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Voyages of Sarah Jean II
Passage Penrhyn to Hawaii - Day 17 - ARRIVAL!

Beth, David, Cinda, Fred and Norm on the dock at Waikiki Yacht Club. What a great reunion with Fred and Cinda, our very good cruising friends!







Passage Penrhyn to Hawaii - Day 16 - Father's Day Part 3

Today's message is a final one from Norm.

We are in the Hawaiian Islands! Last night, shortly after dark, the shadow of the Big Island of Hawaii slowly came into view. The sky was clear, ablaze with stars, the Milky Way bold and vivid splashed across the sky from horizon to horizon. Our first sighting of Hawaii was the faint orange glow of the active volcano, erupting high in the sky. As we drew nearer, looking through the binoculars, we could see a fiery river of molten lava oozing down the mountainside towards the sea. When we continued along the coast our view changed. We could then see the lava spreading out along the shore where we knew it was meeting the ocean in a violent clash of the elements, spewing forth smoke and steam in protest as it changed state to solid rock. Along the shoreline lava embers glowed like remnants of a primordial apocalypse. It was like watching the earth being born. But from a safe distance!

Nearing the island we experienced the Cape Effect; the sudden increase and direction change of the wind as it is forced to flow around a headland. The wind speed jumped to 35 knots and veered from our beam to our starboard quarter. We raced before it with a triple reefed main and tiny scrap of headsail. Then, just as quickly, the wind died as we entered the lee of the island. We fired up the engine. The flat seas and soothing drone of the Yanmar diesel were a welcome relief from the violent pitching and rolling of recent days and made for good night's sleep for all. This morning, as I had my morning coffee, a large pod of dolphins visited Sarah Jean, leaping and cavorting, racing alongside us with joyous energy and enthusiasm. They said to us, "Aloha! Welcome tired sailors! Your arduous journey is nearly over."


I was not a bad teenager. Nor was I a good one. There were a few bad moments to be sure. I had a high school friend named Gord. His parents were immigrants from Hungary. One day we were rummaging in the garage of his home and stumbled upon a bottle of homemade vodka. It was dusty and obviously long forgotten. We were delighted by our discovery. We dubbed it Hungarian Hooch and liberated it for later consumption with friends. A few days later there was a gathering of said friends in the basement of my family home. We ceremoniously opened the Hooch and passed it under our noses, collectively agreeing that it had the octane level of rocket fuel and caution would be required.

One member of our group, John, was prone to excess. He was not cautious. John poured himself a large glass of Hooch and threw it back. Not much happened so he did it again. The rest of us watched, somewhat in awe. Then John got up and went for a walk, never to be seen again. Concerned by his long absence I mounted a search. It was cool and rainy outside. I found him face down in the ditch in front of our house, obviously lying just where he had passed out. He was covered with mud and grass clippings and other forms of ditch slime. He was quite incoherent and unable to walk. His face was grey and he resembled a zombie that had just crawled from the grave. The Hooch had done its work.

Dad was upstairs in the house. I called him for help. We wrapped up John in a blanket, loaded him in the back of the family car and took him to his house which was nearby. Dad drove while I kept an eye on John. We walked him, so to speak, to his front door. Dad held him up from one side. I was on the other side. We rang the doorbell. John's mother opened the door, looked at us, looked at John and fainted, falling backwards to the floor, dropping like a sack of hammers. Great - now we had two comatose people to deal with! Dad and I revived John's mom and then stayed for a while to help her clean up John and put him to bed. It took a while and was not pretty.

On the way back home, as we sat together in the front seat of the car, there were no parental tirades, no threats of disciplinary action. There was no judgment. Dad stayed cool; stayed calm. We talked about what had happened. We talked respectfully, adult to adult, about the choices made, the consequences and their impact on others. For me there was no pushing back. No disputing the facts; no arguing against the logic of what Dad said. It is hard to argue with things that make sense when they are gently laid out on the table before you.

And so the evening was soon over and Dad and I moved on to other things. There was no looking back. I had become older and wiser in a number of ways. I had learned something about the perils of encouraging over indulgence. But I had also learned that in the face of a difficult situation that calmness and open and respectful communication are paramount to a successful resolution. Yelling and the slamming of doors accomplish little. It was not Dad's way. It is not my way. Such lessons from Dad, and there were many, with a foundation of careful consideration and logic, helped me to make my way in life, sometimes stumbling but always with my mind open to new ideas, always keen to learn new lessons. Dad, thank you so much for always keeping your cool and for being such a good parent and teacher.

