Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

The Grand Detour

It’s spring, and our wedding is less than 5 months away! We’ve loved slowing down on the Mexican coast, and this cruising pace has allowed us to host many family members and close friends—visits that afford us amazing quality time with the people we love. What a perfect way to spend our engagement. (Though I have to admit, craft shopping for wedding stuff at Quincenera shops is SUBPAR. But anyway.)

Visiting with family in this “removed” little disarming sphere of Velella’s world convinces us even more that the decision to move home to Portland is the right one. As we start our married lives together, proximity to our close friends and family makes a lot of sense to us.

There’s just one small hurdle.


There are three ways to get a boat back to the Pacific Northwest from Mexico:

1.       Sail straight back up the coast the way we came down. This is the thought most often suggested by our well-meaning non-sailorly friends and family, but it’s the option that is most out of the question. Heading north from here means bucking both the strong steady Northwesterly trade winds AND the south-setting California current for a couple thousand miles. The same reason why coming down was such a nice run is precisely why heading back up the same way would be going uphill against the wind. There are very popular books written about the notorious “Baja Bash,” and couples are cautioned to read these before embarking on such a trip, because many instances have ended in divorce. No joke. Not the way to prepare for our wedding.

2.       Put Velella on a ship or truck in Mexico and fly home to meet her in Portland. This is a good option for several reasons, not the least of which is that it would be easiest on the crew! It would involve a lot of work “decommissioning” the boat for trucking (i.e. taking off all gear on deck—including having the mast pulled and laid alongside her), but most importantly it would involve a huge layout of cash we don’t really have. How much is the ease and convenience of having the boat trucked home worth to us? We choked when we received quotes for $9,000.

3.       Take the Grand Detour. Otherwise known as “the happy tack,” the third viable return option is sailing from La Paz out to Hawaii, then back to the Pacific Northwest. There’s this wonderful high pressure system called the North Pacific High that sits somewhere in the middle of the ocean (it moves around a bit with the seasons); the consistency of this high pressure system is what produces the reliable trade winds. Think of a big circular high sitting in the ocean: Along the Pacific Coast all the way down to where we are now, the trade winds come out from the high from the northwest. Sailing AROUND this circular high allows you to basically have a downwind run the entire time, all the way back to the Pacific Northwest. Plus, there’s this great stopover in the middle called the Hawaiian Islands. Counter-intuitively, sailing the Grand Detour to Hawaii and back is a far more preferable option than the Baja Bash—both for wear and tear on the boat and the crew.

So, having ruled out the Baja Bash from day one, we are left with two options. A truckful of debt heading into our marriage, or the intrepid Grand Detour. If we did the detour, we would probably spend the month of April on passage to Hawaii. When we got there in early May, we’d fly home for the wedding, and return to the islands in early July. After “honeymooning” on our own boat in and around the Hawaiian Islands, we’d stock up and sail back to the Pacific Northwest during the month of August. We’d be home just in time to enjoy cruising a bit in the colorful autumn colors of the Columbia River with mugs of cider and flannel blankets.

It’s easy to sit at home and say “do the Grand Detour, duh!” and it’s easy for us to think that sometimes too. But there are heavy factors to weigh for the ocean passage route home as well. The risks are relatively low, but a lot higher than having the boat trucked home. Being isolated from one another (by our watch rotation) for almost two months would be awful. Is it totally crazy to spend the month before your wedding completely out of touch with the world and with each other on an emotional rollercoaster in the middle of the ocean? Yes. And then go back and do it again  during the first few months of your marriage? Absolutely. But from where we’re standing right now, right here, it seems like this crazy red oversized clown shoe might fit us. So we might be sporting some FUNKY kicks when you see us in June.

We are so close to settling down and eagerly getting back to our careers. We’re excited to “nest.” We’re talking about buying land and saving up to build our own home. The thought of sailing to Hawaii and back makes me want to go straight to bed instead. But we both find it hard to turn our backs on the irresistible pull of life’s awesome challenges. It’s a crippling decision. But it’s one that we’re turning over slowly in our minds.

We sure would like to get coffee and bounce pros and cons with you all, but pen pal style email advice will have to suffice. Email us your thoughts—we’d love to hear from you on this big decision . . . seriously, what would you do?




  Caitlin wrote @

i’m sitting easily at home and saying “the Grand Detour!!!” i’ll come visit, i SWEAR.

ps. another small hurdle: not all your family lives in Portland. just fyi. important people are in the Eastern time zone, too.

  ogm wrote @

i say GO FOR may never get the chance again!

  Meghan wrote @

Grand Detour. Regret will happen if you don’t. they is nothing rmantic about putting the boat on a truck and shipping it back. Plus the Grand Detour offers a built-in honeymoon.

  Sara wrote @

If Josh and I survived Grad School, then you and Prescott can survive the Grand Detour (of course Grad School brought us time apart AND debt). I can’t say that time forced apart when in very close proximity feels very good in any way. Sometimes you look over and ask yourself who that person is that is sitting 10 feet away that you talk to for less than 15 minutes each day, but oh those 15 minutes make you a master of communication (good and bad). On the other side (by a few years), it was truly a strengthening of our relationship and gave us the feeling that we can survive anything (in a completely different way than our 3 months of travel did which I compare to the fun sections of your sailing trip). Grand Detour would be growth and exploration whereas $9,000 is just debt at a time when you would want to be more free.

  Josh wrote @

Dang it Sara, and here I was going to be selfish and tell them that they should hurry back to Oregon so we can see them quicker 🙂

If I was you, I would be having mixed feelings as well. Sailing to Hawaii sounds fun when I’m sitting here in my home and I’m yearning for adventure.

But in actuality, as you guys describe it, it sounds pretty difficult and is certainly not a pleasure cruise. I’m not a sailor, but if I was, I think I would enjoy the journey of sailing along the land more than long open ocean voyages, especially if most of that time was spent alone.

But then again the thought of doing it just for the sheer experience and knowing that you can endure is worth something.

I don’t know if I’m going to be much help on this. I can understand why you guys feel conflicted. I would say that if you think you will never get another shot, and it’s something you will seriously regret not doing, then you should probably go for it. If you think, “we sailed from Seattle all the way to Mexico, it was an amazing accomplishment, do we really need to set out across the open pacific with all the difficulties that entails?” then its okay to ship velella home and hold your heads up high.

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