Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Leap of Faith

Many of you know by now that I made it home safe and sound from Maui.  I must tell you that in my heart I never believed the outcome would be otherwise however, during my preparations my mind told me to prepare for death, prepare for Winston to die, and believe that the kids would be OK without their mother.  Preparing for the aforementioned was my insurance that I would cheat death! 

Afternoon Watch 
I know, I know this is over the top dramatics for me.  Let me explain… often I will have fleeting thoughts about the what if scenarios.  In the days leading up to my departure for Hawaii, my little (and aged) fur baby, Winston, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.  His health and his energy were rapidly declining.  My kids are going through their own transitions and on occasion they needed my motherly and sound advice – OK, it is I who thinks it is sound.

I praised the kids for all they have accomplished.   I reminded them that occasional changes in life are also opportunities to take a negative and turn it into a positive.  I reminded them that we never stop learning and we can always strive to be better and do better.  I am proud of my kids and knew they would be just fine without me. 

I was more worried about Winston than the kids.  Having said that, he was being left with my ever-faithful neighbours, Tim and Tara and I knew, without a shadow of doubt,  he would be in good hands no matter how grave his health.  The vet, Tim and Tara and I were all on the same page when it came to making choices for his care during my absence.

Now let me fill you in on the chain of events leading up to and during my adventure…

Mahi Mahi - Lunch and Dinner
In January 2012 I decided that I would like to cross an ocean by way of sailboat.  This decision satisfied three desires: 1) to test myself and stamina on a blue water voyage, 2) to fulfill a dream of both Ron and I and 3) to celebrate and honour my husband.  I discovered a sign up web page for sailors wanting to crew on a sailboat from Maui to Victoria.  These boats were also the same boats racing from Victoria to Maui in July 2012.  Within a few weeks I received a telephone call and an invitation to crew.

Once I established a home for Winston during my absence (which only took a few days) I accepted a position aboard Red Heather, a 40’ Olson.  I had neither met the skipper nor had I toured the boat.  This was truly a leap of faith and it felt so right.  To top it off, most of the crew did not know each other before departing Maui; it was me and six guys.

Red Heather raced to Maui July 7th to 21st – 14 days.  They proudly placed 3rd in their class.  I arrived in Maui on July 25th.  There was very little time to be a tourist.  We, our crew of seven were slated to leave on July 29th.  To prepare we needed to develop a menu and meal plan.  From this plan we created a shopping list and subsequently shopped til we dropped.  Costco Maui and Safeway were happy to see us.  Fifteen hundred dollars later we had the essentials to keep a crew happy with healthy and tasty food for 28 days.  Not to be overlooked was an abundance of water for hydration.  Next, came the storage and listing of all food items aboard Red Heather.

While in Maui I was physically involved in the preparation activities however my mind was still detached from the reality that I would be stepping aboard this vessel and sailing home.  I was very much in a ‘pinch me, is this real?’ state of mind.

It really hit me that we were leaving Maui when we left the dock.  I shed tears of joy for me and for Ron.  He was right there with me.  As we were leaving, the crew that raced down saw us off with wishes for fair winds and Devon played his bagpipes in our honour.  The send off was surreal. 

Squall Ahead
While I had claimed my sleeping space before heading out, I had not organized my things.  I just could not go below for fear of missing the diminishing views of Maui and Molokai.  These two islands were nothing less than a profusion of green foliage rising out of the agitated, blue Pacific Ocean.  The wind was blowing 20+ knots and the seas were vigorous.  We had hoisted a small head sail and put two reefs in the main.

Believe it or not, I found myself not feeling well.  What the heck?  I couldn’t be getting sick.  Or could I?  Yep, heave, vomit, puke, retch; I was not well.  Seasick, the malaise, nausea, queasy; call it what you want, it was not pleasant. The throwing up lasted only a few hours.  I was green around the gills for three days before a feeling of normal returned to my body and mind.  I could not take pictures nor could I write in my journal.  I managed to use the head (bathroom), sleep, get dressed, and sit outside during my watch.  My watch buddies, Jack and Ian made sure that I was fed and hydrated.  Of the crew members, four suffered through the malaise.  I was fortunate as I got off easy compared to the others.

Red Heather was not a luxury cruiser.  She is a racer.   We had no canvas outside to protect us from the elements.  To steer we used a tiller rather than a steering wheel, something that I had to learn as it is not intuitive.  Of the crew, five were racers.  We changed sails as often as the wind changed.  We had no less than eleven sails to choose from.  Up down, up down, up down.  We were a well-oiled team in no time. 

Our crew made up three teams; John and Gary, Brian and Damien and me, Jack and Ian.  Our day consisted of five watches: 6 PM to 10PM, 10PM to 2 AM, 2 AM to 6 AM, 6 AM to Noon and Noon to 6 PM.  This schedule allowed all teams to cycle through all watches.  It worked very well.  I must say except for daylight and darkness, I paid very little attention to the time.  We slept all hours of the day and night.  We slept as much as necessary to be alert on our watch.

Shortly after leaving Maui and especially after losing sight of land, it became very apparent that nothing much mattered except keeping the boat afloat, ensuring our progress was towards Victoria, and the crew was safe at all times.  I do believe my biggest fear was falling overboard on a moonless cloudy night with high winds.  If any one of us went over and became detached  from Red Heather, it would be a miracle if we could be found and retrieved.  

Cleaning and cooking chores were shared by all.  We just stepped up when something needed doing.  I was responsible for reporting scheduled information to the Maui-Victoria boaters net.  Each day at 5 PM (except at the beginning when I was sick) I compiled our coordinates, wind speed, wind direction and debris.  This information was then shared on the net at 6 PM every night.  While we rarely saw other boats, there were several returning to BC after the race.

Safely Home
This journey was as much about Ron as it was for me. Prior to leaving I was at a loss as to how I would celebrate my husband on the wide and open ocean.  Ron and I have a profound Hawaiian history:  we renewed our wedding vows in Hawaii, Ron was cremated with his Hawaiian wedding ring, and his ashes were spread in the ocean off Oahu.  Mere hours before leaving Victoria for Maui I discovered our love-fill Hawaiian wedding vows that had been tucked away.  I crafted my plan… half way, between Maui and Victoria, I placed my Hawaiian wedding ring over our scrolled wedding vows. I then, with great love, joy and respect, committed my ring and our vows to Ron and the vast Pacific Ocean.  Our vows, bound by my wedding ring, floating on the sapphire ocean surface and disappearing into the wake of our vessel is a vision forever etched in my mind.

We arrived in Victoria on August 15th.  We had been at sea for seventeen days.
Ron always told me it was about the journey and not the destination.  For me, this passage was about both.  The journey caused me to soul search and to recognize strengths and weaknesses.  It was a personal journey.  I discovered that I like ocean passages, I can do it and I will do it again.  I celebrated my amazing husband and by reaching our destination I realized our dream that we had shared for many, many years. 

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