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Trying to find your perfect and forever boat is a tall order. For my husband, Josh, and me, it was a Diesel Duck, and we wanted a used model. Trying to locate one of these custom-built boats was more of a challenge than we expected. We partnered with broker Jeff Merrill, who, after a year and a half of searching, found a 2006 Diesel Duck 462 in Honolulu. Within 24 hours of his call in March 2021, we were on the next flight out of Phoenix with a sight-unseen offer on the table.

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In the Aloha State, it became quickly apparent that she had sat for some time with little to no maintenance. She would need a major refit and some cosmetic work before we could cross the Pacific and bring her to Meyers Chuck, Alaska, our future home. We decided we were up for the challenge, and, once the sale had closed, got to work on the many projects that lay ahead. With both of us working full time in Arizona, we took monthly flights to Hawaii, where we learned that a refit is tedious in terms of having items shipped. Many times, our checked luggage included things like hundreds of yards of wire, a Furuno navigation package, an entire set of re-upholstered cushions, and a Starlink system.

The crew in Honolulu, just before departure. 

The crew in Honolulu, just before departure. 

Within a few months, we officially rechristened La Costa after the street in Arizona where we raised our family. And, after a year of working, it was go time. We had studied Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes and decided June 1 would be our launch date, as the North Pacific High had historically formed right around then, allowing for a passable window (of course, this would be the year it didn’t form). We hired Bob Cook of Ocean-Pro Weather to plan and assist us in the crossing, which turned out to be the best money we spent.

The Johnsons found the Diesel Duck in Hawaii, and spent a year commuting from Arizona to refit her for the journey. 

The Johnsons found the Diesel Duck in Hawaii, and spent a year commuting from Arizona to refit her for the journey. 

The crew consisted of Josh, his cousin Kim, her husband, Dwayne, and me. While Josh has many years on the water as a commercial fisherman, the rest of us have limited boating experience. Josh would be not only the captain and chief navigator, but also our engineer, a job that kept him busy the entire 18-day crossing. Within the first 24 hours of our departure from Kewalo Basin, we encountered an autopilot failure and loss of steering caused by a manufacturer pressure plate screw that had come loose. After a bench rebuilding, and reclaiming what hydraulic fluid we could, we were back in motion, only to endure more than a dozen mechanical failures that included fixing the generator water pump and resetting the multifunction display.

One of the many great aspects of La Costa was her vast space for spare parts and backups that we prepared to ensure we could repair virtually any component at sea. La Costa also has an abundance of tools, including an onboard welder, compressor, lathe and handheld power tools.

They endured three major storms along the way.

They endured three major storms along the way.

Luckily, our first five days were clear skies and flat seas. The most amazing, brilliant-blue days led to the most stunning, colorful sunsets each evening. The first few nights were dark and moonless, presenting a sky that glistened with magnificent stars and the Milky Way. Below La Costa, the bioluminescence vibrated as rolling waves disturbed the surface. The days were so calm that we would drop fishing lines in the water and often catch mahi-mahi.

Dwayne relaxes at the helm.

Dwayne relaxes at the helm.

Every morning, Josh would polish and transfer diesel fuel to our main tank, making sure we were topped off. He would also run the watermaker and inspect the engine room. Our crew had rotating four-hour shifts, with an engine room check every hour and full system checks to ensure that any failure would be discovered immediately. Josh would also send our coordinates to Bob via Iridium Go! daily, and we would text our eldest daughter, who kept our family up to date.

On day eight, we received an email to divert east, to avoid the first of three large systems forming northeast of Japan and heading our way. We installed the storm windows, prepped the sea anchor and drogue, and ensured that everything was dogged down in the salon and staterooms.

Josh dons his scuba gear to cut free a discarded fishing net from La Costa’s prop and rudder.

Josh dons his scuba gear to cut free a discarded fishing net from La Costa’s prop and rudder.

For the next six days, we would encounter seas of 26 to more than 50 feet, with winds clocking steadily at 30 to 40 knots. We shifted to teams of two at all watches, with one person always at the helm, and the other checking the engine room and systems. During the first storm, the crew on call noticed an intermittent lag in the engine, as if its rpm was revving higher under a load. We began to document repeat occurrences, and asked our daughter to research what the problem might be. We are only halfway across the ocean and beginning to enter worse weather and extreme sea states.

The Diesel Duck was made more comfortable with the paravanes deployed. 

The Diesel Duck was made more comfortable with the paravanes deployed. 

We continued to pass through the three systems, the last of which had La Costa enduring 40-foot seas in pitch darkness, 40- to 50-knot winds and water intrusion through the galley vents. We used towels to manage the water as it overcame the porthole weather seal, whose condition we had noted but missed replacing before we departed.

On day 15, we welcomed an overcast morning, with the seas beginning to subside and winds gradually decreasing. We had lost our starboard stabilizer in the worst storm, and we lost our boom topping halyard that holds the reefed storm mainsail against our dodger, a repair that cannot be done at sea.

More than a dozen mechanical failures kept them on their toes. Fortunately, the Diesel Duck has vast space for spare parts and backups.  

More than a dozen mechanical failures kept them on their toes. Fortunately, the Diesel Duck has vast space for spare parts and backups.  

Later in the afternoon, as the weather finally began to clear, we heard and felt a vibration. We put La Costa in neutral, and Josh dove in to inspect her running gear. We watched from on board as chunks of discarded fishing net rose to the surface in such a mass volume that our prop’s line cutters simply could not keep up. Josh later said the spurs were shiny as new, and we enjoyed a quiet, peaceful evening sunset of golden hues, followed by smooth travels and much-needed sleep.

After arriving at nearly midnight, the crew toasted the journey at a waterside pub.  

After arriving at nearly midnight, the crew toasted the journey at a waterside pub.  

Unfortunately, this bliss came to a screeching halt around 5 a.m, as the constant hum of the engine vanished. Six hundred miles offshore from British Columbia’s coast, our main engine shut down. The culprit was the fuel lift pump. After a fuel filter change and a reprime of the fuel system, the familiar hum of John Deere broke the silence, and we aimed our bow onward.

Eighteen days after leaving the tropical shores of Oahu, we saw the mountains of Tongass National Forest and the lights of Ketchikan. We prepared La Costa for arrival and called ahead to the harbormaster, who never answered. Oh, well. The outgoing tide and river in the harbor would have the last say, as the only open space available inside Thomas Basin provided just 20 feet of dock for our 51-foot boat. Fighting the currents with the bow thruster in full action, Josh prop-walked the boat into the snug spot, and she was finally tied down at 11:50 p.m.

The crew poses with a map of their 2,500- nautical-mile journey across the Pacific.  

The crew poses with a map of their 2,500- nautical-mile journey across the Pacific.  

We did it: We had just crossed the Pacific Ocean. It was time to celebrate at a local bar, The Potlatch, and toast to our epic, 2,500-nautical-mile journey. In a few days, we’d head to our new home port, where Josh was born and raised, and start a new chapter in our lives. 

This article was originally published in the January/February 2023 issue.

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