Cruising World - - Underway - — Corinne Dolci

When sail­ing west from Mex­ico last April, my hus­band and I left all the com­forts of a vis­i­ble coast­line in our wake — no more fish tacos, no more chan­d­leries, no more boat­yards a block away. We were on our own.

The first 16 days of our voy­age across the Pa­cific to the Marquesas brought the myr­iad conditions ocean pas­sage­mak­ing is known for: 48-hour batches of 30-knot winds in 4-me­ter seas, dol­drums and ra­bid squalls as we passed through the in­tertrop­i­cal con­ver­gence zone, the tem­per­a­men­tal re­gion where weather sys­tems from the North­ern and South­ern hemi­spheres col­lide.

We spent our days hunkered down be­low or clear­ing fly­ing fish from the decks, watch­ing as the sun cooked through the salt-crusted bright­work or bul­let-size rain­drops gave He­lios, our Is­land Packet 380, a shower.

At 1122 on May 4, we passed 00° 00’. Cross­ing the equa­tor was our last ma­jor way­point be­fore we made land­fall. It’s also a huge mile­stone in the life of any sailor, a mo­ment to honor the tenac­ity of the crew and the bless­ings of the gods that bring safe cross­ing.

My dad was kind enough to for­ward along some of the lit­er­a­ture ex­plain­ing the tra­di­tions as­so­ci­ated with equa­tor cross­ing to our satel­lite phone — the gist be­ing that as long as there are imag­i­nary lines cir­cling the globe, there will be hu­mans who cel­e­brate sail­ing across them. The Vik­ings cel­e­brated cross­ing the 30th par­al­lel, and the Phoeni­cians cel­e­brated pass­ing through the Strait of Gi­bral­tar.

Rit­u­als vary, but in­volve shell­backs — ex­pe­ri­enced equa­tor­cross­ing sailors — in­flict­ing some gen­tle haz­ing on pol­li­wogs, novice sailors cross­ing the line for the first time. Gen­tle haz­ing usu­ally takes the form of sup­pli­ca­tion to the sea gods and ranking crew, and in­volves a salt­wa­ter shower.

We cob­bled to­gether our own cer­e­mony, un­cork­ing sparkling wine as the GPS, like a slot ma­chine, flashed all ze­ros. We poured some for our­selves and some over­board as a li­ba­tion to Nep­tune. We read a small pas­sage from the Odyssey, end­ing with Odysseus’ prayer to Po­sei­don. We gath­ered coins from the United States, Mex­ico and Hong Kong and gave them up as of­fer­ings to the waves.

Hav­ing no more-ex­pe­ri­enced sailors on board, we took turns launch­ing buck­ets full of seawa­ter at each other, a re­fresh­ing turn con­sid­er­ing the 80-de­gree wa­ter tem­per­a­ture — and a rit­ual we may need to con­tinue as we pass lines of lat­i­tude go­ing for­ward.

Quickly, we be­gan to en­joy the ben­e­fits of be­ing in the South­ern Hemi­sphere: re­ceiv­ing a steady 15- to 20-knot east­erly wind for 48 hours (our most con­sis­tent conditions yet!), leav­ing the squalls and their er­ratic conditions be­hind us and find­ing a friendly cur­rent, giv­ing us an ex­tra knot of speed as we crossed 1 de­gree south lat­i­tude. We grew bold enough to start cal­cu­lat­ing the dis­tance to our ar­rival: Af­ter 2,200 nau­ti­cal miles, only 750 to go.

Pol­li­wogs no more, the crew of He­lios ap­proaches the Marquesas af­ter the long jour­ney from Mex­ico.

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