These are some of the stories from the crew, captains, and shipmates of past Griffin Bay Adventures.
Jason Christensen crewed aboard a SC50 back from Hawaii in 2016.
“When I was a young child I lived in, and had always had lived in Piedmont South Dakota. During the day I would run among the sun drenched alfalfa fields, listen to the meadowlarks and enjoy the shade ponderosa pines taking in the smells and sights of an amazing landscape. As a 5 year old in South Dakota, I had never even seen the ocean. But at night, I would dream of sailing across the pacific. I just knew the Pacific Ocean was the largest and that became my goal. To sail across the Pacific in a boat, not a ship, but a boat.
Flash forward forty years and I was in a chandlery in Seattle looking for a recharge kit for my PFD when I saw Rhys. He had been the instructor for my ASA 103 class, one of the most fun classes I had in the whole series. I asked him if he had any upcoming deliveries, and he said: “Yeah, I may have one coming up in July, from Hawaii if you’re interested?" How could I say no?
I flew to Hawaii in July and landed on a humid night in late July. The next morning, I met up with Rhys for breakfast and we headed to the legendary Transpac boat: Oaxaca. We went from Oaxaca to the local Safeway and provisioned the boat. When I returned to the boat, had missed a chance to meet the legendary Dee Caffari. However, equally as exciting I did get a lesson on how to navigate using Expedition software from the equally legendary Liz Bayless. While Rhys did a walkthrough with Oaxaca’s owners, Liz showed me how to setup sail info over Sailmail for the east Pacific surface analysis reports and GRIBs.
"As a 5 year old in South Dakota, I had never even seen the ocean. I just knew the Pacific Ocean was the largest and that became my goal."
Over the next three days we stocked the fuel, organized the provisions, fixed an alternator arm problem, sea tested the auto pilot and partied with the Transpac crews. This included the Transpac award ceremonies, chatting with Bill Lee about yacht designs, noon sights with the Max Ebb aka Paul Kamen.
We departed on July 17, and as we were waiting for the Diamond Head rounding, we saw Roy Disney’s Pyewacket yacht head by under stormsail and storm jib. So I hailed them on the VHF and asked “Pyewacket, noticed you had your storm sails up, what do you guys have for a forecast.” A New Zealand accent punched back: “Hey mate, what we have is a forecast saying it will be generally sunny during the day and likely dark at night. Over!” We all laughed, and before I could respond, they said “just joshing of course, this is just how we are rigged until we see what is out there.”
About two days after we rounded Diamond Head, a weak repair on our boom caused it to break. Rhys kept everyone calm, we lashed a spinnaker pole to the boom, rerigged the sails and were underway about four hours later. When we called the boat’s owner he said (paraphrasing): “You guys are remarkably calm for having a broken boom 800 miles off from Hawaii.”
This is all because of how Rhys managed the mood on the boat. We took that broken boom and sailed the following 2500 miles to Tiburon with smiles on our faces as one of the most cohesive teams I have ever been a part of. As a former firefighter, that says a lot.
We pulled into Tiburon 15 days later salty, sweaty, happy, and satisfied with our Pacific crossing. I immediately turned, hugged Rhys, and told him, “This has been a dream of mine since I was a kid”. This was truly a dream come true: ever since I was that five year old kid in Piedmont, South Dakota in a trailer house, imagining my bed was floating on the ocean.
I would sail with Rhys through anything, by myself or with my family. His experience, demeanor, knowledge, and craft-fullness are amazing. He really is an amazing sailor and captain. I have learned so much from him and from these experiences and have really grown as a sailor; for that, I can’t thank him enough.”
Marco Scheuer helped sail the same SC50 back from Hawaii in 2016.
In the mix.
“You’re on the team, kid.” The salty voice on the phone was that of captain Rhys Balmer. “Can you be at Waikiki by 7am?” It was midnight in Seattle and I was getting the call. The one I’d been hoping for: an invitation to sail the Pacific and help bring back Oaxaca. She’s A Santa Cruz 50, a Pacific Cup racer and we were to bring her back to her owners in California.
I booked a ticket, stuffed a bag full of gear and headed to the airport. Then I called my boss: some opportunities just can’t be missed. I show up at the marina a bit blear- eyed and am immediately put to work. The crew already all know each other. They’ve been working together all week to get the boat ready in the sweltering heat. After a quick “Hello,” I’m tossed a box with directions to the newly installed autohelm. Everyone pulls their weight around here. Best way to learn, best way to become a team.
"As Diamond Head fades behind us, I’m momentarily nervous. Are we really doing this?"
Out to sea.
It’s a bouncy ride just out of the harbor. All hands are on deck to get us underway. The diesel drones down below and we run up some sail to steady the rolling. As Diamond Head fades behind us, I’m momentarily nervous. Are we really doing this? A group of near strangers sailing the Pacific?
Then I remember our captain has sailed this ocean on a boat less than half the size. He could sail this thing home solo. We’re here to learn. I think Rhys saw the concern on my face: “Why don’t you go make ready to hoist the number 4?” Work puts the mind and stomach at ease, something I desperately need at the moment. I add an extra clip to my jackline and make the trip forward.
