Just about the time that I was realizing that ‘Desire’ wasn’t going to be ready to sail back to Seattle and I realized Dan wasn’t going to make it to Hawaii the universe conspired for me yet again. I got a call, out of the blue, seconds after I had just posted an ad on a crew finder web page. It was Dr. Roland Sannamann calling.
I had met Roli and his wife Kathy years ago as I was sailing ‘Desire’ down the Northern California coast on her second epic voyage (to Hawaii). Roli and Kathy had their beautiful and stout 38′ catamaran ‘Katitude’ custom built to Roli’s specs in Durban, South Africa (where Roli had lived as a teenager and young adult). They had sailed ‘Katitude’ from Durban, around Cape Hope and across the Atlantic through the Caribbean. They wanted to return their boat to their home in San Diego but didn’t want her to get dinged up in the Panama Canal so they sailed to Fort Lauderdale, FL and loaded her onto a ship.
Because of a quirky paragraph in the 1950’s ‘Jones Act’ (a set of laws governing foreign vessels and crews operating for commerce between US ports), although the ship stopped in San Diego, they were not allowed to offload ‘Katitude’ until Vancouver, B.C. So when I met them, Roli and Kathy were on the last leg of their own epic voyage, down the coast towards their home port. They knew that as soon as they got back to San Diego their trip would be over and they would be forced to go back to their hectic lives.
So they decided to adopt an aspiring solo sailer and his slow dinky boat. ‘Katitude’ was about three times faster than ‘Desire’ so while I would be at sea for 3-4 days at a time they usually stopped in a harbor for the night and we met up again at our next appointed harbor, usually staying in radio contact several times a day to monitor each other’s progress.
The first harbor we had left together was Euereka, CA. ‘Katitude’ jetted ahead of me as the winds began picking up. Roli and Kathy were about 12 miles ahead of me when they radioed back that they were experiencing 58 knot winds at Cape Mendicino. I had already reduced ‘Desire’s sail to two reefs in the main and a 50% jib. It was a bit bumpy but she was screaming along quite well at 6.5 knots. A full knot above her theoretical hull speed! They suggested I think about turning back but I have to admit I was having way too much fun surfing ‘Desire’ on the face of waves as she carved across them with her twin keels and spade rudder!
We kind of hopscotched down the coast, linking up ever few days. Usually with them having arrived way ahead of me and having reserved a slip next to them. We drank a lot of wine in the evenings and, as Roli would say, ‘Told a lot of lies’ (good natured of course).
Then we had a bit of an incident in the oil fields near Santa Barbara. Having worked in the Gulf of Mexico oil fields on offshore supply boats I knew that I should pass no closer than a mile to any oil platform at they have many large metal buoys around them for tying off various work ships. Usually these buoys have a flashing light and radar reflectors on them. At one point I had relaxed my guard a bit, being 5-6 miles from the nearest rig when I glanced forward to see a 5-6 foot diameter steel buoy directly in front of ‘Desire’. I yanked the tiller and just missed the buoy by inches. I noticed as I passed that it’s light and reflector were missing leaving some jagged bars sticking up.
I thought I should call to ‘Katitute’, which was 7-8 miles behind me in the dark and catching up fast. Then I thought,’What are the chances that Roli and I are on exactly the same course to a harbor that is still about 25 miles away? It’s a big ocean and the odds are astronomical that they would encounter this same buoy…’
“At 2:00am, we checked our radar, charts, and chart plotter, adjusted our course slightly and headed for Santa Barbara, CA. It was a dark overcast sky, 20 knots of wind, with a choppy white-capped ocean. Boom!! We hit something! We thought we had run over a boat. We stopped the motors immediately, brought out the spot light and saw that we had “run over” a huge, spherical white uncharted steel buoy. We surveyed the damage and found it to be non-structural, no leaks or bilge pumps running. After reporting the incident to the Coast Guard, we motored into Santa Barbara Harbor at 4:00am.”
Roli came on the radio saying that they had just hit something. Not only had they hit it but they had run completely over it between the hulls of the catamaran. The top of the buoy, with the spindly bits of metal, had connected with the forward spar of their trampoline. Having been forced down in the water it bobbed up underneath the salon, bouncing along the bottom and then finally knocking their tender partially off of it’s cradle as it exited the rear of the boat.
I just bit my tongue and asked if they were alright, ready to turn around on a dime and go back for them if need be. Roli told me they were a bit shaken up but quite fine and ‘Katitude’ had only suffered a bit of cosmetic damage. Later on, over a couple glasses of wine in Santa Barbara I fessed up that I had almost hit the same buoy. I told them that I had decided the odds were so great for them to encounter the same menacing 4-5 foot sphere in the ocean that I didn’t want to bother them about it. We had a good laugh over it and thankfully Roli didn’t hold it against me. But I felt for them. It was their first dent in their new boat after all of those thousands of miles of ocean.
We all made it intact to San Diego and shortly thereafter I headed for Hawaii. We had stayed in touch over the last few years and I reconnected with Roli and Kathy when I was back in San Diego getting ‘Babalu’ ready for her recent voyage. They also bonded with my dear friends Hans and Erica and had us all over to their house for a low key bon-voyage party. I hadn’t gotten around to calling them and telling them how well our trip to the Marquesas had gone when I get this call from Roli. He wants to know if I can help him sail a 52′ Mandarin motorsailer from Hawaii to San Diego with her new owners in August. I think about it for about half a second and say sure!
He needs to run it by the owner and the next day I get a call from Jim Fraine and we talk for about an hour and a half. Not only does he want me to help them with the delivery but he wants to hire me in my capacity as a marine electrician both in Hawaii before the trip as well as in San Diego for a couple of weeks to make the boat’s electrical systems more world compatible.
The boat is being delivered to Hawaii by it’s current owner from Australia and is currently near Samoa with an ETA for Hawaii of August 15th. As soon as I get a green light from Jim I’ll button up ‘Desire’ and tuck her back into storage in Kona. From there I’ll fly to Oahu and start helping get “Jungle’ ready for her passage. Roli flies in on the 20th and we are planning to leave around the 22nd for about a 20 day passage. The course back is bit tricky as we need to decide how much we want to motor (across the mid Pacific High) and how much we want to sail (into the trade winds).