Final thoughts from Dale, Christine and Megan on our year-long sailing adventure...
Helios was hauled out of the water on July 30 in Olbia, Sardinia (Italy) after a year of sailing
I have embarked on a fair number of ambitious adventures in my past, including cycling coast-to-coast across the United States, rowing a boat down the length of the Mississippi River, and self-funding my private pilots license before I had a drivers license. Every such undertaking evolves the same way: a dreamy idea pops into my head, I fixate on it and can't ever let go, I outline a plan to make it happen, and I follow through on that plan. This year of sailing on Helios followed the same path, but it has far surpassed any of my previous adventures in the audacity and complexity to pull it off (years of planning and prep), and in the epic nature of the experience and memories.
An entry I made in my personal journal nearly 17 years ago on Saturday, October 15, 2005 spells out the initial vision I had for this adventure, and it remarkably resembles how things actually played out - the biggest difference being it took 5 years longer to realize the dream than my original thinking. In that entry, I explain the many appealing factors that spawned the dream - the "why" factors include:
The quality family time such an experience affords (amazing what being quasi off the grid and what sharing an adventure together can do for positive family dynamics)
The time spent in nature, experiencing the best (and worst) that the outdoors has to offer
The personal growth that comes with stretching physical and mental limits (it was quite the learning curve)
The future enjoyment of shared memories with family and friends
The love of world travel
The desire to provide my children with the above (the original idea being to do this while the twins were still in primary school)
While the original dream may have been mine, the real credit goes to Christine for climbing onboard to the idea both figuratively and literally and showing remarkable support throughout. And then there was Megan. I tell everyone I meet that were it not for Megan, we would never have embarked on this year of sailing. Several years ago she resolved to take a gap year before university, and she coaxed and cajoled me along the decision and planning process with just the right amount of pressure and enthusiasm to ward off my cold feet. I did this as much to fulfill her dream as to fulfill my own.
Admittedly, it was scary announcing my retirement and committing the time and funds to this plan without really knowing what we were getting into or whether any - much less all - of us would enjoy it. But that anxiety was part of the adventure. So were the bumps in the road such as the challenges in commissioning a boat like Helios and the COVID travel restraints that one year earlier would have nixed the whole endeavor.
I haven’t fully processed the magnitude of the year yet, nor sorted through my favorite memories. But here are a few of my more impactful take-aways.
The ocean’s vastness is staggering: It sounds obvious. But spending weeks at sea with nothing but water and sky in sight, or taking a swim 1,000 miles from the nearest shore in water 3 miles deep gives an entirely different and sobering perspective of the ocean’s scale.
Sailing is an amazing way to travel: We crossed the Atlantic on a mere 100 gallons of fuel, most of which was used for charging batteries and making water. Put another way, we lived comfortably for 4 weeks and moved our 24-ton home across an ocean on less fuel than it takes to drive from Chicago to LA. Wind power, baby!
I’ve never regretted making big, scary decisions: It brings to mind the Mark Twain quote, “Your greatest regrets in life will be the things you didn’t do, not what you did do.” I will be forever thankful we took the leap on this one.
These things don’t just happen: I was shocked at how much effort it took to make this dream a reality. Constancy of purpose over several years (and a little luck) finally paid off.
I am a lucky father: Crossing the Atlantic twice with one of my daughters was an experience precious beyond words.
My last take-away is, how does one top an experience like what we just had? This one is still open-ended. But hey, Christine and I haven’t sold the boat yet, so who knows? Perhaps we’ll be back next year to do it again!
Words can’t begin to describe the experience I was able to have before college. My dad had always dreamed of living aboard a sailboat, and by 7th grade, I knew I’d caught the sailing bug too. After years of determination, planning, and studying, my parents and I finally took the leap. We moved aboard S/Y Helios in July of 2021… and what a journey it has been! After sailing over 13,000 nautical miles, crossing the Atlantic twice, completing a total of 80 overnight passages, and visiting 17 countries, Helios can finally take her well deserved rest.
What surprised me:
Just how much maintenance and cleaning we did to keep Helios up and running smoothly. For example: A full deck scrub (takes between 1-2 hours) was needed at least once per week. Bathrooms and toilets need to be cleaned at least once per 1-2 weeks. (Clean shower drain build-up, scrub mold out of sink, etc…). Cooking gas needed to be filled and changed, engine oil and coolant need to be monitored, fresh water tanks need to be refilled, sump pumps need to be emptied and cleaned, lines and fenders need to be constantly recoiled and stored, sails need to be covered or stored away to prevent sun damage, immigration forms and Covid tests/info need to be pre filled out for each country, marinas need to be booked far in advance, anchorages need to be researched carefully for the best protection from wind and swell, and the list goes on and on.
Getting to jump into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with 3 miles of depth below me. It was such a crazy feeling, and the water was more clear and blue than anything I had seen before.
