Sailing The World's Oceans

Dream ~ Discover ~ Explore









February, 2015 - Somewhere in the middle of the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.

In the weeks running up to my departure from Thailand much time was spent like it is before every passage, diligently watching weather.  The forecasts for steady winds were inconsistent.  One day they would call for a light breeze, the next two days would have no wind followed by a nice day of 10-15 knots only to drop off again to nothing.  It was frustrating trying to pick a good window.  I had hoped to sail the almost 1,100 mile leg with minimal use of the engine.  I had also hoped to sail with other boats but the lack of wind in the forecasts brought ambivalence to sailors on when to depart.  Some boats had left a couple of weeks earlier while I was kept in port having to fix my refrigerator which decided to lose it’s coolant while I was back home in the States for the holidays.  Other boats had other issues that kept them stuck in port from engine oil leaks to watermaker problems while still others seemed content to stay put.  What I did know from the pilot charts (Pilot Charts depict average prevailing weather patterns for the world’s oceans at different times of the year.  They include vital information like wind directions and speeds, wave heights, ocean currents, barometric pressures, sea surface temperatures along with the percentage possibilities for gale force winds along with other information about weather conditions.  They are a great source when it comes to route planning and picking weather windows for what time of the year is best to cross an ocean) the longer I waited to leave the lighter the trade winds would become.  If I waited another 2 weeks to leave the wind most likely would lighten up considerably.  Time was pressing and it was time to go.  Something else was speaking to me and became clear when I was on the dock looking at Solstice.  She vibrated with a sense of excitement and readiness.  And it hit me.

It’s time to go.  No need to go with anybody or to wait any longer, Bill.  Just go.

I left Yacht Haven Marina and made the 8-hour sail south to Ao Chalong to check out of Thailand.  The next day I sailed over to Nai Harn on the southwest side of Phuket where I reconnected with my dear friends Craig and Robyn from Gemini.  The Gems of Gemini, they are affectionately known.  There are a great Australian couple filled with love and laughter and we had shared many wonderful times together.  They were headed east and south back to Australia, so this was my last chance to hang with them for a couple more days and to say goodbye.  Nai Harn is also a great place to do last minute provisioning and was a perfect jumping off spot to Sri Lanka.

In Nai Harn, I checked the weather three or four times a day and looked for anything that proved to be better consistent winds.  The planned route was still getting an unusual amount of light winds to no wind days.  As I told Craig and Robyn, I’d rather float around here in a beautiful anchorage than float around out there in the middle of the ocean.  My original hope was to sail on Thursday the 12th but the wind forecast was terrible.  It got a little better on Friday but there is an old mariner’s rule that it’s bad luck to set sail on a Friday.  And this Friday was Friday the 13th; so leaving that day was not an option.  Saturday looked a little more promising but the winds still seemed light all day.  Sunday looked better with calm conditions in the morning and wind filling in for the afternoon and evening and Monday looked great.  By the time Thursday rolled around I had made up my mind, unless something drastic happened, I’d leave Sunday morning, motor in the beginning to charge up the batteries and be ready for the longer sail once the consistent wind for Monday came around.

Friday was spent on a last big provision run and Saturday was spent cooking food for the passage and doing that last minute things like packing the dinghy away.  I have a 500-mile rule with the dinghy.  I don’t know why I picked that distance, I just did.  If it’s a leg over 500 miles deflate the dinghy, roll it up and pack it away.  This was over 1,100 miles.  It’s a pain in the ass to not just put the dinghy away but to inflate it again once I get to where I’m going.  With the light wind and small sea forecast, I was tempted to say Screw it, Bill; leave it on the davits.

“We make those rules for a reason, Mate,” Craig reminded me.

“I know but the weather looks great,” I answered him.

“But it goes against your rule,” Craig looked at me with a stern eye.  “Pack it away,” he was emphatic.

Packing the dinghy away was one of the last things I did.  Craig and Robyn gave me a lift to shore for a final dinner and farewell with them and other friends Saturday night.  It was a great last night in Thailand.  One of the pleasures I have had over the last couple of months was to get to meet a fellow cruiser named, Bill Kneebone on Kularoo.  I had run into Bill at a few different cruiser get-togethers and never had the time I wished to chat with him.  Bill is from Australia.  He built his catamaran Kularoo himself.  He’s owned Kularoo for nearly 30 years and has circumnavigated aboard her once already.  But he has not just circumnavigated, he’s continued to go on many sailing excursions for much of those 30 years while often also single-handing.  I don’t know for sure but I’d guess Bill was in his early 70’s.  Like a lot of men and women who are out here sailing in their 70’s they are young at heart and in great shape.  Bill was no exception.  But there was something different about Bill that set him apart from other cruisers.  He’s soft spoken and when boating debates and opinions are being thrown out from every angle, Bill is content to remain silent.  Cruisers are great for interrupting conversations and letting others know why their opinion is right and yours is not.  Amidst these conversations, Bill never piped in.  He just sat and observed.  He held a quietude that resonated about him and was happy to blend in with the background and just listen.  Only a slight smile or a squint of the eyes would give any clue to the thoughts that were running around in his brain.  It was this demeanor of unspoken confidence and self-assuredness to what compelled me to ask Bill a question.  When the opportunity presented itself, I spoke up.

“So Bill, I have to ask you one question,” I said.

He just nodded as if to say “Okay”.

“In all your travels and sailing experience what is the most important thing that you’ve learned?” I asked.

“You know may I answer that question for him,” Bill’s partner Gail immediately jumped in.  Bill turned and looked at her with his eyes a little wider than they were before.

“I’ve know I haven’t known Bill for all those years but I do know him very well over the last couple of years,” she went on.  “And I’d have to say patience is what Bill has learned the most.”

I was taken aback at her need to answer a question I had for Bill and there was nothing patient about her piping in before Bill could even put a thought to my question.

“Wouldn’t you say that that’s right, Bill, patience?” she turned to him.

“Ahhh, yeah!  Patience is very important,” he said quietly.

“Patience with sailing?” I asked.

“With sailing, but also with life,” he said and he narrowed his eyes over at Gail who was knocking back a swig from her beer.

I couldn’t help but wonder how patient Bill would be with her before she was dropped off at the next port.

Later in the evening I had gone to the bar to order a bottle of wine to take away with me to Sri Lanka.  I had just enough unspent Thai money in my pocket to get a bottle of wine to put in the ship’s stores.  I turned and found Bill standing next to me.

“Let me buy you a beer, Bill,” Bill said.

“You know patience is very important, especially when you’re alone.  No need to be hasty.  Be thoughtful and safe.  But let me add something else;” he continued, “In your travels, always remember that you are a guest everywhere you go.  Things in these places may not be done as you are used to or as you want and that’s fine.  Things are as they are for the people who live there, not you.  Be respectful and mindful of their ways and that you are a guest and their country and are just visiting.  These lands are their home, not yours.  I think that is important,” he said.  He looked me in the eye and raised his beer; I raised mine in return.

“Thank you, Bill”, I said.

He nodded.  “I’ve done a lot of single-handing in my day, Bill,” he said with a nod and a mutual understanding passed between us.  “Well done,” he said and walked back to the table.  I wish I had more time to share with him.  Bill Kneebone is a quiet gentle soul but walks through life with a powerful, forthright and thoughtful stride always leaving the path behind him better than the one he’s walking towards.

Sunday morning came and since I was sailing on my own there was no pressure to leave at the crack of dawn or at any other special time.

Have a nice last morning here, Bill,
I said to myself.  Be patient.

