14. Aloha Passage – Mexico to Hawaii

March 25th – April 24th, 2020

Once cruising French Polynesia and the South Pacific was no longer viable for us this season, we went back to the drawing board. After much deliberating Hawaii was chosen as the next stop on the Turn Point Sailing adventure. We plotted 2,800-miles due West from La Cruz, Mexico to Hilo, Hawaii. This would be our first open ocean passage and would take us half way across the Pacific Ocean. With the food packed on board, tanks filled with water and fuel, Mexico checkout paperwork complete, the only thing left was a good weather window out of Mexico. Getting out of Mexico and the outflow of the Sea of Cortez is the most challenging part of route planning for this voyage. The weather patterns in the area seem to be feast or famine, meaning you either have very little wind or lots of it. It’s about 750 miles from La Cruz to where the trade winds typically fill in, so light wind wasn’t going to work. We don’t have the fuel capacity or the flexibility on a passage of this length to bob around for days in light wind right at the start. The most logical option is to wait for a Norther, strong winds coming from the North out of the Sea of Cortez, to provide the wind we needed to beat your way out of Mexico.

The next weather window we could see was leaving Banderas Bay on Friday March 27th. In an effort to not upset Poseidon by leaving on a Friday, we decided to leave La Cruz on Thursday and anchor out at Punta de Mita for the night which is on the north west corner of Banderas Bay. In Punta de Mita we connected with SV Lorien who had also received their Mexico clearance papers and were Hawaii bound. Lorien being a 51’ 25-ton aluminum boat has much different sailing and performance characteristics than Atica who is 37’ long and about 9 tons. That meant that we would likely not “see” them passed the first day of the passage but it’s comforting to have another boat within a few hundred miles to talk to and compare weather forecasts. 

The first four days were really pretty miserable. Not going to lie, we both questioned if we should quit this whole sailing thing and just go back to normal jobs and land lubber life. The seas were steep and awkward and the wind was forward of the beam. We were leaned hard over and bashing up waves only to drop off the other side. Atica felt like a bucking bronco that was running from Mexico with the spur of Coronavirus in her side. On day two we both got seasick, this is pretty rare for us, in fact it was the first time on this whole trip for Austin. Even listening to a podcast was too distracting so we took turns napping in the sea bunk or looking out at the waves all day and night. This gave us A LOT of time to think: Were we doing the right thing? What did the future of the Turn Point Sailing adventure look like? What was it going to be like when we finally got to Hawaii? What did our future look like? What did the future of the world look like?… It’s not that often that you give yourself days at a time to just think and with the extra layer of COVID19 we started to think about the things that are really important to us. We both missed family and wished we could be with them in these hard times. It weighed heavy that we have chosen self-isolation and have been preparing for it for years while so many people are having their lives turned upside down with little to no time to prepare. We have no doubt that we are doing the right thing for us and know that people all over the world have what it takes to get through this difficult time.

By day five we were used to the motion of the boat and even though we were still sailing upwind normal activities could be conducted on the boat including; cooking, reading, listening to podcasts and even a little stretching in the cockpit. The trip seamed attainable again and we remembered how much we love sailing and why we are doing this. It was surprisingly cold and the sky was dark and grey. We pulled out our sweatshirts and wool socks for the first time since leaving the US. On Day 7 we finally started to catch the trades and the wind direction shifted to aft of the beam. We let the sails out and happily flew along at over 6 knots in 10-12 knots of wind. On day 11 we picked up a hitchhiking bird named Herbert, a Brown Booby that was not afraid of people. These birds are BIG and his needle-sharp beak was pretty intimidating. He was very happy to catch a free ride and was not going anywhere despite Austin dousing him with water and touching him with the scrub brush when he went to clean up his poop. Austin chucked a few moldy limes at him and when they bounced off him, he just looked at us like ‘what was that for’ unfazed and unimpressed. We decided we would give him one free night before we brought out the Bug-A-Salt gun and luckily, he flew off the next morning and never returned. Multiple times in the beginning of the passage big schools of dolphins of various sizes came up to the boat. Big ones swam at the bow and we could hear them breathe and squeak. Another day medium size dolphins were playing a game where they would leap straight out of the water, hover in air and then belly flop back down. It was impressive how high they could get out of the water but the movement was not very graceful for dolphin standards.

