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Expat Living: Brother Dan is Still Sailing Away

Brother Daniel is Sailing

Photo credits: Daniel Anderson (Dan the Younger)

Expat living on the high seas…

This post has nothing to do with learning Thai or Thailand. It’s about expat living. And since I haven’t written an expat living post for awhile, and the opportunity arose, here you go.

When I was growing up I spent a bit of time on sailboats. It’s one of the many outdoors activities our family engaged in to keep three rowdy kids entertained. When we first took to sailing seriously, we lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world: Marlborough County, on the South Island of New Zealand. After New Zealand we started sailing the equally stunning waters around California, Nevada, Mexico, and more.

A few years after relocating to California, my father retired, gave away or sold most of his belongings, got on a boat and sailed away for good. He was in his early 40’s. His trip started from the Sacramento River, downtown Sacto, and ended back in Picton Harbour, New Zealand. His craft of choice was the family boat, a 23′ Islander (single hull), aptly named the Don Quixote (the impossible dream).

And for international waters especially, 23′ is a small boat.

How small is small? It was small enough for a teenage girl to manage lake sailing for a week plus on her own, no problem. But when small craft warnings went out on Californian and Nevada lakes, it had to come in. That’s small.

After his well-publicised launch (warmed up with a wake the night before), the Sacramento papers joked about there not being enough room left in the sailboat for a spare can opener. They were right. That boat was packed tight.

With parts missing (storms do take their toll) the Don Quixote made it all the way to New Zealand, limping the final stretch.

EDIT: Going through photos I came across a copy of a newspaper article written after his arrival in New Zealand: Pair Took Trailer Sailer from California to Wairau Bar! (apologies, but for the article to be legible, it needs to open outside of this post format).

Fast forward to the year before last.

After fulfilling his obligations, my older brother Daniel (Dan) upgraded his sailing skills, wrapped up his life in Hawaii, flew to LA, renovated a ’78 Cascade sloop named the S/V Leeway (he’s brilliant that way), and sailed off towards southern waters.

Dan’s adventurous shipmate Daniel Anderson kept friends and family abreast of first the renovation and then their travels via his well-written blog, dansailing (warning, they are both Dan). Dan the Younger is shown in the photo below (ahhhh, the life, yes?)

Daniel Anderson is Sailing

About a year later, when the younger Dan’s time on Leeway was up, we grew to depend upon my brother’s lively but sporadic emails.

This week I received such an email. And as it’s such an interesting (alarming?) update, I thought you’d get a kick out of reading it too. Note: for those without sailing experience, I’ve added links to a few boating terms. Let me know if I’ve missed any.

From Daniel: An update on my journey…

I left out of Moorea after Christmas. The southern oscillation had moved north displacing the 20 plus mph trade winds with a gentle 10 mph breeze. I figured that it would be a good time to start my first singlehanded passage: Moorea to Samoa.

My first 24hrs were a gentle northwest broad reach heading northwest to clear the Leeward Islands of French Polynesia. The second afternoon the wind dropped to a still, muggy calm with isolated thunderheads marching up from the east.

I spent the night in the cockpit tacking the boat north and south to avoid the worst of these. The gentle breezes and diminished storm activity came with dawn.

Daniel is Sailing

I slept a few hours as Leeway, sails set wing and wing, made her way under control of the wind vane. I was tired but in good spirits as I dozed off and on into the afternoon, catching rest to prepare for the night watch.

I awoke fully at 4pm with the sound of a pair of French Mirage fighter jets coming up low and fast from behind Leeway. I turned to watch them blast by only to see a whitewater torn line of wind racing toward me instead, close and fast. Too close, too fast. I hit the deck moving forward to release the guy out 140% genoa as the wall of wind hit us. The mainsail back-winded and bounced against the preventer which kept Leeway from a full-flying gype.

The boat spun a full 180 degrees, both sails now filled taut from the bow. Leeway was sailing backward!

