I have had several unforgettable sailing trips related to the law. The first was a cruise from Hawaii to San Francisco in 1991. The second was my first broach in Puget Sound in 1995. The third was an inter-island race in the Northern Marianas in 1996. The last was a race in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor in 2006.
In April 1991, I was a student at Tulane’s maritime law program, which touts itself as the world’s pre-eminent maritime law program. The program offered 15 courses taught by 1 of the 2 full-time professors and dozen or so adjuncts from the distinguished New Orleans maritime bar.
One of my cohorts, Linda, was a licensed bareboat charter captain. The Coast Guard license allowed her to skipper small passenger vessels of less than 100 tons. Her training for the license included reading charts, understanding the navigation rules, weather forecasting, radio communications and a minimum number of hours as a skipper or crew. She had soloed from San Francisco to Japan the summer before. Linda asked me if I would like to help her transport a boat back from Hawaii to the mainland. As a licensed captain, she had been asked by a Transpac (Transpacific Yacht Race) competitor to sail his boat back for him. Since I did not have a job, I agreed to go.
It was not uncommon for racers to hire a separate crew to bring their boats back after such a race. The Transpac is one of the world’s premier off-shore races. The race starts in L.A. and finishes off in Diamond Head, Honolulu. The 2,500-mile race typically takes 10 days to complete; however, some of the downhill racing sleds made the trip in as little as 5 days. The race entered into pop culture in Jaws when Richard Dreyfus’s character explained that he had sailed in 2 Transpacs to establish his waterman credentials. Crews typically worked out for a few days on the boat before the trip, did the race, then partied for a few days in Hawaii before returning home. The whole process could take 2 weeks or more, so a separate transport crew was handy for the less glamorous two-week upwind trip back to the mainland.
Our boat, Strider, was not a record-breaker. The 55-foot Nelson Marek was a competent offshore boat, but a mere quarter horse in the world of thoroughbred transpacific race machines. Fortunately, I think our employer was more of a partier than a racer, so he was happy just to have finished.
I left L.A. on July 11, 1991, the day of the most total solar eclipse the world has experienced in 800 years. Linda put us up in a motel while we gathered supplies, made repairs, and outfitted the boat for the trip home. During this time, I had my first chance to climb the mast in a bosun’s chair.
Once we were ready, we set sail for Kauai and arrived the following morning in beautiful Hanalai Bay. We did this to avoid the treacherous currents and winds around Maui. It also gave a couple of the crew a chance to get over their seasickness and get used to the boat. Our crew consisted of 6 people, including Linda: 1 who had never been sailing before, 1 with a Transpac under his belt, 2 with significant San Francisco Bay race experience, and myself — a Great Lakes sailor.
I can’t remember how we broke up the watches, but I always enjoyed watching the sun rise, especially when our able crew brewed up some fresh coffee at the shift change. I also enjoyed steering at night. Once I got accustomed to reading the compass and establishing a heading, there was nothing greater than actually picking out a star and steering for it. The feeling is like the nothingness of meditation, where you are at one with the world and the universe.
During the day, we would hunt for Japanese glass balls, the floats used by Asian fishermen to hold up their nets. We only had to shorten sail once in the gentle summer trade winds, when a small squall passed by. When a navigation light went out on the mast, I got to climb the mast in the pitching seas and replace the bulb. Our route brought us quite far north and I was happy I had extra clothes. Then we tacked and headed down to San Francisco, getting becalmed and having to start the engine a day or two before the end of the trip. Finally, after 16 days, we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Since that time, I have never had another opportunity to make such a crossing. It was only by associating with the law that I had the chance to make that truly unforgettable trip.
Stay tuned to NWSidebar for parts 2, 3, and 4 of Timothy MB Farrell Legal Voyages!