Stepping off the boat, I felt free; we had worked 48 days without a day off. Often the hero in times like this, my old school mate Dave picked me up after flying in from Houston for a weekend in South Beach, Miami. Despite my own no-fly rule, it appeared I had no problem with others flying to see me.
Dave was patient with my diarrhoea of unsorted thoughts, excreted over craft ales and cuban sandwiches. An old friend was exactly what I needed, and proof that who you’re with always trumps where you are (Miami Beach is shit)!
I started off weak. I was missing Ell. Should I just fly to Brisbane? Experiencing so many new things in such a short time had made it seem so long. But as I decompressed it became clear that this story does not end with flying to Australia. And the Pacific would surely be the best bit – all those isolated islands and seldom seen communities. Of course I should continue, by land and sea to Australia.
Pacific Puddle Jump
I got back on the laptop and found a Yahoo Group with 1,600 members called Pacific Puddle Jump (PPJ). PPJ is a network of cruisers on “smaller” sail boats making the trip from the West coast of the Americas across the South Pacific, on what is sometimes known as the “coconut milk run” or “puddle jump” which includes Galapagos, Marquesas, French Polynesia and sometimes further West. For many reasons it helps for these guys to keep in touch to share tips, latest visa info, discuss the ethics of giving gifts to indigenous communities, organise radio nets and just to party on the way. Yahoo Groups, most of you will be too young or cool to know about, is an email distribution group from Victorian times. But it is perfect for the job because every post just drops into your inbox, and these cruisers don’t want to waste their limited bandwidth on pretty pixels on other social networks.
I sent a little note to the distribution list stating my intentions and hoped for the best.
Panama by March
Awaiting a response, all research suggested I head towards Panama, where most trans-Pacific crossings will at least touch. The cyclone-free season in the South Pacific runs from April to November, meaning that many crossings leave in March to give themselves a comfortable margin for delay.
But Miami boats don’t go anywhere
After Dave flew back to Houston, I went to the nearest marina to look for boats heading Panama way. “No-one here goes anywhere on their boats” I was told. Really? That couldn’t be true. But looking at the hundreds of boats in front of me, maybe 1 in 1,000 were going further than the Caribbean, and what are the chances I even find that boat, let alone persuade them to take me?
Like in many an American movie, I decided to use the Greyhound bus network, giving me control of the timeline. And with my guitar on my back, I noticed some of music’s greatest American cities were kinda on my way… I planned my route via Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, towards Dave’s house in Houston.
On the 25 hour bus ride to Nashville, someone responded from the PPJ group suggesting I look in the “crew wanted” site for Latitude 38, some kind of e-magazine for West coast cruisers. How could I have missed this?
It was a gold mine. I started by emailing a guy called Geoff, who was heading to Australia. 2 bus changes later, I checked my email and there it was. Geoff wanted a call to discuss it. After my first beer at a honkytonk in downtown Nashville, I stole some wifi outside a bar to call Geoff.
A husband and father, he had bought a 46 foot Bavaria sailing boat in Greece and was sailing it back home to Sydney, via the Panama Canal, and wanted me and my guitar to join him. And he sounded normal. While it was my first and only option, it was the perfect option and I decided to stop looking. He wanted to see the sights of the Pacific but similarly didn’t want to hang around too much – he had a family to get back to.
And so the onward passage was found. 15 weeks is the estimate, from Panama to Sydney. I’m sure the world’s biggest ocean will have some surprises in store. Galapagos, Marquesas, Tahiti and Fiji, with a few extremely long passages of 30 days or more without land. I am nervous about it, almost scared of being in such close quarters for such a long time. But fear and excitement are closer than love and hate.
Of course, it could still not happen. Something might happen to Geoff’s boat or there may be other things beyond our control. But I can’t help getting excited about crossing this vast expanse, and seeing these lesser visited islands and hopefully making some connections with people with a hugely different outlook. It really is a long trip, a map does not do it justice… I say this as if I have sailed it already, but I’m just saying – look at Google Earth… You actually can’t see the whole route from space. We start the trip through the Panama Canal on the 6th March.