I had been flattened to the deck by a blow to the head by the pivoting boom. Knowing from first aid courses that head wounds bleed copiously did not prepare me for the flood of blood down my face and chest. Blood splattered everywhere as I dropped and bundled the genoa on deck, heaving it out of the water and gasketting it tight against the lifelines.

The preventer had cinched the customary half hitch too tight to release. I made my way back to the cockpit on a nearly vertical deck returning with my emergency machete. With a quick stroke of the machete Leeway popped vertical, mainsail adding the timpani of outraged cloth to the roar and howl of rigging straining wind.

I knew I was hurt. Footprints of red went fore and aft. Chest to foot flowed red. Windswept splatters and sprays of red swept the cockpit, the coach roof, deck and sails.

With Leeway running downwind on mainsail alone, trusty wind vane managing beautifully and the nearest lee shore 30 miles away, I went below to tend to myself and ascertain the damage.

Using precious freshwater at the galley to wash my face, a gaping cut over my right eye showed in my shaving mirror. “This will need stitches” my mind flatly stated. I have everything aboard and the training to stitch skin. On someone else…

I had experimented with self stitching 10 or 15 years ago on my leg after an encounter with rebar on a job site. I didn’t do so well. Even with lidocane the sensation was just too weird.  

I tied two 4×4 gauze pads tight to my head with a strip of clean T-shirt and reviewed my options. In two weeks I could arrive Samoa with another interesting scar, or Bora Bora was a 6 hour beam reach south.

I wore about, still under full main, still in 40 knot winds. By 6pm I was outside the pass, motor wouldn’t start, wind coming directly out the pass precluding a sail in. I was dizzy and unable to make out the pass entrance lights against the backdrop of channel nav within the lagoon and lights of Vaitape.

Daniel is Sailing

I radioed Port Autonome Bora Bora on 16, on 14,  on 12, on 22. No response. I went back topside to set the sails for a heave to position off Bora until dawn or my vision cleared .

The radio squelched loud and a voice came out identifying itself as SAS Papeete, inquiring about my status and position. When the officer learned that I had a bleeding head injury he was not satisfied with my decision to stand off ’till dawn. He mobilized a rescue boat with a captain and three crew, a local Gendarme and an emergency room physician, and sent them my way.

I hoisted my emergency strobe to the spreaders, set a light on the mainsail, and hunkered down to wait. By 11pm Leeway was tied to the municipal quay in Vaitape and I was in the island’s emergency clinic (after hours but re-opened for me), getting 8 stitches to close me back up.

Daniel is SailingAdded to the crew of the rescue boat, the physician, and the gendarme was an ambulance driver and an on call emergency nurse. Eight residents of the island, the local Commune du Bora Bora rescue boat, an ambulance and a hospital were mobilized on my behalf. I am beyond grateful.

Thank you SAS Papeete, thank you Commune de Bora Bora, Doctor David and Nurse Michelle. This entire orchestration was a free event. There isn’t even a mechanism to make payment.

My emphatic “Merci Beucoup” is shrugged off, thumbs up’s are offered in return. I am going to sit out a few days here, check the weather gribs, and then see Doctor David for a follow-up before I depart for Samoa.

I have washed the blood off the boat and off my body. My shorts are rinsed and hanging on the lifeline. Tomorrow I can wash the blood out of my hair. Life is good.

To continue my sail to Samoa, I’m now waiting in Bora Bora for a weather window to open up. It ain’t a bad thing to be stuck in Bora…

Cheers!
Your brother Dan

Bora Bora

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

14 Comments

  1. Wow, heartstopping and amazing. How lucky you are to have adventurers like these in your life, but how you must worry…

  2. Sarawan, I did get an adrenaline rush of worry when Daniel’s email came in.

    From all his experience with sailing, and with the way he tackles any project he takes on, I haven’t been overly worried (until now). I wonder if he’s told our mother…

    Solo sailing does bring on extra challenges but I never thought jets would come into it.

  3. Amazing! Cat, your brother is one cool dude. It must be wild sailing like he is. That would be an adventure of a lifetime and I bet you look forward to each e-mail.

