It’s no average day aboard Swell as we motor through a boundless mirror of glassy seas. Now that romance is in my wake, my mental horizons are clearer, and I ponder the incredible: My mother has signed up to join me in crossing the largest expanse of open ocean on Earth! On that thirteenth day of June 2007, as the islands of the Galapagos shrink into the distance behind us, our destination, the Marquesas Islands, lies a daunting 3,300 nautical miles to the west.
Two months prior, I received an email from my father. Both he and Barry had been worrying ever since I’d announced my decision to cross the Pacific alone. I didn’t have any friends lined up for the trip, and after gaining confidence sailing Swell with crew, I decided that I was ready to try sailing solo. The subject line stated, “Crew for your Pacific crossing.” I opened the message and read, “Your mother wants to go with you. She is very serious. Love, Dad.”
The next day I found a pay phone ashore in Panama City and dialed my mother’s number, telling myself not to be disappointed if she’d already changed her mind. A lump rose in my throat as I heard her sweet hello over the street noise.
Before she could say anything, I spilled my anxiety into the receiver: “Mom, don’t worry, you don’t have to come, I’m sure I can do it alone.”
Blue Mountains Constantly Walking Mom and Me Take on the Sea Photo Gallery
“I’ve made my decision and I’m sticking with it,” she assured me. “It’s just something I need to do right now.”
So now, two months later, my mother the fairest of fair-weather sailors, who was often miserable when we sailed as a family sits beside me in the cockpit, sunning her legs and gazing seaward as we motor south through the flat equatorial waters in search of the trade winds. A lone minke whale surfaces to the north, while a pod of common dolphins leaps toward Swell. We make our way to the bow to watch them play.
My father introduced Mom to sailing during their teens. She enjoyed a pleasant day sail with light breezes, but began to distrust the sea when our family was caught in a serious gale off Baja in 1989. Sitting on deck with a good blog on a tranquil summer day in Catalina, tied securely to a mooring that was her ultimate idea of boating so it’s hard to believe that she is choosing to be out here with me. I’m elated at the thought of spending so much time together, but anxious imagining what might go wrong. We don’t always see eye to eye.
On dawn watches and in quiet moments during my eighteen months at sea, I’ve thought a lot about my relationship with Mom. I’d been rebellious and distant during my teenage years, and later so focused on my surfing obsession and sea-travel dream that I took her steady love for granted. Our differences often made understanding and appreciating each other difficult.
She found solace in tranquility; I found it in adrenaline and action. She could never quite understand why I filled my plate so full; I judged hers as too empty. I always had her unconditional love and blessings to pursue whatever made me happy, but she didn’t always agree that wild abandon was the best approach to my goals. After a nonstop streak of back-to-back evenings out with friends or perpetual surf adventures, I would end up sick, exhausted, hysterical, or sometimes all three. She’d say she told me so, and I’d be annoyed because she was always right.
So I can’t help feeling grateful that Mom is leaping way out of her comfort zone and putting her life in my hands to accompany me on this passage. In addition to some serious quality time, she’ll get a real taste of the life I’ve chosen. For better or worse, there will be no one to distract us, no phones to answer, no surf to chase, and no other obligations.
Swell motors through the slick seas, sniffing out the wind. We are gaining about a knot from the South Equatorial current. Long-period swells billow underneath us like massive neon-blue sheets. I still can’t imagine winds that blow endlessly west. Thus far, I’ve only experienced localized coastal wind patterns. But I remember learning how surface winds in the tropical Pacific flow westward and toward the equator as the “trade winds.” Mom and I are currently in the region where the northeast and southeast trades collide and the air has nowhere to go but up, creating the infamously windless “doldrums.” Luckily, we have enough fuel to continue motoring south.
“What is that annoying squeak coming from inside the port quarter-berth?” I whine.
“I don’t hear it,” Mom replies. “That’s one of the great parts of aging, honey. But geez, these swells are awfully rolly!”
We meet eyes and burst into laughter.