Hiking up Mt. Teide with Dad at night (The day before our first Atlantic crossing). We took a late-night ferry to the island of Tenerife and started our ascent at midnight. We were hiking above the clouds and had a view of the galaxy above us. There was a shooting star about once every 30 seconds! A very tiring 10 hour hike...but worth it!
Sailing into the Grenada marina after finishing our first Atlantic crossing. We were greeted by the ARC+ crew and were treated to a special pizza delivery to our boat (customs wouldn’t let us off our boat until the next morning.)
Those rare sailing days where the wind was a steady 15-20 knots, we were heading with the waves, the weather was nice, and the seas were calm. Best feeling ever!
Least favorite moments:
Having a near panic attack the day before I left home. It hadn’t hit me until then that I was going to live on a boat for a year, watch all my friends go to college without me, and essentially leave home without knowing what I was getting into. I also hadn’t finished packing yet:(
The first 2 weeks of being on the boat. We had no idea what we were doing. Everything on board needed to be set up, cleaned, and tested. Our first passage was only a week after we got on board (across the Bay of Biscay). It was freezing, super rough seas, I didn’t pack enough warm clothes, and I had never felt so sick in my life.
Cleaning the sump pumps. It’s so gross I can’t even write about it.
Loneliness. Although I met many new people throughout the year, there were not many my age. Shout out to my friends for visiting me so I didn’t go crazy!
To anyone thinking about taking a gap year: DO IT. The world won’t wait for you; you have to make it happen. Try something new, challenge yourself, and find a way to live out that crazy dream. You won’t regret it for a second.
A huge thank you to Mom and Dad for making this happen (and not throwing me overboard when I got grumpy).
How this evolved
Over fifteen years ago, when Dale first brought up the idea of sailing the Mediterranean for a year, I thought, "In your dreams!" From that day onwards, he dreamt about this idea everyday and began secretly preparing for this pipe dream. Over the years, our vacations gradually incorporated "sailing themes" and evolved into taking week-long sailing lessons, getting our American Sailing Association certifications, and then bareboat sailing (renting a charter boat). Sailing magazines and West Marine catalogs began flooding our mailbox and Dale's Christmas and Birthday lists were chock full of sailing paraphernalia only. Then things started feeling a bit more realistic when I received a serious Helly Hansen sailing jacket for foul weather sailing and a book on sailing the Mediterranean, even though they were not on my 2019 Christmas list. Megan's decision to take a gap year kind of forced our hand on top of the fact that we were going stir crazy during the pandemic, so Dale decided he would retire a year earlier than planned and pulled the trigger on the purchase of our new boat in June, 2020.
Initially, not a fan of sailing for a year...
As most of my friends and family can attest to, I was never a big fan of sailing for more than a week, as we had done in the past. After a week, I was always looking forward to going back home to my creature comforts, still land and a nice hot shower. Since Dale enthusiastically talked about sailing the Mediterranean, day in and day out, how could I deny my hard-working, dreamy husband from fulfilling his dream??? I couldn’t, especially because his mother died young and never got to live her dream! So, as hesitant as I was about this adventure, I decided to go along for the ride and supported Dale in every way possible to make this happen. My only caveat was that I was not going to cross the Atlantic and would fly back home during that portion of our trip. Although I missed being with Dale and Megan while they were in the middle of the Atlantic and worried incessantly about them and the crew, I don’t regret not being on the boat nonstop for 3-4 weeks straight with no land in sight.
In the end, I believe I was the only one who shed some tears as I watched our home, for the year, being hauled out of the water. I think I might have fallen in love with sailing and our boat.
How did I survive?
Living on our own boat was easier and more comfortable than I anticipated.
The big difference between all of our boat charters and Helios was that Helios was ours and it was our home.
Our boat had all of the conveniences and comforts of home that one could ask for. Air conditioning, laundry machine, water maker, hot water, 3 refrigerators, etc.
Being connected (most of the time) was key to being able to keep in touch with Lindsey and my Mom via FaceTime. Lindsey also set me up on Snapchat and sent frequent updates, which was comforting.
We fell in love with Helios as we sailed her pretty hard and learned and grew with her over the passage of more than 13,000 nautical miles. Over the course of our journey, we gradually figured out the intricacies of how best to sail our boat. Every day seemed to present us with new challenges that needed to be addressed immediately, but we were usually able to figure out how to resolve them without compromising our safety.
I never had to take any sea sick pills or wear a scopolamine patch. There were maybe a half dozen days I felt a bit dizzy, but otherwise I surprised myself (and Megan) that I could stomach some of the rougher days.
I'm a sucker for beautiful scenery and love the sea. What a treat it was to wake up each day to a constantly changing landscape out our cabin window. I will never tire of blue skies, turquoise water, sunny weather, colorful sunsets, double rainbows and majestic mountains.
What a great feeling it was when we had good sailing conditions and could rely just on the power of the wind, current and properly trimmed sails to propel us to our destinations. The fresh air blowing through my hair, the sound of our wake and the saltwater spritz in the warm sun are sensations I will truly miss!
