“For anyone who has dreamed the big dream.”
I write the following article series for anyone who dares dream of sailing oceans or adventuring across this vast and wonderful globe. While crossing oceans is not uncommon anymore, and the stories told are many, the challenges of doing so amid a global viral pandemic are pretty extreme. Covid cruising is new and uncharted territory. In this article series, I tell my story of purchasing a yacht and sailing it across the North Pacific ocean en route to the Philippines during the global pandemic. In it, I detail the challenges and problems I encountered and how I managed to sail my way across the Pacific.
The rising wind, shuddering and whistling through the rigging, awakens me out of my half-sleep. I know the drill well by now, and not reacting immediately could end my passage here and now, and possibly cost me my life. I quickly glance at the wind speed display next to the chart table. 15 knots of wind turned into 45 knots and rising within seconds. The heavy wind might flatten Aliyah at any moment. The squalls between Hawaii and Guam were manageable. More wet and annoying than excessively windy. These in the Philippine seas are vicious. They drop straight down out of the sky on top of you, giving you little or no time to react, let alone prepare for its coming.
I race up the companionway into the near blackness of the cockpit and grab for the steering wheel. The tiller pilot attached to the Hydrovane cannot hold a course in conditions like these. The boat is broadside to the wind, rounding up hard to port. I muscle the wheel hard over starboard, and Aliyah slowly turns downwind before fighting her way upwind again with each gust.
The wind is now over 50 knots. The boat is heeling too much despite the double-reefed mainsail and shortened jib. I wish I had a third reef point. Too late now. Aliyah lifts, carving a path on top of the growing waves wickedly fast. I am planing. The battle with Poseidon begins. I repeatedly crank the wheel, again and again, hard over starboard to keep the boat headed downwind. I can’t let go of the wheel even for a moment in these thrashing conditions to reduce sail.
Heavy rain is falling in leaden sheets that blur the defining edges of the waves…