2021 was a busy and eventful year for the crew on Sophie. We sailed our longest passage, completed our circumnavigation, returned to Seattle, bought a tugboat and a car, drove back and forth across the United States, and settled into liveaboard city life.
Let us walk you through our year of transitions …
12 months ago Sophie was on the dock at Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, Panama after completing a non-stop passage from Florida. We spent most of 2020 on the boat and had Sophie up in New England during the summer and early fall. When we learned that Panama had opened up their borders to cruising boats, we decided we would complete our circumnavigation by sailing first to Panama, then to Hawaii, and then on to Seattle, which is the port where Sophie began her adventure cruise back in 2012. So after leaving Connecticut in October of 2020 we made quick stops in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Florida before making our second nonstop passage through the Bahamas and on to Panama. Some day we will actually visit the Bahamas instead of bypassing the islands.
We arrived in Panama the week before Christmas. On December 23, 2020, my mother Patricia died. It was a difficult time for us on the boat. We celebrated a low-key Christmas and New Year’s at Shelter Bay. Our friends on Dragonfly and Fearless were at the dock with us, but Panama was in lockdown mode and we pretty much stayed on the boat.
We kicked off the New Year by preparing Sophie for the 4,500 mile passage from Panama to Hawaii. We chose this route because we did not want to deal with Covid in multiple Central American countries while also sailing thousands of miles upwind in the “Baja Bash” to San Diego. To get the boat ready for the passage, we installed a new autopilot and a new cockpit refrigerator that we purchased on Amazon for $200 — I am so done with 12 volt marine refrigerators that cost $1000+ and last 3 years. This new fridge has worked quite well over the last year.
We transited the Panama Canal on January 22 and 23. This was Sophie’s 5th canal passage after the Suez, Corinth, Cape Cod, and Chesapeake & Delaware canals. We shared the Panama locks with some big boats, but things seemed under control. When the last set of doors opened and the Pacific Ocean greeted us, we felt a sense of accomplishment and excitement for what was to come.
After our successful canal transit we spent three weeks in Panama’s Las Perlas Islands moored off the same beach where the Shah of Iran spent his last years in exile. This was a self-imposed quarantine for us, because the last thing we wanted was to discover that one of us had Covid when we were 500 miles offshore. The only time we left Sophie during this time was to dinghy over to the beach to collect groceries from the local merchant. On weekends, this anchorage filled up with pleasure boats that came out from Panama City. Otherwise, we were alone.
On February 7 we departed Panama for Hawaii. The first part of the trip was fairly uneventful. We caught a big Wahoo early on and filled our freezer with 10 meals of tasty fish fillets. A fitting on our watermaker membrane housing snapped off — this would have been a catastrophic failure for us, but fortunately we had some spares on board and were able to fashion a repair. The mainsail leach clew ripped off of the sail (in light air) due to prolonged UV exposure to the stitching, and this forced us to sail most of the trip with at least one reef in the main. Since we had two weeks of very light air during the first part of the trip, we believe this tear added two days to our overall passage time.
18 days into the passage, at 11:37 in the morning on February 25th during Leo’s watch, we crossed the imaginary line that marked our 2013 passage from San Diego to the Marquesas, making us official circumnavigators! It was a good day.
As we neared Hawaii, the wind picked up to ~30 knots, and we decided to drop the mainsail and sail downwind under reefed jib. While I was at the mast securing the mainsail cover, a block snapped and bounced off my shin, creating a nice gash that was big enough to see some leg bone. I had recently watched the John Wick trilogy and wanted to stitch the leg up myself, but Jenna insisted she do it. She did an excellent job and my wound has healed nicely.
Finally, on March 9th and after 29 days, 9 hours, and 19 minutes at sea, Sophie made landfall in Hilo on the rainy side of the Big Island. Our 4,500 mile offshore passage was complete. We celebrated another big family accomplishment!
After a few days in Hilo, we sailed around the northern coast of the Big Island and were lucky enough to secure a spot on the pier at the Honokohau Small Boat Harbor on the Kona coast. Our berth was adjacent to the spot where the local sport fishermen came in on a daily basis to unload and weigh their catches. Tiger sharks swam under our stern, looking for scraps. It was a great spot, and we spent seven weeks there.
Covid avoidance still dominated our approach to life onboard, even in sunny Hawaii. Once again, the Sophie crew was stuck in a tropical paradise spending our days doing schoolwork and boat projects. One day we were able to rent one of the few available cars on the island and drove up to the snowline on Mauna Loa. We would occasionally take Sophie out for quick sanitation “cruises” and generate waves for the local paddlers while we exited the small boat harbor. Jenna, Leo, and I all got our Covid jabs in Kona, and we were even able to pull together a decent birthday celebration for Jenna.
After six weeks in Kona, we scooted up to Oahu via an overnight stop in Maui and were able to score one of the few available berths at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor in Waikiki. This was our first urban dock experience since we spent a few weeks in Barcelona in 2017. On the one side of Sophie was the Honolulu skyline, and on the other side was the surf break. It was a fabulous spot.
The Sophie crew spent six weeks in Honolulu, with our days still filled with Sophie school and boat projects. Leo volunteered in a homeless shelter. Hazel was able to get two Covid jabs. We certainly enjoyed local takeout city food.
