SLAM! Another breaking wave hissed out of the dark and broke against the starboard side, filling the cockpit with foam. I watched the phosphorescent water swirl around my knees, then ankles, as it quickly drained through the open transom. Clutching the wheel and soaked through my foul-weather gear, I peered anxiously upwind into the darkness, preparing for the next breaker. My teeth chattered. Was it the cold? Fear? A little of both? What were we doing out here?
It started ten years before, when two of our three crew on the vessel had made a summer delivery from San Francisco to Hawaii on a thirty footer. The trip was uneventful and fun, and we experienced very little rough weather, with top wind speeds in the low thirties off the coast, nothing like the consistent gusts in the mid forties we were experiencing now. There were three of us aboard: Bill is seventy two, Dan is sixty one, and I was the comparative youngster at fifty five. My wife and I bought the boat last winter and it had been berthed in the bay area, waiting for a June delivery to our home port of Honolulu. We had sold our Ranger 33 after nine good years and gotten interested in the Catalina C320 as a "step up" in many ways, but there were only four in the Islands, and none for sale. So we were forced to buy a West Coast boat and sail it home.
SWOOSH! The cockpit filled and drained; we were now getting used to it after two days. At least the marine weather guys had called it correctly..."gusty westerlies to gale force, small craft advisories along the California coast north of Point Conception." We had dropped the double reefed main on day one; it was too much sail and rounded us up into the breaking seas. We now reached along at hull speed with about six feet of unfurled jib. The knot meter showed low sevens. One memorable breaking wave lifted the stern and we surfed in a quick burst to 9.3 knots. Being on the edge of control was exhilarating but scary this far from the coast. What could we do if something major broke?
We renamed her Tradewind and began to get ready for the passage. She was a '99 model, number 624. Most of our negotiations with Catalina dealer, Farallone Yacht Sales, had been by email and cell phone. Luckily Dan lived in the bay area and acted as agent for an offshore delivery to legally avoid California state sales taxes. She was hauled, surveyed, painted and splashed, and a second reef was sewn into the mainsail. A bimini was fabricated and the dodger was re-sewn and upgraded. A rigger replaced the upper shrouds; the stock forty amp alternator was replaced with the Yanmar 75 amp model. Ten gallons of extra fuel was lashed into the stern lazerette near the rudder post. The GPS units were programmed with the Honolulu coordinates, and an Iridium phone was rented. A new 406 EPIRB was fastened in the galley and a solar panel was mounted to keep up with the autopilot's needs. A rented life raft was lashed onto the cabin top, voyage insurance secured, and we were ready to head out the San Francisco gate and turn southwest.
After day four the wind finally began to moderate. How calm it seemed at thirty knots after days of higher gusts! As we dried out and began to eat normally, one fact became apparent. Our C320 had handled the rough stuff with barely a whimper, and was tougher than her recovering crew. The next two weeks were mostly without the high drama experienced early on our passage. Sure, we had squalls which sent us scurrying to reef and sent our boat speed into the sevens, but mostly the trade winds blew between ten and twenty knots. We skirted the pacific high but were still forced to motor once for fifty hours. We trolled and caught fish whenever we wanted; finally filing the barbs on our trolling lures and going catch-and-release just to keep busy.
On the morning of our nineteenth day we sighted the island of Maui at first light. We spent most of the day sailing along the seacliffs of the north shore of Molokai, then crossed Kaiwi Channel to our home port of O'ahu, where we tied up to the dock about nine o'clock.
My wife and I cruised in July and we use the boat each weekend. Sundays we're usually anchored off Waikiki, snorkeling, and then enjoying the swim step and shower. We're learning to love our C320, and our "Codger Cruisin" delivery trip was the voyage of a lifetime.