To My Boys. Isaac and Steven

To my sons. Isaac and Steven.

Whom I miss very much.

Boys. I know I am not a typical father. It has very much been my intention, not to be.

I realized early on, that you would be shown two completely different styles of living. 2 households, 2 points of view and 2 reflections of the past. My early dream of living in a house I built, with a white picket fence, a nice family dog and regular weekend ventures, vaporized long ago.

I also realized, that if I was truly going to impact your life in a positive way, I would need to pull all the stops.

I would need to show you, that behind the face of despair, is a man who has lost perspective.

I would need to show you, how to avoid that fate. By giving you the skills you will need in life. In hopes that you will be prepared pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, reflect on the fall and be the better for it.

I also needed to prove this to myself, as I was hanging by a thin thread of faith, that life could be good. Simply because we can choose to let it be…

In my darkest hours, I made a choice to live an amazing life, in spite of all that ailed me. I chose to focus on the bright things, in hopes that the light would grow as I walked toward it.

I also chose to challenge myself. To explore my limits, face my fears and thrive, regardless of my surroundings.

I am writing this to you now, because I am at the closing, of the largest venture I have ever undertaken.

The transit of the Northwest Passage.

Not only that, my life is ten fold more wonderful then it ever has been.

Remember back when we took our first trip together in Southeast Alaska? You were so small then…

Steven spying the horizon.  Age 6
Steven spying the horizon. Age 6

I remember one morning, the summer of 2006, in a place called punchbowl cove, Near Ketchikan, where we anchored in the night. We stepped outside in the morning and gasped. There were waterfalls, beaches and so much beauty…

We rowed ashore and hiked up to a lake, where we found a boat, crossed the lake and showered in a warm waterfall that slipped down the rock for a thousand feet, warmed only by the sun.

 that magical place.
that magical place.

I knew then, that in my limited time with you, this was the best way to show you a world only imagined by most. A world without video games and synthetic entertainment.

A world where constant balance, is the fulcrum between effort and reward.

I wanted to take you to new lands and places where your first experiences in that place, would lie far from the airport. Places that lie “Off the menu” for most of the world.

I dreamed that you would find appreciation, for the smallest simple things. Such as still water, when you need rest and steady winds, when you need speed.

I dreamed that you would grow to be resourceful, having been trained to make the best of this very small world around you.

Isaac in the rigging at 12
Isaac in the rigging at 12

I dreamed you would absorb priorities, as they are in the most, raw form. Caring first for what may kill you, caring second for what may harm you, then caring lastly for what may give you comfort.

Time on the sea, was my best way to convey these lessons to you, while also enjoying our time together…

Just after we crossed the Gulf of Alaska for the first time.
Just after we crossed the Gulf of Alaska for the first time.

Boys. Once I recognized this, I set my hand to making these dreams a reality. This required a journey of my own. A test if you will, to my concept of fatherhood. If I could learn from this process, so could you.

One of our first trips aboard Empiricus.
One of our first trips aboard Empiricus.

I had no idea how right that concept was. Because for the next 3 years, my learning curve, steepened exponentially. Trust me, when a class clown with grade 10 match skills begins to study Celestial Navigation, the laughing stops and the learning begins… I had never been so motivated to learn and began to amaze myself. My potential was “Reset” time and time again. It was a wonderful challenge.

Sewing the mainsail that would carry us to Greenland
Sewing the mainsail that would carry us to Greenland

Shortly I was surrounded by more books, bills and duties then ever before. Like a first time juggler, I tossed my duties in the air, having only a moment to send each one aloft, guided to return.

I juggled my best as the timing of these things was a mystery to me.

There were times when the ball you rode upon, struck the floor and began to roll away… When that happened, they all came rattling down on my head, as I picked you up. I was determined to keep you in the mix, engaged in this process.

And so I drug you onto boats and out into the woods, so that you might taste accomplishment along with me.

One of our survival outings
One of our survival outings

Not accomplishment for the sake of titles, but accomplishments in the heart and soul. Such as triumph over fear, self reliance, humility, gratefulness and courage.

