Sailing The World's Oceans

Dream ~ Discover ~ Explore

(Atlantic Crossing photo album added to photo gallery)

Wednesday April 27th 2016 11:15 local Martinique Time

After 28 days, 6 hours and 40 minutes Solstice arrived safely in Le Marin, Martinique on April 26th 2016 after sailing from St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.  I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I sailed into the marina in Martinique and tied up to the dock.  I wanted to jump up and down, run around and howl at the universe.  But then it’s odd to have such emotions screaming to let go and nobody there to share them with.  The only one around was a marina worker who helped grab my lines as I pulled alongside the dock.  Even then, I wanted to run up and give him a big bear hug… but I refrained.  Instead after Solstice was securely tied and the marina worker had left, I walked over to the edge of the dock and stared out towards the sea from whence I had come.  I had just finished not only the longest solo passage of my life but also the longest distance passage of my life ever - 3,800 nautical miles.   My heart and whole being radiated a quiet smile out to the universe.  I was so happy to be there.  I pointed up to the sky and to my guardian angels, King Neptune and Mother Ocean.

“Thank you,” I said.

I spent the night before that passage on the foredeck gazing at the stars over St. Helena Island and I talked to the spirit of Josh Slocum. Mr. Slocum was the first person to solo sail around the world.  He was 52 when he started his epic voyage.  The same age I am now.  He was here in St. Helena 118 years ago – almost to the date.  For some reason, I felt his presence near.  So we sort of became friends – in the same way he did with the pilot of the Pinta in his book.  I asked for his guidance and hoped to see the ghost of the Spray out there sailing along with Solstice.

My emotions that night and during the morning of my departure were a strange mixture of the excitement I felt as a boy staring out the window at midnight on Christmas Eve and the foreboding I’d had before having to go under the knife before a serious operation.  I’ve never had such a contrast of emotions concerning the exact same event... well maybe before asking out the homecoming queen in high school but that’s another story.

The weather looked good but the distance was huge. I wondered how I’d handle the fatigue, how the engine would fair after the saltwater intrusion, would the weather hold, would the inconsistent auto-pilot fail, what about the time alone, what about… what about… what about…? What I did know is the only way to answer these questions was to head to sea. So it was time to go. I felt strongly that my group of guardian angels of Jerry, Jeep, Joyce, and the Baron were all watching over me. For those who don’t know they are all dear friends of mine who have passed away. All were going to visit me somewhere during this circumnavigation of the globe. None of them ever got to. Now I feel they are with me during my passages, watching over me and Solstice.

On Tuesday March 29th at 10:20 UTC after I had raised the mainsail I released the line from Solstice that was looped through the eye of the mooring. Solstice caught the light breeze that was blowing off St. Helena Island and slowly slipped away from the mooring. I gently rolled out the jib and we glided past a couple of boats. I love sailing off the mooring. Friends gave bon voyage waves from their boats and we headed for the open ocean. My thoughts ran wild.

Maybe we can sail the entire way and I won’t have to use the engine for propulsion at all – That would be AWESOME!

5 minutes later the wind died. Not a breath rippled the surface of the sea. Solstice rocked back and forth with the gentle swell, floating, the island looming large over our small vessel. We were going nowhere - it was like being at the mooring, only we were just a little further offshore.

“Arrrrr!” I gave my best piratical call, which in this instance stood for This sucks!

I fired up the engine. So much for the epic “all-sail no engine passage”. I needed to charge the batteries and make some water anyway. Not to mention I wanted to get going. About 15 miles out Solstice cleared the lee of the island and a 10-15 knot SW breeze filled in. I put her in neutral, rolled out the jib and Solstice harnessed the breeze. Finally we were sailing. Next stop – Barbados 3,785 miles away.

It took all day for St. Helena to slip over the horizon and finally vanish from view. The next land I’d see would be Barbados. The first 24 hours Solstice sailed a poor 128 miles – not great. I bank on a 150-mile day. That’s a good-normal day for her. I hoped to make this crossing in 25 days. The problem was the winds were dead astern. Solstice doesn’t sail great dead down wind – well let’s say she’s not rigged properly to sail that direction. And perhaps our skipper isn’t a good enough sailor to get the most out of her on that heading. The whisker pole was broken which I used to hold the jib out when sailing downwind and that hampered our ability to sail effectively on course. The good news: I sailed over 150 miles each day. The bad news: Not in the direction I needed to go. The winds were in the upper teens to low 20-knot range, too much to fly the spinnaker. Instead, I was forced to sail off course 30 to 40 degrees and to tack downwind. Of course if I was sailing to Ascension Island, which was my original plan, I would’ve been right on course. I’m sure if I were still planning to sail there the winds would shift differently so I wouldn’t be able to make that course either. Funny how that works.

The wind continued to blow from this frustrating angle the entire time I sailed towards the equator. My patience was tested early and often and each day marked a lot less progress than I had hoped to make. I was frustrated. But deep down my spirits were up, I was on the biggest solo sail of my life. And that, felt great.

My friends Jamie and Behan and their three kids aboard Totem were at Ascension Island, which was 700 miles northwest of St. Helena. They planned to leave there about the same time I’d be sailing near Ascension. They were also headed to Barbados. I was supposed to meet them in Ascension but those plans went awry when I was delayed because my engine filled up with saltwater. So the plan now was for them to leave when I got near and hopefully we’d rendezvous on the high seas. It’s always great to have company along the way.

There were other boats in the general area that were also crossing the Atlantic. Together we made a schedule to contact each other twice a day via the SSB radio. Most boats were going to Brazil or Ascension Island from St. Helena. When I left only one other boat was heading for the Caribbean besides Totem and Solstice and that was a catamaran named R Sea Kat.

As I neared Ascension the wind direction and speed continued to be my nemesis. I constantly adjusted and trimmed sails and did my best to get the most out of the boat. My body was also adjusting to this new “not much sleep at one time” schedule. So everything from the boat to myself was an adjustment.

I hadn’t done this long a solo passage before but I did have past experiences to learn from. I learned a long time ago how not to handle single-handing. You can’t just sleep for 15-20 minutes at a time. That’s what I thought and tried when I did my first solo passage. I learned real quick that that was a recipe for disaster. If you do that at some point your mental and physical body breaks down. You don’t think straight and you become not just sloppy but dangerous. You have to get real sleep. I get asked all the time “how do you sleep?” Here it is in a nutshell. I sleep for as long and as often as I can safely.

I try and keep a normal schedule during the day and stay awake. When the sun goes down I’ll make dinner and go to bed. I set a radar sweep with alarm to run every 15 minutes, I also have an AIS alarm and I’ll drink three big glasses of water before I lay down. Then I set my watch alarm for about 2 hours. But something usually wakes me up well before then. It’s usually an alarm showing an approaching squall, a boat in the area or some change in Solstice’s movement or sailing that gets me out of my sea bunk to check on things. If none of those get me out of bed, I wake up because I have to pee. Once up, I do a check to make sure everything is okay and I drink another huge glass of water before lying back down. Drinking a lot of water was a trick, Richard, a single-hander and dear friend of mine taught me. That simple but effective trick has kept me from falling dead asleep for hours. As the days go by my body slowly adjust and I’m able to get 1 to 3 hours of sleep at a time. Over the course of 24 hours you get your 8 hours of sleep. It’s just broken up. If you don’t get good sleep you simply become a mess. You don’t think straight and are more apt to do something stupid and or dangerous. In the middle of the ocean it’s really quite safe to lay down for a long length of time, especially when you have consistent trade winds blowing and alarms are set to alert you of something ahead. In fact, at night I trust more on my radar than I do on any human eyes. In the dark, radar rocks. Human eyes suck.

