Family Sailing - Back to sea - Canada to San Francisco - Part 5 of the Great North Pacific Orca Adventure


As a family team, we’ve always found the first few days back at sea to be the hardest. Adjusting back to the “at sea” environment, changing sleep patterns to fit into a watch system, being back together in a small space and for Nichola handling sea sickness. This time is no different and after almost a year off the water, it’s the same pattern of adjustment. What helps considerably is the relatively benign conditions back at sea allowing us all to settle in the at sea routines without battling big seas and strong winds. 

In my last update, we were making our way West through the Straits of Juan de Fuca heading to the open water of the Pacific before turning left and heading South.

After we left Victoria, I was struck by the stunning scenery - the Olympic mountains on the Southern side of the Straits of Juan de Fuca were simply spectacular. The first time that Aretha has seen snowy capped mountains. The skies behind the mountains making for a good contrast, before the fog descended and shrouded us from sight of any land.

The Olympic Mountains.JPG

After 12 hours of heading West, we finally reached the open sea by late afternoon. Tatoosh Island close to Cape Flattery was left to port and we headed out to sea to get some 40 miles off the coast. The thinking was that in these foggy conditions, we wanted to be in deep water - away from fishing boats and fishing gear. In thick fog, you can spot the fishing boats by keep a very close eye on the radar and the AIS. The fishing gear and markers are much harder to spot so it’s easier to get out of the way.

Nichola and the children were adjusting to sea life by mostly sleeping and I was content with my own thoughts and enjoying the peace and quiet on deck. It’s always a great time for reflection - no devices buzzing away as by now we are out of signal range, no chattering voices. Just the sound of the sea and Aretha gently making her way South. We have the sails up to make the most of the light winds we have and are motor sailing along at 7-8 knots. By nightfall the wind has died and I drop the mainsail easily from the safety of the cockpit and furl the genoa. Columbus joins me on deck and and we spend an hour talking - making plans to go fishing in Devon and talking about the school year up ahead. Columbus sits on deck with his large mug of hot chocolate and we watch the phosphorescence in the wake at the stern of Aretha.

The seas are flat calm - Nichola and Bluebell take the next watch to allow us to get some rest.

By sunrise, the wind is up to 11 knots, sails are up and we are making over 7 knots assisted by current heading South. Bacon and toast for breakfast fills the saloon with the smells and sounds of breakfast.

Today is a special day. Its the solar eclipse - it’s the first total solar eclipse to unfold from coast to coast in the US in nearly a century. Between 10 and 11am, even despite the fog, the sky darkens and you can feel a small temperature drop. I’m on deck and I’m told that off the Oregon coast where we are is the place in the States where you can see the maximum amount of the eclipse. It feels like a special place to be for the planet to share a special moment with you.

As the hours and days roll forward, we settle back into life at sea. Its one of the things I enjoy most in this world. The distraction of devices drop away. We talk more as a family. We share family meals together. Bluebell and Columbus are content playing chess and dominoes together or reading books. All three are writing journals. Willow plays lego. Nichola and I talk and make plans for the future. We laugh, we talk. We play word association games and work our way through the alphabet naming countries and cities beginning with each letter. We play the famous person name game. This is family time as its very best.  We make mental notes to do this more often on land.

We are mostly motor sailing for the next two days, dodging the occasional fishing boat, spotting dolphins and a variety of birds circling Aretha. We’re fairly sure some of them are Albatrosses. One small brown bird hitched a ride for a short while perched on Aretha’s dinghy hanging on the davits at the stern.

It’s lovely to see the children clicking back to sailing routines. All three are happy steering Aretha, Columbus works the sails with me, Bluebell writing log entries and keeping Aretha shipshape. It’s as though we were never away. We run our daily values prizes and focus on what each person is doing well and how they are contributing to the team.

I’m re-reading favourite business books and re-asking myself questions like “what are the things I do extraordinarily well” and making sure that the things I am choosing to do now fit in this category and that things that I do but that I don’t do very well find another home. Good business books and the lessons they contain are worth their weight in gold - sometimes they just need to be brought front of mind again as with many things going on, good practices can easily fall by the wayside.

As Aretha easily rattles off the miles and we approach the Oregon/ California border, the wind is starting to build and the fog diminishes. Cape Mendocino ahead of us promises to have the strongest winds. The weather files show some 40-50 knots and big seas. I’m grateful we are heading downwind rather than the wind on the bows. In sailing terms this is the difference between flat decks and life at 30 degrees heeled over. It’s also a lot drier. If we’d had this heading North, it would have taken us a long time to bash to windward (reminiscent of the 5,000 mile passage from Panama to San Francisco).

