Apologies to Jimmy Buffett for co-opting his wonderful lyric as the title of this piece.
In three days, I will begin an epic adventure that checks off the longest held item on my bucket list.
When I was twelve-years-old, I read Dove, a book by Robin Lee Graham that recounted his journey sailing a 24-foot sailboat around the world, alone. He was 16 when he set out on his five year adventure. That read was followed swiftly with Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, in which he sailed a balsa log raft from Peru to the Polynesian island of Puka Puka.
These books sparked a desire for sailing and adventure that continues to this day. I finally learned to sail when I was 57, and was able to enjoy a fair amount of time sailing the beautiful Puget Sound.
But that never really scratched the itch that started when I was 12. Fascinated by Graham’s and Heyerdahl’s adventure, I remember telling my 12-year-old self, “One day, I’m going to sail a boat on the Pacific Ocean.” I literally dreamed about sailing the open ocean.
That dream, 48 years in the making, will start this Sunday.
I’ll be joining the crew of the S/V Sea Dragon for three weeks as we sail from Honolulu, Hawaii to the Palmyra Atoll. After frolicking around the atoll for several days, we’ll sail Sea Dragon back to Honolulu.
Three weeks of sailing a 72-foot boat roughly 2,400 miles–literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No internet, no cell service, just nine people on an awesome expedition.
Someone is probably thinking, “Where the hell is the Palmyra Atoll?” I asked myself that very question as I researched this trip.
It’s about 1,000 nautical miles almost due south of Hawaii. If you looked at a globe and put your finger on the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you’d be pointing to the atoll. It’s remote. It also appears to be stunningly beautiful, and is home to some of the most untouched and pristine coral reefs on the planet. The snorkeling should be amazing (no SCUBA diving. Palmyra is part of a marine sanctuary and diving is prohibited).
Only a handful of scientists and researchers live on the atoll, and one must go through all sorts of gyrations just to visit. Thankfully, Pangaea Exploration takes care of all that. More thankfully, they also provide a team of three professional sailors to help six passengers with sailing skills ranging from zero to who-knows-what sail the blue water of the Pacific.
When I tell people about this trip, there are generally one of two reactions:
“Holy shit, that sounds amazing!” (which is exactly what my cardiologist said.)
Or, “What? Are you insane?” (the wise words of my wife. Who despite questioning my sanity is incredibly supportive of this little adventure.)
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous and anxious. I’m not worried about my safety. The expedition team takes safety very seriously, and they are extremely skilled and experienced sailors and instructors. Nonetheless, something would have to be wrong with you if there wasn’t at least a little anxiety.
I haven’t been disconnected from my phone or the internet for three weeks in…. ever. Heck, until I retired, I’d get twitchy if my phone and I were separated by more than 10 feet. That has gotten better since retirement, but I still can’t break away from the internet and f’ing social media. I’m basically going cold turkey to break an internet addiction. This may be one of the best things I’ve ever done for my head. But it’s anxiety inducing.
In about an hour and a half, I’m getting a COVID test, which is required to board the Sea Dragon. Should I fail that test, the trip is off. Being fully vaccinated, I’m not overly concerned about failing. But I need to stop reading about false positives and how some fully vaccinated folks have asymptomatic COVID. Update: COVID test was negative! Yay. There is one more to pass immediately before boarding the Sea Dragon, so still a little nervous.
Then there’s joining eight other humans that I’ve never met and being confined on a 72 foot boat with them for three weeks. What if someone is a royal jackass? They’ll be tethered to the boat the entire time, so shoving them overboard isn’t really an option. Plus, that would be frowned upon by the expedition organizers, and law enforcement. My hope is what I will find are eight new friends who get to share the experience of a lifetime together.
Then there is the food. Every review and report I’ve seen says the food is terrific. But there’s a catch–it’s a vegetarian menu. I like meat — bacon, chicken, pork, beef that practically moos when you cut into it. I like meat a lot. But hey, this is an ADVENTURE, and it’s not like a lack of beef will kill me (don’t tell anyone, but I am stashing some beef jerky in my gear bag). Don’t judge, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
It’s going to rain, a lot. You can’t sail in the tropics in the summer without rain. I did Seattle for seven years, and have been building an ark for the last few weeks here in Texas. Rain I can deal with.
So yeah, there are anxieties. Far outweighing them is the experience. Not to sound like some environmental whacko, but what could be a better way to become one with the ocean and planet than sail for weeks in the middle of the Pacific? What better way to test myself? What could be better than sitting on a magnificent sailboat anchored in a coral atoll looking at the stars, listening to the waves lapping against the hull, with a good book in hand, or writing in my journal. What better way to fulfill a dream I’ve had since I was a kid?
Then there is this. I mean come on….
Anxiety aside, this promises to be one hell of an adventure. It will be epic and life-changing and may well be just a little insane. I can’t wait for it to begin.
Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call
Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall
You’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all
Watched the men who rode you switch from sails to steam
And in your belly you hold the treasures few have ever seen
Most of them dream, most of them dream
— Jimmy Buffett