Voyaging with Velella: The Grand Detour

paddling in bajaContinuing the “Voyaging with Velella” series by ASA writer-at-large Meghan Cleary. Meghan, her fiance Prescott, and their kitten Nessie are on a planned 9-month cruise in the tropics.

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 Quinceanera shops is SUB-PAR. 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 often suggested by our well-meaning non-sailor 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.
coast of big island
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.
approaching coast under sail
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 it might be just crazy enough to work.

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.

Got any thoughts or advice on this big decision? Leave a comment below.

Here’s where the crew of Velella are pondering their options:

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Louis Cohen
Louis Cohen

What would the Hawaii trip cost in terms of provisions, spares, fuel, mooring fees, and round-trip air fare, vs the $9,000 to truck the boat plus one-way air fare, and the relaunch? Another option would be a yacht transporter likes this: Their heavy-lift ship sinks itself so that boat owners can drive aboard above cradles on the deck. The ship deballasts and the cradles come up under the yachts. You can fly home or ride with the ship. I have seen them in San Diego; I think they make a stop in Mexico as well. Do you have jobs in… Read more »


I say do the Grand Detour – it will be hard, but you may not have another opportunity to do it again for some time – especially if you want “nest” 🙂

Take it from someone who is just got married last may – sometimes the most stressful situations make the relationship stronger!

Good luck whatever you decide!

Michael Robinson
Michael Robinson

There may be other options to at least check out. First, there are yacht delivery services that will provide Captain and Crew to sail the boat back or to Hawaii. This has it’s own set of pros and cons that you could consider as well as cost. Second, there are numerous excellent ASA schools that teach ASA 108. You could loan your boat to one of these and let the school take the Grand Detour on a teaching sail with the last stop being Hawaii or the Pacific Northwest. This too may have its own pros and cons but could… Read more »