I wager there is no more powerful drug in the universe, then the power a blowing gale, in the cold northern oceans. What high could ever match, the slamming of your heart, when reefing the mainsail on a pitching deck. Or applying all your life’s wisdom, endurance and skill, to a safe passage between this land and the next…


The sea taught me many things, as this test was confirmed in my heart, to be worthy of passing on. You see, sometime into this headlong, all in expedition, I realized something and a flame grew hot in my chest to broadcast its importance.

Perspective is everything. It is the key that unlocks all emotions. It is the key, that locks all emotions. It is the governing tool, between love and hate.

Remember. There is no reward or bonus on earth, waiting for the man who chooses to be miserable.

More importantly, remember this… In every moment, in every step, in every word, awaits the reward of joy and fulfillment. For those who choose to focus on the light.

Please bear with me as I explain through this example.

September 1st 2014, Samantha and I were waiting to transit Bellot Straight. The key to our exit of the Northwest Passage. The weather was beautiful and calm. But the calm brought cold nights and still water. This caused the surface of the sea to freeze. We broke through the fresh Ice, but my gut was concerned, as we had many miles on a northerly course to make yet. This would bring colder shorter nights, and subsequently, more freezing…

Even so, we used the warm daylight to prepare our boat for the next stages of the passage, using the opportunity to work outside in calm conditions, to make repairs and plan our next move. So though the conditions were not ideal for escaping the ice. They were ideal for preparing.



Only minutes after completing repairs, we received a favorable Ice report, and five hours later, completed the transit of Bellot Straight. That passage was the greatest challenge I have faced at sea. I had moments of doubt and weakness, but worked to focus on solutions and harness my fears. It worked…

The next few days brought more and more re freeze at night, but we continued as we could, through fog, dark, snow and heavy ice packs.

Whenever I stared at the ice, or re freeze, I would feel low. Acid came to my throat and I felt the tug of doubt in the face of these obstacles. Following that, I would begin to heap more burdens on my mind. Like money,etc…

No one is immune to this. But we have a choice. As did I. And so I changed my focus. Instead of focusing on the large masses of multi year Ice. I focused on whatever ice is lesser.

I did not look for a clear path through that foggy freezing labyrinth. I simply steered directly into the masses, which were made of smaller pieces.

Once in those areas, I always found a way through… When it was to foggy to proceed, or dark, or both. We simply found a pond of clear water amongst the burgs and sat still. Resting while our obstacles’ moved about, then pouncing on openings in daylight.

There was NEVER a clear path. We found our way, moment by moment, using all the resources we had and celebrating every small victory. This is how battles are fought.

Once clear of the pack ice, we had a few days of strong winds, which opposed us. This made it difficult to move East, toward our goal (Greenland).

We were thankful for the strong winds. Yes, thankful, because these low pressure systems were warmer then the High pressures. They blew hard and stirred the face of the water. This keeps it from freezing… A gift in a funny package… But a gift only to those who can open it and enjoy what it has to offer, even if its not what we wanted…

So to boil this down, I told you this, because moments in time are often parables of life on a larger scale.

1. Patience is excruciatingly painful to learn. At times you will be waiting for what to do next. You will feel trapped, like the ice that formed around us at night, your life will begin to look like a prison. And though you may not be able to change your immediate circumstances. You can help yourself by preparing for tomorrow. This will also give you something to do. And if your anything like me, you will need a bone to chew on while you wait. So look your situation over, and prepare yourself.

2. When you encounter obstacles’, stand up straight. Climb the rigging if you must. But see as far as you possibly can. You will rarely see as far as you would like, but do not let that stop you. Proceed anyway, taking the best path laid before you. I am not saying the “Good or easy” path. Those are rare. Just the best one you can find.

Remember. Every step taken forward, is one more foot of horizon you can see with your eyes. Literally, if you do not move forward, you will never see any farther then today.

So proceed with courage, but keep your eyes bent for turns that lie ahead. When you apply this to your life, many problems will be averted, simply because you will not steer into them.