I picked 10am as a time to head out.  It gave me a chance to sleep in a little and enjoy a good leisurely breakfast in a flat anchorage before going to sea for a week.  By 9:45 the Gems of Gemini sailed by and gave a final goodbye salute.  Fifteen minutes later, the hook was up and Solstice was on her way.

A land breeze from the east hit Solstice square on the stern.  It was a bit unexpected and blew at a nice 10-12 knots.  I needed to charge the batteries so I opted to motor instead of sailing wing on wing or trying to fly the spinnaker.  That turned out to be a wise choice because; as forecast, the breeze dropped off to nothing a couple hours later.  I motored well into the afternoon.  Around 1600 a slight breeze slipped over the deck.  I turned my face towards the wind.  It was coming from the northeast, which is where the trades come from this time of year.  I throttled down and put the engine in neutral.  The breeze slid atop the sea, up and over the starboard rail and caressed the hairs on my forearm.  There was a little swell that rocked Solstice back and forth but the main stayed full.  I raised my hand towards the wind and opened my palm.  The air slipped through my fingers.  I turned my head back and forth until I felt the wind on my face and I could hear the breeze rush past with a whir and tickled my earlobes.  It wasn’t much but it was enough to sail.  I turned off the engine and rolled out the jib.  Solstice caught the breeze that slid atop the placid sea.  With this whisper of a breeze we ghosted along at about 3.5 knots.  With over 1,100 miles to go I dreaded the thought of doing 3 knots the entire trip.  I went forward and got the staysail up.  Solstice harnessed the extra air and she made her way into the low 4’s.  It was gentle, serene, and beautiful or to use another word; it was patient.  And so was I.

The last sliver of land hung on the horizon behind us.  I watched it for a long time.  My time of being “stuck” in Southeast Asia was finally slipping away.  We were on the move again and it felt great.  It was great to be sailing with no engine, it was great to be headed out to sea, and it was great to be going some place I’ve never been before.  Few lands have I felt better about leaving in my wake than I did about this part of the world.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have some wonderful aspects without a doubt.  And the food in Thailand I’d argue is the best food of anywhere I’d been.  But these countries are also more intolerant of people than anywhere else I’d been, particularly Malaysia.  The Malay Muslim ruled government has laws and policies in place that oppress the minority Malaysian Indian and Chinese populations.  In fact, they don’t really consider the Chinese and Indian populations “Malay Malaysian” but look at them as people that were brought into this area.  The fact that these people were brought to Malaysia as slave labor or indentured servants or that their families had been in the country for generations made no difference.  They are not treated the same.  During my time here I’ve got to know some locals.  In the time we’ve spent together they’ve opened my eyes and shared facts with me about the darker problems that are going on Malaysia.  It cost a Malay of Indian or Chinese descent 10% more to buy a the exact same house as a Malaysian Islander because of affirmative action policies that favor Malays, specifically Malays who are Muslim.  There all types of other policies that favor them from the ease of getting loans for businesses, to affording education and or buying property.  The oppression has simmered under the surface for decades and the wound is open and raw to the Malay Chinese and Malay Indian people here.  There oppression also instills a fear among them to not talk or make any waves.  So much so that my friends asked me to not use their names if I wrote about any of the problems here.  And these are older professionals who are attorneys, business owners and scientist.

“I tell you, Bill.  Malaysia is a time bomb waiting to go off,” my Malay Indian friend told me. 

My other friend spoke up.

“Bill, when we were children, everybody was Malay.  There was no separation in our minds of Indian, Chinese, or Malay indigenous, we were all the same.  I had friends who were Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and we all cared for each other.  Now there is segregation everywhere.  My children are not allowed to spend the night in a Muslim home and Muslim children are not allowed to stay with us or be friends with my children.  We used to all go to the same school.  Now there are schools only for Muslims and the rest go some place else,” he said.

“What about this law that Christians can’t use the word Allah,” I asked.

Half the table broke out in laughter while the other half didn’t think it was funny at all.

“It is terrible.  Absurd.  It makes our country a joke in the eyes of the rest of the world,” my attorney friend said.

“What would happen if I had a T-shirt made up that read Allah! I’m just sayin’?” my rebellious American-side of me asked jokingly.

“You’d be arrested,” another said with a snap of his fingers.


“Yes,” my Chinese friend on the other side of the table concurred.

Meanwhile across the border in Thailand, the Thai government and mostly Buddhist population have their own policies and laws that oppresses the minority Malay Muslims that live there.  Their laws and policies oppress Malays there in the exact same ways the Malaysian policies oppress the Indian and Chinese populations in Malaysia.  In the southern provinces of Thailand where Malay Muslims make up a big part of the population, they are discriminated against by being denied economic and educational opportunities as well as not being allowed to worship their religion in a manner they like amongst other things.  These problems are huge and complicated and there are claims of which people have the rights over specific territories and lands regardless of nationalities.  These are arguments that have existed for generations.  The Thai government does not try to solve the problems with any proactive policies but instead uses brute police and military force to “keep the law”.  The result pushes the oppressed people towards rebellion and violence.  The Malays in Thailand have resorted to killing teachers who teach beliefs different than their own while they also lash out against any Thailand authority figures.  The violence of course swells from both sides and as always with such conflicts; innocent civilians are caught in the middle and suffer most of the casualties.  It’s a terrible vicious circle and neither side seems to care enough to constructively fix the problems to stop the oppression or violence.

The absurd thing is the Malaysian government denounces these Thai policies that oppress their Malay Muslim brothers who live in Thailand while they enact the exact same type of policies to oppress those who are not Muslim in Malaysia.  It’s laughable and tragic at the same time.  The history is far too long and complicated to write about for this blog.  And I haven’t even mentioned the old gross white men ex-patriots who come to this part of the world to exploit the young Thai girls that live here.  So basically what I’m saying is that I was ready to leave this dysfunctional part of the world and was happy when the last bit of Thailand faded over the horizon and I was surrounded by nothing but ocean.

A couple of hours later with the sun low on the horizon the wind freshened.  With all sails flying we sailed comfortably at 6 knots.  My first night at sea was beautiful.  The wind had settled into a perfect 10-15 knot NE breeze and Solstice sailed in the mid 7,s to mid 8’s.  The next day we must have had a current running with us because even when the wind lightened Solstice sailed around 8.5 knots.  Conditions were excellent.

270 miles off the coast of Phuket are the Nicobar Islands or the Knickerbocker Islands, as I call them.  My plan was to sail between them through the pass just north of Little Knickerbocker Island and south of Katchall or Ketchup Island, as my friend Tracy on Zephyr calls it.  I’d go through the Katchall, I mean Ketchup Pass.  It had plenty of depth and sea room.  I had hoped to sail through during the day but the closer I got it became clear I would enter the pass around 4am.  My concerns were if there was swift current running between the islands and more importantly would there be a lot of fishing boats in the area since the pass was close to the islands which are populated and owned by India.

The breeze remained perfect.  The setting sun cast hues of reds, pinks, golds, blues, greens and blacks across the ruffled seascape.  I scanned the horizon to take in the beauty of the waning light and noticed big billowing white clouds astern.  Nothing ominous looking but big, white, growing clouds.  Clouds at the higher altitudes were round globular puffs of white like a series of cotton balls scattered across a shimmering blue of the upper atmosphere.  I’ve studied weather for years and the more I learn the more confused I get.  What I did know is there had been a change in the cloud patterns.  What I didn’t know is what it meant.  I went below and pulled a weather book I have that specifically talks about cloud patterns and what they mean.  The cool thing is that it contains excellent pictures of cloud formations and descriptions of what to expect based on what is in the sky.  I flipped through the pages until I came across a picture that had a similar cloud pattern.  It read:

Sky associated with improvement.  Normal change, W to NW wind 10-12 knots in the next few hours.