The first few days passed and the days started to melt together. Time blurred into a constant now. Change was marked by sunrises and sunsets. During the first week I seemed to be able to get only an hour of sleep at one time. The next week I was able to get an hour and a half; later two hours at a time. Finally towards the end of the passage on good nights I’d get two and half to three hours of sleep at one time. I felt I didn’t get enough sleep the night before I’d try and grab an hour or so during the day. This was a new ingredient I tossed into the mix. After two weeks out there getting just that short hour during the day proved imperative. It really helped in the long run. It took about 5 days before my body found a rhythm that worked for me. But even with all that, as the days rolled by, some days seemed as endless as the onslaught of waves rolling over the sea. The grind took its toll and fatigue crept in.

Like the tides, the rolling of the waves, and the movements of the sun and stars across the sky my attitude had its ebbs and flows. Maybe that is just as natural as the rhythm of nature, I don’t know. But it became important for me to recognize when I started feeling a low point coming. A lot of my attitude problems revolved around needing to be more patient. When I sensed its approach, I focused on giving myself an attitude adjustment. I concentrated on Solstice, took solace in the progress that was being made or I cooked myself something good to eat, put on some music or lost myself in a book. I was conscious of keeping a good frame of mind.

The first book I pulled out to read was Josh Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around The World. I had read it many years ago but wanted to re-read it because of the connection I felt to him while on St. Helena. I also wanted to read it now from a single-handers perspective and also because I had now been to many of the same places he had. In it, he wrote how he had grown to be patient and content even when his boat, Spray made only a 30-mile day.

“CONTENT??? WITH 30 MILES!!! SERIOUSLY??? NO WAY!!! NO FUCKING WAY JOSHUA!” My shouts filled the inside of the cabin. “I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!”

I quickly checked my attitude.

Geez Bill. You’re not even content reading about patience, I now thought to myself.

Perhaps Joshua was content with 30 miles. Suddenly I felt stupid for bitching about only making 110 miles. Of course, Mr. Slocum didn’t have an engine. He also had multiple passages that were 40+ days and one that was 72 days long. So as I neared the equator and Solstice struggled with her downwind course I worked on letting go of my frustration. I was also getting excited to get back to the northern hemisphere.

As I neared Ascension Island my VHF radio came to life.

“Solstice, Solstice, Solstice do you copy Totem?” Behan’s voice broke the silence of the cabin like a welcoming friend.

“Totem, Totem, I’ve got you loud and clear, over,” I said.

“How cool is it that we’re in VHF range, over?” Behan added.

“It’s great, over,” I said.

There’s something comforting about having friends nearby when you’re on the open ocean. Even though I couldn’t see them it was heart warming knowing they were in the nearby area. We caught up with regular chitchat about their time on Ascension and my slow sailing days. They also filled me in on the NBA playoffs. My pal John would e-mail Totem with the latest sports news and they kindly relayed the info to me. Since I left on this adventure, sporting news has been my connection to America and to home. Hearing the latest sporting news was in it’s own way comforting and made me feel not quite so alone and far away out here. John would also update us in a blow-by-blow, play-by-play structure in his writings. Jamie and Behan read it word for word and with the enthusiasm as if they were broadcasting it live. It was fun and somehow through the writing and delivery they brought forth the excitement of the game itself.

From a sailing perspective we discussed weather and different strategies and courses to sail to Barbados. Totem had a sail plan that was different than mine. They wanted to utilize the southern equatorial current to their advantage. It was a good plan but it also differed from everything I had read about sailing to the Caribbean from the South Atlantic. What I did know is that I liked having them near and so I opted to follow their plan. Together we traversed latitude 6° south and sailed west. Solstice did well to stick with them the first 24 hours. But the wind continued to back more astern and it soon became apparent that Solstice couldn’t hold as good a downwind course or speed as Totem. Solstice couldn’t sail any higher than 270° while Totem sailed at 260° or even higher. This meant I was sailing west but also that I was sailing south – not the direction I needed to go. I needed go west and north. On the opposite tack I could keep Solstice around 350°. At least on that heading I was sailing west and north.

Originally I had planned the more traditional route which called for crossing the equator somewhere between 25°-30° west. Once there when I hit the doldrums I’d motor north until I hit the northeast trades on the other side and set a course for Barbados. Totem’s plan gave much more emphasis to ocean currents instead of wind. They planned to sail along latitude 6°-5° south and use the south equatorial current as a boost almost all the way to the Brazil. Once some 50 miles off the coast of Brazil they’d follow the current north, cross the equator and sail to Barbados.

That plan left me uncomfortable for various reasons: 1) It was different than every strategy I had read about 2) it put me near the coast where squalls, obstacles and boat traffic were more frequent 3) the coast of Brazil had a history of piracy 4) I was solo and sleep would be more difficult along the coast than being offshore and 5) the biggest reason of them all: I couldn’t sail west and north without beating the crap out of the jib; I could only hold somewhere between 270° and 275°. The worst part was if I changed course back to my original route I’d be choosing to sail alone and away from my friends. I continued sailing west and hoped the southeasterly wind that was forecast would kick in. It never did. The wind stayed easterly. After 36 hours it became apparent that it was best for Solstice to head northwest on the opposite tack and to stick to the original plan and cross the equator somewhere between 25°-30°.

So Solstice turned north and Totem continued west. With the course change, something changed in my emotions. It became a race to Barbados. Who would get there first? I don’t know if it was the same in the minds of the crew aboard Totem but I think every sailor sort of races against the boats they are sailing with. I’m not a racer. But Jamie used to be a professional racer so I think that had to have entered his mind too. That helped with the feelings of loneliness because it was this choice that was still taking me further away from my friends. But it was the best choice for us. And so once again, Solstice and I were alone upon the sea.

To lift my spirits I made a big pasta meal. Nothing would be better than a big pasta Bolognese with some garlic bread to lift the spirits out here in the middle of the ocean. I figured I’d use my new favorite cooking tool, the pressure cooker. I had heard it was great for pasta so I gave it a try. About an hour later I learned that experimenting with a new cooking technique isn’t best taken on while out at sea. In a nutshell, I made a good sauce in a separate pot but with the pressure cooker I only succeeded in melting linguini to the bottom and sides of the pot. The pasta away from the edges was okay but anything near the sides or bottom was one big melted pasta paste that had hardened over and firmly affixed itself to the pot. The next morning I had a good chore of chiseling hardened pasta strands from the pot. That only took about an hour and a half to clean up. For the rest of the trip I’d stick to lamb chops, chicken, carrots and potatoes for the pressure cooker and go back to the old fashioned way of boiling water for pasta.

Even though in the back of my mind I wanted to beat Totem to Barbados, I did come to a place of patience and peace with sailing Solstice. I let go of what I couldn’t control like the direction and strength of wind and stopped worrying about sticking to the rhumb line, at least most of the time. I had a light 8-10-knot breeze and headed for the equator. I was sailing at only 4 knots and sometimes in the high 3’s but I was okay with it. The sails stayed full and it was peaceful, we were just sailing slow. Besides I needed to conserve fuel and on some other level, the spirit of Mr. Slocum was near and perhaps I was beginning to learn by his patience.

I was enjoying the peace of sailing and had started a new book about Napoleon’s last days on St. Helena Island called Black Rock by Louise Hoole. It’s a fictional account about the ghost of Napoleon coming back but it is based around historical facts about what happened to Napoleon while on St. Helena. It’s a fascinating read and insightful into how Napoleon really died. I was lost in the book when…


That disheartening and unmistakable sound of something hitting and bouncing on the deck sounded just above my head while I was in my bunk. I’d heard this sound before and knew what it was. I ran up top and looked to where I had heard it. There lying along the rail was what I was afraid of, a bolt that had come loose from some place. But it hadn’t just come loose; it had been sheered off halfway up the shank as if it had been worked until it broke.

Oh no!

The thought of a structurally important bolt breaking loose from the rig gave me something new to worry about. I looked at the bolt close and then the rig.

Where could this have come from?

The bolt looked eerily familiar: I knew where it was from. My eyes went to the gooseneck where the boom attaches to the mast. And I saw it, a bolt that I had had previous issues with slowly backing out occasionally had this time decided to not back out but instead sheered itself free.

At least I don’t have to go up the rig, I thought. But how do I fix this?

