“Skål” to one hell of a ride across the Pacific

A toast to Plastic Change for having me aboard

“SKÅL!” Mismatched mason jars, chipped coffee mugs and beer cans raised in unison, a group of tired-looking sailors toast in Danish around a wooden table in the saloon of a small steel sailboat. It’s late in the evening on November 23, twenty three days after the group set sail from Marina Del Ray, Los Angeles, California, on their ship, the S/Y Christianshavn. Just before noon, their ship was pulled by a towboat to its final destination, Honolulu, Hawaii. Yet Christianshavn’s crew managed to sail into the waters just off Honolulu without an engine and rudder, receiving assistance only to make it to their slip near Waikiki Beach.

On board were seven Danes and two Americans. One of the two Americans on board was me. The evening of our arrival toast, I sipped a frosty Maui Brewing Co. Pineapple Mana beer (in Danish beer is called “øl,” one of the first words I learned in Danish). I remember it was cold and delicious and didn’t have a saltwater aftertaste, like most of the beverages and food I consumed on the journey possessed. When my new friends and I all cried “SKÅL,” I felt an intense pang of sadness. Our trip together was over, our journey across the Pacific complete. I knew it would only be a matter of time until each of us went back home: Denmark, New York, Seattle….

The crew! Photo: Chris Jordan

That was a week ago. The first few days on land were hard. My legs didn’t feel coordinated. The crush of people on the streets of Honolulu felt overwhelming. I felt strangely disconnected to the people I love, my friends and family — instead feeling extremely attached to those I had sailed with.

Since, I’ve been learning how to better come to terms with this “ending,” perhaps, because I have just yesterday realized this is just the beginning.

It’s the beginning of an exciting and important start for Plastic Change, the two-year-old nonprofit organization I sailed with, which is working to bring attention and look for solutions to the problem of oceanic plastic pollution. It’s the beginning of many friendships that have formed while sailing at sea — with Henrik, Torsten, Rasmus, Malene, Sofie, Chris, Peter, Kristian — and those I’ve met in Hawaii — Søren, Lisbeth, Rafael, Megan, Stuart, Andrew. It’s the beginning of a really exciting period of my career as a freelance science writer.

As far as what happened at sea: Well, I don’t want to spoil the story for you. I’ll be writing about my adventures quite a bit in the coming months, so please keep an eye out for my stories. If you’ve been following my social media feeds, you can see some of what I experienced, including a recent beach cleanup on the island of Hawai’i that I’ll remember for the rest of my life; there was just THAT much plastic on the beach and in the sea.

Far from pristine: The plastic-covered Kamilo Beach, Hawai’i

To reflect a little: If you ever get the opportunity to go on a long sailing trip, do it. I can’t believe I waited so long. Even with the challenges — 24 hours of intense seasickness as soon as I hopped aboard, having to use a bucket as a toilet (to make matters more interesting, as you are trying to use that bucket, it is sloshing and sliding around under the mast on the deck), sharing a tiny living space with eight complete strangers, having to share everything with eight complete strangers, not having a real shower, not having much variety when it comes to food, a lack of a working engine and rudder — I would do a trip like this again in a heartbeat.

From challenges, one grows. I stepped onto Christianshavn knowing only how to sail a tiny Laser sailboat in calm bays and harbors. I stepped off knowing how to navigate a 55-foot sailboat across the greatest and most unforgiving ocean in the world, at some points sailing more than a thousand miles from land in any given direction.

I’ll be in Hawaii for another week. I was supposed to leave tomorrow but it’s been tough coping with leaving the ship and the crew and this beautiful place. I figure, if I made it all the way here, I deserve a little more time in paradise. Before you get jealous, know that I am getting my work done, albeit under the shade of some palm trees.

Me at the wheel. Photo: Henrik Beha Pedersen