Joined by my son Skyler, seen in the photo on our earlier 4am departure from Bodega Bay) and Ruby the Wonderdog, I sailed out under the Golden Gate bridge on March 3, 2008 so I’m now starting year number five of this grand adventure and Wow! what a ride, what a life, what a privilege it has been every day since!
NOTE: I’ll put a photo album at the end with some additional pictures and note that if you click on any of the pictures here you will get the full size view.
If you will indulge me I’ll do a bit of reflecting on these past four years of truly living life large. Sailing from one great experience to the next have taught an incredible number of lessons and created a life which for me is nothing short of awemazing. Each day has been filed with more adventures, experiences, living, loving and learning than I thought was possible for one person to experience in a full lifetime never mind just four years.
I continue to be struck by what I wrote about a two years ago when I was in New Zealand reflecting on the start of my third year at the time and trying to comprehend how I could have experienced so much in just two years. I eventually made some sense out of it and what I called “Exponential Learning Density” or ELD. In the coming weeks and months I’ll write more about that and some of the other major lessons I’ve learned in the last four years and over 25,000 nautical “smiles” as I like to call them. As I’ve recounted these lessons to others via Email, visits and even some pubic presentations many people have confirmed that these are lessons in life that completely transcend their origins in sailing and I get a lot of requests to write these up and share them online so more people can access them and I’ll do my best to try and articulate these as best I can and share them with you here.
First let me set the scene with a quick overview of how this all came to be.
I named the boat Learnativity, a word I had created about twenty years ago when I couldn’t seem to find a word to describe something I think we do all the time. We have words such as learning, working, creating, inventing, discovering and I use them all a lot. But these individual words suggest that they are discrete and independent activities on our part whereas my sense has always been that we do these all simultaneously as we go about our daily lives solving problems, making choices and just living. Do we really stop learning and start working and vice versa? Not in my experience and so I came up with Learnativity as an amalgam of all these and focal point for what I wanted to explore, talk about, experience and grow.
Sailing is something completely new to me. I grew up living all over Canada and Europe as my Dad was a chef in the Canadian army. No nautical background in my history or my family tree. No life long childhood dream of going to sea. I just happened to serendipitously stumble over sailing about ten years ago on a family vacation in Polynesia, where thanks to Diana’s great planning we chartered a sailboat (WITH a captain I might stress), for a week. I didn’t really know it then but as I reflect back now I think that is when the sailing bug first bit me. Over the next five years I became more and more curious and fascinated by sailing, read lots, had more charted boat vacations with my dear friends John and Michelle and soon reached a familiar conclusion for me that the only way to learn more was through the experiential learning of doing it myself. I particularly relish diving head first into the deep end of my many pools of ignorance and so I figured what I really needed to do was go sailing long term, indefinitely in fact. No destination in particular, rather a journey of grand adventure through the world’s oceans in general. Yea right, that’s the plan, my favorite kind; the no plan plan!
And so the search for my first boat began and spent almost two years figuring out what I wanted and needed in a boat by scouring the worldwide used boat market, going to boat shows, reading and talking with anyone who would put up with my incessant questions. Then one day in early 2005 I found just the right boat for me in Sidney BC, just outside Victoria, the one town where my parents retired and I had finished high school and started university. She is a 52’ steel monohull sailboat built from 1992-94 by Kristen Yachts and after several visits and much discussion I bought her from the original owner and took possession in July 2005 in Friday Harbour. Yikes!
She was in good shape overall having not been sailed much at all but was lived in and used by the owner and sometimes his young family as he used it as an office for his geographical plotting work of sea bottoms. However as I learned more and more, she was not set up for open ocean or blue water sailing but for short day sails and certainly not possible to be sailed single handed around the world. I didn’t know a thing about boats really and somehow I missed the memo that you can’t sail a boat this size by yourself so I just jumped in with my usual ignorant bliss and got going with what would turn out to be a two year refit to get her ready to set sail on this grand adventure. While I didn’t know anything about boats, I’m pretty handy and I can figure most things out and I’m a good problem solver and more than anything I LOVE learning by doing.
