Three quick impressions from our 1,300 miles at sea as we approach Kiribati after leaving Honolulu about 11 days ago:
First, the sailing. Does this boat smile? It feels like Sea Dragon is giving us a ride intro her playground. She loves 20-25 knot winds and moderate seas. A lot of the smaller boats I’ve sailed would struggle in these conditions but Sea Dragon is just getting started. She is forgiving of newbies. She rolls easily over big swells. And she eats whitecaps like candy. They say sailing is about the journey, not the destination, right? It has to be because it’s quite a journey. But the journey is about enjoying nature and that’s what Sea Dragon does. She wasn’t built to control it. On the contrary, she was built with the utmost respect for it. You have many hours at sea to contemplate the ocean on these rides so indulge me a bit here, but sailing way offshore does feel like you are entering this ancient conversation between wind and waves as both constantly shape each other in big and small ways. Sea Dragon has sails for the wind and a hull for the waves to take us into that unending discussion. Looking back on the trip this morning as I finished my 3-6am shift on deck, I was thinking about why I came and all that I’ve done. Then I saw a sunrise that was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I watched in awe. This trip has exceeded every expectation when it comes to the sailing experience and the unforgettable connection with nature.
Second is the fish. I’ve never heard somebody yell “Shark!” And then jumped INTO the water. You have to smile here every time you remember you are on a very remote and tiny island that Wikipedia says is the center of the Pacific Ocean. Palmyra had 11 inhabitants from The Nature Conservancy and the US Dept. of Fish and Game when we were there, so we roughly doubled the population. The coral reefs are so healthy that scientists from all over the world come here to look for clues to help more endangered reefs. The palm trees and turquoise water look just like you’d expect. But then you meet the exotic fauna. The first impression is the birds: thousands of them, especially the frigates, the tiny, white terns and three kinds of boobys. Second is the land crabs. There are many different kinds everywhere but the coconut crab grows to three-feet across and can supposedly crush a coconut with its claw. Really? Most amazing though are the fish. There are thousands of colorful tropical fish throughout the reef but the stars of the show are the turtles, the sharks and the manta rays. There were so many reef sharks they became unremarkable, then we had a Tiger Shark say hello. “Bloody hell!” was the first exclamation with stories the rest of the week about how close it really got. It was close. But the manta rays stand out the most to me. They fly through the water with gentle wing flaps. They are not aggressive or afraid even when we got very close. At night, they are attracted to light and swim in graceful circles. And once we came across a manta ray party with dozens of rays on the surface splashing around together. None of us will forget these creatures.
Third is the crew. It obviously takes an awful lot of careful thought and hard work to put together a trip like this. Sailing skills and knowing this boat are obvious needs and not to be taken for granted. There are a lot of live-time decisions to keep us moving safely in changing conditions. There are many reasons some might think this is a scary trip, but the integrity of this boat and skill of this crew erased any concern for me. Provisioning also comes to mind. Equipping the boat with the food, bedding, trash bags etc for 10 people to have all we need for two weeks is also not to be taken for granted. Inevitably, something also needs repair, so being handy with plumbing or mechanics or printers comes in handy. There aren’t a lot of other options here. Finally, there is the management of the passengers, not just making sure the trip lives up to expectations but training newbies on sailing and Sea Dragon, having patience with their mistakes, keeping a schedule of watches (3 on, 6 off) for driving, cooking and cleaning around the clock and making things tidy. The crew on Sea Dragon was absolutely exceptional. I wouldn’t say they make it look easy. Sailing is hard work. Actually much harder than I expected. But the attitude on the boat, starting with the crew, and most especially Captain Mary, was warm, encouraging and adventurous. And very much appreciated. This trip was a lifetime experience for me that I could not have enjoyed without them.