As I write these musings I am sitting at the navigation station of Sarah Jean. I am wearing a padded wheelchair seat belt so I don't fall on the floor when the boat rolls. I got the idea from Dad. He has a padded seat belt on his wheelchair so he doesn't fall out. Like father like son. It's ust another thing I learned from him. At 90 years of age he is still a good teacher! And now, each time I sit down and buckle up, I think of Dad and my mind wanders back to a lifetime happy moments together.

Dad, I love you and will be home to see you soon.

Your son, Norm.

Passage Penrhyn to Hawaii - Day 15 - Father's Day Part 2

Today's message comes from Norm.

We continue to roll and pitch and bounce and twist our way towards Hawaii, land of the hula dance. We will be well practiced swaying our hips when we arrive. The wind continues to blow at a steady 25 kts. The beam seas are large and relentless, whacking us about. We grow weary as does Sarah Jean and all of her systems. Respite will come soon, around midnight tonight, when we sail into the lee of the island of Hawaii - the Big Island. The wind and waves should subside, nirvana will be at hand. We will pass within 10 miles of land and are hopeful that we will be able to see the glow of molten lava from what is considered one of the most active volcanic islands in the world. That would be a very cool welcome to Hawaii, the Aloha State!


Have you ever stood inside the heart of a nuclear reactor? I doubt it; few have. But I have, and more than once. I have touched reactor cores, climbed about uranium refueling robots, gazed upon giant turbines and sat in control rooms. To view such technology close up, to see its complexity and utter enormity, to know it will harness the awesome power of nuclear fission, and then understanding it was conceived and built by people like my dad, standing there beside me pointing things out, is to be mightily impressed; to be awestruck, in fact. You see, Dad was a nuclear engineer, part of a team of Canadian scientists who were tasked with creating a nuclear energy program for power and medical needs in Canada. He was involved in control system design and safety. Dad's job was to make sure nothing went boom.

He worked during the golden years of nuclear engineering when such pursuits were admired, when nuclear power plants were seen as the logical energy choice for the future of mankind. But times have changed. Homer Simpson is now in the control room. The public and politicians seem to prefer coal fired power plants that belch thousands of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere every day. Go figure. It is like abandoning LED technology in favor of oil lamps. Dad, for the record, I'm so impressed by your accomplishments. You are too humble to be proud, but you should be very proud of your many contributions to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, not just in Canada but worldwide. Some day, when all the coal is gone and the sky has been blighted into a yellow haze, your technology will be embraced once again. You and your colleagues will have the last laugh.

In the early 1950's Dad traveled to Japan to help the country with the development of their nuclear energy program. Japan, of course, is the first and only country to have felt the cruel destructive force of nuclear weapons; the bombs that had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki only a few years before. There must have been some interesting discussions regarding system control and safety. But that's why Dad was there. As with all the countries he visited while sharing his expertise, he embraced the culture and people of Japan. He brought their art home with him. Exquisite Japanese wood block prints adorned our walls for years. In our household, visitors of another race, language or religion were viewed as special; as fascinating guests. They were respected. Their differences viewed as opportunities for knowledge and enlightenment. In my life I have never once heard Dad utter a derogatory word about another. I'd like to think his welcoming and open minded philosophy rubbed off on me, at least a little. I try my best. Dad, thank you for that gift. I have tried to pass it along to our children, I think with success. They are wonderful young people.

Dad was a nerd, but an authentic one. Scientific American magazines lay everywhere about the house. He always wore a shirt and tie to work, his breast pocket adorned with a white plastic liner filled with pens and colored pencils; the quintessential nerd pack. In the early days he calculated things with a slide rule, the TI calculator of engineering days of yore. He had a big long slide rule but also carried a small one in his pocket, perhaps the equivalent of today's Ipad Mini. As the son of a nerd, of a science geek, I did not play hockey or rugby or lacrosse. I did other stuff. Interesting stuff. And it was good.