One of the questions we get most often from non-sailors is if we stop moving, anchor or slow down at night in the ocean and if someone is always awake. The answer is that we are always moving and we take turns being on watch all through the night. Our average boat speed is about the speed a human can jog but since we are moving 24/7 the miles add up quickly. We have found that we are most successful doing a 3 hour on 3 hours off watch schedule from 19:00 to 07:00 each night.  When the weather is particularly rough or if we are not feeling good, we will drop it back to 2 or 2.5 hour shifts but we have found that 3 hours gives us enough time to sleep and feel refreshed enough for the next watch. We get into a rhythm and the watch usually goes something like this: The person off watch sets an alarm for 2 hours and 45 min on the phone in the pocket by our sea bunk. Our sea bunk is the port side mid ship bunk with a lee cloth that basically gives you a two-foot taco to sleep in. We sleep wedged in the U formed by the seat back, mattress and a body pillow. To block out the wind and boat noise we usually sleep with one earplug in and sometimes an eye mask during the day. The dialogue for shift change basically plays out like a script the same way every few hours no matter who’s watch it is. When the alarm goes off the person off watch yells up to the cockpit, “How’s it going up there?” The groggy reply “Barely keeping my eyes open, the wind is x…”. “Okay I’m getting up now.” The previously off watch person dawns there watch clothes and life jacket and picks out the snacks they want in the cockpit for their watch. In the companionway the switch occurs. After a hug and a kiss, “Have a good watch”, “Have a good sleep”. In the first few minutes of coming on watch it’s important to scan the horizon for lights, look at the wind speed and direction and get acquainted with the boats motion. We like to listen to podcasts or music on the phones speaker to keep us awake during the night. If the wind changes drastically and a reef is required in the sails the off-watch person is called up to help. Changes to sail trim can be done by one person but anything that requires leaving the cockpit is best to be done when both of us are awake. Even when you are off watch your ears and body are very attuned to the motion and sounds of the boat and any change in the sails or wind speed will usually wake the off-watch sleeper. During the day we have a much less structured watch schedule. We take turns cooking, cleaning and resting. Since we only get a few short chunks of sleep at night, daytime naps are crucial. Even Elise has learned the art of ‘the nap’!

Day 12 was a particularly special day as we hit 1,400 miles and half way to Hilo! We learned from Don, over the sat phone, that the most remote point in all of the oceans is 1,666 miles from land in all directions. Point Nemo is in the center of the South Pacific somewhere between Chile and New Zealand. A boat can only be roughly 300 miles further from land than we were at our half way point! The wind was the lightest of the whole trip and we made only 98 miles in 24 hours. We coasted along under our rainbow symmetrical spinnaker all day.  We ate celebratory cinnamon pecan sticky buns, listened to Reggae and had a spa day in the sun. We felt clean and full of energy and ready to take on the second half of the passage to Hawaii. For dinner we had Drifters Fish smoked salmon pasta and shared a bottle of wine. After we finished, we jettisoned the wine bottle overboard with a message inside. Fingers crossed somebody finds it!

“Are we there yet…?” The next day energy levels were low. The excitement of half way day wore off and the realization that we still had at least 10 more days at sea weighed heavy. Thankfully the wind slowly began to pick up and we made more miles each day. The boats new motion was a dramatic side to side roll as we now headed more DDW (dead downwind) with the headsail held out by the spinnaker pole. On watch you had to keep a hand or foot on something so you would not fall off the seat as we rolled down the waves. On day 16 we saw two logs in the water, which is kind of scary in the middle of the ocean because it could do a lot of damage if we hit one. It turns out we did, it wasn’t a hard hit and we didn’t even notice at the time but, once we got to Hawaii Austin saw a new scratch on the blue paint of Atica’s bow that wasn’t there before we left and must have come from the barnacle covered log that floated right by the boat. As we passed one of the logs a Mahi Mahi came out from under the log and hit the fishing lure. We were going so fast that the lure ripped out of its mouth and was launched through the air, crashing into the boom. The plastic lure cracked and we found sparkly bits of green plastic all the way on the bow, crazy forces were applied to that lure. Luckily nobody was hooked.  

Crew moral took another hit when on day 17 we heard a thudding sound from the water maker compartment. This crucial machine had sheered one of the critical bolts and could no longer be run. With only half our water capacity in the tanks we had to immediately start rationing water. The roughly 40 gallons of water would last us about 10 days under normal conditions, now washing dishes in only salt water (no fresh water rinse) and watching our water consumption was vital. To distract us from the disappointment of the watermakers demise we played a game of Phase 10 in the cockpit. In between hands Austin looked up and said “I see a schooner on the horizon”. Elise couldn’t see anything and thought he was going crazy. Sure enough, through the binoculars we could both see a two masted sailboat way off on the horizon. Austin hailed the boat on the radio and immediately heard back “Atica, I hear you, this is Golden Eagle”. We had a long conversation on channel 16 in the middle of the ocean where we found out the boat was a 42-foot ketch rigged trimaran and the owner was solo sailing to Hawaii. He said we were the first sailboat he had seen in the 33 days since he left Ecuador. He was planning to sail with his Ecuadorian wife to the South Pacific but had to change plans like so many of us this year. She stayed in Ecuador with her sick mother and he was sailing solo back to his home of Hawaii. He left before coronavirus was as widespread and so when we told him about the quarantine we faced when we arrived in Hawaii and the extent of the pandemic, he was pretty shocked. We will for sure be looking for his boat while we are in Hawaii so we can meet him in person. By day 18 we had consistent wind 15 -20 knots and Atica flew down the waves even hitting above 10 knots of boat speed. We took a reef in both the main and headsail as the swell grew bigger and more chaotic. We were wing on wing with the headsail poled out. Austin put out a third handline in a concerted effort to catch one of the pelagic fish who had so far been elusive.