Yahoo!  A perfect forecast.  I flipped by a few more patterns and stopped on another one that showed a similar sky.

Sky which means deterioration.  Rapid increase and backing of wind.  Normal change 28-33 knots with a risk of 34-55 knots.  Occurring in 4-6 hours.

“What the fuck?”  I blurted out as I read.

How can these two pictures look so similar and be such a completely different forecast?

I held the book up to the sky before me flipping from one page to the other and then back again.  Over and over I looked at every detail.  Perhaps it was my wishful thinking, perhaps I’m an optimist or perhaps I’m one who lives in denial but I concluded that the cloud patterns painted on the evening sky before me was a “Sky Associated with Improvement”.

Everything was perfect and I was convinced that it would remain that way.  I also took into account the forecast I had poured over the last few days and everything pointed to improvement with freshening 10-15 knot NW trade winds, which is exactly what this page suggested.

charged along beautifully and soon our westward horizon gave way from sunset, to twilight to a star filled sky.  The eastern sky was dark and void of stars.  The remnants of the billowing clouds covering them up no doubt.

It had been a long time since I’d done a multi-day passage.  I pulled from my past experiences and knew that getting as much sleep as I could while also being diligent about getting up every half an hour to hour was important to check for boat traffic.  I set AIS and radar alarms, drank three large glasses of water and climbed into my bunk around 10 o’clock.  At 10:30 I popped back up, noticed a few fishing vessels to dodge, changed course and went back down.  At 11:15 I did another check, all was well, switched course back for the Ketchup pass, gulped a big glass of water went back below.  I zonked out quick this time.


My eyes popped open upon the sound of the port jib sheet going slack and smacking the deckhouse. 

Are we getting a wind shift?

I shrugged at the thought and the, I’m too tired to be bothered attitude, spoke up.


Great.  We’re losing our wind.

Against the will of my being I pulled my fatigued body from the security of my bunk and popped my head outside.


Fat raindrops smacked the deck and top of the dodger above my head.

Shit it’s starting to rain.

I zipped the izon glass down to keep the Chartplotter from getting wet.  Suddenly the wind backed and went from the starboard quarter to the port quarter in an instant.  The forward sails slacked, snapped and then went taught backed against the wind.  The mainsail whipped about and the boom struggled to free itself from the preventer.  Instead it backed hard on the wind and groaned in protest of not being able to move with the wind shift.  Solstice suddenly shifted from a port lean to a hard starboard lean as she was hit with 25 knots of wind.



The hiss of the rain raced across the sea and swept over the deck.  The sky opened up and a heavy rain poured down.  My heart leapt up and shook out every bit of fatigue.  Immediately I was on high alert.

What to do?  What to do?

I had been in port way too long and the sudden weather outburst through me in a tailspin.

Patience, Bill!  Patience! 
I could hear Bill’s words in my brain.

“Get the sails down!”

I searched around in the darkness of the cockpit for my headlamp that was somewhere nearby.  Finally I found it, and turned it on.  I could barely see the rail of the boat through the white reflection that bounced off the driving rain.  I grabbed my sail gloves and pulled them on.

First get the jib in.

I let the jib sheet go.


The sail whipped around furiously and I pulled hard on the roller furling line.  Little by little it gave way and started to roll in.


A more intense band of rain swept over the deck and beat down harder and…


35 knots hit and pushed Solstice’s starboard rail over.

“AAAAHHHHH!!!!” I screamed and pulled as hard as I could.  The last of the jib finally rolled all the way in.  The staysail was backed and pinned.  I knew I had to get the other two sails down but that meant going on the foredeck!  I looked out and could barely make out the shapes on deck.  My mind raced with a million thoughts!

You got a get the main and the staysail down, Bill.  But you’re not going out there in the dark.  But you have too.  No, you don’t.  Going overboard is not an option.  You are not going overboard and you are staying put.  But I have to…

I searched around the cockpit and found my harness and put it on.  I popped open the cockpit bin where I kept the tether and pulled it out.  As I clipped it on a thought burst through my brain.

Don’t go out there, Bill.  Not now!  Patience!  Patience!

“What the fuck do I do then?” my out loud question was almost immediately answered.

Hove-to Bill!


If I could get Solstice to pin over with the sails backed and the helm hard over I could get the boat stopped and the sails to not whip about.  Then I could wait out the blow and go forward when things settled.  I didn’t want to do it by sail alone so I fired up the engine.


’s iron heart was wide-awake and ready for action.  I leapt to the helm and put her in gear.  Immediately I was soaked to the bone.  I squinted through the pelting rain and wiped the water from my face.  I put the boat in gear and turned her hard into the wind.  


bucked and shook like a horse trying to fling a bridle and bit free from her head.  The bow resisted as the wind didn’t want her to pass through.  I throttled up hard and pushed her through the onslaught of wind, sea and rain.  The staysail and main whipped wildly when the bow pointed straight into the gale.  I pulled the mainsheet taut, released the port staysail and sheet and winched in the starboard sheet until it was snug.  I throttled up and forced the bow through the wind.  The sails tightened and backed and Solstice laid her port rail down near the water.  I put the engine in neutral and turned the helm hard over to starboard.  The wind hummed through the rigging, the sheets groaned under the strain and the rain flew across the deck sideways.  Solstice settled into a motionless position against the wind.  The staysail and main were pinned and the flogging had stopped.  My concern now was the sails splitting at their seams in the gale.

I went below and turned on the spreader lights.  I hurried back into the cockpit and squinted up at the main through the light refracting off the downpour of water.  Something was odd about what I saw.  I rubbed my eyes and looked again.  It became clear.  A big section of the sail from just below the first spreader and about six feet down had been ripped from the mast track. 

Oh no! 

The sight caused my attitude to plummet.

The sail was no longer flogging but it bowed out and made the shape of a big crescent moon against the black of the night.  It hung there in the blow like a sideways sinister smile that looked down at me mockingly.  It was hard to tell what had happened but something had failed.  Solstice’s mainsail, the real engine of the boat, was in trouble and I still 800 miles to go on this leg. 

I was dejected and down.  But I knew too that this bad attitude in myself had to change.  It was a waste of valuable energy.  I did my best to shake off the emotions and look at the situation practically.

Okay, Bill, what’s done is done.  No more damage is happening.  But you need to get the sails down ASAP so there is no more damage.

The last thing I wanted to do was go forward in the dark with driving wind and rain, but I had to.  I couldn’t risk more damage to the sails.  The biggest fear of all single-handers suddenly was in the forepart of my brain. 


I think that is a fear of most sailors but I think it’s even more prevalent in the mind of single-handers.  If you go overboard, you’re dead. 

I gathered the things I needed and collected my thoughts of how to go about getting the sails down and secure. 

Patience, Bill.  Take your time.

I went below turned on the foredeck light and put on my shoes.  As I laced them up my mind raced with what to do,

First, get the staysail down.  Then the main.

Thoughts of what I needed were next.

Shoes, harness, tether, sail gloves, lines to tie the staysail up…

Getting the staysail down was straightforward.  Loosen the sheets, go forward, undo the halyard and lower it while doing my best to keep it inboard as it comes down.  Simple.  The main was a different story. 

