In 1990, towards the end of a 4,000+ mile / 145-day solo sea kayaking trip from Key West, Florida to Nova Scotia, Canada, I thought, if I had a different boat that could carry more gear and handle the seas, I could just keep going on around the world.
Just before arriving in Nova Scotia, I pulled into Portland, Maine and took a 3-day Greyhound bus to Colorado for a best friend’s wedding. I knew I was committed to that next expedition when I met a gal there and used it as a line to impress her, “I’m going to be the first to solo row around the world.” It worked out pretty well. We’re still together after 30 years.
Photo: 1990 sea kayaking trip from Florida to Canada
I knew it would take a bit to put it all together. I had no money. No sponsors. No boat. And have I ever done any rowing in my life? No.
I finished my kayak trip and moved back home to Hawaii and crashed with my mom for a few. I had to get stable and start figuring out how to mount a rowing expedition around the world.
I got a job as a lifeguard on Waikiki beach, Stacia moved to Hawaii and we eventually bought an old wooden sailboat and moved aboard.
Photo: Yep. That’s me lifeguarding on Waikiki Beach. 1991
Port Townsend, WA
At the docks in Hawaii, I met Dale Nordlund, an old salt boat builder who had sailed in from Port Townsend, WA and talked how PT was considered the Wooden Boat capital of the world. Sounded good to me. Stacia and I fixed up Westwind for a Pacific crossing and sailed for Port Townsend.
We arrived, got local jobs and I began talking to local boat builders and it didn’t take long to get Kit Africa and Jim Franken aboard on the project. I was so impressed with Kit’s drawing of his rowboat design for me on a fast food napkin while sitting in his truck.
Photo: Stacia and I stepping off Westwind in Port Townsend, WA after crossing the Pacific. 1993
Sawdust Flying Campaign
I tried to raise a ton of money chasing down large corporate sponsors. After 6 months, nothing. I then went completely the opposite direction. Get enough money to build the boat, shove-off and they will come. I called it the “Saw Dust Flying Campaign” – once somebody sees it is moving forward, with or without them, it becomes the real deal.
There was also a lot of support from the local businesses and town people through a variety of fundraisers. This did not stop racking up a bunch of debt on our own credit cards. Something you might not want to talk to Stacia about.
We eventually launched Reach at the local harbor with Hawaiian blessings from my mom and a great turn out from the town.
Photo: My mom was a great supporter on all levels. 1995
Still in Port Townsend, Stacia came to me one day and I could see a serious look in her eyes. She said if possible, she wanted to be pregnant before I shoved-off. In case I didn’t make it back, she wanted to have something of us. That was a tough one for me. I had pursued this dream knowing it would take all of me to put together. I wasn’t thinking family. But, I knew what she was talking about and agreed. I agreed to one. Little did we know there was a bigger plan in place.
On November 18, 1996, Kenna and Hayden, identical twin girls were born.
Photo: Kenna & Hayden. 2016.
Leg 1 / California to Hawaii
I started raising more money out of California, so we moved there. Lots of fundraisers, training on Reach up and down the California coast, studying weather charts and changing lots of diapers. I felt pretty good and planned my shove off from Monterey Bay, just south of San Francisco late summer of 1996. A great turnout of friends and family were at the docks for shove off, and even a TV news crew from NBC. I rowed out of the harbor, out of the bay and onto the Pacific Ocean.
It didn’t go well. In less than 5 days, I had to turn around and come back. I had set my boat on fire. I didn’t shove off for another year.
Photo: Out of Monterey Bay, California to Hawaii. 1996