A little over 4 years ago, I suggested my husband get a hobby. He choose sailing and was instantly hooked. Little did I know, that I would soon develop the same love and passion for a traditional skill that would lead to many satisfying adventures and moments of pure enjoyment.
Sailing in Iowa
How do we learn to sail in Iowa? Good question. We thought we would have to invest in some time and money driving to Chicago on the weekends to take sailing classes on Lake Michigan, but, we were wrong. Turns out a sailing club existed right under our nose at the University of Iowa, and they welcomed public members. The club has been around for over 40 years, and is run by a friendly and active group of teaching and racing enthusiasts. Of course, we checked it out right away! It wasn’t long before we soon became regulars learning how to sail on small Flying Junior sailing dinghies.
Learning the basics of sailing in a dinghy allowed us to really take the time to learn how a small sailboat interacts with the wind on every point of sail. Wind direction, point of sail, sail trim, and how you distribute your weight play a large role in how forgiving these boats will be on any given day. One wrong move and you’ll find yourself wet and looking for a change of clothes.
Lake Macbride provides an excellent playground for learning to sail with varying wind speeds from 0 knots – 30 knots. The lake doesn’t disappoint with the variety of wind directions and speeds it offers sailors in any given afternoon. Because of its horseshoe shape, and slightly narrow width, the wind is allowed to rush around the perimeter in an irregular fashion. This causes varying wind shifts without notice in certain conditions, which can lead to windward capsizes, 360 degree wind shifts, downdrafts and lifts. I recall many oddities on the lake in regards to wind including one afternoon where we left the dock and returned, traveling upwind both ways. Traveling upwind requires you to travel in a zigzag manner towards your destination, so you can imagine the frustration. However, the camaraderie of the club makes up for the sometimes flaky wind conditions. 🙂
Learning to sail a dinghy on this lake at times can require the response time of the helmsman to be much faster. Other times you find yourself practicing your light weather skills. Regardless, dinghies do provide a quick learning curve to anyone wanting to learn to sail because they give the student instant response at the helm.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves graduating from Flying Junior Sailing Dinghies to trying our skills on some of the other boats the club has to offer, such as a variety of Lasers, Scows, Hobie Cats, and Windsurfers. We started participating in the club on a new level by giving lessons to other interested sailors, joining in club regattas, attending cruising committee meetings offered to those interested in bigger boats and bigger water, and playing around with the clubs own keelboat, the Oday 240.
Continuing Our Skills
Grant had the opportunity to travel to Fort Lauderdale for work, and at the same time he had been scoping out the American Sailing Association (ASA) curriculum offered by Blue Water Sailing School. I encouraged him to sign up for the week-long live aboard cruising course in order to become ASA certified. Lessons were held on a Dufour Gib’sea 51 in a hands-on immersive environment with 3 other students and an instructor. Topics covered were Basic Sailing, Coastal Cruising, and Bareboat Chartering. Grant left the class with 3 ASA certifications and the instruction to continue developing his skills.
We continued our participation with our local sailing club, but found ourselves taking on more charters to gain more experience on bigger boats. We started close by on Lake Michigan by renting a J22 for the afternoon. Grant painted a pretty picture for me. We will drive to Chicago, rent a boat, sail around Lake Michigan for a few hours, have a nice lunch, then sail back. I agreed, but the picture was pretty inaccurate. There was a lot of swell and chop coming off the lake from an East wind which provided a rather uncomfortable ride, the mainsail would not go up all the way, there was no time for lunch, and our engine died so we had to call for help. By the way, this boat was designed for racing so it had no lifelines. Needless to say that experience taught us alot. (Nowadays we are quite comfortable maneuvering keelboats under sail in a pinch!)
After some coaxing I agreed to try it all again, but now I had some stipulations. I wanted a bigger boat, and one that had lifelines. We scheduled a weekend charter with Superior Charters located in the heart of the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior. Our boat was a Hunter 240. We provisioned the boat and hired a captain for 1/2 a day, then we were on our own. I found the captain beneficial from my perspective because I had not taken the ASA course Grant had. With the captain on board we practiced anchoring, docking, and man over board recovery. He also gave us some tips on some over night anchorages and then sent us on our way. This time the results were different I had a blast, I learned a few things and we also had great weather.
