Setting Sail

Photo by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Christian Williams Solo Sailed from the Palisades to Hawaii Twice

By LILY TINOCO | Reporter

“From the time we’re born until this minute, you and I have never really been alone. But when you go offshore alone, you are alone in a way that we never are,” said Palisadian Christian Williams, a 76-year-old sailor, author and social media influencer.

“It’s an extraordinary thing to be out of touch; you can’t talk to anybody, they can’t talk to you and you learn about what it means to be you.”

Photo by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

The Upper Alphabet Streets resident recalled first being exposed to sail boats when he was about 5 years old because of his father’s interest in sailing after returning from World War II. Williams took his first solo trip when he was 11 years old and never looked back, he grew to love it.

In 2014, Williams made the valiant decision to single-handedly sail from Los Angeles to Hawaii, a venture that wholly encapsulates solitude in the most unique way—and that was the lure.

“It’s a challenge because if you break your arm or you get appendicitis, you are without immediate rescue or medical assistance,” Williams said to the Palisadian-Post. “But there’s another side of solo-sailing that is extraordinarily provocative, and that is the idea of being alone.”

Williams dealt with a fair share of remarks from those close to him before venturing off on his journey: “Why would anybody want to do this?” “Won’t you be lonely?”

He shared that they simply didn’t understand, and he didn’t have all the answers, but he found them in time.

“I never had that sense of what it means to be conscious before I went,” Williams said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life, I had no doubt that I could sail across the Pacific if anyone could. But what I didn’t know was whether I could be alone for 25 days, and I went to find out.”

Williams spent over a year preparing for his trip: learning every system aboard, acquiring spares and keeping every possible catastrophe in mind. He packed enough food for 60 days and was eager to get the show on the road, and his boat on the water.

Photos courtesy of Trish McCall

So Williams boarded his Ericson 32-3, Thelonious, and departed from Marina del Rey for Hanalei Bay, Kaua’i, Hawaii—a 2,600-mile voyage that would take him 20 days.

His days out at sea consisted of working the boat, eating and sleeping. All that appears to be simple, but Williams dealt with a number of challenges. From leaks in the boat, to sleeping in ski gear because temperatures would drop so low at night.

“There’s no radio or television reception of any kind, you don’t see any airplanes overhead, and during this time of being alone, you are free to get as lonely as you want,” Williams said to the Post.

Each day at noon, Williams would ritually send an email by satellite phone to his family with his location on Google Earth to relieve them of their worries, sometimes praying to the “satellite gods” that his message would send.

After 20 days at sea, Williams reached the island of Kaua’i and spent two weeks catching up on sleep, rejuvenating and putting his boat back in order for his return. And what he learned was that he was a “failure at being alone.”

“We’re really the total of everyone we know because everybody you’ve ever met or read about, or even heard about, is with you. They live in our consciousness,” Williams said about his revelation. “I’m not sure you could ever be alone.”

Williams then headed back to LA from Hawaii. Only this time the wind blew less, causing speed to decline, and he arrived in 28 days.

Over the course of 48 days and roughly 5,000 miles of travel, Williams kept a logbook and used those notes to write his book, “Alone Together: Sailing Solo to Hawaii and Beyond,” which was published in 2016. His book extends an invitation to join him on this voyage—as does his YouTube channel.

Williams’ extensive experience in media led to his YouTube diversion.

“I’ve been making movies since I was 12, I grew up with an 8 millimeter camera in my hand,” Williams said. He spent time later in life as a writer and producer for multiple television series, including the HBO drama “Six Feet Under.”

“Although television pays big bucks, you never get to indulge your whim and your imagination, you’re not really allowed to get your hands on the film,” Williams said. “But I get to do this all myself: I shoot it, I edit it, I narrate it. I absolutely enjoy it.”

And so do his 36,000 subscribers. Williams has amassed a following, and his 53 videos have a collective total of 4.8 million views. His videos capture his sailing experiences, offer his book recommendations and more.

In 2017, Williams decided to return to sea and solo sailed to Hawaii again. This time to the island of Oahu and in a brand-new Ericson 38, Thelonious II. 

“I bought another boat and did it all over again, and I was a little less scared and a little more experienced,” Williams shared. “I was able to look at this remarkable, expansive ocean and sky and clouds and be a part of it.”

Following his second voyage, he wrote and published a second book titled “The Philosophy of Sailing: Offshore in Search of the Universe,” with a more profound emphasis on philosophy but similar stories of adventure and discovery.

“I’m 76, there’s a strong impulse when you get older to tell what you know. And I know a lot about this stuff, I have a lot of ideas,” Williams said. “I have the experience with cameras to make videos, and I have the experience with a lifetime of writing to write this stuff.”

Williams most recently made his debut in fiction in October 2019 and published “Rarotonga,” a novel about a millionaire who disappears, leaving behind a troublesome past.

And what would his advice be for anybody wanting to embark on an independent journey? “Don’t let anybody talk you out of it.”