“Where are we going?” Coco asked, on many occasions during that prep year. It was a perfectly valid question with no prefabricated answer. Coco, 15 at the time, was game for the high seas; Lily, their older sibling away at college, was not. If I had to guess, more people than not share Lily’s trepidation of being far from land in a vast, remote, wild place with nothing familiar to cling to but a small sailing craft and the people onboard.
The answer to Coco’s question wasn’t easily arrived at, in part because COVID had many countries closed to tourism or, in some cases, just sailboat cruisers (odd but true). While planning our voyage, we had reason to believe Mexico would be fully open — one known-good destination where we could easily sink in a full year of cruising.
Added to that, we had a stretch goal: once in Mexico, we would apply for a 90-day visa to visit French Polynesia. If the pandemic didn’t prevent it, maybe we’d have a shot at experiencing the fabled beauty of these islands. This territory of the South Pacific, colonized by France in the nineteenth century, is comprised of five archipelagos scattered across an expanse of ocean roughly equivalent to the size of Europe (!!). This seemed like a goal worth stretching for, but we’d have to stay flexible: there would be no way to know until sometime after arriving in Mexico whether they would open up to tourism (cruisers, specifically) during the time we hoped to arrive. Hurricane season in that part of the Pacific Ocean needs to be taken seriously and dictated the timeframe of our potential journey; the need to sail all the way home by September '22 dictated the rest.
Ah, Polynesia, a tropical paradise requiring a sail of nearly 3,000 miles from Mexico, a place I’d sailed to with my father in 1986, and which ever since has lived on in my memories as an almost magical place, a place I’d gladly endure hardships in order to see and experience again. Sure, some people get on a plane and fly there; but cruising the islands on a sailboat, as anyone who has done so will agree, is the right way to do it.
And if Polynesia didn’t work out, we’d spend more time in the Sea of Cortez and make our way further south in Mexico — this would be the bulk of the year away…until it was time to beat our way back north to Hawaii, then Seattle.
And that, in a nutshell, is what we told Coco.
Sitting on my couch in Seattle on a wet March evening, studying charts and the indispensable World Voyage Planner and World Cruising Routes of Jimmy Cornell, the world felt alarmingly vast and unsheltered, but somehow also attainable. With the right sailboat, some financial scheming and some time…
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