On The Ocean, Aboard the Mar Quesa

When we pushed off and put water between those of us on the boat and those on the land. I didn’t have any second thoughts, but it was more difficult than anticipated to say goodbye to my boyfriend and as it turned out, my mom. The five of us aboard included my Dad, my sister, two crewmen and myself. Mom stayed behind to take care of finding homes for our animals, ship my sister’s horse, finish the sale of the house and take care of all the many things entailed when moving from a large home on five acres to a boat with about 100 sq. ft. of actual living space. On board we had one little closet, two small hammock nets for keeping things like underwear, socks, books etc. and a cubbyhole for shorts, tops, a sundress or two and a jacket. Both my sister and I chose the longest books we could find so we didn’t have to take many. I chose Atlas Shrugged which as a country girl of 18  I didn’t really understand the underlying message until I was much older but it occupied many of my long hours.
We set up a watch schedule of four hours on and twenty hours off which was close enough for five us to manage with an hour lost or gained here and there. Without my mom I was called upon to cook. Now, you need to know the kind of household I grew up in. It was NOT the Hawaiian way where children are taught how to cook, clean, iron, etc. when they are growing up. I was taught none of this. My mother didn’t work outside the home so she felt it her job to do the cooking, cleaning, ironing and taking care of the family. When I look back I thought this was probably a disservice to us two kids.  I had no skills other than making my bed and keeping my room, if not clean, at least somewhat tidy. So, when I was called upon to do some of the cooking I was a raw novice to say the least. I certainly couldn’t feed grown men PB&J for dinner.  The first few days was not a problem because most of us were seasick and the thought of food wasn’t appealing. Mike, the only crew to get his sealegs immediately ate porkchops, steak, etc. while the rest of us hung over the back of the boat. By the third day my stomach was starting to calm down and I ate cold green beans, right out of the can. My sister ate a can of fruit cocktail and we never looked back. Even with what we in store for.

On that third day, the skies started to darken. We had no means of contact with the outside world so didn’t know what the weather would bring. It’s probably good that we didn’t know! By noon the seas had picked up. When sitting at the helm trying to stay on course you could look back and see waves 8 or 10 feet above you. We all had on our foul weather gear as the rain was pelting. The boat would keel over at such at angle that  everything that wasn’t nailed down was thrown across the cabin and decks. My Dad had reefed the sails, or lowered them, to small triangles, enough to keep the boat moving forward with the waves and not against them. Spray kept us wet and cold. It was nauseating down below so all of us stayed top side and just hung on. We had evidently sailed right into a good size storm and it took all day and all night before it finally abated. When we finally got a chance to check for damage we had issues that just about scuttled the trip. Not knowing the protocols for sailing in a storm, my dad didn’t know that he should have protected the exhaust ports to the engine. Because we failed to do this water had gone up the ports, into the engine and generator leaving us without power. At this point we now were left without refrigeration, without a water pump, without running lights or any kind. So, now we had to make a choice of whether to turn back for repairs or go on without amenities. Everyone knew what my vote would be. I would have swum to Hawaii. However, there was little discussion as everyone was ready to carry on. So, on we went thankful that we had an alcohol stove for cooking and salt water soap for bathing. My dad was by trade a diesel mechanic so he spent a good deal of his time taking the engine apart, cleaning and oiling every little part. Unfortunately, some parts were irreparably damaged, but it was good therapy. Another project, one my dad and I worked on together was to build from a HeathKit, a radio direction finder. My dad was color blind and all the little transistors were color coded so I was his eyes. He was much closer to my athletic sister than I so this gave me a sense of pride to be the one to help him.  It took us off an on several days to finish it.  We were still too far away from any land to pick up stations at this point even to find out if it worked.

We sailed on. Our other crewman, John, had a guitar and we would spend hours singing and listening to music. He was a very sweet young man on his way to seminary college. My 15 year old sister had a crush on him and would find ways  to be near him when he was on watch. She had never paid much attention to boys as she had such a love for her horses. Everything else came in a very far second so it was fun to watch her flirt.

By the second week, taking salt water baths, we had developed a salty grit to our skin and our hair was so stiff with hair oils, salt, etc. that we had contests on who could make the funniest hairstyle. Our hair was gummy! We could make mohawks and all kinds of crazy twists. It kept us all laughing for hours. Occasionally, we would go into doldrums where the boat just sat rocking. This gave us the opportunity to dive overboard and swim. In the open ocean I didn’t realize how clear the water would be. It seemed I could see for a mile. We didn’t have any snorkel equipment so we didn’t see any fish, but we did have a visitor.

One day we were sailing along at a pretty good clip. My sister was on the helm and all of a sudden she started yelling that she had seen a “Russian submarine” (obviously she had seen way too many movies). We all came running to see what the commotion was. It wasn’t a sub, but is was as long as our 40 ft. boat. It turned out to be a pilot whale and it stayed with us for the remainder of the trip. We looked forward to seeing it every time we were on deck. Sometimes it was close enough that we could’ve almost reached out and touched it.

We had been at sea for about 17 or 18 days when we started hearing little snippets on our radio direction finder. It worked! We picked up a station in Hilo on the Island of Hawaii. We honed in on the signal and set our course heading straight for the the island. Amazingly, we were not far off track.

A day or two later we started seeing birds and we knew we were close. However, we were now in the shipping lanes and without any navigational lights we were a little concerned about not being seen. We were in danger of being hit by a huge tanker or container ship. One the 19th morning, we woke to see dark forms in the distance. We had made it! Well, almost. There we were again in doldrums, no engine to get us out of it with the islands looming on the near horizon. It was two of the longest days EVER before the trades picked up and we started to move again.

Our closest brush with danger happened right in the channel when a Matson container ship left Hilo through the channel where we were waiting for light to go into the harbor. We were shaken by the sound of an air horn blasting. We immediately grabbed every flashlight we had and shined them on the sails so that they would hopefully see us.

It came incredibly close and we heard some pretty raw language, but we were left intact and in the morning light sailed into the harbor of Hilo.


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