This happened right before a radio check-in and after the net I talked to Jamie, who is a rigger, about my dilemma. There were still three other bolts holding the gooseneck in place but per Jamie’s suggestions I got a couple of big C-clamps and rigged a way to give extra support to make up for the lost bolt. I hoped the fix was sturdy enough and now I had a new job for when I got to shore.

The next day I was moving about the cockpit when I lightly touched the boom gallows and


A welded joint that holds the boom gallows on the port side broke loose.


Solstice is falling apart, I thought.

The boom gallows is a support structure that runs across the back end of the cockpit and holds the boom up when the boat is not sailing. There is no force on it when sailing. Regardless, it broke loose and was free swinging.

I grabbed some lines and jerry-rigged a way to support the gallows in place. I’d have to get the weld fixed in Martinique - another job for when I get to port. Terrific. There’s nothing more rewarding than finishing up a long passage with a list of boat projects to do. I love doing end-of-long passage boat projects.

Even though the jobs list increased I got excited at the idea of being back in the northern hemisphere as I neared the equator. I pulled out the chart and took a closer look. I was snapped back to reality when I realized I had more than 2,100 miles still to go. I wasn’t even halfway there and I had already been at sea for 13 days.

At this rate I’ll be out here another 3 weeks.

Frustration set in again. But something bigger had begun to take its toll – fatigue. I hadn’t realized how much until 36 hours from the equator. That all revealed itself one night.

I love animals; I always have and always will. But I don’t love each and every animal on the planet. In fact, some, I don’t like at all. Especially those that go out of their way to be a nuisance. And when annoying animals arrive in the face of extreme fatigue it makes for an interesting combination.

The closer I got to the equator the more I noticed a large amount of ocean going birds circling Solstice while hunting for fish. They spent the day happily riding the wind currents and plucking small fish out from the surface of the sea. Some of the more clever birds realized that as Solstice moved through the sea, the bow pushed through the water, which disturbed the flying fish and caused them to take flight to escape the boat’s path. The birds would fly and land in the water about 15 yards in front of the boat and wait for Solstice to sail by. When she did the flying fish took flight and the birds gave chase and claimed an easy lunch. This routine continued much of the day and I enjoyed watching them and their effective strategy. After the sun went down the birds figured it was a good time to rest. And why not take a load off on the boat that is traveling at sea providing them with food that is easy to catch? Not only did they want to sit and rest on Solstice but they wanted to shit out all the fish they had eaten that day all over the solar panels. Needless, to say, I would have none of that. Shitting on the boat is not allowed, especially on the solar panels.

I have a freshwater hose that is plumbed to the aft deck that I use for showers, cleaning boat gear and yes for squirting birds with a blast of water while also washing off all the shit they expel on the solar panels. This particular evening I looked up and found a half a dozen birds sitting on the solar panels that are mounted on the arch over the aft deck. A quick blast from the hose sent them into flight and cleaned the bird shit off at the same time. The birds, annoyed by the interruption circled the boat. I watched them a long time while they hovered about and looked for an opportunity to come back. Each one; in their own time, came in for a landing. When they got close, I hit them with a spray and they’d fly off again. If I dropped my guard for 5 minutes I’d find another half a dozen sitting on the solar panels.


I sprung up from the cockpit and hosed them down again and again they flew off. They circled the boat and I sat down on the aft deck box. I gazed into the black night, searching for their shadows. I was no longer content with sitting in the cockpit. Their dark apparitions circled above and around and around they flew. I could see their dark outline passing in front of the stars. They were dark ghost hovering about and they flew in close for a landing.


A perfect shot and off he flew back into the darkness of a moonless night. I sat there. Sometimes for 30 seconds before the next attempt, sometimes it was 5 or 10 minutes. It started to drive me mad. I found myself sitting in the dark clutching the hose in one hand and a high-beamed flashlight in the other waiting for the next bird to land. When they did I’d shine the light and blast them with water. They hollered at me with a nasty squawk and flew away. Sometimes they’d fly in and sit on the solar panel and I’d shine the light right in their face. And they’d just sit there, staring into the bright light. And then I’d blast them.

“SSSQQQAAAWWWKKK!!!” They screamed and took off.

A few moments later they circled back looking to land. I couldn’t believe how stupid they were.

“What do you do out here when there are no boats to land on?” I shouted.

“You fucking sit in the water! Sit in the water! Get out of here!” I yelled.

Why wouldn’t they just leave?

I asked myself over and over.

They wouldn’t leave. They were compelled to sit on the solar panels and they were relentless in their pursuit of achieving that. After an hour I had had it.

“What the fuck is your guys problem?” I screamed. “Can’t you see you’re not welcomed here? GET OUT OF HERE!” and I hit them with another blast.

I was exhausted. I needed to sleep but I knew if I went below the whole back of the boat would be covered in bird shit.

“What’s the matter with you guys? How do you take a shit and just sit in it anyway? That’s so gross. The word birdbrain was created because you guys are so stupid”, I informed them.

I sat down on the aft deck box in the dark after I had shooed them away once again. At night it’s hard to get a good look atop the solar panels as they sit up high and portions of them are beyond view unless you make an effort to get up high enough to see them. I sat there for a long time in the dark watching the night sky waiting for them to come flying in. I figured they couldn’t see me in the dark. When they came in low I hit them with a surprise attack. Finally there was a lull in their attack. I started to believe they had finally gotten the hint and gone away. I gave it a little longer just to be sure. I sat there for a long time, waiting. There was nothing – Just the sounds of Solstice sailing on the sea. I started to doze off and snapped my head awake. This wasn’t good because I was on the aft deck,falling asleep out here was a bad idea.

Go to bed, Bill. They’re gone, I told myself.

I got up and headed below. As I stepped into the cockpit I took a step up on the cockpit combing and took one last look at the panels from a higher viewpoint. There were eight of them sitting on the outside edge of the panels just out of my sight.

“AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!” I screamed and ran back out there.

“GET OUT OF HERE! GET OUT OF HERE!” I was frantic and grabbed the hose. I stood up high on the aft rail and shined the light right in their faces. They all just sat there and stared at the bright light. Then I let them have it. I unleashed a spray right into the face of the closest bird. To my surprise he sat there and let the spray hit him for several seconds and didn’t move.

“AAAHHHHHH!!! GET OUT OF HERE! GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!!!” I blasted them again and raked the entire solar panel with a blast. One by one they each reluctantly took off.


I then sprayed off all the bird shit away that they were sitting in.



I jumped back down on the deck, put the hose away and turned to go below. That’s when I noticed the others. About a dozen or more birds sat on the port lifeline that ran amidships all the way to the bow. Each one sat there swaying on the lifeline with the rocking of the boat, staring at me. They appeared aghast with the mad man that stood before them.

“Fuck!” I stared at them and wondered who was the real birdbrain here, them or me? I tried to reason with them.

“Look, you guys can stay there on the lifeline okay? You can stay there all fucking night if you want. I don’t care. Just stay off the solar panels. When you shit on the solar panels they don’t work. Just one shit from you guys ruins the performance of the entire panels, so please don’t do it, okay? I need the solar panels to work out here.” I told them.

Perhaps it was the rocking of the boat, perhaps it was my fatigue induced craziness or perhaps they understood me but they all seemed to nod their heads in agreement as they stared at me.

“Okay, good. We have a deal then. You can stay if you stay there and not on the panels. I have to go to bed now. I’m exhausted and you guys are driving me crazy,” and with that I went below.

I crawled into my sea-bunk and collapsed into the comfort of my pillows.

Okay, get a grip, Bill, they’re just birds. And you’re acting like an exhausted idiot. Go to sleep.

It took me a little while but finally I fell asleep. This time I slept hard – a good 2 ½ hours. I got up about 4am to do a check. The birds were still sitting on the lifelines but to my amazement none were on the solar panel. I turned back to the birds.

“Awesome you guys. Thank you,” they all nodded in agreement again.

I can’t explain it. Maybe they understood me. Or maybe I was going nuts. But for the rest of the trip when they landed on the boat they all stayed on the rails and away from the solar panels.

