January passage

Thoughts on Our Passage

I’ve tried to start this post a hundred times. I thought of something like:

  • We completed our first passage! or,
  • We’ve done it! We’ve done a passage, or
  • look at us! we made it!


after which I would babble on about details about how things went and how we were fearless and how we are much better sailors now and… but in reality, I want the post to go something like this:


A family walks into a bar.

The bartender asks “why the bedraggled looks?”

The family mumbles “we survived our first passage. That is all”.



It’s not very funny, I know. And neither was our passage.

Long story short: it was 14 hours of upwind motor sailing. Anyone who has had to sail upwind for any amount of time will groan a little and immediately feel pity for us (thank you). The rest of you will cock your head to the side and think “well, 14 hours of anything can’t be all that much fun”. (thank you, too)


The fact was, that we had to get to St. Martin from the BVI in good time and we had a small weather window open and we had to go for it. Matt and our friend Ron kept an eye on the weather, wondering to leave in one day or a week. It’s a game, and a bet and at a certain point, you just need to run for it. We did have my mom coming to visit in a week or so, in St. Martin, so we really didnt want to wait for the clearer weather window that was possibly coming in a week. The weather was going to get worse in the next few days so we opted to leave a littler earlier rather than wait another day or so. 

I wouldn’t say it was a bad choice, it was just a tough choice.


We had prepped the inside (snacks, pre-made dinner, put things away that would fly under way) of the boat and the outside (strapped things down or taken things off, hoisted the dinghy on the deck) and were as ready as we could ever be.


We left around 1:30 PM from the Bitter End, and started pounding into the waves as the day slipped away on us.


It was beautiful, truly. It was also long and hard.

To go down into the boat was risky, and we didn't let the kids do much of that. You would hold on for dear life to heel back and forth to go and get water or the bathroom (the worst) or grab some food or iPads. It just didn't let up, and I think it just got to us after a while. 

We did know this passage wasn't going to be a dream: it is well known that this passage is usually a pain, so I was mentally prepared for that. Still, I can say now: it wasn't the best experience, but it wasn't the worst either.

The kids managed really well, considering. They were both a little green (which they haven't really been before), so they both had some medicine and slept for lots of the the daytime hours (in curious spots, like Piper, on the floor of the cockpit). After the sun went down, we ate a pasta salad (light and easy on the tummy, though we weren't really all that hungry) and watched the first stars come out. We kept our eyes out for our buddy-boat on the horizon (SO happy to not do that passage alone!) and eventually pulled the iPad out up on the deck and we tried to watch a movie. The kids enjoyed it (I think?) and then we sent them down to try 

and sleep. But somehow it just turned into them playing on the iPads until almost midnight. We had no problem with that: they were calm, happy and not getting sick. I eventually turned the lights off and they fell right asleep soon after. Then it was the rest of the hours into the night, just Matt and I, motoring away into the darkness. We would radio our friends every couple of hours, or if we ever lost sight of each other. I can't tell you how nice it was to hear a human voice going through the same things we were.


At the time, it was entirely bearable. I tried to sleep once or twice, to no avail and tried to give Matt a chance to sleep. He wasn't interested in being anywhere but the helm, which I can understand. It's the same on our road trips. Out of 14,000 kms we drove across the country, I drove maybe 500 of them. He doesn't complain and I do my best to take care of him and the rest of us.


We could eventually see the faint fog of city lights on the horizon, but would look at the clock and know we were still six hours away. Oh, those hours felt like eternity. We could see the destination, but were still so far from it. We tried to eat a bit, drank Coke and tried to keep things bright. I listened to an audiobook. I eventually couldn't keep my brain together anymore and went down to sleep a little. When I woke up, we had an hour left and St. Martin was definitely in our sights now.


We pulled in, with our buddy-boat at around 4 AM, dropped our anchor, and tried to relax. We both needed a shower (some of those waves were crazy!) and to just chill out for a bit. We eventually went to sleep, but I don't think it was very good. Maybe we took medication to help us sleep? It's all a bit of a blur.


And in reality, that first passage was just a blur. We are both a little discouraged by how it felt and have needed some time to recover. We've been told that every passage after this will be much better, it's just island hopping, down wind from here on in. I really hope so, and I am starting to believe it, too. I have faith that a good passage has our name on it, one of these days. For now, I have feelings of "we made it - and that is all", not a proper celebratory hip-hip-hooray. That will come.


For now, we certainly did survive our first passage, we have no regrets on doing it, but we are eager to have many more magical experiences nothing like that last one ;)

Write a comment

Comments: 5
  • #1

    Nicole (Monday, 30 January 2017 09:57)

    I think all of this is fascinating and you have a lot to be proud of. Congratulations on sticking it out and surviving your first difficult stretch! Hugs!

  • #2

    Annette Van Ee (Monday, 30 January 2017 10:15)

    Wow!, that sounds like it was very hard and long. So glad you made it after such a tough decision and the kids fared well too. Congratulations!

  • #3

    Carly (Monday, 30 January 2017 11:05)

    ahhh sometimes the experiences are a yay! And sometimes they're a boo! And sometimes they're a meh. But a few months down the road, looking back, they're all pretty cool. They're shaping your story good and bad. Glad you made it safe and sound! Xo

  • #4

    Vicky Nudds (Monday, 30 January 2017 11:36)

    Your experience sounds like it is from one of the books of Narnia. You were courageous and determined and successful. Lots to talk about and be thankful for! What an adventure. Pics indicate that you had a great time with Bethany.

  • #5

    Matthew Van Tol (Monday, 30 January 2017 18:12)

    I saw my first real flying fish that night. So so cool and i don't think i will ever get tired of that.