Two Years At Sea with A Gentleman Pirate

  • Friday, November 2, 2012

By Ashley DesMarteau

After being gone for nearly 20 years, trying to bloom where we were planted, our family has recently put our roots down in Pawleys Island. Two continents, seven states, eight homes and three children later, we are excited to start our new life back in South Carolina; home, sweet, home.

In so many ways, it feels like coming home. My family has been enjoying this area since my parents were children, and they made sure that it was part of my childhood no matter where we lived. Even 1,200 miles away in Kansas, we made the pilgrimage east so that I had at least two weeks of a South Carolina summer to remind me where I'd come from. In my mind, the official start to summer was when our car was loaded with suitcases bursting with beach clothes, cooler stocked with cold drinks and orange Lance crackers filled with peanut butter, and windows rolled down and we would make our way through town to the interstate. My friends in Kansas would give me sympathetic smiles, feeling bad for me that I had to ride in the car for two days to go to a family vacation. I nodded along and probably told them what a drag it would be, but on the inside I'd be thinking that they had no idea what they were missing; summer would not be summer without sand between my toes.

I'm still pinching myself that we don't have to pack up the car on Friday night and head back home Saturday morning with the rest of the visitors. Loading up and leaving the beach was as depressing to me as removing all the ornaments from the Christmas tree. As a child it was two magical weeks filled with bottomless bowls of peeled peaches, the gentle creek of my Nana in her rocking chair presiding over the back porch, and days of playing with cousins at the beach. One summer, my Nana coordinated a family reunion with all the Texas relatives, and from then on, summer also meant sailing. My Uncle Petie had the bug, and once bitten, there was no convincing him that towing his Hobie Cat from Dallas to Garden City for one week was a bad idea. Some people might call him crazy-others would just call him a sailor probably not too many degrees of difference between the two. My first time sailing with him was exciting, terrifying and the feeling of freedom stayed with me long after the summer was over. After graduating from the College of Charleston I had the opportunity to work for the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau and help with the BOC Challenge, the around the world solo sailing race, which started and ended in Charleston. We held our collective breath as the last boat sailed out of the harbor, monitored their progress as they battled it out under the most adverse conditions a sailor can face, and celebrated each arrival the following year as they returned to our fair city. And while I never dreamed of selling everything and sailing off into the sunset I didn't hesitate (at least for too long) when my husband suggested we do just that.

For the first two years of the planning process, I played along and waited for the idea to be replaced by another, but even as I dismissed the idea as a fleeting one, our bookshelves slowly began to fill with cruising guides, boat repair and maintenance manuals, and our piles of magazines now all had boats on the covers. By year three, Noel had completed all his sailing courses in San Francisco and we had moved up to Portland, Oregon. Within three months of moving with our two-year-old and newborn, we bought our first sailboat, a Catalina 30, and learned that we were expecting again. Perhaps I thought the reality of having a boat, having three children on the boat dealing with the boat and children in the rain and confines of the Columbia River might dampen my husband's dream of going cruising, but I should have known better. While he is sorely deficient on short term plans, I would put his long term planning up against anyone.

Before his senior year at the College of Charleston he spent a month doing Outward Bound and returned to civilization with a short list of goals that he completed within five years. Serve two years in the Peace Corps: check. Graduate from the MIBS program: check. Marry the most beautiful girl in all of South Carolina: check okay, maybe he didn't phrase it exactly like that, but I'm sure it was implied!

So by year five in our planning, even I was starting to talk about our sailboat adventure as a foregone conclusion. Then we suffered substantial losses in our tech investments. Our delayed reaction as we stayed in, optimistically, that they would rally was a bit like watching the Clemson/ West Virginia bowl game last January: we just really didn't think it could get any worse, and then it did.

Finally we got out with what was left, but our plans for our cruising boat went from the Cruising World cover boat to the FSBO 'as is' section in need of serious TLC. We're not talking about the kind of TLC where you can replace the settee cushions and it all looks great we're talking about rebuilding a generator, totally gutting the non-functioning galley, having the mast removed and rebuilding the mast steps, removing the mountain of sails and repairing them, building a refrigeration unit, repairing all the spongy spots on the deck and that was just the to-do list for the first year of repairs.

So less sail off into the sunset without a care in the world and more work twice as hard, save everything, sacrifice vacations, new cars, and time together, so that in 9 years you can sail off into the sunset.

Before we started having children, we did the same thing as we did before going cruising. We planned, read the manuals, got our home ready, bought all the safety gear we thought we needed, stocked our pantry and freezer, told all our friends and family, and thought we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting ourselves into. In both scenarios, it turns out we didn't have a clue!

Our adventures and misadventures at sea took us from Astoria, Oregon down to Panama, through the Panama Canal and then sailing back home through the Caribbean all the way to our final stop in Little River, S.C. We sailed 13,000 miles to come home.

Two Years at Sea with a Gentleman Pirate. Next installment What Kind of Bar Is This Anyway?

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