Solstice sailed on the next day and slowly we approached the equator. As we got near two large bleeps popped up on the radar. I got out the binoculars and scanned the horizon. Two large fishing boats were about 5 miles ahead. They moved slowly at about 6 knots. Any boats this far offshore fishing were serious commercial fisherman. I don’t know what kind of fishing boats they were but based on their speed and their movements I assumed they were longliners. Longliners are commercial fishing boats that drag lines behind the boat with hooks all over them. Some can drag tackle that is up 10 or15 miles long, some longer. I don’t know for sure what they were doing but I knew they were moving slow enough that they were fishing or picking up tackle. What I did know is that I wanted to stay well clear of them. The frustrating thing was that they crossed my bow and seemed to be going away from me only to stop and turn around and come back.

I had hoped to cross the equator at happy hour but as the sunset, it became clear I was some hours from the equator and now I was playing chicken with two large vessels. I resigned to the idea that I’d be crossing the equator at sunset. So I adjusted my attitude and instead enjoyed my last sunset in the southern hemisphere. As the sun sank on the horizon about a dozen dolphins showed up and surfed Solstice’s bow wake. What I had hoped to be a sunset crossing instead turned into a last lovely sunset from the southern hemisphere for me and Solstice. It was glorious, spectacular and magical. I absorbed the moment and soaked it all in. A beautiful pod of dolphins was escorting us out of the southern hemisphere. It was a fitting send-off. I had had an amazing time in the southern hemisphere and upon watching that sunset and the dolphins surfing along with us, I realized the last time Solstice was in both the northern and western hemisphere at the same time was 5 years ago when we crossed the equator on the way from Mexico to the Marquesas. The last time she was in the western hemisphere was when she crossed the 180th meridian while sailing from Tonga to New Zealand. Those moments seemed like eons ago on one hand while only yesterday on the other. So much of this trip had gone by in a flash while other parts seemed to have taken forever. What I did know is that it would be a long time before Solstice and I sailed across the equator again.

The sky was filled with brilliant, reds, yellows, golds, greens, blues and blacks. The water shimmered off the backs of the dolphins in an array of these brilliant hues. It was spectacular. As the sun dipped and night spread over the sea the bright lights from the fishing boats popped on. I continued to try and find my way around them. All night we did this dance trying to run away from them only to have them change course and head back in our direction. I thought about turning on the engine but I squashed that thought when I saw that I still had over 2,100 miles to go and I hadn’t even hit the doldrums yet. I couldn’t justify turning on the engine with so much distance still to cover and I was still able to sail away from them, albeit slow.

By midnight I finally broke free from the fishing boat dance and headed straight for the equator. The timing was good. Instead of hitting it at sunset I’d now hit it at sunrise. Yes the fishing boa dance cost me about 10 hours. But that was okay.

Solstice sailed across the equator on April 11th at 07:58 and 58 seconds, 13 days after leaving St. Helena. I marked the occasion with a proper ceremony of thankfulness, humbleness and appreciation to King Neptune and the powers that be. The ceremony was complete with some thoughtful words and of course rhum. I also dropped some of Jeep’s ashes overboard. Afterwards, I asked King Neptune for permission and blessings for safe travels in the northern hemisphere. Neptune of course got the first three shots of rhum. I’m not one to partake in libations early in the day but this morning was an exception as we were crossing the equator, and so the ceremony had to take place – and so I got the next three shots. Once again I was thankful for the crew of Shakespeare for leaving Solstice with a nice rhum from Reunion Island to mark the moment.

After I crossed the equator fewer birds returned at night until finally they stopped coming all together. Strangely, I missed their late night company. Solstice and I sailed on.

“2,000 miles more to go, Bill. Uggh!”

I had lost time in both Cape Town and St. Helena due to boat problems. The time I had planned to stay in the islands was now too short and some islands had to be forgotten all together. This passage was also taking a lot longer than I had hoped. My 150-mile/day plan had gone to shit with too many 130 mile or less days. My hope for a 25-day passage looked bleak. On top of this, my friend Christine from Shakespeare was flying in to meet me in Martinique on May 3rd. She was going to jump aboard and sail with me to Washington D.C. As these days passed it became clear that if I was going to meet her on time I’d have to abandon plans for Barbados and sail directly to Martinique. I knew I’d need at least a week to recover and fix things from this passage and the last thing I wanted to do was recover only to have to sail an overnighter a few days later from Barbados to Martinique. After I crossed the equator I made a sail plan change. New destination, Martinique. It was 120 miles further than Barbados but it was the only thing that made sense.

Somewhere around 1° north I hit the doldrums. The wind shut off completely. It was time to motor. I was a little nervous because in order to fix the saltwater intrusion problem I had in St. Helena I had to use an old oil/tranny cooler that I had as a spare part. The reason this part was replaced was because it was old and needed to be replaced before it failed. It was old but it still worked. I hoped it would hold up now to get me to the Caribbean. I fired up the engine and motored slowly.

As much as I love the peaceful quietude of sailing, the running of the engine doesn’t take long to get used to. The constant drone soon melts into all the surrounding sounds. Even when I lay down to sleep the engine provides a certain sound that allows me to know it’s running well, I’m on course, batteries are charging, and all is well. Solstice and I were happy as we moved ahead searching for the NE trades.

My friends Warren and Maria on Nightfly, who were traveling to the Azores from Ascension Island, crossed the equator about 10 days ahead of me. I was in radio contact with them daily. Warren told me that when they hit the doldrums it took them about 38 hours to get to the trades. He thought that was quick. I hoped it wouldn’t take that long but he was right, it could take a lot longer.

It was about 2:30 in the morning and I had been running the engine for almost 28 hours straight. I had been asleep for about an hour when…


My eyes fluttered open to the sudden change in noise from the engine.


The loud unfamiliar sound emanated from the engine room and my heart leapt to my throat. I sprung out of my bunk and opened the engine room doors. The engine was shaking and vibrating madly like I’d never seen before.


I couldn’t make sense of what was happening especially after coming out of a dead sleep. I went topsides, throttled down and put it in neutral.

The vibration stopped as the engine slowed but my heart did not. It pounded in my chest as I tried to calm myself down.

The vibration stopped as the engine slowed but my heart did not. It pounded in my chest as I tried to calm myself down.

Okay, Bill. What’s going on? Take your time. Check everything. Calm down.

Oil pressure was fine; temperature was fine, no smoke or anything else that was obvious. I slowly throttled up again and ran below. The engine sounded normal and then…


The vibration started again. I looked back at the transmission; it shook from the back of the engine. I went back up top and throttled back and put the engine in neutral. The vibration stopped. My heart still pounded. I was literally about halfway on my crossing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Thoughts of the engine breaking down out here was a sudden nightmare. There wasn’t a breath of air. The sea was calm and glassy.

You hit something, Bill. Something’s around the prop.

My inner voice spoke up and I listened.

I left the engine in neutral, throttled up and ran below. The engine hummed along, there was no vibration. I went up and throttled higher, still no vibration

Something’s on the prop, Bill. Has to be.

Almost immediately after crossing the equator I started seeing large amounts of sargassum sea-grass. Sargassum is pelagic seaweed that grows and floats in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. I had seen many sections about the size of a dinner table over the last 24 hours but fellow cruisers have said that there are some patches out here that are huge. In recent years many Caribbean islands have been plagued with huge amounts of it washing up on their beaches.

Maybe I ran over one of those.

I put the engine again in gear and slowly revved it up.


The vibration started again but not nearly as intense. I went to the aft deck with my dive light and looked over the aft rail. I couldn’t see any strands of grass hanging or anything else coming out from under the boat – but…


The sound was markedly louder coming from the back of the boat. Back at the helm I throttled down, put the engine in neutral and then reverse. The transmission shifted in and out of gear smoothly. I throttled up and went aft and looked off the back of the boat again. It was dark and hard to see but I didn’t notice anything unusual. And there was no vibration in reverse. I went forward and put the boat in neutral and went below. The engine seemed to be running just fine. I went back and looked at the transmission. That’s when I noticed what looked like about a cup size of transmission fluid had been spilled on the oil absorbent pad I had placed under the transmission. I have a very small leak from the transmission. Over months of running I may have to add about an 1/8th of a cup. This looked like considerably more.