Food is not only sustenance but entertainment on a long passage. At lunch you start brainstorming what to make for dinner, utilizing the dwindling fresh stores and copious pantry of dry and shelf stable foods. An effort must be made to use the most vulnerable fresh produce first and utilize canned goods to stretch the meals further. It didn’t start out that way though. For the first four days the only food we ate and could keep down was vanilla vegan protein shakes, crackers, Gatorade and when we were really feeling ambitious Top Ramen. As soon as the sea sickness subsided and we started to feel more comfortable on the passage the cravings for real food kicked in. The first real meal was French Toast with homemade sourdough nut and spice bread. Throughout the crossing we baked 6 loafs of sourdough bread, homemade sticky buns, biscuits, World Peace Cookies and chocolate chip zucchini bread.  We got creative with canned good casseroles including two batches of our go-to, canned chicken enchiladas and a new comfort food hit, a mix between chicken pot pie and shepherd’s pie. We made pesto pasta with canned artichokes and even a big batch of Indian Red Lentil Dahl with fresh ginger. Feeling really ambitious Elise made cookies and pie crust for a real chicken pot pie towards the end of the passage. After the “cookies and pie” day Austin had to rein in Elise’s baking habit, citing copious amounts of dish washing and extreme heat in the cabin. He literally said “You have to promise no more baking until we get to Hawaii!” We ate scrambled eggs and bacon or potato hash for breakfast and many days we just had toast. Some days tuna melts and Tang hit the spot. Austin learned a new skill and made corn tortillas from scratch. We ate them with a surprisingly good Mexican spiced pork that came in a shelf stable pouch. On days we were feeling less ambitious there were plenty of pasta dishes, “Churched up” Ramen and Indian pouch meals that only require heating up the pouch in a pot of boiling water and making a pot of rice. There were plenty of granola bars, cookies, trail mix, chips and crackers to keep us awake on the long night watches. Somehow we both managed to lose weight while eating all of that! Our fresh stores on our last day at sea were: ½ an onion, ¼ of a red cabbage, ½ a jicama, 2 heads of garlic, 4 sticks of butter and 53 eggs. Can you tell Austin was nervous about running out of eggs!  Over all we felt we had a really good amount of fresh food on the passage, hardly anything went to waste and we got to eat something fresh at least once a day.

One of the great things about the sailing community is that it really is a community and we all look out for each other. Salpare who was our dock neighbor in La Cruz, left about 10 days before us for French Polynesia and they were just a few days out when the news about the restrictions and closures in the South Pacific were announced. They had to make the hard decision to change course, at first they decided to return to San Diego, but after several days sailing upwind in rough conditions they decided to head west to Hawaii. They arrived in Hilo a week before our intended landfall and were sending us daily updates about Hilo. In the beginning the reports were all positive, we had to do quarantine but the officials were understanding that boats coming off the ocean were basically the safest people since they have been isolated for 20+ days. We were excited to see them again in Hilo and were confident that we could get the resources we needed even under restrictions. That all changed on day 20 of our passage. We got a message from Salpare that something had changed overnight. Radio Bay in Hilo where we were headed was no longer going to let any new boats in and getting water was going to be a challenge since quarantine was all of the sudden enforced with guards on the dock. Locals were looking for someone to blame for the virus and any non-resident traveling to Hawaii is public enemy number one. On top of this, a ban on inter-island travel by boat was put in place so we could be stuck on anchor in Hilo, (one of the rainiest places in the country) for an unknown amount of time. There are only two international ports of entry in Hawaii, Hilo on the big island and Honolulu on Oahu, so we started to look at our other option. Lorien our buddy boat since leaving Punta de Mita was already planning for Oahu and had a slip booked in Ko Olina Marina. After a combination of talking to other boats and Elise’s dad over the SAT phone we learned that Ko Olina was really our only option and luckily, they had a spot for us. So, with less than 24 hours to landfall in Hilo we altered course for Oahu adding another 2 days at sea. It was very stressful trying to send documents over the SAT phone and we needed to call our insurance company to get US coverage again before we could get into the marina. The stress of the unknown combined with a lack of sleep made the last few days very exhausting.