In May I flew from Hawaii back to Massachusetts to spend time with my father, who has had a very difficult year dealing with his grief and loneliness. I love him very much. Right before my visit, he bought a beautiful custom wooden fishing boat with a lobster boat house on a dory hull. We spent several days together in Maine sea trialing Selchie 3. It was nice to celebrate the spirit of Ohana with the extended family during my visit.
After I returned from Boston, we still had one more 2,200 mile passage to make. On to Seattle! Our departure was delayed by insurance/marine survey problems and a short-circuiting autopilot controller (the part I didn’t replace in Panama), and on June 18th we finally left Hawaii heading north and then east. The first ten days of the passage were uneventful; the last five days involved one of the worst stretches of rough weather of our entire circumnavigation. We had to motorsail upwind in 20-30 knots of wind with steep waves and “green water” on the deck. Sea water leaked in from multiple deck hatches and windows, our wind instruments failed, and one of our dinghy davits snapped in half (at 4:00 AM, of course!) Worst of all, the air and water temperature continued to drop as we slowly sailed away from the tropics and towards the Pacific Northwest. We sailed from inside of the cabin with the heater on.
Sophie finally entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca in a morning fog on July 3rd, and in the middle of the day our friends Jeff and Melody on the crab killer Saltbreaker emerged from the mist and greeted us with some champagne and fresh berries from their garden. We were home!
Sophie spent the night on the dock in our old stomping grounds of Port Townsend. It was weird to sail 2,200 miles across an ocean and then make landfall without having to clear customs. Interstate travel for the win! The next day was July 4th, and we celebrated the holiday by motoring down Puget Sound to our home port of Seattle. We cleared the locks and the drawbridges along the ship canal to reach our final destination for the summer, dock 4 at the Seattle Yacht Club.
Our circumnavigation was complete. We were home.
Our original plan was to spend the summer in Seattle and then continue our adventure cruise in the fall by heading down the west coast and spending the winter on Sophie in Mexico. That plan quickly dissolved. Why? For starters, Covid was still rampant in the US. Leo was entering his senior year of high school and wanted to tour potential colleges on the east coast, and this could be difficult to do from Mexico during a pandemic. Sophie had taken a beating on the passage from Hawaii and needed some TLC, including new standing rigging and navigation electronics. Hazel wanted to take a break from cruising and live in the same place for more than 3 months at a time. So the family decided to stay in Seattle for a year. But where would we live? We still owned a house in the Seattle suburbs that we rented out, but we did not want to move completely onshore, and if we did, maybe we could live in one of Seattle’s houseboats or in a condo near the water? We just did not know what we would do.
Then Owl happened.
Jenna and I were sorting through all of these questions when one day in July we went out for a kayak paddle in Seattle’s Lake Union and saw a tugboat with a little “For Sale by Owner” sign in the window. We called the number, and three weeks later “Owl” was ours. We bought a tugboat.
Owl is a 1942 wooden boat converted to a pleasure craft in the 1960s and has been lovingly preserved by her former owners. She runs like a champ and has tons of charm. Owl came with rights to a liveaboard dock in a cute little marina on Seattle’s East Lake Union waterfront. The dock even includes an inside parking spot in the marina’s condominium building across the street. We had found our new long-term Seattle home. Sophie will continue to be our cruising platform in warmer climates, and Owl will be our cruising home in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest. Even though we have returned home, we are still “cruising” and are not yet ready to move into a house on land.
With the Owl purchase, our family’s plans for the rest of the year quickly fell into place. We decided we would buy a car and drive across the US to visit family and colleges on the east coast. We did not want to risk getting Covid from multiple airplane flights, and having our own car would save us money from car rental fees.
So we went ahead and bought this “Mediterranean Blue” compact and prepared for the big cross-country road trip. We were on such a positive karma roll at this point that we were able to find a permanent berth for Sophie on Lake Union less than a mile from Owl’s little marina. (We didn’t realize it at the time, but buying Owl included entree into Seattle’s community of wooden boat owners, and one of them, upon hearing how we were desperately searching for a dock for Sophie, made a quick phone call and presented us with a solution.)
So in September, we pointed the car east (still a new direction for us) and couch-surfed across America, staying with our niece Caroline in Utah, with Ventus in Colorado, and Dragonfly in Chicago. During this trip we were also lucky enough to connect with Serendipity, Summer Kai, Mimzy, Endless Playtime, and Aphrodite. Cruisers together, forever!
It was a great road trip. In Massachusetts, we cooked a pig with my daughter Sara and her family. We visited with my Dad, visited friends and family in Maine, visited my son Max in New York City, and saw Jenna’s family in Pennsylvania. Leo toured ten colleges and developed a good idea of what he wanted to do in the next phase in his life.
Upon return to Seattle, we settled back into the routine of Sophie school and boat projects. The two boats are exactly .9 mile apart, and it is a pleasant walk between them on a tree-lined street. We have a neighborhood grocery store and a neighborhood pub. For Thanksgiving, we took both boats out across Puget Sound to the Seattle Yacht Club outstation in Port Madison. Owl needs to be in salt water every three months, and we do not want Sophie to get too lonely. We are presently living on Owl but visit Sophie every day.
We are not sure what the future will bring for us, but we do know that our cruising life is not over. Continuing to live and sail on a boat(s) is one way to make sure of that. Overall I we are closing out 2021 in a spirit of peace and thankfulness. We have completed the circumnavigation. Everyone is healthy. We have reconnected with family, Seattle friends and continue to connect with our awesome cruising friends around the world.
We are extraordinarily lucky, and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!