Perhaps the vibration has broken a seal. That thought made my heart sink.

I got some rags and looked under the transmission: there was some leakage but nothing crazy. Still my thoughts of a breakdown out here grew more stressful. I cleaned up the fluid and put down a clean absorbent pad. I checked the fluid and it seemed fine but it was hard to tell with the pitch of the boat in the open ocean.

I went back to the helm and put the engine in reverse again. I throttled it hard for a second, then slowly shifted it to neutral and then in gear. I took the engine back up slowly to a low idle. The engine began to rev up.

BHAP! BHAP!......

The sound started briefly and then there was nothing. The vibration stopped. Solstice started to motor along calmly. Soon she was doing 4 knots – then 4.5 – finally she settled in around 5 knots at a very low rpm. I didn’t push the engine any higher. In fact, she was running at a very low rpm to conserve fuel when this all started. I watched everything for a good half-hour and everything seemed fine. I crawled into my bunk and lay there wide-awake. All I could think about was that I had to go under the boat and check the prop in the morning. And the last thing I wanted to do was get off the boat out here in the middle of the ocean 2,000 miles from the nearest coast with nobody else onboard to come and get me in case I got separated from the boat. Nope! Getting off the boat out here, I didn’t like that idea at all. But the reality was there. Unless we started sailing, I’d have to do that in the morning. I lay there awake and stared at the ceiling for a long while. Finally I spoke up to my guardian angels.

“Jerry, you out there? Jeep? Joyce? Baron? Listen, I think we ran over something and I don’t know what. I think it was a big patch of sea grass but I’m not sure. Maybe some plastic or fishing tackle got wrapped around the shaft. I don’t know. But unless we get some wind, I’m going to have to go under the boat and check it out in the morning. I really don’t want to dive under the boat out here you guys. If there is some way you can bring us some wind before sunrise that would be amazing. If you can do that and bring Solstice into the trades then we can sail all the way to Martinique. Then I can check it out in the safety of the marina and not out here in the middle of nowhere. That’s it in then, okay? I’m talking to you too King Neptune. If you guys can all get together bring us into the trades by sunrise I’ll sail. And you’ll save me from having to go overboard out here, in the morning. Can you do that? Please,” I pleaded my case the only way I knew how.

I lay there and stared into the blackness of the main salon. I listened for the subtlest change in the drone of the engine. My heart and my gut were tense with stress. I tried to fall asleep. At some point while running different techniques of how to lash myself to the boat for when I went into the water and what could possibly have caused the sound I had never heard and a shake to the engine I had never seen, I dozed off. A couple of hours later the first bit of morning light entered the cabin through the ports and my eyes fluttered open. The engine sounded the same but something was different. I was no longer laying flat in my bunk. I was leaning slightly into the cushion along the port side. Solstice had a slight heal to port.

“Wind!” I said and I jumped out of bed.

On deck I was greeted by a slight breeze from the east-northeast. I felt it on my face and raised my palm towards the wind and rotated my wrist. I could feel the wind slipping past my fingers. There wasn’t much but there was enough to sail. I put the boat in neutral and pulled out the headsail. Solstice embraced the breeze, leaned a little more to port and began to sail.

“YES!” I yelled and pointed to my angels above. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I hollered and went below.

I did a quick check on the engine.

“Thank you for getting me through the night,” I gave the engine a light pat of approval.

I shut it down. Quietude burst forth into the cabin. The silence was most welcomed. We were ghosting along at about 3.8-4.5 knots. It wasn’t fast but we were sailing. I turned Solstice more north so we’d make the higher latitudes sooner. The last thing I wanted was for the ITCZ to shift to the north and bring me back into the doldrums. I needed to get as far north as I could as fast as I could.

Twelve hours later the wind was stronger at 15-20 knots. The next day Solstice had her groove and we were clicking off the miles and right on course. When I ran the engine now it was just to charge the batteries. Never did I need or want to put it in gear. We sailed along beautifully. Day after day. 170+ mile days became the norm. One day after calcing-out Solstice’s daily miles she averaged 8 knots and we pulled in a 193 mile day.

Twelve hours later the wind was stronger at 15-20 knots. The next day Solstice had her groove and we were clicking off the miles and right on course. When I ran the engine now it was just to charge the batteries. Never did I need or want to put it in gear. We sailed along beautifully. Day after day. 170+ mile days became the norm. One day after calcing-out Solstice’s daily miles she averaged 8 knots and we pulled in a 193 mile day.


My egotistical arrogance came crashing down twice daily with each radio check-in with position reports. If Solstice had a 175 mile day, Totem had a 200 mile day – If we pulled in a 180 mile day Totem had done 207 mile day – If we were sailing 7.5 knots they were doing 9 knots – Even on our 193 mile day – Totem did …. hell I don’t know 215 or 220. Whatever it was it was way more than we had done.


My yelling to the powers that be was real. Those moments happen out here – especially after being alone for more than two weeks. Was I upset about falling behind, not really… well maybe a little. The yelling was a release and a way to make me laugh. Sure I wanted to get there ahead of them. But it didn’t matter what I did, or how I tweaked the sails we weren’t gaining. I was pushing Solstice and she was responding. She just wasn’t going as fast as Totem. They had the equatorial current pushing them. Solstice did not. Totem averaged about a 1 to 1.5 knots/hour faster than we did. Over 24 hours that distance adds up. I finally resigned to the idea of catching them. Unless…. they get becalmed in the doldrums. They were getting closer to the coast where the ITCZ should be wider than where I crossed. Maybe they’ll be becalmed for two days and we’ll then blow by them. There was still hope.

“HA HA HAAAA!!! WE STILL HAVE A CHANCE SOLSTICE. Sail on Baby, sail on!”, I yelled.

That competitive smile crept back across my lips… at least until the next radio check-in.

The next 2000 miles went like that. Lots of raised hopes of sailing fast, getting there and catching Totem only to have hopes dashed when I heard their next position report on the radio. From what it appeared, they never even hit the doldrums.


But all was well and I was moving. The days were counted by sunrises and sunsets and beautiful sailing. The tensions inside were still there in regards to the engine but I wanted to sail as much as possible. I was into the trades now and so I grew content to sail all the way to Martinique if I could. When the breeze was light enough I got the spinnaker flying. At sunset I pulled it down for safety reasons even though I lost a couple of knots of speed or more after I dropped it. I have a rule, as the sun sets, the spinnaker comes down. The last thing I wanted to deal with was getting caught in a squall with the spinnaker up. So when the sun goes down, so does the spinnaker. That’s just the way it is.

A couple of days after catching the trades I was sipping a good coffee when I noticed a huge disturbance in the water off to the starboard side – I then realized that it also stretched far in front of the boat and also behind – and it was all converging down upon us. As the white water closed in the source of the disturbance revealed itself. My kindred spirits had come to welcome us to the Northern Hemisphere. If I thought the send-off was great, this was nothing short of remarkable. A pod of 200 dolphins or more converged on Solstice. Dolphins swam, jumped, zipped, flew and surfed around all sides. I wished I could’ve leapt into the sea and swam with them. But I was content to sit on deck and enjoy this amazing welcome. After about 30 minutes they all seemed to communicate together and say goodbye to Solstice and me and off they swam as quickly as they had arrived – perhaps on their way to greet some other solitary sailor out here upon this empty sea.

