IN SEARCH OF ‘TRUE’ AD­VEN­TURE

Even in this Age of GPS, “life” is wher­ever you find it and aboard what­ever boat you hap­pen to be on

SAIL - - Features - BY CON­NOR JACK­SON

Con­nor Jack­son re­flects on his de­ci­sion to sail off into the Pa­cific aboard a small cruiser

IIt’s the 23rd night of our 29-day, 3,000-mile pas­sage from Puerto Val­larta, Mex­ico, to Hiva Oa in French Poly­ne­sia. As I set­tle into my watch, I try not to be con­cerned about the sec­ond­hand parts I in­stalled last-minute, parts that are now be­ing stressed to their break­ing point. A frozen sheave in the furl­ing sys­tem is cur­rently at the top of my worry list. Will it con­tinue to al­low line to pass over it when one of the many squalls we’ve been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing this past week pipes up in the next few hours?

It’s mem­o­rable enough to sail across an ocean un­der any cir­cum­stances. It’s quite an­other to be do­ing it aboard a 31ft sail­boat orig­i­nally bought straight out of col­lege to save money on rent. Add in the fact that my crew con­sists of an older brother who’d scarcely sailed a day in his life be­fore we set off and a non-sail­ing friend from work look­ing to take some time off, and I won­der if this is re­ally the ad­ven­ture I wanted.

If had to do it again, I’m not sure I would have cho­sen Sea Casa, a 32-year-old Hunter 31, for this un­der­tak­ing. Some­times, though, you have to go with what you’ve got, and in my case, at 25 years old, I knew find­ing the “per­fect” boat wouldn’t fit ei­ther my time­line or my bud­get. In­stead, I made mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the boat I al­ready pos­sessed and was fa­mil­iar with.

Had I known how much I would fall in love with sail­ing af­ter mov­ing aboard, my pri­or­i­ties when choos­ing a boat may have been dif­fer­ent than what they were: namely the largest in­te­rior cabin I could find in the small­est pos­si­ble LOA (more “bang for your buck” in terms of slip fees). Of course, had I known any­thing at all about boat own­er­ship, I would never have been fool­ish enough to think that liv­ing on a boat was cheaper than rent­ing in the first place. Thank good­ness I didn’t lis­ten to those who warned me of all the other ex­penses I would in­cur. Oth­er­wise, I wouldn’t be out do­ing what I’m do­ing now—sail­ing un­der a daz­zling blan­ket of stars to­ward Hiva Oa.

To get my mind off that frozen sheave, I re­flect on a dis­cus­sion I had at work be­fore leav­ing to cruise Mex­ico al­most six months ear­lier. I was chal­lenged by a co­worker who ar­gued that it is no longer pos­si­ble for the av­er­age per­son to ex­pe­ri­ence a true sense of ad­ven­ture in this age of GPS, satel­lite mes­sag­ing and fast flights to ev­ery point of the globe. As I sit here, though, over 2,000 miles off­shore, I won­der what he re­ally meant by a “true” ad­ven­ture.

Now I see the squall clos­ing in. Where I was us­ing the South­ern Cross as my way­point, there’s now just the black of the clouds ob­scur­ing the view. I have al­ready reefed the main­sail out of fear of a sneak at­tack (it only took once to learn that les­son), and I pre­pare to furl the jib as well, watch­ing the line pass over that finicky frozen block.

De­spite the con­stant flow of triv­ial things break­ing ev­ery day, I find that I’m much less stressed now than I was in the months lead­ing up to the cross­ing. Sail­ing out of Puerto Val­larta with 20

knots of wind on the beam felt like I was be­ing pushed by a huge sigh of re­lief. The con­stant prep work was fi­nally over. Now we were out here ac­tu­ally do­ing it. In my mind, the cross­ing we’re on is bi­nary. Ei­ther we make it or we don’t. There’s some­thing oddly com­fort­ing about how sim­ple it all is. I don’t need to worry about any kind of if’s or maybe’s. The des­ti­na­tion is clear, and so far, we seem to be mak­ing it.

The squall hits, as it has done the past six nights. I wish I could tell what the wind speed is, but my hand­held anenome­ter is be­low. I don’t need elec­tron­ics, though, to tell me that it’s whip­ping the rain side­ways and sting­ing my face when it hits, and I’m im­mensely thank­ful for the third reef I de­cided to add to our main­sail be­fore de­part­ing. One thing I do re­gret is not wear­ing glasses, as it’s im­pos­si­ble to look di­rectly into the wind to see the sails.

