January, 1990—May 1991
“Sustained winds of 21 to 33 knots. A Small Craft Advisory for Hazardous Seas is issued for seas 10 feet or greater.”
—Warning issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, Western Washington and California coasts
After 15 years of dreaming, we were living aboard with a foot in the door on our five year “Sail around the World” plan. The house and the two greeting card stores were sold. We continued to work at our jewelry store and had planned on another year of saving money to add to the cruising kitty.
Jim’s diagnosis changed that plan. He lost his ability to hold small objects, and gemstones shot wildly out of his hands and flew into space. His hands often shook as he talked to customers about jewelry designs. His handwriting deteriorated, so he couldn’t write up sales slips or orders or draw designs for rings. His voice softened causing people to say, “What? Speak up!” They didn’t realize that, due to PD, he couldn’t speak any louder. His ability to solder or make delicate wax models was severely impaired. The jewelry store customers didn’t know or understand that Jim had Parkinson’s and often thought his symptoms, including his unsteady gait, were those of a drunk or worse. Attempts to hide or minimize symptoms that medicines could not mask or aid became a daily strain on both of us. The neurologist in San Francisco warned, “Jim will probably live about five more years. That’s about it before PD either incapacitates him or ends his life.”
We were stricken and frightened. Even if we did not go cruising, we needed to sell the jewelry store since Jim could no longer function successfully as a custom jewelry manufacturer, designer, and salesperson. Jim was the heart of the business. I could not foresee running it without him. We stepped up our efforts to sell the store. Throwing caution to the winds, we decided to live for our dream. We would go anyway.
We vowed that if the effects of Parkinson’s disease made ending our voyage somewhere along our route necessary we would sell the boat and abandon the cruise. I could do most of the physical work aboard Sanctuary by myself if need be, and Jim could direct me on things such as repairing the diesel engine or mechanical items if he couldn’t hold tools. After all, he was still functioning fairly normally, and most people probably would not notice or care about his shaking, unsteady gait, soft voice, or other symptoms. “Exercise all you can” was one of the prescriptions the doctor had given Jim along with lots of pills. Sailing would give him plenty of exercise. So we fast-forwarded our plans, learning curve, and departure date.
We sailed Sanctuary every chance we got, practiced maneuvers, and learned to use the auto-pilot and other onboard systems. We took classes in piloting, navigation, medical preparedness, storm tactics, sail repair, and diesel engine maintenance and read all the books we could find pertaining to world voyaging on a sailboat. I learned Morse code and got my Amateur Radio License so that we could contact other worldwide cruisers via our ham radio. We purchased tools, generator and engine spare parts, tested all of our sails, and organized our provisions. For three months I kept a log of everything we purchased and consumed so we would know what food and supplies to have aboard for long passages. We worked daily on items from the pre-departure list. The tally seemed endless. As we completed one project two more were added.
The universe aligned with us. The jewelry store sold, and we set a departure date of May, 1991. We optimistically planned to sail through a window of good weather “uphill” to Puget Sound, Washington. Once in the sound we’d gunk hole (hop from harbor to harbor) through the Gulf Islands, the San Juan Islands, Vancouver Island, areas in Desolation Sound, and other nearby areas. Spending our first leg in an area where English was the native language, and supplies were easy to obtain, seemed prudent. Sailing north along the California coast would be a significant challenge to our novice skills, and we would find out early on if we were capable of continuing. If the “shake down” cruise went well, we’d retrace our route south to San Francisco Bay for final adjustments and good-byes to our California family and friends then continue towards Mexico, Central America, and beyond.
Pulling our dock lines aboard, we blithely left Alameda on Sunday, April 28, 1991 and Sanctuary headed for the Golden Gate. Surprisingly, the bay was crowded with traffic: sail, power, small, large, even jet-skis, and wind surfers. We knew they weren't there to see us off, and belatedly realized opening day of the San Francisco Bay yachting season was in progress complete with boat parades, races, and the blessing of the fleet. Friend and sailing mentor Jim Marco, who had come along with us to morally boost the first leg of our voyage, said, “Maybe some of the blessings will drift over to us.”
The U.S.Coast Guard weather forecast, broadcast on the short wave radio, called for: “Point Reyes to Big Sur; A small craft advisory is in effect; west to southwest winds 15 to 20 knots and seas to six feet.” It was the wind direction we were waiting for and six feet of ocean swell didn’t sound so bad to two greenhorns. We looked forward to a beam reach to round Point Bonito and sail northwest up the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.
As we headed out under the Golden Gate Bridge, with the sun setting on the Pacific Ocean, the winds increased to 25 knots. Furthermore, they had clocked around to the northwest—right in the direction we wanted to sail. We could sail close hauled west through the busy shipping lanes with traffic coming in and going out of San Francisco Bay. To keep our course, we would soon have to turn to starboard (short-tack) and re-cross the shipping channel continuing in this zigzag pattern northwestward, or we could start the diesel engine and motor sail, powering into the wind and seas. Jim Marco had sailed this route several times either in his own boat or while delivering boats. He said, “It’s always like this going around Point Reyes.” We took his respected recommendation and started the 36 hp diesel engine.
By midnight Sanctuary's bow crashed into (as it seemed to us) high winds and seas. Jim was terribly seasick and yelped, “The pounding will damage or destroy Sanctuary! We’ll die at sea before we even begin!” Conditions seemed bad to me, too. Winds were much stronger than winds during any of our practice sails even the one in Tahiti. Jim Marco calmed us saying, “The conditions aren’t that bad. And besides, this boat can take it a lot longer than you can.”
We continued with Jim Foley on the first night watch. He sat in the cockpit under the dodger scanning the horizon for other vessels and occasionally looking up to admire the bright full moon. He heard a strange, hissing, sound just as the boat dropped as though falling into a hole. He glanced upward wondering why the moon had turned green. A towering rogue wave suddenly broke over Sanctuary from the southwest and over the port beam. Tons of cold sea water crashed upon our little boat flattening the canvas dodger and bending the one inch stainless steel pipes of the dodger frame as if they were soda straws. The cockpit, filled to overflowing with sea water, sent a deluge cascading around Jim Foley and surging into the cabin below.
Jim Marco, hearing the wave crash and feeling Sanctuary lurch, jumped up from the navigation station and rushed to the bottom of the companionway stairs where he was knocked off his feet by the surge. Off watch, I was asleep on the port side berth. The loud, crashing sound woke me up just as the plunge and roll threw me out of my sea bunk. I bounced onto the main salon table, and groggily watched sea water splash through the cabin all the way to the “V” berth in the bow. I cried out crazily, “What happened, did we hit something?”
Nothing major was damaged. We slogged on toward Point Reyes, rounded the headland two miles off, and wearily headed for the fishing port of Bodega Bay. We arrived at dawn, wet, cold, and exhausted. Sanctuary’s interior cushions were soaked with sea water, the spray hood lay in ruins, and Jim F. had a bloody knot on the top of his head from the crashing dodger. We had been through hell our first 24 hours at sea.