With lots of help along the way of my great friend John and his dad Juan on several occasions, as well as too many other friends old and new to mention, I spent the first six months visiting the boat up in Victoria/Sidney and then later moved her over to Port Townsend for more extensive work in the boatyard there as they specialized in steel (and wooden) boats. During the winter months in Port Townsend we sandblasted the bottom of the hull back to bare steel and put on new epoxy primer, sealer and anti foul paint, installed a new bow thruster, cleaned fuel tanks and put in a complete new fuel line system, pumps and filters, new AutoProp propeller and many other renovations.
Joined by my good friend Steve we even managed to take her on a trial run back over to Vancouver Island and docked right in front of the Empress Hotel! One of the things that grabbed me very early on in my research into sailing was the fact that you can legally anchor your boat in the middle of almost any harbour in the world! As long as you aren’t blocking any shipping or sea plane lanes, the world is quite literally your oyster. How kewl is that?! I can anchor in front of hotels that are costing their guests thousands of dollars a night, have a view to die for and sleep in my own bed for “free”! How can you not go for that?!
The Port of Port Townsend (had to say that for you Skyler!) was a great marina to work on a steel boat but it was way too far away for me to get there as often as I wanted and needed to. My home and workshop were down in Petaluma, about 50 miles north of San Francisco so I was anxious to move the boat down close to there as soon as weather would permit. Bodega Bay, which is just north of SF Bay proved to be a great spot that was less than 20 minute drive from my home and workshop and where I ended up working on her for almost two years to get her ship shape for single handed blue water sailing.
There were many attempts to get Learnativity down south to Bodega Bay that were thwarted by weather windows that suddenly snapped shut. Even my friend Robin from England (seen on the right) flew in for one of these aborted attempts and my dear friend Erik from Antwerp had a memorable flight into Port Angeles to lend a helping hand. Erik had an even more memorable experience the next day when he woke up and came up on deck to find himself swinging from a Travel Lift carrying the boat over to its final resting spot on the hard stands!
But finally, joined by a brave crew of John and his Dad Juan from Florida and two of my Autodesk colleagues and friends Dave and JohnH (the mermaid and the shark declined to join us) we finally set out for Bodega Bay on May 6, 2006. As we were to learn, the west coast of North America, in fact every continent, is not very friendly to sailors with few points of entry and all of them difficult.
The weather is also still very iffy this time of year and we ran into a severe storm about 60nm off the Oregon coast and made the call to head for Crescent City on the Oregon/California border to seek shelter from the worsening conditions that kept increasing to over 50 knot winds and 5 meter seas all the while the forecasts were calling for mild conditions. The entry into Crescent City was even more challenging as none of us had ever entered it before, it was a challenging entry at the best times and we were doing it at night in storm conditions! But we made it in just fine and were soon all sleeping soundly down below, snuggly tied up to the docks. Now THAT is experiential learning!
I needed to change the name of the boat as it was the name of the original owner’s business and so began my search for just the right name. Almost as important as naming your children I knew this was a name that would be with me for a long, long time, one I would be saying on the VHF radio every day as I called others or was being hailed, on every document I filled out as I checked in and out of each new port around the world and so I gave it great thought and deliberation. I wanted a name that would be unique and capture the essence of what this ship was all about for me and the great unknown adventures which lay ahead. Not finding any existing names or words that seemed to fit I was soon trying to create my own word by putting together bits and pieces of others such as my kids names and trying these out on everyone who would lend an ear. It was my two great kids who nailed it though when they just looked at me, with those wonderfully quizzical looks teenage children give their Dad when they are so puzzled at your apparent blindness and ignorance, and said “You’re kidding right Dad? You already have the perfect name for this boat; Learnativity!” Duh! Smack! Of course! If there was one single explanation for this otherwise insanity of buying my first boat and sailing it around the world, it was my love of learning. I love jumping into the deep end of my pools of ignorance, and trust me those ends are VERY deep and numerous! Though I had no inkling of the depths of this connection, I was pretty sure that I would be learning, working, inventing, discovering and a whole lot more every day I owned and sailed this ship. So Learnativity it was and she has lived up to that name every single day since then in more ways and depth than I could have ever imagined.
OK, enough of my nostalgic reflections for now. Thanks to every one of you who have helped me so generously and kindly in so many ways to be out on this grand adventure. I could not possibly be leading this charmed and full life without each and every one of you. I’ll be back with more stories of some of the bigger lessons I’ve learned along the way.