By late evening on the 23rd August, the wind is now over 40 knots and as the big waves lift Aretha’s stern up, we hurtle down the face of the waves at over 14 knots like a big surfboard. With the right sails up, Aretha is perfectly balanced. Two reefs in the mainsail, a small amount of genoa and the staysail.  The seas though are short and steep and in contrast to what we are normally used to sailing trade wind routes. The short seas causes the occasional wave to break over the stern of the boat. It’s dramatic stuff with the waves frothing on the stern.

Aretha at Sea.jpeg

We spot another Yacht, Yacht Cayuse on the AIS (the digital tracking that all larger boats and some sailing boats carry). We call them up on the VHF and swap notes on weather conditions, routing, forecasts and destinations. Sailors are always a friendly bunch and they are no exception. As always as sea, we keep a careful eye on the AIS, radar and visually on deck for other shipping and obstacles. We spot several tankers and container ships and call them up for a chat if they are within 10 miles of us. 

The wind continues to build and we drop the mainsail and the staysail leaving just a small amount of genoa poled out. We are less balanced now and Aretha rolls on each wave. It’s uncomfortable and sleeping is almost impossible. All three children are now sleeping in Aretha’s aft cabin where there is least movement.

The fast rolling conditions are offset by the magic in the skies. For the first time since we set off we have beautifully clear night skies and the stars and moon are silvery lights above us. Nichola’s newly acquired sea legs have left her now and she is feeling a little green again. 

By dawn on our final day at sea, we are now less than 100 miles from San Francisco. It’s noticeably cold on deck and I’m grateful for the warm foul weather gear we carry on board. The wind is now softening and the swells are easing off. We hoist more sail and Aretha responds by settling much more comfortably into the motion of the ocean. She’s back in her groove after a bumpy 24 hours. 

I run the generator to give us hot water for showers and get a cooked breakfast underway. Over family breakfast I give out values prizes for the way the children have handled themselves over the past 4 days. We have some necklace pendants I bought way back in Cape Town which I use as prizes - Columbus gets the Love one, Bluebell, Abundance and Willow gets Joy. They have easily and happily settled back into life at sea and have thrived back in this environment.

The approaches to San Francisco are wide and we have to carefully navigate the shipping lanes making sure to cross them at right angles. The skies are clear and give us more opportunities to spot the whales and dolphins that frequent these waters. 

By late afternoon we are closing on the Golden Gate bridge. It’s the ebb tide and the current is flowing hard out of the Bay. The sails by now are carefully stowed and we are motoring the final few miles. With camera in hand I start to take a few photos of the crew. Rememberingthat we have a 12 year old on board, I chastise myself for even beginning to take a photo when we have a selfie expert on board complete with selfie stick. The pic below therefore courtesy of Bluebell. A good note to remember the talents contained in any team and of course that the Captain needs to be focused on the boat and safety.

By 1900 we are safely tied up in our marina berth and take time to celebrate another achievement as a family. It’s been a short but testing passage and we have worked well as a team and have thrived in each others company. As the Captain I can relax - it’s been an intense six weeks and as two different teams since leaving here back in July it’s been packed full of adventures and experiences. It’s time now for back to school, building businesses, inspiring others to be Brave and to planning our next adventures.

In my next blog, I’ll be writing and reflecting on what I’ve learnt over these six weeks with very different teams and what shareable lessons there are.

As a final note, I’m also excited to announce that our book, Where the Magic Happens is now available for pre-order on Amazon [link here]. This tells our story of how we went from the seed of an idea to literally changing everything in our lives and enabling us to live adventures like these.

Have an awesome day everyone,

Caspar and all on board Team Aretha.


There’s always an element of pressure when it’s you that has introduced the keynote speaker for an important event. Unsurprisingly though, Caspar did not let me down. Having known Caspar professionally for at least 10 years , I felt proud to see how he has used his wealth of business experience and his phenomenal experience of circumnavigating the world with his young family in a 53 foot yacht!

What I found especially powerful was the balance between inspiration and practical points to takeaway. Caspar has cleverly crafted his talk to equate his and his family’s experiences and challenges, the highs and the lows, to a business context. Irrespective of profession, sector and experience, everyone in the room could relate Caspar’s talk to their own situation. From my own perspective I already subscribe to the critical importance of values, culture and behaviour and Caspar reinforced these messages powerfully and with humour and humility.
— Louise Gulliver Managing Director Institute of Directors