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Saturday, August 22, 2020

Sailing Around the World without Navigational Instruments

Ken and Pierre piloting their piroa by feel in British Columbia, Canada, fall 2019.
I do not know how to use the technology and have no intention of learning.
Marvin Creamer, circumnavigated the world without any navigational instruments, died at 104, August 2020

When we set sail from Galapagos to the French Marquesas—over 3,000 miles—the single longest stretch of unbroken, open ocean—our first 24 hours we went backward six nautical miles. Six days in, we'd progressed an excruciatingly minuscule 259 nautical miles toward our destination. At that rate, it would take us 70 days—over two months—to reach landfall.

Panicked, I tapped my satellite hotspot to query another cruiser along the same passage with better weather data for navigational advice, asking how far South versus how far West they recommended we go to escape the doldrums. In desperation, I even contacted my best friend—a non-sailor—to ask her husband if he could use his exceptional technical problem-solving-skills to work for us. 

Eventually, the doldrums lifted. The counter-current that wasn't supposed to be there, dissipated. 

Meanwhile, we found out another cruiser who left Panama when we did, a mere two weeks prior, sank their sailboat only twelve nautical miles from us.

Still sailing thirty-one long days without landfall after leaving Galapagos, with torn sails in dying winds and an engine that wouldn't start, we gazed forlornly at the mirage-like peaks of Hiva Oa in the setting sun. We were so close we could smell the welcome earthiness of land, yet not close enough.

Over our VHF radio, we begged some cruisers anchored in Hiva Oa to tow us in those last five miles so we could at last set anchor, and for the first time in over a month, sleep together as husband and wife. They did. We did.

Hiva Oa French Polynesia anchorage our longest ocean navigation
Hiva Oa French Polynesia anchorage. It took us over a month of open ocean
and a five-mile tow to arrive there.

Unlike Marvin Creamer, we always knew where we were. Neither of us sailed off while our spouse waited patiently for the word of our progress. 

I know we did not possess the knowledge, skill, or the faith to carry on as Marvin Creamer did, without our navigational and communication aids—and we sailed only halfway around the world. Rather than foolhardy, I consider Marvin Creamer heroic. 

The ability to rely on personal knowledge and observation is a rapidly disappearing skill. I confess, these days I habitually rely on GoogleMaps or Waze driving directions as much as we use our GPS on the water, and with far more frequency than reading a map or exercising my own instincts.

Last fall in watery wilds of British Columbia, our paths crossed thrice with two fellows on a tiny sailboat, fishing lines streaming, using their oars to paddle along as needed. The third time we encountered each other, we'd all stopped for the night on the same island, and got a chance to chat. These two Canadian Millennials, Ken and Pierre, were sailing Vancouver Island for a month in their hand-built, motorless skiff, styled after an ancient piroa, strictly by feel. 

They give me hope, that preparation, instinct, and willingness to trust in themselves, and others are still as viable today as in Marvin Creamer's time.

At the same time, I feel fortunate today's tools allow us to travel to distant lands without their exceptional courage, fortitude, and talent.

Today or tomorrow, regardless of how you travel—go—whether more delving deeply into your immediate surroundings or into the world farther afield.

Location Location

Neighboring sailboat at St. Helens Oregon city docks at dusk this morning.
Currently, we're docked off of St. Helens Oregon's city docks, N 45 51.820 W 122 47.727, enjoying the last of summer before we prepare our beloved trawler, m/v Serendipity for sale. We're actively shopping for a boat in a location that we can return to the West Indies in, while I continue to work on my memoir about our West Indies adventures, Sailing Naked.

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