    I bet there is a good book in there somwhere.

  4. Talen, he certainly is :-) and in each email I mention the same. I did read that Dan the Younger is putting his trip into a longer format but I’m not sure if my brother Dan plans to go to those lengths. But he did mention articles in sailing mags.

    Each email my brother Daniel sends I wonder about taking off from my life to sail a bit, explore islands and new coastlines, meet new people, take onboard those with a kindred spirit, and then sail a bit more. He’s invited me to tag along for a week or two but with what’s going on here I don’t see it happening.

  5. Catherine, I’d love to be as brave as brother Dan…Kudos to him!…and you HAVE to go and join him, even if it is for a week or two.

  6. Great read, Cat. Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad your bro’s okay.

  7. Snap, isn’t sailing off into the sunset a sweet thought? It’s sort of what you’ve been doing in Thailand, only on dry land.

    Thanks David. Actually, this is something I see you doing when you retire. Designers don’t often retire 100% but even 50% does leave elbowroom.

  8. Catherine I’ve always had a great fear of the sea and rivers too. It takes a lot of coaxing and quite a few beers to get me anywhere near a boat let alone on one. Your post and Dan’s words having done nothing to ease those fears, probably taken them to new heights.

    Bora Bora’s locals did a great job in patching up Dan and at no cost as well. They’ll be a few refugees rowing there if they get hold of this post.

    When I was a kid I remember Tin Tin and Snowy the dog having a few problems on the high waters, I think they might have been the reason why I’ve always planted my anchor on dry land.

  9. Martyn, I know quite a few from the British Isles who are scared of water. The man of the house nearly drowns whenever he’s submerged so we gave up on water activities (pity, I miss sailing).

    And while I’ve had some hairy experiences in a sailboat none were as bad as what Dan went through.

    Tip, don’t use your leg to stop a boat from crashing on the rocks. It hurts. Really, really hurts.

    Oh, and there was that one time when I was lost off the coast in fog for two weeks (didn’t realise that the centreboard was throwing off the compass). Bored, I started filling empty bottles with notes – first the liquor bottles, then condiment bottles. Three months later I received a reply.

    A short while ago I saw the alert for Japan’s earthquake and tsunami come in. They are putting out tsunami warnings for New Zealand so right quick I did the measurements for Bora Bora. It would take 12 hours to get to Bora Bora and by then… a mere wrinkle in a teacup? Should be. We’ll see.

  10. It was indeed a wrinkle for Bora Bora. From Brother Dan:

    We were awake at 5 am moving boats off the docks and onto deeper moorings. Supply ships hove to a couple of miles offshore and the cruise ship left the lagoon to deep water.

    It was a non-event… other than stubbing my toe.

  11. Jacqueline Smith

    August 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Happy Birthday to that handsome Captain Dan, his second birthday while living the dream! Happy Sailing!

  12. Jacqueline, how sweet of you to remember (and thank goodness for Facebook). I’m just back from visiting with Dan’s lovely daughter Haley. While we didn’t do any sailing, we did go via ferry to Bainbridge Island.

  13. Jacqueline Smith

    August 10, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    How wonderful, I’m sure Haley enjoyed your visit.Haley is amazing although I never met her, Dan often spoke about her accomplishments, he is the proudest of Papa’s. By the way, the picture of Dan in the brown aloha shirt was from last year’s birthday.Last year was spent with Daniel and a few other locals he meet on his adventure to Tahiti. Dan is so friendly that wherever he goes he is capable of making friends quickly, I am sure that today, on his special day he will be celebrating it with good people, good food, and good music. That is of course if he is not out in the open ocean alone. Either way I’m certain that he will be brightening the sky with that beautiful smile of his. Hauoli la hanau Captain Dan.

  14. Haley is quite something. She’s sweet, smart and concerned with the world around her. I enjoy our visits.

    I haven’t heard back from Daniel about his special day but he was sure to be surrounded by people. He always was when we were growing up.

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