Dad was a builder of things, both of wood and of vacuum tubes and capacitors. He designed and built a an epic high fidelity stereo system with sound output beyond the range of the human ear. The cabinetry work was stunning but the audio performance was yet more impressive. He used to test it by playing sound effect records. His favorite was of a steam train coming into the station. He liked to play it loud. Very loud. The giant sub-woofer shook the house. Bill's hi-fi packed serious power. You felt as if you were in Grand Central Station. Then, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when a nuclear holocaust seemed imminent and most people were stocking up on creamed corn and sand bags, Dad went down to the basement and rummaged through his boxes of electronic parts. In short order he whipped up a do-it-yourself Geiger counter to measure the radiation intensity of nuclear fallout. Just what every household needs when the missiles are launched. Fortunately for all of us it was never needed!

So it came to pass that at a young age and under such an influence I learned to solder wires together properly, to build series and parallel circuits and to make my own electromagnets from old nails and copper wire. My early childhood friends were similarly inclined. Our idea of a good time was learning Morse code, building a telegraph system and stringing wires through the trees from house to house. We were not inclined towards tin cans and string. No, we embraced modern technology. Dad's encouragement and coaching of such creative, science-based play early in life set me up well for a long career in product development and manufacturing, and later, when the time came, helped in my preparations to go to sea. You see, boats are full of electrical things and sometimes they go kaput. In fact they go kaput quite often. Usually though, thanks to Dad, I know what to do.


Passage Penrhyn to Hawaii - Day 14 - Father's Day Part 1


Today's message comes from Norm.

We will arrive in Hawaii on Sunday, which is Father's Day. I just sent my Dad a note to let him know he is well loved and that I would be home soon to see him. His name is Bill. He is 90 years old; an impressive feat. I missed his big birthday party, unfortunately. It's one of the downsides of being away at sea. He lives in a care home in Vancouver where he is a treasure to all the staff. He calls it the Institute and he calls himself an Inmate. This name is not really fair. It is said tongue in cheek. Indeed, he is well cared for at the care home. Not just by the staff but also by his devoted wife, Valerie. He was lucky enough to find love again after my mom died. He was 80 at the time. Yes, another impressive feat. She visits him every day. Such devotion. If not for her I'm not sure we would be out here sailing. She makes being away possible.

At 90 years of age certain systems just pack it in. They have given good service but are simply worn out. Dad's hearing is not so good anymore. Ditto for his vision but things like the cat climbing in and out of his bedroom window still catch his attention. He responds more to touch these days, ever happy to sit and hold your hand. He no longer speaks much. But he listens well. He was always a good listener. Now, when you tell him a story, at the appropriate moment, the funny moment, he smiles knowingly. He always had a great sense of humor. With those responsive smiles, just like a gentle squeeze of his hand, communication is easily established. It is clear to me, despite the loss of some senses and silent demeanor, his mind, his quite excellent mind, is still ticking along quite nicely.

Dad came from Winnipeg. His father died young of complications from being gassed during WWI. His mother was a tiny woman with a great musical talent. In fact she played the piano at silent movie theaters. I guess that's where Dad got his talent. He could play the piano by ear. Not just Christmas carols but things like Moonlight Sonata, note by note. We had a big upright piano. One day for reasons unknown he painted it powder blue, even though he never really played the blues. But his boogie woogie was pretty good. Atop the piano sat an aquarium capped with a plywood canopy with a light bulb inside. It too was painted powder blue. He evidently liked a certain amount of orderliness. Or was there just leftover paint? Our jet black cat, Mirrow, would sit on the aquarium canopy, basking in the heat of the light bulb below radiating through the lid. From time to time she would peer down at the fish rubbing their noses along the glass but otherwise was content to just sprawl and listen to Dad play the powder blue piano quite beautifully, as did we all in the household.

Dad was one of the few positive results of WWII. He enlisted at a young age just to get out of the house. He was not keen on his stepfather. So he joined the Canadian Air Force. Aptitude tests directed him to training in electronics. Soon he was in England fixing radios in airplanes that had been shot to pieces by the Luftwaffe. He thrived in this occupation and upon return to Canada he enrolled at the University of Manitoba to study electrical engineering, courtesy of the Canadian government as a returning serviceman. This was one of the most brilliant government investments ever made. There he met the woman who would become my mom, Joan, a nurse at Winnipeg General Hospital. He fell in love and they were soon married. A family followed. My sister, Allison, was the first to arrive. Then I came along three years later. And so my growing up, my early and most precious remembrances of Dad began.