I walked my mind through what I had to do to get the main down and secured to the boom.  Before I could lower the main I had to put the topping lift back on.  The topping lift is a long line that runs up the mast like the main halyard except when it comes out at the top of the mast it goes to the back end of the boom and not to the head of the mainsail.  The topping lift acts as a hoist to lift and lower the boom when the sail is not up.  Once the sail is up, the topping lift is slackened and the mainsail takes over and holds the boom up.  When the sail is not raised, the topping lift takes the job of holding the boom up.  Before the sail can be lowered, however, the topping lift has to be tightened so that when the sail comes down the boom doesn’t also coming crashing down or swinging about.

has a topping lift problem.  It’s a problem that I still haven’t figured out a best fix for.  After I bought the boat and sailed her a few times I realized that when the topping lift was slackened after raising the sail it easily snagged or fouled with other things in the rigging like the insulator on the port backstay (Solstice has split backstays) or the flag halyard on the starboard backstay.  In a tack or jibe a tangled topping lift in the rigging could be a nightmare and potentially cause serious damage to the rig.  The best immediate fix is to remove the topping lift once the sail is raised instead of just slackening it.  So each time after I raise the mainsail I remove the topping lift from the back of the boom and run it forward to the mast pulpit and clip it there out of the way where it can’t foul anything.  The problem with this is that when it comes time to lower the sail I don’t just lower the main, I have to first go forward, unclip the topping lift and take it aft and attach it to the back of the boom.  Then I have to go forward again and take the slack out of the topping lift.  Then I can lower the sail.  This isn’t a big deal unless, like this night, you have to do it in bad weather.  So I ran the steps over in my head even though I’ve done it a million times.

Okay, Bill, first go to the mast, unhook the topping lift, run it back to the end of the boom attach it, then back to the mast, tighten up the slack, and get the sail down.
My mind was clear of everything I had to do.

Staysail first.  Main second.

With harness and tether and ties in hand I was ready.

“Don’t let me go overboard, Solstice,” I yelled.  “Keep me safe, Jeep” I yelled louder. 

My heart pounded as I worked my way forward along the port rail through the driving rain.  I was careful to clip in everywhere and stay secure to Solstice.  I got to the mast and undid the staysail halyard.  I stepped towards the foredeck with the halyard in my right hand and the tether and clip in my left.  I clipped and unclipped the tether to secure points as I moved forward and did my best to keep my balance on the rocking and swaying deck.

Sometimes a tether on a harness seems more dangerous to me than not wearing one at all.  It tends to get caught everywhere.  I struggled to maintain my balance and move forward while holding onto the halyard and staying clipped in. Several times I had to stop just to unwrap the tether from wrapping itself on deck hardware or worse from entangling itself around my ankles and binding my legs together.  The image of my legs getting wrapped at the ankles, a big seaway pushing under the boat and tossing me overboard lit up in my brain.  I had visions of hanging over the rail headfirst while the tether kept me strung up at the ankles.  My body hung overboard just low enough to put my head underwater and drown me as Solstice sailed on.  Eventually the boat would sail into a port dragging her drowned Captain to shore like a fisherman dragging his big swordfish catch of the day into the harbor.

That will surely make the news,
I thought.

After several stops to untangle the tether I got to the staysail and let the halyard slip through my hands little by little.  I worked with my left hand and pulled the sail inboard.  Once most of it was down, I released the halyard all together and pulled the remainder of the sail down and on deck with both arms.  I couldn’t have been wetter if I had jumped in the ocean but the staysail was down and that was good.  I lashed it to the rail.

Time for the main.

I went back to the mast pulpit being careful to keep the tether tangle free.  I loosened the topping lift and walked it back to the end of the boom.  The rain flew sideways in the blow and stung my eyes.  I squeezed them shut and felt for the shackle on the end of the boom.  I gripped it with my thumb and forefinger, opened the latch for the topping lift, slid the barrel bolt back in and attached it.  Solstice reeled and rolled back and forth with the sea and I grabbed the end of the boom to keep myself secure.  Once it clipped in I went back to the mast, found the other end of the topping lift where it exited the mast and pulled it hard to take up the slack.  The line easily pulled out and I could see bitter end of the topping lift go soaring up into the rain streaked black night high aloft and not attached to the boom.  I hadn’t attached it properly.


I couldn’t lower the sail in this blow without the topping lift attached.  The boom would crash all about.  I had to get it.  I cleated the bitter end off at the mast and hurried back to the aft deck.  I clipped my tether onto a ring on the boom gallows and tried to grab it as it swung high above.  The shackle at the end of the topping lift soared up and swayed back down and up again to the other side.  It swung about like a pendulum from one side of the boat to the other.  It would come across the deck at its lowest point about 12 feet above the deck.  I jumped up and down wildly reaching for it but it was too high.  It swung past as the wind and sway of the boat carried it back across and up the other side where it swung out over the sea.  The wind swirled, the rain pounded and the boat pitched back and forth, the topping lift swirled above all around. 

What ensued was like a dark comedy.  I wished for nothing more in that moment than to have been in the comfort of a big chair in a living room watching this moron struggle with his boat in the middle of a black windswept, rain filled sea.  Instead, I was this moron.

The next time the topping lift swooped past I again made a futile attempt by jumping up and down swinging my arms at something that was feet away from my grasp.  This time it swung out over the port rail and then went around the port backstay three times like a tetherball being wrapped around a pole.


I saw the boat hook, which happened to be in the cockpit, and lunged forward to grab it.


My tether went taught and almost jerked me from my feet.  I went forward again and noticed it had wrapped around my feet.  I undid it completely, grabbed the boat hook and then clipped back in.  I telescoped the pole all the way out and lifted it high above my head like a long baseball bat.  It was almost close enough to hit and I jumped up and down and swung at the shackle furiously.


It was still out of reach.  I stepped up on the deck box and swung again.


“Yeaaahhh!” I screamed in the blackness.

The halyard swung back and started to unwrap itself from the stay.  As it swirled around and swooped near me I tried to hit it again and continue pushing it around in the “unwrapping” direction.  It was like I was in a bizarre tetherball game with King Neptune.  A game that I was good at as a kid but as an adult, I sucked.


It swooped away and then back again.  I swung hard.


It was a lucky square blow and the shackle and line went two more times around the stay and freed itself.  It then swooped down and swung back across the deck out over the other side and proceeded to swing itself about five times around the starboard backstay.


King Neptune was winning the topping lift “two-pole” tetherball game.

I jumped off the port deck box and ran to the other side…


My tether from my harness went taught again jerking me back.


Frustrated I unclipped, ran to the starboard side and stood up on the starboard deck box.  Without being clipped in I had a much better rotation of movement.  I also looked at my precarious position standing on the aft deck box, only one big rock away from being tossed overboard. 

“Don’t be stupid, Bill,” I was talking out loud constantly now.

I hopped off the box and clipped into the starboard ring.  When I jumped back up on top of the box the tether on the harness pulled tight.  I could lean out using it as support as it held me but my swinging motion was restricted.  I swung anyway!


Solstice, bobbed, tossed and swayed in cahoots with King Neptune and assisted in swinging the topping lift a few more times around.  With each wrap the end went higher up the stay and further from my reach.



I swung like a madman trying to hit it.


I hit it and it swung one time back in my favor, out over the water and


A huge gust of wind, from King Neptune no doubt, stopped my hit and swung it back in the other direction.  Solstice leaned over to give it momentum and it swung back again.  I flailed at it.


It wrapped itself another turn around the stay and higher up.  Another gust of wind and it went around another turn.  King Neptune was much taller and stronger than me.  I tried a different approach.

