Sailing solo across the Pacific

Margie Woods  was extatic to see her family when she set foot on the beach in Hanalei, Hawaii.

All of them were equally as excited. They’d been waiting for her to sail “Hunani,” her 34-foot Catalina sailboat into the bay for hours.

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Margie Woods greets her father, “Woody” Woods in Hanalei.

Maggie Woods, Margie’s mother, said it was as if she were awaiting a birth as she stood at the edge of Hanalei Pier in July, watching her daughter anchor off-shore, and Margie agreed.

“This whole experience was really a rebirth for me,” she said, standing firmly on the ground 18 days after launching from San Francisco Bay.

Maggie was one of 23 people who left the bay July 2 and sailed the more than 2,000 miles from San Francisco to Hanalei in the 20th Singlehanded Transpac race, hosted by the Singlehanded Sailing Society of San Francisco Bay.

This year, she’s also the only female contestant.

According to leaderboards, Woods finished sixth in her class and she was met in Hanalei Bay with a group of proud family and friends.

Among them was her father, Woodson “Woody” Woods, who first sailed the same route in 1975 with a few friends from Newport Beach, California.

“None of us had really sailed anywhere before, but out we went and we made landfall on the Big Island,” Woody Woods said. “I’ve made that (journey from San Francisco to Hawaii) seven times now.”

For the 48-year-old Margie, it was her first time making that voyage, and she said it has been a life goal to complete the journey before she reached 50.

“I asked her if she maybe wanted to go with someone first and then do the race alone, but she didn’t want to do that,” Maggie Woods said. “She wanted to do the whole thing, by herself.”

Woods said leaving San Francisco and arriving in Hanalei were both marked by “signs of beauty” and were both memorable experiences in her trip.

“Leaving San Francisco, just as I was clearing the bridge, a whale breached right in front of me,” Woods said. “And coming into Hanalei, I saw the green mountains with a big giant rainbow and it was so beautiful.”

Along with the breathtaking splendor of nature, Woods also encountered nature’s harsh tests with rough conditions that race official Rod Percival, with the Pacific Single Handed Sailing Association of Los Angeles, deemed “tougher than normal.”

“This year was more challenging than most,” Percival said.

Percival was in Hanalei to watch three members of the LA Pacific Single Handed Sailing Association cross the finish line, Woods being one of them. He said the contestants “launched in fine style in 10-15 knots of wind.”

As of Tuesday, in the early afternoon, six of the 23 contestants still needed to make it to the harbor, but Percival was proud of the entire group.

“They were sailing in 35 knots (55 mph) and they handled conditions beautifully,” Percival said.

Woods said she slept for an hour or two at a time while she was out at sea, and she especially didn’t get a lot of sleep the last five days of the journey, because of rough winds.

“It’s hard. You’re not comfortable, ever,” Woods said. “It was rough conditions, at times I had huge waves coming in over the top and into my cabin and I was out mopping up water with all my towels. There’s going to be a lot of cleanup.”

Woody Woods said he’s “a very, very proud dad” and once his daughter finally got within hugging distance, the two embraced.

“You’ll only remember the good things,” he told her after she admitted there were moments she wondered why she had taken up the Singlehanded Transpac race.

Woods’ sister, Katie said the plan is to ship “Hunani,” named with her mother’s middle name, back to the Mainland in a few days, along with the flag that she flew during her 18 days at sea — the same handmade flag her father flew on his first journey in 1975.

“I think the thing that stands out to me right now was when I got close enough, I could smell Kauai,” Woods, who was born on the Big Island, said. “It was amazing, earthy and so Hawaii.”

With her feet firmly on the ground, Woods said she was most relieved to be surrounded by family and friends. She said she wasn’t sure if she’d be taking on the race again, but she was ready to go back over some of the lessons learned on the open ocean.

“This reminded me that I am strong,” Woods said. “Sometimes I can play small, and I don’t need to do that. This is what I can do, this is what I’m capable of.”


Written for The Garden Island Newspaper, printed July 20, 2016. Photo taken for The Garden Island Newspaper, by Jessica Else. 

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