Jan 27, 2016

Man quits job and sails boat from Washington to Chile


By on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Two years ago, at the age of 25, I quit my job, sold / donated all my belongings, bought an old 30ft sailboat, taught myself how to sail it, and sailed 12,000 miles from Washington State to Chilean Patagonia.


The goal of my voyage was to ski directly from the boat in the fjords of Chile, but I had a long way to go before I got there.

I started in Bellingham, Washington and worked my way down the Oregon and California coasts to Mexico.  I spent hurricane season in the Sea of Cortez and eventually sailed from southern Mexico to the Galapagos Islands.  The final leg of the voyage from the Galapagos to Puerto Montt, Chile was a 37 day non-stop, single-handed sail and I only saw one other boat that entire time.  I've been exploring Patagonia ever since.

It has been a wild ride with everything from hurricanes to volcanic eruptions along the way.  My life has gotten infinitely simpler and I'm completely and totally free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.  The wind costs me nothing and drives me wherever I want to go
I sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay a couple of months after learning to sail.  I threw a big party on the boat and there were so many people aboard that the boat nearly sank!

I still didn't have much sailing experience at this point, but I tried to be conservative and I was lucky to avoid any major mishaps along the way.
The sea is full of mysterious, beautiful creatures.  A pod of playful dolphins surrounded the boat to escort me into Mexico. They frolicked in front of the bow for nearly an hour!
Lots of folks from the US came to visit me during my time in Mexico.  It felt great to be able to share my new life, and the days I spent with friends were some of the richest of the voyage.  
It wasn't all margaritas on the beach once I got to Mexico - there were some pretty stout storms and I got saltier and more competent as time went on.
A couple months into my jaunt through of the Sea of Cortez, I had to fly back to the states for a family reunion.  A good friend offered to look after the boat in La Paz while I was gone.  The Sea of Cortez is generally considered a safe haven from hurricanes (something like the risk of being hit by a hurricane in New Hampshire), but I made sure it was carefully anchored and prepared before I left.

While I was in the states, a major hurricane swept up from Central America and rammed directly into La Paz in the middle of the night.  My friend rode out the hurricane at anchor through 125 knot winds and I communicated back and forth with her via text message through the height of the storm.  The anchor chain eventually broke off and the boat was swept onto the beach.  At 2:36am, I got one last text message followed by radio silence.

The hours that followed were the most horrifying of my life.  I wasn't sure if she had just lost cell service or if something had gone horribly wrong.  I eventually got a call from the Air Force that my emergency transponder had been activated.  My friend had been swept from the bow of the boat by a massive wave and had spent 8 hours clinging to the mangroves, battling hypothermia, and waiting for dawn and rescue.

Hurricane Odile claimed the lives of three other sailors that night, but miraculously my friend was OK.  The boat was totally fine - just a little bit of scratched paint from being beached.
Though they're sometimes hard to find, there are still little bits of land out there that aren't covered in condos and strip malls.  I found some incredible slices of paradise along the way and I've developed a much deeper appreciation for this beautiful planet we live on.

I tried to live off the sea as much as possible and in Mexico, that accounted for 40-50% of my meals - sushi, ceviche, fish tacos, etc.

I managed to wrangle this sailfish onto the boat with a light hand line one afternoon. I decided to name him Don Rodrigo the Magnificent and he was by far the largest fish I caught.  Without any refrigeration onboard, I knew I'd never be able to eat him before he spoiled, so I decided to throw Don Rodrigo back to the sea.

I made it my goal to try and catch every sunset and sunrise during the voyage and Mexico delivered some absolutely spectacular sunsets during the 6 months I spent there.

I passed through a lot of charming little beach towns along the coast and drank more than my fair share of Pacificos and Tecates on the beach.
I made it my goal to try and catch every sunset and sunrise during the voyage and Mexico delivered some absolutely spectacular sunsets during the 6 months I spent there.

I passed through a lot of charming little beach towns along the coast and drank more than my fair share of Pacificos and Tecates on the beach.
The sail from southern Mexico to the Galapagos took me almost two weeks, with an engine failure thrown in for good measure.  It was my first substantial passage and it felt like a major accomplishment when I made landfall on Isla Isabella.