Passage Penrhyn to Hawaii - Day 13

Today's reflective bog post is brought to you from David.

One of the clearest sunrises broke the horizon today. This was one of the rare times there were no clouds to block the view. A sleepy orange ball slowly rose and brought yet another fine day to us. We are motor sailing for the time being to charge the batteries. The seas have tempered their enthusiasm some so we're cruising along with more comfort than at this time yesterday. All signs still point to Sunday landfall, but this time we'll be in sight of land for a lot longer before actually arriving in Honolulu. (So near, yet so farĀ....) I suspect we'll see the big island of Hilo some time Friday afternoon or early evening. For sure, when we rise Saturday morning, we'll see it as we will sailing alongside in its shadow all day long.

Before we left Penrhyn, Beth and Norm were going through some of their books on board deciding which ones to keep and give away in trade. Norm handed me three keepers and when I had them in my hands, I agreed readily that I would enjoy them. All three involved sailors with whom I was familiar; all three told their tale of adventure out on the ocean. I thumbed the pages and gave a cursory examination to each: Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, a sailing classic. Ah, I had wanted to read this one for a while. I picked up the next, A World of My Own, by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, yes, the Brit who became the first to circumnavigate single-handed and non-stop in 1968; lastly, True Spirit, by Jessica Watson, the Australian teenager who became the youngest to circumnavigate non- stop. I had followed her progress with my grade 4 class and knew her story the best. I realized that there was a similarity between them. Each book I cradled in my hands told of a single-handed circumnavigation.

I've since completed Slocum's book and am working my way through Knox-Johnson's. I found myself thinking a lot about Joshua Slocum's effort when reading it. He left Boston in April 1895 at 51 years of age in a 37 foot sloop that he rebuilt himself plank by plank. Completed his voyage in June 1898. This was 115 years ago. He had no engine aboard and no electricity. He raised and lowered the anchor turning his windlass by hand. Light came from oil lamps, heat and cooking by way of a wood stove. He had to collect firewood and water. He had no chart plotter, no GPS, no laptop, no water maker, no fridge, no self-steering mechanism, no weather information, no weather routers, no radio (either to communicate with or listen to for entertainment). He had a sextant, a compass, charts, and a tin clock. Beyond that, he relied on his knowledge and his wit. When coming abreast of another vessel, they communicated with each other by way of signal flags - if they were close enough to read them that is; he had no binoculars either. About the only similarity between him and us is with provisioning; that being the limitations on availability, abundance, and location.

His voyage and ours are worlds apart really and I find the contrast quite fascinating. He embarked on his journey at a time when sailing as a means of freight and passenger transport was nearing its end. Ours is recreational, a lifestyle, an entirely different industry. For me, I sailed a bit as a kid then rediscovered it as an adult. Slocum spent all his life around boats and even ran away from home in Nova Scotia to get on a boat. He would die at sea too. When I think about his endeavour I consider the means by which he travelled part of a craft rarely if ever practiced anymore. It is a lost art.

I should say that I'm not about to use this forum to now declare my intention to embark on a single-handed circumnavigation myself. Nor am I about to dedicate my life to the study of the sextant and memorize sight reduction tables. However, I am a romantic and tend to favour 'old school' so I appreciate greatly the skills used to find one's way on the barren landscape of the sea, devoid of landmarks, and to do so with precision. I respect that and marvel at his accomplishment frequently.

Passage Penrhyn to Hawaii - Day 12

It's Tuesday afternoon just after lunch. Herds of stampeding buffalo are racing across the seascape, their white manes of foam rushing towards the distant horizon. The wind is relentless, whipping up steep and choppy seas that roll Sarah Jean from side to side, sometimes at dizzying angles. Yes, it is a little rough out here! These tumultuous seas will continue until Saturday morning when we move into the lee of the Big Island of Hawaii which is along our route and about 200 miles southeast of Oahu.

