Jacob Ellis lives on his sail boat and he voyages to remote areas of the world. If you’re not a sailor, it’s almost impossible to imagine all of the intricate details that go into making a trek like this possible. If you are a sailor, you know how many things have to fall into place to make a good voyage. Here Jacob shares with us some stories of close calls and, most importantly, the things he’s learned while living out at sea.
Do you live on your boat?
What’s the longest voyage you’ve taken?
The longest passage so far has been from California to Hawaii, which took 21 days.
Has anything really terrifying happened on any trips? Any close calls?
I have had really difficult experiences sailing, but many of them don’t give you the opportunity to be terrified.
You don’t have that luxury. You can only be present and act. Usually, it is afterwards that the terror sets in as you reflect on what could have happened.
The most terrified I have been was the second day out from California, on our way to Hawaii. It was verywindy and very rough, and we were sailing upwind in conditions I had not experienced before. On the bow, changing the headsail, one moment we were twelve feet above the water and the next moment we were crashing through a wave. I didn’t know what was normal, or what the boat could handle. We couldn’t do this for 2,000 miles. We considered turning around. What was more terrifying, the weather at hand or the thought of turning back? We decided to call the coast guard on the radio just to hear someone’s voice. We asked for a weather report, and informed them that it was much worse than what was reported, and we kept going. After a day, the weather was better, and we were on our way to Hawaii.
It can be terrifying when there is nothing I can act on, or I don’t understand my surroundings. While sailing to Hawaii, there were a few hurricanes forming off the coast of Baja. We were hundreds of miles away, and really in no danger, but I altered my course to get even further away. I would listen to the radio everyday, tracking their paths and wind speeds. As we sailed along, I would spend half my days terrified of the their presence. I learned that I must take every action I can to make a situation better or safer, and beyond that there is no point in worrying.
‘Stay calm, act when necessary’ became my mantra when we were caught in gale force winds off the California coast. So, yes, I have been terrified many times, but terror is only an internal reaction to an external situation, so I try not to focus on it.
As I continue to sail, after all the experiences I have been through, it can be tough thinking of placing myself in those situations again. One thing that all of it has taught me is that I am only given what I can handle, and it is a constant progression.
I’ve had many close calls, almost hitting reefs, anchoring in the wrong places or at the wrong time, the engine dying at totally a bad time, and almost being knocked overboard.
I almost lost my dinghy in the Marshall Islands. I had motored the dinghy from where I had anchored to a small islet and pulled it up on the beach. After a few hours of cruising around, I was coming back around to the beach and noticed the tide had come up and the water was lapping against the side of the dinghy. I didn’t think much of it, but did quicken my pace. Very soon, though, the current grabbed the dinghy and starting pulling it out into the channel. I broke into a sprint down the beach, dove into the water, and had to swim as fast as I could to get to the dinghy. It was only seconds away from being out of reach and on it’s way across the lagoon, likely out to open ocean, thousands of miles to the next major land mass. I would then have had to swim back to where I wasn’t;anchored half a mile away across a reef passage where earlier I had been charged by a big white tip shark as I was free diving.
I have learned so many things. A big challenge is dealing with squalls, little (sometimes big) rain storms that come while sailing the tropics. They taught me how to surrender. There is no way around them, they will hit you. You must accept it as a part of life, trust it, and allow it to pass.
Sailing about twice as fast as one could walk has instilled a ‘slow and steady’ attitude in me. Great things can be accomplished by simply taking steps. Just keep going. This has also taught me even more about the journey being primary, the destination secondary.
Out on the ocean, you cannot run from yourself. You must be happy with who you are and your surroundings.I have experienced a deep, ever reaching peace while at sea. One that has taught me about my true nature on this planet, and has shown me an infinite that reaches everyone and everything.
With sailing, no plan is certain. You go where the winds take you. You have to stay flexible.
I have learned that I do not need much to be happy. I gain more from living simply with awareness, than having material wealth.
It has become important for me to share these experiences with others, too. I am inspired to capture it on video, with still shots, and with words.
How do you determine your next destination? Is it hard to find these remote islands?
Most parts of the world have a sailing season determined by consistent winds or lack of hurricanes. This is sort of the primary determinant when figuring out where to sail. This might limit me to a certain hemisphere or certain latitudes for part of the year. Once I know when I am going to sail, then I look at where I can go. I will grab a chart and look for little specks of land way out in the middle of nowhere. I will talk to other sailors who have been there. I will look for zones that might have surf based on swell exposure and abundance of reef passes. Usually I am not interested in places everyone goes, or where there are lots of people. I use my intuition and go where the winds will take me. Once getting to a place, I often find out about more places. I never know the second destination. So, it can be hard finding these remote islands only in knowing they exist. Once I know they exist, it is simple to navigate my way there.
Where are you off to next?
I will be leaving Vanuatu soon, heading for the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. There are hundreds of islands in this region, so I’ve done lots of research. I have studied charts looking for possible anchorages and regions that might have surf, or where people have reported seeing surf. Again, once I’m there, I’ll know where I’m really going.
To follow Jacob’s voyage, visit www.genesisearthling.com