Later that day on the radio I got a message from Jake and Jackie who had sent an e-mail to Totem. It was official: Hokule’a had crossed their outgoing route and had completed their circumnavigation. It was interesting getting this information while in the middle of the ocean on my own passage. I wished I could’ve been there with them. The original plan was for us to leave California, sail around the world and come back home together; but as they say, the “best-laid plans of mice and men are known to go awry”. Such was our journey. I had mixed emotions when I heard the news. Mostly I was incredibly proud and happy for them. It was such an amazing accomplishment for Jake and Jackie. Suddenly, I missed them very much. I felt a large chasm of distance between us. I was still so far from that accomplishment for myself and I wondered if I would still make it. I wanted to feel that same elation that Jake and Jackie had just experienced – but I still had so very far to travel. A great feeling of loneliness washed over me. The days continued to linger on and as I do, I found myself analyzing my life.

My emotions continued to rise and fall and fatigue wore on. Here is an excerpt from one of my daily log entries:

Monday April 18th 2016 15:20 UTC - St. Helena to Martinique Crossing Day #21

I’m pretty f’ing tired right now. My body feels quite run down and I’m doing my best to get plenty of rest and stay fed with the limited fresh foods still aboard. I’ve got vitamins and plenty of food but few fresh things. Tons of tins, rice, beans, still a few potatoes and plenty of onions and some butternut squash, all which last a long time. I’ve been digging into the frozen meats for dinners. Many of my eggs from St. Helena went bad. I probably had to toss close 20 out of the 50 I had. It sucks as I enjoyed my egg breakfast in the morning. In St. Helena I couldn’t find fresh non-refrigerated eggs. They last much longer than refrigerated eggs and I don’t have enough room to keep 50 eggs in my fridge. So about a 1/3 of them went bad. CRAP! Now it’s oatmeal and coffee in the morning. YUCK! I am not a fan of oatmeal. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my least liked foods. Not quite as bad as cream of wheat but pretty bad. But it’s protein so I eat it. No more ham sandwiches either, as the ham is all gone. I have a little cheese so it’s been tuna melts the last three days, which actually are quite tasty. I made some bread that came out “okay”. It’s a bit hard and I don’t think I put enough yeast in it as it is a bit dense but good enough for sandwiches.

One thing I find curious about these alone times is the way my mind works. It’s constantly paying attention to Solstice and all that is going on with her and the ocean and the weather. We’re strongly connected. I still have a bit of angst inside because of the engine vibration I had when motoring for so long. I did motor at very low RPM’s a couple of nights ago for 3 hours and all seemed okay. I’m still convinced something is fouling the prop, just not too seriously. Conditions haven’t lent themselves yet for me to go overboard and inspect. A part of me is really hoping to do that when I’m safe in the slip. But if we get glassy conditions out here again and or I am not sailing well, I’ll get in and check it out.

I’m working on managing my fatigue the best I can. This trek takes an incredible amount of energy. Just managing the boat and keeping her going safe takes its toll. Solstice has been fantastic at managing herself. We’re a good team.

I haven’t shaved since the day I left St. Helena. My beard is old and scraggly and makes me laugh when I catch a glimpse of my reflection. I look different, and there is a lot more gray in it than I realized. I’ve blamed the Indian Ocean for turning my hair gray – I guess it turned my beard that color too. I will be happy to shave it off when I get close to landfall.

Sometimes I feel very proud of what I’m doing – other times I wonder “Why the fuck am I out here?” But in the end I look back in my wake and where I’ve sailed these last 5 years and I’m quite amazed at all I’ve done, seen, the miles I’ve sailed and that Solstice and I are continuing on – that is good. Still at times I wonder…

Much Aloha - Bill

The good winds kept up and when I noticed these feelings of melancholy arise I attacked them with music. The original Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack always stirred my spirit to a higher vibration as does a good reggae tune and beach music also does the trick. As Jimmy Buffett says “Everything is better with music”. The reassuring thing was, with each passing moment, we were on course and pushing closer to Martinique.

Hokule’a’s circumnavigation brought forth another realization. Solstice was nearing her own circumnavigation. The previous owner; a wonderful man named Doug Murray, sailed Solstice from San Francisco to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal. He spent 6 years sailing her around the Caribbean. The furthest east he went was Martinique, which is where we were headed. Upon our arrival Solstice will have crossed her own outbound line. Funny, she will circumnavigate the globe before me. I had two bottles of champagne onboard to mark the moment – one for her circumnavigation and one for the completion of my longest solo passage. It will be a great landfall indeed.

Around day 25 the wind eased considerably and Solstice’s speed dropped below 4 knots. I still had a good 300+ miles to go, so I resisted starting the engine. It was good until the wind shifted to the east and it went dead astern as it had before I crossed the equator. I had also learned that Totem had made landfall on Barbados. Frustration tumbled back in. I was passed my hope of a 25- day passage but cut myself some slack because that was to Barbados. Martinique was another day further but still, I was behind. The thing I didn’t want to do was arrive at night and be forced to hove-to and wait for daylight.

On day 27, I was northeast of Barbados and had 155 miles to go. I was exhausted but was getting excited to get there, I was in the home stretch. Only the wind was dying. Solstice was sailing at around 4 to 4.6 knots. The forecast was for the winds to stay light. Another dreaded day of making only 110 miles seemed like a reality. I needed more speed and I needed to stay on course if I was going to make it before sunset the next day. The spinnaker was my only option to have a chance.

Course was dead downwind so I knew I needed to drop the mainsail so it wouldn’t blanket the spinnaker at this angle. When I flew the kite earlier I was able to keep the mainsail up because I could sail off-course if I needed. Now, I needed to stay on course and when I did that the mainsail blanketed the wind from the spinnaker. I needed to drop it. I also didn’t want to use the engine until it was absolutely necessary. I decided to do everything under sail from dropping the main, to rolling up the jib to getting the spinnaker flying. Something I had never attempted before. I walked through my mind everything I needed to do.

You can do this, Bill – I assured myself.

I turned Solstice close to the wind and pulled the jib in tight to catch the air. I then let the boom out far so the wind spilled out of the mainsail and the sail fluttered. Solstice sailed using just jib. With the wind out of the main I was able to bring it down and lash it to the boom. I pulled the boom back in and tightened her down to the wobbly boom gallows. Once secured, I let the jib back out and got back on course. Solstice sailed slow but just fine with the jib only. I went forward to the mast to raise the sock for the spinnaker. A “sock” is a long fabric cylinder with a metal hoop at one end. It encapsulates the spinnaker like a big condom. After the head of the sock is raised to the top of the mast, a line is then pulled on the sock that runs up to the top of the sail and back down to the metal hoop at the bottom of the sail. When you pull the line the hoop rises from the foot of the sail and travels to the top of the spinnaker at the top of the mast. As it goes up it releases the spinnaker. The challenge for me in this circumstance without the mainsail was to get the jib rolled in and the spinnaker deployed before Solstice lost her momentum and stopped moving forward. So I had to be quick from taking in one sail and getting the other flying. I pulled the sock all the way up and cleated it off. Solstice continued to sail under the jib with the sock up and gently swaying to and fro with the movement of the sea. I took a deep breath. Once again I ran the “must-do” motions through my head. I was ready. It was time to make the switch.

I went back to the cockpit and I rolled up the jib with the roller furling line and cleated it off as fast as I could. Solstice slid forward over the sea but immediately she started to lose her speed. I went forward to the mast and grabbed the lines to raise the hoop and pulled. The hoop went up about a third of the way before it stopped. The lower part of the spinnaker started to come out. When it did the wind grabbed it and gave Solstice a much-needed push. But the line was stuck and only a portion of the sail opened.

“MERDE!” I yelled.

Merde is “shit” in French. Since I was close to a French island I figured it was a good idea to start speaking French.

I pulled harder.


It popped free and started up the sail again - two thirds of the way up it stopped again.

“FUCK!” I figured that word worked in French, too.

More of the spinnaker billowed out and jammed up against the hoop. I yanked down again and…


The hoop sprung free and ran all the way up to the top of the sail.


The spinnaker opened fully. The tack line and spinnaker sheet tightened and Solstice lunged forward.

