Across The Pacific

One-hundred and thirteen sea days.  As the crow flies, over 6500 miles. 

In April of 1953 Leda sailed from Auckland with a crew of eight consisting of Dooley and Kit Wilson along with their three children, Jan (age 6), Ruth (age 4) and Nick (age 4-months), Sandy and Erica Wilson and Dave Woolf.  Their eventual destination was San Francisco.

The route of Leda’s 1953 voyage, Auckland to San Francisco.
Because of the scale of the map, some locations are approximate.

Leda had been built as a partnership between the two brothers.  Time had come for them to pursue independent dreams and it was decided Leda should be sold.  The riches of America were calling.  One final big adventure of sailing across the Pacific, then sell the boat in San Francisco and have a good nest egg for whatever life might have to offer as the next adventure.

At the time, Leda was a well storied yacht.  Dooley once told me that it had been the opinion at the time that she was the most photographed yacht in New Zealand.  This was not boast.  The comment was made with his usual good humor while acknowledging that it helped to have a brother who was the yachting reporter for the Auckland Star.  Their departure from “the steps” in Auckland is reported to have been attended by at least a thousand people who had come to see the voyagers off.  The plan was for Kit and the children to leave the boat in Fiji to fly home.  The remainder of the crew would continue on to San Francisco, where Leda would be sold.  Dooley planned to return home to be with his family.  Sandy and Erica had plans to buy another boat and go sailing.  As near as I know, Dave Woolf was along for the adventure of it and ended up making a home in California.  

I have a number of articles written for the newspaper that can be found in the Digital Archive that tell most of this story better than I can.  They are written by Sandy Wilson and will be a much better read for anyone interested in details of the voyage.  The old photo copies of old newspapers do present some challenge to the reader but I think they will be worth the effort.

Below is the timeline of the voyage, gleaned from Erica Wilson’s diary.  I’ll not be sharing her narrative as it was not written with the intent of being public.  Most of the notable points are detailed in Sandy’s articles.  By the time the voyagers reached Hawaii a more confident Erica Wilson emerges.  I found it interesting that early accounts were more concerned with daily life and chores on board.  Later entries detail sail changes, taking sights, details of distance covered and impressions from her watch.  She was becoming a sailor.

It’s been discussed in various sections on this site that Leda’s mast was shortened to a masthead rig after arriving in the States.  Dooley reported to me that with the fractional rig they spent a lot of time with the first reef in their racing sail.   Because of this, her 70-feet of mast was not fully utilized on this journey.  She was fitted with a loose-footed, roachless  and battenless cruising main, that did not reach full hoist on the mast.  Despite this, they managed to sail to Tahiti from Fiji on a direct route.  They did not have autopilot nor did they have a self-steering wind vane.  They used their head sails to balance the rig and let the boat self-steer for long portions of the trip.  When the weather was fine, there was not always a watch kept through the night, allowing the crew to sleep.  This would seem insane by modern standards.

The crew posing for the press in Honolulu

The crew left Hawaii late in the season.  They quite simply did not have the money nor the time to wait for spring.  As it turns out they sailed through a Pacific hurricane, ran out of water and tobacco and were down to the last of their food supplies by the time they reached San Francisco.  The pounding they took was so severe that the copper water tanks started to open up and most of their fresh water went into the bilge.  Erica reported to me that she was making soup out of salt water the last couple of days into San Francisco.  They tried collecting rain off the sails but there was so much salt in the air that it was brackish at best.  Dooley told me the worst aspect had been running out of tobacco, as everybody on board smoked.  At one point he found half a hand-rolled cigarette that had fallen into a crevasse somewhere forward.  He carefully dug it out, and despite the fact that it had been wetted and dried a number of times and smelled mostly of mildew and salt, greedily smoked it.

Finally arriving in San Francisco just a week before Thanksgiving, the exhausted crew followed the directions they had been given to the Golden Gate Yacht Club.  Arriving unannounced, they coincidentally arrived on the evening of the yacht club’s annual Thanksgiving feast.  Cold, wet and hungry they were given a hero’s welcome once it was established they had sailed from Auckland and not Oakland (across the bay).  In a matter of priorities, Erica had entered the clubhouse seeking cigarettes and a telephone.  She resembled a street a urchin.  She was greeted with a martini and a full packet of American cigarettes.

Leda had arrived in America.

Leda with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background entering San Francisco Bay with members of the Golden Gate Yacht Club on board.  Reportedly this photo was taken with the first roll of color film the crew had ever seen. 

The Pacific cruise of the sailing yacht Leda: 

  • 4/29/1953 – depart Auckland
  • 4/30 – arrive Russell (Bay of Islands)
  • 5/2 – depart Russell
  • 5/13 – arrive Tonga (Nuku’alofa)
  • 5/27 -depart Nuku’alofa
  • 5/27 – arrive Ono Iki (Tonga)
  • 5/28 – depart Ono Iki
  • 5/28 – arrive Lifuka (Tonga)
  • 5/29 – depart Lifuka
  • 5/29 – arrive Vava’u (Tonga)
  • 6/01 – depart Vava’u
  • 6/04 – arrive Fiji (Suva)
  • 6/18 – Kit departs with the Wilson children
  • 6/26 – depart Suva (Fiji)
  • 6/27 – arrive Ngau (Gau Island, Fiji)
  • 7/06 – depart Ngau (Fiji)
  • 7/12 – arrive Apia (Samoa)
  • 7/15 – depart Apia
  • 8/02 – arrive Tahiti (Pape’ete)
  • 8/14 – depart Pape’ete
  • 8/14 – arrive Mo’orea 
  • 8/22 – depart Mo’orea
  • 8/27 – arrive Fakarava atoll (Tuamotu)
  • 9/1 – depart Fakarava
  • 9/11 – arrive Hiva Oa (Marquesas)
  • 9/15 – depart Hiva Oa
  • 9/16 – arrive Nuku Hiva (Marquesas)
  • 9/17 – depart Nuku Hiva
  • 9/18 – arrive ‘Eiao Island (Marquesas)
  • 9/19 – depart ‘Eiao 
  • 10/09 – arrive Hilo, Hawaii
  • 10/16 – depart Hilo
  • 10/18 – arrive Honolulu
  • 10/26 – depart Honolulu
  • 11/19 – arrive San Fransisco

Next:  The End of An Adventure

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