A Sailing Honeymoon
In November of 2009, we spent our honeymoon sailing the Southern Caribbean with a week long charter through St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Starting in Grenada, we sailed a Bavaria 38 to Carriacou, Mayreau, Union Island, and the Tobago Cays, visiting a total of 7 different islands in two different countries. The trip included beautiful white sandy beaches that were mostly deserted, with gorgeous backdrops of clear teal and blue water. A local day skipper accompanied us on our longest leg, a 6 hour sail, partially for my benefit and his local knowledge of the waters. After our first day, we were on our own. We gained experience clearing in and out of customs, anchoring in a variety of different bays, stopping a dragging anchor by deploying a second anchor, reading charts, and navigating through some extremely shallow reefs. Highlights of the trip included visiting Salt Whistle Bay on Mayreau, snorkeling with more than a dozen sea turtles, fresh lobster on the beach, local boat boy vendors, and a dinghy ride to Petit Tabac in the Tobago Cays, memorable for a scene (“Why is the rum gone?“) from the movie Pirates of The Caribbean, Curse of The Black Pearl. We watched as tourists from a larger island were shuttled in and out of the area for 1 hour during the hottest point of the day, hoping to swim with the sea turtles. Unfortunately the turtles only made appearances during the coolest points of the day, morning and night. It was then that I saw the advantage of having sailed and anchored to this spot on our own terms, and was immediately addicted to this type of travel.
We had such a great time on our honeymoon, why would I be surprised when my husband mentions that he would like to sail across an ocean someday? In the early stages I would listen and acknowledge these dreams, but I had my doubts, and a laundry list of fears. Over the next couple of years, we continued to sail on Lake Macbride. I became very comfortable dinghy sailing, while Grant became very comfortable windsurfing. I watched as many new cruising books had entered our house and earned a place on our book shelf. These books sparked many more conversations about owning a boat, and the possibility of long term cruising. At the same time we were working to become financially independent from all debt. The challenge was posed to live like no one else for a few years, so we could really live like no one else in the future. We both accepted. Our list of debts was pretty short since most of our school loans and car loans had been tackled years ago. At this stage we were interested in knocking out the most expensive liability we had left, our mortgage. We wrote out a detailed plan, entered into extreme coupon clipping mode, and consciously started eliminating all frivolous spending. It definitely wasn’t easy and required some serious self control, but soon we found ourselves 100% debt free far earlier than we predicted! We celebrated with a 10 day sailing charter to the USVI.
During our USVI charter we invited a friend to join us and we had a blast. Our itinerary included some heavy sailing time, as well as a 10 hour sail upwind from Culebrita back to St. John. Even the charter company thought we were a little ambitious and told us most people just come to the Caribbean to relax. We agreed, but we also wanted to get the most out of our money by sailing as much as we could. We snorkeled, hiked the islands and explored! As my husband continued with the notion of owning our own boat and possibly living aboard, the trip for me became dual purposed. Could I indeed live on a boat for an extended period of time? I found myself to be very adaptable and had no major problems. By the end of the trip I told my husband that I could see us owning a boat and pictured myself being comfortable enough to cruise the Caribbean. That still did not mean crossing an ocean, but in my husbands eyes I was making progress.
Owning A Boat
Rewards were key in keeping us motivated to stick with our debt free plan and served as good reminders for where we were headed. The conversations about boats continued. Being debt free put us in a really good position. This helped relieve some of our initial anxiety behind the cost of becoming a boat owner. But, which boat was for us and where would we keep it? Iowa isn’t exactly a cruising destination. After reading more about boat manufacturers, we became particularly fond of Pacific Seacraft. It was sort of a stretch for us, but it was the boat I knew I would feel most comfortable with. A Pacific Seacraft would bring us lots of options for sailing and is known for their quality, comfort, and safety. If we were going to own a sailboat, this was the boat we wanted to own.
We took a weekend trip to Annapolis, Maryland where we attended a two day seminar for the Caribbean 1500 cruising rally. The seminar covered a lot of information about what is needed to prepare for an offshore passage. There was even a session just for women where we met and could talk about our experiences, fears, and anxieties about sailing offshore with other women. During the same weekend, we made scheduled appointments with a Pacific Seacraft broker to look at three different boats. None of which we found we to our liking. The seminar for the cruising rally really opened my eyes to what could be expected offshore, the good, the bad and the ugly. Back home I continued to read experiences had by others, while Grant continued our search for a boat. Because we had a specific model in mind that worked with our budget, our choices were few and far between. We didn’t lose hope however, and a few months later, we found a listing for a Pacific Seacraft 37, located 6 hours North in Manitowoc, Wisconsin!
Not wasting any time we scheduled a showing with the boats previous owners. The boat was in great condition and you could tell it was very well cared for. On the way home we discussed making an offer even though we had budgeted for a 34. We decided to go for it anyway, because the worst they could say is no and in that case it just wasn’t meant to be. To our surprise, they accepted our offer and their dreams quickly became ours!
How did we get here?
Conversations continued that included our short term and long term plans with the boat, and our plans in life right now. We explored many options but felt at our age, with our health in our favor, the best decision was to go all in. We sold our house, shipped the boat to the Pacific and moved aboard full-time! Follow our blog and our journey to see where this new adventure and lifestyle leads!