The hoop should have gone up nice and easy. Something wasn’t right. But the spinnaker had the wind and Solstice gained speed. I cleated off the hoop line and hurried back to the cockpit to trim. I played around and let the sail in and out. We had about 12 knots of breeze. Solstice climbed to 5 knots of boat speed. That wasn’t enough. We needed to average 6 knots to get there. I let a little more sheet out and turned a few degrees more downwind. Solstice climbed to 5.5… 5.6… 5.8. That’s all I could get from her. It was going to be close.

A couple hours later the wind increased and we started to sail in the low to mid 6’s. Getting there before dark the next day started to become a reality… if the wind held. The spinnaker was doing the job. But the reality of the situation became clear as the afternoon wore on. If I took the spinnaker down we’d lose a knot or two and there would be no way I’d make it before dark the next day. And I had my rule – “Drop the spinnaker at night”. If I did that it would be an additional 24 hours before arriving.

“24 HOURS IS LIKE THREE WEEKS!” I bellowed out one of my favorite movie lines.

The thought of a 29th day out here was depressing. That was the last thing I wanted.

Maybe I could leave it up?

Spinnaker comes down at night, Bill – That voice spoke up loud in my head.

You won’t make it for another 24 hours, Bill if you take it down – The other side of me spoke up loud too.

“Fuck! Je ne sais pas!” my French was improving with every mile. That means I DON’T KNOW!!

The spinnaker is hard enough to handle during the day and trying to take it down in the middle of the night alone if the wind picked up would be difficult. This rule I had was a good rule. But taking it down would guarantee another 24 hours at sea.

“What do I do?” I said out loud.

Should we break this rule, Bill?



I began to argue with myself.

Look how great we’re sailing. The auto-pilot is keeping us right no course too.

What if the wind shifts?

It won’t the weather looks perfect!

What if there’s a squall in the middle of the night?

There won’t be.

You can’t predict that! If one comes up – WE’RE FUCKED!

You’re lame. The weather is perfect!

“What do I do?”

Look at all the facts, Bill! And make a choice.

An hour before sunset, while there is plenty of light, is when I usually drop the spinnaker. On this evening, the sky was clear. The few clouds there were were thin wispy flat clouds: signs of good stable conditions. No squalls appeared on the horizon. A steady 12-15 knot breeze was blowing. Instead of working towards taking the spinnaker down, I started to look at the weather.

I used all I knew about weather and what was happening in the environment to make my decision. From the weather reports I’d received over the radio from friends right before sunset and based on what was happening around Solstice in the sky, on the water, with her instruments, I felt strongly that there wouldn’t be any weather change in the next 24 hours. But what if I was wrong?

I have few rules on Solstice. The ones I do have are good ones that are meant to be followed.

But all seems good, Bill. The weather isn’t going to change. Make an exception tonight. Keep the spinnaker up. Get there tomorrow. The weather forecaster in me was sure - This weather will hold.

“You know what? Sometimes you gotta say what the fuck and make your move,” I quoted another one of my favorite movie lines.

“That’s it then! I’m going to gamble. I’M LEAVING IT UP!” I told the universe.

And like that, I made my choice. I hoped it was the right one.

“Neptune, keep this weather until we get there… PLEASE!” I asked.

I wanted so much to be there tomorrow and sailing with the spinnaker all night would ensure an arrival during the day if the wind held. And I felt good about my decision and trusted my instincts, the weather will hold. The spinnaker was staying up.

The auto-pilot did great and Solstice sailed into the sunset with her spinnaker flying perfectly. When the sun went down the wind picked up a little sundowner and Solstice made 6.5 - 7 knots. As exhausted as I was I knew I couldn’t sleep too deeply. I had to keep a close watch on the spinnaker and that the wind didn’t increase too much and most important that no squalls were approaching. I kept a constant eye on the radar for anything – weather and boat traffic as we neared the islands. A couple hours later the sundowner wind settled into a nice night breeze. All was well.

Regardless, I didn’t sleep much and it was a long night. But things stayed consistent. Solstice sailed beautifully all night and there were no dramas. A welcomed relief came as the first part of the dark sky on the eastern horizon started to brighten. The sun was coming. I grew hopeful that the end of this long passage was near. The sun broke free from the horizon and cast a warm glow on the spinnaker highlighting the bright reds and blues of the sail. I smiled at the sight. We had made it through the night unscathed. It was now clear, we should make Martinique by early afternoon.

What about the engine and the transmission?

That question came rushing to the forefront of my brain with the brightness of day. What I did know is I wanted to sail as long as I could – right to the entrance of the channel for the marina. The last 20 miles I started to see small fishing boats that were running out to sea to go fishing.

Almost there!

I used this time to come up with a game plan.

I decided to sail all the way to the mouth of the harbor if the wind let me. Once in the lee of the island, I’d drop the sail and pack it away. I would then check the transmission fluid before starting the engine. Then I’d motor the last 3 miles to the marina. If something went wrong, I’d drop the anchor and deploy the dinghy and come in using the outboard.

Le Marin Marina is on the southwest side of the island. As I neared it the trades deflected off the hillsides and increased – 12 knots suddenly became 20. I kicked myself for not having had predicted this. This was too much wind to easily drop the spinnaker. Solstice screamed along at 8 knots. A following swell built as well that was reflecting off and around the island. Solstice’s speed climbed into the low to mid 8’s. A pod of dolphins appeared and began surfing on her fast moving bow wake. I was excited to see them but also nervous about the spinnaker. Solstice was being overpowered. For the dolphins this was great, they were having a ball. They were the smaller spinner dolphins that love to leap up high out of the water twist, turn and spin like acrobats. They are a joy to watch. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really enjoy the moment as Solstice raced along and the finish line of where I needed to drop the sail was fast approaching. Still the spinners leapt and jumped all around the boat. One dolphin leapt up high off the starboard beam and did a full gainer – Yes a backwards somersault.

“Oh, my God! YEEEAAHHH!!!” I screamed. “That was awesome!”

Never had I seen a dolphin do a gainer, not even at a dolphin show. It was a beautiful welcome to the Caribbean. Or was it a warning?

Dude watch where are you going? I could imagine the dolphins saying as Solstice was running out of sea room.

Yo, Bro! You better get that sail down. Another might have been saying.

Those thoughts ran through my brain because right after the gainer flip the pod collectively turned into the white foamed seascape and vanished. Instantly, Solstice and I were alone again. I was glad about that as it now gave me time to focus on what I had to do.

Usually wind deflects off islands and causes all kinds of different affects from huge increases to complete lulls. I scanned the surface ahead for any signs. I could see areas where the white caps seemed to disappear and then suddenly emerge again. The arrival and stoppage of these windswept patches matched the contours of the small hills that roll up and down on the southern tip of Martinique. In between in the valleys I could see the chop on the sea where the wind was funneling down and accelerated as it passed over the island. Where the hills rose up there appeared to be a lull in the lee of the island. I picked an area about 200 meters ahead that was a couple of miles away from the entrance of the channel where there appeared to be a lull on the sea. I ran through my mind the steps I needed to take.

Get the line ready to pull the hoop down.

Go back to the cockpit and let the spinnaker sheet go to take the wind out of the sail.

Head back to the foredeck, grab the line and pull the hoop all the way down and secure it.

Use the wench on the mast as a guide and slowly lower the sock back onto the foredeck, all the while guiding the sock inboard being careful to not let it go overboard.

Once down you can relax – Let Solstice come to a stop while you stow the spinnaker. Put it in its bag and drop it through the forward hatch.

Then deal with the engine

The less ruffled sea area was coming up fast. As I got closer I noticed that calm area wasn’t that big and there was no better area I could see beyond it. I’d have to work fast. About 100 meters before we hit the calmer area I let the spinnaker sheet go. The loose end of the sail flew forward quickly and the air spilled out of much of the sail but not all of it. The sail whipped and banged. I needed to get the hoop down. I ran to the mast and pulled down on the hoop. It wouldn’t come down. Solstice was still in the windy part of the sea and there was a lot of force still on the top of the sail. I pulled down again hard.

It wouldn’t budge.

Solstice slipped into the calmer water and the sail collapsed a little in the lull

I pulled again… the hoop wouldn’t come down.


