Elizabeth Brown-Shaw recently completed a seven-year, 36,000 nm, 14-country journey around the Pacific with her husband and three children. Along the way, she had a baby in Mexico, swam with whales in Tonga, learned to kitesurf in the Marshall Islands, and camped for seven weeks in NZ, all while hand-washing diapers in a bucket and buying groceries only every few months. Last summer, they took some Woolx along as they sailed from Micronesia to Alaska, and then along the Alaskan and BC coasts to Victoria BC. You can read more about her family's adventures at SV-Fluenta.blogspot.ca
Seven and a half years ago, I set out with my husband and children to sail from Anacortes, WA to Victoria, BC, a distance of hardly 30 nautical miles (nm). The thing is, we decided to take the long route, and go via the South Pacific and Alaska, a distance closer to 37,000 nm!
Galley Duty - Benjamin ended up covering many thousands of miles in that carrier!
Along the way we had a baby in Mexico, swam with Humpback whales in Tonga, and learned to kitesurf in New Caledonia and the Marshall Islands. Our young, dependent children became competent teenagers and able crew.
So profound to swim with a humpback mom and her calf.
When our baby was a newborn, we sailed from Mexico to French Polynesia, a distance of about 3,000 nm, all of it across warm tropical latitudes. I felt exhilaration as I saw the Southern Cross in the night sky for the first time. Our chosen route home from Micronesia included another 3,000 nm passage, this time almost straight North, back towards the Big Dipper.
Our 2014 crossing with a newborn.
From the Southern Cross to the North Star: Over 3,000 nm North to Alaska from the Marshall Islands.
Preparing to head for the northern latitudes required a wardrobe change – flip flops and t-shirts would not be enough! I was thrilled to try warm layers from Woolx for myself and my husband.
Getting ready for kite-surfing on an uninhabited atoll in the Marshall Islands. Loving the UV protection of my Woolx Layla lightweight layer.
Liz kiting in Tonga.
We set sail from the Marshall Islands in mid-June, in predictable trade-wind conditions and comfortable seas. The second week found us in the doldrums: little to no wind and flat calm. We felt like we were on holiday!
Glorious sailing under spinnaker in the doldrums.
During the last ten days of our trip, we diverted east for two days to avoid two gales; as it was, we had 30 knot winds and almost 4m seas.
Don’t worry we are clipped in - we are watching dolphins playing in the waves on our bow!
At first, my SPF 50 Layla top was all I needed – it prevented sunburn during the day, and took the chill in the evening.
Ready for a night watch!
Every few days, I added another layer. First came long sleeves, then sweaters and leggings and socks. By the time we arrived in Alaska, the sea temperature was hovering below 50 F, and I was wearing everything I owned: my Woolx heavyweight merino thermals, a down jacket as well as two fleece jacket, wet-weather sailing jacket and pants, sea boots, my Woolx neckwarmers and toque, and waterproof fishing gloves!
Ready for the watch handover. Can you spot my hat, neckwarmer, and even my turquoise cuff peeking out from my down jacket. 400g heavy-weight leggings and top were hiding underneath.
Despite the increasing cold, my favourite time on passage was the night watch. I loved sitting in our cockpit and looking back at the Southern Cross, that famous constellation that had welcomed us to the Southern Hemisphere when we sailed away from Mexico. When the sky was clear, it was like sitting under a bowl of fairy lights.
Eventually, I got to the stage where no matter what I wore I would be cold! - I’m ready to stand watch with my heavyweight thermals, fleece sweaters, down jacket, foulies, and fishing gloves.
Spending a month at sea offers many moments for reflection. When the nearest land is over 1,000 nm away, it is easy for runaway thoughts to take over. In some ways, the hardest aspect of the trip was to remain in the moment, to be grateful for the conditions as they were, to trust in our gear and ourselves to respond to any situation, and to savour life’s moments as they presented themselves.
The boys are bundled up for read-aloud time. Johnathan’s Woolx beanie is layered under the hat his sister crocheted for him.
As the days passed, the Southern Cross dipped towards the horizon while the Big Dipper rose higher and higher before us. We saw nothing but water and sky for a month, and yet every day the view was different; both the moments of beauty and the big seas were fleeting.
These huge Albatross were our only companions for days at a time.
In total, we sailed 3,782 nm between Majuro, Marshall Islands and Dutch Harbor, Alaska. We were at sea for 27 days straight. We saw winds up to 30 knots and seas up to about 12 ft. We were visited by sperm whales and albatross, and saw brilliant bioluminescence and shooting stars.
Two sperm whales swam beside our boat in the doldrums. It was extraordinary.
The Southern Cross became the stuff of memories, while the North Star was firmly situated in our view of the night sky. In returning to North America, we had reached a significant milestone in our journey from Anacortes to Victoria. As with any adventure, I had moments of wondering what on earth had made me put myself in that situation, yet I also made landfall knowing that my family and I had just completed an extraordinary accomplishment, and that I would do it again in a heartbeat … in fact, we are already talking about our next trip to Alaska!