To be per­fectly frank, I don’t think 31ft Hun­ters were de­signed to carry pro­vi­sions for three peo­ple for three months (as pro­vi­sions won’t be avail­able again un­til Tahiti), and her steadily ris­ing wa­ter­line can at­test to the fact that she is slightly off-bal­ance. Even be­fore stock­ing the en­tire cabin with food, I had to fiber­glass over the old cock­pit drains dur­ing my last haulout to raise them higher on the tran­som. Af­ter two days of adding new through-hulls to ac­com­mo­date the sec­ond­hand wa­ter­maker I was also in­stalling at that time, it felt good to be re­mov­ing holes in­stead of adding new ones.

De­spite the ad­di­tion of this wa­ter­maker, pru­dence told me to carry enough wa­ter to make it to the “point of no re­turn,” which I des­ig­nated as roughly half­way—al­though the ad­di­tional 40 gal­lons worth of jerry cans strapped to the stan­chions on deck do lit­tle to help the mo­tion un­der­way. With the third reef in the main and just a scrap of fore­sail, the wind doesn’t heel us over too badly, but the swell still makes me ner­vous. For the last two days, ever since cross­ing the equa­tor, we’ve been go­ing beam-to in 9ft seas that some­times knock us over enough to drown the leecloths in the cock­pit. Al­though the fact that they’re do­ing so is more un­com­fort­able than dan­ger­ous, I can’t help think­ing we’re still hav­ing quite the ad­ven­ture, de­spite our re­liance on satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion and up-to-date weather in­tel!

I’ve now been in this squall for 30 min­utes, and I al­most have to chuckle. While I was still in Mex­ico, a buddy boat of ours with far more ex­pe­ri­ence told my brother and me that we needed to stop be­ing so ner­vous. You can only be scared for so long be­fore you re­al­ize that noth­ing’s go­ing to hap­pen, they said, af­ter which there’s no point in be­ing scared—ad­vice I didn’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate un­til a few days ago. The thought of the frozen sheave pops back into my thoughts, but I push the worry away know­ing that I can deal with it af­ter day­light comes again and that at the mo­ment there’s noth­ing I can do but wait it out.

A few min­utes later, the wind qui­ets and the South­ern Cross reap­pears. All is well, at least for the rest of my watch. I re­trieve my Kin­dle from the cabin and make sure the leaky hatch above the sa­loon didn’t let too much wa­ter onto the ta­ble be­low. It just be­gan leak­ing a few days ago, and I try not to let it bother me. It’s such a small thing com­pared to that other, more se­ri­ous, bi­nary out­come. If noth­ing else, this cross­ing has taught me the im­por­tance of per­spec­tive. Re­cently bro­ken toi­let seat hinges or the ap­pear­ance of new scratches and dents no longer seem like such a big deal. They’re easy fixes and not worth stress­ing over.

My strat­egy for prep­ping the boat was to fo­cus my ef­forts on en­sur­ing a safe pas­sage. The cost of many lux­u­ries was in­stead ap­plied to­ward more prac­ti­cal projects. The ad­jec­tive that best de­scribes my as­pi­ra­tions for this cross­ing is “un­event­ful.” The boat needs to float, the mast needs to re­main up­right, the rud­der needs to steer and the keel needs to stay at­tached.

It sounds easy, but with a small bud­get, I’ve spent al­most three years teach­ing my­self how to do th­ese projects my­self in­stead of pay­ing to have some­one else do them for me. I’ve been ex­traor­di­nar­ily for­tu­nate in how well the boat has held up in the five months I cruised Mex­ico. But at the same time, I’ve also still had plenty of ma­jor is­sues to deal with since leav­ing Los An­ge­les.

En route from Man­zanillo to Zi­hu­atanejo, for ex­am­ple, I dis­cov­ered the com­pres­sion post un­der the deck-stepped mast was rot­ting away. It hap­pened af­ter I’d tight­ened the cap shrouds prior to leav­ing and then looked up while sit­ting on the head a cou­ple of nights later only to dis­cover a small crack in the main bulk­head’s di­rectly un­der the mast. My fear of push­ing the mast through the deck proved to be even more of a pos­si­bil­ity than I ini­tially thought when I re-ex­am­ined the rig­ging and found it had all gone slack again.

