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The Loss of Zen

While the crews of more than 150 cruising boats were celebrating their safe arrival in French Polynesia during recent weeks, the dreams of one adventurous West Coast couple was quashed off the Baja Coast, before they even reached the trade winds.

After sailing their Iroquois 30 catamaran Zen II down the coast from Alameda, GD ‘Zen’ French and his wife ‘Lady Zen’ set out for Hawaii last last month, with plans to eventually reach Japan, where they would retire.

In happier times, Lady Zen and Zen display the banner of their eco-friendly voyage campaign.

© GD French

But only days after jumping off from Southern California and beginning their nearly 2,000-mile westward voyage, they were sobered by the difficulties of offshore sailing — especially in such a small boat. One of the cat’s twin rudders became inoperable early on, but Zen did his best to jury rig it, while learning to control the boat with a single rudder. Eventually, the couple decided to head for Ensenada for repairs.  

During what appears to be the early morning hours, the 30-ft cat glides peacefully along the Baja coast.

© GD French

Although their lengthy blog posts indicate that their offshore experience was truly miserable, they were initially reluctant to call for help and abandon ship, although they did keep the U.S. Coast Guard apprised of their deteriorating situation. Finally, on the 18th day of misery — including a long period of frustratingly light winds — they gave in and set off their EPIRB while roughly 250 miles offshore. "Lady Zen is in panic mode. She is stuttering when trying to speak," wrote Zen. "Tomorrow expecting 16- to 20-ft seas. No way we can handle that with a broken rudder and nerve-wracked crew. All we can do now is wait for the end of this ill-fated trip. So sad, such an end to a dream." They were eventually rescued by an oil tanker whose crew took excellent care of them while en route to Long Beach. 

Zen did his best to secure the damaged rudder. But in offshore conditions, it was effectively useless.

© GD French

To his credit, Zen published a brutally honest self-analysis on his blog: "I am not a sailor, l guess that is one lesson from this. I can sail, I can handle the boat well and blend with the element, however the moments of pleasure have been slight. There were a few moments when the flow was there, the sequencing, the harmony of movement, with water, wind and self were balanced, beauty. However, a real sailor would live for this adventure. I have been miserable since we left. I guess I am just a weekend sailor. I do not want to do this passage stuff again."

We understand that friends back home and some cruising sailors have offered financial assistance to this unfortunate couple, so that they can fly to Japan and realize their retirement dreams there. We wish the both the very best of luck. Meanwhile, Zen II is apparently still adrift somewhere off the coast of Baja. Its coordinates on June 18 were 24.6187N, 118.256W. If you’re headed south, keep a sharp lookout.


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