Some time in 2011, Walla Wallans Bill and Becky Musick shed all their stuff, quit their jobs and quick as you can say “sou’wester,” bought a boat in Baltimore.
This wasn’t an overnight decision. The couple began mulling it over two years ago, Bill said on bit.ly/UOzKoD, his blog that is liberally dosed with photos and short videos worth sallying into.
But the adventure didn’t stop there. Chief blogger in the family, Bill said they decided to do this because “It has always been a dream of mine and Becky agreed a few years back that it would be good idea. I would encourage anyone that has a dream to stop waiting and just do it.”
So with sons Joe, 14, and Ray, 12, and daughter Melody, 10, for deckhands, the Musicks agreed two years ago to sail to New Zealand for a visit with friends, the Bower family.
Their journey began with a cross-country drive from Walla Walla. They paid calls on friends and stopped at several national parks en route, Bill said.
Then they spent two months in Annapolis, Md., working on the two-masted boat, prepping what they named Watermusick for a cross-ocean voyage. The 49-foot 1985 Hallberg Rassey ketch, built in Elos, Sweden, weighs 26 tons and has a beam of 14.6 feet.
“It was difficult to fathom what you might need (in the way of) food, games, books and spare parts — but once the snow started falling we headed south.”
They provision when in larger ports, and shopping is “almost like Walla Walla,” Bill said. They fish every day and where available, collect coconuts and fruit. “We love to find big bunches of bananas!”
“The East Coast of the U.S. provided us with excellent Civil War history, with stops in Hampton, Va., Beaufort, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and St. Augustine, Fla.”
They left St. Augustine on Dec. 23 and by Christmas Day were at sea with a course charted to the Bahamas. Between cold fronts they sailed south to Mayaguana, southern Bahamas, then to Jamaica and eventually the San Blas Islands between Columbia and Panama.
On Feb. 2, while in the Caribbean Sea, Bill said “night sailing is great when the closest light is a few hundred miles away. Orion has accompanied us since starting out in the Cheasapeake although many new stars are in the sky including the Southern Cross. The ride is smooth now, it was brisk last night as we sped along 7 to 9 knots on a double-reef main and postage stamp jib should arrive in Porvenir San Blas for breakfast.”
It took the family two days to traverse the Panama Canal. On April 21 at the Pacific Coast of Panama, Bill wrote, “The wind arrived this morning so we decided to get underway while it lasts. It’s 850 miles to the Galapagos — should be about six days. Already have one tuna on ice ... looks to be a productive run. Several boats making the same trip are in radio contact. We check in twice a day on the SSB. Happy Birthday Dad enjoy your day.”
This journey is providing wonderful learning opportunities for the whole family.
“Great history lessons were presented as we visited places like Portabello, where all the Central American gold was transshipped, or the Chagress River from where Capt. Morgan invaded Panama,” Bill said.
In terms of the kids, Bill added that “I have always appreciated our school systems and never more than this past year. We do our best with home schooling. We email some teachers for help and hope our kids won’t fall too far behind.”
The students aboard are even motivated to finish their school work sooner with the enticement of kid boats Clementine I and Morning Glory on which to putter about, Bill noted on July 24.
They hit the Galapagos Islands once through the Panama Canal, spending a week there at San Cristabal, several hundred miles west of Ecuador, then set sail for a 20-day 3,000-mile Pacific Ocean crossing to the Marquesas Islands.
On May 17, midway through the passage, Bill wrote, “It is a little more blue in the middle, otherwise looks the same as the edges. No turning back now with 1,500 miles in any direction for land. I thought it would be a little scary at this point but all is well, landed another fish just before dinner on a homemade lure 10# Dorado. The Pacific continues to live up to its reputation: (we’re) sailing along in 6- to 8-foot seas at 8 knots.”
There’s no tossing the anchor over and tethering in place overnight when in the middle of the ocean.
“On this passage the water may be over 15,000 feet deep so we just keep on sailing, but it is a lot of fun to anchor when we arrive at new islands.”
The low atolls of the Tuamotus in French Polynesia were next. They then made the leeward islands of Tahiti, Mo’orea and Bora Bora.
On Aug. 28, the family’s 90-day visa ran out and they left Bora Bora, headed on a five-day, 700-mile passage to Suwarrow, a low coral atoll that is a national park in the Cook Islands, where Tom Neal wrote about his time there in “An Island to Oneself,” Bill said.
On Sept. 4, he wrote, “We set a record today with 31 boats at anchor. The previous was 25 set when we anchored two days ago. The seas are coming down from 4 to 2 meters so a few boats will be moving on.
“Tom Neal would not recognize the anchorage with 25 boats currently at anchor, everyone is hiding from the wind even though the highest land is only 15 feet. We are in about 40 feet of water but the coral is all about. So after a little nap we will check things out.”
Two rangers are stationed at Suwarrow for six-month stints. The Musick clan toured the lagoon with the park ranger on Sept. 3 to a frigate bird and booby nesting area. “Thousands of birds were there but did not seem too happy to have visitors,” Bill observed.
They snorkeled in 30 to 50 feet of water with more than 100 feet visibility, the best Bill has ever seen, while at Seven island. “The coral was very healthy, loaded with all sizes of fish. After diving we had a picnic on the island and caught coconut crabs for our coconut crab curry! The crabs are as big as dungeness and one crab fed our entire boat. Looking forward to geocaching today and looking for more snorkeling opportunities.”
They had navigated with an autopilot, but once it was lost, Bill said everyone did fine hand steering. They’ve had to put into ports to get replacement parts, and shipping fees for one item tallied $300.
“Found out there was a squash zone where the northern and southern weather systems collide giving us the increased wind and seas but also gave us the opportunity to try different sail combinations in heavy weather. The boat and crew did amazing.”
This week they’re sailing the roughly 450 miles from Suwarrow to American Samoa, where they expect to get packages and provisions.
The final legs are a southward heading to Tonga and New Zealand by mid-November, especially to miss typhoon season in the Pacific. “Our boat is made for all weather but our crew is not, a bit of wind is exciting — too much is terrifying and somewhere in the middle is perfect.”
They carefully research places before they arrive to avoid sites known for pirates, such as Cartagena, Colombia, in the Caribbean, Bill said.
They haven’t been using their cell phones since they left the U.S., but can stay in touch with their 3,000-mile range SSB radio. They can get weather data and dial-up speed Internet.
“Although we have visited many beautiful places, the islands of French Polynesia are our favorite so far. The people are beautiful inside and out and the scenery is stunning. It would be a close second to Walla Walla for friendliest places on earth.”
“We miss the Walla Walla valley and our friends but are also enjoying the ride.”