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Preparation and Departure: A lifetime? Over a decade? Or Born Ready?

If you like dishwashers, blenders, washing machines, big stoves, air fryers—you know, appliances that fit in a home and stay on the shelf—you probably wouldn’t exchange those for a life on the high seas. Some catamarans and a few monohulls contain such nice luxuries, but ours didn’t. It’s like camping but on water.


Nick grew up learning to sail on Lake Michigan, and his favorite book was The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone by Robin Lee Graham and Derek L.T. Gill. He had prepped for this his whole life. When his father was diagnosed with ALS at retiring age, it only sped up his dream and fueled his “the time is now” sentiment.


I grew up sailing on my grandfather’s boat, The Havørn. I remember, at the age of three, in a stylish orange life jacket, my parents would toss me aboard as my grandpa sailed gently by, and then they would hop in after. No time to tie up and do it properly. Then Grandpa got older, and there was just my parents’ house a mile from the beach, and me, always staring across Lake Michigan into the distant horizon.


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Freshmen year of high school, a new red-headed boy from Toledo, Ohio, joined Holland High School, and my girls and I sent over our boys to talk to him. An instant friendship was created, and this new boy had a small boat that he stored two blocks from my home. All through high school, we were just friends—good friends though, and after school, we would hang out on Gaia, a Catalina 27. College came and we went our separate ways.

 

One night, out of college, recovering from the end of a three-year relationship, I went to get pizza, and there he was, also out of an eight-year relationship. He said, “We’re gonna be together now.” I laughed that night and shook my head, but then I called him two months later and agreed.

 

He had a motorboat at the time, named Down Under, of all things, and our first date was a warm, rainy boat ride that resulted in some skinny dipping. We have always been tied together by so much water.

 

My crash course in sailing was our honeymoon. Our first charter in the BVI’s. And though he is hands down so much better at sailing than I am. I can do it, too; very well, I might add.

 

When I was pregnant with Tristan, we chose a boat in Chicago, drove there, and sailed her home to Holland, which can be a treacherous overnight haul. Our maiden voyage was not. Raven was her name—a 38 ft Beneteau. For a decade we filled our sailing trousers with her seasonally, and a charter in the BVI’s or Bahamas in the winter. Our experience was there. Our life just needed to present the circumstances that would take a decade to evolve.

 

How does someone get into the mindset of becoming a sailor with or without experience?

 

It is a mind game. You could prepare your whole life and never take the leap. For us, having monthly video meetings with Sailing Totem got us excited. Finding the right boat took us up the ladder further. Pretending it was a “trial run” was my safety net, and knowing I had the teaching experience to make it acceptable to do with kids, a comfortable parachute.

 

Sailing Totem did not hold our hand for long. They were bound for the Panama Canal to finish their circumnavigation in Baja. It was time for us to build our relationship with Selkie alone. There were warnings that we were not ready to cross an ocean, and I had promised my mother when I moved to the boat that I would never do that either. I told her, “I’m too scared to do that, Mom. The depth, the unknown, the possible storms? Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll never do that.” Well, I’ve done it three times now, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Sorry, Mom. I love you.

 

So… We didn’t want to cross the ocean with four kids without making grandparents feel safe about it. We decided to join ARC Europe. This is a cruising club of a group of boats that crosses back to Europe after time in the Caribbean or the States via Bermuda, then the Azores, then a choice of Gibraltar or Southern England. We spent time preparing by making sure our life raft that came with the boat was in good shape. We had it serviced in Prickly Bay, Grenada, where we had wintered through hurricane season, then we sailed north. Departure was in May of 2018 from Nanny Cay, Tortola, BVI. This was a marina that was dear to us for over a decade, and in this hurricane season, Irma, had come through and utterly destroyed her. Parts of the entrance to the slips were sectioned off with hulls of boats flipped or just masts protruding from the surface. It was not a warming sight for an ocean crossing. It was a warning that the ocean and wind do not care about you. As a sailor, you must unconditionally love wind and water, but know that they have a very unfriendly bite if not taken seriously, watched, and timed correctly.

 

Before we set sail, I finished my school year of teaching two pre-K kids, a 3rd grader, and a 5th grader. I also had my first true test of provisioning. I turned 39 and wrote to fellow ARC Europe participants this note:


Three days and a year older. Something is exciting and depressing about a birthday. The excitement mounts with the sleepless night before wondering what will happen, and depression sets in when it ends up just being another day. There is too much to do here for ARC Europe and in preparation for crossing. We spent the morning doing laundry, and buying beverages, and canned goods. This took multiple trips in the hot sun. Workers on the boat made us feel unprepared. New problems arising made us feel defeated, so... a regular day, until... Beach Volleyball for the ARC. We didn’t play, but we sat on the stairs and cheered on our new ARC friend, Thomas, while we ate pizza. It looked like rain, and I had dinner to cook, so we picked up to leave. The ARC stopped us and sang me Happy Birthday! There is something so heartwarming to have these new friends/strangers care. I was blushing and thankful. I miss spring BBQs in Michigan with my family, but we are making a bigger family at sea! Thx ARC! Let’s go Sailing!

 

May 5 was a departure. It was sporty. The wind was blowing 30 knots, the waves were not small, and we had to head upwind to Bermuda, but that’s another story filled with seasickness and puke. What a maiden ocean crossing, it was.


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