Instead of swinging at it I tried to just grasp the line with the hook.  I could barely touch the end of it now at its lowest point.  I reached up high, standing on my toes, reaching overhead with the pole, the tether from my harness tightly pulling me back.  I got the hook just above the shackle and tried to wrap the end around the pole.  Each time it would easily slip off.  Solstice rocked to starboard and I grabbed the stay for balance and almost lost the pole.  The pelting rain and wind blinded me.  I clung to the stay with one arm and clutched the pole with the other.  I peered up at the black sky as an overwhelming force of frustration swelled.


I screamed as loud as I could.  I couldn’t believe what was going on.  Only a few hours before I was sailing beautifully, now this mess.  I peered into the spreader lights and the sail.  The wind howled through the rig, the mainsail’s bowed breach at the mast stared down at me laughing at the ineptitude of the sailor looking up.

“Shut up!” I yelled. 

Did Captain Cook or Josh Slocum ever looked like such a moron at sea as I did?  
I wondered.

“Noooo!” I answered my own question loud.  “Well maybe they did and never wrote about it,” I yelled and secretly hoped that was true.

I looked back up at the end of the topping lift.  The line was wrapped many times around the stay and the shackle was sort of at rest, hanging there.  I composed my balance and reached up high with the pole.  I was able to push it and it unwrapped one turn.  It came around and…


I was able to shove it to go around another turn.  The end hung further away from the stay and swung further out.  I pushed it around again but on my backswing hit it the wrong way.  A gust of wind grabbed it and pushed it back in Neptune’s favor.  I could hear his boisterous laugh through the wind as he toyed with me.


I swung at it and missed again.


Dejected, flustered, frustrated, pissed and scared, I was about to give up.  The energy I had left was fleeting.  But the thought of the shackle swinging about and smashing into the solar panels or something else compelled me to try again. 

I grabbed the top of the boom gallows for support with my left hand and swung the pole hard overhead with my right…


“Fucking piece of shit…”


The pole came to a halt in mid-swing.  The hook of the end of the pole had miraculously hit a bulls-eye and snagged right into the gap of the shackle and held on tight.  I stood on top of the deck box with my right arm straight up holding the end of the pole that was stuck in the shackle while with my left arm held onto the boom gallows.  I felt like a weird version of the Statue of Liberty frozen in time holding the pole with my right arm fully extended straight up in the air and the other end stuck into the shackle.  I stood their motionless as the rain pounded and the boat pitched and swayed back and forth.  It was one o’clock in the morning.

rocked and my right arm pulled tight as the topping pulled up and away and tried to pull free.  I was losing my grip on the pole.  The tetherball contest had become a game of tug-of-war.  When the boat rocked in the right motion, I let go of the boom gallows for an instant and grabbed the pole with both hands and pulled.  Even with all the wraps around the stay it came down a little but then it snagged.  I’d give it a little slack, pull again and more would come down… then another snag.  Release, pull, snag, release, pull, it came down and then…


It stopped, the wraps fouled on the flag halyard that is attached to the stay.  It wouldn’t come down anymore.   I pulled but no more.  I had to unwrap it.  The shackle was much closer.  I held the pole with my left hand and reached up with my right.  And…


My right hand had a firm grasp on the shackle like it was the golden ring.

“Don’t lose it, Bill!” I yelled at myself like I had the winning Superbowl catch on my fingertips. 

I got the end of the pole and unhooked it from the shackle.  Once again I stood there with my right arm extended overhead in that bronze pose of the Statue of Liberty clutching the shackle.  The freed boat hook hung low in my left hand and the tether from the harness held me tight and kept me from falling off the deck box.

What do I do now?

I had to unwrap the line but I couldn’t do it with one hand.  I had to jettison the boat hook.  I tossed it into the cockpit.


The hook hit inside the cockpit and leapt back up like it was going to hurl itself overboard.  As it headed towards the rail the trailing end of the pole hit the top edge of the cockpit and it bounced back into the confines of the cockpit.

A sigh of that not happening brought some relief.

I reached up with my left hand and now had the shackle with both hand.  Slowly I began to unwind the line one wrap at a time.  The boat pitched and rolled and I was careful to keep a good grip on myself as well as the topping lift.  With each unwrap, the line became longer.  Soon I had enough to whip it free from the flag halyard.  One by one, I continued to unwrap it.  There must have been a dozen or more wraps.  It was hard to tell as I peered through the spreader lights and into the glare of the light that bounced off the driving rain.  It created a curtain of sparkling, shimmering light like tiny shooting stars flying across the black of the sky.  Finally the last wrap from the starboard stay was done.

“YEEAAHHH!” I screamed in celebration. 

I stepped off the deck box onto the back deck and could see that the line still had some wraps around the port backstay.  But the line was too short to easily handle, I needed to let out some slack out at the mast.  Fortunately, the line was long enough that I could just attach it to the back of the boom.  This time, I turned on my headlamp and made sure I attached it properly. I went to the mast and uncleated the topping lift and gave myself another 10 feet of line to work with.  Back at the boom I unfastened the shackle and began to unwrap it from the port side.  It took me a while peering up into the night to figure out which way it was wrapped.  Finally to the best I could see it was undone.   I brought it to the boom and once again made sure it was secure.  I released the main sheet and let the boom out into the wind.  So I could lower the sail.  The wind was still blowing but had now dropped down into the high teens.  The rain had lightened a little but a steady down pour was still falling.  I put Solstice into gear and motored her into the wind.  What I thought were high teens now was in the low 20’s.  She bucked and lurched as I pointed her nose into the swell and set the autopilot.  Solstice found it hard to keep her nose pointed into the wind with the swell knocking her about.  The swell would rise and the boom would swing a bit but she stayed mostly into the wind.  I did the best I could and worked quickly.  Back at the mast I undid the main halyard.  The sail began to come down and with it small pieces of white plastic fell to the deck.  The billowed out area also tended to grab and snag mast steps on the way down.  The sail came down a little and then stopped.  To didn’t continue to pull on it and risk a tear so I hauled it back up a little bit and flogged the front of the sail to free it from the hardware on the mast.  Finally, the mast step in question released the sail and let it pass.  Once I got past the broken section the sail came down easier.  It was hard to tell in the dark, even with the deck lights on the extent of the damage but it appeared to be broken sail cars.  The sail seemed fine but I’d have to hold judgment until morning.  Right then I just needed the sail down.

Finally the head of the sail was down.  The top car had also broken from where it was attached to the mast track.  I loosed the topping lift.  The boom swayed back and forth with the rocking of the boat.  I lowered it down slow and controlled the best I could and set on the boom gallows.  I went back to the end of the boom and lifted it up and set it in the cradle and pulled the main sheet tight.  The boom was secure and the sail was down.  It was a mess spilling all around but it was down.  There would be no nice folding job tonight.  I lifted sections up and just lashed it down along the length of the boom.  Finally, all the sails were down.

There was no celebrating, just a sense of relief that this part of the ordeal was over.  It was the thought of the damage that loomed in my brain now.

How bad was it?

I still had over 800 miles to go.  It was 250 miles back to Thailand.  If the damage was significant I’d have to go back because I knew there was no place between Thailand and South Africa where I could fix it.  The last thing I wanted was to go back to Thailand. 

You’re not going back, Bill.  You’ll figure this all out in the morning.  Stay the course.  You can turn around tomorrow if the sail needs a major repair.

I pointed Solstice back on course and motored into the night.  She rocked and rolled without any sails to steady her but she was under control.  I went below and got out of my wet clothes.  A half hour later the rain had seized and the normal NE 10-15 knot wind had filled back in.  It was now after 2am and I needed to lie down.  I was exhausted.  But if I could sail that would be nice.  I knew the jib was fine.

