ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — The hull of Tracy Hollister’s boat, the Ingrid Princess, appeared around the breakwater at the West End Mooring Basin just before 2 p.m. Friday. A friend and fellow sailor, Brian Thom, waited on a paddleboard to greet him, while Hollister’s wife, Michelle, whooped and waved her hands on the docks, eager to see her husband for the first time in nearly three months.
Hollister, looking haggard, sidled his boat up to the dock, started tying up, hopped off and embraced his wife.
Hollister’s arrival in Astoria marked the end of 49 days sailing alone across the Pacific Ocean from Japan, and the culmination of a two-year, on-and-off journey around much of the Pacific Rim.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” Hollister said of first seeing the mouth of the Columbia River. “I felt like I was dreaming. All day (Friday) felt like a dream, until I woke up (Saturday) morning and realized I’m not dreaming.
“I can relax now, finally. I have been on watch for the last 50 days and needing to be ready for anything. It’s got me worn out.”
Crossing the ocean
Hollister, 42, a carpenter and homebuilder from Hood River, left Chichijima, Japan, a small island about 600 miles south of Tokyo, Aug. 29 and headed east-northeast, following the clockwise winds and currents on the north Pacific toward the West Coast.
Hollister said he took a two-month supply of water and food, since the usual trip takes 36 to 40 days in fair weather. But Hollister found himself skirting about five different storm systems along the way, amid a record storm season driven by El Niño.
“At one point, I could have gotten stuck in a super-typhoon,” Hollister said. “Fortunately, that did not materialize. The worst I experienced was 50 knots of wind and 25-foot seas, and that wasn’t that bad.”
Hollister is the fifth owner of the Ingrid Princess. Flanking him Saturday at the West End Mooring Basin were Skip Masters and David Rankin, two previous owners of the boat. Rankin, who exchanged a duplex for the Ingrid in 1984, had already sailed the boat around the world with his wife, Diane, by the time they sold it to Masters, who had owned the vessel eight years and sailed it between Oregon and Alaska. Masters ran into Hollister at a hops fest in Hood River in 2008.
The owners all lauded the Ingrid 38 model, which was built by Blue Water Boats in Seattle in the 1970s and based on a Norwegian lifeboat. The boat is designed to ride well on the ocean, they said, while its steering system allows a single person to control the vessel over long distances. Hollister said his trip was 1 percent steering, 99 percent monitoring.
While experiencing no major epiphanies or breakthroughs in the extreme isolation, Hollister said he kept himself motivated by constantly working on his boat, writing in his diary and even playing the smartphone game Candy Crush. “I read a lot of really good books. I read about 15 really good books.”
His lifeline for communication and weather reports on the ocean was his single-sideband radio, through which he could scramble radio waves into text known by sailors as SailMail, a radio form of email.
“That was my emotional link,” he said. “That makes long-distance ocean sailing fun.”
But by the international date line, he said, his ability to send emails went down, as did his electronic chart plotter. Hollister was left relaying his messages through passing ships, often having to translate to non-English-speaking crews. With a single point plotted on a backup GPS unit, he resorted to dead-reckoning his position, using the previous GPS point, his estimated speed and a paper chart to know where he was going.
“I have celestial gear on board but . I never saw the sun, basically, crossing the Pacific,” he said.
Hollister said he eventually found the radio frequencies of the U.S. Coast Guard, through which he relayed messages from a station in Kodiak, Alaska, and received Honolulu weather reports for the last three weeks of the journey.
A boy’s dream
“I’ve been wanting to do it since I was a little boy,” Hollister said of his trip around the Pacific Rim.
He described his experience sailing as beginning in the womb, where he rode along with his parents on the Fern Ridge Reservoir near Eugene. Hollister said he learned to sail from his father, first crossing the Columbia River Bar upriver at age 14. He and Michelle waited to take their journey after their daughter left for college.
The journey started Oct. 8, 2013, when the couple left the Columbia River to head south to California. In April 2014, Hollister departed Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with friend Thom for the nearly 3,000-mile trip to French Polynesia. Then Hollister started what’s known as the Coconut Milk Run from the Marquesas Islands, through several nations in the Oceania region and on to New Zealand, his halfway point.
In March, he departed for Fiji, then Vanuatu, then the Solomon Islands, Micronesia and Guam. By the time he reached Chichijima to resupply, Hollister said, he had been sailing 4,000 miles solo.
The Hollisters are taking the week to return their boat to Hood River.
After his endeavor, Hollister said, he’s patient enough to enjoy the simple things in life, from sleeping on a real bed, walking in the woods with his dogs, to once again tasting his wife’s cooking. “After getting through the hardship, the simple things are just so enjoyable,” he said.