That mo­ment led to my try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate the fab­ri­ca­tion of a new alu­minum com­pres­sion post in Zi­hu­atanejo, where there was no crane avail­able to re­move the rig. Orig­i­nally, the plan was to spend a week build­ing scaf­fold­ing to sup­port the mast while they re­moved the rot­ten wood post be­lowdecks, us­ing a car jack to hoist the rig. But while I ap­pre­ci­ated the in­ge­nu­ity of re­mov­ing a com­pres­sion post with the mast still stand-

Sea Casa sails un­der spin­naker, en route to the Marquesas

ing, I couldn’t stom­ach the cost of an ad­di­tional week’s la­bor. I there­fore mo­tored non­stop for 80 hours back to Puerto Val­larta, where I could prop­erly step the rig and fab­ri­cate a struc­ture to re­place the com­pres­sion post. Truth be told, I thought I had solved the prob­lem of keep­ing the mast up­right when I re­placed the stand­ing rig­ging in Los An­ge­les. But this trip seems to be full of un­ex­pected chal­lenges. Al­though at the end of the day, it’s solv­ing th­ese is­sues that also gives me the great­est sense of ful­fill­ment.

That said, if I was on a larger boat, I’m not sure I’d have the same opin­ion. The great thing about a 31ft sail­boat, though, is that I only have 31ft of prob­lems to fix. I love the sim­plic­ity of it. My en­tire ex­is­tence—all of my be­long­ings, my fi­nan­cial fu­ture, my dream—they’re all con­tained within my float­ing plas­tic home in the mid­dle of the Pa­cific.

The not-so-great thing about a 31ft sail­boat is that I have only 31ft of LOA to share with my two crew. My brother, Chase, was liv­ing in Brook­lyn prior to this trip and had a life­style as far from cruis­ing as you can get. His to­tal sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore leav­ing for Mex­ico was one overnight shake­down cruise, mo­tor­sail­ing no less, to Catalina. He jokes that the only pos­si­ble place he could have moved with less square footage than his apart­ment in Brook­lyn was my V-berth.

My other crew, Stu­art Bent­ley, was only a few Catalina booze-cruise trips ahead of him in terms of sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I hope it was not their ig­no­rance of the jour­ney we were about to un­der­take that con­vinced them to hop aboard. They were sold on the idea of co­ral atolls and palm trees, not a life-threat­en­ing pas­sage.

Again, my goal for this trip is to have no story to tell be­cause ev­ery­thing went ac­cord­ing to plan. Still, we are three peo­ple aboard a 31ft boat built for coastal cruis­ing. At the height of my para­noia prep­ping for the trip, I called the boat’s de­signer and told him about my plans. Through the phone, I could hear his ca­sual shrug as he told me the boat should do just fine. I asked him if he knew of any other boats of my model and year that had done any­thing sim­i­lar. He hadn’t, but as­sured me again that we should have no is­sues. I won­der if he’d have had the same non­cha­lance had I asked him to be sign on as crew.

Still, here we are, 23 days into the voy­age, and we’re do­ing it. We might not have the same lux­u­ries as the 50ft cata­ma­ran that sped across our bow the day be­fore, but as they say, the view is the same no mat­ter what boat you’re on. In this case, I just get to en­joy that view a lit­tle longer than that cata­ma­ran. Each of our trips brings unique chal­lenges and per­spec­tives that de­fine our ad­ven­ture.

I’m re­minded of my al­co­hol stove. Find­ing de­na­tured al­co­hol was no prob­lem liv­ing in Los An­ge­les, but it was near im­pos­si­ble to find in Mex­ico. I have there­fore re­sorted to burn­ing 70 per­cent iso­propyl, which af­ter a few months use has be­gun to clog the stove can­is­ters. It takes my brother 40 min­utes to boil wa­ter for cof­fee. For me, this doesn’t seem to be a huge deal com­pared to the com­pres­sion post is­sue back in Mex­ico. For him, though, life with­out cof­fee seems to be worse than los­ing our rig and hav­ing to mo­tor to Poly­ne­sia. I think we’re all gain­ing some new per­spec­tives on the world here.

So have we found true ad­ven­ture? Is ad­ven­ture pos­si­ble in an age where un­charted is­lands have been re­placed by high-res satel­lite im­agery? I think in both cases the an­swer is, yes. I don’t need to be di­masted or to aban­don the ad­van­tages of modern tech­nol­ogy to live life to its true po­ten­tial, to gain a new, even unique take on this thing called life. Whether or not I cross an ocean on the per­fect boat or a boat that just hap­pened to be­come per­fect as a re­sult of cir­cum­stances, the re­sult is the same. What’s im­por­tant is the mem­o­ries we make and the lessons we learn as we put our­selves out there and fol­low the dream. s

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