You can sail with just that for tonight.

I went back up top and put the boat in neutral and rolled out the jib.  Solstice caught the wind and pressed on doing 5.5 to 6 knots.  The jib also steadied her roll and she was comfortable.  I turned off the engine.  The clanging noise was replaced by the soothing sound of the sea rushing past the hull.  No main was up but we were back on course sailing beautifully just as we had before the squall had hit.  I did a check around for traffic and then went below.  I sighed, there was a sense of relief that I was sailing again but…

You’re gonna need that sail! 
I could see Jake’s ghost standing in the cockpit with his hands on his hips looking down at me.  He echoed the same words that he had told me over the radio when I blew out the jib on the Tasman to Sydney. 

Yep! You gotta get that sail off and fix it!,
he said assuredly.

“I know, Dude!  But not tonight!  That’s for tomorrow,” I said to the apparition.  “It’s late and I need to rest.  I’m going to bed.  You’re on watch, Solstice.  Don’t run into anything and wake me up if you need me.  I’m pooped,” with those words I pulled off my clothes and pulled myself onto the port satee berth where I could stretch out and sleep.

I didn’t fall asleep right away as my mind raced with what I had to do in the morning and then...

Bill’s words came back to me. 

That’s right, take your time.  You’ll get it all done tomorrow.  Now sleep.  In the morning make coffee, have a nice breakfast and then get to work.

sailed beautifully the rest of the night.  I was able to get a little sleep as we approached the Knickerbocker Islands.  By sunrise I had sailed through the Ketchup Pass and was headed into the northern Indian Ocean.  With the exception of one cargo ship and one cruise ship there was no other boat traffic.  That was great and helped me rest easier. 

The next morning was beautiful.  A 12-knot NE wind with flat seas.  Perfect conditions to get the main off and repaired.  The conditions reminded me of the time I was in the Tasman after the jib blew out and I had to get the sail down and repaired.  The morning after that storm I found flat, calm seas with a light breeze.  It proved to be perfect weather for fixing a sail while in the middle of the ocean.  The comparison of the conditions both then and now made me feel like Mother Ocean was on my side and looking after me.  I felt like she was giving me these conditions so I could work on the sails.  The conditions also gave me the motivation I needed to get busy and take advantage of the good weather while I had it.

I did keep my late night promise though and first took the time to make a pot of coffee and a good breakfast.  After breakfast, I lathered on the sunscreen, put on some music and went topsides to inspect the sail.  I pulled the sail out of the mast track and dropped it onto the deckhouse.  As I did more plastic pieces from broken sail cars fell out.  Once the sail was on the deck I went through it thoroughly.  There were no tears in the fabric or seams.  The damage was only to broken sail-cars and nothing more serious.


I’m still not sure how or when it happened or why so many sail-cars broke in that one area.  Perhaps it happened at the same time with one whack of the wind on the sail or maybe the cars each broke individually one after the other as the pressure increased up the sail track.  I don’t know for sure but I suspect it occurred during the time of hoving-to and forcing Solstice through the wind with the engine to backwind the sails.  One car at the top of the sail had broken too which I thought was odd.  But the sail was fine in all other aspects, which I was very happy about. 

I had spare sail cars, webbing, sail thread and all the other materials I needed to fix everything.  I wouldn’t have to go back to Thailand.  I just had to get to work. 


At 10am I stopped work briefly to plot our 24-hour progress.  I couldn’t believe it; we had done 177 miles.  That included over two hours of being hove-to as well as the last 7 hours sailing under jib alone.  If we hadn’t hit that squall Solstice would’ve had a record day.

Lunchtime was celebrated with a repaired main being hoisted, the staysail unleashed and all sails flying.  It felt great to have Solstice’s “real” engine up flying and going strong.  GO SOLSTICE GO!!!

The perfect conditions continued until late in the day, just as they had the day before.  And like the day before I noticed a change in the cloud configurations late in the afternoon.  This time I was cautious and proactive.  I got all the sails down well before anything arrived and we were ready.  When it did arrive it hit with a whimper.  A light smattering of rain fell that hardly wet the deck.  Instead of the wind going from12 to 35 knots the breeze was sucked out and dropped to nothing.  The surface of the sea became placid.  Flashes of cloud-to-cloud lightening sparked in the distant sky but nothing was close.  There were no bolts seen or thunder heard.

“Thank you King Neptune, thank you,” I said.

I had to laugh.  When I was ready King Neptune packed nothing, when I was unprepared, I got smacked.  It took about an hour and a half for the squall to pass and the trades to fill back in.  Once again sails were unrolled and hoisted and Solstice raced along.  600 miles to go.  Perfect!

The next 3 ½ days produced some of the best sailing conditions I’ve seen in a long time.  We had consistent 10-15 knots of wind out of the NE in flat seas and no more squalls.  Occasionally a ship would pass by far on the horizon but nothing close.  I fell into a perfect routine of sailing, getting rest, keeping an eye out, playing music loud, singing and dancing around the deck occasionally, taking pictures, cooking, reading and overall maintaining the boat and my fatigue.  Solstice sailed beautifully.  In fact, she sailed best when I wasn’t paying attention.

I have a running conversation with Solstice when it’s time for me to get some rest.  It goes like this:

“Okay, Solstice, you’re on watch, keep us safe. I need to get some shut-eye.”  I like to use Captain Ron lines whenever I can.

Okay, good,
is her usual reply.

“You wake me up if you need anything and I’ll be right there,” and I go below.

At some point later I get up to check on things.  Once I check that we’re on course and no hazards are about and all is well, I often notice that we’re sailing along at a knot or a knot and half faster than before I went below.

“Oh, we must be getting better wind,” I’ll say and I start to trim or tweak the sails.  I grind a winch and tighten a sheet or I let it out and tweak the main.  I try and correct for the wind change and get the perfect sail trim to wind angle.  More often than not, Solstice slows right back down to the speed she was sailing the last time I was up and on watch.  That’s when Solstice speaks up.

“Look, I’m on watch, not you.  Get your dumb ass back to bed and leave me to the sailing.  I’m doing much better without you screwing up the trim,” she’s authoritative when she speaks.

“Alright, alright.  I’m going back below.  Sail on Solstice sail on.  Call me if you need me,” and down I go.

She’s then happy again and I don’t know what she does but she gets us back up to speed at some point.  It’s a good relationship we share.  She takes care of the nuances of speed and such and I make sure we stay pointed in the right direction and don’t run into anything.  What I do know is that sail trim is like the weather.  The more I learn about it the more confused I get.  What I do know is if Solstice is sailing next to you, you better hope that I’m on watch because I’ll be screwing up the sail trim.  But once I go below to get some sleep, watch out, Solstice will kick it in and be sailing by your slow ass.

The next couple of days past and we made good mileage.  I realized that if we sailed hard and got a couple more 170+ mile days we might be able to get in a day earlier than I had originally thought.  It wouldn’t be easy but if the wind stayed consistent it was doable and Solstice and I were up for the challenge.  The wind remained good but at times it dropped off to a light breeze below 10 knots.  A few hours later it freshened up into the 12-15 knot range and again we made good time.  When I plotted our distance the next morning we had done 162 miles.  Not what I had hoped.  That added miles to be made for the next day.  It was 10am and we had 225 miles to go.  It would be tough to make it before sunset the next day.  But the breeze was fresh and Solstice charged on sailing in the high 7’s and low 8’s.  She was on a mission.  Regardless of when we got there, it was great sailing.

