Monday, May 20, 2013

Vlad's Adventures in Single Handing

Meet Chirp, the new first mate aboard Bettie

We were pretty surprised when we tallied up the mileage Vlad sailed solo, in which I'm including our first try at Acapulco where for a week Vlad sailed the boat and took care of me while I threw up. He went about 1,300 miles or close to halfway across the Pacific. We are pretty sure the major ocean crossing passage would have been more pleasant journey, however. For one thing, he could have slept more than 20 minutes at a time, and for another it's theoretically a much better sail, despite crossing the doldrums.

People have asked him what it's like single handing, and he always replies that it's exactly the same but with less sleep. Being close to the coast near heavy shipping lanes and the occasional fishing fleet means that sleeping for long stretches just is not happening. Of course, people have to sleep some, or they begin to make bad decisions (not good on a boat!!) or even go a little nuts. To combat fatigue somewhat, Vlad would set an alarm for anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes depending on conditions and would then wake up, scan the horizon, check the course and maybe the radar as well if he had it turned on. He also swung out to sea more at night just in case the alarm failed.

Mostly, he motor sailed up the coast, partly because going north up this coast is against the prevailing winds the majority of the time and partly because he wanted to make it to the wedding. You know, priorities.

This last passage, from Barra de Navidad to Puerto Vallarta, was the roughest to date, with high winds, big seas and what looked like a major storm front looming. Plus, he was running on a major sleep deficit from a month of on again, off again single handing. But thankfully he had Chirp, the new first mate he picked up after the old first mate so rudely abandoned ship. Chirp wasn't much of a navigator, but she did stay at the helm pretty much the entire time, despite the rough weather.

The foul weather he had near Cabo Corrientos, which is the cape you have to go around before entering Banderas Bay, stayed with him for about eight hours and then just disappeared. We think it might have been the catalyst weather system for a tropical storm that formed the next day far out in the Pacific.

Also, he docked the boat by himself, anchored in a crowded, windy harbor by himself, was surrounded by massive dolphin pods and fought with a freighter that tried to run him over twice in broad daylight (every time he got out of its way, it turned straight for him again). Plus, he read some of Bernard Moitessier's The Long Way, though thankfully did not decide to follow in his footsteps!

In the end, he safely got our boat all the way to Puerto Vallarta, never complained, never seemed particularly nervous and has now had a couple well deserved days of sleeping.


  1. Incredible! I was just remarking to Tate how amazing it was that Vlad single handed all that way. Great story.

    1. I was really nervous about it when we first started talking about me getting off the boat in Chiapas, after I got sick all the way from El Salvador, but then on that first trip to Acapulco he sailed the boat for a week with no help from me and on very little sleep and was fine.

      That made me realize that he would be ok, and he promised to always stay clipped in and all that. But yeah, quite the tale!

  2. That's an amazing effort, well done Vlad! And what a cute little first mate Chirp is.

    I've read a few books by solo sailors on circumnavigations, and apparently it's not uncommon to have hallucinations due to lack of sleep. One lady hallucinated a few older ladies and gents on board and invited them in for tea. Sleep deprivation does strange things to the mind. It was good Vlad could grab what bits of sleep he could and impressive that he got you into port safely.

  3. Yeah, I'm glad he had a photo of Chirp or I might have wondered about hallucinations as well!

    All in all, though it wasn't the trip we would have chosen, at least everyone was safe, and we made it to our destination.

  4. This will be an experience he will have forever and what a great tale to tell when the child is older. He'll be able to pull that out when all the girl/boyfriends are paraded out: "Did I ever tell you about the time I had to single-hand the boat for 1300 miles in deep snow and howling winds because you made your mother so incredibly sick? Yep, that's just how much I love you.".