How long was the sailing trip? Where did you go?
I sailed two years and around 7,000 nautical miles. We left from Los Angeles and traveled down the Baja California Peninsula to reach Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We departed Cabo on my 26th birthday and sailed 26 days through empty ocean to get to French Polynesia. From there, we spent two years island hopping through the South Pacific: Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Toau, Apataki, Rangiroa, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, Aitutaki, Niue, and Tonga to name a few jaw-dropping stopovers.
Before you set off across the Pacific, had you sailed before?
When I was teenager, I went sailing for a week with my parents. I was seasick and terrified of sharks, which was odd—we were on a flat lake.
Having never sailed on an ocean before, what was your experience of sailing the Pacific like?
At first, I hated it. While sailing down the California coast, we ran into bad weather and—as I vomited everything but my large intestine—I was certain I was going to die. After we reached Cabo, I had to decide between staying aboard for a month-long passage, or quitting and flying home. If I flew home, one of two things would happen: Ivan would give up his sailing dream to follow me, or he’d go without me. Both options were unimaginable, and I didn’t want my fear to stop us from having this amazing adventure. So I decided to go for it. From that point on, the sailing got easier.
What’s Ivan’s story?
Ivan immigrated to the US from Argentina when he was 17 seeking a better life. Argentina was politically unstable and it didn’t offer good opportunities for Ivan to do what he wanted to do: computer science and economics. After they moved to the US, his family of 4 earned a meager $18,000 between them in their first year. Ivan watched children’s TV because it was the only English he could understand. They scraped by, living together in a small apartment and pooling everything they earned.
Ivan got a full time job at Starbucks to pay for his economics degree and his rent and food, which was often a can of creamed corn eaten with a spoon. He eventually earned his degree and worked his way up the ranks to become a senior project manager in Silicon Valley. By 30, he owned an ocean-ready boat and had saved enough money to sail for five years.
Did Ivan have sailing experience?
Yes. He did a sailing class with UCLA and he also studied navigation. He practiced a lot by sailing his boat around LA and to Catalina to gain experience. When he was 27, he joined a crew of 2 other people to deliver a yacht across the Atlantic. After that experience, he knew he could sail oceans on his own.
How did Ivan convince you to get on board?
He was very subtle about it. He planted seeds of inspiration for me to find, like leaving books with beautiful pictures of the South Pacific islands on the coffee table. Even though I tried to convince him that I suffered from this debilitating dysfunction called Fear, he didn’t buy it. I was finally convinced when Ivan gave me a book called Maiden Voyage, by Tania Aebi. I read the story of a clumsy, scared 18-year old who sailed the world on her own, and I thought: If she can do it, maybe I can too?
What is the most incredible sight you saw?
After traveling 26 days and 2,600 nautical miles without any land in sight to get from Cabo, Mexico to Hiva Oa in French Polynesia, I got out of bed on our first morning of being safely anchored and there was a luminous rainbow arched right over the boat. It was almost too magical to be real.
What was your favorite place in the South Pacific?
There’s a stunning atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia that’s populated by a family of just ten people. It’s called Toau and the only way to get there is by boat. We were welcomed with open arms by the island family, and we fished, explored, cooked, played games, watched movies, laughed, danced and partied with them. They spoke French, so we could hardly communicate, but this didn’t stop them from adopting us for three weeks. Sailors battle wind and waves to have these kinds of experiences.
What one tip would you give anyone who is about to embark on an adventure?
Try not to let unreasonable fears stop you. Fear is a survival mechanism and it’s okay to feel scared, but it doesn’t need to hold you back. Admit to feeling afraid and have a laugh at yourself—this will shut it up.
What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned from your experience?
I’ve learned that there’s no use worrying about all of the ‘what if?’ scenarios. When I first started sailing, I’d panic every time I saw a squall on the horizon. After two years at sea, I realized that squalls often blow themselves out by the time you reach them, so I learned to relax until forks of lightning were directly overhead. When the worst did happen (and it did!), I was far more cool and calm than I imagined.
The life lesson is this: deal with what’s going on right now, because worrying about the distant horizon will waste your energy and steal your time enjoying the present.