By Mike Mann
Editor's Note: Many people sail from the West Coast to Hawaii, so many, in fact, that the 2,200 miles from in between have become a virtual freeway of the ocean. But few do it in 15-foot boats, and even fewer do it singlehanded in 15-foot boats. One of these rare exceptions is Mike Mann, a young Southern Californian who soloed his Montgomery-15 sloop Little Breeze from Newport Beach to Oahu recently in a creditable 36 days. Following are excerpts from a letter Mike wrote to a friend; we thought you might enjoy sharing his adventure.
Success! As I said on the phone, everything went according to plan. All that you told me about the winds and currents and sailing were accurate enough so that when a new situation arose it was as if I had done it all before, but hadn't really. It was just reflex action.
The VDO (speed and distance log) was a must, not necessarily the knotmeter but the sumlog. I watched the miles add up every hour of every day. When it didn't move, I really felt down-and-out.
The winds were a little unpredictable the second week about 400 miles out. It made it hard to keep the sails full, keeping the boat in the direction I wanted to travel.
I found out how to rig the jib sheet control on reaches (Little Breeze had no self-steering device), but when I put up the storm jib some kind of pulley system was needed to reduce the radical pull of the sail. I didn't bother to work this out because usually when the jib was up, I was, too.
About the boat. I really enjoyed her stability when I left fully loaded. In fact, I would recommend another 400-600 pounds ballast. Even with all my gear, I was able to reach 4 and 5 knots.
Another reef in the main was needed to keep up all sail during heavy weather beating or reaching. I could have used another reef in my twin headsails so that I could leave them up a little longer when the winds were 20 to 25 knots.
I almost blew it when I raised the full twins in a good breeze; the hardware at the end of the whisker pole jammed up and tore it right out. I sat in the cockpit and sawed 3 inches off the end, drilled new holes and pop-riveted it back on with the pop-rivet Stan loaned me. Sails up and never put up full twins again. I will remember to bring sharp drills next time.
My companionway slide leaked from under the forward edge when swells would break from over the bow and ride along the cabin top and lifted the slide.
First week. Headed southwest approximately 225 degrees Magnetic. Heavy winds and seas from NW off San Clement. I was a little sick (the flu) and I took something my dad gave me and I felt much better.
Second week. Light and variable. I would go to sleep for an hour and wake up to find I was sailing 30 degrees off course. Some days there were no winds. I even lashed my oar to the coaming cleats and tried rowing for an hour. Oars would have worked if I had properly installed them.
Third week. On a beam reach. Tried using the twins in a bunch of weird combinations with the main. I wish I had known the proper setup. Made better time though. Four hundred miles out. Basically ENE. I thought that I had traveled a little farther south than necessary. Scattered cumulus clouds. You can see the squalls coming. Mostly at night. Twins up-course approximately 240-260 degrees Magnetic.
Fourth week. Steady trades. Seas from ENE becoming larger than 12 feet but rolling with whitecaps. Five hundred-plus miles, averaging 73 miles per day. Boat rode real well. Some distribution of weight was necessary to prevent the boat from rocking. Only used about six butane cylinders and 18 gallons of water.
Food is a must. Variety is the key. I will do better next time. M&Ms, peanuts and such to munch. More canned meats, not just beans and stew. Don't overload with warm clothes. You will only need them the first week. All I brought were books and I wish I had something more.
Music! A must. Again thanks to Stan. He loaned me a portable cassette player and I didn't use my car stereo. I made one battery last 25 days just using my compass lights and my masthead light (only for the first week offshore).
In bad weather I tried a hand-held flashlight strobe to the boom. Thanks to Stan again. I tied my cheapy radar reflector between my whisker poles when I was using the fore and aft rig and I used the main halyard on one end and a line to the boom on the other to hoist the reflector up inside the boom and mast. When running downwind, I could hoist the strobe the same way.
Fifth week. LAST WEEK. Stormy. Clouds. Rode a warp for 2½ days. Started to lose confidence in my position. My position as related to the sun latitude threw me off. My Time Cube worked great the whole way. I started drawing 60-mile radiuses around my DR position. This prevented me from getting too anxious.
Saturday, July 17. Twins with reef up after three days. Heading west. Just for fun I turned on my VHF to listen for weather. It came through loud and clear. That's when I heard about a storm 400 miles to the southeast. I made a call on Channel 16 and got the Coast Guard. No big deal. They couldn't hear me well, and told me I was approximately 100 miles off the Big Island (Hawaii). That put me real close to the longitude I had plotted, but I was still questioning my latitude. That night I saw lights for the first time and I thought they were Hilo or somewhere on Maui. I stayed up most of the night watching the lights; I saw one flashing but couldn't find it on any of my charts. Come morning, I said to myself, I'm going for it.
Well, about 6 in the morning it cleared and I had breakfast. I took down the twins and started reaching into an 8-foot swell and 20-plus knot winds. Storm jib, both reefs in main. (That's when I could have used another reef.)
I still couldn't make out the contours of the island on any chart. Hawaii? No. Molokai? No. It couldn't be Oahu, but it was!
Marc, the trip was magnificent. I was wet and cold sometimes and I got sick of the food, and bored and lonely at other times. But it was the unknown, the adventure and goal that made it worthwhile.
I would most definitely do it again.