Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


Liz Tosoni

We didn’t plan to sail around the world when we set out from Vancouver aboard Hoki Mai in 1985. Not at all. It was supposed have been a one and a half year sailing adventure.

The plan when we departed Vancouver was to sail to the Queen Charlotte Islands of B.C., then down the west coast of Vancouver Island, California and Mexico, over to Hawaii and back to Vancouver and our old jobs. After all, our funds were limited (enough for a year and a half we thought) and we hadn’t even paid the boat off.

Somehow though, that didn’t happen. Instead of sailing to Hawaii, we went to French Polynesia and kept going, got jobs along the way, became full time cruisers.

As it turns out, that very first ocean voyage was our longest, 23 days, in the 27 years since our departure from Vancouver. Over all, despite a few setbacks including breakdown of wind vane and autopilot, and having to hand steer for five days, it was a good passage as passages go, with classic, steady trade winds. It was confidence building too, and made us realize we could handle things. When we landed jobs in American Samoa, the pattern started to take shape, working a while, sailing a while, that is, slowly but surely making progress around the big blue marble.

Before arriving in Sydney Australia, we had our worst weather in all of our years of sailing, as you may recall from a previous blog, 65 knots of wind for 36 hours, hove to, in survival mode, in the Tasman Sea.

That first passage across the Pacific was a good “shakedown” for marriage we figured. So we tied the knot in Sydney.

We celebrated our 24th anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, having “tied the knot” on the circumnavigation a couple of weeks earlier, in Manzanillo Mexico, aboard Feel Free.

How did that circumnavigation evolve? Gradually, one step at a time, without our even realizing it.

We were always amazed when we’d meet people, who’d say, matter of factly, “We’re sailing around the world.” It awed us to think they would be able have such a vision. It seemed like such an enormous undertaking. That was way beyond our wildest dreams in those days.

Just thinking about successfully completing that first ocean passage to the Marquesas was to our minds, an incredible feat of endurance! And it was, it is, not to be taken lightly, despite the fact that hundreds, no thousands of people cross oceans in small boats these days.

In fact, a recent Cruising World article by Jimmy Cornell revealed that on a global scale, approximately 10,000 blue water boats are now making long distance voyages, and that between 150 and 200 boats complete world circumnavigations every year.

Of course, Tom and I didn’t complete the circumnavigation with Hoki Mai. Hoki Mai was sold to Kenji Yoshikawa in Japan, and went on to sail back across the Pacific to do important research on the permafrost, still going on today, in Alaskan waters. Kenji sent us this amazing picture of Hoki Mai basking in the Northern lights.

Then Feel Free came into the picture. 11 years after leaving Vancouver with Hoki Mai, we were departing Vancouver again, this time aboard Feel Free. We had returned to Canada after selling Hoki Mai, had much needed quality time with family, started a charter business and actually were working the traditional way. I landed a job with my previous employer, bless them, Prentice Hall, in sales, and really did have my “nose to the grindstone” for a good year and a half, and Tom was diligently marketing our small business. We both got ‘itchy-keelitis,’ though, and after only two years back in the “real” world, had to get going once more. Settling down? What’s that?!

Oceans are big places, mammoth expanses of nothing and everything, of heaven and hell, of romance and dread, depending on your point of view, your state of mind, your dreams and goals. That giant blue pool of liquid and that wide vast sky you observe day after day at sea can introduce you to a thriving, open ended world of possibilities and opportunities, or, the end of the road, the realization that one ocean is enough. Humans were not designed to live on the water, so it’s not surprising that the lifestyle is not for everyone.

Somehow though, it was and is for us.

Don’t get the wrong idea. Tom and I don’t love ocean passages. People think we must, considering the number of passages we’ve done and the years we’ve spent meandering around the oceans. The fact is that sometimes I find myself saying (to myself), during a nasty blow or a particularly uncomfortable crossing, or an especially rolly anchorage “What the h…… am I doing out here? This lifestyle is nuts. Get me out of here.”

Tom holds back when he feels that way, or when he sees me in that state of mind, but I can get vocal about it. He stays cool, knowing that it will blow over. I’ll come to my senses when we hit that landfall, meet the people, taste the food, drink the wine, realize how extraordinarily fortunate we are to be doing what we are doing. It’s true. I always do.

So, back to the passage down the coast with Feel Free. The plan was to head to Panama and the Caribbean, maybe cross the Atlantic to see the wonders of the Med. My father was born in Italy, I had to go there!

We were anchored in Tenacatita, south of Puerto Vallarta, when we had one of the most, if not the most profound of all our onboard experiences. A thru-hull failure! That Sinking Feeling (Feb. 2010 Boat US Blog by Tom) described all the gory details of the story, but the dramatic outcome of that poignant incident was that, instead of carrying on to Panama and the Caribbean, we scratched our heads. “It’s too late in the season to head that way hon. Now what do we do?” We loved Mexico but had spent two seasons there and it was time to move on. “Now what???”

Well, Hawaii, that’s what. And on to ‘who knows where’ from there. So, away we sailed across the Pacific for the second time. Because of the thru-hull failure, our plans took a complete about face. The crossing to Hawaii meant we could either head back home to Vancouver from there, or off to distant shores again. The two options were available for the choosing. Once in Hawaii, our heads were spinning and you know what option we chose.

But wait a minute, you’re probably thinking “Don’t they have family to think of? How can they just flick a switch and head off in a different direction, no ties or responsibilities?” Well, the fact is that we don’t have kids of our own and that does make a big difference. Couples on boats who have kids and grandkids almost always make their destination decisions based on where their kids are, who’s having a baby, where and when. They fly home to be there for the birth of the grandchild time and again.

When my sister Marg was on her death bed, dying of cancer, at 43, she said “Family is everything”. She was right.

We do have parents, (sadly, only one left now, my dear 89 year old mother) brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grandnieces and nephews, that mean everything to us, but they have their lives to live and so do we, and ours happens to be a meandering, varied, ever-changing, sometimes weird, sometimes unstable, always interesting, watery existence.

At least, that’s what it has been for the past 27 years. When we departed Cabo San Lucas for Hawaii, it was another 14 years before we arrived back on Mexican shores.

Not only has ours been an fascinating journey through country after remarkable country, meeting countless people of all walks of life, all classes, all races, all religions, all states of mind, rich and poor, honest and dishonest, interested and not so interested, interesting and not so interesting, generous and mean, kind and unkind, through all kinds of weather and every type of landscape, it was a also just a lifestyle, our way of life, our raison d`etre. Journeying has kind of defined Tom and me as a couple.

Now that we have completed the loop, people are always asking “So what’s next now that it’s over?” Over? Definitely not over, but that is a hot topic of discussion these days.

Feel Free has been put “to bed” for a while in San Carlos, while we contemplate yet more options. Stay tuned for our next, final BoatUS Log entry.