At sunrise on our last full day at sea we could see the dark green outline of Maui. After 22 days without sight of land it was pretty surreal. We started to see more garbage and stuff floating in the water, a sure sign we were getting closer to civilization. In the morning we got two bites on our fishing lines and were very disappointed when both fish got away. We jibed the boat and as we did, we got another bight on the handlines. Austin pulled in the line while Elise threw all the cushions and stuff from the cockpit down below. Then the other two handlines went off. We had three Mahi Mahi on at once! One broke the lure and the other got off but Austin was able to pull the first one onboard. It was the biggest Mahi we have caught and the lure was the broken one that had hit the boom more than a week before. This beautiful fish made up for dragging the lures almost all the way across the Pacific without any fish. Overnight we sailed between Moloka’i and Oahu and turned the engine on for the last few hours passing by Honolulu to Ko Olina. Just after sunrise we entered the channel and were greeted by a huge sea turtle. On the left side of the channel was the marina and behind it multiple fancy hotels that make up the Disney Ko Olina Resort and on the right was a big oil refinery. In some ways it felt like we were home again with Atica a short distance from an oil refinery. We tied up to the fuel dock and called US Customs and Boarder Patrol to get checked into the country. It felt so strange to be wearing a face mask as we talked to the officers and they outlined the rules of our quarantine. We are not allowed to leave the boat for 14 days and must have everything delivered to us. The punishment for breaking quarantine is a $5,000 fine and or 1 year in jail and we are subject to random phone calls or visits to check that we are in compliance. After getting our clearance we waited on the fuel dock for a few hours for the marina office to open so we could get our slip assignments.  Malu, one of the marina employees, was very helpful and gave us a slip near Lorien so we could talk during quarantine and helped us find a laundry service that could wash our huge 48lb sail bag full of laundry since we are not allowed to do it ourselves. On our first night on the dock, not quite land yet, we ordered pizza, poured a glass of our fancy Mexican tequila and started watching Tiger King on Netflix. It felt crazy to be lying next to each other in our “big” v-berth bed not moving.

We are now settling into our quarantine dock life. Everyone on the dock that is out of quarantine has been so helpful and has offered to pick up groceries and essentials for us. We are busy deep cleaning the boat and removing the layers of salt off everything. There is a list of boat projects to do so no excuses to be bored but even though we are getting a bit stir crazy. We do yoga on the dock next to the boat each day and it has really helped to keep us moving. Looking forward to a long walk after our 14 days is up and to be able to go to the grocery store on our own. Especially since we accidentally ordered a single lime that cost $4.99 with our online groceries! We’re not in Mexico anymore! Even with the change in food prices we are thrilled to just be here. We have also learned how lucky we are that we got a spot in this marina. It’s a little strange because there are lots of open spots but we were told the marina doesn’t usually except many boats. Maybe it has something to do with their parent company and the marina not really needing to make money, who knows. The marina is clean, safe and out of the city. We have a beautiful view of green hillsides and once we can leave the dock, the marina has a private lagoon with a white sand swimming beach. Best of all its actually cheaper than the public marina in Honolulu that multiple people have called ‘sketchy’. To say we are happy and thankful to be here is an understatement.

The future is still uncertain since no plans can or should be written in stone in times like these. We are taking the time to celebrate accomplishing the big goal of crossing an ocean and feeling proud that we sailed over 3,000 miles nonstop! All of our hard work has paid off, Atica is a strong, safe and fast ocean voyager now! The boat is now safe in Hawaii and we are back in our home country. It’s amazing how our perspective has shifted, we didn’t think that much about it until we were outside of the US during a global pandemic. We are going to settle in here and try to slowly explore Oahu, once the quarantine and stay at home orders are relaxed. Austin plans to head up to Alaska to fish with our good friend Michael for the summer and Elise is going to stay with the boat in Hawaii and look for things to keep her busy once the new normal settles in. It’s looking like Hawaii will be our home base for the next year or so, so use up those travel vouchers and come visit us in paradise! 

4 thoughts on “14. Aloha Passage – Mexico to Hawaii”

  1. Great update you two! Congratulations on a monumental crossing . Have fun in Hawaii! And wash your hands!

    Peter and Cay del Valle
    GI neighbors

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  2. I would love to catch up and talk to you on the phone or FaceTime when you’re able to!
    So glad you made it to Hawaii safely.

    -Jen

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  3. Because of fate, luck, and skill in handling options, you’ve landed in what is known as the finest spot in the HI. Glass over half full. I’m so impressed and greatly admire what you two have accomplished thus far… ultimate ‘life changer’!
    Watching your daily advances reminded me of what a never offshore sailed friend said once I returned from a Vic-Maui race, “ I’ve never been so exited to watch a slow motion turtle race for 17 days “!
    Thanks for keeping all us in your loop along the way…..
    Kudos !
    Dan Crookes

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  4. Congrats on the crossing and thanks for sharing some of the experience! Enjoy your time in Hawaii and good luck up in the bay this summer.

    Best,
    Nate Smitha

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