On an overcast midday in July, Group Delphi Senior Account Director Dave Herrigel sailed his 30-foot boat, Domino, out of San Francisco Bay.
His destination: the harbor of Hanalei on the Hawaiian island of Kauai — some 2,120 miles away.
For the next 13 days, there would be no one to help handle the sails or steer; no one to share watches while he slept; no extra pair of hands to effect repairs; no one to talk to, mull over the day with, dole out encouragement or leaven the challenges that appeared over the horizon. No one to share in the decisions that would prove to be crucial to the journey — or perhaps even to Dave’s own existence. After all, this was no mere sail across the sea. This was the legendary Singlehanded TransPac.
Dave’s goal to compete in — and win, if possible — the Singlehanded TransPac fits the epic formula of the hero’s journey: one person, a fragile craft, and a lot of sky and sea.
“I hope to sail fast, and will sail competitively,” he wrote in a parting message to his colleagues at Delphi. “But this race is as much about the adventure as a trophy in the end.”
And what an adventure it was.
One 330-Hour Day
According to Dave, “there was really no beginning or end to the days.” His longest sleep was 2.5 hours, and most of it came in naps of 30 minutes or less. He also cultivated a sort of dreamlike state, in which part of his mind was free to drift while the rest remained acutely aware of its surroundings.
Caffeine, which you’d think would be the solo sailor’s best friend, was not on Dave’s diet. But there was plenty of adrenaline to replace it, especially when he reached the tropics and spent hours hitching rides on the region’s tremendous wind engines.
One night, he was speeding along in the dark — no moon, just an unusual lightning storm to keep him company — when a huge downdraft from a squall cloud rolled over him. The fearsome gale broke the wind instruments, wiped out the boat (i.e., got it sailing on its side), and sent the spinnaker into the water, where its enormous leverage threatened to rip off the mast.
Hundreds of miles from the nearest vessel, Dave ultimately relied on adrenaline and a lot of upper body strength to pull in the heavy, sea-soaked sheet. Reflecting on the terrifying moment in his understated way, Dave described his response: “Okay, this could go very wrong very quickly.”
A Different Approach
While Dave’s stamina and mental toughness (and a fair bit of wind) kept pushing Domino forward, in the end it was probably his willingness to take strategic risks that distinguished his voyage. He had already proved himself a contrarian by defying the majority and starting out south of his competitors. On the third day, he put it all on the table by choosing to go way south and point the boat “at a hurricane” (he laughs here when he tells the story), in search of “a little lane of wind.” It was a gamble that required a lot of concentration and a fair bit of luck; had he not turned west at just the right time, he would have sailed directly into the storm.
But the risk paid off with dividends of much faster speeds. And at 3 a.m. on July 16th, 13 days after leaving Sausalito, Dave piloted Domino into the quiet Hanalei Harbor. The years of preparation, the spartan meals, the sleep deprivation — and, above all else, his willingness to take the bold navigational gamble — had delivered. Domino and her crew of one had come in first.
“The whole thing is really a 30-year dream come true for me,” Dave wrote in an emailed report to his Group Delphi colleagues. “Words don’t really do justice to the feeling. The win is really the icing on a huge slice of life-cake.”
Some Essential Facts of Life Aboard Domino
What was your daily menu?
Trader Joe’s pouches of Indian dishes and pre-cooked rice, prepared over a single-burner stove. Some canned salmon and canned tuna rounded out my main meal.
Could you see the competition?
No, and that was one of the biggest challenges in maintaining focus.
How did you prepare?
Four years of solo sailing, including a qualifying singlehanded race and an attempt at the 2014 TransPac (cut short 200 miles out by a broken rudder).
Essential to have on board:
Enough equipment and supplies to be on one’s own for 3-4 days in the “worst case scenario” — having to ditch the boat. (Very important items: an emergency backup and redundant rudder.)
After all that isolation, did you ever talk to yourself?
Yes, but only on the very last night … and that was mostly telling the clouds to get out of the way. Otherwise, I was too much in the moment to start anguishing about being a small speck of a boat on a very big ocean.
How long did it take to sail to Hawaii?
13 days, 17 hours, 53 minutes and 21 seconds.
How long did it take to return to the Bay Area on a commercial airline?
5 hours, 15 minutes
What was the first thing you did after finishing the race?
Found a sofa and went to sleep for six hours.
Are you going to do more singlehanded sailing?
Yes, and I may enter the 2018 TransPac race. Right now, I’m waiting to welcome Domino back home (she is being shipped), where I can put her back together and do some basic repairs, including the wind anemometer that was destroyed during the squall attack.
What do you do when you’re not sailing across the Pacific?
Serving as Senior Account Director at Group Delphi, where I can be contacted at David.Herrigel@groupdelphi.com.