By two o’clock in the afternoon we had less than 200 miles to go when I saw what looked like a fishing boat off the port bow at my10 o’clock position.  She was about 65-70 feet long, a lot smaller than the Thai and Malaysian boats that I’d grown accustomed to seeing that fish offshore in those waters.  She was a lumbersome wooden looking boat with a lot of freeboard and a large two-tiered deckhouse in the middle.  The prow swept up high in an arch and the thick rails joined in a large pointed bow.  She was weather beaten and worn.  Her once pretty painted blue hull was sun bleached and rust stained.  She looked like she had been at sea for ages.  Crude wooden poles stuck out in all directions along the rails and aft deck and nets and traps were piled on the foredeck.  Black smoke streamed out of the dry stack on the deckhouse and was a sharp contrast to the bright blue of the ocean sky.  The boat was dead in the water, bobbing up and down over the NE swell that was running.  I looked at it for a long while through my binoculars trying to determine if there was a net deployed.  Her stern was towards Solstice but it was hard to tell if a net or gear was out.  Several men were peering over the bow into the water as if they were searching for something they had dropped overboard.  To be safe, I turned Solstice a few degrees to starboard to ensure that I gave them a wide berth.

Suddenly the men’s heads popped up and they looked back over their shoulders at Solstice.  A large cloud of black smoke belched from the dry stack and the boat lurched to life.  The helmsman spun the wheel and the boat did a 180 and was pointed right at Solstice.  The men’s interest shifted from whatever it was they were looking at to us.  My heart rate jumped up at the same time a second belch of smoke erupted from the boat.  She had throttled up and was pounding through the waves coming straight for us.  I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.  Suddenly I felt vulnerable and frightened at what their sudden maneuver meant.  I turned the autopilot several more degrees to starboard to steer away.  When I did that they turned to port, staying on course to cut us off.  As I steered closer to the wind Solstice’s speed increased.  She was traveling around 7.8 knots.  It seemed like Solstice was moving faster but it was hard to tell.  The sea was helping us as each wave they hit slowed them down and the following sea and wind carried Solstice along unimpeded.  But still they seemed to match our speed.  They kept shortening the distance with course changes.  We were running perpendicular to each other and I kept changing course to steer away from them.  But each time I did so did they.  It became apparent; they were coming for us and we were on a collision course.

I had heard about these fishing boats off the coast of Sri Lanka from other cruisers.  Some are known to get within only a few feet from you.  Some have hit boats in their attempt to pull alongside.  Most of the stories are that they simply want to trade fish for cigarettes or whiskey; I had neither.  And as Butch told Sundance, “Whatever it is they’re selling, I don’t want it”.

Their intentions remained unclear and their aggressive approach and movements unnerved me.  In the middle of the ocean 200 miles offshore, I felt alone and scared.  I figured my feelings were probably unwarranted but I didn’t know for sure.  What I did know is I didn’t want them close enough to learn what this was all about.  I wanted to get away from them.  I needed more speed and fired up the engine.  They were about 50 yards away and closing the distance on my bow.  I could tell as soon as they were under the impression that they were going to cut me off they sort of relaxed in their movements.  So I attempted to increase my speed without them knowing.  I held my course, grabbed the throttle and eased it forward.  Soon I had Solstice throttled up high, the wind blowing well and the sea in our favor.  Solstice hit the high 8’s and occasionally 9+ knots.  After about a minute I could tell we were going faster.  I was going to cross their bow before they got to me.  I held my course.  Finally, after a few minutes had passed, they realized they were losing distance.  They throttled up and changed course trying to still cut me off.  I too changed course and fell further away from them.  Black smoke poured from their boat and the waves hit hard on the bow as each turn of the helm brought them more head on with the swell.  Mother Ocean was doing her part too and held them back.  It became clear, they would get close but not too close before I crossed their bow.  Solstice was traveling faster.  A hard looking man stuck his head out of the deckhouse and started waving a shirt back and forth in an effort to make me stop.

What should I do?  Maybe they are in trouble?  Should I stop?

I could feel tension swelling inside.  Every beat of my heart pulsed at the tips of my fingers.  I looked at them long and hard with the binoculars.  The man at the deckhouse continued to wave a tattered T-shirt.  His motions were big and slow back and forth, from side to side over his head, vying for my attention.  I looked around at the rest of the boat.  Hardened men were scattered about the rail staring at Solstice.  There was no panic or sense of urgency, just an intense focus on Solstice and a wanting to get closer.  My mind began to run with a million questions.

What if something is wrong, Bill?  What if they need help?  They don’t look like anything is wrong?  Their engine is running fine. 
I grabbed the radio.

“Fishing boat off my port bow, fishing boat off my port bow, this is the sailing vessel Solstice, do you copy, over?” I spoke slow and deliberately.... and waited.  Nothing.

“Fishing boat off my port bow, fishing boat off my port bow, this is the sailing vessel Solstice calling you on channel one, six.  Do you copy, over?”….. silence.  Like most fishing vessel I’ve encountered in Asia they either don’t have a radio or just refuse to answer.

“Nothing heard, nothing heard.  This is the sailing vessel Solstice standing by on channel one, six,” I hung up the receiver and looked at them again with the binoculars.  The distance between us was closing but Solstice had the angle and speed now.  Once we past that “closest point of approach” the distance between us would start to increase… I hoped.

Again they turned to port trying for my bow but there was no increase in their speed.  They were going as fast as they could.  I held course.  The next few moments the tension peaked as we got closer and closer to each other.  Solstice raced ahead to cross their bow.  The man from the deckhouse continued to wave his T-shirt.  I put the binoculars down.  They were close enough now that I didn’t need them.  When we reached that geometric closest point of approach they were less than 50 meters away.  My heart rate quickened even more.  I needed to lighten the mood.  I ran below and turned on some random music.  Jimmy Buffett’s song Banana Republic came on which is about ex-Pats running away from the world.  I laughed.  The radio had lightened the mood… a little.  I popped my head back up top and watched the two boats cross their projected paths.  As Solstice crossed their line they continued to turn towards us hoping to narrow the gap by cutting down the angle but it was to no avail.  The distance between us finally shifted from narrowing to lengthening.  I let out a slight sigh of relief; but still I wanted them well out of sight.  Five minutes later they were astern and had turned into our wake trying to give chase.  Slowly, with each passing moment, they drifted further back, unable to keep up. The tension slowly started to dissipate like an ice cube melting in a well air-conditioned room.  I continued to watch them through the binoculars as they grew smaller on the horizon.

I hated the predicament I was in, I hated their aggressive nature, and I hated the way I felt.  I hated the fact that if they were in need of something I wasn’t stopping.  And I hated not knowing what their intentions were.  Everything pointed to that things were fine aboard their boat and that they just wanted to come alongside.  When I looked at the scenario, I was almost 200 miles offshore, I was alone and there were at least 8 men on their boat.  I didn’t want them anywhere near where it would give them an opportunity to do something unwarranted.  That was my fear, and one that was most likely unfounded.  But I wasn’t going to let that opportunity present itself.  So I acted to not let that happen.

Twenty minutes later they gave up the chase and turned in a different direction.  I decided I’d continue to motorsail and put more distance between us.  A couple of hours later with them well from sight and me feeling much better, I turned off the engine and sailed.  The lovely wind continued.  I did a quick calc.  Suddenly getting in before the next night looked doable with the motorsailing I did the last 3+ hours.  And after the unsettling feelings that the fishing boat had brought, I didn’t want to be out here any longer than I needed to be.

