I met Mary Trimble a few years ago at the Women Writing the West conference in Kansas City, MO. What an honor to meet a lady with such an amazing past. Not only did Mary travel to Africa for two years and assist with the Peace Corps and write a memoir entitled Tubob, she has also sailed the South Pacific and has penned the newly released Sailing with Impunity. Tubob was such an amazing read, I couldn’t wait to interview Mary and discus her new story.
CP: Tell us a little about Sailing with Impunity.
MT: The book is a memoir about our 14-month, 13,000-mile journey aboard our 40-foot sailboat, Impunity.
CP: What inspired the title of your book?
MT: I love book titles that have a double meaning. Impunity means freedom from harm or fear, and it also happened to be the name our boat when we bought her. I added the subtitle, Adventure in the South Pacific, so that people would know what and where the book was actually about.
CP: What was life like aboard Impunity? Describe Impunity for us.
MT: Impunity is a 40-foot yawl, which is a two-masted fore-and-aft rigged sailboat with the mizzen mast located aft of the rudder post. Ha ha—aren’t you sorry you asked? I hadn’t a clue what that meant until we started looking at boats. She is a sea-going vessel and had previously crossed the Atlantic twice, the Pacific, and had also sailed throughout the Gulf of Mexico and through the Panama Canal. She had a fine compliment of sails and beautiful mahogany interior woodwork.
Life aboard Impunity, even at 40-feet, was compact. We sold our home and lived aboard for 6 months before we set off on our journey. Those months were important in getting to really know our boat. In order to live aboard, especially on a sailboat, you have to learn to streamline your belongings to the basic necessities.
At sea, life is very different and regulated by the watch system. We chose to use a four-hours on, four-hours off watch, which meant at sea we never got more than four hours of sleep at one time. We’re firm believers in always having someone awake and responsible for the boat. It’s the on-watch person’s responsibility to ensure the boat is on course, that the boat isn’t in danger of hitting an object in the water (including another boat!), and that the boat’s equipment is operating as it should. One of the surprising things to me was that we were so alone at sea. Our longest leg of the journey was 35 days, and other than the day we left San Diego and the day we arrived in French Polynesia, we didn’t encounter another boat. We were alone in a world by ourselves. That is unnerving to some people, but we enjoyed that aspect of sailing.
CP: How did you come to be on this journey?
MT: Before we were married, Bruce had done a lot of sailing, including racing. He and his brother owned a sailboat and later he crewed on racing sailboats. While in college he rigged (installed) sails on new boats. Later, he became knowledgeable about marine electronic equipment through his work. He also taught himself celestial navigation, navigating by the stars and sun using a sextant. Bruce had a dream of offshore sailing and from him I caught the sailing bug. It look a lot of planning and considerable sacrifice, but it all came together and we sold our house and bought Impunity. After the trip, we sold the boat and bought a house.
CP Would you recommend this type of journey to others? Why or Why not?
MT: Putting aside one’s life isn’t easy. Your life will change in ways you probably cannot imagine. You have to be willing to let go of what some people call essentials. Being at sea can be physically demanding. It’s difficult to manage on a rolling, pitching boat. Cooking at sea is a real challenge, yet it’s important to eat nutritious meals in order to keep up your strength. But there were glorious times, too. Alone on the 10:00 – 2:00 watch at night, I marveled at the closeness of the stars, the swooch of the boat as it cut through the sea. Reaching landfalls, we loved absorbing the various South Pacific cultures and enjoyed meeting like-minded sailors and hearing their adventures. We felt the journey worthwhile, but we saw many people who struggled, who weren’t really prepared, either physically or boat-wise, for this kind of journey.
CP: Would you be willing to share an excerpt?
MT: Sure, I’d be happy to.
On the passage between Samoa and Hawaii, we encountered rough weather and. Impunity hummed with built-up pressure. Bruce was attempting to shorten sail to slow the boat down.
“…on deck, Bruce slipped on his life line and harness, glanced at the compass to confirm our course, watched the raucous seas for a moment, noting streaking foam atop the 10- to 12-foot waves, and looked up to survey the already reduced mainsail. He stepped to the upper deck and eased the halyard. Leaning against the boom to free both hands, he pulled the mainsail down, preparing to take in another reef.
I stayed in the cockpit to handle the coiled halyard. I heard a loud bang, a noise I hadn’t heard before, and looked up. “Bruce, what was that? Bruce!”
No answer. He wasn’t there. I let out a garbled scream. My worst nightmare! Bruce had fallen over-board! The boat surged ahead as my mind whirled with what I must do.”
Carmen, thank you for this opportunity to talk about my book. You have an interesting blog and I’m so happy to be your guest.