Getting lots of fresh air!!! I loved eating al fresco for all of our meals. I can probably count on one hand the few times we had to eat inside the boat due to blustery or wet conditions.
Frequent stops on land helped a lot or even jumping in the water for a little bit helped me from going too stir crazy on the boat.
My daily Wordle over breakfast, many good books, game nights, great company and conversations!
What was the toughest part of sailing?
Interestingly, what almost drove me to tears several times had nothing to do with our sailboat. It was our dinghy. When the sea turned rough while embarking/disembarking from the dinghy to/from our boat, our dinghy would repeatedly slam violently into our boat and throw us off balance. It was really a leap of faith during those times to get us all back on our boat safely. The last time that happened, I decided I would stay on the dinghy and ride the hydraulic dinghy lift up to the boat. Why didn’t I think of that earlier??? Might have saved me from growing more white hairs!
Docking in heavy winds. Some of our guests (Staci and Mike) have witnessed what it is like to try to dock in gale-force winds. It is extremely stressful to dock a boat when the waves and winds are throwing you towards another docked yacht or a cement wall.
Our boxes of instruction manuals were generally pretty basic or useless. The three of us usually had to figure things out by trial and error and a lot of luck.
While we loved having guests on board, we should have planned more flexibility in our schedule to stay in places we really enjoyed just a little longer or to stop in other places without the pressure of meeting guests in a specific destination.
Night watches were extra challenging when I was feeling a little dizzy from the ocean swells. I trained myself to open my eyes every couple of minutes to check the status of the boat without ever falling asleep.
Not having Lindsey with us. Fortunately, she had a great first year at the University of Rochester and thrived, despite the rest of us being thousands of miles away in the middle of the sea.
Worrying about my mother's health and well-being, especially since she had a severe stroke right before the pandemic.
Highlights of the Year
Learning how to be a better, more confident sailor, understanding the dynamics of the sails and lines, reading the wind and sea conditions, maintaining the boat, etc.
Paddle boarding through the coves of Sardinia. The rock formations bordered by clear turquoise water were stunning! Loved jumping in the water to cool off in each of the private inlets. So very peaceful and relaxing!
We were always on the lookout for sea life. I had an adrenaline rush every time one of us would shout, “Dolphins” or “Whales,” and we would all drop everything we were doing, grab our phones and run to the edge of our boat to revel in the wonders of these beautiful, graceful sea creatures, playing in our wake.
Jumping off the boat in the Caribbean and snorkeling anywhere we wanted. My favorite snorkeling area was the Jacques Cousteau Marine Park in Guadeloupe and swimming with the sea turtles in Tobago Cays in the Grenadines.
Having guests on board. I loved sharing our sailing journey with all of our guests who bravely jumped on board with us. Thanks to all who made the trip and played so many card games with us!!! Golf, Rummy 500, Oh Heck and Skull King kept us entertained for hours.
Movie nights, with our make-shift movie screen, projector and stereo sound. While in the Caribbean, we even watched the whole series of "Pirates of the Caribbean."
Some of my favorite ports were: St. Barts, Barbuda, The Grenadines, St. John, Barcelona and Portofino. I enjoyed all the cultural aspects of every town we were able to explore in Europe and especially loved the architecture, food, music and the fact that art was omnipresent.
When we rented a car and drove from La Linea de la Concepcion to Ronda, Spain and stayed in a hotel for the first time on our trip. It was a nice respite and gave us time to explore the stunning scenery in Ronda.
Flying our gigantic, impressive trade wind sail with the Helios logo. Our boat would really hum along so fast and smoothly when we had consistent downwind conditions. We would always be in awe of that sail…
Meeting and connecting with fellow sailors from all over the world. Fascinating to meet those with the same wanderlust and to share stories and recommendations. What a nice, supportive community!
Megan’s gap year gave us bonus time with her, which was a true gift. It was fascinating watching her become such a responsible, alert and confident sailor to the point where I felt like we were in very good hands.
The dynamics of working together as a sailing team with Dale and Megan. Together, we were able to sail the boat safely, resolve issues that often required quick thinking and cooperation, and coordinate all logistics required to get to our destinations.
Time with Dale. After a career full of weekly travel, it was nice to finally spend uninterrupted time with him. No work phone calls, flights out every Monday morning, cancelled return flights, international travel, etc.
I’d like to thank my husband, Dale, for his patience and persistence in gently nudging me along with him on this incredible dream journey. It was so much more spectacular than I had expected!!! I feel so incredibly blessed that we were able to pull off this dream adventure of a lifetime and will cherish the priceless memories we created. I’d also like to thank Megan for joining us and being an instrumental crew member and captain. I know she learned more than she could ever have picked up in a classroom setting this year and I'm confident she will capitalize on these invaluable skills in her future endeavors.