built to sail high latitudes. Michael had improved and maintained its systems. After another sailing opportunity I had looked forward to evaporated, Michael invited me to double-hand with him from Kauai, Hawaii, to San Francisco, and I accepted.

Leaving Kauai

After provisioning at a local grocery store, we departed Hanalei Bay on July 26 and headed north, enjoying lovely trade-wind sailing in 15- to 20-knot easterlies. We sailed for almost two weeks as we chased an elongated North Pacific High. There wasn’t much to do during my watches, so after reading a few books, I borrowed the ship’s sextant and took sun sights. I had no forms, but fortunately we had a Nautical Almanac and scratch paper aboard.

Sun sights are relatively easy, especially noon sights, which yield latitude and longitude. The trick with a noon sight is to be on deck with the sextant at the right time and for the sky to be clear enough to see the sun. The result was close to the GPS reading! (Thank you to my squadron Navigation instructors, Nils Lindman and Gordon Specht. I also acknowledge Frank Worsley, Ernest Shackleton’s ship captain and navigator, as my celestial navigation hero.)

I spent my days immersed in books, music and messing about with the sextant and sight reductions. During my long watches from 3 to 7 a.m., I even wrote a few poems. Looking at them now, I see they mostly revolve around the fact that the ocean and sky are incomprehensively enormous.

Eating while at sea

We ate dinner together every day; I was the cook, and Michael did the dishes. The trick to cooking while bounding along heeled over is to prepare meals that require only one hand to prepare. Most meals required one pot—a pan or skillet—as well as a large spoon and knife. When alone, I eat out of the cooking pan to limit cleanup.

Here’s what I made:

  • buttermilk pancakes from mix with melted butter and maple syrup or honey
  • onions, cabbage and peanuts stir-fried in olive oil
  • “glop” of sautéed onions and rice with canned corn and canned chicken with a splash of olive oil and butter
  • buttered scrambled eggs with leftover “glop” and onions
  • egg poached in beans with onions and hard cheddar (optional: serve on tortillas)
  • pressure cooker onions, cabbage and potatoes served over sautéed rice
  • nachos: corn chips baked on a cookie sheet with onions, canned chili and grated cheddar
  • macaroni and cheese with onions and canned tuna
  • cabbage salad with onions, olive oil, pepper and canned tuna (optional: add peanuts)
  • tuna salad sandwiches with onions and optional melted cheese
  • rigatoni with jarred tomato sauce, onions and canned chicken with parmesan cheese (optional: replace chicken with chopped hard salami)

None of these meals requires ingredients that need refrigeration, at least for three weeks or so. The only beer I’ve found that remains palatable without cooling is canned Guinness. I drank one per day with my dinner.

Reaching California

Finally, at 44 degrees north latitude we turned right and sailed for California in diminishing winds.

Throughout the trip, we sailed as much as we could because we didn’t have enough fuel to motor all the way home. As the winds eased, we ran through the headsail inventory, going for larger and lighter sails before running the engine for a couple days. Fortunately, before our fuel was spent, we picked up the northwest winds a few hundred miles off the California coast and sailed again. What a relief from the endless whirring vibration of the engine!

As we headed east, T-shirt weather gave way to the cold, so we layered on clothes. We sailed into a gale blowing off the northern California coast, but fortunately, the wind was on our beam and then went aft. By adjusting the dagger board and centerboard, we managed the gale easily on the well-prepared Mouton Noir. In 35-knot winds, we surfed at 10 to 15 knots broad-reaching with a 95% staysail and two reefs in the main. It was roaring on deck but surprisingly serene inside.

By the time we reached the Farallones, some 25 nautical miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge, we had little wind and motored again. Although it was my 12th time sailing under the gate, I was as moved as if it were my first time. The Golden Gate Bridge is a portal from one world to another. What a great feeling to cross over! After admiring that beautiful entrance, we peeled off our layers as it was much warmer on San Francisco Bay.

After securing the boat in its Alameda slip, we staggered to a nearby restaurant for food and beer. It usually takes a few days for my legs to forget the sea and for my organs to regain their traction with land life.

The final step of every offshore adventure is for that less than perfect memory to kick in and discard the bad while polishing the good, leaving me to look forward to another fun ocean sail.

Steve Hodges

Steve Hodges started sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes when he was 12. He has enjoyed sailing his Islander 36, Frolic, in California, Mexico and Hawaii since 1996. Steve sailed Frolic in the 2012 and 2014 Singlehanded TransPac races, placing first in 2014. A 30-year member of Santa Barbara Sail & Power Squadron/13, he has taught Sail, Marine Weather, and Navigation classes and seminars.

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