I have crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca 8 times in my life via sailboat thus far. I have done it twice now on my own boat. I am gonna tell you that story, because sailors love a good yarn.
I’ve always been on large boats in a class with seasoned sailors and teachers when crossing the strait. It has always felt big and awe inspiring to me. I have not sailed out of sight of land yet, so this is my big blue so far. 100 miles or so of water. If you head west out of this passage and keep going: you will eventually find another continent. With teachers, lessons and performance goals, including safety drills, I never had fear. I just had determined focus and excitement.
When I bought my boat, Poop Deck, I got her to learn. One thing I have learned over and over, is that perspective is very different when it is your boat and you are in charge. You take all that learning to task and infinitely more. Sailing takes an incredible amount of divergent skill sets and grit. There is a certain kind of thrill and pride to it for sure. There is also terror. I take sailing seriously and it’s a humbling business, especially when the water is 58 degrees.
This story takes place last July, during the same trip after I thought I was going to die. I crossed the strait north in my boat on a flat, calm, sunny morning. The tides were with us and we headed from Port Townsend to Cattle Pass and over to Lopez Islands Fisherman’s Bay. We were going for their amazing Independence Day fireworks show.
My Atomic 4 was humming along and we were about half way across. When I looked back east there was a strange mirage from the conditions that made it look like the land had disappeared and was replaced by a mirrored wall of blue. It was spooky and surreal. When I looked forward and around, the land looked very very far away. There was nowhere to go other than keep going. No one to help but myself and Eric. No place to be but on my boat.
This was when my heart rate spiked and my breathing stopped for a moment. It was as if all of the sudden it dawned on me that help was also very very far away. Every thru hull on my boat suddenly seemed acutely important. (Thru hulls are holes with valves at the bottom of your boat to the sea.) My VHF and hand held radios now flashed through my mind. A flood of safety gear and strategies replayed in an instant. I was responsible for all of that. I was completely responsible for my and Eric’s life and well being. My boat, which I was solely refitting and responsible for was keeping us alive. Fuck! My lifetime freak out mantra played: “this is either the stupidest or best thing I’ve ever done.” I’m a lucky gal and most of the time this coin toss wins to the best.
Eric was below decks doing something and I was standing there all alone, looking at a lot of blue on a suddenly very small boat. (She’s 29feet.) So I did what any long time hippie meditation gal would do: I chanted Sanskrit.
Om, Shanti, shanti, shanti.
Translation: Peace, peace, peace. This is the song I always sing to my mother…the ocean. It’s also what I sing to the creatures in her. It’s a calming and grounding chant for me, repeated for over 15 years of practice.
Still singing, I scanned the vast horizon. Off to my right I saw something I never have: a minke whale. Her curved back broke the surface to breathe three times before she slid deep down into the sound. My heart pounded in fullness and excitement, I kept chanting, now with a huge smile. I took my whale friend as a message that I was okay, this is right where I was suppose to be. Alive, free and adventurous. So I kept the tiller in my hand and kept going.