With that I pulled again as hard as I could. I could feel the muscles across the top of my shoulders tense and stretch and my neck tightened up. I couldn’t get it to move. I looked up. The hoop had spun around when I released the pressure on the line and revealed the problem. The line used to pull the hoop had some how twisted around on it’s block and wrapped itself around the forestay and the spinnaker halyard. There was no way it could come down the way it was wrapped.


My mind raced with ideas of what to do. From what I could tell there was only one thing to I could do. I had to drop the halyard for the spinnaker and bring the sail and the hoop all down together. It was going to be a bitch but there was no other way.

Okay, Bill. Undo the spinnaker halyard but keep it wrapped on the mast wench and slowly bring it down with one hand and try and pull the sail inboard with the other.

I loosened the halyard from the cleat.


The sail whipped with the wind even though we were in the calm patch.

I started to bring the sail down slow. I noticed off to starboard that a tourist catamaran was exiting the channel from the marina but they were headed in a different direction so that was good. The wind then grabbed my attention back when it blew the sail outboard over the sea. With the line in my left hand I tried to move forward and grab the foot of the sail with my right hand…


The halyard jumped off the winch the halyard slid fast through my left palm. About 4 feet of line zipped out.


Fortunately I had sail gloves on or it would’ve ripped a rope burn across my palm. The rope burn instead was confined to the tips of my pinky, ring and middle fingers as my gloves have the fingers cut off.

I got a wrap back on the wench, cleated it off and stopped the uncontrolled release of the sail. My heart was pounding, this was not a good situation.


Solstice cleared the lull patch and glided back out into the windy area. When that happened the full force of the accelerated wind grabbed the spinnaker.


The spinnaker flung wildly about. Sheets and tack lines flew about crazily hitting everything in its path. I had to get the sail down immediately or the rig could be damaged. I had to try again.

I released the spinnaker halyard from the cleat and put an extra two wraps on the wench. I started to bring the sail down slowly.


The wind was carrying it overboard. I had to still try and get a hold of the sail to pull it in.

The wind was carrying it overboard. I had to still try and get a hold of the sail to pull it in.


I moved to the rail just a little


The line jumped again off the wench. I held onto the line with all I had. I thought my shoulder would get pulled out of its socket. I couldn’t hold it – It was too much…


They halyard ripped through my hand and burned my fingers a second time.

I let go.

The spinnaker took off with the wind and flew out in front of the port bow of the boat. I ran to the rail to try and grab something. The sheets flew wildly about.


Before I knew it the spinnaker sheet had done three big wraps around my right leg from my thigh to my ankle.


The entire spinnaker hit the water. Solstice was still moving and the spinnaker got drug back and hard into the side of the boat.

“Oh no!” I said, almost eerily calm.

The line tightened up on my leg and pulled me to the rail. I grabbed frantically for the something to keep me from being pulled overboard. I got a hold of the mast pulpit. The spinnaker filled with water and all the lines tightened. The line around my leg went taught and pulled hard.


I held onto the mast pulpit with all I had while the spinnaker pulled my leg with the force of the sea against the weight of the boat. I was caught in a tug of war between Solstice and the sea filled spinnaker.

“FFFFUUUCCCKKK!!!” I screamed.

Solstice slowed like a drag racer being pulled to a stop by its trailing parachute after the finish line. She swung to port and the wind finally aided the situation and pushed Solstice to a stop alongside the waterlogged sail. The force slowly died out of the lines and I was able to free my leg.

Suddenly I knew how Hooper felt in Jaws when he got his legs wedged between the line and the boat. One end attached to a cleat on the boat and the other to a shark trying to run.

I pulled my leg free.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! Fuck! I almost got drug overboard right here at the finish line!.... Hah Huh!” a little guttural laugh worked its way to the surface.

“What a fucking moron, Bill. Ha ha!” The laughter swelled. “What a way to go?” I exclaimed. And then it all burst forth.

“HA! HA! HAAAAA!!” A great laugh erupted from deep within my soul.

It poured forth from a fear that had suddenly been released, from the nervousness that still lingered and from the imagined sight of being found drowned, wrapped in my own spinnaker only a couple of miles from the destination after a 28 day passage

“HA! HA! HA! HAAAAAA!!!!” I couldn’t stop laughing.

I then noticed the tourist filled catamaran that had been heading in a different direction now headed towards me.

My laughter vanished. The realization of looky-loos coming by to check out the boat that just tossed its spinnaker into the sea was sobering.

Merde. Get the spinnaker outta the water, Bill.

Solstice was stopped but the spinnaker was partially afloat while another part of it went deep into the water and under the boat. I hoped it hadn’t wrapped the prop. I went to the rail and began to pull.

It was like lifting a trashcan full of water from 30 feet down. My arms ached and my back strained as I pulled. It burned and ached. I realized there was a better way. I sat down on the rail, wedged my feet against the cap rail and pulled back like I was rowing a boat. I bent down and pulled…


Bend… Pull…


Bend… Pull….


About a dozen pulls later I had the water logged sail pulled all out along the port rail of the boat. I took the head of the sail and drug it to the aft deck. I then just started shoving it into its bag. Hand over fist, shove…. Hand over fist, shove… Hand over fist.. shove.

The tourist boat came by close as I was shoving the last part of the sail into the bag. The skipper had a smile on his face. He was excited to see this poor sap up close that had just dumped his spinnaker into the drink and wanted to embarrass him in front of his guests. As he got close I caught eyes with him. The smile on his face faded and he gave a small embarrassed wave. I returned the wave. He began to turn away. I don’t know if my look erased his smile or if it was his realization of me being alone or the fact that he just felt sorry for me. Regardless, he became a fellow sailor in that moment… and so did I.

I shoved the last bit of sail in the bag as they passed by. I flopped down on the sail bag and stared up at the sky. If I thought I was exhausted an hour ago, now I was thoroughly spent.

Along the coast just off the island was an anchorage filled with sailboats about a mile away. I wondered if anybody saw my dramatic entry. I didn’t’ really care but of all the entries I’ve had over the years none had ever been a bigger disaster than this one. I wished I was aboard one of those boats in the anchorage watching me sail in. That would’ve been a sight to see. I stared at the Caribbean blue above for a long while. The light tropic clouds whisked by on the wind and a little smile came back across my lips.

“Sometimes Bill, you just have to say what the fuck?” and I laughed.

It was time to make my next move and head in. I pulled myself off the bag and got to work. I checked the engine oil and the transmission oil. All seemed okay. I fired up the engine. I let the engine warm up for a few minutes while I readied fenders and dock lines. Finally I shifted her into gear. The shift was smooth and Solstice moved forward. All seemed okay. I crossed my fingers and throttled up. Solstice made her way towards the marina. It’s a little over two miles to snake your way down the channel to the marina. Along the way you pass a couple of old sailboat wrecks that are high and dry on the reef. The sea was in the midst of slowly claiming their carcasses. The sight was eerily familiar to what I had seen when I entered Sydney Harbor after my rough crossing from New Caledonia. The same thought came to mind as it did then, a phrase my Grandmother used to say “But for the grace of God there go I.” I felt the same again. My guardian angels had looked after me again, and once again I had made a safe crossing.

“Thank you, Mother Ocean,” I whispered.

I got on the radio and hailed the marina. They had been expecting me because of e-mails that Behan from Totem had sent. A marina worker in a small open boat greeted me and guided me in the last 100 yards. He pulled up to the dock, hopped out and came to the edge of where I was to land to retrieve my docklines.

I didn’t leave the helm until Solstice was at a complete stop. I slowly walked up to the starboard rail and passed over the dock lines to him. It was simple, controlled and easy. In a word it was perfect. A polar opposite to what had happened a couple of miles out at the mouth of the channel. But it didn’t matter either way. I had arrived and all was good. Solstice was tied safely to the dock and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be there. What I did know is that I had just landed from the longest solo sail of my life. That accomplishment felt great. But more importantly this evening – I would get an excellent night’s sleep. After a wee bit of champagne of course.

Much Aloha,


Solstice Log