Despite the conditions we are making steady progress towards Honolulu. We have elected to sail at a conservative pace of about 6 kts or 150 miles per day. This gives us a landfall on Sunday morning. Sure, we could go faster; probably much faster. After all, we are flying only a triple reefed main and a triple reefed jib and going 6-7 kts. But what's the point? Going fast would just be uncomfortable and greatly increase the risk of damage to the boat and to ourselves. Safety and comfort always trump the speed card on Sarah Jean. Besides, we are tired. Sleep is always illusive and, at best, quite fragmented in such conditions.

To expound upon this situation I have written about waking up this morning. It goes like this:


I awoke. It was dark but it did not feel dark. The sun comes up early here; around 5:00 a.m. As I lay sweating on the settee I could feel the rays of the sun on my skin. My God, I thought, I've gone blind! Such thoughts are not uncommon for someone such as me with a history of eye disease. In a panic I reached up to touch my eyes to make sure they were still there. With much relief I felt the silky texture of the black sleeping mask covering my eyes. Suddenly the darkness made sense.

My mind wandered. I felt like just like Zorro except my mask had no eyeholes. I am wearing the Stevie Wonder version, I thought. This style would clearly be a handicap during swordfights. This was another thought. Speaking of swordfights, wasn't Catherine Zeta- Jones just too hot in The Mask of Zorro? The best part of the movie, of course, was when Zorro rakishly cuts away the straps of her dress during a girl versus boy swordfight. Suddenly the dress falls to her feet! She is outraged but predictably smitten by his outrageous antics. Zorro, disappointingly, exits stage left, jumps on the back of his trusty black stallion and rides off into the night, leaving Zeta-Jones all hot and bothered with her dress around her ankles. Zorro's reputation for mystery, and now for stupidity, grows exponentially at this point. Indeed, it is a moment of pure cinematic genius! But I digress.

I put my Stevie Zorro mask aside. I then remove my spongy earplugs and lay them on the shelf above the settee where they join many others, a collection of little orange turds that festoon all flat surfaces and baskets throughout the boat. At sea one can never have too many earplugs!

I sit up. I am now directly under the fan. Relief from the muggy heat inside the boat is reversely proportional to your proximity to a fan. I sit up taller and let the fan blow through my hair, just like a Breck Shampoo commercial. Yeah, right! My hair is damp and plastered to my head. It does not move under the considerable force of the Hella Turbo Fan on its highest setting. Today must be a shower day.

I am sitting up in the settee now but I'm not really sitting. I'm leaning back at an angle of at least 20 degrees, matching the heeling angle of the boat. I feel like an astronaut atop a giant Saturn rocket. In fact I feel like John Glen ready for blastoff! Can you imagine what he must have been thinking waiting for the word IGNITION? I look across the saloon to my first handhold target of the day. So near yet so far. Definitely uphill. I'm still tired. I'm not sure if my acrobatic timing is dialed in yet. I summon up my courage. This will be more than one small step for a man; it will be a giant leap from the settee. Hopefully it will propel me into another boisterous but otherwise fine day at sea.

I launch myself and grab for the distant handhold, like a rock climber on a granite precipice. I'm not a rock climber but I know this is what it would be like. I wrap my hand around the stainless steel bar and pull myself upright. I then drop back against THE LEANING WALL with a sigh of relief. I'm up! I made it! A successful first attempt! This bodes well for the day. I stand, legs spread, my back plastered against THE LEANING WALL, the only completely flat surface on the boat where you can rest securely while standing up. Beth and I have been known to exchange standing hugs here, sometimes I press her into the wall and sometimes she does me. These encounters are generally brief as we pass en route to our respective tasks about the boat. But they are sweet and much needed in a setting where physical contact is challenging at best. THE LEANING WALL is a therefore a special place, a sanctuary in our rolling and heaving world. There the golden cherry wood glistens, oiled and well polished by countless encounters with the bare skin of my back. Indeed, there is no need for Murphy's Oils Soap on this bit of woodwork!

And so I am up and about, now swinging from handhold to handhold like George of the Jungle, working my way to the forward head for my morning ablutions. With near surgical precision, as the boat rocks and rolls, I will instill a series of drops into my eyes, a daily feat in which I take great pride, akin to peeing into a coke bottle on a bumpy party bus with no shocks. And not spilling a drop! Remember those days?

But my morning ablutions are another story for another day . . .

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