I dug out a good ole’ Aussie steak from the bottom of the freezer.  I baked a potato, roasted some carrots, butternut squash and garlic.  I put the steak under the broiler for three minutes a side and seared it to a nice medium rare.  A glass of red wine as a treat to wash it all down with and things felt normal aboard.  After dinner I watched what I hoped would be the last sunset of this passage.  Just as I was starting to relax, lights began to pop up on the horizon one after the other.  They came on in random across the horizon, like Stars On The Water as Jimmy says.  It didn’t take me long to realize I was coming upon a fleet of Sri Lankan fishing boats.  They seemed to be grouped in small clusters of two or three boats.  One group would be to the south, another straight ahead and two more to the north.  As each group appeared I adjusted course to stay well away from them.  I figured if I didn’t get near them then perhaps they would stay away.  Perhaps the nightfall would keep them away too.

The sun slipped over the horizon and the lights from the boats intensified as if they were being turned up by a dimmer switch.  In the darkness, it was evident that fishing boats were everywhere.  I was glad though because unlike most of the boats in Southeast Asia, these all appeared to be lit with proper navigational lights.  For that I was thankful.

The night passed slow and not much rest was had.  As soon as I’d clear a group of fishing boats another group would appear on the horizon.  When I avoided them, another would pop up.  The entire night was spent in the cockpit with a few quick trips to lie down.  But more often than not, as soon as I put my head down…


The radar alarm burst to life warning me of the next group of boats ahead.  But this was normal close to shore; if you get any rest, it’s short lived when you’re single-handing.  It was a long night but outside of avoiding the boats, there was no drama and Solstice sailed well.

It was a welcomed sight when the sun finally broke free from the horizon.  It’s rays of warmth brought with it a sense of relief and a feeling that I could sleep a little more freely.  I got a needed uninterrupted nap from 7am to 8am.  At 8am I resigned to idea that I was up, awake and was determined to make landfall before dark.  At 10 am I plotted our 24-hour progress – 186-mile day!  Being chased by fisherman and the 3½ hours of motor sailing had helped with our boat speed. 


“Sail on Solstice, sail on!” I yelled.  “We can make it!”

We had 50 miles to go and about 9 hours of daylight left.  If we averaged 5.5 knots or better we’d make it.  Solstice was still cruising in the mid to upper 7’s so every hour over 5.5 knots was money in the bank.  There were still fishing boats to avoid but in the daylight it was easy and none of them ever approached us.  I steered clear of them and they seemed content to let me pass.  Perhaps they were catching fish or maybe word had passed amongst them that this particular sailboat had no interest in stopping.  It didn’t matter to me, I was happy to go by with zero scrutiny.

By midday it was clear I was going to make it in before dark.  Even if the wind eased I was more than happy to fire up the engine to make it in.  I got excited.  I put on my Malacca Strait playlist, The Straits Sessions I call it, and turned it up loud.  A good mix of some old favorites mixed in with some new ones I’ve discovered in my travels.  I wondered what new music was waiting in Sri Lanka.

By early afternoon I was less than 20 miles from shore but I couldn’t see any coastline.  An hour later I was less than 15 miles from the coast but still saw nothing. 

It’s a little hazy but I should see land by now,
I thought.

I scanned the horizon with the binoculars but saw only sea.  Another hour past and I according to my position I was 7 miles from the coast but I couldn’t see anything.

How can that be? 

I started to question my position, my navigational skills and where in the world was I? It was inconceivable that I was this close and couldn’t see the land.  Unless…

You’re not where you think you are, Bill?

I double-checked my waypoints and my positions.

“I put in the right coordinates,” I assured myself,  “Our position is correct, except… no Sri Lanka?”  My imagination started to run wild.

What do you mean? How can that be?  Where is it?

Suddenly Han Solo was standing next to me.

That’s what I'm trying to tell you, kid.  It ain't there.  It's been totally blown away.

What!?  Blown away? That’s ridiculous.  How?” I barked.

Destroyed. By the Empire.

“What!?  Obi-Wan, you’re here too?  You guys don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I grabbed the binoculars and scanned the horizon again.  It took another 10 minutes and we were only a little over 5 miles out before I saw the slightest edge of the sandy shore that jetted out from the coast hanging above the hazy horizon.

“LAND HO!” I yelled.  “See you morons,” I turned to Han and Obi-Won “Sri Lanka, blown away.  You guys are morons.”

As I looked at the lay of the land it made more sense.  The leading edge along the coastline was flat and low to the sea, a long sand bar.  The surrounding coastline fell off another five miles beyond there.  And the angle of my approach made the coastline appear very subtle.  Still it was a bit unnerving to think I was that close to the coast and could barely see it.

If was a beautiful afternoon and as I entered the bay the wind shifted aft and I sailed in.  I had a good two hours before sunset and plenty of time to get in so I sailed as long as I could.  I got all the flags up and it felt great to be sailing as much as we had since leaving Thailand.  As I entered the bay a small flat bottomed boat with three men in it were bottom fishing near a shoal that lined the southern part of the bay.  Like their countrymen that approached me 200 miles offshore upon a visual of me they reeled in their lines, stowed their gear, fired up the outboard and came screaming towards me.  They pulled right along side,

“Ehhhh, where you from, where you from?” the man in the bow yelled. 

I pointed to the American flag, flying off the backstay.

“Ahh, America!  America!”

“America,” I nodded.  “Obama!”

“Yes!  Yes! Obama! Obama!” all the men yelled with big smiles.

“We love Obama!” I answered back.  The Obama-card goes over very well in this part of the world.

“Yes! Obama!... Hey whiskey?  Whiskey?” the man yelled and gestured with his hand like he was taking a drink.

“Oh, no whiskey! Sorry no whiskey,” I said.

“Smoke, smoke?” the next man said as he put his thumb and forefinger together and acted like he was taking a drag.

“No… no smoke?” I said.

“No smoke?... no whiskey?” their smiles faded.

“Sorry,” I held my empty hands up.

On that gesture they turned away and sped off.  I watched them go, more convinced than ever that the men offshore had only wanted the same thing.

Trincomalee on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka is like no other port I’ve been to.  Up until 6 years ago Trincomalee was a warzone.  A warzone that had seen it’s share of horror and tragedy from a civil war that had lasted 27 years.  This harbor was hard fought for and up until last year pleasure boats such as Solstice had not been here in 30 years.  Only one boat arrived last year.  This year saw a few more.  I was probably about the 9th or 10th boat to come in.  As a result of this history and unfamiliarity with foreign vessels a naval escort surrounds you as you approach.  I expected this because I had heard reports from other boats that had come before.  It was interesting though.  I was as peculiar to them as they were to me.  Two separate P.T. style boats alongside.  When I held up the radio to talk they waved and shook their head as if to say “No” and took pictures of Solstice.  I took pictures of them too and we each waved and smiled at each other.  Then they sped away.

rounded the corner and I sailed as long as I could until the wind finally shifted on the nose as it funneled through the hills into the bay.  It was time to drop the sails and head in.  A half-hour later I was tied along the wharf to clear in with customs and immigration.  An hour later I dropped the hook in a nice flat anchorage near my friends Jamie and Behan on Totem as well as Andrew and Karen on Utopia II.  It was great to be here.  I was exhausted but thrilled and excited.  I had finally escaped Southeast Asia and I had made my first big jump across the Indian Ocean.  I was in Sri Lanka.  An exotic island rich in history and culture that I had heard about for years.  I couldn’t wait to start exploring this fascinating new land.  But for now, I poured myself a glass of wine and sat up on the bow and watched the first of many beautiful sunsets I’d see from this anchorage.  It was great to be here.

Much Aloha,





Solstice Log