September 25, 2019
What is sailing the Pacific Ocean really like? Team Sensi adventurer Alexa Hohenberg shares her experience sailing 3,300 nautical miles in 26 days, on the 38 ft Elan sailing boat, Finding Avalon. For more on this incredible journey, check out Alexa's original post on Still Stoked.
For some, being at sea for an extended period of time, crossing the Pacific Ocean on what some call a ‘perilously small boat’ is their worst nightmare. For others like me, it is a huge adventure and opportunity to find solitude.
It has always been something I have wanted to do, cross a large expanse of water. I never actually thought I would get to do it though... It would likely be forever a pipe dream… much like surfing pipe. But the universe has a wonderful way of making your dreams come true if you are willing to pay attention to the signs. Then my good friend bought a boat with her boyfriend and they needed help to sail it towards The Land Down Under, from Panama all the way across the Pacific Ocean. I saw the sign loud and clear. This would be my chance and I jumped right in.
There is something incredibly raw, powerful, and honest about spending time at sea. Being so detached from the world that nothing exists except, you, your crewmates, the boat under your feet, and the vast ocean engulfing you. You become inherently tuned into nature and all her moods, movements, and emotions. The sense of scale you feel is unlike anything you have ever sensed before, even in the mountains. On your little boat, bobbing about on the widest expanse of endless ocean, you are a tiny, insignificant and inconsequential spec. There is nothing quite like it. It is thrilling. It is terrifying.
Things go strange on boats including people. Your mind wanders places you never thought it could travel. The time you have alone with your thoughts is expansive, allowing for a creativity you never thought you held. Or an inward introspection that brings up all the things you have been hiding from your whole life. When all you have is the company of two others within an approximately 6m2 shared space, conversations get deep, plain weird, or incredibly inspiring. For me, having an endless amount of time to empty my brain and explore what I yearned to fill it back up again with, was an exercise that I think could only be done at sea… or an ashram. The monotony of the daily rhythm of life on a boat sparked something new in me and birthed a new perspective.
It took us 26 days to sail from the 3,200+ nautical miles from The Galapagos Islands to The Marquesas’ Islands in French Polynesia. The last few days were of course the hardest as you anticipate all the delicious French wine and cheese waiting for you on land. There is no telling how a boisterous sea might change your day and we definitely had a few moments when we feared for the worst. After catching a huge Wahoo with a homemade lure made from a Coca-Cola can, the thrashing fish sliced an 8cm long gash through the captain’s leg. It took me the best part of 90 minutes to stop the bleeding and get him patched up with steri-strips, super glue, and a leg brace made from a sawn-off coat hanger, a SAM splint and a ski strap (my mountain guiding skills came to good use!). With 1,100 miles to go and the captain out of commission, us girls had to sail the ship. The 3-hour sailing shits turned to 4 hours and the sleep got less and less.
Things started to break. About 300 miles from land, the main sail came tumbling down. The pulleys holding the preventer lines snapped off their cleats. The preventer lines themselves wore through. As sailors you have to be incredibly resourceful and think on your feet, fixing whatever you can with whatever you can. We joked we would limp into port with both a boat and captain held together by super-glue and duct-tape! The reality wasn’t too far off!
I’ll never forget the smell of land. Coming up from the galley while it was still dark, the anticipation of sighting land over my morning coffee. It was the smell that was so unexpected. It hit me before I even got outside note the feint outline of an island. A lush, wet smell of foliage, wet wood, rain and flowers. Maybe some wood fired stoves. It was over-powering and it was divine. After so long with just the smell of sea-spray or whatever delights we were cooking in the galley, the aroma of land was so over-powering. Like the scent of the aftershave of your first boyfriend, you’ll never forget it.
Being at sea changes you. It gets in your blood and makes you see things differently. Since being back I am calmer, more patient, and more resistant to the bullshit of consumerism and society. I understand that life is very simple and it is only we human that have made it complicated. All one needs is the sun, food, water, shelter, good friends, a few laughs, to feel love, and a good book. Life isn’t about chasing the dollars in the fast lane and striving to match what others have. Being back in a city and watching my friends burnt out and unhappy striving for a ‘career’, it’s a violent, stark reminder to stay grounded and in touch with what is important. To not lose that connection with nature or the attachment with the rhythm of the sun, moon, stars, earth and tide. For the earth is really all we have, and there is no pocket on that last shirt for all the material things we hold so dear.
While spending time at sea isn’t for everyone, I sure do wish I could send everyone to sea. For it changes you for the better. It gives you a greater ownership over our beautiful planet and all that call it home. I am living proof of that, and the calm disposition that it has left me with, is a calm that now lives in my bones for eternity. Once a sailor, always a sailor.