Endurance Rider races with the wind – to Hawaii

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August 15, 2012, San Francisco ~ When Canadian sheep rancher, endurance rider and outdoor enthusiast, Jenny-Anne Mooney decided to sail by herself 2100 miles from San Francisco to Hawaii, it began as a personal quest, a test of limits, and a fulfillment of self-reliance.

In all categories, it exceeded expectations. “I think I lost about 8 pounds, said the slim lady known as Jen to her friends, who hovers around 107 pounds on a well-fed day. Arriving in Kauai after 23 days at sea, sleep deprived but happy, Mooney was proud of her accomplishment.

Setting Sail

If you have been following Mooney’s adventure on Horsereporter (http://wp.me/p26iCL-Gr), it began as a solo sail as one of the only female skippers competing in the 2012 Singlehanded Transpac, leaving from San Francisco Bay.  After a mishap at sea on her trial voyage, she failed to qualify to participate in the race. With preparations already made for the trip, but not out of enthusiasm for the adventure, she teamed up with another lady sailor to make the crossing on her 27 foot, Erickson, Little Bo Peep.

The two departed from San Francisco Bay on June 30, the same day as the Transpac racers, who anticipated arriving within 14-21 days. Mooney planned to make it in 21.

However, when challenging life and Mother Nature, nothing can be taken for granted. “My partner was hurt early in the voyage,” said Mooney. “She was having muscle spasms and was on strong pain killers for most of the rest of the trip.”

Okay, being flexible is top of the list under Adventure. Mooney still had all of the duties of sailing singlehanded – navigation, handling the helm, raising, trimming, and lowering sails, communication, and food preparation. She figures that she averaged about three hours of sleep a day. “I catnapped at the helm,” she said.

On the boat was the latest in safety equipment – jack lines, safety harness, and an alphabet soup of communication systems including radar, AIS, VHF, EPIRB, GPS and a satellite phone. Family and friends could track the boat’s progress with the GPS system that sent a signal by satellite, which recorded progress every 20 minutes throughout the voyage, viewable via the internet. “I used the satellite phone several times to call my husband, Curtis,” said Mooney. “Once I asked him to look on the internet at the weather maps to help me determine the best direction to find wind. Our chats were brief, as these satellite minutes are quite expensive,” she explained.

Living 24 hours a day at the tiller is fatiguing. An autopilot was expected to relieve Mooney from constant duty at the helm. When that “died early on,” she relied on her windvane, a system of balancing the wind’s efforts against the sails.

Traffic on the ocean night and day can be dangerous to small boats, and part of her route was in shipping lanes. “The first day out, there was a lot of traffic, and we again had traffic as we came close to Oahu when it was pouring rain and pitch black,” she said.  “We had our nav lights on and we heard the AIS digital system go off – set at an alert for a 15 mile radius for oncoming traffic.”  Mooney could tell via her radar that the ship coming in her direction had altered course, to her great relief.

We had plenty of food and water, although we mostly ate dehydrated food,” she continued. “My comfort food was instant mashed potatoes”, she laughed.

Was she lonely or scared looking at bluewater for three weeks?  “The one scary moment came the last night out at sea,”  Mooney related in her soft voice. “We ran into a huge squall. I was tired and I’d left the full sails up – the strong wind was so overpowering, the boat was out of control. I crawled up to the bow and braced myself, and hauled down the sails, hand over hand. Laying on the bow, and clawing down the jib, I looked over and saw the phosphorescent glow in the water, illuminated by my headlamp. I had time to think how beautiful it was.”

“The boat did really well,” she continued. “It’s not a fast boat but it handled the rough weather, and the new engine was great.” The boat was also equipped with a solar panel that would charge the battery, which then powered lights, radio and refer. Of course, the sun had to be out for the system to function.

Did she see any unusual sights?  “There were light winds for most of the voyage,” she said. “On day 17, we were sitting way out in the Pacific Ocean, and the water was as smooth as glass.”  The first few days were cold, and the ladies wore every bit of their foul weather gear.  Mooney said the rubber boots were off by day three and after that they peeled layers, arriving in bikinis.

“The first night out in the dark, I could hear and smell a whale, but we never saw one. We did not see dolphin, but we had many flying fish that we picked up off the boat in the mornings.”

The take-away 

Mooney had a good deal of time to think during her daunting and daring self-challenge.

“We can accomplish more than we think we can, and take time to consider the importance and relevance of things. I thought how I appreciate the people in my life and how happy I would be to see them on shore to greet me.”

Little Bo Peep arrived at the Hanalei Bay Yacht Club at the end of the 23rd day with many well wishers to greet them. What did Jenny-Anne want to eat that first night with all types of food available?  “I wanted a fish sandwich and fries from McDonalds,” she said.  Proud husband, Curtis, delivered her request. “I was so excited to arrive that it was hard not to choke up. I have no regrets.  I’ll probably try it again.”

Her family are very proud of her and none more so than grandmother, Ruby, aged 91. Ruby’s advice to everyone at home during the three weeks Jen was at sea: “Don’t worry, she’ll be just fine.”

Mooney is happily back at her Alberta ranch tending her sheep. She has already fixed her sights on her next goal – to become a member of the Canadian endurance team. She is presently looking for just the right horse for that adventure.

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