I spent about three weeks in the Galapagos.  The animals and landscapes there were absolutely staggering.  I ran into this old curmudgeon of a tortoise on a dusty trail in the woods.  He didn't seem to notice me and just kept lumbering along to the next watering hole.
The 37 day, 3500 nautical mile sail from the Galapagos to Chile was the hardest thing I've ever done.  I was totally and completely alone - literally a thousand miles from the nearest land and I didn't have any human contact for more than a month.  Before the passage, I vaguely wondered if I'd go crazy, but I managed to adjust to the rhythm of the sea and keep my sanity.

After a couple weeks of sailing into high winds and big waves, I caught a whiff of an odd electronic-y smell.  I started searching around the boat, but couldn't find the source for quite a while.  Eventually I lifted the cover to the engine compartment, and smoke billowed out with flames leaping up at me.  I managed to put the fire out with an extinguisher and cut the power from the batteries.  I'm normally a pretty cool cucumber, but I was literally shaking at the time.  It was the scariest moment of my life.

It turned out that a slow leak from the engine had dripped on one of the wires to the starter motor.  It shorted out and started the fire.  I managed to rewire the engine at sea and continue towards Chile.
A week after I arrived in Chile, Calbuco Volcano erupted just before sunset and sent an ash plume several miles into the air.  The power and size of it all was absolutely staggering and though it was about 20 miles away, it felt like it was right on top of me.  During the night, lightning struck all around the volcano, illuminating the pillar of ash and creating an otherworldly scene.  It was a hell of a welcome to Chile!

After the eruption subsided, I went up into the Andes to help people recover from the after-effects.  A thick layer of ash (which is much more like cement than the fireplace ash that I'd been envisioning before) blanketed everything and caused numerous homes to collapse.  There were lots of people living in small villages that lost everything.
The fjords of Chile are absolutely breathtaking and I've spent the better part of a year exploring all the nooks and crannies.  They're covered in lush rainforest with cliffs that drop thousands of feet straight into the sea.
Because of all of the volcanic activity in Chile, there are literally hundreds of hot springs.  Chile is also famous for its vineyards and cheap, delicious wine abounds.  Life doesn't get much better than drinking wine in the hot springs with a background like this!

Eventually I got far enough south to start encountering icebergs.  Luckily I didn't have any "Titanic" experiences and my beers have been much colder than they were during my time in Mexico.

It was a long, rainy winter, but I normally got a couple of clear days each week.  I'll certainly never forget sunrises over the Andes

Southern Chile is very sparsely populated, but occasionally I run into like-minded adventurers exploring the wilds of Patagonia.  Meeting other sailors is always cause for celebration and throwing a cocktail party on an iceberg seemed appropriate.

On one day, I was lucky enough to pull off a "Whale Watching Triple Crown", which involves spotting a blue whale, a fin whale, and an orca all in the same day!  The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived (even bigger than T-Rex was) and the one I saw was several times longer than my boat.  One got so close that I could even smell his breath!

My main goal for the voyage was to ski directly from the boat and I spent several months scouting for good places.  Unfortunately, thousands of feet of dense rainforest blocked the approach to all of the best skiing.  A friend and I decided that the best opportunity would be via a glacier that came all the way down to the sea.

The approach still wasn't easy and we had to use my small, inflatable dinghy as an icebreaker (sketchy!) to reach the foot of the glacier.  My friend deflected bergs in the front while I tried to navigate us through the tangle of pack ice.
Once we finally reached shore at the edge of the glacier, it took a couple miles of climbing and scrambling over rock and scree to reach a skiable face.

The glacial ice didn't make for the best skiing of my life, but the scenery was astounding.  We were surrounded by enormous peaks with the creaking, calving glacier beneath us, a perfect blue sky above us, and tens of thousands of ice bergs floating off into the distance.
(photo: Jess Oundjian)
Now that I've accomplished all of my goals, its time to move on to a new challenge.

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