Captain's fears rise with the swell
Being the captain of a cruising sailboat can be exhilarating, I've learned over the last year. But not being one is pretty good too.
Last week, I left my boat in French Polynesia and flew home. I was excited to get back. Hawaii for me has it all, from cultural diversity to island beauty to fish.
But the thing I looked forward to most in coming home was being relieved of my command. With the boat safely on dry land, the weather doesn't scare me, and my crew members are on their own. This captain's watch is over for a while, and it's a relief.
I may worry about the boat more than I should, but I'm not the most timid skipper in the South Pacific. A few weeks ago, I sailed upwind from Bora Bora to Tahaa in strong trades and big seas. My sailing teacher, Craig, was with me, but I would have done it anyway. That channel, after all, is only 10 miles across.
We dropped anchor in a sheltered bay and before we could rinse the salt off our faces, another cruiser came zipping over in his dinghy. "We've been trying to get to Bora Bora for days," he told us, "but it's been too rough. How is it out there?"
Afraid to sail 10 miles downwind, a sailboat's easiest heading? I tried not to look smug.
I wasn't feeling so smug two weeks later, though, when Craig's replacement crew and I left Cook's Bay in Moorea for an 80-mile overnight passage to Huahine. We found winds gusting to 35 knots and seas 25 feet tall.
Not good. Even so, we had time constraints and really wanted to go. And hey, it was downwind.
I am not afraid, I thought, unfurling a tiny piece of jib. And off we went.
A moment later, a wave broke into the cockpit. This is a rare event in my high-sided, center-cockpit boat. When a second wave soaked us, I was indeed afraid. We had barely sailed a mile, but I headed back in.
"Congratulations on being prudent," Craig wrote after I e-mailed him my scary story. "The boat can handle those conditions if they catch you out, but you shouldn't start a passage like that."
Prudence is one thing, paranoia another. One day, my two crew members and I spent the day driving the dinghy from one snorkeling spot to another in Bora Bora's lagoon. But when we headed back, the boat was not where we expected to see her.
"Honey, I lost the boat," I said, only half joking.
Distances over water can be deceiving, though, and Honu soon appeared. And still I fretted. "Didn't we anchor closer to the island?" I said to Scott.
"I thought so," he said.
As we sped along, my anxieties boiled over. How fast was Honu dragging? Could I catch her before she hit the reef? Why had I left so soon after dropping anchor?
When we finally reached the boat, however, she hadn't moved an inch.
For me, one of the biggest challenges of skippering Honu is learning what to worry about and what to let go. Right now, however, I have no worries. I'm home in Hawaii with friends and family -- and this home can't sink.
See the Columnists
section for some past articles.