The trek to the bow is a routine that will become very familiar over the next two weeks. I’m clipped in, bracing unsteadily on the heaving and plunging pulpit as warm blue Hawaiian water douses me over and over. It’s big out here, the remnants of three hurricanes have really churned the water. The golden jib soars skyward as Rachel jumps the halyard. She’s a friend from home and I’m glad she’s here, a lifeline to reality. The boat leaps forward, showing her racing stripes. All aboard are grinning as we smoothly power away at 13+ knots.
Learning to drive.
I’m awed by the boat. She’s an older design, but is posting impressive numbers in heavy seas. Rhys calls out from his stance at the wheel. “Anyone want to take the helm?” I’m nervous, but I’ve heard this is how captains assess their crew. I decide to step up, gonna have to eventually. I’ve sailed some, but never on a 50’ thoroughbred like this. It becomes readily apparent that I have lots to learn about open ocean sailing.
I stand legs braced at the wheel, nervous, first of the crew to drive and everyone is watching. The boat is fully powered as I crack off and launch us straight off the back of a 10ft wave. The bow shoots skyward and slams heavily. Rhys calls out “steer down, angle off the crests!” The next one is coming and I jerk the wheel hard to leeward. The bow clears the crest and miraculously stays glued to the ocean. “Head up!” shouts Rhys and I spin the wheel back to the wind. We luff, lose power and slop over the back of a wave. “So close, So close!” Apparently the goal is to head up just before the wave then dive the nose down and away at the crest. This keeps the sails full and drawing, the boat stuck to the water.
Over the next few weeks I learn by watching him. He carves up and down hissing waves, ranging forward and away at a constant angle of heel, driving through moguls, totally locked into the boat. Everyone sleeps better when the captain drives. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Driving by feel. I’ll need more practice.
"I remember elaborate crew dinners filled with ingredient improvisation and cockpit camaraderie, and even an all hands swim a thousand miles from shore."
The rhythm of the ocean.
You learn something every day, because every day brings something new. Marine traffic, trouble shooting water supply, rigging for sail optimization, breaking gear, fixing gear, becoming an autonomous
unit. It all flows together. The rest of the trip became a blur.
When I think back, I see snapshots of soaring albatross, the eyes of a fresh caught Mahi on deck, the green flash at sunset. Seared into my memory are music filled night watches, the glow of the binnacle and the stars, dance parties on deck; and that unforgettable feeling of hanging on to the wheel as the boat surges ahead, nose down, looking for speed. I remember elaborate crew dinners filled with ingredient improvisation and cockpit camaraderie, and even an all hands swim a thousand of miles from shore.
Wading back into real life.
In our final days, we raced pods of dolphins and kept an eye out for the now more abundant sea life. We listened to podcasts and bundled up against the colder temperate air. As we drew closer to San Francisco, we began to see more signs of the familiar terrestrial world. More shipping traffic crisscrossed our monitor, and gulls began to make regular appearances.
We sighted land one morning just after sunrise and capped off our trip by setting the spinnaker. We rode out the day with the wind at our backs and plenty of pressure to scoot us along. What an adventure.
Rachel Novak was on the same SC50 back from Hawaii in 2016.
My journey with Rhys began with a message from a mutual friend of ours: “A buddy of mine who does sailboat deliveries received a last minute contract for a racing yacht to be delivered from Hawaii to San Francisco. Are you interested in being crew?” Two weeks later, I was on my flight to Waikiki to meet up with the crew. One of them was a close friend of mine from Seattle, but the rest I had never met. We set off a few short hours after arriving in Hawaii and getting the last minute provisions.
As the island shrunk from view, each of the crew took turns at the helm to get familiar with how the boat handled. We discussed scheduling of day and night shifts, crew expectations, and generally got to know each other better. Life was cush on our new floating home. We each had our own berths, we had a refrigerator and water maker, and boy was the Oaxaca a fast boat!
She glided over the water like a dream and surfed waves smoother than easy spread butter (of which we ran out of quite quickly). As we got into the groove of passage making, we passed the time by learning celestial navigation, listening to music or podcasts, fishing, reading, playing ukulele, hosting “crappy dance music hour”, and howling as the sun set on the horizon (okay, the last three were mostly my occupations). We began to look forward to the light squalls, as they represented our only fresh water showers.
"Life was cush on our new floating home. We each had our own berths, a refrigerator and water maker, and boy was the Oaxaca a fast boat!"
My favorite memories from the trip include cooking sessions with my crew mate Eric, seeing the Milky Way stretch from horizon to horizon each night, watching as dolphins playfully danced around the boat as she sailed, and marvelling at the bioluminescence that appeared nightly in our wake. There was always wind to escort us on our way, and only one short moment did we get to make the most of becalmed oceans by swimming like otters in the limitless expanse of blue waters.
A good sea story wouldn’t be complete without its challenges, and five days into the passage, the boom broke. After some discussion, the crew pulled together for an arts and crafts session. We created a splint for the broken boom by lashing a whisker pole to it and decreasing the sail area to minimize stress on our patch job. We continued the following 9 days on a reefed mainsail and a large headsail.
During our last few days, we had to get increasingly more creative in the galley as our food supplies dwindled. I began to relish the thought of sinking my teeth into some fresh fruits and veggies once hitting land. That time came soon enough, and I won’t forget the feeling of racing towards the Golden Gate Bridge with following winds to push us along.
The feelings of accomplishment and nostalgia were also blended with regret that our adventure was drawing to a close. If given the opportunity to do another passage with Rhys as captain, I would gladly go for it. That was definitely the adventure of a lifetime and an incredible learning opportunity.