Remember. Your body will always follow your eyes.

3. Rest when you can. If you cannot sleep you are not tired enough. Engage your body and mind. Do things that are difficult, both physically and mentally. You will be surprised at what you can do and how hard you can sleep at the drop of a hat.

4. Be thankful for the storms. The winds I mentioned before were paired with one of the most pleasant nights we had in the Northwest Passage. We hove too under a small para anchor, under triple reef. It was easy, because we practiced when we had calm winds. So all we had to do, was feed the fire and watch for ice.

Storms bring attention to your weaknesses. By watching yourself as you struggle, you will know what needs strengthening. This is true in boats as it is in people. If the rigging shakes loose, it was bound to do so. Only a gale will bring this to light.

So after a storm, what do we do? We fix what broke, but we make it stronger, smoother and more refined. When was your last storm? Think about the last time you struggled with emotions. What did you do? Did you feel helpless? Does anyone even know? Quiet storms of the heart blow harder then them all. Pay attention to your failures and weaknesses, then repair them. This takes study and dedication. But in doing so, you will find that gales pass you by with little trembling.

Effort and reward in the Northwest Passage.
Effort and reward in the Northwest Passage.

Remember. Focusing on failure is failure. Focus on yourself and growing. Seek out skills that build you. This is a big task. There will be no time for self loathing on the journey toward manhood.


So in closing I’ll say this.

• About the time I figure out, how to best be your father, you may have children of your own. I accept that with all the patience I have.
• Though the path I always wanted to fatherhood, has been riddled with Ice, I will steer toward you, always learning to watch farther ahead.
• Because I have encountered storms, I appreciate our moments all the more and am prepared to weather more for our sake.
• I am your Dad. My example, (flawed as it is) Is real. I am not living a lie. This is not pie in the sky stuff I am showing you. It is real. LIFE! Is made for living. LOVE! is made for giving and OCEANS! Were made for sailing.

Love, Dad
Nuuk Greenland


9 thoughts on “To My Boys. Isaac and Steven

  1. Captain, Your words to your Sons are beautiful and are written with a pen, dipped from the inkwell of the heart, full of love. So many children do not have a father that even acknowledges their presence. A true shame.
    You are an amazing Man. One who can share his weakness and strength. Forging on through the sea of Life with full sail of hope, amazement and awe.
    I am even more honored to have known you.
    Thank you Jesse, for being who you are. Quite the honorable Man.
    Congratulations on reaching one of your destinies in life. I am sure there are many more to come
    Tammy @ Colville

  2. Jesse, I am glad to hear that you have completed your North West Passage. Reading your words to your sons touches me and I find parts of your text worth quoting. Some really profound words there.
    Now it was almost a year since I sailed through the Passage the other direction and the documentary series the Polar Sea will soon be released. It is a 10 hour series dealing with how climate changes affect people, culture and places. My own trip through the Passage is a big part of this film. Sailing over Baffin Bay I composed a song which express my feelings on many levels. I hope you like it.
    Best regards


  3. Hi Jesse,

    From my coffee shop in Aix en Provence, tears came to my eyes … what a wonderful writing ! Not only you know welding, sailing, sewing sails, playing mandoline and so and so, but you are also a marvelous writer ! Waouh !!!
    See you soon my friend,
    Phil le marin

  4. Dad,
    I still love to come back and read your blogs when I’m in need of your wisdom. Been feeling very lost lately as I navigate my own life and appreciate that I have some awesome encouragement awaiting me in this post particularly. I really hope I have the opportunity to read more of your thoughts and share more memories with you.
    Your Son Isaac

    1. Isaac. Ive got a great big smile on my face and logged on to this blog for the first time in years. It is good to hear my words are helpful, even from long ago. You are inspiring me to write again and so I will… As ocean sailing once again moves to the forefront of my life, those opportunities will be plentiful. Remember. Navigating begins by first, knowing where you are. Then deciding where you want to go…
      Love, Dad

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